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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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Jermell Charlo Unifies Super Welterweights Via Solar Plexus Punch

David A. Avila

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Jermell-Charlo-Unifies-Super-Welterweights-Via-Solar-Plexus-Punch

WBC super welterweight titlist Jermell Charlo knocked out IBF and WBA titlist Jeison Rosario with a knockout punch delivered to the solar plexus on Saturday to add two more belts to his collection.

“I’m definitely bringing home the straps,” said Charlo.

Shades of Bob Fitzsimmons.

Back in 1897, Fitzsimmons used the same solar plexus punch to dethrone Gentleman James Corbett for the heavyweight title in Carson City, Nevada.

In another casino city Charlo (34-1, 18 KOs) floored Dominican Republic’s Rosario (20-2-1, 14 KOs) three times at the Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, Conn. He and his brother co-headlined a heavy duty pay-per-view card with no fans in attendance on the Premier Boxing Champions card.

Charlo jumped on Rosario quickly in the first round when he charged and clipped him with a left hook to the temple. Down went the two-belt champion for the count. But he got up seemingly unfazed.

For the next several rounds Rosario was the aggressor and put the pressure on Charlo who was content to allow the Dominican to fire away. Occasionally the Houston fighter jabbed but allowed Rosario to pound up and down with both fists.

After allowing Rosario to get comfortable with his attack, suddenly Charlo stopped moving and connected with a short crisp counter left hook and right cross in the sixth round. Down went Rosario again and he got up before the count of 10.

Charlo said it was part of the game plan.

“I’m growing and I realize that the knockout will just come,” he said.

Charlo was in control with a patient style and allowed Rosario to come forward. But the Dominican was more cautious in the seventh.

In the eighth round Charlo jabbed to the head and then jabbed hard to Rosario’s stomach. The Dominican fighter dropped down on his seat as if felled by a gun shot. He could not get up and convulsed while on the floor. The referee Harvey Dock counted him out at 21 seconds of round eight.

“That jab that got to him must have landed in a vital point,” said Charlo after the fight. “I hope he recovers and bounces back.”

Charlo now has three of the four major super welterweight world titles.

WBC Super Bantamweight Title

Luis Nery (31-0, 24 KOs) captured the WBC super bantamweight title by unanimous decision over fellow Mexican Aaron Alameda (25-1, 13 KOs) in a battle between southpaws. The war between border town fighters was intense.

Nery, a former bantamweight world titlist, moved up a weight division and found Alameda to be a slick southpaw with an outstanding jab. At first the Tijuana fighter was a little puzzled how to attack but found his groove in the fourth round.

But Alameda, who fights out of Nogales, Mexico, began using combinations and finding success.  A crafty counter left uppercut caught Nery charging in a few times, but he managed to walk through them.

In the final two rounds Nery picked up the action and increased the pressure against the slick fighting Alameda, He forced the Nogales fighter to fight defensively and that proved enough to give the last two rounds for Nery and the victory by unanimous decision. The scores were 115-113, 116-112 and 118-110 for Nery who now holds the WBC super bantamweight world title. He formerly held the WBC bantamweight title.

Roman Wins

Danny “Baby-Faced Assassin” Roman (28-3-1, 10 KOs) managed to rally from behind and defeat Juan Carlos Payano (21-4, 9 KOs) in a battle between former world champions in a nontitle super bantamweight clash. It wasn’t easy.

Once again Roman fought a talented southpaw and in this fight Payano, a former bantamweight titlist, moved up in weight and kept Roman off balance for the first half of the fight. The jab and movement by the Dominican fighter seemed to keep Roman out of sync.

Roman, who fights out of Los Angeles, used a constant body attack to wear down the 35-year-old Payano and it paid off in the second half. Then the former unified world champion Roman began to pinpoint more blows to the body and head. With seconds left in the 12th and final round, a left hook delivered Payano down and through the ropes. Sadly, the referee missed the knockdown. It didn’t matter as all three judges scored it identical at 116-112 for Roman after 12 rounds.

“I made some adjustments and picked up the pace and got the win,” said Roman who formerly held the WBA and IBF super bantamweight world titles.

Photo credit: Amanda Westcott / SHOWTIME

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Jermall Charlo UD 12 Derevyanchenko; Figueroa and Casimero Also Triumphant

Arne K. Lang

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Jermall Charlo UD 12 Derevyanchenko; Figueroa and Casimero Also Triumphant

The Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, Connecticut, was the site of the first pay-per-view boxing event in the United States since the Fury-Wilder rematch on Feb. 22. There were six fights in all, five of which were title fights and the other a title-eliminator. They were divided into two tiers but bundled into a package that cost approximately a dollar a round with a facile intermission tossed in at no extra charge.

The headline attraction of the first “three-pack” – and the most anticipated fight of the evening – found WBC world middleweight champion Jermall Charlo defending his title against Sergiy Derevyanchenko. The Ukrainian gave Gennady Golovkin a hard tussle when they fought in November of last year at Madison Square Garden – GGG won a unanimous decision but the scores were tight and many thought Derevyanchenko deserved the decision – and the expectation was that tonight’s match would also be very competitive.  But it really wasn’t although the rugged Derevyanchenko rarely took a backward step.

The fight went the distance and there were no knockdowns, but Charlo buckled his knees at the end of round three and Derevyanchenko ended the fight with cuts above both eyes. The judges had it 118-110, 117-111, and 116-112.

With Canelo Alvarez apparently headed to 168 and GGG showing his age at 38, one can make a strong case that the undefeated 30-year-old Jermall Charlo (31-0, 22 KOs) is now the top middleweight in the world. Derevyanchenko, who was 23-1 in the semi-pro World Series of Boxing before turning pro, saw his pro record decline to 13-3 with all three losses in middleweight title fights.

The middle fight of the first tier was a lusty encounter between Mexican-American super bantamweights Brandon Figueroa and Damien Vazquez. Figueroa, one of two fighting brothers from the Mexican border town of Weslaco, Texas, was a huge favorite over Vazquez, a Colorado native who moved to Las Vegas as a freshman in high school and had fought extensively in Mexico where he made his pro debut at age 16. But Vazquez, the nephew of former three-time world super bantamweight title-holder Israel Vazquez, came to fight and gave a good effort until the fight turned lopsidedly against him.

In the middle rounds, Figueroa’s high-pressure attack began to wear Vazquez down. Vazquez had a few good moments in rounds six and eight, but when his right eye began swelling from the cut above it, he was fighting an uphill battle. He took a lot of punishment before referee Gary Rosato halted it at the 1:18 mark of round 10.

Figueroa, 23, successfully defended his WBA 122-pound title while improving his record to 21-0-1 with his 16th KO. Vazquez declined to 15-2-1.

The lid-lifter was a WBO bantamweight title defense by John Riel Casimero with Duke Micah in the opposite corner. Micah, from Accra, Ghana, came in undefeated at 24-0, but Casimero had faced a far stronger schedule and was a substantial favorite.

A Filipino who was been training in Las Vegas under Bones Adams, Casimero took Micah out in the third round. The Brooklyn-based Micah was somewhat busier in the opening frame, but the tide turned quickly in favor of the Filipino. Casimero hurt Micah with a left hook in round two and went for the kill. He wasn’t able to finish him, but Micah was on a short leash and referee Steve Willis was quick to step in when Casimero resumed his attack after the break. The official time was 0:54.

Casimero (30-4, 21 KOs) was defending the title he won last November with a third-round knockout of favored Zolani Tete in Birmingham, England. He was slated to fight this past April in Las Vegas against Naoya Inoue, but that fight evaporated as a result of the coronavirus. After the bout, Casimero called out Inoue (and others): “I’m the real monster,” he said. “Naoya Inoue is scared of me. You’re next. I would have knocked out anyone today. If Inoue doesn’t fight me, then I’ll fight Guillermo Rigondeaux, Luis Nery, or any of the top fighters.”

Check back shortly for David Avila’s summaries of the remaining fights.

Photo credit: Amanda Westcott / SHOWTIME

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Mairis Briedis and Josh Taylor Impress on a Busy Fight Day in Europe

Arne K. Lang

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Mairis-Briedis-and-Josh-Taylor-Impress-on-a-Busy-Fight-Day-in-Europe

In the busiest weekend of boxing thus far in 2020, there were fights of note all over the map in Europe. The most compelling was held at the Plazamedia Broadcasting Center in Munich where the long-delayed WBSS cruiserweight final pit IBF world cruiserweight title-holder Yuniel Dorticos against Mairis Briedis. Both had only one loss on their ledger, that coming in a semifinal of Season One of the WBSS tourney.

Heading in, Briedis was recognized as the more well-rounder boxer. Dorticos had a style somewhat similar to Deontay Wilder, meaning that he was over-dependent on his big right hand. It figured that Briedis would fight with extreme caution, using his faster hands and superior footwork to keep out of harm’s way, but to the contrary he wasn’t afraid to trade with Dorticos and actually landed the harder punches. At the end, he captured the IBF belt and the more coveted Muhammad Ali Trophy with a majority decision. The judges had it 117-111, 117-111, and a confounding 114-114.

The first fighter from Latvia to win a world title, Briedis (27-1, 19 KOs) is now a two-time world cruiserweight champion. He previously held the WBO cruiserweight belt, but vacated it rather than adhere to the organization’s mandate that he give Krzysztof Glowacki a rematch. (Their first fight, a TKO 3 for Briedis, was very messy and he was fortunate that he wasn’t disqualified.) Dorticos, the Cuban defector, returns to his adopted home in Miami with a 24-2 record.

Briedis, 35, may own only one piece of the world cruiserweight title, but at the moment he is clearly the topmost fighter in the division.

York Hall, London

Apinun Khongsong’s first engagement outside the Orient didn’t go well for him. The 24-year-old Thai boxer with an Muay Thai background was out of his element against WBA/IBF champion Josh Taylor who dismissed him in a hurry with a “solar plexus punch” that would have made Bob Fitzsimmons proud. The punch from the left-handed Scotsman sent Khongsong to the canvas writhing in pain and he was down for several minutes before he was able to stand upright. The official time was 2:41 of the opening round.

Taylor, the Tartan Tornado, was making his first start since October of last year when he won a 12-round majority decision over Regis Prograis in a Fight of the Year candidate. His next fight may be a full unification of the 140-pound belt with Jose Carlos Ramirez in the opposite corner. Both he and Khangsong entered today’s fight with 16-0 records, but Taylor, who scored his 13th knockout, was in a different league.

Undercard Bouts of Note

In a 10-round bantamweight contest, Charlie Edwards (16-1, 1 NC, 6 KOs) out-classed British countryman Kyle Williams (11-3). The referee awarded Edwards nine of the 10 rounds. Edwards, 27, previously held the WBC 112-pound title but was forced to relinquish it because he had trouble making the weight.

York Hall has been a jinx for David Oliver Joyce, the 33-year-old super bantamweight from Mullinger, Ireland, who is 0-2 in this building and 12-0 elsewhere. Joyce failed to last three rounds today in his match with Ionut Baluta. A Romanian who fights out of Bilbao, Spain, Baluta knocked Joyce down with a big left hook and then swarmed all over him when he arose, forcing the referee to intervene. The official time was 1:49 of round three.

It was the sixth straight win for Baluta (14-2, 3 KOs) and his third straight over a once-beaten opponent.

Riga, Latvia

Riga native Richard Bilotniks successfully defended his version of the European 175-pound title and advanced to the finals of the Golden Contract Light Heavyweight Tournament with a one-sided 10-round decision over Hosea Burton. A late bloomer who won only four of his first eight pro fights, Bilotnicks 30, won every round on one of the scorecards and eight rounds on the others to advance record to 17-5-1. Burton, who lost for the second time in 27 starts, let down his cousin Tyson Fury who flew to Latvia to cheer him on.

Struer, Denmark

At an arena in the city of Struer, hometown lass Dina Thorslund had a harder time than expected with Nina Radovanovic, but the Serb got no respect from the judges who didn’t see fit to award her a single round. Thorslund (15-0, 6 KOs) successfully defended her WBO world 122-pound title.

In the chief undercard bout, heavyweight Filip Hrgovic (11-0, 9 KOs) moved a step closer to a world title opportunity with a second-round blast-out of late sub Alexandre Kartozia. There was no need to count when Hrgovic leveled Kartozia with a big right hand.

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