The first time Mike Rossman and Victor Galindez fought, five months ago in New Orleans, Galindez wound up losing on a technical knockout, the result of cuts. Last Saturday in Las Vegas, Rossman and Galindez both were TKO victims, stopped, in effect, by a telegram from Venezuela. Rossman was in town to defend the World Boxing Association light heavyweight championship he won from Galindez in the Superdome, but the fight never took place because the Nevada Athletic Commission refused to give in and allow WBA officials to officiate, rather than its own judges and referee.
At fight time the television cameras were ready, the champion was in the ring, the challenger was in his hotel room, and ABC, with Howard Cosell at the controls, was questioning whether the demise of boxing was at hand.
The trouble began when WBA President Mandry Galindez—no relation to the challenger—shipped in a corps of neutral officials to handle the fight. The WBA does this for mandatory title defenses—that is, bouts in which the champion is required to meet the No. 1 challenger rather than getting a pay day with some stiff. For the WBA it was a calculated power play. Only a month earlier Barney Shackman, the WBA counsel, had assured the Nevada commission that if it joined the world body, the WBA wouldn't object if the state used its own officials for the fight. "That in itself was extortion in its simplest terms," says Sig Rogich, a Nevada commissioner.
A few days before the fight Bob Shields, the Nevada commission chairman, called Shackman to ask if the WBA's promise still held. It did, Shackman assured him. The following afternoon, however, after a conversation with Tito Lectoure, the Argentine promoter who advises Victor Galindez, Bob Arum of Top Rank, which was promoting the fight, sensed a shift in the WBA's thinking. For one thing, Victor Galindez was not happy about fighting an American in the U.S. with four U.S. officials. More important, Lectoure indicated, Mandry Galindez was very sympathetic to the ex-champion's fears.
Arum called the WBA president at his home in Venezuela, and was told conditions had changed. Mandry Galindez, ignoring his pledge to Nevada, now wanted the usual complement of WBA neutral officials.
"You can't do that," Arum screamed into the telephone. "If you do, the fight is off."
But all was not lost, yet. In relays, Arum, Lectoure and Rodolfo Sabatini, an Arum associate from Italy, argued with Mandry Galindez, who finally offered a concession. The WBA president said he would be agreeable to a neutral referee, two neutral judges and a Nevada judge. The three neutrals would all be Latins.
"I think I can get that," Arum said, not without inner reservations.
Top Rank was playing for high stakes. ABC television was paying $300,000 to carry the fight on its Wide World of Sports. And Caesars Palace, where the fight was to be staged, had plunked down another $250,000 for the live gate and resulting publicity.
Out of that Rossman would be paid $140,000; Galindez $75,000. Another $35,000 or so would be spent on the preliminary card. This left a neat profit after other operating expenses.
The commission met Friday night, voted to join the WBA as agreed upon, and then voted on the question of officials. The vote: 5-0, to use its own people. This was Nevada's power play.
Collecting Lectoure, Sabatini and Jimmy DePiano—Rossman's father as well as his manager—Arum rushed to his hotel suite and again called Mandry Galindez. Once more the WBA president agreed to let Nevada have its way. It was 2 a.m. the day of the fight. This time Mandry Galindez said that while he personally wouldn't approve the fight, he would give it WBA sanction. And that just as the fight would start a telegram from him would arrive in Vegas stating that the WBA would review the sanction, possibly lifting it. If it was lifted, the two fighters must meet again within 90 days. Such an agreement must be in writing and signed by DePiano and Lectoure before the Vegas fight, Mandry Galindez ordered. DePiano agreed.
The telegram arrived at 7:30 a.m., about eight hours early. It was written in Spanish and addressed to Lectoure. And it stated that because of the differences over the officials there was no WBA sanction. Power play vs. power play.
Arum said that when the telegram was translated for him, he was left with the impression that it only restated the WBA position as it had been expressed to him earlier. But Victor Galindez needed no translator. When he read it, he said there would be no fight. Not unless neutral officials were used.
Nonetheless, he left his hotel room and arrived in his dressing room at 1:15, an hour before he was due in the ring. He asked about the officials.
"From Nevada," he was told.
"Then I don't fight," he said.
The word was quickly passed. A few moments later Sabatini offered Galindez $25,000 out of his own pocket if he would agree to Nevada officials. The offer was refused.
Arum, who was outside the dressing rooms, looked at his watch. Thirty minutes to go. Sighing, he said to Galindez' adviser. "We'll get the TV people. You tell them what is happening."
The ABC people were gathered and informed of the impasse. They turned ashen.
"That's it," Arum said. "Out of business. You don't know the bath I'll take. I can't pay all of the damn bills."
DePiano shrugged at the news, saying, "If Galindez don't fight Rossman today he don't fight Rossman ever."
With 10 minutes to show time, Victor Galindez stormed from his dressing room and left the arena. "I don't need the money," he snarled. "I'm going home."
At 2:21, a minute after the fight was scheduled to start, Arum surrendered. Climbing into the ring, he told the crowd of some 4,000, 500 short of capacity, that there would be no fight and that tickets would be refunded. He bitterly blamed the Nevada commission.
Rossman was bitter, too. "I don't know when I want to fight again," he said. "It's not up to the athlete anymore. It's up to the guy who sits behind a desk, smokes a big cigar and drinks whiskey all night."
In boxing, however, wounds heal rapidly. The next day Arum, Lectoure and DePiano were deep in negotiations for the rematch at a new site, possibly on April 14. With all neutral officials, as dictated by the WBA, of course.