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Battle Hymn – Part 6: The Brink

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Part 6b 9121bLittle Tiger Wade never fought in San Francisco again. He turned up in New York on August 11, 1945 at Madison Square Garden.

Fifteen thousand watched him fight Mario Raul Ochoa, a Cuban national champion in two divisions. Wade dropped him twice before the bout was stopped in the second round. In the main event, Jake LaMotta, then The Ring’s number-one middleweight contender, knocked out Jose Basora. The house receipts were twenty-times what Wade had ever seen in Illinois or California.

How did Wade land a much-coveted spot in a semi-final at the Garden? He had lost two of his last three fights (against the second, seventh, and fifth-rated middleweights, respectively), failed to crack the top-ten, fled San Francisco under a cloud of suspicion, and was inactive for months before the Ochoa fight. In addition, he had never even been to the East Coast, never mind New York City. There is only one explanation—he had somehow hooked up with a well-connected manager.

That manager was Carlos de Castanova, who was called “Charley Cook.”

In the shadows behind Cook’s stable was Eddie Coco. Ex-con, soldier in the Lucchese crime family, and friend of the notorious Frankie Carbo, Coco was a sure-thing gambler pulling strings behind front men and sometimes in plain sight. Everyone knew that a spot on the card at the Garden had a price and that “price” was usually a percentage. If the manager was not a friend already of the so-called “Combination” he had to grant a piece of his fighter to someone who was. Carbo and company had pieces of an untold number of fighters who fought at the Garden in the forties. Wade was probably no exception.

Ten days after Wade stopped Ochoa, he was in Pittsburgh facing Charley Burley. In October, he was in Baltimore facing a beast named Bert Lytell. Lytell was rated fourth in the ring ratings and Wade got serious. He left the pork alone, trained hard, and came into the ring at a chiseled 152 lbs—his lowest weight in over three years. By then, Murderers’ Row had learned to steer clear of Wade’s slinging shots or move in close to smother them and Lytell did just that. They fought on even terms until the last round when Wade besieged him and snatched the victory. All three judges scored the fight five rounds to four with one even.

The next morning, Wade would have collected his purse and perhaps grabbed the Baltimore Sun. In the sports section, two columns to the left of the headline “Wade defeats Bert Lytell,” was a column informing the boxing world that the titles were thawing out and the champions were being released from military duty. “Tony Zale, middleweight champ,” it read, “is among the fighters back in circulation.”

Wade was on the brink. He had just cracked the top ten in boxing’s deepest division and was promised a fight against Archie Moore, who was number-one at light heavyweight. If he could defeat Moore again, he would be within pouncing distance of Zale’s throne.

Wade-Moore II was scheduled for October 15 at St. Nicholas Arena. On October 10, Moore pulled out, claiming food poisoning. Wade faced Vincent “Hurricane” Jones who replaced Ossie Harris who had replaced Moore. Still, it was a main event promoted as “the first of a series of elimination matches” for a middleweight title shot. It was his second appearance in New York and proved no less ferocious than his first; he knocked Jones flat four times before the bout was stopped.

And then Wade, by then a full-blown alcoholic, went and chewed off his own tail.

It was like a mantra at Wade family get-togethers: “Aaron was just a hair’s breadth away from a title shot.” I heard it recently when Alan recalled his mother saying it. “Did you ever ask your father what happened, why he never got the shot?” I asked him. He had, and Wade’s answer is sobering. “I got drunk,” Wade told his son, “and cussed out the New York Commission.”

After stopping Jones at St. Nick’s, Wade was idle for four months. He dissipated. Any substance-abuse counselor will tell you that the bottle is upturned during downtimes and Wade took his to the Bowery, which was then New York City’s skid row. He would rent a room with no locks on the doors and binge-drink for days.

On February 4, 1946, he looked like a dumpling when he stepped into the ring at St. Nick’s to face Holman Williams. With a career-high 170 pounds packed onto his 5’5 frame, he was unprepared. He was dropped twice for nine counts in the second round before left hooks and a right cross concluded matters.

It was a spectacular knockout.

Or was it?

A closer look casts doubt. Williams was managed by another well-connected New York manager named “Broadway” Charley Rose. More suspicious than that are the hand injuries plaguing Williams, which had long-since required him to revert from boxer-puncher to defensive specialist. His overall knockout percentage was 18%. He had never before knocked out a ranked contender and after Wade, he never would again. In fact, he would lose over half his subsequent bouts before his career sputtered out in 1948. Wade, by contrast, was well-known as a sturdy fighter with no neck. He was not easily dented, particularly by an over-the-hill defensive specialist with brittle hands—unless he took a dive; or was drunk.

Wade retired in March. Why he retired offers another potential reason for his peculiar knockout. Wade underwent an operation on his eyes at a New York hospital. Charley Cook stepped up and paid the bills during the twenty-months he was out of action.

At the end of 1947, Cook took him to Holyoke, a Massachusetts mill town that Murderers’ Row used to regroup and derail up-and-comers. He concocted a narrative for the local press that said Wade had to leave San Francisco because “he ran out of opposition on the West Coast” and “is now picking on light heavyweights.” To account for the long-layoff, Cook said that Wade had suffered “eye cuts” in the Williams fight though neither the New York Times nor the Herald-Tribune mentioned that detail in their coverage. Cook was wisely covering up a far-more serious medical issue. The eye injury Wade had suffered at the hands of Jack Chase in 1944 had almost certainly caused traumatic cataracts which impeded his vision worse and worse over time. How successful the operation would prove was anyone’s guess.

Cook signed him to fight light-heavyweight Sam Baroudi on October 13, 1947 at the Valley Arena and hoped for the best. Cook may not have been completely confident; an article appeared in the Holyoke Transcript-Telegram before the fight that curiously refers to Wade as “Tiger Jack” Wade.

But Wade came through for himself and his manager. He jabbed to the body to set up overhands to take the first seven rounds and the decision. Baroudi was “peeved” until Wade offered a winner-take-all rematch; then he quieted down.

“Hurling challenges at any middleweight in the world,” reported the Transcript-Telegram, “including champion Rocky Graziano, ex-champion Tony Zale, and especially southpaw Bert Lytell, Aaron (Little Tiger) Wade, boxing’s modern Joe Walcott today shouted he will bar no one in the 160 pound ranks.”

He was ignored; so he told Cook that he’d fight anyone 177 lbs. or less.

After getting permission from the Massachusetts State Boxing Commission to stage a physical mismatch, Wade signed to face light heavyweight “Tiger” Ted Lowry on October 27. Lowry, a talented spoiler, would have a considerable height, weight, and reach advantage over Wade. He twice went the distance with Rocky Marciano and swore he did more than that: “I really beat him, you know,” he said in 2008. “He used to swing so wild. That’s like sending me a letter.”

Wade didn’t swing wild, but he swung hard. “It was a battle all the way,” said the Transcript-Telegram, “a slam-bang brawl.” Both Wade and Lowry “took turns jolting each other and Wade more than stood up under the heavy punishment the New Haven light heavy dealt.”

Outgunned though he was, Wade attacked Lowry as if nothing else mattered, as if Lowry was a shadow self that had to be defeated. Despite his existential effort and despite the fact that many fans “honestly believed he won the decision,” he lost. It was a fitting reflection of Wade’s battle with alcoholism and of his entire boxing career. He was at the brink, “within a hair’s breadth,” but what he sought he would not get. And as the decision was announced against him, whatever the 31-year-old ex-contender had left wafted off with the cigar smoke out of the Valley Arena and into the universe.

His manager saw it as a good loss. He immediately booked him to fight tenth-rated Anton Raadik and got him a stay-busy bout against young Wylie Burns. He didn’t know Wade’s spirit was broken.

Decades later, Wade would admit to his son that he had fought twice while drunk. Burns-Wade looks like one of them. Wade complained that he was “sick” in the middle of the fight. Over the last six rounds he “pawed around for Burns and did little or no punching” while he himself was “punched full of holes.” The body shots particularly did a number on him, as would be expected if he was drunk. When the referee came to his corner between rounds with a warning to put up an effort or get disqualified, Cook advised the referee to disqualify him and an argument broke out. Wade just hunched on his stool.

There was no come-from-behind surge, no heroic last stand. “Burns, An Unknown, Defeats Wade,” the paper announced the next morning. “The little giant of the middleweights and highly respected from coast to coast, was completely ignored” by a 4-1 underdog.

After the fight, Wade did what dying tigers do. He wandered off alone, away from the field of battle.

 

 

 

 

 


Wade-Ochoa in New York Times, 8/11/45; Details about Charley Cook, Eddie Coco, and the New York boxing scene found in “My Rugged Education in Boxing” by Robert K. Christenberry in LIFE 5/22/52; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 8/29/36, Wade-Jones, New York Herald-Tribune 10/15, 16/45, New York Times, 10/16/45; Williams-Wade II in New York Herald-Tribune and New York Times 2/5/46; see also Pittsburgh Press, 10/10/45. Wade’s bouts in Holyoke in Holyoke Transcript & Telegram, 10/10, 11, 13, 14, 21, 24, 28/47 and 12/21, 23/47.
Springs Toledo can be contracted at scalinatella@hotmail.com.

 

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Former World Bantamweight Champion Richie Sandoval Passes Away at Age 63

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Richie Sandoval, who won the WBA and lineal bantamweight title in one of the biggest upsets of the 1980s and then, not quite two years later, suffered near-fatal injuries in a title defense, has passed away at the age of 63.

News circulated fast in the Las Vegas boxing community on Monday, July 22, the grapevine actuated by a tweet from Hall of Fame matchmaker Bruce Trampler: “Boxing and the Top Rank family lost one of our own last night in the passing of former WBA bantamweight champion Richie Sandoval. It hurts personally and professionally to know that Richie is gone at age 63. RIP campeon.”

Details are vague but the cause of death was apparently a sudden heart attack that Sandoval experienced while visiting the Southern California home of his son of the same name.

Richie Sandoval put the LA County community of Pomona, California, on the boxing map before Shane Mosley came along and gave the town a more frequently-cited mention in the sports section of the papers. He came from a fighting family. An older brother, Albert “Superfly” Sandoval, became a big draw at LA’s fabled Olympic Auditorium while building a 35-2-1 record that included a failed bid to capture Lupe Pintor’s world bantamweight title.

Richie was a member of the 1980 U.S. Olympic boxing team that was stranded when U.S. President Jimmy Carter (and many other world leaders) boycotted the event as a protest against Russia’s invasion of Afghanistan.

As a pro, Sandoval’s signature win was a 15th-round stoppage of Jeff Chandler. They fought on April 7, 1984 in Atlantic City. Chandler was making the tenth defense of his world bantamweight title.

Despite being a heavy underdog, Sandoval dominated the fight, winning almost every round until the referee stepped in and waived it off. Chandler, who was 33-1-2 heading in and had avenged his lone defeat, never fought again.

Sandoval made two successful defenses before risking his title against Gabby Canizales on the undercard of Hagler-Mugabi in the outdoor stadium at Caesars Palace. In round seven, Sandoval, who had a hellish time making the weight, was knocked down three times and suffered a seizure as he collapsed from the third knockdown. Stretchered out of the ring, he was rushed to the hospital where doctors reduced the swelling in his brain and beat the odds to save his life. This would be Richie’s lone defeat. He finished his pro career with a record of 29-1 (17 KOs).

Bob Arum cushioned some of the pain by giving Richie a $25,000 bonus and offering him a lifetime job at Top Rank which Richie accepted. And let the record show that Arum was good to his word.

A more elaborate portrait of Richie Sandoval was published in these pages in 2017. You can check it out HERE. May he rest in peace.

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Amanda Serrano and Jake Paul Vanquish Overmatched Foes in Tampa

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Amanda “the Real Deal” Serrano mowed through knockout puncher Stevie Morgan in less than two rounds on Saturday and Jake Paul soundly defeated bare knuckle champion Mike Perry by knockout too.

Paul and Serrano move on to bigger things.

“It’s feels great, it feels amazing. My 50th fight, my 31st knockout, I’m super blessed,” said Serrano.

Despite jumping up three weight divisions Serrano (47-2-1, 31 KOs) showed more than 17,000 fans and Morgan (14-2, 13 KOs) at Amalie Arena in Tampa, Florida, how she was able to win seven weight divisions.

Fans and perhaps Katie Taylor breathed a sigh of relief that Serrano is truly back. In Serrano’s last fight she was forced to withdraw back in March due to an accident to her eye moments before a fight. Now the Puerto Rican and Irish super stars will meet in Texas on November 15.

Fans can expect a rematch of one of the greatest fights of all time.

Tonight, before walking into the boxing ring, Morgan had commented that of all the top female fighters Serrano was low hanging fruit. The Puerto Rican legend merely shrugged her shoulders and replied that she lets her fists do the talking.

Both fighters hesitated touching gloves but did. After that, Serrano immediately went into assassin’s mode and moved forward while punching like a finely tuned hemi-engine. Morgan tried to keep up but discovered Serrano was not easy to hit.

Serrano moved forward smoothly while slipping and punching. A stiff looking Morgan, whose legs seemed unbent, tried to fend off the Puerto Rican champion’s blows but was smacked repeatedly in the first round with lefts and rights.

When the bell rang to end the first round, it was obvious that Morgan was overmatched.

As the second round commenced Serrano immediately slipped into attack gear behind her southpaw defensive guard. Once again, she fired combinations while moving quickly forward against the taller Morgan.

It was even worse than the first round as Serrano unloaded a dozen unanswered blows forcing the referee to stop the fight at 38 seconds of the second round.

“I think these girls were mistaking my kindness for weakness,” said Serrano. “If you’re not on my level that’s what happens.”

Morgan quickly learned she’s not on the championship level.

“Stevie Morgan just started a little while ago. I knew it would have been a little too much for her,” said Serrano. “My hat goes off to her. It’s not easy.”

Now it’s on to Katie Taylor.

Jake Paul KOs Mike Perry

In the co-main event Jake Paul (10-1, 7 KOs) floored Mike Perry (6-1) the Bare Knuckle Champion in the first and second round of the cruiserweight fight. And then battered the smaller fighter with a jolting jab to the body and head that opened up cuts on the former MMA fighter.

Paul continued to show improvement and proved once again that whether its MMA or Bare Knuckle fighting, his boxing skills are superior to their combat champions.

“Man, he’s tough as nails. I’m sorry it took so long. Respect man. He’s the king of violence,” said Paul about his fallen foe whose nickname is the “King of Violence.”

Paul attacked the body with a strong left jab while circling slowly left and right. Perry stood straight up with a low guard and his chin up. Paul hit that chin repeatedly and eventually cracked it in the fifth round.

Perry survived.

In the sixth round the bigger blonde fighter Paul bludgeoned Perry with another left jab and then opened with a barrage of blows that blasted the bare knuckle fighter to the canvas. Though he beat the count, he stumbled and the referee stopped the fight at 1:12 of the sixth round.

“I kind of expected that,” said Paul.

Perry was honest about the outcome.

“I tried man, but the kid hit me hard,” said Perry.

Now it’s on to Mike Tyson on November 15 in Arlington, Texas.

“Mike. I love you. But this is my sport now. I’m so honored but I’m going to take your throne.”

Other Bouts

A lightweight battle between undefeated fighters saw Canada’s Lucas Bahdi (17-0, 15 KOs) lose every round until he unloaded a three-punch combination that rendered Ashton Sylve (11-1, 9 KOs) unconscious before he hit the canvas.

Sylve utilized his speed and counters for five rounds and seemed to cruise for five years. But Bahdi showed a good chin especially against lightning uppercuts that sneaked through the guard.

“He’s very twitchy and very quick. I was trying to get to his body early on,” said Bahdi. “He’s very fast and has good counter punches.

In the sixth round Sylve was opening up a little more with his hands down and Bahdi saw the opening and quickly launched a right followed by a left hook that knocked out Sylve before he hit the floor at 2:27 of the sixth round.

“I knew his head’s there in the center all the time,” said Bahdi. “I think I stole the show tonight.”

Prelim Bouts

A rematch between lightweights saw Corey Marksman (10-0-1) win by majority decision against Tony Aguilar (12-1-1) in a back-and-forth battle. Marksman out-worked Aguilar with an especially effective counter-right that scored repeatedly. Their first encounter last February ended in a draw.

Shadasia Green (14-1, 11 KOs) stumbled a bit but got the win against Natasha Spence (8-5-2) to win by unanimous decision in a super middleweight. It was her first fight since losing to Franchon Crews-Dezurn for the world title.

Green was cruising for most of the fight behind a sharp jab and rights to the body but during an offensive out burst Spence caught her with a counter right and floored her in the seventh. It was half punch and half slip, but she was knocked down.

Though Green did not get a knockout she emerged with the win 78-73, 77-74 twice.

“I had fun in there tonight,” said Green. “I belong at the top with the best.”

Alexis Chaparro (2-0) knocked out Kevin Hill (1-2) with a five-punch combination at 2:01 of the second round in a middleweight fight.

Angel Barrientes (12-1) defeated Edwin Rodriguez (12-9-2) by majority decision after six rounds in a super bantamweight fight. The scores were 57-57, 60-54 twice for Barrientes who resides in Las Vegas.

Photo credit: Esther Lin / MVP Promotions

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Nakatani Strengthens his Pound-for-Pound Credentials: Blasts Out Astrolabio

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Junto Nakatani is the best 118-pound boxer in the world. Tonight, in Tokyo, he reinforced that judgment with a first-round knockout of Vincent Astrolabio at Japan’s national sumo arena. A short left to the solar plexus left the Filipino writhing on the canvas. He tried to rise but fell back down, forcing referee Tom Taylor to waive it off. It was all over in less than three minutes, 2:37 to be precise. Nakatani (28-0, 21 KOs) was making the first defense of his WBO bantamweight title after previously winning title belts at 112 and 115.

Tall for the weight class at five-foot-seven-and-a-half, the 26-year-old Japanese southpaw produced his second highlight reel knockout in his last four fights. The first come in May of last year at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas where he scored a frightening, 12th-round one-punch knockout of Andrew Moloney.

Nakatani won’t have to travel far to unify the belt. The other three current bantamweight champions are also Japanese. Down the road, potentially, is a showdown with countryman Naoya Inoue. That match, should it transpire, would be the biggest domestic fight in Japanese boxing history. Astrolabio, who had been stopped only once previously and was making his second stab at a world title, declined to 18-5.

Other Title Fight

LA’s Anthony Olascuaga, a stablemate of Nakatani (both train in LA under the tutelage of Rudy Hernandez), won the vacant WBO flyweight title with a third-round stoppage of Riku Kanu. A left uppercut put Kano (22-5) on the deck for the full count. The official time was 2:50 of round three.

Olascuaga (7-1, 5 KOs) was rucked out of obscurity in April of last year when he dropped down a weight class and performed far better than expected, albeit in a losing effort, against Kenshiro Teraji, a fight that he took on 10 days’ notice. Despite his inexperience and the locale, the LA fighter entered the ring a consensus 3/1 favorite over Kanu.

Also

In his first 10-rounder, ever-improving Tenshin Nasukawa (4-0, 2 KOs) stopped U.S. invader Jonathan Rodriguez in the third round. Five unanswered punches climaxed by a straight left ended matters at the 1:49 mark. The bout was contested at a catchweight of 120 pounds.

Nasukawa, a baby-faced, 25-year-old southpaw, transitioned to boxing after becoming famous in Japan for his kickboxing exploits. His first foray into boxing was an exhibition with Floyd Mayweather who knocked him out in the opening round, but he’s made considerable progress since then.

Against Rodriguez, Nasakawa was dominant from the get-go. Rodriguez was in dire straits as the second round ended. The first fighter from Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley to fight in Japan, Rodriguez (17-3-1) joins the ranks of one-hit wonders. He scored a shocking first-round KO of former title-holder Khalid Yafai, but then lost his very next fight en route to this affair.

The promotion lost a bit of luster when the title fight between WBO 115-pound belt-holder Kosei Tanaka and Puerto Rico’s Jonathan Rodriguez (no relation to Nasukawa’s opponent of the same name) fell out when Rodriguez weighed a staggering six pounds over the limit.

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