Boxing, which has been on the critical list for some time now, has made a recovery of sorts: from December 2 through December 9 there were at least six major prizefights and one major postponement. However, if boxing must endure many more recoveries of this nature, it may perish. One of these fights, Sonny Liston's one-round knockout of a seriocomic figure named Albert Westphal, was a shameful promotion. Floyd Patterson's four-round dissection of Tom McNeeley did not do the sport any service either, although it had a measure of excitement. But so does a bout between a cat and a mouse in a phone booth. Mounting horror, it is called.
Cus D'Amato, Patterson's manager, has defined talent, with McNeeley in mind, as "using the ammunition you have to win. What difference does it make whether a man's clumsy or not?" Alas, not only is McNeeley woefully crude, he has no ammunition save courage and stamina, and these, historically, are the property of losers.
"If Tom has only courage," Peter Fuller, his manager, soberly remarked after the fight, "it is not enough. It is too cruel an ordeal to fight on that alone. Can he learn what he has to learn is a question. He needs to get moves, to get cuter to survive as a heavyweight boxer." Although Titian did some of his best work when he was past 90, McNeeley does not appear likely to flower late. Tragically for his ambition, he is not a prizefighter: he is an athlete.
The fight may well have been a sound business venture for Patterson and his associates, but it was damn poor sport. If the heavyweight title continues to be demeaned in this fashion, there may well come a time when it will be damn poor business, too. The Liston and Patterson fights were coupled as a theater-and-pay-television doubleheader in the absurd conviction that two is better than one. But, like tired, inept swimmers, they pulled each other down. One piece of cheese, two pieces of cheese—it's still a cheese sandwich.
What does promise to be rewarding, both as finance and art, is a Patterson-Liston match. This, however, seems as long in the making and as fraught with misadventure as Elizabeth Taylor's filming of Cleopatra. Floyd insists he wants Liston. D'Amato, on the other hand, protests that there are "obstacles." A man with a certain flair for mystery, Cus declines to reveal what the obstacles are. They are, in fact, the lingering influence on Liston of Blinky Palermo, a fight manager and police character now out on $100,000 bail pending appeal of a 15-year sentence for extortion.
While Liston is woefully removing obstacles, Henry Cooper removed himself as an interim challenger for Patterson's title by being knocked out in the second round by Zora Folley at London. Folley was once a leading contender, and deservedly, but knockouts by Liston and Alejandro Lavorante had dropped him out of the picture. The fight was decided by three blows. In the first round Folley hit Cooper with a left hook just above the bridge of his nose, splitting it open. Following some salutary exchanges, a right lacerated Cooper's left eyebrow. After a minute of the second round another right caught Cooper on the chin. He went down like a potted swan. At the count of five he was on his haunches, looking round for advice. At eight he began to rise and at 10 he was vertical, but actually he was nowhere and the referee properly signaled that it was all over.
After the fight Cooper lay on a table in his dressing room as though on his shield. At his head stood his identical twin, Jim, looking at his brother with melancholy: a bloody reflection. With one hand over Henry's fists stood his manager, Jim Wicks. Both Wicks and Henry sucked sweets, and the soft sound was like weeping. Every now and again Henry brandished his right fist. He never had a right. "It was a good punch," he said. "I never even saw it. If I could have got up, I would have got up." Said Wicks bleakly, "If you had got up, you'd have been murdered."
The following night in Boise, Idaho George Logan won a split decision from Lavorante, giving rise to facetious speculation that Logan would be Patterson's next opponent. The reasoning: Folley beat Cooper, Lavorante beat Folley, Logan beat Lavorante. Unhappily, McNeeley defeated Logan thrice and that, thank God. scotches that. Then there's Eddie Machen. Eddie has had his ups and downs. On December 2 in Miami Beach he had an up, easily winning from Doug Jones, a previously unbeaten light heavyweight. Either Machen or Folley would, theoretically, make a worthy spring bout with Patterson. If, at times, they're lacking McNeeley's heart, they do possess moves. And that would leave Liston de-obstacled for the fall.
Another fellow distantly clamoring for a crack at Patterson is Archie Moore, who botched his first chance five years ago. Moore had hoped to make his old, gray voice heard by licking Bob Cleroux, a Canadian heavyweight of modest skills, in Montreal on December 5. Promoter Eddie Quinn called the fight off that morning. "The gate was sick," moaned Quinn. What Quinn meant was that he had underestimated the public. He had preposterously overpriced the tickets to the nontitle bout ($25 top, $5 minimum), and the advance sale had totaled less than $30,000. Archie had been guaranteed $50,000, Cleroux $15,000. This is an illness known as the shorts. Quinn pleaded with Archie to accept a smaller guarantee; Archie demurred, having lost his amateur standing some years back. The Montreal Athletic Commission diligently suspended Quinn's license, which isn't preventive medicine.
The week ended on a highly gratifying note as Gene Fullmer, the NBA middleweight champion, knocked out Benny (Kid) Paret, the welterweight champion, in Las Vegas. Although Benny weighed 156¾ pounds, the last five pounds were pancakes and syrup, and he ultimately did not have the strength to contain Fullmer. Unfortunately for Benny, his style is suited to Gene's; he chooses to stand ear to ear with his man and pump away with both hands like some elemental piece of machinery. He is willing, moreover, to absorb punches in the intervals between his flurries. This technique requires no room for maneuvering. Benny can fight as well in a shower stall as a ring; Gene can do it better.
It is about time that Fullmer got his due as a fighter. He appears clumsy. He is not. He is, rather, graceless. Gene is an adaptable, resourceful and intelligent fighter who has what Cus D'Amato calls "a calculated aggressiveness." McNeeley is aggressive, too, but his is random and unreliable and finally unimportant. That is the difference between a fighter and a McNeeley. There is, too, a great deal of strategy in a Fullmer fight. Marv Jenson, his manager, shouts up a string of numbers—"30, 30-12, 8-12"—which are meaningful to Fullmer; "8-12," for instance, might mean a left uppercut. But Gene didn't have much opportunity to fight by the numbers against Paret. "I didn't have time to think what I wanted to do," he said later. "I had to do what I had to do."
The fight was relatively even for the first five rounds while Paret still had his strength. The action took place almost solely against the ropes, with Gene chopping at Benny with his ponderous downward blows and Paret insolently rallying from time to time. Just as it began to be tedious, Fullmer took charge. Paret's flurries became feebler and more infrequent. He took an astonishing sequence of punches. In the ninth it appeared that he would cave in several times from the methodical alternation of blows to the head. It was like that curious moment when a falling tree seems to hang suspended before crashing to the forest floor. "He can't take that all day," Gene said in his dressing room, "but I thought he was going to. I let him throw for a few punches to get it out of his system."
Down went Benny
At the start of the 10th round Gene hit Benny with a good left hook on the jaw. Moments later, apparently without the impact of a violent punch, Paret skidded backwards across the ring into a neutral corner, one glove briefly touching the ground for balance. Referee Harry Krause called it a knockdown and then, bemused, gave Paret the benefit of a mandatory eight count, a rule that had been waived. Fullmer very shortly knocked Paret down again with the last of a series of terrible rights. Benny arose at six. A right hand-and a left push, and he drifted slowly and softly as a snowfall into Fullmer's corner, his head almost resting on the lowest turnbuckle. He reclined there like Mme. Récamier, only there was no languor here. He was rigid and quivering as Krause counted him out.
The night before, Sugar Ray Robinson had knocked out Wilfie Greaves in the eighth round at Pittsburgh. Robinson felt that this imposing achievement entitled him to yet another go at Fullmer. But Gene, who has had his run-ins with Ray, says with casual bitterness: "The hell with Robinson. I don't owe him nothing. I'd like to fight him—in the gym. I don't want to give him the satisfaction of making any money."