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Boxing in Las Vegas: The Silver Slipper Years

Arne K. Lang

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The Silver Slipper gambling saloon opened in 1950. Unlike its neighbors on the dusty highway that came to be called the Las Vegas Strip, it was never a hotel. The allurements were 24/7 gambling, entertainment, and the Chuck Wagon buffet, the first of its kind in Las Vegas.

 

The Silver Slipper was a grind joint, a place that catered to small-fry gamblers. It was also a bump-and-grind joint. Some of the era’s best-known strippers performed in the long-running burlesque show. The early show started at 10 pm and the late show at 2:45 am. Las Vegas locals and visitors had a lot more stamina in those days.

 

The gambling saloon also became identified with boxing. The Silver Slipper became the primary home of the “Strip Fight of the Week.” The fight cards there, more than 700 according to one count, were held in an upstairs ballroom.

 

Bill Miller, the promoter, began his first Silver Slipper “Fight of the Week” run on Oct. 2, 1961. The main event was a 10-round flyweight contest between Ray Pacheco, a local man, a painter by trade, and Willie Kee, a Navajo Indian from Reno. It must have been a humdinger of a fight because the local paper reported that “ecstatic” patrons showered the ring with coins at the conclusion of the bout.

 

“All Miller looks for is good action in a fight; names are not important,” wrote local sportswriter Bill Guthrie in 1965. But this wasn’t always true. More often than not, Miller matched the fighters that he had under contract very carefully – and Guthrie’s assertion came with a caveat. Many of Miller’s last-minute subs, he wrote, “weren’t really boxers. They were just warm and reasonably alive.”

 

While the bouts weren’t always rousing, the price was right — general admission tickets were priced at $5; ringside went for $7.50 – and you couldn’t beat the atmosphere. The room was loud and dark and smoky and the fights attracted some colorful characters. “(Man-to-man) wagers and propositions were as much a part of the atmosphere as the fights themselves,” reminisced Scott Schettler, the former Director of the iconic Stardust race and sports book.

 

Bill Miller, who grew up in Elmira, New York, owned the Thorobred Lounge which was situated a stone’s throw from the Silver Slipper, but on the opposite side of the street where the Wynn now stands. He out-fitted the basement of his lounge into a boxing gym.

 

A balding man with an ample midsection, often seen with a cigar clenched between his teeth, Miller was a man with boundless energy. Boxing was his passion; some would say his addiction. A promoter, manager, trainer, and cut man, his first fighter of note was Eddie Andrews, a middleweight from Lowell, Massachusetts, who finished his boxing career in Nevada while working as a blackjack dealer.

 

Andrews had a few good wins in Las Vegas rings, but quit the sport in 1963. Miller had far deeper runs with Ferd Hernandez, Denny Moyer, and Freddie Little. Like Andrews, they were middleweights for most of their careers.

 

One of four fighting brothers from Nebraska – three of whom fought at the Silver Slipper – Ferdinand “Ferd” Hernandez had 38 of his 57 pro fights in Las Vegas during an eight-year career that began in 1961. At his peak he was ranked #2 in The Ring ratings.

 

In retirement, Hernandez became, however briefly, Nevada’s top boxing referee. He then had a steady job as a graveyard shift bartender at a place called the Plush Horse. When he went to referee a show at the Silver Slipper, he often brought a gaggle of his regular customers with him. He was the only referee with an entourage.

 

Hernandez couldn’t solve Denny Moyer who out-pointed him twice. A comet coming out of the amateur ranks, the stylish Moyer had split two fights with a faded Sugar Ray Robinson at Madison Square Garden prior to winning a world title in the newly created 154-pound weight class. In Las Vegas, where he had 27 fights, 21 at the Silver Slipper, he breathed new life into his flagging career.

 

Moyer ran into a speed bump early into the second phase of his career in the form of Freddie Little who knocked him out in the fourth round. No one saw this coming. Moyer, who by then had 65 pro fights under his belt, had been stopped only once previously, that coming in Miami Beach against the great Cuban fighter Luis Rodriguez, a stablemate of Muhammad Ali.

 

Denny Moyer’s conqueror Freddie Little turned pro in New Orleans while attending school at Dillard University. He quit boxing after accepting a job as a schoolteacher in Chicago, but the itch returned. After stopping Moyer, he settled in Las Vegas. Bill Miller became his manager, so in hindsight Miller stood to gain no matter who won the Moyer-Little match.

 

The under-appreciated Little finished his career with a record of 54-6 that included a 4-2-1 mark in world title fights, all but one of which took place overseas.

 

In addition to the aforementioned Ferd Hernandez, several good fighters cut their eye teeth on Bill Miller’s shows. Ernie “Indian Red” Lopez had 22 fights in Las Vegas (six at the Silver Slipper) before becoming a big draw in Los Angeles. Featherweight Ruben Castillo, like Indian Red a future two-time world title challenger, fought nine times at the Silver Slipper when he was just starting out.

 

Marvin Camel, who came off the Flathead Indian Reservation in Montana, had 11 of his first 13 pro fights at the Slipper. Camel, who finished 45-13-4, wasn’t a great fighter but would acquire a unique distinction when he out-pointed Croatia’s Mate Parlov in 1980. It made him the very first cruiserweight champion. The cruiserweight lineage begins with him.

 

Earnie Shavers was still an unknown boxer when he appeared at the Silver Slipper on Jan. 6, 1971. Working his corner that night was his 29-year-old manager Dean Chance, the 1964 Cy Young Award winner, and Chance’s former roommate with the California Angels, the noted playboy Bo Belinsky.

 

Shavers, one of the hardest punchers in heavyweight history, made quick work of his opponents in his five Silver Slipper engagements. None of his fights lasted beyond the third round.

 

During the early 1970s, some good fighters emerged from the local amateur ranks. Junior bantamweight Willie “Birdlegs” Jensen and junior welterweight Leroy Haley made their pro debuts one month apart at the Silver Slipper in the spring of 1973.

 

Birdlegs Jensen came oh-so-close to winning the WBC 115-pound title in 1980 when he was held to a draw in a 15-round bout with Venezuela’s Rafael Orono in Caracas. Haley was born in Arkansas but was hailed as the first native Las Vegan to win a world title when he wrested the WBC 140-pound belt from Saoul Mamby in 1982.

 

For every fighter on the way up, however, Bill Miller roped in two on the way down. His standard purse for a main event fighter was $500 or one-half of 50 percent of the gate, whichever was higher. Some fighters commanded more, such as Harold Johnson, a top-shelf light heavyweight in his day, but when a man of Johnson’s caliber turned up at the Silver Slipper he was invariably in the sunset of his career.

 

Miller used some boxers over and over and over again. The busiest was Benito Juarez, a welterweight (as a rule) from San Antonio. Juarez packed 123 fights into an 11-year pro career, finishing 55-56-12. Forty-seven of those fights were at the Silver Slipper.

 

Juarez was fungible. It wasn’t unusual for him to fight in a 6-rounder, return the next week in a 10-rounder, win this fight and then turn up in a 5-rounder in his next outing. The running joke was that Miller didn’t pay Juarez per fight, but kept him on a retainer like an attorney. Bouts were constantly falling out at the 11th hour and it was important to have a man like Benito Juarez in the bullpen.

 

Benito didn’t have much of a punch, but he was a high-octane fighter who always gave a good effort and the regulars never seemed to tire of him. Besides, for many the bill of fare was of no great import. The fights, which normally ran on Wednesdays, were like a gathering of fraternity brothers.

 

Eventually the Silver Slipper would be one of only two venues in the entire United States running a weekly fight card, sharing that distinction with LA’s Olympic Auditorium. The indefatigable Bill Miller found a way to keep the doors open in the face of constant challenges.

 

For a brief time, a rival promoter took to running weekly shows downtown at the Fremont Hotel using many of the same fighters that Miller had groomed. In mid-1964, Miller was forced to pull up stakes when the Nevada Gaming Control Board shuttered the Silver Slipper after undercover agents discovered craps dealers using shaved dice. After sitting dark for more than a year, the property reopened in October of 1965 under new ownership. During the interregnum, Miller shifted his Strip Fight of the Week to the Hacienda, a property at the south end of the Strip where Mandalay Bay now sits. Two other Strip properties, the Castaways and Circus Circus, also harbored his weekly shows during periods when he was at loggerheads with the Silver Slipper management, beefs that would eventually get patched-up.

 

One would think that being a boxing promoter, especially at the grass roots level, would be one of the world’s most stressful occupations; things constantly go wrong. In October of 1975, Miller suffered an external stress when an explosion of indeterminate origin destroyed his tavern and an adjacent Italian restaurant. It happened in the wee hours when neither place was occupied, but Miller wasn’t insured.

 

A hot-tempered workaholic, Bill Miller was a walking time bomb and it was no surprise that he died young, passing away in 1976 at age 49 during open-heart surgery. His wife Cheryl and son Tim took over but couldn’t make a go of it, nor could their successor, Elmer Boyce, a man from Missoula, Montana, who controlled the aforementioned Marvin Camel and a light heavyweight of note, Roger Rouse.

 

The fights ceased in 1982 and the Silver Slipper faded into memory six years later. All places like it along the Strip were fated to meet the wrecking ball as the city’s tourism industry matured and a new breed of corporate casino operators shunted aside the locals. In 1950, when the Slipper opened, Clark County, which encompasses Las Vegas, was home to 49,000. In the ensuing years before the property was demolished, the population increased almost ten-fold. (Today Clark County is home to 2.2 million and Las Vegas is a larger city than Baltimore, St. Louis, Cleveland or Pittsburgh.)

 

It’s hard to imagine anyone running a weekly fight card at a permanent location in the United States ever again. For one thing, the cost of accommodating the regulators has outpaced inflation. So, here’s a toast to the long-gone but not forgotten Silver Slipper and to the stouthearted Bill Miller, rest his soul.

 

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Beware Fearless Freddie

Ted Sares

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Some fighters launch and sustain long winning streaks; others engage long losing streaks. Some, like Mexican cult legend Quirino Garcia (40-28-4) and the late Saoul Mamby (45-34-6), did both.

And some, like Joey Olivera (21-13-1), Rogers Mtagwa (27-17-2), Manning Galloway (63-19-1) and Emanuel Augustus (38-34-6) mixed things up in spurts. Another, Darnell Boone (24-25-5), is still fighting and is very unpredictable as Andre Ward, Adonis Stevenson, and Sergey Kovalev discovered. When these men are on their game, their opponents can be on the dangerous side of things

For those who like to go back in time, Teddy “Red Top” Davis (71-75-6) provided early TV fans with many shockers as did Holly Mims (68-28-6). The names from back then go on and on.

A favorite was the very active, old schoolish “Fearless” Freddie Pendleton (47-26-6) who fought a remarkable 25 times in Atlantic City but also duked frequently in California and Nevada. And get this, the Philadelphian went in with 17 world champions!

The Record

With only a handful of amateur fights, Freddie lost four of his first six including his debut on November 5, 1981. But he was naturally talented, a combination boxer-puncher with a bazooka for a right hand.

In just his sixth pro fight, he was put in against the very skilled, undefeated and streaking Jerome Coffee and dropped a UD. He then reeled off four quick wins  before losing to Gerald Hayes (20-18-4) in October 1982 and to Bobby Johnson (16-0) in March of the following year. After beating one Jose Rodriguez, he stepped up against Anthony Fletcher (13-0 at the time) and lost a 10-rounder but not before decking “Two Guns” in the fifth round, signaling that he could be a dangerous opponent for anyone.

After a draw and three wins in a row, he lost to former world champion Hilmer Kenty by UD at Cobo Hall in Detroit—but many thought Freddie had been stiffed: “That was highway robbery. I beat him from pillar to post…Everybody expected me to get knocked out, and when I beat him up like that, I pissed off a lot of people in Detroit,” he told Anson Wainwright for a story in The Ring magazine.

Two months later in Detroit and again at Cobo Hall, “Fearless” took the fight away from the judges and shocked undefeated Tyrone Trice (12-0) by flooring him three times in the first round for a big TKO. People now knew who Pendleton was and what he was capable of. (As an aside and reflecting the significance of this win, multiple title challenger Trice subsequently won 16 straight.)

“You could see the confidence that he (Trice) was going to just walk in there and destroy me. I expected a tough fight, and then the first shot I caught him with he’s down. I knew I was the outsider, so I went after him and put him away. That was one of the biggest wins early in my career.”

Unlike Trice, however, Freddie lost four of his next seven though against very tough opposition including Adolfo Medal (21-1), Joe Manley (20-2), Frankie Randall (21-0), Jimmy Paul (23-1), and a very slick and underrated Darryl Martin (9-2) whom he beat for a regional title,

In March 1986, Pendleton (14-13 at the time) took on Roger Mayweather (23-3) in Las Vegas and amazingly knocked out Roger in the 6th round with a lightning fast right that put Roger to sleep in frightening fashion.

Freddie then drew with Frankie Randall in July 1086 and also with Livingstone Bramble (24-2-1) almost a year later. Then, amidst a 6-fight win steak, he ambushed and stopped Bramble in a rematch in July 1988. After being KOd by John Montes (38-4) in a slugfest, he extended Pernell Whitaker (20-1) for 12 rounds before losing a close UD with the WBC and IBF world lightweight title belts at stake.

Even though his record was a most deceptive 24-16-3, his reputation was growing fast and it only seemed a matter of time for the big show.

His time was NOW!

Fearless launched a 12-fight undefeated streak after his loss to Whitaker that included a draw with Tracy “Slam Bam” Spann and wins over the likes of Eric Podolak, Felix Dubray, and Spann in a rematch. This later win in January 1993 in Atlantic City earned Freddie the IBF world lightweight title. His record at the time was just 32-17-4.

“Fearless” successfully defended it against the dangerous Jorge Paez (46-6-4) in July 1993 but then lost three controversial fights in a row. The one against Rafael Ruelas (39-1) was especially questionable as Rafael hit the deck twice in the first round. This loss cost Freddie his title, and he would never regain a major belt.

Freddie launched still another win-streak in late 1994 by knocking out Steve Larrimore in the tenth round. He stopped Darryl Tyson (45-6-1) in 1995 and then he outslugged and stopped Tony Lopez (45-5-1) by decking him four times in Las Vegas in what can only be termed an under-the-radar-classic. Lopez (whose level of opposition was equally off the charts) had decked Freddie twice. These were big wins, especially the one against Lopez.

Pendleton would then win some and lose some including three unsuccessful title attempts against Felix Trinidad (28-0), Vince Phillips (37-3), and James Page (24-3).

After stopping one Horatio Garcia (12-3-1) for something called the IBA Americas Welterweight Title, he met Ricky Hatton (25-0) in Manchester, England, on October 27,2001 for the World Boxing Union Super Lightweight title. Freddie was knocked out early by the prime Hatton and that ended his remarkable career.

Freddie Pendleton, now 57 and a trainer, was inducted into the Florida Boxing Hall of Fame in June 2011.

If any fighter lived up to his nickname, it was “Fearless” Freddie Pendleton.

Ted Sares can be reached at tedsares@roadrunner.com

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Heavyweight Hopeful Agit Kabayel Wins as Expected in Magdeburg

Arne K. Lang

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Heavyweight Hopeful Agit Kabayel Wins as Expected in Magdeburg

There was live boxing in Germany today (July 18) for the second straight Saturday. Last week’s event was at a drive-in movie theater on the outskirts of Dusseldorf. Today there were actually four shows scattered around Deutschland, the most high-profile an outdoor show at a public park in Magdeburg where the ring was pitched on a floating stage. Attendance was limited to one thousand and the show was reportedly a fast sellout.

The draw was undefeated heavyweight Agit Kabayel, a native German of Kurdish extraction who improved to 20-0 (13) with a lopsided decision over paunchy six-foot-six Evgenios Lazaridis, a Germany-based fighter from Athens, Greece. With the nickname Achilles, it figured that Lazaridis, 32, would be vulnerable to a punch in the heel, but the six-foot-three Kabayel (pictured on the left; Lazaridis on the right) couldn’t get down that low and was content to punch him in his upper parts.

Lazaridis had some good moments early in the fight, but his workrate slowed by round five and the better-conditioned Kabayel gradually put more distance between them before dominating the 10th. The judges had it 100-90, 99-91, and 98-92.

This was Kabayel’s third fight in Magdeburg where he won the European heavyweight title with a unanimous decision over Belgium’s Herve Hubeaux and successfully defended it with a unanimous decision over veteran Andriy Rudenko of the Ukraine. Kabayel vacated the title after his management signed a co-promotional deal with Top Rank in September of last year. He entered the bout ranked #11 by both the WBA and IBF.

When Kabayel signed with Top Rank, it was noted that he had several good attributes but lacked one-punch knockout power. Following his effort today, he was dismissed as “European level” on social media. However, this was his first fight in 16 months so he likely had some ring rust and he had only five amateur fights before turning pro (he has a kickboxing background) and so, at age 27, he likely hasn’t reached his full potential.

In an undercard bout of note, 23-year-old heavyweight prospect Peter Kadiru improved to 8-0 (4) at the expense of 39-year-old late sub Eugen Buchmueller (16-7) who quit on his stool after three frames with an apparent shoulder injury. Kadiru is managed by Bernd Boente who was previously involved with the Klitschko brothers.

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 99: Re-Opening in California

David A. Avila

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Now revving its promotional engine Golden Boy Promotions returns next week for a two-stint summer show in Southern California and the possibility of Saul “Canelo” Alvarez capping the end of the season.

“He is open to fight in September,” said Eric Gomez, president of Golden Boy. “Right now, we are going through details with him and whether he wants to fight or not.”

Canelo has become one of DAZN’s lead attractions and during these “stop and go” times of worldwide pandemic, the sport of professional boxing remains one of the few able to continue. But rigid restrictions are necessary and no guarantees any fight takes place.

“Right now, we are going through all the details and what’s important for us and for him first and foremost is the safety,” said Gomez. “God forbid he gets sick but things happen. Look at what happened to Top Rank; they have fights fall out. Accidents are going to happen.”

Top Rank Promotions has filled the void for the past two months with twice-weekly shows that have included fighters from the Golden Boy stable. Two weeks ago, one of the Golden Boy fighters Joshua Franco grabbed the WBA super fly title during one of the boxing cards in Las Vegas.

Now, Golden Boy opens its own shows at Fantasy Springs Casino in Indio on Friday, July 24. Everything is in place to showcase their fighters in California, a state that usually leads the country in staging prizefighting cards. It might even lead the world, but not this year.

“For these two shows we have to do at Fantasy Springs, we have protocols we have to follow, just a little more preparation and planning. We tested everybody, all came back negative. We will have to test again the week of the fight. That’s the price of doing business nowadays during the pandemic,” said Gomez.

First up will be Vergil Ortiz Jr. the welterweight from the Dallas, Texas area who trains in nearby Riverside, California at Robert Garcia Boxing Academy. Both the training facility and casino are located in Riverside County which stretches all the way to the Arizona border at Blythe.

Ortiz (15-0, 15 KOs) will be facing Sam Vargas (31-5-2, 14 KOs) who fights out of Las Vegas, Nevada. It’s a four-hour drive to Fantasy Springs. Anything can happen and anyone can be carrying the coronavirus that has contaminated whole cities. DAZN will stream the boxing card.

If this fight holds, Ortiz looks to propel himself into a world title fight in the loaded welterweight division. Premier Boxing Champions has champion Errol Spence Jr. and Top Rank has champion Terence Crawford. Either will suffice for Ortiz, he says. Now he is working to get into position for those kind of fights.

Ortiz has been sparring with WBC and WBA super lightweight world titlist Jose Carlos Ramirez and with four-division world champion Mikey Garcia. That’s plenty of experience and tutelage for the tall 22-year-old guitar-playing welterweight out of Dallas with 15 knockouts in 15 fights.

“I never stopped training camp,” Ortiz told Golden Boy’s Jessica Rosales. “I’m more than ready for this fight especially since its going to be against the same opponent.”

But is he ready for the big guns?

Recently on social media Ortiz has mentioned that challenges against Spence, Crawford or whoever heads the welterweight division are desired.

“I wanna fight the best at 147 like Danny Garcia and Errol Spence and people call me stupid,” said Ortiz on social media. “In due time these great fights will happen. I just wanna fight the best.”

Tuesday Fights

Former featherweight world titlist Oscar Valdez (27-0, 21 KOs) moves up to the super featherweight division and meets Jayson Velez (29-6-1, 21 KOs) in a 10 round main event at the MGM Grand bubble in Las Vegas. ESPN will televise the fight on Tuesday, July 21.

Valdez was having trouble making the 126-pound weight limit and feels confident in making the move to 130 pounds. It’s one of the toughest divisions in prizefighting.

Puerto Rico’s Velez has always been a tough foe for anyone he meets in the prize ring. He has never been stopped and almost every loss was a close decision. It’s a solid match and a good test.

More Friday Fights

Lightweight contender Mercito Gesta (32-3-3, 17 KOs) tangles with San Antonio’s Hector Tanajara (19-0, 5 KOs) in a lightweight bout at Fantasy Springs. It’s a classic match between experience and youth and guaranteed worth watching on DAZN.

Gesta, 32, has competed for the world title against Jorge Linares and Miguel Vazquez but was unable to walk off with the world lightweight championship. He did pick up the WBO NABO title in a riveting battle against Roberto Manzanarez in June 2018. His last fight ended in a technical draw due to a cut suffered by his foe Carlos Morales.

Tanajara, 23, has height and length to go along with his growing boxing skills learned under trainer Robert Garcia’s guidance. He has picked up tricks of the trade along the way and proved his toughness in wins over Juan Carlos Burgos and Ivan Delgado. Can he out-tough and out-smart Gesta?

Both fighters are class acts.

Seniesa Defends

East L.A.’s Seniesa Estrada (18-0, 7 KOs) defends the WBC Silver light flyweight title against Miranda Adkins (5-0, 5 KOs) in a 10-round bout on the Friday July 24, card at Fantasy Springs Casino.

Estrada wanted a world title bout but it is extremely difficult to find opposition under 112 pounds inside of the USA. Most of the fighters below 112 are located in Mexico or Japan. Few people are being allowed into the country during the pandemic.

Adkins is allegedly a former kickboxer and MMA fighter out of Kansas. Estrada has become a crowd favorite and eager to perform.

“We’re excited to have Seniesa back. She is starting to develop a really big following now,” said Eric Gomez. “She is a real good fighter and does things that most girls can’t do.”

Now that California has re-opened maybe a feeling of normalcy will follow.

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