By God, I tell you we have found our place in the sun!
M. R. (BOB) EVANS, PRESIDENT, WORLD BOXING ASSOCIATION
Of course, its very name—World Boxing Association (on the stationery there is not even a The to emphasize its singularity)—implies that it occupies a fairly key spot in the solar system. Its motto—Uniformity, Cooperation, Control—seems to connote just the right amount of noblesse oblige required to bring sweet reason to a sport too often racked by chaos and ruled by avarice. And for the next few months, as American Broadcasting Company television announcers thrill millions by introducing another World Boxing Association Heavyweight Championship Fight, it may well come to sound as if the WBA is a kind of corporate Kenesaw Mountain Landis, wisely distributing world titles in return for full portions of love, honor and obedience from every ring this side of Saturn.
That, precisely, is what the WBA would dearly love to be. Its announced constitutional purpose is to assure "greater efficiency...in the supervision of professional boxing" and, like Caesar's Gaul, the WBA's terra omnis has been officially divided into parts—four in this case. North America, Latin America, Europe-Africa and the Orient—for handier administration.
The sad truth is that the WBA does not meet its own dream. Although it may have chosen to recognize the planet, the reverse is not necessarily so. There are many, many hours a day when the sun is not shining on WBA territory. As for its corporate image, it was not Judge Landis who came immediately to mind when a gymnasium full of WBA delegates assembled in late August in Reno for their annual convention (about the only guaranteed uniform act of cooperation and control of WBA men is that they always have a convention). The image was more a combination of Happy Chandler and Tony Galento.
Nevertheless, the World Boxing Association is in a new position of prominence these days. As one delegate put it in Reno, "Jeez, we're getting more press than Liz and Dick." Not really. But the ABC-televised heavyweight elimination tournament, which has pumped some wholesome new excitement into boxing, has been sanctioned, blessed and baptized by the WBA; the group does get its name in the paper a lot because of it.
For the champion who survives the eliminations, the WBA's blessing will be negotiable in much more than newspaper clippings. Thanks to TV, he will be generally accepted by a reasonable majority of boxing fans as the Champ; his paydays will increase accordingly. For all that, he can look to the WBA for giving him his big chance. All of the eight contestants who started the tournament were selected on the basis of the WBA's decision to rank them among the best heavyweights in the world. More important, there would have been no tournament, no new champion, no big paydays, no new kicks for the boxing crowd if the WBA had not summarily dethroned Muhammad Ali (the WBA still refers to him as Cassius Clay) for refusing to join the U.S. Army. There is a certain irony inherent in such a star-spangled display of ultra-American patriotism by a group that likes to boast of its multinational membership, but then, as one WBA man carefully explained, "Guilty is guilty, I think, even overseas."
Since everyone is hearing its name a lot more these days, now is a good time to examine the anatomy and machinations of the World Boxing Association. It is 48 years old this year, although it was not until five years ago that the WBA widened its horizons from being just plain National Boxing Association. The idea for the original NBA was pretty much hatched by an English go-getter named William A. Gavin. He wanted to build an "international sporting club" in New York, and he thought something like a coast-to-coast boxing authority might add some class to his promotions. For his club building Gavin bought some land in Manhattan, dug an excavation and waited for money to pour in so he could build. The club never got beyond that hole in the ground, but the NBA, which originally had the athletic commissions of 13 states in its membership, climbed out of Gavin's basement, incorporated and set about trying, with what often seemed chilling ineptness, to set straight the ways of boxing men.
Over the years the association did produce a sound safety code. It campaigned for the eight-ounce glove and the mandatory eight-count after a knockdown. It also made medical examinations more stringent and fostered some rigid regulations about boxing contracts. Its rules were widely ignored, but they are still considered reasonable. For example, the organization insisted that a champion fight at least every six months and that within one year of winning his title he meet the No. 1 contender in his division—as selected by the NBA/WBA's ratings committee. The group also tried to outlaw contract clauses that demanded a return bout between a defeated champion and his successor. The point of both rules is to keep a title active and to give rising contenders a fair chance at the championship.
Praiseworthy as such ideas may be, the association just never did impress many people beyond its own membership. For decades sportswriters have cruelly but consistently referred to the general run of WBA men as "buffoons" or "windbags" and have implied that their heads are shaped like upturned ice-cream cones. Though colorful, such descriptions do not do full justice to the WBA.
It is made up of men who sit on the athletic commissions of various sovereign governments—nations, states, territories, provinces and cities. The WBA is a voluntary association, but there always seems to be a shortage of volunteers. Right now, there are only 31 states on the list. And they include places such as Montana, North Dakota and New Mexico, where boxing runs second to the barbershop for attracting crowds. Then, too, there are Alabama, North Carolina and Tennessee, where the best bouts in recent memory have been between policemen and civil rights demonstrators. Notably missing from WBA rolls are the relatively busy boxing centers: California, Texas, Massachusetts and New York.
There are 18 countries besides the U.S. in the world of the WBA. Among the foreign authorities are the Philippine Islands' Games and Amusements Board, the Thailand Boxing Commission, Germany's Bund Deutscher Berufsboxer, the Japan Boxing Commission and a number of Latin American commissions. England is not a member, nor are Italy or France (although it was happily reported during the Reno convention that Guam had signed up).
To define the WBA properly, it is necessary to define athletic commissions and their commissioners. In general, such commissions have the power—as granted by a legislative or executive act—to approve or prohibit public sporting events through their authority to grant licenses to promoters, managers or professional athletes. The commissions also see to it that a nice healthy tax bite is taken from every promotion. That includes some boxing, of course, but not much. Nearly all U.S. members of the World Boxing Association find that their biggest draw in both crowds and cash comes from professional wrestling, a "sport" they view with wide tolerance and warm affection.
As a rule, commissioners get their jobs through old-fashioned political appointments. Some are paid several thousand dollars a year; some don't even get their expenses paid to the WBA convention. Athletic commissioners are an unusual, possibly even unique, breed of public official since they tend to combine the punch-loving tenacity of a ringside hanger-on with the pragmatic opportunism of a ward-heeling politician. Of course, not all commissioners fall so easily into such a stereotype.
The chairman of Pennsylvania's commission is an urbane Philadelphia Main Liner named Franklin B. Wildman Jr. He was appointed in 1963 by Republican Governor William Scranton, although Wildman affably admits: "The only boxing I ever saw was on television." And there is Edgar L. Lane, a Church Hill, Md. funeral director. He was made a Maryland commissioner by former Democratic Governor J. Millard Tawes, and when someone asks Lane what he is doing on a boxing board, he says candidly: "I have known Tawes for 25 years. I have done a lot of favors for him."
There are some old fighters in the WBA, too. Michigan's Chuck Davey, 41, a welterweight contender now turned insurance man, was chosen by Republican Governor George Romney a few years ago to replace a commissioner who resigned after he was caught using commission personnel to hang Goldwater posters. Nevada's Jackie Fields, now 59 and a hotel executive, was a former welterweight champion, and Wisconsin's Joey Sangor, 64 and a druggist, was a nearly great featherweight in the '20s.
But the WBA is diverse and within its bailiwick there are commissioners who are former football stars, newspapermen, liquor store owners, delicatessen proprietors, lawyers, real estate men, physicians, grocers—even a retired sign painter, a magician, the executive director of a synagogue and a lieutenant general in the Thailand police. It is a little like the Rotary Club with scar tissue.
The WBA president is a bouncy, Boost-Don't-Knock banker from Louisville named M. R. Evans ("Just ask anyone in Kentucky for Bob Evans and they'll know you mean me"). During the Reno convention, he was re-elected to a second one-year term, defeating a slate of officers presented by Latin American delegates. Short, paunchy and given to wearing bow ties and spouting cusswords, Bob Evans, 67, is right proud of being a "joiner," and he likes to say, "Ol" buddy, you name the club and, by God, I belong to it." He has chaired the Kentucky Boxing Commission for eight years and is also National Commanding General of the Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels, as well as Democratic campaign treasurer for his state.
After he won the WBA presidency again in August, Evans stood at the head-table microphone and beamed at the hundred or so delegates sitting in the Garden Room of the not-quite-seedy Riverside Hotel. He removed his cigar and said with quite a bit of emotion: "I hope and I pray that, with God's help and yours, I can do the same good job I did last year. I think we have now put this outfit on a businesslike basis."
As a business, the World Boxing Association hardly ranks with U.S. Steel. Or even with one U.S. Steel worker. All last year, the total intake from dues (between $50 and $150 a year) was $4,647.50, just slightly less than the average weekly turnover in a normally busy Reno slot machine. When Evans came into office the treasury held $757.44; after a businesslike year the balance was up to a healthy $3,394.97.
The WBA has no national headquarters and not one paid employee, and its records are more or less filed in the vest pockets of a few officers. Its annual expenses go mostly for phone calls, various printings (a bulletin comes out spasmodically, and the ratings come out monthly) and postage. Evans protests, "It costs a buck-sixty every time I write a letter to the Orient out there." The WBA constitution says that the organization "shall provide championship belts or other suitable emblems" to its various titleholders, but it does not. "Hell," says Evans, "all we can afford is a certificate." The WBA spent $25 on those last year.
Through the years there has been a good deal of trouble over WBA casuistry in attempting to inject its version of morality into the ring. For example, the tentacles of Carbo, Palermo, Norris & Co. were wrapped tightly around boxing for years without so much as an official mimeographed whimper from the association; yet the WBA kept itself busy by issuing dozens of furious denunciations and widely ignored suspensions of such champions as Archie Moore and Sugar Ray Robinson because they failed to defend their titles within six months. At times there are good and charitable motives behind a WBA notice of suspension (which is sent to all member commissions but cannot be enforced). One such was the decision in Reno to tell members that Heavyweight Willi Besmanoff, the German punching bag, should no longer be allowed to fight in the interests of keeping him alive.
But too often the group gets all tangled up in its own esoteric legalisms. Nowhere has this been more evident than in its attempts to make its prohibition of return-bout clauses work. Take the Clay-Lision affair. There had been some dubious contractual shenanigans between the two before their title fight in Miami. The WBA retaliated by declaring Clay persona non grata in all its environs. After a lot of bombast and a boring fight or two, the association awarded its world heavyweight champion's certificate to Ernie Terrell. In the meantime, of course, Clay (that was still his name) continued to be a spectacular attraction—and a powerful temptation to people who like to hear the jingle of money in the box office.
Now, regardless of how high-toned boxing commissioners may sound when they are pontificating in public about the need for "uniformity, cooperation and control," one should never forget an intrinsic fact about them: when all is said and done, nearly all decisions about whether or not to allow a local bout are governed more by chamber of commerce boosterism than by Marquess of Queensberry morality.
A good fight draws a good dollar for the local hotel, restaurant and amusement industry. No matter what the propriety of WBA rulings may be, they will almost certainly be overruled or ignored by any local commission that smells a quick buck for the boys in the Retail Merchants Association.
Sound and realistic boxing men in the WBA have never deluded themselves about the root of the association's ineptness. Abe J. Greene, 66, associate editor of The Paterson (N.J.) News, has been in the WBA for 29 frustrating years—seven as president and now as something called "World Commissioner." Says Greene: "Boxing is subject to the will, whim and fancy of local conditions. The mighty dollar is a built-in condition everywhere, and any commissioner anywhere is going to be reluctant to pass up a lucrative bout—no matter what the WBA says about it."
Of course, in 1964-65, Cassius Clay was the very living, breathing, poetry-spouting personification of lucrative bouts and, sure enough, a whole string of WBA states in good standing bolted the association to sign up Clay to fight. Massachusetts scheduled a match between Clay and Liston but after some nasty legal problems the bout was moved to Maine. A bit later, the commissioners of Texas thought they glimpsed a fat civic payday in an Ali-Cleveland Williams fight. Texas had been in the WBA for years, but with the prospect of a rich gate, the commissioners suddenly produced a convenient attorney general's ruling saying they should never have joined the WBA in the first place, because the organization is incorporated in Rhode Island and "Texas cannot subject itself to the laws of another state."
Obviously, the WBA has all the teeth of a Rock Cornish hen when it comes to enforcing its own rules. Money one-ups it every time, although its officers continue to spout golden platitudes. This irks a lot of responsible boxing men. California, a long-time member of the old NBA, quit in 1960 because the association did nothing about so-called "undesirable characters" in boxing. The state returned with high hopes after the "new" WBA was formed in 1962, then quit again in exasperation in 1965. Says knowledgeable Jack Urch, an attorney in Sacramento who served 17 years as the California commission's executive officer: "There was an overall period of disgust during our short membership in the WBA. We found its purposes fitting and the words of its officers high-sounding, but we quit when they failed to uphold our suspensions. We tried disciplinary measures for the failure of managers and boxers to live up to the WBA code, then they'd go to some other states that would say, 'To hell with California,' and our decisions wouldn't stand up. We still favor a strong national body, but what good is a world association if the states in the U.S. won't cooperate?"
As chaotic as its inconsistencies may be, even more confusing is the fact that among the WBA's top men there is often a surfeit of uncertainty about what the group has actually decided. Before this year's Reno convention, there was lots of talk about Sonny Liston's status. Could he or could he not fight in WBA states? It seemed that he could not, because at the 1964 convention in Norfolk, Va., the delegates had pretty much agreed (as those present seemed dimly to recall) not to sanction Liston's bouts. It seemed that Sonny would have to make an appeal for "reinstatement" to the convention in Reno before he could fight again in WBA territory.
Former WBA President James Deskin, who is executive secretary of the Nevada commission and was chairman of the convention preparations, thought this was so and told reporters that Liston would get a "hearing" before the WBA executive committee. (Of course, Nevada had already licensed Liston last fall.) Greene was under that impression, too. "I think boxing has to have at least a facade of morality," said the venerable Mr. Greene, who likes to talk in the flowery phrases of an eyeshade-era editorial writer. "I am firmly opposed to letting Liston box any longer; I will not cast my ballot for reinstatement in Reno." And Liston himself said, "I will take in that meeting and see what the WBA says."
Liston did turn up at the Riverside Hotel. He walked in on a floor session looking trim and enormous in a tailored blue suit. Bob Evans, fresh and brisk after his re-election, hustled over to whisper with Liston; then Sonny strode out again and Evans hurried back to the microphone to clear things up. "There has never been," he intoned solemnly, "any bona fide record in the World Boxing Association records that deals an official suspension of Sonny Liston. The officers of the WBA have no right themselves to suspend a fighter unless it gets notification of his suspension by some member state of the WBA. I don't care what we voted for or against in Norfolk, we have never got no notice of a recorded suspension for Sonny. So he can be a contender again for the heavyweight championship if he gets a license in any WBA state."
Delegates sprang up all over the floor. Evans blinked, not knowing what to expect, but, remarkably enough, there was not one question about Liston's return to boxing. Indeed, Michigan's Davey, who has been to college, warned his colleagues: "Any state that suspends Liston or wants the WBA to suspend him should be certain that the transgression it bases its suspension on has occurred within that state's own domain and not somewhere else."
Liston seemed baffled. "I ain't suspended," he mumbled later. "I don't know why I come down here at all." He caught the noon plane back to Las Vegas.
Later that day, Evans appeared at a Q. and A. session at a Reno press club lunch. On the table before him was a small bust of Mark Twain; a black cowboy hat was perched on the sculpture. Under the rather casual traditions of the club, a guest's remarks are considered off the record if the hat is left on Twain's head, on the record if the bust is uncovered. Evans misunderstood and kept putting the cowboy hat on his own head when he wanted his remarks to be privileged. Once or twice he even donned the hat, which was ludicrously small for him, and snapped, "No comment." When he was asked if he thought Liston should now have a shot at the WBA's heavyweight championship, Evans remained bareheaded and replied, "Sure, he's a contender, but he will not become a rated fighter in our rankings until he has proved himself by fighting. He has to fight his way to the top of our ratings again."
However inept the WBA may be in governing boxing or boxers in general, it does have a fair amount of influence over the fame, fortune and box-office magnetism of fighters through its monthly rating of the top 10 contenders in each of the 11 weight divisions. The WBA's list and that of Nat Fleischer's The Ring magazine are the two major sources of boxers' ratings. There is a certain arbitrariness to both of them and a rather bitter rivalry between Fleischer and the WBA. Neither believes the other's ratings. "He just does his to sell magazines," says Evans. "But ours, ol' buddy, are a labor of love. A real labor of love."
The chairman of the WBA's ratings committee (a dozen men scattered around the world) is an Ohioan named Arch Hindman. He is a soft-spoken, gentle man who gives an impression of utter incorruptibility. In real life, Hindman, 56, is an advertising executive for an automotive parts manufacturer in Toledo, but his leisure hours are spent making fateful verdicts. Is Katsuyoshi Takayama of Japan really a better flyweight than Thailand's Puntip Keosuriya? Should Sandro Lopopolo be a fifth-ranked junior welterweight while Lennox Beckles of Ghana remains at sixth? Says Hindman: "It's a hobby with me. It's the only hobby I have."
Like the WBA itself, its ratings system is less than a magnificent machine. "The toughest thing is getting the results," says Hindman. "It just drives you berserk when you're all set to give out the ratings, and you can't get something about a fight between rated contenders." Generally, Hindman must depend on the mailman and daily delivery of the Toledo papers for selecting and categorizing the 121 best fighters in the world. "I get five, six letters a day from all over telling me who won what fights," says Hindman. "The local papers all use the fight results from AP now, too. I called them so often that they had to print them. I had a terrible time keeping up with things when the paper went on strike a while ago. I had to call The Chicago Tribune all the time."
Hindman juggles his lists, sends out revised rankings to committee members and, when they have approved, he fires out a couple of dozen copies to a breathless waiting world. Hindman swears that he has never been offered a bribe to move a fighter up, but he does admit, "I get pressure sometimes from commissioners who want guys from their states to look better. The ratings aren't perfect, but I try to stick to logic."
Logic does not always prevail. For example, during the Reno convention, Hindman caught some heat from the Filipino delegation because he had dropped Junior Lightweight Flash Elorde from the ratings. "He hadn't been fighting much, and he probably should retire, anyway," mused Hindman, "but they got a big charity show coming up in Manila and it would help the gate if he was ranked. I was against it, but his father-in-law said Elorde would quit if he got beat, so he's in there again."
The heavyweight ratings went through an oddly magic shuffle in Reno, too. As everyone knew very well, the WBA's elimination tournament had been boycotted by Joe Frazier, the graceful Philadelphian who has been incorporated and split up in blue-chip shares for investors. When the tournament was announced early (his summer, Frazier's backers decided he should forgo the competition—even though he was rated the No. 2 contender by the WBA. Frazier beat up poor George Chuvalo in a bloody Madison Square Garden rout in mid-July (Chuvalo was then rated No. 10). The WBA's tournament went on without Frazier, and on August 5 Jimmy Ellis and Thad Spencer won the first quarterfinal fights in the eliminations.
Naturally, everyone at the convention was interested when Hindman handed out the fresh rating for mid-August. But when the delegates got a look at what the Hindman committee had wrought, hands flew up all over the floor. Evans called on a highly exercised delegate from Rhode Island, Anthony Maceroni, who is a former WBA president, too. "I see here that Joe Frazier is still No. 2 in our own ratings," blustered Maceroni. "Hey, that's not right! He should be dropped out. It's very embarrassing for us to have him rated that high."
Soothingly, Evans said, "That's been given a lot of consideration. We're going to have a meeting of the ratings committee up in my room after this session. I think it's safe to predict that some action will be taken right up there in Room 630 this very day."
The prediction was safe, all right. Right up there in Room 630 that very day, without so much as one copy of the Toledo Blade to read or even a stamped envelope from Bangkok, Joe Frazier was dumped from No. 2 to No. 8. The vote was 9 to 1, with the only nay coming from a Pennsylvania commissioner who was predictably loyal to Frazier's Philadelphia ties. After the ratings change, Evans said privately, "Listen, Frazier come awful close to not being in the ratings at all, ol' buddy. The committee caught lotsa hell by puttin' him No. 2." When it was pointed out that there might be a bit of hypocrisy involved in dropping Frazier just because he chose to ignore the WBA's competition, Evans chuckled, "Those ratings are ours to give, by God. We'll give 'em to whoever we want."
Genial Arch Hindman was philosophical about things. "Oh, I guess there was no really logical reason to drop Frazier now," he said. "He probably should have been Fighter of the Month for what he did to Chuvalo. But everyone thought he ought to be lower, so we all went along to keep peace."
Obviously, it was the WBA's overweening pride in its tournament that motivated Joe Frazier's arbitrary demotion. Yet there is a horrendous irony in the WBA's chest-thumping claims of new power and new positions in the sun because of its tournament.
The fact is, this most dazzling of WBA-related promotions is in itself as symptomatic of the organization's weaknesses as any of the ill-reasoned inconsistencies the group has perpetrated over the last 48 years. In the seven fights scheduled, from quarterfinals through the championship, no fewer than five are slated for cities that have no connection with the World Boxing Association. Two quarterfinals were held in Houston in August, and the Patterson-Quarry fight will be in Los Angeles. Only the Mildenberger-Bonavena match was in a WBA affiliate city—Frankfurt, Germany. Of the two semifinal fights, one is scheduled to be in California and the other—well, there were bids from WBA bailiwicks such as Louisville, New Orleans and Miami, although no decision had been made as of two weeks ago. The finals will be back in non-WBA Houston.
Mike Malitz, 33, the rotund Princetonian whose firm, Sports Action, Inc., has been a kind of packager-promoter for the whole tournament, is sanguine about the WBA's nonparticipation. "They understand the economics," says Malitz. "They know we have to place the fights where it makes some sense for both television and for drawing money."
In a way even the WBA's sanction of the tournament is almost beside the point. It really amounts to nothing more than a label, vague enough yet pretentious-sounding enough to give the Malitz-ABC-produced fights an aura of sweeping respectability. As one executive close to it all said: "Look, no one will watch TV fights that are held just for fun. This thing needed some kind of official-sounding approval or the guy who won wouldn't be any more than the heavyweight champion of the American Broadcasting Company. Can you see the papers giving a good damn about that? The point was to keep ABC behind the scenes; let the network put up the big cash, but stamp the whole thing with a seal of approval that sounds good."
Or as Malitz coolly pointed out: "These things have to be sanctioned by someone, and the WBA has the widest geographical coverage in boxing."
There has long been a feeling among foreign delegates—notably the Latins—that the WBA is manipulated by a small knot of U.S. members who cater to foreigners in public but who in reality are secret xenophobes. In Reno, the slate of officers dominated by Latin Americans was crushed by a U.S. landslide. Each state has one vote and so does each country. The states swept Bob Evans back into office along with an all-American slate of four vice-presidents.
The Latin Americans turned sulky in defeat. When Evans and Greene pleaded with them to save face and to select someone—anyone—for appointment to a "regional vice-presidency," they refused. In an impassioned floor speech, Fernando Mandry of Venezuela cried out in an accent so thick that most U.S. delegates were not sure what he said, "Boxing is not the property of the U.S.A. Boxing is universal and its authorities must be an image of that conception." He accused Evans and his compatriots of trying to "control boxing for the United States" and declared that "other countries don't get equal rights." And Mexico's Ramon Velasquez chimed in, "The U.S. has lots of commissions, but not very lots of boxing!"
True enough. Nearly every country in the WB A's little world has dozens of boxing matches every week—more than the U.S. may have in three months. Beyond that, of the 110 WBA rated contenders in September, no fewer than 75 were from outside the U.S. And of the 11 current world champions acknowledged by the WBA, only two—Welterweight Curtis Cokes of Texas and Junior Welterweight Paul Fujii of Honolulu—are natives of the U.S. As Hindman mused during the Latin American outbursts, "You really can't blame these fellows for being upset. If it weren't for them, there wouldn't be any boxing worth mentioning."
But Bob Evans felt the Latins were being poor sports. "Ol buddy," he said, "if there's one thing you can say about what's happened, it's that I've tried to be fair. You just know we leaned over every which way to give them a vice-presidency, and they wouldn't take it, would they?"
Perhaps. But the Latin American delegates still went home from Reno muttering Spanish threats of withdrawal. And ringing in their ears was an echo of the last acrimonious moments of the convention when Evans hit the ceiling about something that had obviously irked him for a long time. "I have told you and told you," he shouted angrily at the delegates. "I say now and I say it for absolutely the last time—I will not accept any more communications from anyone that are not written in ENGLISH! I got to spend $10, $11 everytime to get them translated at the University, and I will not have it! We're tryin' to operate on a businesslike basis here, and I will not accept any other language of communication from you except in English."
There were no olés to that, and for a moment it seemed the Latins would leave right then—forever. But the WBA's executive secretary, Jay Edson of Phoenix, saved the day—and perhaps part of the world—for the WBA by offering to have Spanish missives translated by his bilingual neighbors in Arizona. "It won't cost any $10 either," he said. The convention adjourned amid heavy applause.
But even that tiny blow for harmony wound up in discord later when Edson went on a Reno television station to plead for a truce between U.S. and Latin American delegates. That did it. Evans now became convinced that Edson was a turncoat, that he was pro-Latin. Of course, in the lexicon of Bob Evans' WBA, that translates to mean anti-American—or, more specifically, anti-one-specific American-named-Evans. After the banquet following the last convention session, Evans approached Edson in the Riverside Hotel lobby and said, "I want you to resign because of ill health. Jay." Edson replied, "I'm not sick, Bob." Evans said, "I have to have men who will work with me and apparently you won't, Jay." Said Edson, "Well, I'm not sick, and I won't resign. You'll have to fire me." In mid-September Evans got up the postage to send an airmail letter from Louisville to Phoenix and told Edson that he was fired. He ordered Edson to forward all his records and future correspondence to Hindman in Toledo, where almost no one speaks Spanish.
Petty and chaotic as the WBA may seem in some of its truly uninspired moments, the organization has somehow lasted through nearly half a century of frustration and turmoil. There has to be a reason. It is not necessarily, as Evans puts it, "What's good for boxing is good for the WBA."
The WBA is too flaccid, too vacillating to rate such aggrandizement. Yet despite its pomposity and its thrashing ineptitude, the association has been about the only consistent force for order in all of boxing over the years. Unless Congress decides to create a Federal boxing commission (which it has absolutely no interest in doing), the WBA will remain, as Abe Greene puts it, "the only game in town—a pretty bad game, but the only one."
There is some truth to Greene's rationale—and rationalization—for the WBA's existence. "Since there isn't any fixed, incontrovertible, indisputable, legally constituted director to rule on the ways and means of boxing as a sport, the presence of the NBA and the WBA has been important," says Greene. "Feeble as our attempts may have been, we have at least kept enough order in the sport to prevent it from becoming a jungle. We have insisted on a broad measure of control over the validity of contracts and the performance of fighters over the years. And if we haven't made our ideas work every time, at least we have made people conscious of the need for controls and uniformity in boxing. I know as well as you do that the heavyweight tournament is run by television and not by the World Boxing Association. But for the first time TV is working for the good of boxing and boxers, instead of against it—as it did in the '50s when it was a monster consuming its own infants by overexposing every young fighter who came along.
"The WBA can't enforce its own rules among its own members. I know that. But we are all boxing has had to keep it from total chaos. You've got to give us that."
Maybe so. But whatever its heady claims to a new place in the sun, the WBA will almost certainly remain for all time in the deep shadows of its own intrinsic selfishness. As a rule, its individual commissioner-members are no better than the total profits available from any given promotion—whether it is WBA sanctioned or not. Thus, despite its righteous demands for planet-wide morality in boxing, the World Boxing Association too often winds up being no better than the meanest actions of its weakest member. As Bob Evans says with a chuckle, "Listen, ol' buddy, we just delight in hurting each other sometimes." And, he might have added, boxing sometimes, too.