Those men in white coats at the Patterson-London fight in Indianapolis May 1 won't be there to sell peanuts. They will be psychiatrists, assembled for clinical study of one of the more lunatic sporting promotions of our century, surpassing in some aspects even such demented delights as bunion derbies and dance marathons.
Simple elements of the promotion—like site, date and opponent—have been flipping like flapjacks since January, when Brian London, the Blackpool Blackjack, brawled his way to defeat at the hands of Henry Cooper in London. Floyd Patterson was to have defended his heavyweight title against the winner, who turned out to be Cooper, who in turn turned out to be reluctant. Guaranteed $72,000, he demanded twice that. So Cus D'Amato, Patterson's manager, settled for London. It made no difference, since the fight was essentially a fist-honing preparation for Patterson's later defense against the more formidable Ingemar Johansson and since London is, after all, one of the top-rated heavyweight contenders.
That made everything seem normal; but the promoter turned out to be a stylish stout young man named, of all things, Cecil Rhodes Jr., given to dropping casually the information that he held three degrees from Harvard, that he was vice-president of a steel-fabricating firm, and that he had taught at Suffolk Law School in Boston. (He taught English there for one semester.) Sometimes he varied this by saying that one of those degrees was from Brown, which is the correct version. He has, in fact, only one degree from Harvard, an LL.B. He was a bit of a genius, he indicated, at corporate reorganization, taking over foundering companies and building them back to robust health. He had a way of dropping the names of prominent persons ("Slivovitz? Not C.W.? We were at Harvard together").
For all that, he was correctly ponderous in manner, and this was perhaps the wellspring of his gift for winning confidence. He won D'Amato's confidence completely.
April 26, 1959
"This man," D'Amato said breathlessly one afternoon in Indianapolis, "doesn't care about making money. He wants to plow it all back into the sport."
Rhodes beamed but kept a sound, businesslike button on his lip.
There was talk, however, of a pension system for boxers and a syndicate of small, morally managed fight clubs. D'Amato, a rare bird among fight managers, keeps a set of Thomas Aquinas' writings in his bookcase and believes with the old philosopher that it is all right to make pots of money provided the stuff is used for the summum bonum. He was enchanted to find a kindred soul in Cecil, a fellow nothing like James D. Norris.
Well, Cecil is now out as promoter of the fight, having come to a parting of the ways with an embittered Cus last-week; but if Cus had talked to Day Mangus, a harness-horse breeder, he might have been disenchanted earlier. Mangus is currently trying to collect from Cecil the sum of $48,750—which he says Cecil owes him for Lady Ann Reed, last year's World's Champion Three-Year-Old Filly Trotter on half-mile tracks. She had done a record mile of 2:02 [1/5] at Grandview, Ohio.
In an affidavit filed in New Jersey Superior Court Mangus sets forth that he agreed last summer to sell Cecil the horse for $48,750. In return for a couple of postdated checks totaling $45,000 and a promise to come up with the remaining $3,750 in cash, Mangus says he turned over possession of the mare. Mangus deposited the two checks, but Cecil's bank refused to "release" the funds.
The affidavit describes more promises to pay, but even after several of these Mangus still had enough confidence in Cecil to pay a $50 entrance fee for him so that Lady Ann Reed could run in a race. The Racing Commission wasn't taking any of Cecil's checks.
On Cecil's word that the funds would now be released, the affidavit goes on, Mangus redeposited the checks and a few days later was looking for Cecil, again "hoping to receive the cash payment of $3,750, which he still owed me, plus the $50...but he was nowhere to be found."
This was at Grandview, where the mare was entered in a race.
"However," the affidavit continues, "when Lady Ann Reed won the race he suddenly appeared, received the trophy. I ran toward the winner's circle only to find that he had disappeared."
Mangus eventually caught up with Rhodes at Springfield, Ill.
"At this time," the affidavit says, "he told me that he...was selling part interest in the horse and that if I would wait right where I was he would bring his partner back to give me the money in full. I waited, but he did not appear....
"At the same time he handed me two typewritten papers, each of two sheets, and told me that he required these papers to show his partner before his partner would give him the money. We were standing near the paddock and, thinking that at last the matter was to be cleaned up, I signed these papers without question and asked for a copy. He said that these two copies were all that he had and that his partner would require both of them but that he would type up an extra copy for me and mail it to me. This he never did....
"However when the matter was brought before the New York [State Harness] Racing Commission, the secretary...read me what purported to be [what] I signed. They were entirely different except for...the last page, than the ones that I had glanced over before signing.... As the first page was read me...it appeared that it said something about my destroying the two checks he had given me and that I had agreed to accept the money in monthly payments. I...denied that I had signed any such agreement with Mr. Rhodes and when I was told also that Mr. Rhodes claimed that he had given me many thousands of dollars in cash I also denied this. It is not true. He has my horse, has the winnings from the horse, and has not paid any money for it."
D'Amato now refuses to comment on what happened to cause the open break which eliminated Cecil from the Indianapolis promotion.
If anything similar happened to him, D'Amato isn't saying.
But it was obviously not, as announced, a sudden discovery that Cecil lacked a necessary residence status to promote in Indiana which led to his withdrawal as a promoter. He withdrew perforce but with a clear profit of $55,000, which he had deducted from a $115,000 advance obtained from NBC and civic-minded Indianapolitans.
This $55,000 may come in handy for Cecil when, four days before the title fight, Mangus' action is due to come up in a New Jersey court. It would just about pay for Lady Ann Reed and $3,134.29 that Stanley Dancer, the famous trainer-driver, claims Cecil owes him for his services.
While the fight was in jeopardy Brian London arrived from England and was met at Idlewild Airport by reporters who, accustomed to ballyhoo confidence from heavyweight challengers, were astonished when London's only response to their questions was "no comment."
They were further astounded when the challenger then disappeared. A few days later a New York Times reporter discovered him training behind locked doors in, of all places, the downtown gym owned by Cus D'Amato.
In any ordinary circumstance this would have been viewed with suspicion, and was so regarded in some quarters, but anything can happen in a farce. Had London trained at Stillman's he might have been subjected to questioning which would have revealed the shaky status of the fight at a time when desperate preparations were going on to save it.
On Thursday, just two weeks before the fight, D'Amato announced that Rhodes had retired as its promoter and that Bill Rosensohn would step into his shoes.
It was one of the more sporting gestures of our time. Rosensohn was agreeing to supervise promotion of a fight that in some small measure threatened his much vaster promotion, involving Patterson and Ingemar Johansson, at Yankee Stadium on June 25. It was conceivable, though hardly probable, that London might win, since in 26 fights he has knocked out 19 opponents and lost only four times. But from Rosensohn's standpoint a greater danger would be that Patterson might be cut or, as in the first Hurricane Jackson fight, break a hand, thus forcing postponement of the Johansson fight.
PATTERSON AT PEAK
Rosensohn's generous acceptance of the job on such brief notice put the situation back on an even keel. Tickets at last were printed, Patterson and London left immediately for Indianapolis to complete their training.
Though it is sensible to expect that Patterson will win by a knockout, he may be in for a rough few rounds. London is a most rugged fellow. He has to be, for he lacks even elemental defensive skills and depends on a crowding, bruising style to overwhelm opponents. He has been stopped only once, in the first round of his first fight with Cooper, and always has contended that he succumbed to a lucky punch. In their second fight last January it took Cooper a full 15 rounds to win and anyone looking at his battered face would have picked Cooper as the loser.
But London never has fought a man of Patterson's class, and Patterson in training has looked better than ever. His punching has been sharp and powerful. His morale has never seemed higher.
Just don't try to buy peanuts from those men in the white coats.