CALM BEFORE THE BATTLE
Serenely awaiting their heavyweight championship battle are the four participants, Challenger Hurricane Jackson and manager, Lippe Breidbart (left, photographed by John G. Zimmerman), and Champion Floyd Patterson, with Manager Cus D'Amato (photographed by Garry Winogrand). Turn page for preview of fight
What the judges did to me in darkness the Lord will rectify in the light.—Tommy (Hurricane) Jackson, Madison Square Garden, June 8, 1956.
That is Hurricane Jackson's text for the night of July 29, 1957 at the Polo Grounds.
Such sonorous eloquence comes naturally to this illiterate prizefighter's lips. His trainer, Whitey Bimstein, reads the Bible to him daily. Jackson keeps two Bibles ("one Catholic, one Presbyterian") at his training camp, Harry's Farm, on the east bank of the beautiful Delaware.
The judges he referred to that night had just voted against him in his first fight with Floyd Patterson, the fight that won Patterson, by a split decision, his chance at the heavyweight championship. Hurricane, eyes closed, looked like a small boy too proud to cry. He was trying to hold back his bitterness and trying at the same time to find words to express it. Finally, he found them.
Now, a year later, Tommy Jackson has another chance, this time at the title itself. It is Patterson's first title defense. It is also the first heavyweight title fight in eight years that has not been promoted by the International Boxing Club (James D. Norris, president). Cus D'Amato, Patterson's manager, has broken with the IBC, and so Emil Lence, a dress manufacturer with a love of the fight game's excitements, is promoting this one.
Despite the split decision of a year ago, Patterson is so heavily favored that bookmakers are reluctant to take bets. The 5-to-1 odds seem here to be an overlay. For one thing, judges in the past have been impressed, perhaps more than they should have been, by Jackson's curious but relentless pawings and slappings, by his stamina and by his ability to confuse prizefighters trained to contend with orthodoxy. For another, D'Amato is genuinely worried that should the fight go the distance and be as close as the last one his fighter will not get the best of it. Since the IBC, despite antitrust rulings, still is a tower of influence in boxing, its prestige hovers over this fight in an inverse sort of way. A Jackson victory will be an IBC victory, for, with D'Amato managing a mere ex-champion, one of Norris' thorniest problems will have been removed. If the boxing commission can find three officials who, even unconsciously, are not influenced by past IBC domination of boxing, there will be reason for everyone to have confidence in the judging of the fight, should it have to go to a decision.
D'Amato remembers Referee Harry Kessler's adverse decision in the last fight. Kessler was Commissioner Julius Helfand's pick as a referee of unquestioned integrity, but Kessler, counter to the opinions of the two judges and the vast majority of fans, voted for Jackson. Something like that could happen again. Honest officials do have their little quirks. And a hurricane spreads confusion wherever it goes.
This one already has spread confusion. Out of Christian conviction Jackson refuses to concede that the match will be a grudge fight ("It will be a fight, period"). But he holds that Patterson once betrayed him. It is a typically eccentric claim.
"We took an oath that we would never fight each other," Jackson sulks. "Then he fought me."
Lippe Breidbart, Jackson's manager, moved in to clear it up. Naturally, it took a little doing.
Breidbart began with a limited explanation of the grudge that lies between him and D'Amato. The fight, indeed, might well be billed as a double-barreled grudge match. Neither manager will discuss fully the basis for their mutually cherished malice, but they have not spoken to each other in five years. Friends say it has to do with a political row when the managers' Guild was forming.
"This is not just a prizefight," Breidbart declaimed. "It is the story of four men—two managers and two fighters. If there is any justice [he looked heavenward], the pages have to be closed with a happy ending. Now I'll tell you how Patterson betrayed Jackson."
It seems that a couple of years ago Patterson and Jackson became fast training-camp friends. Breidbart's version is that a sly and scheming Iago Patterson, foreseeing that one day the two would meet in the ring, tried to "calm and cajole" The Hurricane.
"My kid," Breidbart said, "is very hungry for friendship, a very lonely boy. He is the kind who, if you tell him before a fight you're his buddy, he'll let you bang him around for 15 rounds without hitting you back.
"Patterson told Jackson they were buddies. They promised they would never fight each other. Then, all of a sudden, somebody put them in the ring for a couple of sparring rounds. They did it while my back was turned, and when I heard about it I screamed. Patterson was looking to knock my boy's brains out."
In that brief session Jackson, though wearing a head-guard, was cut over the right eye. Lippe contends that the cut was opened with a well-placed lace. After that, but not until Lippe "explained" the situation to Jackson, the friendship was broken. The Hurricane is convinced today that he has no real friends anywhere.
"What I've got," he says, "is pretender friends."
Patterson, of course, is incapable of such scheming and does not betray friends. But the incident has been nurtured by Breidbart so that the normally benevolent Jackson will enter the ring in a venomous mood.
"Patterson will have to fight for his life," Breidbart says happily.
If Jackson's mood really is sustained until fight time it could be a most exciting bout. No one knows, however, what his mood will be from one moment to the next. To avoid newspaper interviews, he has pretended to be stricken with laryngitis, then accepted an invitation to join in the singing of spirituals. He has invented a secret punch, which he calls The Yagash, a word he also seems to have invented. It is a right-hand body blow, delivered downward, and is quite as sensational as the two-fisted uppercut he learned from a kangaroo. He has offended his manager by offering to fight Patterson for nothing, "just to make the world happy."
Breidbart has a stratagem to be used just before the fight. It is designed to put The Hurricane in a proper mood.
"I'm going to have his mother threaten to give him a good licking if he doesn't win," Lippe says, looking very cunning indeed. Mrs. Jackson has returned to the camp to prepare her son's meals. She had been there earlier but departed in a sports model huff when her son complained at being served chopped steak instead of hamburger. The regular chef quit a few days later. The camp press agent, Eddie Walker, has moved to a hotel to steady his nerves.
Both Patterson and Jackson have been training on the five-day week. Jackson's days off present a problem. Easily bored, unable to read, he has invented some amusements—like pretending to be a galley slave while rowing on the Delaware River—but Trainer Bimstein feels that gentler activity is more suitable on a rest day. The Hurricane, therefore, has formed a quartet with three sparring partners and has arbitrarily designated himself tenor. The singing, mostly spirituals, goes on for hours. The Hurricane does not seem to know the words to most of the songs but his high notes are satisfyingly excruciating. He enjoys them. A visitor, seeking conversational relief, inquired the other day what the name of a just-finished number might be. Some of the phrases seemed familiar, though vaguely. Hurricane consulted in whispers with the pianist, then gave the answer: "Nero, My God, to Thee."
Champion Patterson spends his days off training a group of 10-year-old idolators to whom he is devoted.
"Those boys do everything I do," he says proudly. "They do roadwork, punch the bag, skip rope and spar."
Waiting to take them on a picnic, he analyzed the coming fight. He has advised the press that he does not believe he can knock out Jackson, but this, viewed in the light of the twinkle in his eye when he is pressed on the point, may be taken with a cellarful of salt. On the other hand, he has respect for Jackson's ability to take a punch. So does everyone. He has respect, too, for Jackson's ability to confound the properly taught fighter.
"One of the things Jackson does," he said, "is to go into a crouch from which he can't throw anything but a left hook. You look for a left hook. What Jackson does is throw everything but a left hook."
At 22 Patterson probably has stopped growing (lop off about an inch and a half from his official height of 6 feet), but he is broader in shoulders and chest, a development of his muscle system which would indicate that his punch is more effective now. He has deliberately slowed his amazingly fast combinations to something like rocket speed so that each blow in a series carries more power.
"And I'm punching more flatfooted now," he said, "instead of dancing around. So my punches are harder."
Everything he has done has been aimed at improving his punch, and that is enough to persuade this observer that, at long last, Hurricane Jackson is going to be knocked out beyond dispute. (Throw out the Nino Valdes record-book knockout, made on the three-knockdown rule.)
Remembering that split decision of a year ago, Patterson has an excellent motive for wanting to finish this fight early. Even if all three officials vote for him, with Jackson on his feet at the end, Patterson will have failed to live up to the full stature of a champion. Boxing has degenerated in recent years, but not quite to the point where a Jackson belongs in the same ring with a champion. Patterson has a duty to knock him out. He seems fully capable of doing it—by the fifth round, maybe.