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The Night Andrew Golota Forever Became “The Foul Pole”

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He could have been great. Or maybe not.

The only thing that is indisputable about former heavyweight contender Andrew Golota is that he will forever be remembered as one of the dirtiest, most mentally unhinged fighters ever to lace up a pair of padded gloves. So often did Golota’s seemingly vast potential dissolve amid a barrage of low blows, head-butts, neck bites and bizarre behavior that the Polish-born, Chicago-based fighter came to be known as “The Foul Pole,” a nickname that might be the most appropriate nom de guerre in boxing history.

Golota is 47 now, his last bout coming on Feb. 23, 2013, when he was knocked out in six rounds by another then-45-year-old, Przemyslav Saleta, in Gdansk, Poland. It was the last of three consecutive defeats, all inside the distance, for Golota, who took a 41-9-1 record into retirement where, one would hope, he finally has found the peace that evaded him as a lightning rod for controversy and scandal. Thirty-three of his victories were by KO or stoppage, as were six of his nine losses. But it is the manner of four of those setbacks, and even of a couple of his successes, that have made the seven-time Polish national amateur champion and 1988 Olympic bronze medalist such an enduringly curious figure.

This Saturday marks the 19th anniversary of one of Golota’s infamous meltdowns, the first of his two disqualification losses to Riddick Bowe, each of which he appeared to be winning handily. When referee Wayne Kelly — who had already assessed Golota three penalty points for repeated low blows — DQ’d the 10-to-1 underdog in the seventh round as Bowe writhed on the canvas, clutching his groin, it ignited an ugly, half-hour riot in Madison Square Garden that resulted in 22 injuries, 16 arrests, heightened security for future events in the “World’s Most Famous Arena” and a $250,000 fine levied by the New York State Athletic Commission against Bowe’s excitable manager, Rock Newman, for leading an in-ring assault on Golota. One member of Bowe’s unwieldy entourage, Jason Harris, struck Golota in the back of the head with a walkie-talkie, inflicting a nasty gash. Two other credential-bearing Bowe supporters, Stephen and William Wright, were taken into custody by police.

Outraged by what he claimed was “premeditation” by Golota to maim his fighter, Newman taunted Golota and his handlers throughout the scheduled 12-round bout. It was a powder keg primed to blow up, and eventually it did.

“It was a very ugly night for everyone who was involved in the staging of the event,” a chastened Newman told reporters after he was socked with that quarter-million-dollar fine. “I wholeheartedly and very sincerely apologize for the pain, grief, anguish and embarrassment it has caused all of us.”

The thing is, given the combustible histories of Golota and Newman, it was not only possible that the fight could take a nasty turn, it probably should have been expected. There was, for instance, the night that Bowe and Elijah Tillery began jawing at one another after the first round of their 1991 bout in Atlantic City. Refusing to return to his corner, Tillery aimed several kicks at Bowe’s legs, Bowe fired back with his fists and Newman, who had jumped onto the ring apron, grabbed Tillery around the neck and flipped him over the ropes. Although there was ample blame to go around, it was Tillery who got the loss via disqualification.

Golota, meanwhile, was establishing his own bona fides as someone who was not adverse to bending the rules to the point of their breaking. He bit Samson Po’uha’s neck during a clinch in their May 16, 1995, bout, and flagrantly head-butted Danell Nicholson on March 15, 1996. In each instance he somehow managed to avoid disqualification, going on to win both fights on technical knockouts.

But it was that ill-fated night at the Garden against Bowe that forever cemented Golota’s reputation as “The Foul Pole,” and set the stage for more, similarly egregious incidents that forever tarred him as a near-lunatic and, worse, a quitter.

After Kelly waved a halt to the foulfest, Golota’s 74-year-old trainer, Lou Duva, was trampled in the ensuing melee. Duva, who had a history of coronary trouble, was rushed by ambulance to NYU Hospital, where he was reported to be in stable condition.

Duva might actually have fared better than some of the 11,252 spectators who found themselves caught up in a flash riot. Fistfights between supporters of the two fighters broke out throughout the arena and additional police had to be called in to assist the Garden’s overmatched security force. Even those who were trying to avoid the expanding violence couldn’t always steer clear. One woman, wandering around with both eyes nearly swollen shut, cried to no one in particular, “Look what they did to me.”

Why had Golota elected to frequently target Bowe’s not-so-protective cup, despite the urging of Duva and other members of his corner team to keep his punches up? At the time of the DQ, Golota, because of the three point deductions, led on the official scorecards by margins of 67-65 (twice) and 67-66. He certainly looked the part of an elite heavyweight, although it must be noted that Bowe, who had gone into training a couple of months earlier at an unsvelte 272 pounds, did himself no favors by coming in overweight and underprepared.

Several weeks after Bowe-Golota I, Larry Hazzard, executive director of the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board, weighed in on still another missed opportunity for a sport that had a chance to legitimately shine on the Big Apple’s brightly lit stage.

“What boxing needs is a high-visibility fight where an underdog pulls off a big upset,” Hazzard opined. “I love upsets. Look at all the excitement that was generated when Buster Douglas knocked off Mike Tyson in Tokyo. And you know what? We almost had that a few weeks ago. Andrew Golota beating up Riddick Bowe at Madison Square Garden was the closest thing we’ve had to Douglas beating up Tyson. It could have been the most spectacular night boxing has had in some time. Instead, it disintegrated into a disqualification loss and a postfight riot. Almost instantly, something great became something horrible. Upsets are good, but riots definitely are not good.”

So it was on to the rematch, on Dec. 14, 1996, in Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall, with Bowe again favored, this time by 4-to-1, the feeling being that he would commit himself to training harder and thus being in peak condition. In any case, the hope was that the nastiness of five months earlier could be avoided. There was no way another disqualification could occur, right?

Golota, as it turned out, was a leopard perhaps incapable of changing its spots. Part II was a virtual replay of the original, with referee Eddie Cotton taking over for Kelly and again penalizing Golota for infractions that were too frequent and severe to have been happenstance.

As had been the case in their first encounter, Golota was putting considerable distance between himself and Bowe on the scorecards, even with a pair of point deductions from Cotton (one for head-butting, another for low blows).

All he had to do was avoid doing something stupid. He couldn’t do it.

Golota did the unthinkable moments just before the end of the ninth of 10 scheduled rounds, blatantly slamming Bowe with two punches to the cup, the two-time former champion again slumping to the canvas in agony. Cotton had no alternative but to wave the fight to a halt and award Bowe another DQ win.

An incensed Duva screamed “You can be champion of the world!” at Golota. “The only guy stopping you is you! Nobody but you!”

Golota, sobbing, said, “I stupid. I stupid.”

“I’m going to ask Andrew, in no uncertain way, if he wants to continue fighting,” a more composed Duva said at the postfight press conference. “But if he does want to go on, it’s going to have to be like Frank Sinatra. He’ll have to do it my way.

“He has all the tools to do it the right way. Why the hell does he have to resort to that other stuff? Does he want to fight like a fighter, or like a brawler in a bar or an alley? We have to get that straightened out.”

The two blown chances against Bowe – who last month was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame, a distinction that forever will be denied Golota – would have been enough to establish him as a screw-up to end all screw-ups. But there would be more stumbles, more missteps, more stains upon a legacy that soon would be beyond repair.

Even with the back-to-back DQ losses to Bowe, Golota received a shot at WBC heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis in his next bout, on Oct. 4, 1997, in Boardwalk Hall. Given Golota’s growing legend as a loose cannon, the jokes were flying fast and furious. One of the better ones advised fans to “Watch a fight for the heavyweight crown, and the family jewels.”

“What’s his best weapon?” cracked Lewis when asked about Golota. “His best weapons are his jab, his left hook and his punch to the balls.”

Duva, still in Golota’s corner, said he was satisfied that the 6-4, 240-pounder had finally harnessed his inner demons. Asked if he had recommended that Golota receive psychological testing, Capn’ Lou said, “Every time we approached him on the subject he said, `You talker. You handle it.’ So I’ve been teaching him how to say, `Excuse me. Pardon me.’ A lot of good stuff.”

Unfortunately for Golota, he didn’t get much of a chance to display the low blows of old or his newfound manners. He was blown away in the first round, nudging his career to the edge of irrelevance. But he rebounded from the Lewis debacle to post six straight wins, again putting him into a high-profile bout, this time against rising contender Michael Grant on Nov. 20, 1999, in Boardwalk Hall.

Once more, Golota looked strong early, flooring the undefeated Grant with a right hand in the first round and gradually building a substantial lead on points. But after being floored by Grant in the 10th round, Golota, who beat the count, twice refused to respond when referee Randy Neumann asked him if he was all right. Asked a third time if he wanted to continue, Golota said “No,” and turned his back. For many fight fans, someone being DQ’ed can be accepted under certain conditions; giving up, especially in a tussle you’re winning, is unforgivable.

“He got caught with one (good punch) and he quit,” said Golota’s manager, Ziggy Rozalski, “but he has nothing to be ashamed of.” That certainly would have to be considered the minority viewpoint.

It’s a funny thing about fame and notoriety, however. There is always another door that can be opened, if your name still holds some box-office magic. And whose name had more residual magic than that of Mike Tyson, maybe the only man in boxing with a reputation as sullied as Golota’s? Their Oct. 20, 2000, meeting, at the Palace of Auburn Hills (Mich.), was labeled “Bad Boys,” a nod toward not only Golota, but to Tyson, who had chomped Evander Holyfield’s ears on his way to a disqualification loss even more outrageous than Golota’s double-DQs against Bowe. The volcanic Tyson also was cited for a failed attempt to break Frans Botha’s arm, the slugging of Orlin Norris well after the bell and, in his last fight prior to Golota, knocking down referee John Coyle when Tyson attempted to continue pounding Lou Savarese after a first-round stoppage had been declared.

By then Al Certo, best known as the trainer of two-division former world champ Buddy McGirt, had replaced Duva as Golota’s chief second. And, unlike Duva, Certo was amenable to Golota returning to his rules-flaunting roots.

“Neither I nor Golota wants a dirty fight,” Certo said. “Golota will play by the rules as long as he can. But if it gets dirty, Golota is a master at that. So, if Golota wants to body-slam Tyson, that is his business. I am not teaching him anything that he does not already know. Golota wrote the book himself.”

ESPN color analyst Teddy Atlas, who trained the young Tyson when both were at Cus D’Amato’s Catskill, N.Y., compound, figured the outcome hinged on which head case was mentally weaker. He did not discount the possibility that that might be Tyson.

“Tyson is always unsure of himself, and he always wants to know he has some kind of edge,” Atlas offered. “Tyson can sense a guy who’s intimidated, so he’s bargaining that he will be able to walk right out and get rid of Golota. He’s hoping Golota will just be waiting to be executed, so to speak. Tyson has gotten used to that, and he’s gotten weak with it.

“But I can tell you that it’s very possible and likely that if Golota is not intimidated – and the early part of the fight will tell everything – Tyson will become intimidated. Tyson is a very scared, fractured guy. He talks all of this stuff to scare other people so they won’t find out how scared he is.”

Perhaps, if the Golota who took it to Bowe twice before going off the rails had shown up, Atlas’ assessment would have been proven correct. But it was Golota who cracked early. He complained that referee Frank Garza had not penalized Tyson for head-butting, and he refused to come out for the third round of the scheduled 10-rounder. He even shoved Certo away when the veteran trainer attempted to insert his mouthpiece.

“I’m sorry for all my fans who count on me,” Golota said, nearly in tears. “It was not my day. But he head-butt me, you know? And nobody took care of this, you know? Nobody gave him a warning.”

Showtime executive Jay Larkin wasn’t buying any of it. His position was that Golota had more dog in him than the Westminster Kennel Club.

“I’ve never seen a more blatant act of cowardice,” Larkin fumed. “He will never fight on Showtime again.”

But Tommy Brooks, Tyson’s trainer, was more forgiving of Golota’s apparent act of surrender. It was, Brooks suggested, a sign of a deeper, more distressing condition.

“I never would have guessed that from Andrew,” Brooks said. “I truly believe that Andrew is not a coward. I think he suffers from anxiety attacks and I believe he was having one there.”

After his return to Chicago, Golota underwent a thorough medical examination that appeared to justify his decision to stop fighting. Neurosurgeon Wesley Yapor issued a statement that Golota had suffered a concussion, a fractured left cheekbone and a herniated disk between the fourth and fifth cervical vertebrae.

“There was extreme danger of sustaining another several blow to the head,” Dr. Yapor said, which posed a “threat of paralysis.”

It’s likely the good doctor’s explanation did not fully appease the 20 million Poles who stayed up to 4 a.m. in that country to watch Golota attempt to take down Tyson. But at least Golota came away with a non-loss on his record, the initial ruling of a second-round TKO for Iron Mike changed to a no-contest after Tyson tested positive for marijuana.

Incredibly, Golota got one more chance at the big time, or a reasonable facsimile. On Nov. 13, 2004, he challenged IBF heavyweight champion Chris Byrd in Madison Square Garden, the site of his first DQ defeat against Riddick Bowe nearly eight years earlier.

“We live in a capitalistic society,” reasoned MSG boss Charles Dolan. “This is a commercial undertaking for (promoter) Don King and the Garden. Golota is – in large part because of his unsavory reputation – an attraction. He’s notorious, and because of that he has the ability to put butts in seats. People are going to come out and see the train wreck. The same can be said of Tyson. That long has been part of both fighters’ appeal. They’re unpredictable. There’s an element of the absurd to each of them.”

Byrd retained his IBF strap on a split draw and, although he continued to hang around on the fringes for a few more years, the absurdity had ended for “The Foul Pole.” The train wreck of his career was no longer must-see TV.

But you have to wonder, what if he hadn’t gone goofy in the two fights with Bowe? Or run up the white flag against Grant and Tyson? When he was at his best, he could have been – should have been – a threat to anyone. Did a lack of talent do him in? Was it the anxiety attacks to which Brooks alluded? Some sort of mental defect or disorder?

Those are questions that provide only speculative answers, as is the case with another should-have-been-better-than-he-was heavyweight contender, Ike “The President” Ibeabuchi, whose prime was locked away behind prison walls.

Sometimes the toughest opponent to conquer is the one raging about inside a fighter’s own mind.

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Billam-Smith Avenges Lone Defeat; Retains Cruiser Belt in a Messy Fight

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In a mild upset, Bournemouth’s Chris Billam-Smith, an overachiever, successfully defended his WBO cruiserweight title with an inelegant 12-round unanimous decision over previously undefeated Richard Riakporhe. In the process, Billam-Smith, who advanced to 20-1 (13), avenged his lone defeat. Riakporhe won a split decision in their previous encounter five years ago in London.

This was a messy fight marred by excessive clinching. Referee Steve Gray, who earned his pay, warned both fighters during the match for a laundry list of infractions and eventually deducted a point from Riakporhe for leading with his head. The point deduction came in the final round and sealed the win for the Bournemouth fighter who prevailed on scores of 116-111 and 115-112 twice. Riakporhe declined to 17-1.

The fight was contested outdoors at the Crystal Palace soccer grounds in South London. The sky was grey and a light rain was falling when the show started, but the rain let up well before nightfall.

Billam-Smith, who is trained by Shane McGuigan, was making the second defense of the title he won with an upset of Lawrence Okolie. The other cruiserweight title-holders are Jai Opetaia (IBF), Gilberto Ramirez (WBA) and Noel Mikaelyan (aka Noel Gevor). Billam-Smith would be a decided underdog to Opetaia. Fights with Ramirez and Mikaelyan would likely be snoozefests.

Semi-Wind-up

Olympic silver medalist Ben Whittaker, a light heavyweight whose arrogant showboating has translated into a large social media following, went 10 rounds for the first time in his career and won a lopsided decision, advancing his record to 8-0 (5). Whittaker’s opponent, Ezra Arenyeka, a 28-year-old Nigerian, brought a 12-0 record that on closer inspection included only three wins over opponents with winning records.

Arenyeka plowed forward much of the fight, but kept a high guard and had trouble letting his hands go. In round seven, he lost a point for hitting Whittaker in the face with an elbow. The scores were 100-89 and 99-90 twice.

Also

In another mild upset, Jack Massey won the vacant European cruiserweight title with a 12-round decision over Isaac Chamberlain. Massey, who improved to 22-2 (12), is a stablemate of reigning IBF female welterweight champion Natasha Jonas who was part of the broadcasting crew. He went 10 rounds in a losing effort with former heavyweight title-holder Joseph Parker in January of last year before returning to his natural weight class. This was a competitive fight with several momentum swings.  Chamberlain, 16-2 heading in, lost by scores of 116-112 and 115-113 twice.

Dan Azeez, who had Hall of Fame trainer Buddy McGirt in his corner, was expected to have an easy time with Hrvoje Sep, a 38-year-old Ukrainian, but Azeez (20-1-1) had to work hard to salvage a draw with Sep (12-2-1) in an 8-round light heavyweight match.

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Notes on Saturday’s Boxing Action Topped by the Return of Gervonta ‘Tank’ Davis

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Notes on Saturday’s Boxing Action Topped by the Return of Gervonta ‘Tank’ Davis

Gervonta “Tank” Davis returns to the ring on Saturday after an absence of nearly 14 months that included a 44-day stint in a Baltimore jail. In the opposite corner is St. Louis southpaw Frank “The Ghost” Martin.

Davis (29-0, 27 KOs) is now the undisputed lightweight champion of the WBA. He had been sharing that distinction with Devin Haney who was de-frocked when he moved up in weight. Martin (18-0, 12 KOs) is also undefeated and their match is the main attraction of a four-fight pay-per-view on Amazon Prime Video and affiliates including PPV.com (list price $74.99) where viewers have the opportunity to interact with the hosts, namely Jim Lampley, Lance Pugmire, Chris Algieri, and Dan Conobbio.

One other world title fight and two contrived interim title fights support the main event. The title fight, which will serve as the PPV opener, pits WBC middleweight title-holder Carlos Adames (23-1, 19 KOs) against former U.S. Olympian Terrell Gausha (24-3-1, 12 KOs). Adames became a full-fledged title-holder last month when the organization stripped trouble-plagued Jermall Charlo of the belt within hours after his DWI arrest in Texas.

Tired of waiting around for Canelo, David Benavidez elected to move up in weight where he will face former WBC light heavyweight champion Oleksandr Gvozdyk.

It was inevitable that Benavidez (28-0, 24 KOs) would out-grow the super middleweight division. He carried 180 ¾ pounds for his second pro fight when he was 16 years old. Gvozdyk (20-1, 16 KOs) stepped away from boxing after getting stopped by Artur Beterbiev in a unification fight in October of 2019. He was badly beaten in that fight although he was ahead on two of the scorecards through the nine completed rounds. He missed all of 2020, 2021, and 2022 before returning to the ring in February of last year, shaking off the rust in a 6-round fight, and subsequently won two bouts by knockout. The Ukrainian turned 37 in April.

In the other interim title fight, super lightweight Gary Gary Antuanne Russell (17-0, 17 KOs) meets Alberto Puello (22-0, 10 KOs) in a battle of southpaws. Puello, a 29-year-old Dominican, briefly held the WBA diadem at 140, but had it stripped from him when he tested positive for PEDs.

Gervonta Davis has proved to be one of the biggest draws in boxing. Among American-born fighters, no one is currently at his level as a ticket-seller. However, it will be surprising if his bout with Frank Martin tomorrow night in Las Vegas at the MGM Grand can match the numbers he achieved in his last outing where he was pit against the charismatic Ryan Garcia who he stopped with a body punch in the seventh round. In all four of the fights on tomorrow’s pay-per-view, the favorite is chalked in the 7/1 range. Moreover, a DAZN event in Puerto Rico that overlaps the early portion of the pay-per-view may nibble away at the receipts.

Three high-grade 10-round preliminaries will precede the pay-per-view. These three fights, “teasers” as it were, can be accessed for free regardless of Prime membership. The action in the “free” portion of the card begins at 5:30 pm ET/2:30 pm PT.

DAZN

The DAZN card is a Matchroom promotion in Manati, Puerto Rico. IBF 140-pound world champion Subriel Matias makes the second defense of his title against Brisbane, Australia’s Liam Paro. A late bloomer, Matias (20-1, 20 KOs) has knocked out all of his opponents including the only man to defeat him (Petros Ananyan). Paro (24-0, 15 KOs) looked sharp in his last fight wherein he TKOed Montana Love, but will be up against it in Puerto Rico. Matias, who is making his first start in his hometown since 2019, is already looking ahead to a match with Regis Prograis.

The Matias-Paro ring walk is expected to commence shortly before 11 pm, ET/8 pm PT.

PEACOCK

For diehard fight fans in the U.S., it will be wall-to-wall boxing for about 11 straight hours beginning at 1:30 pm ET/10:30 am PT when NBC’s subscription channel, Peacock, begins its coverage of the WBO cruiserweight title fight in South London between Chris Billam-Smith (19-1, 13 KOs) and Richard Riakporhe. (17-0, 13 KOs).

Billam-Smith, who is trained by Shane McGuigan, will be making the second defense of the title he won with an upset of Lawrence Okolie while seeking to avenge his lone defeat. These two met in a 10-rounder back in July of 2019 with Riakporhe emerging the winner by a split decision.

Billam-Smith’s last two fights have been in his hometown of Bournemouth. Tomorrow, he fights on the grounds of the Crystal Palace Football Club of which Riakporhe is a big supporter. The bookies like the Londoner’s chance to prevail again. The challenger, Riakporhe, is an 11/5 favorite.

Fights to Watch (All Times Pacific)

Peacock: Chris Billam-Smith vs. Richard Riakporhe: 2:00 p.m. (prelims beginning at 10:30 a.m.)

DAZN: Subriel Matias vs. Liam Paro: 7:45 p.m. (prelims beginning at 4:30 p.m.)

AMAZON PRIME VIDEO PPV: Gervonta Davis vs. Frank Martin plus three: 5:00 p.m. (prelims beginning at 2:30 p.m.)

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Boxing at the Paris Olympics: Looking Ahead and Looking Back

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One hundred years ago, Paris was the host city for the Summer Olympics. What goes around, comes around.

In the upcoming Paris Games, boxers will compete for medals in 13 categories. The number remains unchanged from Tokyo, but the ratio has been modified. In Tokyo, there were eight weight classes for men and five for women. The men have lost one and the women have gained one, so in 2024 it is seven and six.

Eight American boxers made it through the qualifying tournaments and will represent Uncle Sam in the City of Lights.

The U.S. boxing contingent in Paris

Men

Roscoe Hill, flyweight (51 kg), Spring TX

Jahmal Harvey, featherweight (57 kg), Oxon Hill, MD

Omari Jones, middleweight (71 kg), Orlando, FL

Joshua Edwards, super heavyweight, Houston, TX

Women

Jennifer Lozano, flyweight (50 kg), Laredo, Tx

Alyssa Mendoza, featherweight (57 kg), Caldwell, ID

Jajaira Gonzalez, lightweight (60 kg), Montclair, CA

Morelle McCane, welterweight (66 kg), Cleveland, OH

Paris, 1924

At the Paris Summer Games of 1924, boxers competed for medals in the eight standard weight classes. The competition was restricted to men. Female boxers were excluded until the 2012 Games in London where the women were sorted into three weight classes: flyweight, lightweight, and middleweight.

Twenty-seven nations sent one or more boxers to the 1924 Games. In total, there were 181 competitors. The United States and Great Britain had the largest squads. Each sent 16 men into the tournament, the maximum allowable as each nation was allowed two entrants in each of the weight classes.

The United States and Great Britain each walked away with two gold medals. The other gold medal winners represented Denmark, Norway, Belgium, and South Africa. But the U.S. team garnered the most medals, six overall including two silver and two bronze, two more than the runner-up, Great Britain.

What’s interesting is that three of the six U.S. medalists came out of the same gym, the Los Angeles Athletic Club. They were proteges of the club’s boxing instructor George Blake who would go on to become one of America’s top referees. The trio included both gold medalists, flyweight Fidel LaBarba and featherweight Jackie Fields, and silver medalist Joe Salas who had the misfortune of meeting Fields in the finals.

LaBarba and Fields were mature beyond their years. LaBarba was 18 years old and hadn’t yet completed high school when he secured a berth on the U.S. Olympic team. Fields, a high school dropout, was even younger. He was 16 years, five months, and 11 days old on the day that he won his gold medal. That remains the record for the youngest boxer of any nationality to win Olympic gold.

Fields and LaBarba both went on to win world titles at the professional level. Let’s take a look at their post-Paris careers. We will start with Fields and save the brilliant LaBarba for another day.

Jackie Fields  

Jackie Fields was born Jacob Finkelstein in the Maxwell Street ghetto of Chicago. His father, an immigrant from Russia and a butcher by trade, moved the family to Los Angeles when Jackie was 14 years old.

Jackie Fields

Jackie Fields

Fields turned pro in February of 1925. Despite his tender age, he was fast-tracked owing to his Olympic pedigree. But his manager Gig Rooney blundered when he put Jackie in against Jimmy McLarnin in only his seventh pro fight. A baby-faced assassin, born in Northern Ireland and raised in Canada, McLarnin, destined to be remembered as an all-time great, was more advanced than Jackie and blasted him out in the second round.

Fields rebounded to win his next 16 fights. His signature win during this run was a 12-round newspaper decision over Sammy Mandell, the Rockford Sheik. Mandell was the reigning world lightweight champion, but because this was officially a no-decision fight, a concession to Mandell, the title could not change hands unless Fields knocked him out.

Fields’ skein ended at New York’s Polo Grounds where he was out-pointed across 10 rounds by Louis “Kid” Kaplan, a 108-fight veteran and former world featherweight title-holder. But Fields built his way back into contention and claimed the world welterweight title in March of 1929 by winning a 10-round decision over Young Jack Thompson at the Chicago Coliseum. They fought for the title vacated by Joe Dundee who was stripped of the belt for failing to defend his title in a timely manner.

The jubilation that Fields felt in winning the title was tempered by an ugly incident in the eighth round when a race riot broke out in the balcony. One man died when he jumped or was pushed off the balcony and scores were injured; “more than thirty” according to one report. Many ringsiders, to avoid flying objects, took refuge inside the ropes but the contest continued after the disturbance was quelled and the ring was cleared.

Fields made the first defense of the title against Joe Dundee. They fought at the Michigan State Fairgrounds in Detroit before an estimated 25,000.

Fields had Dundee on the canvas twice before Dundee was disqualified in the second round for a low blow. The punch was clearly intentional. Fields, to his great distress, wasn’t wearing a protective cup. Heading in, Joe Dundee was still recognized as the champion in New York, so one could say that Jackie Fields unified the title.

After a series of non-title fights, Fields lost the belt to old rival Young Jack Thompson. At the conclusion of the 15-round contest, Young Jack was a bloody mess – he would need to go to a hospital to have his lacerations repaired –but Thompson, who also came up the ladder in California rings, was fairly deemed the winner. This would be the last collaboration between Fields and Gig Rooney. The wily Jack “Doc” Kearns, who had managed Jack Dempsey and was then involved with Mickey Walker, horned right in and became Jackie’s new manager.

Kearns maneuvered Fields into a match with Lou Brouillard who had wrested the title from Thompson four months earlier and Fields rose to the occasion, winning a unanimous 10-round decision in Chicago to become a two-time world welterweight champion. It was a furious battle, wrote the correspondent for the Chicago Tribune. “[Fields] hit Brouillard with everything but the water bucket.”

After another series of non-title fights, Fields risked his belt against Young Corbett III. They fought at the baseball park in San Francisco before an estimated 15,000 on the afternoon of Feb. 22, 1933.

Fields was damaged goods. He had suffered a detached retina in his right eye in a minor auto accident and there was no cure for it. Corbett III (Rafaele Giordano) was a southpaw which was all wrong for a boxer with blurred vision in his right eye. Jackie fought back valiantly after losing the first five rounds, but lost the decision. The referee’s card (6-3-1 for Corbett III) appeared a tad generous to the loser.

Fields retired after one more fight. A closer look at his final record (72-9-2, 31 KOs) shows that he had 19 fights with 10 men who held a world title at some point in their career, including six future Hall of Famers (Jimmy McLarnin, Louis “Kid” Kaplan, Sammy Mandell, “Gorilla” Jones, Lou Brouillard, and Young Corbett III), and was 12-6-1 in these encounters. He was stopped only once, that by the great McLarnin in Jackie’s seventh pro fight.

Jackie Fields Post-Boxing

Fields wasn’t in good shape financially when he left the sport. His various investments were shambled by the stock market crash of 1929. For a time, he lived in Pennsylvania, first in Pittsburgh and then in Philadelphia where he was a distributor for the Wurlitzer juke box company and a sales executive with a distillery.

In 1957, he purchased an interest in a gambling establishment, the Tropicana Hotel in Las Vegas. (Note: In Nevada, prior to 1967, public corporations were prohibited from owning or operating a property that housed a casino. Anyone purchasing one or more shares, called points, had to submit to a background check which did little to stanch the influence of the mob.)

Fields eventually sold his shares, but remained with the Tropicana in a public relations capacity. During the 1970s, he served on the Nevada State Athletic Commission. He passed away in 1987 at age 79 at a nursing home in Las Vegas after being hospitalized for a heart ailment. In 2004, he was inducted posthumously into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

For all that he accomplished as a pro, Fields always insisted that his proudest moment came in Paris. “As I stood there, with the band playing the Star Spangled Banner, I cried like a baby, I was that thrilled.”

PHOTO: 2024 U.S. Olympian Roscoe Hill

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