The scramble among the world's top boxing promoters, as described by Gilbert Rogin, is not for pennies. Ingemar Johansson, heavyweight champion of the world, is a property worth millions of dollars. He is easily the most attractive champion of many a year, both in fighting and personal qualities. He is the antithesis of the shy, retiring Floyd Patterson who was so overshadowed by his ebullient manager, Cus D'Amato. He will come out of all this a millionaire and, in the process, he could make a few other millionaires. All the principals in this play would dearly like to be millionaires.
They are forward-looking troglodytes, very intelligent of their kind. They foresee the approaching day when pay television comes in, when the heavyweight championship will be worth so much that the golden days of Dempsey and Tunney will seem like dross. Even now, however, with theater television attracting a million-dollar box office on big fights, the heavyweight championship is heavy money.
After promoting two championship fights Bill Rosensohn has yet to make his first dollar out of boxing, for neither bout made money at the stadium gate and he was coolly frozen out of the truly lucrative theater-television end of the business.
But as long as Champion Ingemar is on his side, Rosensohn is on his way to riches. Ingo is the guy to tie to. That is why Truman Gibson and Jack Solomons are so busy designing knots.
Gibson has a rather special problem. As president of National Boxing Enterprises, Inc., the court-created successor to James D. Norris's International Boxing Club, he is debarred from starting all over again the pattern of monopoly that led to the end of the IBC. He cannot, for instance, participate in the promotion of a fight in New York. That city, under the antitrust decree, is forbidden territory to his corporation. Norris and Rosensohn have discussed the possibility that Rosensohn might sell Norris the one-third of Rosensohn Enterprises, Inc. that Bill still owns but the antitrust shadow hung over that possibility and, furthermore, there is no assurance that Rosensohn Enterprises will ever be of any importance in Johansson fights. Ingemar has said that he wants nothing to do with its present executives, now that Bill Rosensohn has departed.
Rosensohn has a special problem, too. He needs financial backing. To get it for the Patterson-Roy Harris fight, he turned to his old employer, TelePrompTer. To get it for the Johansson-Patterson fight, according to New York District Attorney Frank Hogan, he turned to Gil Beckley, one of the nation's top gamblers, who then introduced him to an unidentified underworld figure. This unidentified man, says Hogan, "operating through a front, obtained an interest in Rosensohn Enterprises." When Rosensohn Enterprises was finally constituted in its present form, one-third of it was owned by Rosensohn, two-thirds by Vincent J. Velella, an East Harlem politician and lawyer whose clients in the past have numbered policy racketeers (and who, in some manner still unclear, seems to have acquired the one-third interest conceded to Charley Black, who Rosensohn says was foisted on him by Cus D'Amato).
Other personnel of the underworld have been named by Hogan in connection with the case. He has invited Frank Erickson, "king of the bookmakers," to testify about peripheral matters before the grand jury. Last weekend he was trying to snag Trigger Mike Coppola, who has been connected with murder in East Harlem and gambling in Florida, to tell what he knows to the grand jury.
Small wonder that Bill Rosensohn, before he left for France, was guarded by a detective from the district attorney's office. He has been playing in rough company. He may need a bodyguard for a long time to come.
The need for financial backing is Rosensohn's great weakness. The search for it has led him into the hoodlum jungle and if he allies himself now with the successor to the IBC he will not be too far removed from it. An old hand at keeping managers and fighters in line was Frankie Carbo, who had more than an admitted coffee cup acquaintance with Norris during the past 20 years. Carbo was released last week in $100,000 bail on charges that he was an undercover manager of a number of fighters, including champions. Carbo is a graduate of Murder, Inc.
It is this hoodlum influence in boxing which is the heart of the matter. Sonny Liston, a leading candidate for Johansson's title, is controlled by mobsters through fronts. He was first owned by John J. Vitale of the St. Louis Mafia. He is not an unusual case among prizefighters of the day.
Carbo may go to jail and there is, in fact, a well-founded report that he was turned in to the district attorney's office by Mafia leaders who have decided that Frankie is now too hot to be useful. Standing in the wings, this report continues, is Tony Bananas, the New Jersey lily, who controls a number of rackets, including some fighters. He is an ambitious fellow and would like to supplant Carbo.
District Attorney Hogan's investigation is most welcome. The disclosure that Rosensohn got financial backing from a mobster puts the novice promoter in a less pleasant light than has previously shone on him but it must be noted that he himself made the disclosure, thus opening the door for Hogan's clean-up drive, and that he has assured us that he will make no future compromises of such a nature, deal though he may with the remnant of the IBC.
It is refreshing in such a situation to look on the clean, fresh face of Ingemar Johansson or the more somber but just as clean-cut features of Floyd Patterson. Like most fighters, they are decent men. They, the fighters, give the sport what virtue it has. They and the public are the sufferers in this situation. They want to fight and the public wants very much to see them fight.
It would be good to know that when next they meet it will be under auspices worthy of two such sportsmen.