On September 25Chicago will be the scene of a heavyweight championship fight between theincumbent, Floyd Patterson, and his challenger, Sonny Liston. If form meansanything, Chicago also will be the scene of more confusion than the HonorableRichard J. Daley, mayor, has ever experienced. To be sure, a heavyweightchampionship fight always tends to be a somewhat tumultuous and disorganizedaffair. But this one carries a built-in guarantee of confusion: it is promotedby Championship Sports, Inc., an outfit that specializes in promotional bedlam.It is no simple task even to determine who is Championship Sports, Inc. Subjectto hourly change, substitution and correction, the dramatis personae in CSIappear to be:
Tom Bolan, 38, atight-lipped partner in Roy Cohn's law firm and the president of CSI.
Al Bolan, 33,Tom's "nice guy" brother, Brooklyn-bred sports editor of the GreenpointStar, a neighborhood weekly. New to the big money, well-meaning, butinexperienced. Vice-president and general manager of CSI.
Roy Cohn, 35,onetime boy gumshoe for the late Senator Joe McCarthy, now a Wall Street lawyerand budding industrialist (Lionel Corporation). Until recently, Cohn has beentoo busy flitting from one thing to another to bother with CSI on a dailybasis.
June 17, 1962
Bill Fugazy, 37,Cohn's buddy. In the travel business. May or may not have an interest in CSI—itdepends on who's talking. If it's Fugazy, the answer is yes. If his associates,no.
The involvedhistory of this merry band dates back to the fall of 1959 when Cohn and Fugazytook over an outfit called Feature Sports, the main chunk of debris remainderedfrom the Bill Rosensohn promotional debacle. Neither of them knew anythingabout boxing, so Bill's uncle, Humbert (Jack) Fugazy, a respected boxing manhighly regarded by Cus D'Amato, Patterson's manager, was made the promoter. TomBolan became treasurer.
Uncle Jack wasslowly eased to one side by his nephew and Cohn, and the secondPatterson-Johansson fight at the Polo Grounds in New York almost literallyturned into a riot. The crowd totaled 50,000, but only 32,000 had paid to getin. The rest were gate crashers. Spectators adopted a first-come, first-sitpolicy, with squatter's rights paramount. Many with $100 tickets couldn't seethe fight because of the glut in the aisles.
Although UncleJack and Ned Brown, another respected boxing figure, who was handlingpublicity, had warned that extra guards would be necessary, their warnings weredisregarded. When the whole mess was over, Bill Fugazy airily blamed thepolice. "The cops' fault," he announced. To which Police CommissionerSteve Kennedy retorted, "The police function is to enforce public law forthe protection of all the public and not to assist fight promoters who chiselon expenses."
Ned Brown, wholeft Feature Sports after the fight, has expressed an intention to sue. "Iwasn't paid what I was promised," he says, "and they didn't pay theexpenses guaranteed to me." Brown, who is 79 years old, says, "Over theyears, I've never had an experience like this."
With ill willfestering in New York, Feature Sports sought a new site for the third and finalPatterson-Johansson fight. In July of 1960 Bill Fugazy announced that the fightwould be held in Los Angeles Coliseum on November 1, and said he expected amillion-dollar gate. The fight was held in Miami Beach in March 1961, and itgrossed a live gate of about $500,000.
What happened inMiami Beach was more preposterous than what had transpired in New York. Says aMiami sports-writer: "The promotion was one massive blunder." Cohn,Fugazy and Tom Bolan were coldly formal. They seemed to take the attitude thatthey needed no help from the locals. Only Al Bolan, brought in as generalmanager, put himself out. "What do you know about boxing?" Bill Fugazydemanded of one boxing commissioner. "You're just in the whiskybusiness." This prompted one columnist to write that Fugazy's father"should take his offspring to the woodshed and, with an old-fashioned belt,teach his brat some manners."
The dailyticket-sale announcements were wildly imaginative. The ticket office repeatedlyissued erroneous statements as to how much would be in the till. One day itwould be several hundred thousand dollars, the next day half that. The seatingplan kept changing with the advance-sale announcements, and anyone who bought aticket had no idea of where he'd wind up sitting. Three hours before the fight,the promoters panicked. Seats in six $100 locations were restamped $20—on theback. All the time this was going on, Bill Fugazy was denying it washappening.
Scalpers quicklytumbled to the move. They began paying $20 for $100 tickets inside, then movedoutside where they flashed the $100 side and unloaded them for the bargainprice of $30. Of course, customers who had paid $100 weren't overjoyed whenthey found themselves flanked by latecomers who had spent only $20 or even$30.
In the spring of1961 Feature Sports was replaced by a new organization, Championship Sports,Inc. Basically it contained the same cast of characters as Feature Sports, butthe Bolan brothers, whom Floyd Patterson likes, moved up front, and Cohn andFugazy slid back into the shadows. Uncle Jack Fugazy was made "director ofboxing activities" and was informed in July he would receive no pay. Amonth later he filed suit against Feature Sports, nephew Bill, Cohn and TomBolan for more than $130,000 he says was due him from the twoPatterson-Johansson fights. "Roy Cohn, Bill Fugazy, Tom Bolan, they are thethree principals," Uncle Jack says with feeling. "I'd ask them [for themoney], and they'd say, 'Next week.' But next week never arrived. Probably theyfeel that if they don't pay anyone, you'll pass away. They probably feel thatway about me. [Uncle Jack is 75.] But I'm in much better health than theythink. I'm willing to take all three in the ring and beat their headsoff."
Uncle Jack doesnot try to restrain his anger toward his nephew and Cohn. "You never mettwo people," he says, "who, according to their talk, control theuniverse. They know who to put their hands on. But when they need something,they come crawling. It makes me sick when I talk about them. Not one of themknows a thing about boxing. They have done more to kill boxing than all themobsters put together."
Also suing FeàtureSports is Eric Schoeppner, the German light, heavyweight, whose title boutagainst Archie Moore was canceled. In turn Feature Sports blames Moore for thecancellation and is suing him.
With the Bolansout in front, Championship Sports has not improved on Feature Sports' tendencyto blunder. First Tom Bolan announced that Patterson's next opponent would beeither Henry Cooper of England or Eddie Machen. After Bolan called that onewrong, Bill Fugazy showed up in Europe proclaiming, first from Geneva, thenfrom Rome, that he had matched Johansson with Sonny Liston. Tom Bolan nextannounced that Patterson would fight Tom McNeeley in Boston in the fall of1961. The fight was first scheduled for September, then "definitely"October 23 and finally November 13. As it turned out, Bolan was one-thirdright. Patterson fought McNeeley in Toronto in December.
The promotion wasnot exactly a screaming success. For one thing, Toronto didn't like being usedas a dumping ground for Boston. For another, McNeeley continued to train inBoston, thereby minimizing the opportunities for giving the fight a littlehoopla. (Of course, there are those who say that if Toronto fans had seenMcNeeley train in person the gate would have been even smaller.) And, finally,CSI brightly picked December 4 as the date for the fight, expecting tocapitalize on the huge crowd that had jammed into Toronto for the annual GreyCup pro football game. The only trouble was that at Grey Cup time Canadiansdon't care about anything but football. They couldn't be bothered if Alaskadeclared war. As a result, the fight drew a mere 7,813 fans and a live gate of$106,740.
CSI's latestmiscue occurred recently when it prematurely announced that theListon-Patterson fight was set for New York. The announcement came beforeListon had even applied for a license, and when the New York commission turnedListon down because of his dubious record, CSI was hooked. Thus Chicago, whichis even touchier than Toronto about hand-me-downs, gets what New Yorkrejected.
But if the visibleactivities of Championship Sports are perplexing, the internal affairs of thecorporation are flabbergasting. It is as if everyone had agreed not to agreewith anyone else. Al Bolan says he has a 15% stock interest. Big Brother Tomsays Al has only 9%. Al says Roy Cohn will not be actively involved with thefight. Cohn, already atwitter at press conferences, says, "I have a veryactive interest in it." Cohn says Al's job is merely to look after "theday-to-day details." Al says, "I'm the promoter of the fight."According to Tom, Cohn owns 50% of the stock (Al thought Cohn owned about 33%).Al says Bill Fugazy has nothing to do with CSI. Fugazy runs around saying hehas a piece of CSI. The only certainty appears to be that he has, by his ownadmission, no official voice in CSI—for the moment, anyway. In a recentinterview with Sid Ziff of the Los Angeles Times, Fugazy told why he wasinactive. "A lot of the big companies I did business with frowned on myaffiliation with boxing," he said. "I like the fight game. Maybe Ishould have made the sacrifice and remained active in it. Boxing needs sincere,respectable, substantial business people in it. But I figured I couldn'tjeopardize my position in it by remaining active."
Despite Fugazy'sassertion that he has a substantial interest in CSI, pal Cohn denies Bill hasany interest at all. In fact, Cohn denies Bill ever had any interest in CSI.(But last June, Tom Bolan announced that Fugazy had relinquished his interestin CSI. Fugazy immediately denied this, saying, "I have not sold myinterest in Championship Sports and have no intention of doing so." Tomdidn't clarify matters by then saying, "There is some misunderstanding onBill's part. It is my understanding he has relinquished his interest.")Asked if there is a chance Bill might wind up in CSI, Cohn says, "Always apossibility."
What will happento Chicago when this magpie's nest is set down there in September remains to beseen. Chicago is a tough town with a strong instinct for self-preservation—itis built on the ashes of the great fire of 1871, and it has survived BillySunday, Al Capone and the Chicago Cubs' rotating coach system. This longexperience with adversity certainly will be of value when Cohn & Co. blowinto town.