Until the International Boxing Club (James D. Norris, president) developed an appetite for Boston-baked fights, Sad Sam Silverman, the sorrowful promoter, was a highly successful man. He used to operate 13 weekly fight clubs in New England and promote as many as 500 boxing shows in a year, as many as three shows in different cities on the same night. He claims to be the only independent American fight promoter to stage a championship bout since the early days of the IBC. That was the DeMarco-Saxton fight. Thirty-one of Rocky Marciano's 49 fights were promoted by Sad Sam, he recalls.
The other night Sam Silverman was reduced to just one fight club, the Valley Arena in Holyoke, Massachusetts, which seats some 1,600 persons—a club so small that no seat is more than 60 feet from the ring. Every seat was taken, to see Ewart Potgieter, the South African giant, in his losing American debut with Jeff Dyer, and standing room was almost filled. A couple of nights later the IBC presented Miguel Berrios against Gil Cadilli at Mechanics Building, Boston, which seats 4,800. The IBC had 362 customers. Sam's fight was not televised. The IBC fight was televised.
"This is the only respectable weekly fight club in America," says Sam. "It's the only one that's not on TV."
It is Sad Sam's opinion, stated with a sigh, that presentation of the Berrios-Cadilli fight in Boston, where neither fighter is an attraction, was only the most recent step in an IBC campaign to put him out of business. He is a portly, ruddy-faced, blue-eyed man, somewhere in his 40s, and gives the impression that nobody knows the trouble he's seen. His speech is a soft moan with a broad A. He smiles quite often, when in pleasant company, and even has been seen to laugh in a restrained sort of way. But he has done little laughing recently. He regards himself as engaged in a death struggle with the IBC, and he knows what such struggles have meant to other promoters. Still, he expects to survive.
"I'm the last independent weekly fight promoter left in America," Sam says. "They've killed them all off but me. They'll never kill me off, though. I know how to promote fights. Norris doesn't. Nobody in the IBC does. Look at that Truman Gibson, a lawyer. All of a sudden he's the biggest matchmaker in the country. What does a lawyer know about matchmaking?"
But even now Sad Sam has a kind of offbeat optimism about boxing.
"The future of boxing? The future can't be any worse than what we have now. The future depends on what that judge decides."
"That judge" is Federal Judge Sylvester J. Ryan, who last spring heard the government's antitrust suit against the IBC. His decision may be handed down in a few weeks, and it can't come any too soon for Sam. If the government wins, the IBC may be cut down to size, and ex-promoters around the country will take heart. Some will even return to boxing. But the IBC has been acting in Boston as if it expected no setback whatever. If Sad Sam is finally removed from Boston boxing then the IBC will dominate that city just as it does so many others where it is a copromoter.
"They threatened I'd never promote another championship fight," Sam says. "They want to get rid of me. But Norris and Carbo together can't.
"Mike Jacobs wanted guys like me around, independent promoters, because we'd build up fighters for him—the way I built up Rocky Marciano. The small clubs are the incubators of boxing. The IBC doesn't want competition and it isn't developing any boxers. They're depending partly on fighters Mike Jacobs left them—like Sugar Ray Robinson. The IBC developed bums like Chuck Davey."
One of Sam's basic beliefs is that no fight should be televised in the area where it is staged. He traces his first trouble with the IBC, therefore, to the Tony DeMarco-Chico Vejar fight he copromoted with the IBC in September 1955.
"The IBC promised me a local blackout of TV to help the gate," he says. "Then they backed down and didn't give it to me. They said the sponsor wouldn't allow it."
Thereafter Sam and the IBC were at odds, but he promoted several big-money fights, until the defection of Tony DeMarco to the IBC. Silverman had lifted the fighter out of the preliminary class into his briefly held welterweight championship. Tony is now in the IBC stable and, fighting for Norris, has lost twice to Gaspar Ortega. Silverman would willingly promote a DeMarco fight even now but, rubbing salt in his wounds, the IBC announced that a third Ortega-DeMarco fight would take place in Boston, February 9—televised, of course, and copromoted by the Sharkey A.A.
"I made DeMarco $172,000 in 1955," says Sam. "I got him the title. In the five years before I took him on he never got over $100 except in two fights. Rip Valenti was his manager then, for four of those five years."
Rip Valenti was also Sad Sam's promotion partner. The partnership was silent, as was Rip's ownership of DeMarco, for reasons which may be traced to Valenti's long friendship with Frankie Carbo, boxing's No. 1 underworld figure, and with Phil Buccola, reputed head of the Boston Mafia who skipped these shores for Sicily when the Kefauver and Massachusetts Crime Commission investigations got hot.
"Rip was forced on me," Silverman explains, "because a promoter can't get by without publicity." As he tells it, the late Jack Conway, sports editor of the Boston American, strongly urged the association on him. Conway was a former associate of Johnny Buckley Sr. in the management of Jack Sharkey, and Buckley now operates the Sharkey A.A. as a local arm of IBC.
"Getting rid of DeMarco was worth it if it got me rid of Valenti, too," Sam philosophizes now. Their relationship was always bitter, but Sam was able to bear this because, as he observes, bitter relationships are a commonplace in boxing. His house was dynamited a couple of years ago, fortunately while he and his wife and daughter were at a nightclub celebrating a school promotion. Sam insists he has no notion of who did the bombing.
"Who the hell knows who did it?" he asks. "In this business you're always in a jam with somebody." This seems to be true. A few years before the bombing, his wife Helen was lucky enough to be called to the telephone just before a bullet crashed through a pantry window in front of which she had been working. Sam himself has had brass knuckles applied to him.
All this would make any man cynical about modern boxing. But boxing as it used to be is something else—perhaps the only subject Sam Silverman ever gets sentimental about. He speaks with nostalgia of the days when, promoting so many fights, he traveled the highways of New England, a suitcase full of money in his car trunk and a head full of ideas for matches.
"If you were promoting an outdoor fight," he says, "you'd sleep with one hand stuck out the window. You were always wondering if it would rain."
He even looks longingly back at the Depression.
"The Depression was better," he vows. "There was a lot of talent and no IBC."
Nowadays he regards all aspects of boxing with suspicion, to such an extreme that he even wonders about Joyce Brothers of The $64,000 Question. "I'm a student of boxing history—Mendoza and all those oldtime fighters—and I couldn't answer some of those questions," he says darkly.
Even so, this creeping cynicism has not destroyed his basic self-confidence—the kind that carries a man through bombings and brass-knucklings and leads him to tackle an octopus with a penknife. Sad Sam believes that to come back as a big figure in Boston boxing he needs only to develop an exciting fighter. That is why, still undefeated, he plans to open a Revere, Massachusetts club soon to show off fresh young talent. At the moment he has a hopeful eye on one Billy Ryan, a 170-pounder just out of the Marines.
Sam is not licked.
"The IBC is running the only crap game in town right now," he says, "but I'll get going again soon."