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Book Review

Book Review: Bernard Fernandez’s “Championship Rounds”

Arne K. Lang

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When a man retires after a lengthy career in an interesting occupation, he feels a tug to write his memoir. If he happened to be a journalist, the memoir can take the form of an anthology. Bernard Fernandez’s “Championship Rounds,” released this month, is an anthology – a compendium of previously published material – but it also veers off at times into a memoir, which is a very good thing. It could not be otherwise as Fernandez had a front row seat at the circus and the permit to poke around behind the scenes.

For the uninitiated, Bernard Fernandez spent 43 years as a sportswriter, the last 28 with the Philadelphia Daily News before retiring in 2012. Although he was occasionally assigned to other beats, he was foremost the paper’s boxing guy. When he started with the Daily News, many established papers had a full-time boxing writer. Today they are as scarce as professional typewriter repairmen.

Various honors came Fernandez’s way during his newspaper career, the most recent of which, for a boxing writer, is the ultimate, enshrinement in the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Fernandez was voted into the Hall in the Observer category last year.

There are 35 stories in “Championship Rounds” sorted into six sections. Eighteen of these stories appeared at The Sweet Science. Among the boxers profiled are Ali and Frazier, Jake LaMotta (who Fernandez interviewed for the second time when Jake was 94 years old), Archie Moore, Tex Cobb, Arturo Gatti (“the boxing franchise in Atlantic City”), and the Spinks brothers – Michael, who “wrung every ounce from his considerable boxing gifts,” and Leon, his mirror opposite, “perpetually distracted.”

Many of the giants of the modern era turn up in “Championship Rounds,” but also some cult figures and even Jack Obermayer, somewhat less than a cult figure save among his peers who were awed by his stamina and cherished his friendship. A familiar face at diners up and down the east coast, Obermayer likely attended more boxing shows than any man ever born, 3,514 in total scattered across 400-plus cities in 49 states, all but Alaska. He devoted himself, says Fernandez, “to the proposition that every fight card, no matter how unimportant or seemingly insignificant, required his presence at ringside to be fully validated.”

The best boxing writers understand that boxing is an ecosystem and that some of the best stories are found outside the ropes.

Fernandez was writing about women’s boxing before it was fashionable to write about women’s boxing. It’s doubtful the name Jackie Tonawanda rings a bell, but she was a trailblazer in women’s boxing and Fernandez brings her to life in a story that appeared in these pages back in 2009. I had no clue that the fight between Laila Ali and Jackie Frazier-Lyde created such a stir until I read “Ali-Frazier IV.” Held at the Turning Stone Casino and Resort in Verona, a little town in upstate New York, the event attracted a media throng of 300-plus from around the world.

Bernard Fernandez is a big movie buff. “I’ve frequently imagined that, were I not covering boxing matches and football and basketball games for my weekly recompense, I’d be a movie reviewer,” he writes.

The big screen and the lowbrow amusement of celebrity boxing intersect in “I Tanya…,” a 2019 story inspired by the Tonya Harding biopic starring Margot Robbie and Alison Janney. The movie transported Fernandez back to Portland, Oregon, and the maddeningly unfruitful scrums that bespattered “the worst week of my newspaper career.”

Being a newspaper reporter who racks up frequent flyer miles isn’t all that glamorous as Fernandez showed in that story, but even the most unpleasant episodes can be fun in the re-telling. And sometimes the hassle of getting somewhere is redeemed by a surprising turn of events at the destination. Fernandez’s trip to Tokyo in 1990 was grueling at both ends of the continuum — from the Eastern seaboard, one crosses 14 time zones – but he would be one of the few American scribes to witness live and in color, as they say, the most famous upset in the annals of boxing.

rounds

Mike Tyson’s 2002 match with Lennox Lewis wasn’t nearly as momentous – at least not after the bell rang – but Fernandez’s excursion to Memphis, the host city, yielded a story too good to be left on the cutting room floor. The highlight for me was his interview with a tourist from Switzerland as they watched the city’s oddest must-see attraction, the march of the ducks in the ornate lobby of the Peabody Hotel.

Of the 35 entries in the book, my personal favorites are the two that are the most poignant. Bernard Hopkins’ truth-is-stranger-than-fiction life story has been well-documented, but one acquires a greater appreciation of B-Hop while reading about the special bond that he forged with a terminally ill teenage fan. In the book’s final entry, Fernandez pays homage to his late father who instilled within him his love of boxing. Bernard Fernandez Sr., who had a brief pro career under the name Jack Fernandez, was a much-decorated New Orleans police captain who passed away in 1994 at age 75. “It is said that an honest man’s pillow is his peace of mind,” writes Fernandez, “and my father never spent a conflicted night.”

Bernard Fernandez is a friend of mine, something I probably should have acknowledged earlier. Moreover, for the past several years, I have been his editor here at The Sweet Science.

Editors, many of whom exemplify the Peter Principle, are faultfinders by temperament and tutelage, and I would be remiss if I didn’t find something to quibble about.

When writing a feature story about a boxer or boxing personality, Fernandez will sometimes open with a parallelism. For example, a certain boxer may summon up the name of a historical figure with whom he shares characteristics in common. The parallel in a piece about Wladimir Klitschko is Al Davis, the former owner of the Oakland Raiders whose mantra, “Just win, baby,” became the enduring catchphrase of Raider Nation.

I thought the comparison was labored and that Fernandez exhausted too many words about Davis and his team before getting to the gist of his story.

With that nitpicking yammer, I likely just got on the wrong side of George Foreman which is never a smart thing to do. “Writers come and go,” says Foreman in the foreword to the book, “but the special ones (like Bernard Fernandez) stand the test of time.”

On this matter, Big George and me are in perfect accord.

Bravo, Bernard, it was a most enjoyable read and if there is a sequel in the hopper, please don’t let it languish.

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Book Review

A Boxing Match is at the Heart of David Albertyn’s Widely Praised Debut Novel

Rick Assad

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David Albertyn’s debut novel, “Undercard,” has earned lavish reviews. Released in Canada in 2019 and in the United States last year, the book has already been translated into French and German for HarperCollins, one of the world’s leading publishing houses, and the film rights have been sold to Shaftesbury – heady stuff for a first-time author.

“Undercard” is a fast-paced crime thriller with more twists and turns than the Grand Prix of Monaco. There are four central characters, childhood friends unexpectedly united in Las Vegas. The plot, which unfolds over a 24-hour span, revolves around a bout on the undercard of a casino mega-fight.

“It’s been hugely rewarding having ‘Undercard’ out there in the world, and especially with the reception it’s been given,” said Albertyn, a native of South Africa and a resident of Toronto. “It was a dream come true to finally publish a novel, and it’s obviously given me a lot more confidence in my writing, but also confidence in myself…But probably the best part of all is when readers tell me that the book was meaningful to them.”

A high-level tennis player and a coach of the sport, Albertyn has always enjoyed sports, including boxing. Why did he choose the sweet science as the backdrop for his novel?

“I knew I wanted to feature sports in “Undercard,” as I have an extensive background in sports as an athlete, fan, and coach, and incorporating fields that one is familiar with brings an element of authenticity and uniqueness to one’s writing,” he pointed out. “I wanted each of my four main characters to be an athlete in a different sport (one of whom, Antoine, is a boxer) and once I chose Las Vegas, home to so many major fights, as the setting, I knew that boxing would be the featured sport.”

Albertyn continued: “Having been a fan of boxing since I was a child, and having trained in it at various points in my life, I had familiarity with it to begin with, but I did as much research as I could. I attended amateur and professional fights; I watched a ton of fights on television and online, both contemporary and classic bouts, trying to pick up as many details as I could. I watched documentaries, shows and narrative films about boxing; and I read a number of non-fiction books and articles about the sport and its competitors. I will say that I also drew on my own experiences of competing, even though they came in other sports, as I feel that some aspects of competition are universal to all sports.”

Of the three male characters in the book, is there one Albertyn identifies with?

“If I had to choose one, I’d pick Antoine, who is my favorite character in the novel, and the one I wanted to build the story around. I wanted to explore an utterly goal-oriented character, whose entire life is constructed around a single purpose, who can achieve their objectives no matter how much the circumstances are stacked against them,” he stated.

In truth, Albertyn had two other novels that were not published, and while this was disappointing, important lessons were garnered.

“I learned an incredible amount from my first two attempts at publishing a novel. Probably the greatest lesson I learned was to write something that was meaningful to me and that would appeal to the publishing industry,” he said. “My previous work tended to focus on one or the other. This time I very much tried to do justice to both. So ‘Undercard’’ engages with various topics that I find interesting and important, and at the same time it’s set in Las Vegas, this sexy, exciting setting that is immediately eye-catching for publishers and readers. I also realized that I needed to enlist outside help, as I knew I had been close with my first two tries. So, I took a creative writing correspondence course [with Humber College in Toronto], where an advisor helped me revise my manuscript.”

How did Albertyn, who said if he wasn’t a writer and tennis player/instructor, he would have chosen to be an actor, come up with the idea for the story?

“The storyline came about gradually. It was really an amalgamation of a lot of ideas that I was ecstatic to find all fit together in one narrative – for instance having the story take place over 24 hours, something I’d always wanted to do; having revenge a key theme, being a fan of revenge stories; having an action scene in the background of a major sports event, an idea that had been with me for years,” he pointed out.

While doing background work, what did Albertyn learn?

“My research taught me about the Iraq War, boxing obviously, the WNBA, the history of Las Vegas, the casino industry and casino moguls, how private and state security forces are used in urban spaces, the Black Lives Matter movement (my research largely taking place from 2016 to 2018, so before last summer’s protests) and I’m sure other areas that I cannot recall now,” he said.

“There were fascinating things I learned on all these subjects, but I’ll mention the role of these casino hotel resorts in world politics and business was very interesting. A lot of meetings and deals of all kinds between powerful groups and people take place in these casino resorts, making them play a significant role in world events.”

Albertyn wants to continue writing novels, but is certainly open to other genres.

“I might try to write for magazines one day, but I would definitely like to write for film and television,” he said. “I majored in Film Studies in university and always hoped that I would do screenwriting. I have several ideas already, but I plan to stick with books for a little bit until I’m more established as an author before I make that push.”

“Undercard” isn’t as boxing-centric as other novels such as Leonard Gardner’s celebrated “Fat City,” but boxing fans in particular are bound to find it an enjoyable read.

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Book Review

Goodbye To All Of That: A Review of Mike Silver’s ‘The Night the Referee Hit Back’

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Goodbye To All Of That: A Review of Mike Silver’s ‘The Night the Referee Hit Back’

Mike Silver has been writing about boxing since the 1970s, which would make him, in the parlance of the youth of today, an “old head,” an appellation that carries wildly contradictory meanings depending on its usage. His 2008 book, The Arc of Boxing: The Rise and Decline of the Sweet Science, was a caustic close reading of how boxing, once a mainstream sport that spoke to the masses, became a small, hemmed-in, navel-gazing affair guided by small men and their equally small thinking.

In this provocative book, Silver excoriated some of the most indubitable pillars in the sport, those whose talents and achievements most fans regard as transcendental, beyond reproach. The reader was hit with one long either/or proposition. Either Silver was “clickbaiting,” engaging in the worst instincts of hot take culture or he was providing a long-overdue corrective, and depending on your frame of mind or allegiances, the answer was stark clear. Here are a couple of snippets from that book:

“Floyd [Mayweather Jr.] continues to win fights without strategizing because his mostly third-rate opponents haven’t a clue as to how to counter his whippet speed. The faux experts praise his ‘technical skill’ because they cannot differentiate between extreme speed and sophisticated boxing technique.”

Of Bernard Hopkins, he writes, “Reviewing tapes of his fights reveals to the knowing eye that Hopkins is an intelligent yet unremarkable boxer possessing decent defensive skills, a professional attitude and a solid punch. While these qualities are more than enough to make him a dominant world champion today, fifty years ago such skills would have been considered commonplace.”

There are those, no doubt, who feel that any criticism leveled at Mayweather or Hopkins, as well as Pernell Whitaker or Roy Jones Jr., are grounds for immediate excommunication. But discount Silver at your own peril. You may not agree with everything that he says, but his observations are a net win for a boxing culture that seems to run more and more on a perpetual feed-back loop of self-regarding hype.

In his new collection of essays, The Night the Referee Hit Back, culled from 40 years of material, Silver has somewhat tempered his venom, eschewing the combative stance of Arc for a more celebratory one. But his opinions have not changed. “My observations are based on my particular frame of reference and perspective,” Silver writes. “To me, the glory and romance of boxing resides in its past history and I’m content to leave it at that.” As Joe Pesci said in The Irishman, “It’s what it is.”

The Night opens up, appropriately, to a bygone vision of New York City when booze still flowed liberally through Toots Shor’s, Jack Dempsey held court at his eponymous watering hole, and boxing “was still an important part of American popular culture.” The nerve center of the city’s prizefighting ecosystem was on 8th Avenue, not at Madison Square Garden, but at nearby Stillman’s Gym, the sweat-caked fighting coop that A.J. Liebling affectionately immortalized as the University on 8th Avenue. The gym, seemingly one of the last connections to Damon Runyon’s New York, shuttered in the early 1960s and has left behind virtually zero trace; no distinguishing vestige, no commemorative plaque. In its place today, within the hellscape of an increasingly corporatized Manhattan, stands a sad pocket of residential real estate surrounded by fast-food chains and a TD Bank.

A young, 14-year-old Silver had the good fortune of being introduced to this private world before it was all razed down two years later. Back then, Silver reminds the reader, “Even an ordinary preliminary boxer could make more money in one four-round bout than a sweatshop laborer made for an entire week.” His reminiscences are offered with a light touch, without falling into a maudlin trap. As Silver describes what it was like walking up the wooden staircase and passing through the turnstile and chatting it up with Kid Norfolk, the reader can almost smell the thick waft of cigar smoke that hung over the gym in those days.

“Dick Tiger, Gaspar Ortega, Emile Griffith, Jorge Fernandez, Joey Archer, Rory Calhoun, Alex Miteff, Ike Chestnut, and others,” Silver recalled, rattling off the fighters he brushed shoulders with on a daily basis. “Is there any other professional sport where a fan can get so close to its star? This was the magic and allure of Stillman’s, and I thank my lucky stars I was able to experience it.”

But the nostalgic anecdotes are kept to a minimum. Most of The Night features pieces that reflect Silver’ analytical nature. “Don’t Blame Ruby,” one of his most insightful pieces, hones in on the infamous 1962 Benny Paret-Emile Griffith welterweight bout in which Griffith ended up sending a comatose Paret to the hospital – and 10 days later, to the grave. Here Silver takes issue with the long-parroted line of thinking that blames the referee of that bout, Ruby Goldstein, for taking too long to wave off the bout. Actually, Silver argues, the truth was much more complicated. Citing Paret’s hellacious fighting schedule – which included an engagement with the deadly Gene Fullmer before his star-crossed meeting with Griffith — Silver points the finger at Paret’s handlers and the bureaucrats who were presumably in charge of overseeing the fighter’s safety. If any blame can be ascribed to an individual or entity, it is them.

In another piece, Silver deconstructs, step-by-step, round-by-round, the mythology behind the snazzily dubbed “The Thrilla in Manila,” the third and final fight between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier that is often cited as one of the greatest fights in boxing history. Balderdash, says Silver. Anyone who has seen the fight can attest to Silver’s common sense, but that has not stopped the bout from being breathlessly heralded routinely by magazines like The Ring and cable networks like ESPN, which proves the point about boxing being one vast echo chamber. These two pieces alone should quiet those who think Silver has an agenda against contemporary boxing. It turns out his only bias is against uncritical thinking.

But on the topic of modern-day boxing, he has much to say. In “A World of Professional Amateurs,” Silver takes his scalpel to what he views as a growing pattern of prizefighters who find no reason to break out of their juvenile shells. In one passage he praises the skill-set of Dmitry Bivol, the current WBA titleholder who amassed more than 300 bouts in the amateur ranks, but laments his professional instincts.

“Forty years ago, Dmitry Bivol would have been labeled a hot prospect and maybe in line for a semifinal in Madison Square Garden,” Silver writes. “But as good as he is, Dmitry would not be ready to challenge a prime Victor Galindez, the reigning world light heavyweight champion.”

He notes later, in a sharp observation, that “Dmitry won’t be required to improve much beyond his current skill level because the line that once separated top amateur boxers from top professional boxers has become blurred.”

He also takes to task Sergey Kovalev, regarded as the top light heavyweight of the 2010s but who, in his more recent bouts, has revealed the cavernous limitations in his craft. His rematch against Andre Ward, in which he was stopped controversially by a low blow, and his title defense against Eleider Alvarez, in which he was knocked out, were the major tells.

“A seasoned pro who is knocked down or hurt would have known how to tie up his opponent in a clinch or bob and weave his way out of trouble, or at least make the attempt,” writes Silver. “Kovalev, used to knocking out inferior opposition, didn’t know what to do when the situation was reversed and it was he who was in trouble.”

And then there are the interviews. Archie Moore, Emile Griffith, Carlos Ortiz, Ted Lowry, and Curtis Cokes round out a section of illuminating conversations toward the end of the book. They are like the equivalent of Paris Review interviews, primary documents that preserve the wit and inflection of voices too seldom heard. For example, in his talk with heavyweight Lowry, Silver asks him to describe the punching power of Rocky Marciano, whom he came close to defeating, were it not for the judges’ decision. Lowry responds with an illuminating metaphor.

“He hit hard but a smart fighter had no business getting hit by Rocky because he would send you a letter when he’s gonna punch,” Lowry said.

Speaking of letters, The Night the Referee Hit Back is an eminently fine one.

The Night the Referee Hit Back

by Mike Silver

Rowman & Littlefield, 249 pp., $34.00

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Book Review

Did The Hoodlum Element Rule Boxing in the 1950s? A Dissenting Opinion

Arne K. Lang

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The decade of the 1950s has held a particular fascination for boxing historians. This was the decade in which the sport’s dominant player was the International Boxing Club, an organization reportedly in the grip of mobsters who dictated who would get to fight who and who sometimes predetermined the outcomes. The baddest of the bad guys, by acclamation, was Frankie Carbo. A New York mobster with a long rap sheet, Carbo (pictured) reputedly ruled the sport with an iron fist.

The seminal book on the IOC and its dirty laundry is Barney Nagler’s “James Norris and the Decline of Boxing,” published in 1964. Recent books that explore the same turf are Jeffrey Sussman’s “Boxing and the Mob: The Notorious History of the Sweet Science” (Rowman & Littlefield) and Kevin Mitchell’s “The Mob, The Garden, and the Golden Age of Boxing” (Hamilcar). Both were published in 2019. The Hamilcar book, authored by a veteran British sports journalist, is a revision of the book published in 2010 under a slightly different title.

I recently stumbled upon a book that contradicts the conventional wisdom that the mob had a stranglehold on boxing in the 1950s. “(Frankie) Carbo was no more than a pimple on a gnat’s ass when it came to boxing,” says the author, the late Truman K. Gibson.

A little background: The International Boxing Club was born from the ashes of Mike Jacobs’ empire. Jacobs, who made the bulk of his fortune as a Broadway ticket scalper, was the most powerful promoter during the era of Joe Louis. He suffered a stroke in 1946 and that set the wheels in motion for a takeover by the International Boxing Club. Formed in 1949, the IOC assumed Jacobs’ arrangement with Madison Square Garden where the firm was headquartered.

The major stockholders in the IBC were James D. Norris and Arthur Wirtz. Norris, who took on the title of IOC President, was the son of James E. Norris. A fabulously wealthy Canadian-American businessman with interests in grain mills, cattle ranching, shipping, and real estate, the elder Norris would become best known for popularizing the sport of professional hockey. Arthur Wirtz was a business partner of both Norris’s, father and son. The Norris-Wirtz combine established a controlling interest in Madison Square Garden and in the largest indoor sports stadiums in Chicago, Detroit, and St. Louis.

It didn’t take long for the IBC to arouse the ire of reformers. When hotel executive Robert Christenberry was named chairman of the New York Athletic Commission in September of 1951, his mandate from Governor Thomas E. Dewey was to purge the hoodlum element from boxing. An expose that ran under Christenberry’s byline in the May 26, 1952 issue of Life, America’s top-selling weekly magazine, included mug shots of five alleged mobsters who had their hooks into the upper reaches of the sport. The quintet included Frankie Carbo and Philadelphia numbers baron Frank “Blinky” Palermo, said to be Carbo’s chief lieutenant.

Several fearless newspapermen fueled the effort to clean up boxing. Chicago Daily News columnist Jack Mabley was the first to finger Carbo as the “czar” of boxing. Mabley’s counterpart in the East was Dan Parker of the New York Daily Mirror.

A year after Christenberry’s story appeared, the feds got involved. The IBC was charged with operating a monopoly in violation of the Sherman Antitrust Act. Five years later, after numerous appeals, the charge was upheld and the IBC was dissolved. In the interim and for a time thereafter, it was business as usual.

Flash forward to 1961. Five men are found guilty in a federal court of muscling in on the contract of newly-crowned welterweight champion Don Jordan. The miscreants are Carbo, Palermo, Joe Sica, Louis Dragna, and Truman K. Gibson.

Gibson was something more than an alleged IBC influencer; he was a key component of the organization, there from the very beginning, first as the IBC legal counsel with the title of Executive Secretary and then Executive Vice President when Norris resigned in 1957 following a heart attack. And after the IBC was dissolved, Gibson kept the wheels turning by folding the IBC into a new company, National Boxing Enterprises.

Truman K. Gibson

I knew nothing about Truman Gibson outside the context of boxing until I stumbled upon his memoir. Written in collaboration with Chicago Sun Times columnist Steve Huntley, the book, published by Northwestern University Press, was released in 2005 several months before Gibson died at age 93.

Born in Atlanta, Gibson grew up in an upper-middle-class home in Columbus, Ohio, where his father founded a life insurance company that would merge with two other firms to become one of America’s largest black-owned businesses. Gibson was light-skinned and could have easily passed for white, but he stayed true to his heritage – his paternal grandfather was born into slavery – and embraced the role of a so-called “race man,” working to uplift his fellow African-Americans until the boxing business took over, consuming most of his waking moments.

Truman Gibson

Truman Gibson

After earning a law degree from the University of Chicago, Gibson helped organize Chicago’s American Negro Exposition of 1940, timed to celebrate the 75th anniversary of Emancipation. His work caught the eye of President Franklin D. Roosevelt to whom he became a consultant as a member of Roosevelt’s so-called Black Cabinet.

Foremost on Gibson’s to-do list was the desegregation of the United States Armed Forces. He had a role in the making of “The Negro Soldier,” the great World War II propaganda film directed by the brilliant Frank Capra and continued in his role as an advisor to the man in the oval office when Harry Truman succeeded Roosevelt as Commander-in-Chief. It would be Truman who signed the executive order ending the practice of racial segregation in the military.

Truman Gibson stumbled into boxing. His law firm did some work for rising heavyweight contender Joe Louis. The Brown Bomber was 12 fights into his pro career when Gibson first met him. Later on, Gibson formed a corporation that distributed highlight reels of Joe’s two fights with Jersey Joe Walcott.

When Norris and Wirtz formed the International Boxing Club, they thought it important that Joe Louis be involved. It was no coincidence that the IOC was formed on the very day that Louis announced his (short-lived) retirement. The Brown Bomber was named Director of Boxing, a hollow title, and Truman Gibson hopped on board with him.

In a previous article, this reporter called Robert K. DeArment’s “Gunfighter in Gotham,” one of the best books ever written on prizefighting in New York at the turn of the 20th Century. This book fell through the cracks – who would have ever suspected that a book about Bat Masterson would be so rich in boxing information? – and Truman Gibson’s memoir, titled “Knocking Down Barriers, My Fight for Black America,” is likewise a hidden gem.

It’s not a book that a boxing history buff would find in the usual places (a librarian would be more likely to shelve it with books on Military History) and, as one can surmise from the title, boxing gets short shrift. But this is a meaty book, 344 pages in hardback, and there’s plenty for a boxing historian to dig his teeth into. Whether writing about the genesis of Joe Louis’s impossibly convoluted tax problems, or on the uneasy marriage between boxing and television, Gibson has something fresh to say.

There’s some juicy stuff in here too. In Gibson’s view (a view advanced by others), no man profited more handsomely from Prohibition than Joseph Kennedy, the patriarch of America’s most prominent political family. Kennedy’s relationship with Samuel Bronfman, the owner of Canadian powerhouse Seagram’s, insured that he would be first in line when the good stuff was smuggled in bulk across the lake. Compared with Kennedy, bootleggers of the Al Capone stripe were minnows.

Jim Norris was quite a character. Like his father, Norris was involved in sports. When he wasn’t tending to IBC business, he was out golfing or racing his string of thoroughbreds and quarter horses. Norris and Wirtz, according to Gibson, were partners in a lucrative gambling casino in the Bahamas and the hidden owners of America’s largest layoff bookmaking operation, the nerve center of which was in a vessel anchored near their Bahamian casino. A big bettor who bet tens of thousands of dollars on sports every day, Norris was his bookmaking firm’s best customer.

Jim Norris was a rapscallion who was attracted to the same sort of nocturnal people that fascinated Damon Runyon. Did he occasionally break bread with Frankie Carbo and men of Carbo’s ilk? Absolutely. However, it’s one thing to say that Norris consorted with such people and quite another to say that he was coerced into doing their bidding. Remember, Norris, born into wealth, had more money than all of them combined.

“The IBC earned millions from fixed fights,” writes author Jeffrey Sussman.

If Truman Gibson were alive today, his response would be “bull****”.

If we had run fixed fights, Gibson would say, the networks would have kicked us out the door in a heartbeat. As for Frankie Carbo, says Gibson, “he was no more than a messenger boy who operated on the fringes,” a man who stuck to boxing like velcro because he was an ugly pimple too stupid to keep a low profile.

The feds disagreed. When Frankie Carbo and his confederates came up for sentencing, Carbo drew the harshest penalty: 25 years in a federal correctional institution. By comparison, Truman Gibson got a slap on the wrist: a five-year suspended sentence and a $10,000 fine. The judge was lenient because Gibson didn’t bring mobsters into boxing, but inherited them. They were there before the torch was passed from Mike Jacobs to the IOC.

Gibson had more legal problems when he returned to his law practice in Chicago. According to an article in the Chicago Tribune, he got caught up in a bank fraud and a vacation timeshare swindle and eventually had his law license suspended for two years. These incidents did not find their way into his memoir.

So, who are we to believe, Truman Gibson or the hordes of writers who have described boxing in the 1950s as a cesspool of mob activity?

I will let the readers decide, but as I was reading this book, I was reminded of an old saying, something to the effect that if a man lies down with dogs, he will get fleas. Truman Gibson had a rich life and accomplished many good things, but during his tenure with the International Boxing Club he associated with some very mangy dogs.

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