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The Beast of Stillman's Gym, Part 7

Springs Toledo

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beast 8ABert Lytell, Outcast.

PART 7: BLACKBALLED

Bert Lytell never quit boxing. Boxing quit him.

Long after his sudden disappearance from the ring, he told his niece Ellen Choyce the truth of what happened. “I was blackballed,” he said. Someone approached him about throwing a fight, and he refused. He refused even after he was warned, in underworld parlance, that there was no choice.

This would have been sometime in 1950 or 1951, when Frankie Carbo and his hoodlums had become the power behind the International Boxing Club (I.B.C.). Carbo had a suite at the Forrest Hotel and could flick a cigarette at Madison Square Garden, then located on 49th Street between Broadway and Eighth. Sammy Aaronson’s Boxing Enterprises was further down on Broadway. When a new guild was set up by mob-controlled managers to take a bigger slice of televised matches at the Garden, things got worse. Managers either joined and paid dues or were frozen out. Sammy was disgusted enough to dissolve his operation in 1950 and became something of a humanitarian. Bernie Bernstein started handed out cards that said he sold custom clothing on the side, and Tiny Patterson disappeared into history. All of the fighters in the Aaronson stable became free agents, which meant that they were now unprotected.

Bert was among them. His independence was ground out like a cigarette butt under a shoe, and the shoe was a black and white wing-tip with an elevator insole. We’ll never know who told Bert to throw a fight –-it could have been his new manager or a stranger chewing a toothpick, but we do know who was pulling the strings. It was Carbo.

Bert didn’t do well with being “told” to do anything. He was staunch in the belief that a man always has a choice and that was how he lived his life. If they took a look at his military record they’d have known that. Navy brass used less Brylcream than wiseguys but they gave orders too and what they got from Bert was defiance. He spent much of his service in the brig and probably felt okay about it because no one was in there telling him what to do. When they opened the iron door at the end of a stretch and he emerged with the sun burning his eyes and his stinking clothes hanging off him, the orders kept right on coming. So he showed them all over again: He swore at a petty officer. He left the ship without permission. He stole a Navy truck.

Many of his choices were bad ones, though he would insist on his right to make them. For strong men barred from accessing conventional means of wealth and power, pride is precious. It’s all they have. Sometimes it’s all that matters.

So Bert said no –-and unlike Jake LaMotta, he didn’t change his mind.

It’s likely that he was blackballed by the mobbed-up managers’ guild. The guild would punish a stubborn fighter until he got connected and did as he was told. Bert didn’t know what he was up against. He didn’t see the strings by the pinkie rings, didn’t see how much control they had over what opportunities he would get and what opportunities he would not get. He thought he could shake them off.

By December 1951, he had gone about as far from New York City as he could without falling into the Pacific. His last bout was two months old and two months is a long time to go without a purse –-especially when it’s skimpy to begin with. Bert was desperate. He showed up at the sports desk of the Oakland Tribune. “Lytell is looking for work,” read the next day’s edition, “Ring work. He’d like a fight, but none of the 165 [sic] pounders, or even the 175 pounders, want any part of him.” No manager or promoter did either. Everyone knew that Carbo not only had strings, he had buttons, and the I.B.C. wasn’t called “Octopus, Inc” because of his taste for insalata di piovra.

Whatever was left of Bert’s hope and promise was put on the skids. At only 27, he would never again have a professional prize fight. They made damn sure of it. He was reduced to the status of sparring partner for champions and contenders, working in the camps of Sugar Ray Robinson, Joey Maxim, Gerry Dreyer, and Randy Turpin (who he dropped with a left hook). By taking away the livelihood of a man who had nothing more than a ninth grade education and no real earning power outside of a boxing ring, they put his life on the skids.

In 1954, vice squad officers picked him up in Oakland as a suspected member of a drug trafficking ring. They claimed that he had two fresh needle marks on his arm and then let him go for insufficient evidence. After that he moved back east, perhaps to get the heat off or to avoid further trouble.

He left behind six nieces and a nephew –-Ellen, Evelyn, Lauren, Donna, Alfreda, and the twins Karen and Kelvin. Kelvin (i.e. Calvin) was named for him. Ellen was the oldest and was given the middle name “Virginia” after her grandmother, Bert’s mother. She remembered that he would work out at a gym in the Bay area and recalls watching his fight films. When still a little girl, he taught her how to stand and punch properly; and there was one time in grade school where his lessons came in handy. But her fondest memory of him has nothing to do with boxing. It has to do with his generous heart. Every Christmas when he was gone, presents would arrive in the mail from Uncle Bert for all of his brother’s children, without fail.

He returned to California in the late 1960s. Kelvin, now in his 40s, remembers taking the bus downtown and hanging around with him in the Laundromat where he owned a shoe shine stand. “He was nice, gentle, and very popular –-everybody loved him,” he said. Bert eventually applied for a job in a foundry where the work was intensely hot, grueling, and hazardous. The noise, like the roar of the crowd, was deafening. It must have reminded him of the ring. He was employed there for many years.

He lived in the section of Oakland blackest with pins on police incident maps and his apartment was burglarized at least five times between 1976 and 1982. He lost cash notes and at least four televisions when they smashed a window and climbed in or pried his door open. Lucky for them he wasn’t home.

He was no wide-eyed innocent. Rounder at 200 lbs. and 54 years old, he was arrested in a parking lot for possession of “dangerous drugs with intent to distribute” in 1978. The day after his birthday in 1984 he was driving downtown in his red ’65 Oldsmobile and was stopped by police for busted rear lights. They found a loaded .38 in the car and he was charged with “possession of a firearm by an ex-felon.”

When he was 64 years old, he was arrested for possession of cocaine. The police report recorded the color of his hair as gray; and Bert was, alarmingly, 160 lbs again…

____________________________

Bert Lytell killed a man. He carried that tragedy with him for the rest of his days. Mary Darthard was the victim’s mother. You won’t forget her. CHECK BACK SOON FOR PART 8 OF “THE BEAST OF STILLMAN’S GYM.”

Graphic courtesy of Harry Otty, with alterations by the author.

Telephone interview with Ellen Choyce, October 2011. As High As My Heart: The Sammy Aaronson Story, p. 84, 85; Bernstein selling clothes mentioned in an AP wire, 11/7/50. Carbo’s style of shoe mentioned in “Events and Discoveries,” Sports Illustrated, 7/18/55. Looking for a fight, Oakland Tribune 12/7/51. Sparring AP 9/1/51, 4/7/54, AP and AAP 9/4/51. For excellent treatments of corruption in boxing during this era, see Jeffrey T. Sammons’ Beyond the Ring: the Role of Boxing in American Society and Jacobs Beach: The Mob, the Fights and the Fifties by Kevin Mitchell. Narcotics raid covered in Oakland Tribune 6/7,10/54. Oakland Police Department Public Records/Crime Reports, Consolidated Arrest Reports.

Springs Toledo can be contacted at scalinatella@hotmail.com“>scalinatella@hotmail.com.

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Berchelt TKOs Valenzuela in Mexico City

David A. Avila

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Mexico’s Miguel Berchelt hammered his way to a decisive knockout victory over fellow Mexican Eleazar Valenzuela in a non-title light fight on Saturday.

After nearly nine months off, WBC super featherweight titlist Berchelt (38-1, 34 KOs) unraveled a withering body attack including numerous low blows but Valenzuela remained upright in front of a sparse TV studio audience until he could take it no longer.

Berchelt used a seven-punch combination to knock the senses out of the very tough Valenzuela who hails from Sinaloa. The referee saw enough and stopped the fight with Valenzuela leaning against the ropes with a dazed look.

The champion from Cancun used a triple left hook in the first round to floor Valenzuela and it looked like the fight would not last more than two rounds. But Valenzuela, a sturdy veteran, bored into Berchelt to keep him off balance and was able to stop the momentum.

It did not last.

A vicious attack to the body sapped the energy from Valenzuela who has fought many elite fighters in the past, but none like Berchelt. He was able to batter the veteran round after round.

Valenzuela sought to reverse the momentum with some combinations of his own. Berchelt opened up with some combinations from the outside and cracked his foe with some skull-numbing blows that clearly affected Valenzuela’s senses. The referee wisely stopped the fight at 1:03 of the sixth round to give the win to Berchelt by knockout.

The victory opens the door to a potential clash with featherweight world titlist Oscar Valdez of Nogales, Mexico who has a fight of his own planned next month. Both champions are promoted by Top Rank.

Other Bouts       

Omar Aguilar (18-0, 17 KOs) bushwacked veteran Dante Jardon (32-7, 23 KOs) within a minute of the first round to win by technical knockout. A barrage of blows by Ensenada’s Aguilar opened up the fight and a four-punch combination forced the referee to stop the super lightweight fight with Mexico City’s Jardon against the ropes.

A battle between super bantamweights saw the taller Alan Picasso (14-1) out-hustle Florentino Perez (14-6-2) in an eight round clash between Mexican fighters. Mexico City’s Picasso fought effectively inside against the shorter Perez of Monterrey and was able to maintain a consistent pace. Neither fighter approved the use of a jab but Picasso was more effective inside with body shots and uppercuts and dominated the last half of the fight.  The six judges scored in favor of Picasso.

The WBC instituted the extra judges as a means of tabulating score cards efficiently. Three judges scored from the television studios and another three judges scored from the USA. It was the second time WBC judges officiated remotely and all six scorecards were official.

Photo credit: Zanfer Promotions

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Boxing Odds and Ends: Big Baby Miller, Roberto Duran and More

Arne K. Lang

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Boxing-Odds-and-Ends-Big-Baby-Miller-Roberto Duran-and-More

Jarrell “Big Baby” Miller just can’t keep his hands out of the cookie jar. It was announced today (Saturday, June 27) that the jumbo-sized heavyweight from Brooklyn tested positive for a banned substance, forcing him out of a July 9 fight at the MGM Grand “Bubble” against Jerry Forrest. The story was broken by Mike Coppinger of The Athletic who breaks more hard news stories than any other boxing writer.

Miller, needless to say is a repeat offender. He failed three different PED tests in a span of three days for three different banned substances leading into his planned June 2019 match at Madison Square Garden with WBA/IBF/WBO world heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua. That cost him the fight and a reported $5 million-plus payday. Andy Ruiz filled the void and scored an historic upset.

When the first test came back positive, Miller wailed that he was the victim of a faulty test. “My team and I stand for integrity, decency and honesty and will fight this with everything we have,” he said in a prepared statement. He later changed his tune. “I messed up,” he said.

In a story that appeared on these pages, Thomas Hauser noted that Big Baby had a history of PED use dating to 2014. In that year, he was slapped with a nine-month suspension by the California Athletic Commission following a kickboxing event in Los Angeles.

Counting this latest revelation, it’s five strikes for Big Baby. He’s taking quite a roasting right now on social media. Some of the harshest criticism is coming from his fellow boxers.

Assuming that Top Rank can’t find a replacement for Miller, this is another tough break for Jerry Forrest, a 32-year-old southpaw from Virginia with a 26-3 (20) record. Forrest was scheduled to fight hot prospect Filip Hrgovic on April 17 on a card at the MGM National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Maryland, a show swept away by the coronavirus outbreak. Forrest has been matched very soft throughout his career, but he acquitted himself well in his lone previous TV appearance, losing a split decision to undefeated Jermaine Franklin on “Showtime: The New Generation.” The decision was controversial.

There’s talk now that Carlos Takam is angling to replace Big Baby. The French-Cameroonian, a former world title challenger who turns 40 in December, was billed out of Henderson, Nevada, in his last ring appearance that saw him winning a unanimous decision over fellow greybeard Fabio Maldonado in Huntington, NY.

—-

When it comes to Murphy’s Law (“anything that can go wrong, will”), there’s no sport quite like boxing. Just ask Bob Arum. The most mouth-watering matchup in his ESPN “summer series” fell out this week when Eleider Alvarez suffered a shoulder injury in training, forcing a postponement of his July 16 date with Joe Smith Jr. The match between Alvarez (25-1, 13 KOs) and Smith (25-3, 20 KOs) would have been a 12-rounder with the winner guaranteed a shot at the vacant WBO light heavyweight title, a diadem that Alvarez previously owned.

Joe Smith Jr, a Long Island construction worker once dismissed as nothing more than a club fighter, won legions of new fans in his last start, a one-sided (to everyone except one myopic judge) win over Jesse Hart in Atlantic City.

Cancelled matches have become a recurrent theme in ESPN’s semi-weekly boxing series. The very first card in the series lost what shaped up as its most competitive fight when Mikaela Mayer tested positive for COVID-19, scuttling her bout with Helen Joseph. In subsequent weeks, the manager of Mikkel Les Pierre tested positive for COVID-19 as did WBO junior lightweight champion Jamel Herring. Those bad test results forced the postponement of two main events. Then earlier this week, hot lightweight prospect Joseph Adorno was lopped off Tuesday’s card after feeling sick after coming in overweight at the previous day’s weigh-in.

The undercards of the Tuesday/Thursday ESPN fights have left something to be desired, but that’s understandable. As Bob Arum noted in a conversation with veteran boxing scribe Keith Idec, Top Rank’s matchmakers Bruce Trampler and Brad “Abdul” Goodman have had a hard time fleshing out the cards because with so many gyms closed there’s a shortage of boxers who are in shape to fight on short notice. Then there are the COVID-19 travel restrictions and (something Arum did not acknowledge) budgetary restrictions more severe than an ordinary Top Rank card. Most of the undercard fighters have come from neighboring states such as Utah, saving Top Rank the cost of air fare. Fighters from faraway places, with some exceptions, were already training in Las Vegas.

Kudos to the entire Top Rank staff for keeping boxing alive during these challenging times.

It’s old news now, but Panamanian boxing legend Roberto Duran, 69, tested positive for the coronavirus and was hospitalized in Panama City with a viral infection. There’s been no update on his condition but his son Robin Duran wrote on Instagram that his father is not having any symptoms beyond those associated with a common cold. We will update you when new details become available.

Duran’s hospitalization came just a few days after the 40th anniversary of his first fight with Sugar Ray Leonard in what would say was Duran’s finest hour. They met on June 20, 1980 at Olympic Stadium in Montreal.

Duran won a unanimous decision. Converting the “10-point must” system into rounds, Duran prevailed by scores of 3-2-10, 6-5-4, and 6-4-5. As Yogi would have said, you could look it up.

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Fast Results from the Bubble: Jason Moloney TKOs Baez

Arne K. Lang

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Top Rank was back inside the MGM Grand “Bubble” tonight for chapter six of their semi-weekly ESPN summer series. Jason Moloney, one-half of Australia’s Moloney twins, accomplished what his brother Andrew Moloney was unable to accomplish in this ring on Tuesday night, adding a “W” to his ledger and looking good doing it. It came at the expense of Mexicali’s Leonardo Baez.

It was Jason Moloney’s second start on U.S. soil after coming up just a tad short in a bid for the vacant IBF world bantamweight title at Orlando in October of 2018. Against Baez, he fought a smart tactical fight, blunting the Mexican’s superior reach by fighting him at close quarters. Baez fought from the third round on with a cut over his right eye and then suffered a cut over his left eye in the seventh round. By then the fight was becoming increasingly one-sided and Baez’s corner did not let him come out for round eight.

Jason Moloney improved to 21-1 with his 18th knockout. Leonardo Baez, who took the fight on short notice after Maloney’s original opponent Oscar Negrete was forced to withdraw with a detached retina, slumped to 18-3.

Co-Feature

In the 10-round co-feature, Abraham Nova advanced to 19-0 with a unanimous decision over Philadelphia’s Avery Sparrow but won no new fans with a lackadaisical performance. Nova, born in Puerto Rico to parents from the Dominican Republic and raised in Albany, NY, showed little but his jab through the first seven rounds until hurting Sparrow with a big right hand in the eighth. The judges had it 96-94, 97-93, and 99-91.

Sparrow (10-2), whose lone previous loss was by disqualification, was making his first start in 15 months. He was slated to fight Ryan Garcia in Los Angeles last Sept. 14 but never made it to the weigh-in after being arrested by U.S. marshals on a charge of threatening a woman with a gun after she threw his clothes out the window…

Other Bouts

In an 8-round featherweight contest, Puerto Rican southpaw Orlando Gonzalez advanced to 15-0 with a unanimous decision over Ecuador’s Luis Porozo (15-3). The scores were 76-74 and 77-73 twice.

Gonzalez wasn’t particularly impressive although he did score two knockdowns. He decked Porozo near the end of round two with a left hook following a straight left and decked him again near the end of round seven with a left uppercut to the body.

In a rather ho-hum fight, welterweight Vlad Panin improved to 8-1 with 6-round majority decision over San Antonio’s 36-year-old Benjamin Whitaker (13-4). Panin, a Belarusian who grew up in Las Vegas and earned a BA in English from UCLA, has a good back story but seemingly a limited upside in the fight game.

In an entertaining 6-round welterweight clash, Filipino campaigner Reymond Yanon improved to 11-5-1 with a split decision (59-55, 58-56, 56-58) over Clay Burns. A 33-year-old ex-Marine from Fort Worth, Burns declined to 9-8-2.

The opener, a heavyweight bout slated for six rounds, matched two Phoenix-based fighters in a rematch. Kingsley Ibeh, a former standout defensive lineman for the Washburn College Ichabods, avenged his lone defeat and improved to 4-1 with a fourth-round stoppage of Waldo Cortes (5-3). Ibeh, who at 286 had a 39-pound weight advantage, softened Cortes up with a series of uppercuts and Cortes was on his way down when he was tagged with a glancing left hand. He got to his feet, but referee Vic Drakulich waived it off. The official time was 1:41.

Photo credit: Mikey Williams for Top Rank

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