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Articles of 2005

Max Baer Whipped by Unknown

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Who was the Cinderella Man who handed Max Baer a stunning defeat in the ring 69 years ago this month?

It wasn't James J. Braddock. His upset victory over Baer for the heavyweight championship of the world occurred in New York City on June 14, 1935.

But almost 16 months later, Baer – fighting in his 73rd bout for pay – lost a decision to an opponent who'd never even had a single professional match before.

At least that's what the Ring Record Book, BoxRec.com and various other sources say happened in Platteville, Wisconsin on October 8, 1936.

But other sources differ. In the record for Baer published in The Boxing Record Book issued by Fight Fax, Inc., for instance, he is credited with a decision victory in Platteville over a whole different opponent than the one to whom the above named sources say he lost.

Thanks to conflicting newspaper accounts and missing pieces of the puzzle, what really happened when Max Baer brought his traveling sideshow to the community of less than 10,000 residents about 70 miles southwest of Madison, the state capital, is likely to forever remain  another head-scratching episode in the life and times of the king who preferred to be court jester.

After losing the title to Braddock and getting knocked out by Joe Louis in three rounds three months later, Baer decided there were better ways to stay in the spotlight he craved than getting hit in the head. They were typically bizarre. For a while he waved a baton in front of a radio jazz band. Then, on January 13, 1936, Baer announced that he was going to become a professional wrestler. “No fighter has ever won the wrestling crown and if I'm good enough I hope to challenge for the title,” he told Braven Dyer of the L.A. Times. “I am definitely through with the fight game. This wrestling business looks good to me, because I can keep at it and probably do some additional work in motion pictures.”

But the fact is that despite his good reviews in the mildly successful 1933 theatrical release, “The Prizefighter and the Lady,” Hollywood had doubts about the handsome but goofy Baer. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios announced less than a week after Baer took the championship from Primo Carnera on June 15, 1934, that it wasn't renewing its option on the new champion. “The reason given was that Baer might prove only a flash, with no outstanding film star qualities,” reported the Associated Press.

The rasslin' deal fizzled, too, and on February 17, 1936 the Livermore Larruper announced that he was preparing to start larruping again.

“I'll be ready to fight again inside of three months,” said Baer. “I've quit the bright lights once and for all. I haven't touched a drink in two weeks. I've reduced cigarettes to two a day. I've done a lot of roadwork and walking. My big problem is the hands. That's what licked me in fights with Braddock and Louis – that and the playboy stuff.”

According to Baer's manager, Ancil Hoffman, there were megabucks offers from London to fight British champion Jack Peterson, and Amsterdam wanted him against Germany's Walter Neusel. And naturally Baer was ready to take his title back anytime Braddock wanted to get in the ring with him again, Hoffman said.

But when the grand comeback tour finally kicked off, it wasn't in Europe or even New York or Los Angeles, and the guy in the other corner in Salt Lake City on June 15, 1936 wasn't Peterson, Neusel or any other contender. But although floored five times, unknown Tony Souza was still standing at the final bell. Max got the decision, but according to the Associated Press, he “displayed little to warrant consideration among the present crop of heavyweights.”

Two days later in Boise, Idaho, Baer knocked out another unknown, Bob Frazier, and by the end of the month he had beaten three more nonentities in Pocatello, Idaho, Tyler and San Antonio, Texas, respectively. But the parade through palookadom wasn't getting any raves. After Baer knocked out local hero Wilson Dunn in San Antonio on June 24, he needed a police escort to get out of the arena because the crowd didn't cotton to his clowning tactics.

July brought five more wins against five more nondescript foes, and in August Baer toured the Pacific Northwest, padding his record and bank account at the expense of local fighters of absolutely no repute. With him were Hoffman and Max's younger brother, Buddy, who was following in his footsteps as a boxer.

The Baers sometimes took turns beating the same guys (and laying down bets with Hoffman about who could do it faster). Two days after Buddy decisioned somebody named Don Baxter on the undercard of Max's win over Al Frankco in Lewiston, Idaho, Max knocked Baxter out in one round in Coeur d'Alene.

By September, when the Baer brigade rolled into the Midwest, the Missouri boxing commission said no thanks when Max offered to grace rings in Joplin and Springfield.

“We permitted Baer to present his clowning act when he was champion,” said Chairman Garrett L. Smalley. “It's different now and we do not intend to let a has-been fighter come into this state with a build-up racket simply to make money.”

Illinois passed, too, even after the former champion announced that he would be mixing boxing and politics by campaigning for the reelection of President Franklin D. Roosevelt at every stop along his comeback tour.

On October 6 in Evansville, Indiana, Max stopped Tim Charles in four, and Buddy collected a $10 bet from Hoffman after flattening Babe Davis in two rounds on the undercard, improving on Max's six-round decision over Davis in Keokuk, Iowa the week before.

Then, with 23 comeback wins under his belt, it was on to Wisconsin for the man the Platteville Journal called “one of the greatest heavyweights since Jack Dempsey.” The October 7, 1936 front page story announcing Baer's scheduled six-round bout against Willie Davis of Chicago at the local fairgrounds the next day and identified Davis as a “colored fistic flash” whose main claim to fame was getting knocked out by Joe Louis several months earlier. The Journal credited Davis with a recent win over someone named Tiny Bittner, but according to the ring record for Davis available at boxrec.com, Davis had not won any of his previous nine pro fights.

A separate large advertisement in The Journal announced that in the semi-windup of the card at the local fairgrounds, Buddy Baer would meet Arthur Oliver, an African-American from Chicago who had represented the USA as a heavyweight the previous August in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, Germany.

Oliver had lost his first Olympic match. Also that year's National Golden Gloves heavyweight champion, he was making his professional debut on the card that included four other preliminary bouts.

The promoter of record was Leo M. Kane American Legion Post No. 42, which invited the public to meet the Baer brothers at “big open party” at Legion Hall after the fights.

Whether the former heavyweight champion was in a party mood afterwards depends on which newspaper report of what happened in the ring can be believed.

Relying on reports from “special correspondents,” dailies in Madison and Milwaukee proclaimed on October 9 that Willie Davis had survived a third-round knockdown to win a decision over Baer. That result was subsequently reported in the December 1936 issue of The Ring magazine, albeit without fanfare:

“Max Baer continued his successful tour of the tank towns by scoring KOs over Sammy Evans in three heats, Tim Charles in four rounds, and winning a six-round decision over Bearcat Wright, but then was whipped by an unknown, Willie Davis, in a six round contest.”

But that was diametrically opposite of the day-after-the-fight report in the Dubuque (Iowa) Telegraph Herald, which stated that Baer, “clowning through his scheduled six-round setto with Willie Davis, knocked down the latter for the count in the third round.”

And, added the Telegraph Herald account, “when Baer’s hand was lifted the crowd cheered as they felt it was a spirited tiff. One ringsider stood up and bellowed so that all could hear: ‘The colored boy is plenty good.’

“Maxie cracked right back: ‘He should be. He is my sparring partner.’”

All the initial newspaper reports agreed about one thing: that Buddy Baer knocked out Art Oliver in the fourth round of their Platteville bout.

But then, on October 12, the Dubuque newspaper did an abrupt one-eighty, reporting that Max Baer “is held by countless fans who saw last Thursday’s boxing exhibition to have lost the decision.”

And not to Willie Davis, but rather to Art Oliver.

“Although Baer’s opponent was announced as Willie Davis, the principal was in reality Oliver,” announced the Telegraph Herald story, which noted that the former Olympian “kept flicking out a right that really bothered the ex-world’s heavyweight boxing champion.”

“As the bout was a 'show' no recognized judges were assigned to pick the winner,” continued the account, “but his negro foe, Art Oliver, gave Baer a workout for his cut in the profits in the Platteville show.”

The files of the Wisconsin Athletic Commission, which oversaw boxing in the state from 1913 until it was phased out of existence in 1980, shed no light on the matter. No results for the Platteville card are contained in the minutes of the commission’s meetings. While Max and Buddy Baer were both duly licensed to fight on the card, there are no license applications for Davis and Oliver in the commission files.

Interestingly, Max Baer’s license application lists Lou Gross of Chicago as a reference behind former heavyweight champs Jack Dempsey and Jess Willard. In the minutes of the commission’s November 9 meeting, Gross – who was suspended along with the Chicago boxers for not taking out a Wisconsin license – is identified as the handler of Davis and Oliver.

In any case, the Platteville fight did not warrant banner headlines throughout the country. More newspaper ink was devoted the following week to what happened in Boston when Max refereed a wrestling card in Boston and “knocked out” a couple bad guys.

That same night in South Bend, Indiana, rising title contender Joe Louis flattened Willie Davis in a three-round exhibition bout. Or at least somebody calling himself Willie Davis.

“A protest from Lou Gross of Chicago, who said he manages Davis and that Davis did not appear against Louis, brought an investigation which sportswriters said showed an illegible scrawled signature on the athletic commission's permit for the exhibition,” the Associated Press reported on October 16. “The writers said from the signature, supposed to be that of the boxer who met Louis, they were unable to determine his identity.”

But everybody knew the mugging, preening showboat who knocked out Dutch Weimer in two rounds with what was described as “a light tap on the ribs” on October 20 in Toronto. After no less than Provincial Premier Mitchell F. Hepburn called it a “fake, fiasco and disgrace to sport,” Max Baer said he was homesick and went back to California,

He would eventually get serious enough to again appear in boxing's top arenas and rankings. Buddy Baer would twice lose to Joe Louis in championship fights.

Willie Davis returned to the total anonymity whence he came. While Art Oliver was generally acknowledged as the winner in his first pro fight over a former heavyweight champion of the world, his fairytale upset didn't carry him very far. After winning a few more bouts, Oliver lost eight in a row, and in 1944 he was killed when a train crashed into his car near Hammond, Indiana.

Articles of 2005

In Boxing News: Floyd Mayweather An All-Time Great, Valuev & More

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A Shot of Boxing on the Last Day of the Year

The Guardian reports that talks have already taken place between Nicolay Valuev‘s co-promoters – Don King and Wilfried Sauerland – and Danny Williams‘ promoter Frank Warren for Nicolay Valuev to face Danny Williams. I’d suggest Danny Williams needs to worry about Matt Skelton (who Williams is reportedly scheduled to fight in February) before he entertains notions of facing the Beast From The East.

The Mirror in the UK looks forward to a big year in boxing for 2006. The Mirror considers what the future might bring for Joe Calzaghe, Amir Khan and Ricky Hatton, among others.

The Parksville Qualicum News has an interesting column on the travails of former Canadian Super Middleweight title holder Mark Woolnough. Woolnough’s career turned controversial – as widely reported in the Canadian press – at the beginning of this year when Woolnough and four other men were charged with manslaughter and assault after a fight outside a Parksville nightclub. The case returns to court next month. It’s an interesting read, as Woolnough is still looking to the future with hope.

Our own Marc Lichtenfeld provides plenty of food for thought with his Top Ten Wish List for boxing in the New Year. There’s plenty of good stuff here, but what really jumped out for me is Lichtenfeld’s opinion that a win over Zab Judah could have Floyd Mayweather knocking on the door of all-time great status. Seems to me this might be jumping the gun a little. Or is Marc right? Will it soon be time to call Floyd Mayweather Jr. an all-time great?

(More Boxing News Links at TheSweetScience.com)

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Articles of 2005

ShoBox Friday Night Fights

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Hot bantamweight prospect Raul “The Cobra” Martinez heads back to Chicago next Friday night as he is featured in the co-main event of SHOBOX “THE NEW GENERATION,” an action packed evening of professional boxing presented by Dominic Pesoli’s 8 Count Productions,’ HOME OF THE BEST IN CHICAGO BOXING, Kathy Duva’s Main Events Inc., along with Miller Lite and TCF Bank.

The two-time national amateur champion sporting a perfect 12-0 record with 9 knockouts, six of which have come in the first round,  will take on Colombian Andres “Andy Boy” Ledesma, 13-1 (8 KOs) in a scheduled eight round bout.

Speaking after a training session at his home gym in Georgetown, Texas, Martinez said, “I’m truly looking forward to returning to Chicago. The fans were terrific in September, they were very supportive from the start of the fight,” an internationally televised first round knockout of Miguel Martinez on September 16th at the Aragon Ballroom.

Regarding his upcoming fight with Ledesma, “The Cobra” said, “I haven’t seen him fight, although I understand he’s fought at higher weights and will be naturally bigger than me. I’ve had great training for this fight and feel very confident. I really haven’t left the gym in months, just taking off Sunday’s and even then I get my running in. My thinking is that fights are won in the gym and complete preparation is the key.”

When asked about his being mentioned by Dan Rafael, ESPN’s boxing writer as one of the top prospect’s in the boxing world the 23-year-old San Antonio native said, ‘It’s a great compliment, but I still have much work to do. I want to be a champion for Main Events like Fernando Vargas and Arturo Gatti. But like Fernando said while he was in town, ‘be patient, work hard and your time will come.’”

Finishing the conversation, Martinez said, “I’m looking forward to starting out this year with a bang. I might have a couple less fights than the seven I had in 2005, but I’m looking to stepping up the competition, move up to ten-rounders and climb in the rankings.”

Headlining the evening is a ten-round welterweight showdown between boxing’s hottest prospect, unbeaten Joel Julio of Monteria, Columbia, and Ugandan native Roberto “The Doctor” Kamya. Julio, turning 21 years old the day before the fight, is 25-0 with 22 knockouts, twelve of which have come in the first two rounds. Kamya, now fighting out of West Palm Beach, Florida is 15-5 with four knockouts.

Tickets, starting at $30, are on sale in advance by calling 312-226-5800. Cicero Stadium is located at 1909 S. Laramie, at the corner of 19th and Laramie, just ten minutes south of the Eisenhower Expressway and ten minutes north of the Stevenson Expressway. Doors for this evening will open at 6pm with the first bell at 7pm.

The full bout lineup for the evening is:

Joel Julio vs. Roberto Kamya, ten rounds, welterweights

Raul Martinez vs. Andres Ledesma, eight rounds, bantamweights

Miguel Hernandez vs. Butch Hajicek, eight rounds, middleweights

David Pareja vs. Derek Andrews, eight rounds, light heavyweights

Mike Gonzales vs. Tony Kinney, four rounds, lightweights

Omar Reyes vs. Luis Navarro, five rounds, featherweights

Reynaldo Reyes vs. Ricardo Swift, four rounds, middleweights

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Articles of 2005

Pick ‘Em: Plenty of Big Upcoming Fights in ’06

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Here’s the early call on many top matches scheduled for the first half of 2006: Happy New Year!

As the new calendar dawns, there are already a considerable amount of premium bouts on the horizon. Things don’t look to be bogged down by undetermined championships next year. In many cases the scheduled face-offs involve the best fighters in the division, or at least close enough for general bragging rights. If anybody else with proper qualifications signs up to force the issue, all the better.

It can be argued that some pairings could have taken place within a more optimal timeframe, or that some headliners carry distracting baggage, but there are certainly enough heavy hitters on deck. That nobody can deny.

It doesn’t matter whether one considers the proverbial glass half empty or half full; there’s still the same amount of juice in the vessel. It’s nice to know that even with a high number of cancellations, there will still be plenty of important contenders on tap.

With elite fighters in weight divisions from top to bottom on the agenda, it’s an equivalent to what fans in more mainstream sports expect in a consistent championship format.

Baseball fans can almost always count on a World Series. Some hoops fanatics say too much attention to playoffs distracts unmotivated NBA teams during their regular season. In college, they project Sweet Sixteens. Football fans know there’s always a Super Bowl ahead to raise advertising dollars and test the USA’s halftime morals.

So too, there is method in boxing’s current madness.

The midnight crystal ball hasn’t even been unveiled in Times Square and there are already a number of potential thrillers scheduled. Most feature contrasting personalities that almost guarantee going along for the ride will be worthwhile. Any subsequent drops will probably be cheered.

Don King jumps right out of the auld lang gate with a January 7th Showtime card featuring Zab Judah against Carlos Baldomir and Jean-Marc Mormeck in a cruiserweight unification against O’Neil Bell.

It will be the upset of the year, bar none, if Baldomir can tip the applecart before Judah gets to his scheduled super-showdown with Floyd Mayweather Jr. Meanwhile, Mormeck is emerging and should keep on rolling against Bell, who can expose him if he’s not for real.

The proverbial Big Bang starts with a January 21st rematch of one of the finest fights of ‘05, when Erik Morales goes against Manny Pacquaio for the second time on HBO pay per view. The fact that Morales was upset by Zahir Raheem after beating Pacquaio was no real loss in box-office luster. Artful Raheem will get a spot on the undercard and hope his patience is rewarded.

Everyone figures Morales and Pacquaio will pick up where they left off. Like the first time, the rematch is a pick’em contest. Management distractions and glove restrictions cited as Pacquaio’s previous problems won’t matter this time. The two are very evenly matched and their styles will make for another whapathon. It could come down to corners, where Freddie Roach gets the edge since Morales will have a new trainer for the first time since replacing his father after the Raheem lesson.

February features four of the game’s most enduring attractions, in a pair of crucial matchups.

First up, Showtime presents the Jose Luis Castillo – Diego Corrales tiebreaker from El Paso on Feb 4th. This is another pick ‘em pair, barring any sideshow. In boxing that disclaimer may be a stretch, since the sideshow is part of the act and the charm.

As far as action inside the strands goes, every round these guys have fought has been great. There’s no reason to think that pattern won’t continue. Regarding the result, Castillo keeps the pressure on as he did in the second fight, but he’ll walk into trouble from a more reserved Corrales. We still don’t know which coin to flip.

February also holds a better late than never affair between two perennial favorites as Shane Mosley collides with Fernando Vargas on the 25th.  This fight could lead to a winning ticket in the Golden Boy sweepstakes for a fall bonanza against Oscar De La Hoya.

Vargas has been in tougher recently, based on comparable strength of opposition stats, but he’s seen little action. What weight they enter the ring at may have a lot to do with the result. If Vargas has to struggle at the scale, Mosley might have the battle in the bag after round nine.

It’s hard to imagine Mosley getting stopped early, but Vargas doesn’t have to hurt him, he just has to knock him down three times. With natural size, he may be able to do just that, but Mosley would have to box uncharacteristically flat.

Unless Mosley decides to heed the crowd, the most likely scenario is that Shane plays it safe, picks a few shots, and stays away enough to capture a comfortable, dull decision. An unbowed Vargas maintains his fan base but not his bettors.

March both comes in and goes out as a lion.

On March 4th Joe Calzaghe welcomes Jeff Lacy to Manchester UK for what may be the biggest blowout of the headlining bunch. Calzaghe gets the chance to prove his considerable home-based reputation once and for all, but if Lacy creams him as we expect, that glossy record will be severely tarnished.

All Calzaghe has to do is make a respectable stand, but that’s no small task against the rising Lacy. A motivated Calzaghe, songs of England ringing in his ears, could pull a big surprise if he can exploit Lacy’s relatively limited technical development, but that’s a longshot indeed.

It looks like Lacy can get by on power alone. He could soon emerge as a pound-for-pound leader. Old Joe’s hometown advantage will last about two left hooks.

March 11th has the Ides of history to beware for at least one old lion, with farewell (we’ll see) fireworks featuring Roy Jones Jr. against Bernard Hopkins. Less than two years ago they were considered untouchable all time greats. Now between them they’ve lost five in a row.

This goodbye fight is contracted at light heavyweight, for what seems like an oldies night. Hopkins is the senior at age 41 to Jones’s 37, but Roy seems more the grandpa figure, last seen hanging on against Antonio Tarver. Youth, as it were here, will prevail.

This bout was signed quickly as each principal, usually sticklers for favorable contract clauses, agreed to parity in a demonstration of businessman first and fighter second. They may both expect easy marks. How much the boys have left by the time they get down to business remains to be seen. The history books will show this as a climactic career bout between Hall of Famers.

At 175 pounds, Hopkins may be in for rude awakening. Jones may have been more thoroughly outfought recently, but he was rumbling with bigger, tougher men than Jermain Taylor or Howard Eastman. Respectable as he is, Taylor still falls short of the level of Tarver, at least for now. The difference is still fifteen pounds less pop.

It will be quite a feat if Hopkins can stay in the fight, even at Jones’s advanced age. Our stars point to Jones winning in overwhelming fashion.

On March 18th, James Toney meets Hasim Rahman in another pairing of seasoned war-horses.

Toney and Rahman already had their introductions, when they brawled in Mexico during a WBC gathering to bestow Rahman’s new belt. Between formalities, Toney got married, which could bring up the old questions about carnal training.

Let’s hope when they meet in the ring, they restore some of the fire missing from the heavyweights in ‘05.  Toney might have an edge in recent form, but Rahman shows fine tuning he previously lacked. The winner might get newly “crowned’ Nicolai Valuev, an easy payday outside Germany.

Rahman could be the heavyweight that finally makes Toney look like a blown up middleweight. But anything less than a top effort will probably lead to embarrassing night for the Rock and give Toney solid claim to being the true heavyweight champ.

This might not be the most artful fight of the new season, but it could well be the most grueling, and the closest. He who’s faced the better big boys gets the nod. Advantage Rahman.

March 25 features Marco Antonio Barrera, probably the strongest overall claimant to 130 pound honors. The likely opponent is said to be always tough Jesus Chavez.

Chavez seemed rejuvenated when he met Leavander Johnson, but Johnson’s tragic death may have taken some of the steam out of thoughtful Chavez, said to have received Johnson’s family blessing to continue in Leavander’s name. That could mean a lot of inspiration. Either way, if he does meet Chavez, who hung tough with one arm against Erik Morales, Barrera won’t get any slack. The Fates say Chavez, whose wife recently served in Iraq, is a live, live underdog.

Another clash to be King of the Hill finds Floyd Mayweather Jr, arguably the game’s finest practitioner, bumping heads with Zab Judah, one of very few boxers who rivals Mayweather in speed, skills, and brashness.

Their hoedown, scheduled for April 8th, is one of the top pound-for-pound pairings in recent years. Judah will need a career best performance to have a chance of victory. That’s not to say he can’t pull it off, but currently Mayweather is in a different galaxy in terms of punching power. Slow-motion replays may be the only way to follow the flying fists once these two whirlwinds unload.

Mayweather should be around a 4-1 favorite. Judah is good enough to make taking the odds an attractive proposition, since that’s probably as good of odds as one is likely to see on Floyd for a while. Mayweather will stop Judah in his tracks.

The first half of next year is set to conclude with the star power of Oscar De La Hoya, probably against noteworthy foil Ricardo Mayorga on May 6. There could be some snags before a contract is finalized, but if it comes off count on Mayorga for promotional sound bite nastiness. One of the questions is whether or not he’ll be able to get under Oscar’s skin, and it might actually be entertaining to see the classy, model perfect De La Hoya show he’s human and freak out against the Nicaraguan maniac.

Mayorga may have burnt his best bridges already. De La Hoya has not only the boxing skill to negate Mayorga’s offense, but enough power to end it early. If Mayorga rushes in and causes a cut, De La Hoya might get ruffled enough to duck into defense and Mayorga could get a decision that goes to the cards after six rounds or so. It will be wild for as long as it lasts.

Pro boxing, like many sports, had its share of problems during 2005, but there were also many positives. Most notably, as usual, was superior and inspiring action inside the strands. Unless there’s a mass freeze-up at the top, early 2006 figures to see decisive interaction among many well-known fighters.

If even fifty per cent of the aforementioned pairings come to fruition, it’s a strong likelihood the upcoming year has at least one very positive half. Arturo Gatti, Miguel Cotto, Antonio Margarito, Brian Viloria, and Shannon Briggs, to name a few, are also on deck. No matter how you chose to look at or measure mass qualities, there’s still just as much good to be seen.

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