The plan which is afoot to throw Olympic Heavyweight Champion Pete Rademacher, live and in the full bloom of his young manhood, into a Seattle ring with Floyd Patterson on the fateful night of August 22 is about to be executed. The plan has been afoot for two years now—not, as most people think, for a mere month or so. It did not sprout suddenly, as a whim of millionaires who are backing Rademacher, but was watered and fertilized with the timing of a hothouse plant to bud only when conditions were right for the market—conditions that required as strange a combination of men and events as ever led up to a prizefight.
Announcement of the plan raised mushroom clouds of indignation. The hand of Julius Helfand was raised against it, as fast as a smart salute. The National Boxing Association refused to sanction it. A member of the sporting press called Rademacher a "potential corpse," which is a modest description of all mortal men, and demanded that Congress get into the act. There were unpleasant intimations that Rademacher was a naive boy in the hands of unscrupulous moneygrubbers willing to expose him to "serious injury, even death, for the sake of a fast dollar.
But Pete Rademacher is as naive as a cocked pistol. There really was a scheming mind behind the plan—Rademacher's. He dreamed it up and is about to make the dream come true, nightmare though it may turn out to be.
His mind is cold and calculating but at the same time warm and adventurous, even romantic. There is no contradiction here. Columbus did not coldly conceive and warmly execute his great adventure. The reverse is true. Neither did Lindbergh, in his exploration of the quick route to Paris. Once started on their way both were navigators, cold and precise. The fact is that ideas are generally warm in conception but their successful execution is cold. This one is proceeding frigidly to its destiny.
August 18, 1957
The only fighter extant who wears Bermuda shorts in training, Pete Rademacher has the dress and manner of a bright young businessman, clearly the executive type. His speech is direct, sometimes brusque, but he can be charming, too. He has a pretty, gracious wife and a cute 3-year-old daughter. Rademacher and his family make the very picture of a young corporation executive well and recently launched on a promising career. That, as it turns out, is exactly his situation, win or lose this fight.
Rademacher, the Olympic and national AAU (1953) heavyweight champion, will be fighting Patterson, the professional heavyweight champion, as vice-president of a corporation in which the amateur will make his business career. He is being paid a salary, not a share of the gate. If the fight draws extremely well, the president of the company has told him, he may expect a small bonus. But the challenger's share of the proceeds, which normally would go to the fighter himself and his manager (Rademacher has no manager), will go instead to his company, a most unusual enterprise called Youth Unlimited.
It is, of course, unprecedented in heavyweight ranks for an amateur to fight for the professional title except in the dim, early history of prizefighting before boxing commissions, when distinctions between amateur and pro were not clearly marked. It was the assumption in the old days that any man who could get up an attractive purse had the right to fight the champion. That is what has happened in this case. Rademacher found wealthy patrons who were willing to put up the attractive guarantee of $250,000.
For two years—even before he won his Olympic gold medal—Rademacher, a boxer with a powerful punch and somewhat more than the rudiments of defense, daydreamed of making his professional debut by engaging the heavyweight champion of the world—no matter who and no one but. He was unwilling to break in by taking on four-round preliminary setups, as most fighters do. He would make the peak in a leap or he would stay in the valley.
Now and then during those two years he broached his idea to someone of influence or prestige in boxing, like Eddie Eagan, for instance, or Rocky Marciano, and for a moment the person broached would consider the possibility that this young fellow, so clear of eye and precise of speech, might nevertheless be just a little bit punchy from his amateur fights. Then there would be gentle and patient explanations of the impossibility of the thing and Rademacher would turn away to seek another buttonhole.
The many rejections and present uproar amuse him now. He remembers especially a meeting with Julius Helfand, the New York boxing commission chairman, who said to him, "Oh, you're the young fellow who can't make up his mind whether to turn professional." At that time Rademacher had already made up his mind. He just hadn't found out how to get it done the way he wanted it done.
But he met Joe Gannon, an inspector for the Washington (D.C.) boxing commission. Gannon had a special distinction. He had fought Floyd Patterson in Patterson's maiden appearance at Madison Square Garden and had lost an eight-round decision. This made him one of the few who have gone the route with Patterson and has persuaded Gannon that Patterson, properly handled, is not invincible.
Gannon is a thoughtful man, not easily stirred by wild ideas, but he thought about Rademacher's preposterous notion until it seemed that his brain would burst with the magnificent romance of it all.
"I'll try it on Cus D'Amato," he said, after a few nights of fitful sleep, unable to shake himself loose from the notion's incubus hold. "He'll think it's crazy but he might go for it."
D'Amato is Patterson's manager. He dresses like a Broadway businessman who wants to look smartly conservative—Homburg, pinned collar, lavender shirt and dark blue suit. His white hair is cropped so close that it is hard to say whether he is a baldy or a crew-cut. (Rademacher is something of each too, but in an earlier stage.) D'Amato can look stern or puckish and he can act both ways, too, sometimes at the same instant. If ever there was a man receptive to off-beat ideas it is Cus D'Amato. He is currently keeping an eye on a protégé of his, a goat of a race horse which is being trained by a pianist who has discovered something about finger exercises that he believes can be applied to training race horses. Well, more of this later, but only after post time. It could be a killing.
D'Amato, therefore, received Gannon with the pleasure old kings reserved for noted minstrels. Here was a guest to his taste. He thought about the idea, strolled about his gray-walled apartment-office, consulted the muses in his electrically vibrated relaxation chair, and announced that it was ridiculous.
"Not," he added, with the wariness that has won him the nickname of Cautious Cus, "that I am against it."
Gannon would have been in a hopeless position had it not been that Rademacher had already become acquainted with Melchior C. Jennings, Yale '40, scion of a Pittsburgh oil family, idealist and businessman who is known throughout Columbus, Ga. as Mike Jennings. Mike Jennings believes like a zealot that America was made great by practical idealism. In his early 20s he suddenly found himself the figurehead of the family oil business and resented every minute of obsequious suggestion that he sign this paper and issue that order without understanding what he was doing.
"They used to tell me," he says, "that their judgment was better than mine because it was such a complicated business and it took years to learn it. Meanwhile, all I had to do was to sign those papers."
A man could rot living a life like that and Jennings had no desire to rot. In time he chucked it all and established himself as proprietor of a small sporting goods store, which he called Field and Fireside, in Columbus, his wife's family home. Columbus is a town where a man like Jennings can mess around with bird dogs and enjoy himself while making a bit of money and thinking long, slow thoughts. His store is a southern-fried Abercrombie and Fitch (bass plugs, Ivy-style clothing, shotguns), a place in which to browse as well as buy. People come in and talk if they just happen to be passing that way. They buy what they think they need. Nobody shoves merchandise at them. The store is doing very well.
While Lieutenant Pete Rademacher, now out of the Army, was stationed at nearby Fort Benning, he met Jennings, like everyone else in that section, and in due course mentioned his dream. Jennings topped him by mentioning his dream.
The atom bomb was not built of simple materials or by ordinary men. To make it there had to be brought together, under the right conditions of time, temperature and pressure, extraordinary materials and men. It also required somebody who was willing to get up around $2 billion.
The making of this preposterous fight required a similar combination—physical, spiritual and financial. A Rademacher, a Gannon and a D'Amato were, to be sure, a combination to be reckoned with in any enterprise of this nature, but they were made unstoppable by the addition of Mike Jennings.
It has been Jennings' conviction ever since he was commander of an armed guard in the Pacific during World War II that youth needs the inspiration of incentive and that it is not easily come by in these times. He believes that the Boy Scouts and the boys' clubs do splendid work but that their work is not enough. He believes a commercial enterprise can fire the imagination of youth by presenting the notion that the impossible is not to be feared but sought out. In doing so, he thinks, the enterprise can make a decent profit. That is the idea behind Youth Unlimited, the corporation of which Pete Rademacher is vice-president and Mike Jennings is president. It is Jennings' idea, something he has thought about for years.
A man like that had no difficulty persuading D'Amato, with an assist from Rademacher, to reconsider. Cus conceded finally that the idea was not so much "ridiculous" as "fantastic." He consented to the match, provided Jennings could raise $250,000 as a guarantee for Patterson. Jennings had no difficulty finding a score of wealthy friends to put up the money in sums ranging from $5,000 to $25,000 apiece.
The ultimate catalyst in this strange combination of men and events was Jack Hurley, the Seattle boxing promoter, a fellow who performed the miracle of building Harry Matthews into an acceptable opponent for Rocky Marciano. He was selected to promote the fight in Seattle where, since he is a native son of Washington, Rademacher is a bit of a hero.
Rademacher is coming into this fight, then, not as any ordinary prizefighter but as an executive of a company which has an inspirational idea to be sold and eventually will sell some products built around that idea. In getting this fight, Rademacher's company has done the impossible, and Rademacher himself has done the impossible. So youth, to which Rademacher will now be presented as an inspirational hero, will have something to think about as it buys Youth Unlimited merchandise. Few vice-presidents have gotten off to a better start.
One of the impossible products Youth Unlimited will sell is a BB gun. This toy is founded on the concept of impossibility. It will be named after a man who not only does the impossible, but teaches his art to others. That man is Lucky McDaniel.
Lucky was born in the hills of Georgia and shot him a quail when he was only 5. It was the first shot he ever fired. He has been shooting birds, like all normal Georgians, ever since. A natural snap shooter with a shotgun, he applied the loose and delinquent principles of this kind of shooting to the rifle and pistol. When using the rifle he does not sight, hold his breath and squeeze the trigger. Using the pistol, he shoots from the hip. Sometimes he shoots the rifle from the hip. You don't have to aim a rifle or a pistol to hit your target, Lucky says. You just look at the target and thoughtlessly pull the trigger. Lucky can knock a dime out of the air with one shot from a .22 rifle.
This is not altogether wonderful. Some other professional shots can do it. What is truly wonderful is that Lucky can teach anyone, even a small child, even women and even you, to do the same thing in less than an hour. He charges $25 for such a lesson, recommends two lessons so that the teaching will stick. He also teaches police departments the quick draw and accurate hip shot, with such success that the Mobile, Ala. police have forbidden him to teach this phase of marksmanship to any but police-approved civilians.
In 90 minutes, having a slow student, he taught me to draw a .22 revolver and knock a pine cone down a red-clay Georgia road with six shots and never a miss, shooting from the hip. I fired as fast as I could pull the trigger and sometimes was impatient for the pine cone to land so that I could hit it again.
With a .22 rifle I smashed small clay pigeons he tossed in the air. With a BB gun, a prototype of the one to be manufactured by Youth Unlimited, I knocked a dime-sized piece of cigaret tin foil out of the center of a small washer he tossed up. With a piece of wire he fashioned a small circle, the size of a half dollar, chucked it skyward and instead of shooting through it or around it I hit the wire with a BB pellet. He showed me a beetle crawling along the road—a very small beetle, about the size of my little fingernail—and said, "Hit it!" I raised the BB gun to my shoulder, cheeked it and, following instructions, did not aim. I merely took a good look at the beetle and pulled the trigger. The pellet kicked up some red dust just in front of the beetle's nose. The beetle stopped in surprise. "You missed," Lucky said. "When it moves again, you hit it." It moved again, crawling forward on the assumption that I was not ready with my practically infallible BB. I smashed a pellet square into its liver.
It wasn't anything much. Lucky hits ants that way.
You get the idea now. Rademacher has done the impossible. Lucky McDaniel can teach anyone to do the impossible. Youth Unlimited, which has grabbed quick hold of Rademacher and McDaniel, is founded on the conviction that the impossible is possible.
This inspirational notion brings us around to the fight. Is it possible for Rademacher to beat Patterson?
PROS AND CONS
Rademacher is a big man with a big punch. When Zora Folley was an amateur, Rademacher defeated him. Folley, a boxer in the classic style, is now ranked No. 2, just behind Eddie Machen, in the National Boxing Association list of heavyweight contenders. Rademacher's amateur record of some 79 fights and 72 wins is most impressive, and not the least impressive fact about some of the fights is that he has been knocked down on occasion and has risen from the canvas to win. He is a champion and has the heart of a champion. He will have a considerable weight advantage over Patterson. The professional champion weighed 184 pounds for the second Hurricane Jackson fight a few weeks ago but Rademacher in training has been staying close to 210. Rademacher is tall (6 feet one), broad of shoulders and magnificently muscled. He has a short, strong neck, an indication of sorts that he can take a punch to the head. He keeps his chin tucked into his left shoulder, which will make it difficult for Patterson to get a clear shot at his jaw. His waist is thick and hard, which implies ability to take body punishment. He can hit hard with either hand.
But Rademacher in training, unless he was under wraps, has looked much too slow to handle Patterson, who has the hand speed of a middleweight. Rademacher's combinations are few and slow, his jab seems weak and his footwork is plodding and uncertain. Against the fast and competent Clarence Hinnant, his principal sparring partner, Rademacher has made amateurish moves which Hinnant deliberately did not respond to. He is easily jabbed and does not seem to know how to slip the punch.
Trainer George Chemeres, assisted by Gannon and Sergeant Regis Blair, Rademacher's Army trainer, seems to have taken Rademacher's limitations into account in preparing him for the fight. He knows an amateur, accustomed to three-round bouts and two-minute rounds, has trouble pacing himself in professional ranks. Holding the clock on Rademacher, he has had him boxing 4½-minute rounds in hope that this will keep him from tiring when he goes on the professional standard. Rademacher has been boxing as many as five of these prolonged rounds and running four to eight miles a day.
Still, it does not seem that it will be enough. It is simply not conceivable that a heavyweight champion of Patterson's ability, or any heavyweight champion for that matter, can be taken by an amateur. Patterson improves with every fight. At 22 he is clearly years away from his peak but he has already begun to look as if he might be one of the alltime greats. A Rademacher victory would make him look like an alltime bum. Patterson is a proud young fellow. No one is going to make him look like a bum.
But whether Rademacher wins or not is hardly the point of this fight. The point is that, even in losing, he will have achieved the impossible in making the fight at all. He will have done what no man ever did before. He will have made history.
Cus D'Amato thinks of it this way, too.
"People may forget someday that I was Floyd Patterson's manager," he says. "But they'll never forget that I was connected with this fight."
Rademacher as the Olympic champion
Pete shares wife Margaret's training table with 2-year-old daughter Susan
The hero returns to Seattle to face Patterson
Pete as an Army first lieutenant
Rising young executing in mufli
UNLIKELY TRIO which created fight are Mike Jennings, Youth Unlimited founder and Rademacher's boss; Jack Hurley, Seattle promoter who thrives on novelty; Lucky McDaniel, Georgia sharpshooter, whose BB gun will be promoted with fight proceeds.
For the first time since the Dempsey-Carpentier fight in 1921, a heavyweight championship bout will be neither audible nor visible on TV, radio or even theater TV. However, movies of the Patterson-Rademacher fight will be distributed through Youth Unlimited.
BIOPERSE: PETE RADEMACHER
Thomas Peter Rademacher, the somewhat different heavyweight challenger, was born 28 years ago in the tiny town of Tieton, in Washington's Yakima Valley. He was sent to Castle Heights Military Academy, Lebanon, Tenn. for prep work. There he began boxing, winning the light-heavyweight title in a tournament staged by Tennessee's military academies. In 1948 he entered Washington State College, where he played defensive guard on the football team and earned a B.S. in animal husbandry. Meantime, he continued boxing, winning the Northwest Golden Gloves heavyweight title in 1949. He lost it the next year, then won it three years running. In 1953 he also won the national AAU title. That same year he married Margaret Sutton and quit boxing, since his bride did not approve. In 1954 Rademacher, an ROTC trainee, began his two-year hitch at Fort Benning, Ga. He was urged to go into training for the Olympics. At first he demurred, due to his wife's feelings, finally began training in secret. Three months later she overheard another officer's wife talking about it at a cocktail party. "After two weeks of real combat, she said O.K.," he recalls. He arrived in San Francisco for the Olympic trials with a badly bruised right arm. Nevertheless, he won three decisions and a trip to Melbourne, then spent 12 days in a hospital getting the arm repaired. In Australia he TKOed his first two opponents in the second and third rounds respectively, and was belting away at Russian Lev Moukhine in the first round of the finals when the referee stopped it with Moukhine helpless against the ropes. He wanted to challenge Patterson then and there, but waited until after his March Army discharge and appointment as vice-president of Youth Unlimited. The championship match will be but the third professional fight he has ever seen.—R.S.