In a hotel room of a midwestern city which, for security reasons, can be described only as Indianapolis, two men met in secret last weekend and made decisions which established scientifically that not only baseballs but boxing promotions can take sharp curves.
The two men were Cus D'Amato, manager of Floyd Patterson, the heavyweight champion of the world, and Cecil Rhodes, a soft-spoken young man who decided recently to step briskly from the comparative safety of a prosperous steel-fabricating business into the tar pits of boxing promotion.
Last Thursday Rhodes had announced in New York that he would promote Floyd Patterson's next title fight, against the Britisher Brian London, No. 4 contender in National Boxing Association ratings, and that the fight would be held in Las Vegas on May 1. On Saturday he was in Indianapolis getting ready to announce that the fight would not be in Las Vegas but in Indianapolis.
The reasons behind the abrupt shift lay pretty much concealed in the labyrinthine mind of D'Amato, who was conspicuously absent from the press conference called to announce the Las Vegas date. He did say, however, that one reason for the change in locale lay in published reports that illicit gambling money, and not the legal gambling money of Las Vegas, lay behind the promotion. Both D'Amato and Rhodes denied, of course, that this was so but felt that such rumors would taint Rhodes's maiden promotional effort. So for once Las Vegas, which had bet on the fight as an ideal publicity attraction, lost on the spin of a roulette wheel.
The spin was the ultimate whirl in one of boxing's giddiest weeks, which included an announcement by Bill Rosensohn, another young promoter traveling in the often uncertain D'Amato orbit, that he would charge a $100 top for 2,000 "red carpet ringside seats" when Patterson meets Ingemar Johansson, the No. 1 contender, at Yankee Stadium on June 25. Another 8,000 will go for a more modest $50, he said, and the 80,000-seat stadium will be scaled to do a $1.5 million business.
Not the least of Rhodes's announcements on Thursday was that the National Broadcasting Company would televise the Patterson-London fight under the aegis of Gillette, regular sponsor of the Friday Night Fights and now engaged in hearty competition with the American Broadcasting Company's Wednesday Night Fights. These are promoted by James D. Norris and Truman Gibson, who once promoted the Friday Night Fights, too, but lost out for these in an antitrust decision of the Supreme Court of the United States. It was announced further by Tom Gallery, NBC sports director, that NBC and Gillette would join in televising two more Patterson defenses after the London and Johansson fights are out of the way. Rhodes later demurred that there was only an agreement "to discuss" each of these fights as they came along.
If the plans work out, Patterson will become a familiar figure on home television. His two fights with Hurricane Jackson and his fight with Archie Moore, in which he won the title, were on home TV but he has not been seen there since. The prestige of the heavyweight title will add greatly to the prestige of the Friday Night Fights, as well, and Patterson's renewed activity will add to the prestige of boxing itself and to the champion's peace of mind.
For Patterson, though a firm sympathizer in D'Amato's assault on the International Boxing Club monopoly, never had felt comfortable in prolonged idleness. News that the London and Johansson fights were to be followed by others in relatively quick succession cheered him greatly at his New Jersey training camp.
"Now I can be a fighting champion," he said, and proceeded to pummel sparring partners with even greater vim than he had been showing a week ago, when the sparring partners were forced to don D'Amato-designed padded vests to protect them from his body punches. Sloppy and slow in his preparations for the fight with Roy Harris last August and during the fight itself, Patterson has regained his swift reflexes and his timing to such a degree that he has had difficulty keeping sparring mates. If he maintains this keen edge until the night of the London fight it will be a sign that the magnificent Patterson of the night he won the title against Moore has at long last returned to the wars.
London is expected to come to the United States this week in defiance of a strange promulgation by the British Board of Boxing Control, whose stewards rejected London's application for the fight with a statement that it would not be "in the best interests of British boxing." The board is not, as some believe, an official body, but a group of private individuals, who organized in 1929 and have since come to rule boxing utterly in the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland with the voluntary compliance of promoters, managers and, of course, fighters. Its financial support comes from the fights thus promoted with its consent, and its principal contributor is, naturally, the principal British promoter, Jack Solomons, business friend of the IBC.
LONDON'S FINEST HOUR
With a guarantee of $75,000 for fighting Patterson and even a chance, though a slim one, at winning the title, London decided to snoot the board and even, perhaps, do all his future fighting in the United States. A rugged brawler with few skills and almost total inability to avoid a jab, he is nevertheless brutally strong and tough and just about ideal material to give Patterson a needed fight before he takes on the much more formidable Johansson in June.
At least once before the boxing board made a similar decision in the case of a British fighter invited to meet an American heavyweight champion. That was when it forbade Tommy Farr to fight Joe Louis. Farr lasted a full 15 rounds and gave Louis one of his roughest nights.
Rhodes's apocryphal announcement that the London fight would be in Las Vegas was made at the Madison Square Garden Club at a meeting called by and presided over by Rear Admiral John J. Bergen, USNR, new Garden head since his Graham-Paige Corporation bought the arena from James D. Norris. This, and some hopeful remarks by the admiral, led to a temporary belief that the Garden had reached an amiable understanding with D'Amato, who has, in fact, been dickering with the admiral. It was presumed that the Garden would participate in the promotion of Patterson's projected title defenses as televised by NBC, with which the Garden has a contract to supply contestants. It turned out that this was mostly presumption. Rhodes refuses to confirm that the Garden would participate in any of his promotions, though he does not rule it out.
One reason for the selection of Indianapolis as a site for the Patterson-London fight was that D'Amato had previously been approached with an offer to have Patterson fight there on the eve of the Memorial Day 500-mile speed classic and had been impressed by promises of promotional cooperation. As negotiations proceeded with Indianapolitans, D'Amato seemed happy, but Rhodes glumly contemplated a storm of ridicule and abuse which, he anticipated, would follow as night the day his announcement of the switch in plans. But to D'Amato, to whom such a storm would be mild springlike weather compared to what he endured during his war with the IBC, the outlook was serene.