Last week Bill Rosensohn had long, earnest conversations with Ingemar Johansson and Eddie Ahlquist in the sitting room of a sedate Paris hotel.
The purpose of Rosensohn's meeting with the champion and his adviser was in part to explain the developments of the turbulent week, including his dramatic resignation from Rosensohn Enterprises, Inc., and to reaffirm his interest in and friendship for the champion. He urged Ingemar to do everything possible to go through with his return bout within the contracted 90-day period, recognizing however that Ingemar's objections and fears were indeed justifiable. He also discussed the possibility of future defenses after the rematch, when Rosensohn would once again emerge as the promoter.
Rosensohn clearly indicated that he was not through with either boxing promotion or Ingemar Johansson, but at the same time it was evident that he was in Paris for a broader and more daring purpose. It could not be a coincidence that at the same Old World hotel with Bill, Ingemar and Eddie were Jolly Jack Solomons, the British fight promoter, and grim Truman Gibson of NBE (successor to IBC) aide-de-camp to the celebrated James D. Norris. It was obvious that this curious company had come to Paris with a larger, more difficult aim than climbing the Eiffel Tower. Certainly the four most significant promoters in the world and the champion of the very same world had been summoned by one of the five to talk shop. It seemed again quite probable that a formidable entente was in the making, an entente that would make previous coalitions seem puny by comparison.
What also emerges is that Bill Rosensohn, far from being an impoverished refugee from boxing's devious, clubby world, still maintained, and was striking from, a position of considerable power—and that power was clearly Ingemar Johansson. It is an old axiom that the man who controls the heavyweight champion controls boxing. Bill does not control Johansson, who controls himself, but he does have his trust and that is certainly next best.
August 16, 1959
Some other points about the Paris summit meeting are worth noting. Rosensohn was the host at the convention. Johansson was not only the guest of honor, but in a sense the massive and valuable centerpiece. What could have induced Gibson to come to Paris? I can think of three good reasons: Johansson, Rosensohn's good name with the public and his good (nonmonopolistic) standing with the Federal Government. Gibson and his boss Norris have none of these, and certainly one reason that Johansson was in Paris was to display to Truman and Jack that he was still Bill's boy.
How Rosensohn could use fellow promoters Gibson, who must watch his monopolistic step these days, and Solomons, who usually plays ball with Marse Jim Norris, hardly needs stating. They have immense reservoirs of talent and capital. We shall hear more from these strange new bedfellows. We may expect an entirely new architecture in boxing, and not merely another fa√ßade. One should not prejudge from the Paris personnel what this architecture might look like. Remember, the master builder is likely to be Bill Rosensohn, and he has promised to compromise no more.
As for Johansson and the rematch, despite Rosensohn's exhortations, it is hard to see how the fight can take place this year. Ingo reiterates that he does not yet have a satisfactory accounting of his moneys, and anyway, time is growing perilously short to prepare for an outdoor fight in the temperate zone.
Meanwhile, the catalyst Rosensohn passes along the balmy, palmy concourse at Cannes to the casino. The orchestras tell softly of the promise of love in front of the vast pastel hotels. Across the even waters of the bay, part of the Sixth Fleet rides before the Maritime Alps. In the casino, Rosensohn bets on black at the crowded table. Ask him why. "It is the only thing I could reach," he says, but he wins.
He is a gambler, and perhaps his luck is turning.
Rosensohn was not talking for publication, but a few days before in Goteborg, Ingemar had talked to me quite clearly about his plans and purposes.
"I tell you one thing," Ingemar said. "I will not fight in September. There is not enough time to get ready. What can they do if I do not fight? Take away my money? The Government would get it anyway. I would not have done this exhibition tour if I had my money. It was hard work, I tell you, but it cost me a lot of money to go over to the States so I had to do it.
"I am tired now and I have to rest. I do not train.
"No, I am not going to America right away. Kahn [Irving B. Kahn, president of TelePrompTer] called me up last night and said that I had agreed to go to America in August. I told him I had never said that. We talked and at the end he said he had put it down on tape. I do not like that. I do not know this Kahn but I do not like that.
"I hear they say that maybe they won't fight in New York because they have better offers from other cities. I know why they want to fight in another city—because of Davidow. [Harry Davidow, the Brooklyn luncheonette owner Cus D'Amato tried to force on Johansson as his 10% American manager. The New York State Athletic Commission threw out the arrangement, but D'Amato is understood to have received assurances from another state boxing commission that it would recognize the Davidow contract provided D'Amato took the fight away from New York.]
"I tell you another thing. I will not fight again unless this Davidow thing is pushed aside finally. I know the New York commission is on my side. They are for me.
"I hear D'Amato say that it is not up to Ingemar. D'Amato is being childish. I liked him and the way he talked the first few times we met. He say everything is for the boy. Everything is not for the boy. Maybe it is not for the money but it is for prestige. He told me that being manager of the heavyweight champion is the most important thing."
Ingemar smiled his knowledgeable smile.
"I do not know what is going on but I do not like the way they think they can push me around. If they think they can push me around, I warn them, like I told you the other time we talked: they are going to be in for trouble. I am not a big man but I am the champion.
"They cannot push Bill Rosensohn around any more, either. What he did before, I know it was because they pushed him. I want to give Floyd another chance and I want to fight him because it means a lot of money, but I don't fight for Kahn and D'Amato. They cannot make me."
Eddie Ahlquist, the shrewd promoter who guided Ingemar's career from his amateur days, also talked in the cocktail lounge of Goteborg's Park Avenue Hotel, where he sipped on a glass of straight quinine water.
"We are both satisfied with the investigation," he said, referring to New York District Attorney Frank Hogan's inquiry and speaking also for Ingemar. "We feel it should be looked into. In fact, everyone who likes boxing should be satisfied. Boxing shouldn't be taking all those raps all the time. He wants the return and he will fight the return but he doesn't want any monkey business behind the back or under the table. He doesn't want to be a new Carnera. He will get his part. One thing is certain. Floyd shall have his return.
"You know, I like D'Amato. I think he is being influenced by other people. I think it is that Schweig [Edwin Schweig, D'Amato's lawyer]. You know, the first time that I met Schweig in his office, he boasted to me about how much money D'Amato owed him.
"D'Amato's trouble is he doesn't trust anybody. Why should I trust a man who doesn't trust anybody? But I like him, you know, except the way he talks about the IBC. The first time I met him he took us to some hideaway in Long Island with dogs, and for six hours he told us about the IBC.
"Now, Bill. Bill is weak, but he is honest. He should have told us what was going on [before the fight] but perhaps he was right. We might have gone home.
"What sort of a man is Velella [Vincent J. Velella, who ousted Rosensohn as president of Rosensohn Enterprises!? I don't know him but I know him. These people push us around, the darn fools. They played for high stakes and when you play for high stakes you have to be ready to lose, the darn fools. They are greedy people. There is plenty of money for everybody but they're greedy, Kahn and Velella.
"Kahn, he calls me every night. One night I say, 'Kahn, do you have a pencil?' He say, 'Yes.' 'Kahn,' I say, 'do you have a piece of paper?' He say, 'Yes.' 'Well,' I say, 'write down this: Ingemar Johansson is the heavyweight champion of the world.' "
And Eddie laughed and drank some more quinine water.