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60 Years Ago This Week, Cassius Clay Brightens Up The Eternal City

Arne K. Lang

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On Aug. 17, 1960, the first of five planeloads of U.S. Olympians arrived in Rome. The boxers came with the first wave because boxing would go first in the “bout order,” beginning right after the opening ceremonies on Aug. 25. Three members of that team would win gold medals including the heavily touted Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr., an 18-year-old light heavyweight from Louisville.

Amateur boxers got a lot more exposure back in those days. The previous year, Clay’s bout with Tony Madigan was televised nationally on ABC along with two other bouts from Chicago Stadium. The occasion was the annual Chicago/New York Inter-City Golden Gloves meet matching the top amateurs from the East and West.

Tony Madigan was a two-time Olympian for Australia. He had taken up residence in Rye, New York, a bedroom community of New York City, for the purpose of honing his game under the schooling of Cus D’Amato who had guided 17-year-old Floyd Patterson to a gold medal in the 1952 Games in Helsinki. With all that experience, it wasn’t surprising that Madigan outclassed the field in his weight division in the New York tournament.

Tony Madigan was 29 years old. Cassius Clay was 17. It was boy against man in Chicago and the boy won. Madigan pressed the action, but Clay’s “pointed combinations” prevailed.

Clay won several more tournaments after that, most notably the 1960 Olympic Trials in San Francisco. He almost didn’t go because he had a phobia of flying.

The stars of the 1960 U.S. Olympic team were flag-bearer Rafer Johnson who set an Olympic record in the decathlon, sprinter Wilma Rudolph who took home three gold medals and was proclaimed the fastest woman in the world, and a basketball team starring Oscar Robertson and Jerry Lucas that clobbered their eight opponents by an average of 42.4 points per game.

And, of course, the kid from Louisville who knocked off old foe Tony Madigan in the semi-finals and then on Sept. 5 conquered a Polish southpaw with an impossibly long name to capture the gold. But the kid wasn’t celebrated for only what he accomplished in the ring.

If I may digress for a moment, Dr. Robert Voy, who runs a sports medicine clinic in Las Vegas (and still practices at age 87) has worked with numerous Olympians over the years, both Summer and Winter. Voy, who was the Chief Medical Officer of the U.S. Olympic Committee from 1984-89, once told this reporter that of all the athletes, he most enjoyed working with the boxers because they were the most unspoiled. There were no prima donnas in their ranks; that came later after they turned pro and were exposed to all the venal characters that inhabit the sport at the professional level.

Dr. Voy wasn’t in Rome in 1960; that was a little before his time. But if he had been there, he would have had a very pleasant time interacting with the unspoiled kid from Louisville.

In Rome, the Eternal City, Cassius Clay was the unofficial Mayor of Olympic Village. He was dubbed as such because of his outgoing personality. “Cassius Marcellus Clay is a delightful, refreshing, naïve extrovert,” wrote Sid Ziff, on assignment for the Los Angeles Mirror. “Completely without inhibitions, he even made friends instantly with the Russians. He stopped a party of them marching to their quarters, refused to be rebuffed and soon had his picture being taken with their arms around him, everyone wearing ear-to-ear smiles.”

Let’s put this into context. In the year 1960, relationships between the U.S. and Russia were especially tense. We were in the midst of the Cold War. On the very same week that the U.S. boxing team arrived in Rome, CIA pilot Francis Gary Powers was convicted of espionage in a Russian court after his U-2 plane was shot down on a reconnaissance mission. Air raid drills in American public schools hadn’t yet run their course. The possibility of a nuclear confrontation between the two superpowers seemed very real.

If Americans weren’t conditioned to despise the Russians (the “lousy Commies”), they were at least conditioned to be wary of them. And the Russians undoubtedly felt the same way toward us. But no one told the kid from Louisville.

The purpose of the Olympic Games, at least in theory, is to build a more peaceful world through “mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play.” In the Olympic Village of Rome in 1960, no one better embodied the Olympic spirit than Cassius Clay. “We’d walk around and he’d go up to (strangers) and shake their hands,” recollected his teammate Wilbert “Skeeter” McClure. He seldom went anywhere without his camera. He was building a scrapbook to show the folks back home.

Back home in Louisville, he received a royal welcome. He was feted at a ceremony at Central High School, his alma mater. “When we consider all the efforts that are being made to undermine the prestige of America, we can be grateful we had such a fine ambassador as Cassius to send over to Italy,” said Atwood Wilson, the school’s Principal. “If all young people could handle themselves as well as he does, we wouldn’t have any juvenile problems,” added Louisville Mayor Bruce Hobitzell. “He’s a swell kid.”

Cassius was named after his father. There were other Cassius Marcellus Clay’s in Louisville as the boxer was growing up there, including a prominent State Senator. The others were white folks, descendants of the original Cassius Marcellus Clay, a fiery abolitionist who among other things donated the land for Berea College, the first racially integrated college in the South when it opened in 1855.

Cassius liked his name back then, he thought it had a nice ring to it, but as we know he would eventually abandon it. Under his new name, Muhammad Ali, he became a polarizing figure, a man beloved by millions around the world but yet loathed by many of his countrymen. He was a shoo-in for Fighter of the Year in 1966 after making five successful heavyweight title defenses, but The Ring magazine, the sport’s self-proclaimed Bible, refused to recognize him and left the laurel vacant. “Most emphatically,” wrote Nat Fleischer, the magazine’s founder and editor, “(Ali) could not be held up as an example to the youngsters in the United States.”

Over time, Fleischer’s opinion got turned on its head. Ali came to be seen as a positive role model, a “tireless humanitarian and philanthropist” in the words of the press release announcing that he had been selected to receive the prestigious Liberty Award, an honor that came his way in 2012. Last year, three years after his death, Louisville honored him by naming the city’s airport after him.

Muhammad Ali, the former Cassius Clay, the “swell kid” from Louisville, would go on to become the most famous person on the planet. At the height of his fame, it was said of him that if he dropped out of the sky and landed on a remote island where there was no television, no newspapers or magazines, the natives would still recognize him. And his first step in becoming a global superstar came 60 years ago this week in Rome, the Eternal City.

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Season 2 of the World Boxing Super Series Concludes on Saturday in Munich

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PRESS RELEASE: The hotly-anticipated World Boxing Super Series Season II Cruiserweight Final between Mairis Briedis and Yuniel Dorticos takes place behind-closed-doors in a film studio at Plazamedia Broadcasting Center in Munich, Germany on Saturday, 26 September. On the line: The Muhammad Ali Trophy, IBF World Title, and vacant Ring Magazine 200 lbs belt.

The final will be shown live on DAZN in the US and Sky Sports in the UK.

“A final for the Muhammad Ali Trophy has proved to be something extraordinary. We have seen that it brings out the best in boxers which reflects the DNA of our tournament as to deliver and continue to deliver boxing at its very best to fans of the sport,” said Andreas Benz, CEO of Comosa, the event organizer.

“Plazamedia is a phenomenal solution, the studios are providing a controlled environment which is of huge benefit to us and the production team to keep everyone safe while also putting on a great show.

“At the same time, we have done everything to secure fair conditions for both teams, and to ensure they remain healthy and isolated until the action starts.”

Mairis Briedis, tournament No. 1 seed, qualified for the final through wins over Noel Mikaelian (UD) and Krzysztof Glowacki (TKO3), while Dorticos, No. 2 seed conquered Mateusz Masternak (UD) and Andrew Tabiti (KO10) to enter the 200 lbs decider.

“We are very happy about the announcement of the final,” said Latvia’s Mairis Briedis. “I love the fact that it will be in Munich as it reminds me of every time I went to train with the Klitschko brothers in Germany and the flights were always via Munich. Those are some great memories of the time spent with them there.”

Said Miami-based Cuban, Yuniel ‘The KO Doctor’ Dorticos, IBF World Cruiserweight Champion: “To all my fans worldwide, In Europe and especially in Munich, Germany: I am super happy the World Boxing Super Series final will take place in Munich, Germany, and I will see you all on Saturday, September 26th. The KO Doctor is back and ready to prescribe another dose of pain and take the Muhammad Ali Trophy back to Miami.”

Kalle Sauerland, Chief Boxing Officer of the WBSS, said: “On 26 September we will not only crown the best cruiserweight on the planet but also send a sign to the world that boxing is back with the first major transatlantic championship bout between the undisputed number one and two in their division.

The final is not only about honour and glory, but cementing a legacy. The winner will become a member of an exclusive ‘Ali Trophy Winner Club’ that includes Oleksandr Usyk, Callum Smith, Naoya Inoue and Josh Taylor. It doesn’t get much bigger in boxing, and we expect Briedis and Dorticos to have an absolute barnstormer!”

The Muhammad Ali Trophy was created by the late world-renowned artist Silvio Gazzaniga who also designed the iconic FIFA World Cup Trophy.

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 106: Return of LA Boxing, Josh Taylor, Charlos and More

David A. Avila

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 106: Return of LA Boxing, Josh Taylor, Charlos and More

Let’s call this week the Big Build Up.

Back in the 1920s to the 1950s the City of Angels was known as the place where Humphrey Bogart lived and played characters out of Raymond Chandler’s novels. Books like the “Big Sleep” and “Lady in a Lake” were made into movies based in Los Angeles.

Well, here we are back where boxing thrives, people or not.

Los Angeles kicks off the big boxing week starting with a televised fight card that features home grown featherweight Vic Pasillas at the Microsoft Theater in the downtown area. Fox Sports 1 will televise the Premier Boxing Championship card on Wednesday, Sept. 23.

Pasillas (15-0,8 KOs) faces Dominican fighter Ranfis Encarnacion (17-0, 13 KOs) in the co-main event at a fan-less event that begins a crowded week of boxing as we near the end of 2020.

“Coming out on top against Encarnación is going to catapult me into some big fights at featherweight. The division is wide open and I know with hard work I can take it over,” said Pasillas who is originally from Los Angeles. “This is by far the most important fight of my career. I’m coming with everything I got, because I know this is the turning point that will lead to bigger and better fights. I am ready to bring an exciting fight to the fans and get my hand raised in victory.”

Both Pasillas and Encarnacion are undefeated and unknown to most of the boxing world. A win changes everything especially when it’s difficult to even stage a boxing card.

Promoters are anxious to get their fighters in the ring by any means necessary.

On Thursday in Biloxi, Mississippi, super lightweight Michael Williams Jr. meets Thomas Miller in the headline attraction of a boxing card that will be streamed by UFC Fight Pass.

On Friday in southern Mexico, Serhii Bohachuk (17-0, 17 KOs) meets Alejandro Davila (21-1-2, 8 KOs) in Merida, Yucatan. No word if it will be streamed. The super welterweight from Ukraine has a 17-fight knockout streak and has become a main attraction in Hollywood, California for 360 Promotions.

“Serhii has become one of the most talked about rising stars in boxing,” said Tom Loeffler, promoter of 360 Promotions. “Boxing fans are excited to see if he can continue his knockout streak against Alejandro Davila, the toughest opponent he’s faced. He’s been training very hard with Manny Robles for this fight and if victorious, we’re certain there will be bigger opportunities for him in the near future.”

These are all tasty appetizers for the big buffet coming on Saturday.

Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner

Saturday morning, especially if you live in the California area, ESPN+ will showcase the IBF, WBA super lightweight world title fight between champion Josh Taylor (16-0, 12 KOs) and Apinun Khongsong (16-0, 13 KOs) in London. It will be streamed live on Sept. 26, Saturday morning, starting at 11 a.m PST.

This is an important match for Taylor (pictured on the left) who needs a win to nail down a unification clash with Jose Carlos Ramirez the WBC and WBO titlist. If Scotland’s Taylor emerges victorious the super lightweight clash will be one of the top fights of the year.

And if that fight happens to take place, then that winner more than likely meets WBO welterweight champion Terence Crawford.

But first things first. Taylor needs to defeat Thailand’s Khongsong on Saturday.

“I didn’t want a warm-up fight, so getting straight back in there against my mandatory challenger is great, as it’s kept me fully focused. I want big fights in my career, so this is an important fight with my belts on the line,” said Taylor.

Charlos Pay-per-view

The Charlos brothers asked for it and they got it.

Long have the brothers from Houston, Texas asked for a pay-per-view fight card and it never seemed possible until now. The Charlos will headline a pay-per-view double-header on Saturday via Showtime.

Beginning at 4 p.m PT/ 7 p.m. ET the Showtime pay-per-view card begins with three top notch bouts:

WBO bantamweight titlist John Riel Casimero (29-4) vs Ghana’s Duke Micah (24-0, 19 KOs).

WBA super bantamweight titlist Brandon Figueroa (20-0-1, 15 KOs) vs Damien Vazquez (15-1-1, 8 KOs).

WBC middleweight titlist Jermall Charlo (30-0, 22 KOs) v Sergiy Derevyanchenko (13-2, 10 KOs).

Charlo was not impressed with Derevyanchenko’s performances against Daniel Jacobs and Gennady Golovkin because both were losses. He expects to dominate.

Derevyanchenko says he’s ready for Charlo.

“Golovkin is a very different fighter than Charlo, but Jacobs is similar stylistically, so that’s something I’ll be used to,” said Derevyanchenko. “This training camp has been very similar to camps for my previous fights though. We just brought in different sparring partners for this one. We’re using fighters who can show us what Charlo will bring to the ring.”

After a 30-minute intermission the second half of the boxing card begins.

Former bantamweight world champion Luis Nery (30-0, 24 KOs) moves up in weight to face Aaron Alameda (25-0, 13 KOs) for the vacant WBC super bantamweight world title. Both fighters are from Mexico.

Former super bantamweight titlists Danny Roman (27-3-1) and Juan Carlos Payano (21-3) meet in a 12-round bout.

In the grand finale WBC super welterweight titlist Jermell Charlo (33-1, 17 KOs) challenges IBF and WBA super welterweight titlist Jeison Rosario (20-1-1, 14 KOs) in a fight for all three belts.

“We lions,” said Charlo.

It’s a very big week for boxing that begins on Wednesday and ends Saturday.

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The Return of Wednesday Boxing Evokes Memories of a Golden Era

Arne K. Lang

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There’s a Wednesday card on the boxing docket this week. The card, which features several undefeated up-and-comers of the sort usually found on Showtime’s developmental series, “ShoBox: The New Generation,” will play out at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles and air on Fox Sports 1.

Not to be out-done, “ShoBox” is returning. The long-running series, which suspended operations in March in obeisance to COVID-19 restrictions, returns on Oct. 7 with a show emanating from Connecticut’s Mohegan Sun Casino. The contestants in the main go of the four-fight card, Charles Conwell and Wendy Toussaint, have identical 12-0 records.

It just so happens that Oct. 7 is also a Wednesday. And these upcoming Wednesday shows transported this reporter back to his boyhood when boxing was a fixture on radio and television on Wednesday nights. The Wednesday series sponsored by Pabst Blue Ribbon beer ran from 1950 to 1960, airing the first five years on CBS and then on ABC.

Fights were all over the TV dial during the 1950s, not that there was much competition. The Big Three — NBC, CBS, and ABC — ruled the airwaves with DuMont a very distant fourth and cable television well off into the future. (For a time, the short-lived DuMont network aired boxing shows on Mondays.)

When televisions first came out, they were a big-ticket item. In 1948, RCA’s cheapest model sold for $395. That’s the equivalent of $10,400 today. By 1954, the cost of the least expensive model had declined to $189 and it came in a bigger box, with a 17-inch screen compared with the 13-inch screen that was standard six years earlier.

With the cost of the coveted contraption beyond the means of many wage earners, saloonkeepers cashed in. Boxing fans flocked to the neighborhood tavern to get their boxing fix. The saloonkeeper could write off his television sets on his taxes as a business expense.

Those were the days, and I date myself, when every town had a TV repair shop and the repairman, like the family doctor, made house calls.

The Wednesday Night Fights were a spin-off of the Friday Night Fights on NBC. The matchmaker for both series (through 1958) was the International Boxing Club which was headquartered at Madison Square Garden. The president of the IBC was James D. Norris (who would come to be seen as a puppet for mobster Frankie Carbo, but that’s a story for another day).

James D. Norris inherited a vast fortune from his father, Canadian businessman James E. Norris. The elder Norris was a big wheel in the sport of hockey and had a financial interest in the arenas that housed NHL teams in Chicago, Detroit, and St. Louis. He made these arenas available to his son and the Wednesday fight cards moved around, unlike the Friday fights which were pinned to Madison Square Garden.

Both series would eventually venture out at times into virgin territory, but the Wednesday series was the trailblazer. The first nationally televised boxing show from the West Coast was a Wednesday affair. Jimmy Carter defended his world lightweight title against LA fan favorite Art Aragon, the original Golden Boy, at the Olympic Auditorium on Nov. 14, 1951. Aragon had upset Carter in a non-title fight 11 weeks earlier, but Carter took him to school in the rematch, winning a lopsided decision.

The Friday boxing series, which took the name “Gillette Cavalcade of Sports,” would come to be more fondly remembered, but once the TV became a living room staple, which happened fast, the Wednesday series drew higher ratings. This was predictable as more folks stayed home on Wednesday nights than on Friday nights. And although the Friday series had a larger budget, some of the most important fights of the era were staged on Wednesdays.

One of the highlights of the 1951 season was Ezzard Charles’ world heavyweight title defense against Jersey Joe Walcott at Pittsburgh’s Forbes Field. It was Walcott’s fifth crack at the title and he was considered ancient at age 37, but he avenged his two previous losses to Charles with a thunderous one-punch knockout.

Carmen Basilio appeared in The Ring magazine Fight of the Year in five consecutive years (1955-1959). The first two — his second meeting with Tony DeMarco and his second meeting with Johnny Saxton – were televised on a Wednesday.

Although he would be quickly forgotten, the Wednesday series brought Bob Satterfield a cult following because of his unpredictability. He certainly left an impression on octogenarian boxing writer Ted Sares who recently named Satterfield his all-time favorite fighter.

To conjure up a portrait of Satterfield, think Deontay Wilder and then fix Wilder with a glass jaw. Satterfield, whose best weight was about 182 pounds, was a murderous puncher, but during his career he was stopped 13 times.

LA’s Clarence Henry and Pittsburgh’s Bob Baker were ranked #3 in the heavyweight division when they ventured to Chicago to tangle with Satterfield, Henry in 1952 and Baker the following year. Henry knocked out Satterfield in the opening round. Satterfield hit the canvas so hard, said a ringside reporter, the resin dust flew up.

The Satterfield-Baker fight would also end in the opening round. Baker out-weighed Satterfield by 34 pounds, but Satterfield flattened him. Later on, in a non-Wednesday fight, Satterfield knocked out Cleveland “Big Cat” Williams in the third round. Williams, 33-1 heading in, was the larger man by 25 pounds.

One bet on or against Bob Satterfield at one’s own peril.

The Wednesday Night Fights had a nice run before the series was cancelled and supplanted in its time slot by “The Naked City,” a critically acclaimed police drama series. Perhaps the return of boxing on Wednesdays augurs well for another mid-week boxing series, but we won’t hold our breath.

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