The boxing writers Association of New York assembled last week to honor Nat Fleischer, the dean of us all. Elder Fleischer, who has been the sport's sharpest eye for half a century and is its most distinguished living historian, was given a plaque handsomely reproducing the cover of the first issue of his magazine, The Ring, of which he is founder, editor and publisher.
The writers were having a jolly good time toasting their patriarch when Julius Helfand, chairman of the New York boxing commission, gratuitously put them to work. He announced that Promoter Emil Lence and Madison Square Garden were close to agreement on terms for a heavyweight championship fight in December. He was "hopeful" that the deal would go through. Lence and the Garden also expressed hopeful thoughts.
The deal has not gone through and it is not likely to. The party of the first part, Champion Floyd Patterson, probably will not fight again until after New Year's Day. When he does fight next it probably will not be at the Garden.
This estimate of a very sorry situation is based on some low, growling remarks of Cus D' Amato, Patterson's manager, and the fact that there are so few attractive contenders for Patterson's title. Each of the contenders will be useful to D'Amato in good time and place, but the time does not seem to be December and the place does not seem to be the Garden.
The demolition of Eddie Machen by Ingemar Johansson made Johansson a standout contender, but for an outdoors fight next spring. Zora Folley, who could score only a desultory draw against Machen at San Francisco—although most spectators thought Folley won—probably can be built into an outdoor attraction, provided he refurbishes his reputation by trouncing, say, Willi Besmanoff. Besmanoff, seemingly stronger than he has hitherto appeared, blasted out Alex Miteff in one round at Seattle recently. Folley has been signed to meet Henry Cooper, British title contender, first.
That leaves Nino Valdes as a possible Garden opponent, but someone must first convince D'Amato that the big Cuban can fill the Garden or, to put it another way, that D'Amato cannot get a better guarantee for a Patterson-Valdes fight outside New York. D'Amato has been studying attractive offers, notably one from Cuba, but the Castro rebellion there makes that offer less than enticing.
The indications are that D'Amato, though he has not absolutely banned a Garden appearance for Patterson this winter, will save Valdes for a more propitious and profitable time. This week he had come to no final decision but one gathered that his mind was trending toward 1959, that he was cold about December 1958.
"Next year," he said, "Patterson will defend his championship three times, maybe four, and will take on all leading contenders."
It makes a pleasant prospect but it commits the quietly chafing Patterson to another winter of discontent, for Patterson's ambition is to be known as a fighting champion. Though Patterson is a most patient man, in or out of the ring, and has a clear and sympathetic understanding of D'Amato's strategies, he is still a fighter, with a fighter's love of victories and honors. He recognizes, too, that just as a tennis player does not bring himself up to a competitive edge by hitting balls against a bangboard, a prizefighter keeps his weapons sharp only in actual competition. No one knows better than Patterson that his performance in the Roy Harris fight was below his high standard and that it could be attributed simply to a year's layoff.
Today the champion is paying the price for D'Amato's bedevilment by the feuds and fussing of a sport that in recent years has taken on the aspects of a struggle for power in the Kremlin.