When Don Jordan, the Geronimo Kid, won the world welterweight title from Virgil Akins a year ago last December he was the traditional hungry fighter come up the hard way—splendidly conditioned, viciously intent on victory, using wits as well as fists. Last Friday night in Las Vegas, Jordan came down from his throne just as hard as he came up. He lost to a fighter who could hurt him but was incapable of mercifully knocking him out. Soon he may be hungry once more, for his financial condition is precarious. And it does not appear that he will ever again be of much account as a fighter.
As early as the fifth round of his 15-round title fight with 23-year-old Benny (Kid) Paret, a light-punching Cuban of no distinction, it was clear that Don Jordan had lost almost everything but courage. He endured a most painful body beating. As an inadequate infighter he took a score of uppercuts to the head without seeming to know how he might avoid them. In the late rounds he fought with brief surges of desperate gallantry, but he could not sustain them. And so another world boxing title left the United States.
It left by way of Las Vegas and in as plush an arena as ever saw champion meet challenger. The city's Convention Center is a magnificent, air-conditioned, mushroom-shaped building with deeply carpeted lobbies, a cocktail lounge, tile and stucco walls in pastel colors and, so help me, net curtains. It is a far cry from St. Nick's, or any other American fight club. Even the audience was pretty: show girls from the casino revues were sprinkled about ringside.
The new champion is one of the youngest ever to win the title. An illiterate who signs contracts with a thumbprint, Paret first came to wide notice when he fought a surprise draw with José Torres in Puerto Rico. More recently, he enjoyed two decisions over Charlie Scott and drew in 12 rounds with Federico Thompson, the Argentine, the same Thompson who knocked out Jordan in four rounds last December. That knockout, and Jordan's defeat at the hands of Candy McFarland in Baltimore on May 16, signaled that Jordan was washed up. Paret was a 2-to-1 favorite.
The disintegration of a champion is sometimes swift, as in Jordan's case, or exceedingly slow, as in the case of the wondrous Archie Moore, the light heavyweight champion, who on the preceding Wednesday stopped Heavyweight Willi Besmanoff in a decidedly over-the-weight match at Indianapolis. Archie came into the ring at a majestic 206½ pounds, which is 31½ pounds over the weight he must make if he is to defend his title against Erich Schoppner in a few weeks. Doffing his robe of white silk brocade, the venerable Archie unveiled a paunch a gourmet would be proud of, and one a fighter should never wear. But after the paunch he unveiled his punch.
That big belly made no difference in the result. Knocked down in the second round for no count, Archie rose as he always does and went on to win every succeeding round but the seventh, which was scored even. One of his uppercuts knocked Besmanoff down in the fifth. In the ninth Willi made the mistake of landing a solid right under Archie's proud heart.
The Moore response, a predictable one, was to teach Willi his manners with a crashing overhand right ("I descended at an angle of 90 ," Archie said later), and down went the 1983½-pound Besmanoff, certainly at an angle of 90°, with a crash that shook the ring. The bell rang before 10.
A relatively light tap in the 10th started blood streaming from Besmanoff's nose and gushing from his mouth, so hideously that Referee Frank Gilmer stopped the fight. Archie won a technical knockout. He did not seem surprised.
Sometimes a dressing room chat with Archie is better entertainment than his fight. This was a night like that. Fending off polite inquiries about his midriff displacement, Archie disclosed that unlike ordinary men who must do grueling roadwork and other dreary chores to prepare for a fight, he has perfected a new method of training.
"I fight myself into condition," he explained. "I get into better shape with each succeeding round. You must have noticed that."
It was true, too, in an Alice in Wonderland sort of way. Archie certainly looked better in the ninth and 10th rounds, when he knocked Besmanoff down and then scored a technical knockout, than in the second round, when Besmanoff knocked Archie down. The Moore logic in these matters is inescapable.
Archie was hardly in shape to repeat his famous story of the Australian aborigine who taught him a still-secret reducing diet. Instead, he produced a new and even more romantic mystery.
"I have discovered a secret method of breathing," he announced, giving the impression that though most people breathe through the nose or mouth, Archie is now inhaling through his ears. Before an eyebrow could be lowered he moved briskly on:
"With this secret breathing method I don't get tired like other fighters do. I have this breathing technique in common with the jet planes."
That was as close to a hint as he would give.
Though he cannot go on forever, Archie by no means faces the destitution that has been the lot of so many champions after lush years of big purses. Archie is about to be nicely launched on a new career. It may well take care of him in what we had better call his advanced old age.
Archie has now revealed himself as a first-rate character actor. A few weeks ago in New York some of us were privileged to watch him in a private screening of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. He plays Jim, the runaway slave, and he runs away with the picture.
We have all known for years that he can make you laugh and he can make you cheer, but it now turns out that he can make you want to cry, too. After mid-June, when the picture is released, the odds are very good that Archie Moore, actor, will be in as much popular demand as Archie Moore, fighter.
Vastly different is the situation of Don Jordan, who is only 25 years old compared to Archie's underestimated 46. There is less future for young Jordan than for old Archie. A slum boy who grew up with a misguided admiration for mobsters, Jordan not long ago struck up an acquaintance with the Los Angeles gangster, Mickey Cohen, and they have been buddies ever since.
A few years ago, abandoned by a former manager, Jordan was stranded in Mexico when Don Nesseth, a young fight manager outside the mob, picked him up. Nesseth bought his contract and negotiated Jordan to the championship. Instantly, Frankie Carbo and Blinky Palermo, boxing's most influential gangsters, tried to muscle in. When Nesseth resisted the muscle and told his story to the authorities, Jordan not only quit him but berated him for violating the mobster code of silence.
But Nesseth came out of this Las Vegas fight with checks totaling $90,000, his price for releasing Jordan from his contract. Jordan came out with a mere $2,000, a sum he extorted from Nesseth in his dressing room 20 minutes before the fight by threatening to refuse to enter the ring. Jordan's estranged wife had process servers busy trying to divert the $2,000 pittance to the care of their four children.
Mickey Cohen was at ringside, flanked by his girl friend and Jordan's fiancée. Perhaps friend Cohen will now give Jordan a job. He needs one.
As for Paret, his tenure as champion is likely to be brief, too. Luis Rodriguez, No. 1 contender from Cuba, has beaten him twice and must inevitably be faced again.