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Springs Toledo’s “The Ringside Belle,” Part 2

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“Is That a Pistol in Your Pocket?” 

Rubbing shoulders and who knows what else with Mae West at ringside was a rogues gallery of gangsters; many of whom branched out from Brooklyn like she did or left on the lam. There was Mickey Cohen in Los Angeles, Al Capone in Chicago, and Owney Madden. She was closest to Madden, a gangland murderer and bootlegger who became the underworld king of New York in the late 1920s. He was chief proprietor of the Cotton Club in Harlem and had interests in boxing —and Mae West. He bankrolled her career and was, for a time, her lover.

She wasn’t shy about asking for favors. When she heard that a Joe Louis-Maxie Rosenbloom bout was being negotiated for the Hollywood Legion in 1937, she called Madden and persuaded him to get Louis a title shot instead. That June, Louis knocked the crown off the head of Jim Braddock and became the first black heavyweight king since Jack Johnson. West was there, ringside.

She said that the guys who talked out of the sides of their mouths were perfect gentleman, but learned the hard way that they weren’t exactly pals. Three of them, one an ex-member of the Capone gang who used to work for her, held her up while she sat in her limousine in 1933. “Throw out your poke and let’s have the rocks,” she was told, and off into the night went $17,000 in diamonds and cash. She testified at the trial, despite receiving phone calls of the “or else” type. She knew where to turn for protection. Prospective chauffeurs were asked about their ability to bust heads, not brake safely. A parade of professional boxers were hired, among them a future world champion named Albert “Chalky” Wright. Chalky was a frustrated featherweight who needed a weekly paycheck to keep what little he had. West reportedly did better than that; handing him the down payment for a house he wanted to buy for his mother and paying for his divorce. He would drive her to the fights at the Olympic Auditorium on Tuesday and Friday nights in a chocolate-colored Rolls Royce; she would slip him a C-note and away he went.

Chalky, no stranger to vice, preferred bourbon to horses and horses to home life. If the word of a private investigator is to be believed, he preferred Miss West to everything else. “I am not the chauffer,” Chalky supposedly told an acquaintance when asked why he didn’t always wear a uniform, “—I am The Man.” Moreover, he admitted he was in love with her.

She loved him right back. When she heard that his boxing career had stalled out because of mismanagement, she sponsored his comeback and applied pressure behind the scenes to get him a title shot. She even hired his brother to take his place as her driver, to “keep it in the family.” When Lee Wright, a welterweight, got himself arrested for shooting light heavyweight Cannonball Green while Green was in a phone booth on Sunset Boulevard, she pulled strings and he walked. After all, said an eye-rolling reporter, it was “an accident.”

It wasn’t the last time she helped a fighter beat the rap. Filipino bantamweight Speedy Dado followed the Wrights into West’s front seat and was arrested for waving a gun at three motorists in a traffic incident. The hot-headed Dado might have been better off cooling his heels in the clink because he was losing more fights than he won.

Perhaps (pardon me) his legs were weak.

In the early Fifties, Chalky was retired and greasing pans in a bakery for a living. Mae West was, well, back on top in Vegas with a bevy of beefcakes on stage at the Sahara. In 1955, her private life was thrust into public view. Investigators for what she called an “under-the-rock” magazine were making the rounds at boxing arenas in California where, they said, “the name Mae West is as well-known as Spalding.” The name Chalky Wright kept coming up. They tracked him to a bar. Chalky, thinking they were producers interested in making a movie about West, took $200 to talk about his months in her employment. “Mae West’s Open-Door Policy” appeared in the November 1955 edition of Confidential Magazine. It became part of a lawsuit filed by Hollywood against the magazine, though there wasn’t much more than a tickle or two among mundane facts about West’s cleanliness and generosity.

Her lawyer drew up an affidavit denying any hanky-panky and the ex-featherweight champ signed it, or so the lawyer said. In 1957, Chalky was subpoenaed to court, but he never showed up. He died thirteen days before the court date.

It was an odd death. Recently separated from his second wife, he had moved in with his mother on South Main Street in Los Angeles. On August 12, she returned home from shopping and heard water running in the bathroom. She called Chalky’s name and when he didn’t answer she unlocked the door to find his body slumped in the bathtub. His head was under the water and the tap was running. At first, police suspected foul play —a towel rack had been torn from the wall, which suggested a struggle, and they thought they saw a contusion on Chalky’s head.

Whatever the cause, the caseagainst Confidential Magazine went forward and Chalky’s ex-wife’s subpoena was in the mail practically before the mourners had left Lincoln Memorial Park. It was still on her kitchen table when the phone rang. “You’d better clam up,” she was warned, “if you know what’s good for you.” She made it clear to the Baltimore Afro-American that the caller did not represent the magazine. She said “[t]hose people have too much money and too much power” but would not say who “those people” were and that invites speculation that West’s underworld friends were behind it. On the other hand, another witness was told to slant testimony in favor of the magazine, and a third, scheduled to testify against the magazine, died from a drug overdose that was no less suspicious than Chalky’s death.

Chalky was no stranger to vice lords. Word on the street was that gangster Frankie Carbo owned him during the latter days of his career, and no one doubted that he had a story to tell. It turns out that he told it, three years before his death, to a young black pulp writer by the name of Jay Thomas Caldwell. Me an’ You was published by Lion Books in 1954 and was dedicated to “Chalky, the gentle Hedonist.” Names were changed to protect the not-so innocent: “Turkey Jones,” the main character, is Chalky. “One Gun Laws” is “One Shot” Wirt Ross, Chalky’s manager early in his career, and “Al Smith” is Eddie Mead, his last manager.

The story unloads like a death-bed confession. Laws/Wirt, said the Chalky Wright character, routinely “invented fiction for the newspapers,” including one that said the fighter was born in Mexico. Chalky had a good laugh at that one: “Ain’t that a pip?” his character says.

There are more serious revelations that, if true, cast a shadow on his career. For example, the record tells us Eddie Shea knocked out Chalky Wright in the first round in 1933. In the book, a fight manager (who happens to share a first name with notorious West Coast gangster Mickey Cohen) meets Turkey Jones at the Main Street Gym in Los Angeles and hands him $300 to take a dive against “Bobby Shay” in the first round. “That bum didn’t knock me out,” Chalky’s character says afterward. “I dumped.” It wasn’t the only time he did.

The character of “Tommy White,” a short, God-fearing whirlwind from St. Louis who became a double champion, is Henry Armstrong. Chalky’s character is offered a fight against the Armstrong character to set up the book’s most startling mea culpa. It’s found in a scene on page 55:

Only one thing,” his manager told him. “We gotta do a little business.”

“Whatever’s best,” the fighter replied.

“Okay. They want a good guy, somebody with a reputation and you’re the only one who fills the bill. But they know they can’t take any chances with you. You might beat him.”

The record tells us Chalky Wright was knocked out by Henry Armstrong in three rounds in 1938. It is no longer certain that he did. Armstrong’s manager, Eddie Mead, is fingered in the book as the man behind the fix. Three pages later we read that the manager was satisfied enough with the performance to invite the main character to New York. It’s a matter of record that Eddie Mead became Chalky’s manager after Armstrong-Wright and that Wright’s next fight was his first at Madison Square Garden, where the spotlight was brighter and the purses were bigger.

It’s also a matter of record that Mead was all tangled up with gangsters on both coasts. One afternoon in 1942, he dropped dead in front of the Park Central Hotel. According to gangster Mickey Cohen, Meade was fencing diamonds back east and they were stashed in his coat. Cohen couldn’t believe it. He died “with all the f*ckin’ stuff on him!” (The police report left that out.) “Boxing and the racket world were almost one and the same,” opined Cohen as if we didn’t know. “Most boxers were owned by racket people and at one time, six of the boxing titles belonged to guys in the so-called racket world.”

Chalky’s affinity for white women is also dramatized in the pages of Me an’ You, including his marriages to two of them, but it stops there. His affair with Mae West is conspicuously absent. There is only a hint, at once suggestive and poignant, that appears near the end of the book as the main character walks toward the ring at Yankee Stadium: “He smelled a woman’s perfume from among ringsiders. It was a white woman’s perfume and no matter what he ever did he would never know what to do about it.”

In the end, Chalky’s death mirrored his affair with West. Despite the controversy swirling around it, his death was natural as his love. His autopsy report, dated September 3, 1957 ends the mystery. The Los Angeles County Coroner examined the body and found nothing that would make a mob hit likely. “No evidences of bony injury, either old or recent are demonstrated,” it reads. “The scalp is free of any evidences of injury.” Nor was he drowned. Tests conducted on his lungs, liver, and heart could not support that diagnosis. The coroner’s conclusion was as anticlimactic as a marriage: “aortic stenosis due to old rheumatic valvulitis, inactive.” It was heart failure that did Chalky in.

Mae West was present at his funeral.

According to at least one family member, she paid for it as well.

THEY SAY MAE WEST HAD A SOFT SPOT FOR GORILLA JONES —THEY DON’T KNOW THE HALF OF IT. DON’T MISS THE VALENTINE-WORTHY CONCLUSION TO “THE RINGSIDE BELLE” ….

TELL YOUR SWEETHEART! READ IT BEFORE BED!


Springs Toledo is the author of The Gods of War: Boxing Essays (Tora, 2014, $25).He can be reached at scalinatella@hotmail.com

 

 

 

 

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Tanaka vs. Kimora: A Monday Morning Treat For Serious Fight Fans

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Kosei Tanaka was just 4-0 the first time he was appraised on The Sweet Science back in 2015; the question then was, is Tanaka the world’s brightest boxing prospect? The question now is whether or not Tanaka is about to add a strap at a third weight to an already glittering career that has seen him annex belts at 105 and 108lbs in just his first eight fights.

Now 11-0 with seven knockouts he prepares, this coming Monday, to duel Sho Kimura in Nagoya, Japan and with a lot more than just the WBO trinket on the line.

Hearts and minds, as always, translate into dollars and yen. The winner of this all-Japanese contest will find himself buoyed in fame, glory and gold in his home country, which also happens to be one of the few places on the planet where a boxer can collect a small fortune without ever leaving his native shores. Should the winner dare to dream a wider dream, then that too can be facilitated by the win.  Even fistic denizens of boxing strongholds in Japan and Britain feel a shiver run down their spines when the words “Las Vegas headliner” are whispered into their ear.

The favored man among the hardcore in the west is Tanaka. He is still very young at just twenty-three years old and is slick and quick, what the west expects of a Japanese force. Interestingly enough, however, the Japanese seem to be leaning towards Kimura: older, at twenty-nine, armed with a superb work-rate, good power, limited technique but the conqueror of Chinese superstar Shiming Zou who he stopped in the summer of 2017. Zou may have had his bubble burst by the Thai brawler Amnat Ruenroeng in 2015, but it was Kimura who sent him stumbling into retirement and at a time when the talk was of China stealing Japan’s thunder as boxing’s home in the east.

Kimura was indeed impressive that night in Shanghai. He maintained pressure with wonderful variety, eschewing the jab, perhaps, for spells, but filling those gaps with an assortment of wonderful punches, most of all his body attack, which was persistent, withering, and apparently went unscored by two of the three judges who somehow had the Chinese ahead at the time of the eleventh round stoppage. Zou had shown a skill for flurrying while fleeing and Kimura had shown him how to fight.

Now a strapholder at 112lbs, Kimura staged two defenses in the following twelve months. The first was against Toshiyuki Igarashi, the man who beat Sonny Boy Jaro, the man who had beaten the superb champion Pongsaklek Wonjongkam before a softer fight against Froilan Saludar. He won both by stoppage.

Kimura, then, rather came from nowhere but made the most of his arrival. What he displayed in all three of these fights was a determination to offer pressure and footwork educated enough to do it while taking many fewer steps than his harried opponent. A tad overrated as a puncher, I suspect, he places himself in hitting position often enough that his default fight plan – chase, harass, throw – makes him capable of hurting his opponents by way of persistence and pressure.

He left Zou, Igarashi and Saludar, broken in his wake.

In short, he is the type of opponent Kosei Tanaka has been waiting for.

There have been calls for Tanaka to be considered a pound-for-pound talent should he overcome Kimura this Monday. I understand the impulse. Tanaka, were he to triumph, would become a three-weight world champion and he hails from a boxing territory which has little direct control over the meaningful pound-for-pound lists, if such a statement is not a contradiction in terms.

In short, it is felt he would be undervalued.

Tempering these calls is the fact that he has never beaten a divisional number one and that Kimura would be, by far, the best opponent he would have bested, and the most proven. Some Tanaka opponents have come good after he defeated them, some were ranked in the lower reaches of their respective divisional top tens when he matched them, but none are scalps as impressive as those dangled by the likes of Errol Spence or Anthony Joshua, who populate the nine, ten and eleven spots in reputable lists.

But this is neither here nor there; the key is not what Kimura does not represent, it is what he does represent. He is the best that Tanaka has met and, I would argue, the first truly elite fighter that Tanaka has met. He is the litmus test and he is one with a stylistic advantage.

Tanaka can punch. Here we will find out whether or not he punches hard enough to keep Kimura off him. Personally, I doubt it and that means that Kimura is going to hand him a serious gut check.

Interestingly, it will not be Tanaka’s first. The first time I wrote about him I stressed that his chin was essentially untested. That is no longer true. Tanaka, who is reasonably sound defensively, can be lazy in minding himself and foolish in pursuing the attack.

Thai puncher Rangsan Chayanram checked him in 2017, delivering a serious eye injury among other ignominies before succumbing in nine; puncher Angel Acosta, a ranked fighter if not a great one, hit and hurt Tanaka repeatedly late in their 2017 contest. If Tanaka has been learning these lessons, expectations concerning his potential may be realized. If he is not, he will fall short. Kimura is the man to test him.

Kimura’s experience and seemingly limitless twelve-round stamina are to be pitted against Tanaka’s skill, proven heart and taut footwork. It sees a superior technician – Tanaka – who has shown a propensity for being drawn into a cruder fighter’s wheelhouse matching an aggressive stalker – Kimura – who specializes in drawing technically superior foes into knockdown-drag-out scraps.

It is framed both as a fight that is likely to finish a future pound-for-pounder’s education and a fight where a young pretender is found out by a grizzled veteran.

Best of all, it is a fight that fight fans can watch for free, simply by clicking here.  The Asian Boxing website has secured exclusive international rights to the fight and will broadcasting it, free of charge, to anyone with an internet connection. As can be seen here, the fight is due to start at 4pm Japanese time.

All the reader has to do is find out what that means for timing in their own corner of the globe and a potential fight of the year will unfold before his or her eyes free of charge.

World class boxing being broadcast for free and including two of the best below 115lbs; a stylistic crossroads contest that opens up the on-ramp to pound-for-pound recognition for at least one of the combatants – on a Monday.  All facts worth keeping in mind the next time that someone tells you boxing’s prime was any number of decades ago.

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Fast Results From London: Joshua Takes Out Povetkin in the 7th

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UK sporting

It was a very wet night at Wembley Stadium, but the dampness didn’t diminish the enthusiasm of the crowd which welcomed UK sporting hero Anthony Joshua into the ring with a thunderous ovation. And Joshua didn’t disappoint. After six relatively even rounds, he found his range in the seventh and became the first man to stop Alexander Povetkin. A three punch combo that began with an overhand right sent Povetkin sprawling into the ropes. The Russian beat the count, but Joshua smelled blood and as soon as the ref allowed the proceedings to continue he moved in for the kill. The official time was 1:59.

Povetkin started fast and in the eyes of many observers won the first three rounds. A sharp right hand in the waning seconds of round one reddened Joshua’s nose which leaked blood in the next round. The tide began to turn in round four when Povetkin suffered a cut above his left eye.

Povetkin (now 34-2), was the lighter man by 23 pounds. Joshua had a four inch height advantage and a seven inch reach advantage. And it mattered greatly that AJ was the younger man by 10-plus years. Povetkin wasn’t intimidated by Joshua and had several good moments but, at age 39, his reflexes betrayed him once the fight had crossed the midpoint.

Joshua, who owns three of the four meaningful heavyweight title belts, improved to 22-0 with his 21st stoppage. His next fight is penciled in for April 13 of next year against an opponent to be determined. His promoter Eddie Hearn has reserved that date at Wembley Stadium.

Other Bouts

In a 12-round lightweight bout, Joshua’s Olympic Games teammate and fellow gold medalist Luke Campbell (19-2) avenged the first loss of his career with a unanimous decision (119-109, 118-111,116-112) over France’s Yvan Mendy (40-5-1). This was Campbell’s second start since coming up short in a bid for Jorge Linares’s lightweight title and his first fight under his new trainer Shane McGuigan.

In their first meeting in December of 2015 at London’s O2 Arena, Mendy won a split decision that should have been unanimous. Campbell insisted that he had improved greatly in the interim and tonight’s fight bore witness. However, he needs to develop a harder punch to rank among the top lightweights in the world, a list headed by Mikey Garcia. As this fight was framed as a WBC title eliminator, Campbell is next in line to meet Garcia, but Mikey has indicated that he will pursue bigger game.

Lawrence Okolie, a 2016 Olympian who trains with Anthony Joshua, won a Lonsdale belt in only his 10th pro start with a 12-round decision over defending BBBofC cruiserweight champion Matty Askin in a messy fight. The undefeated Okolie had a point deducted in round five for leading with his head and had two more points deducted for holding, but banked enough rounds to get the nod on all three cards: 116-110, 114-112, and 114-113. Askin, who declined to 23-4-1, had won five straight heading in.

A 10-round heavyweight match between Sergey Kuzmin (13-0, 1 NC) and David Price (22-6) ended suddenly when Price retired on his stool after four relatively even rounds. The six-foot-eight, china-chinned Price claimed to have aggravated a biceps tear.

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Michael Dutchover Remains Undefeated in Ontario, Calif.

Transplanted Texan Michael Dutchover needed a little time to figure out Costa Rican Bergman Aguilar but when he did it was over quickly on Friday.

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Michael Dutchover

ONTARIO-Calif.-Transplanted Texan Michael Dutchover needed a little time to figure out Costa Rican Bergman Aguilar but when he did it was over quickly on Friday.

Lightweight prospect Dutchover (11-0, 8 KOs) knocked out southpaw Aguilera (14-4-1, 4 KOs) in the fifth round with a barrage of body blows that left the Costa Rican limp at the Doubletree Hotel.

For two rounds Aguilar used an awkward counter-punching style that had Dutchover a little tentative. But once he figured out that combination punching was the key, he opened up with barrages and floored Aguilar with body shots at the end of round four.

That signaled doom for Aguilar.

The fifth round saw Dutchover target the body with impunity as Aguilar tried holding, running and covering up with no success. Referee Wayne Hedgepeth signaled the fight over at 2:31 of the fifth round giving Dutchover the win by knockout.

In a bantamweight clash Santa Ana’s Mario Hernandez (7-0-1, 3 KOs) and Mexico City’s Ivan Gonzalez (4-1-2, 1 KO) fought to a majority draw after six back and forth rounds.

Hernandez targeted the body against the taller Gonzalez who relied on long range counters. Both found success but neither could prove superiority after six turbulent rounds.

After six rounds one judge saw it 58-56 for Gonzalez but the two other judges saw it 57-57 for a majority draw.

Other bouts

South Central L.A.’s Ruben Torres (7-0, 6 KOs) extended his undefeated streak with a knockout over Mexico’s Eder “El Koreano” Amaro (6-6, 2 KOs) in a lightweight fight. But it wasn’t easy.

Amaro switched from southpaw to orthodox and was matching Torres for two rounds until the taller local fighter began blasting away to the body and head with precision. Many in the crowd cheered “Koreano” in unison but it couldn’t help once Torres zeroed in.

At the end of the fourth round Amaro could not continue and the fight was stopped giving a knockout for Torres.

Richard Brewart Jr. (2-0) mowed through Edward Aceves (0-5) flooring him with body shots in the first round then overwhelming him in the second. After seven unanswered blows referee Eddie Hernandez stopped the fight at 1:32 of round two giving Rancho Cucamonga’s Brewart the win by knockout in the super welterweight bout.

Southpaw David Ortiz (1-0) won his pro debut by unanimous decision after four rounds in a welterweight match against San Diego’s Mario Angeles (2-11-2). Ortiz lives in Bloomington, Calif. and is trained by Henry Ramirez. No knockdowns were scored.

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