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Muhammad Ali, Major Coxson, and the Mafia

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BY SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT RANDY COOK — I never floated like a butterfly or stung like a bee, but I do have one thing in common with The Greatest. We both made Cherry Hill in New Jersey our home. Cherry Hill is a leafy suburb of Philadelphia where residents can escape hectic city life but remain within commuting distance of Philly and New York. Not much happens in Cherry Hill, but the time that Ali lived there left an indelible impression.

Ali was lured to the area by Major Coxson – “The Gangster”, as Ali referred to him. Coxson was a board member of a community group known as the Black Coalition- a civic partnership between Philadelphia’s white business community and black leadership set up to reduce violence in the city by reducing poverty. The two met when Ali was banned from boxing and was paid to deliver a speech to the group.  They hit it off and soon Ali was a frequent visitor to Coxson’s home where he was duly impressed by the trappings of Coxson’s success.

Coxson lived in a huge house in Cherry Hill’s most exclusive neighborhood and owned a fleet of luxury vehicles including a Rolls Royce, Lincoln and Jaguar. Shortly after Ali’s boxing license was reinstated, he used part of his purse from the first Frazier fight to purchase a 6600-square-foot home from Coxson. Coxson then moved a few doors away, and the two neighbors became friends.

To say Coxson was an anomaly in 1970 Cherry Hill is an understatement. His flamboyant lifestyle stuck out like a sore thumb in an otherwise bucolic setting. It would be much like The Wire’s Avon Barksdale living in a community of pediatricians, though his attachment to Ali gave him credibility. Coxson was even able to parlay his Ali connection into a mayoral candidacy despite having been criminally convicted for fraud and his known drug running and mafia connections,

In 1970 Coxson announced his candidacy for Mayor of Camden, New Jersey which is a short ride but a world apart from Cherry Hill. Camden was known for corrupt politics and was often referred to as the Murder Capital of the World. Ali attended some of Coxson’s campaign events and was an ardent supporter. In fact, after Ali beat Jerry Quarry in Las Vegas, he grabbed the microphone from the ring announcer and proceeded to dedicate the victory to “Major Coxson, the next mayor of Camden, NJ.” The fight and Ali’s comments (shortly after the 31-minute mark) can be viewed here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tNI9KQuJxqw.  Ali also introduced Coxson as his unpaid advisor before his fight with Ken Norton and mentioned Coxson when he appeared on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.

When questioned by a reporter about his criminal record, Coxson maintained that “Most politicians end up in jail, I just have a head start.” Coxson also boasted that Ali would “add punch” to his campaign.

Unfortunately for Coxson, his mayoral campaign brought unwanted scrutiny. Though he was living the high life, no one could figure out exactly what Coxson did to support his lavish lifestyle. That drew the attention of the IRS which froze most of Coxson’s assets and sold off his car collection as a result of unpaid taxes. During that time, Coxson purchased a tandem bicycle and could be seen dressed in a suit and bowtie getting pedaled around town by his chauffeur. Ultimately, Ali donated a Silver Rolls Royce to Coxson who then retired the bike.

Coxson

It all came crashing down for Coxson on the night of June 8, 1973 – a night that lives in Cherry Hill infamy. On that night, Coxson, his girlfriend, Lois Lusby and her three children – Lita 17, Toro 14 and Lex 13 – were enjoying a quiet evening at Coxson’s Cherry Hill residence. A Cadillac pulled up in front of the home and four men entered. They and Coxson appeared to be having a friendly conversation until it suddenly turned violent. The four men drew guns and bound Coxson, his girlfriend and the children’s hands and feet with neckties. They then shot Coxson, his girlfriend and two of the children in the back of the head. Thirteen-year-old Lex escaped by crashing through a sliding glass door and, with hands and feet bound, hopped to a neighbor’s house where he used his head to bang on the door and gain entry. The neighbors then alerted police.

Police arrived to find Coxson dead and draped over his waterbed. Lusby and her children were rushed to the hospital. Lusby survived, but her daughter, Lita, did not. Toro survived, but was blinded in one eye. Police initially suspected that it was a robbery gone bad as Coxson was rumored to keep large amounts of cash in the house. Further investigation proved otherwise.

According to Dr. Sean Patrick Griffin, a former Philadelphia police officer and author of several books on the Black Mafia, a major source of Coxson’s wealth was tied to his role as a broker connecting the Italian and Black Mafias. He helped broker drug deals between the factions and also helped the Black Mafia launder money through dummy corporations, much of which made its way to a mosque run by Ali’s spiritual mentor, Elijah Muhammad.

Griffin’s research also revealed that a missing shipment of heroin led to Coxson’s demise. As the story is told, about a million dollars worth of the drug was stolen as it was being transported from the Italian to the Black Mafia. The Italian Mafia offered a $300,000 reward for the return of the drug as well as the identity of the thieves.

Coxson took the Mafia up on their offer and solicited the help of some of his Black Mafia cohorts. Coxson agreed that he would keep $100,000 of the reward and turn the other $200,000 over to his so-called subcontractors. For reasons unknown, rather than locate the shipment and the thieves, Coxson’s henchman murdered them. As a result, the drugs were never recovered. This put Coxson in an untenable position whereby the Italian Mafia refused to pay, yet Coxson’s hired hitmen still expected payment. Allegedly they ran out of patience.

Two suspects, Sam Christian (a founding member of the Black Mafia) and Ronald Harvey were identified as suspects by police. Harvey gained notoriety when he was found guilty of slaughtering seven people in Washington DC, a crime that included the drowning of four infants. All were members of a Sunni Muslim group that considered Elijah Muhammad and his followers in the Nation of Islam to be false prophets and accused them of harming Islam. The Hanafi murders, as they were known, occurred at a home donated by NBA star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Harvey died in prison in 1977 while still serving his sentence for the Hanafi and Coxson murders. Christian was later convicted of shooting a New York Police Officer in the arm while robbing a Harlem record store. After being paroled for that crime in 1988, he lived a quiet life until his death in 2016. Charges against him for the Coxson murders were dropped as witnesses either could not or would not identify him.

In the aftermath of the murders, both Toro and Lex were put into a witness protection program as they recognized at least two of their attackers. In an article that appeared in the June 13, 1973, edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer, staff writer Rod Nordland reported that a few weeks prior to Coxson’s death a drug supplier notified one of his dealers to collect any money due from Coxson as he had been marked for death. That same source told the paper that there was a contract out on Ali’s life. The source claimed he was coming forward to save Ali from Coxson’s fate. That same month, Ali abandoned the Cherry Hill home and moved back to Chicago.

Ali’s former home in Cherry Hill is now used as an Airbnb and often rented by those who want to party where Ali once lived. According to a September 6, 2019, article in the Philadelphia Inquirer, the home which is nestled among multimillion dollar dwellings, rents for nearly $2000 per night, but draws ire from the neighbors because of the raucous parties it attracts. Police have been called to the location almost 100 times to address complaints. I guess it’s fair to say that, even posthumously, Muhammad Ali is still the most exciting thing to happen in Cherry Hill, NJ.

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Robeisy Ramirez Wins the WBO World Featherweight Strap; Outpoints Dogboe

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Top Rank was at the Hard Rock Hotel-Casino in Tulsa, Oklahoma tonight with a card that aired on ESPN+. The featured bout was a match between two-time Olympic gold medalist Robeisy Ramirez and former 122-pound world titlist Isaac Dogboe. At stake was the WBO world featherweight title vacated by Emanuel Navarrete.

It was the 13th pro fight for Ramirez, a Cuban defector and the last man to defeat Shakur Stevenson, and his extensive amateur pedigree plus the coaching of his head trainer Ismael Salas translated into a winning performance. In truth, Ramirez didn’t do a lot offensively, but he was very elusive and landed the cleaner punches in a tactical fight. The judges had it 119-110, 118-108, and 117-110.

A 29-year-old southpaw, Ramirez sealed the win with a knockdown in the final round, albeit Dogboe wasn’t hurt after being caught off-balance with a glancing left hook. It was the twelfth straight win for Ramirez who lost his pro debut in a shocker. Dogboe, who had won four straight after suffering back-to-back losses to Navarrete, falls to 24-3.

Co-Feature

In a featherweight fight characterized by a lot of punches – more than 1500 combined – but actually little in the way of fireworks, SoCal’s Joet Gonzalez, a former two-time world title challenger, rebounded from a loss by split decision to Isaac Dogboe with a wide decision over compatriot Enrique Vivas who ended the fight looking as if he may have suffered a broken jaw. The judges had it 99-91 and 98-92 twice.

Gonzalez improved to 26-3 (15). The hard-trying Vivas, who has fought primarily in Northern Mexico, falls to 22-3.

Other Bouts of Note

In an 8-rounder contested at the catchweight of 152 pounds, Jahi Tucker, a 20-year-old Brooklyn-born Long Islander, overcame early adversity and a point deduction for hitting on the break to score a unanimous decision over Nikoloz Sekhniashvili.

Sekhniasvili, from the Republic of Georgia, came out smoking and repeatedly found a home for his left uppercut. But Tucker, who improved to 10-0 (5), weathered the storm and had more gas in his tank. All three judges had it 77-74. It was the second loss for Sekhniashvili who was competing in his tenth pro fight.

In an 8-round heavyweight affair, Jeremiah Milton, a local product advanced to 9-0 (6) at the expense of late sub Fabio Maldonado, a 43-year-old Brazilian. Milton won all eight rounds on two of the scorecards and six rounds on the other, but was yet unimpressive, rarely throwing more than one punch at a time. “He left a lot on the table,” in the words of TV commentator Andre Ward.

Maldonado, who has an MMA background, has an interesting record (29-7, 28 KOs) but is only 7-7 (0-6 on the road) since returning to boxing in 2016 after a six-year hiatus. Against Milton, who was profiled in these pages when his pro career was just getting started, Maldonado had two points deducted for rough tactics and did more posturing than boxing.

In an 8-round junior welterweight contest, Delante “Tiger” Johnson, a U.S. Olympian in Tokyo, advanced to 8-0 (5) with a unanimous decision over Alfonso Olvera, 33-year-old father of four from Tucson. Johnson won every round, but Olvera (12-8-3) had his moments and the bout was more competitive that one would have gleaned from the 80-72 scorecards.

Photo credit: Mikey Williams / Top Rank via Getty Images

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Anthony Joshua Outpoints Jermaine Franklin in a Dreary Fight in London

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Amid the holding and grappling former heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua got the win by unanimous decision against the shorter Jermaine Franklin to finally return to the win column after more than two years on Saturday.

It wasn’t pretty.

“I should have knocked him out, but it’s done,” said Joshua.

If not for the constant holding allowed by the referee, England’s Joshua (25-3, 22 KOs) might have stopped America’s Franklin (21-2, 14 KOs) at the O2 Arena in London. Instead, after 12 mostly dreary rounds it ended in a decision win.

“Jermain has a good duck and dive style,” said Joshua. “Respect to him. He done well.”

The last time Joshua won a fight was December 2020 against Kubrat Pulev by knockout. Since that time the tall, muscular former heavyweight titlist lost twice to Oleksandr Usyk.

Joshua had claimed he would retire if he lost again.

For the first half of the fight both heavyweights used the jab with Joshua snapping off some long right crosses behind it. Immediately Franklin would counter with his own rights and would land.

But most of the first few rounds were from a distance.

“When people come to fight me, they muster up a different kind of energy,” said Joshua about Franklin’s ability to compete 12 rounds. “He’s here to prove himself. He’s not here to roll over.”

Action really increased around the fifth round with Franklin more intent on getting inside against the much taller Joshua. But every time he charged in the British fighter would grab his arms and hold until the referee broke it up.

Franklin withstood some big shots, especially from Joshua’s right uppercuts. But as the rounds mounted up the American fighter’s counters became fewer and fewer.

The entire remainder of the fight was Joshua hitting and holding Franklin’s attempts to fight inside. Though referee Marcus McDonnell advised both fighters to stop the holding, but he never followed up and that allowed the heavyweight fight to slow to a crawl until the final round.

Joshua would fire off a jab then grab ahold of Franklin’s attempts to counter. It became a dreary fight and the referee allowed the contest to continue in monotony.

Franklin shared part of the blame by charging in with his arms extended. If he kept his hands tucked in there would be nothing to hold, but for almost the remainder of the fight hitting and holding was the scenario played out.

In the final round the holding stopped and both fighters exchanged brisk blows. But Franklin seemed more tired than Joshua who stepped in the prize ring heavier than ever. The extra weight did not faze him. Joshua was able to absorb the few big blows from Franklin.

After 12 rounds one judge scored it 118-111, and two others 117-111 all for Joshua.

The win allows fans to dream of an all-British clash between Joshua and Tyson Fury.

“It would be an honor to fight for the WBC title,” said Joshua. “You know me I try to provide for the fans. I know who the fans want.”

Other Bouts

Ammo Williams (14-0, 10 KOs) needed a few rounds to figure out England’s River Wilson-Bent before forcing a stoppage at 1:01 of the eighth round of the middleweight fight. Williams was able to floor Wilson-Bent in the seventh round but overall had a rugged six rounds before figuring out the taller British fighter.

Olympic gold medalist Galal Yafai (4-0, 3 KOs) scored a win by knockout over Mexico’s Moises Calleros (36-11-1) in the fourth round in a flyweight match.

In a heavyweight fight, Fabio Wardley (16-0, 15 KOs) won by knockout over American Michael Polite-Coffee (13-4) when referee Howard Foster suddenly stopped a flurry by the British fighter though no knockdown was scored.

Campbell Hatton (11-0, 4 KOs) scored a knockout via body shot over Louis Fielding (10-8) at 1:29 of the first round. The son of boxing great Ricky Hatton used a left hook to the liver to get the stoppage.

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Rest In Peace Ken Buchanan

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We don’t get many great ones in Scotland. Ken Buchanan, who was confirmed to have died today, was one of them, having held the lightweight championship of the world in the highly competitive era of the 1970s, losing it to perhaps the finest champion of them all in the shape of Roberto Duran – and in questionable circumstances at that.

The temptation is to tell the wonderful story of Ken Buchanan in three fights, and I will succumb to that temptation, saying in addition only that the determination and dignity that Buchanan held in his difficult later years impressed me almost as much as his wonderful fighting career. That he did great things in tartan shorts often despite of and not because of a country that failed to support him as richly as he deserved. That the British Boxing Board of Control’s failure to recognise him as world champion when literally the whole of the rest of the boxing universe did is the most shameful decision in the history of that storied organisation. Ken had nothing like the financial, administrative, promotional, and sometimes fistic help that he should have had. Buchanan, perhaps more than any of the great British fighters, achieved what he achieved alone.

That is why we find Buchanan at his mother’s funeral in the late 1960s essentially retired from the sport before he has even been tested. Buchanan was not a very Scottish fighter. He didn’t wade in, workmanlike, “honest”, aggressive; that was his lightweight rival, another fine Scottish fighter named Jim Watt, but it was not Ken. Ken boxed with grace and flamboyance, chose distance, and controlled it, he made superfluous moves and eschewed economy. The style hid iron. Buchanan was stopped just once and that loss had absolutely nothing to do with his chin, as we shall see. Motivated by his remembrance of his mother’s belief that he was made to do something in the sport of boxing, he set out once again in search of greatness. Almost immediately he was robbed in his attempt to win the European lightweight championship from Miguel Velazquez, out in Spain. The great Scottish sportswriter Hugh McIlvanney wryly noted that the Spaniard would have had to have produced a death certificate to lose a fight that Buchanan clearly deserved to win.

Throughout Ken’s career, money men, among them the top British promoter Bobby Neil, tried to change his style, turn him into a workman’s puncher, but Ken just calmly turned them away, choosing his moves based upon freedom rather than cash. This is what made the fast turnaround after the Velazquez debacle so fascinating to me. Buchanan was essentially waiting for a stay-busy fight after winning the British title when he was called directly by Jack Solomons, probably the best-connected promoter and fixer in the country at that time.

“How would you like to fight for the world title you Scots git?” was Jack’s opening gambit; Ken thought that Jack had called him up as a joke, promoted by his father, Ken’s constant companion but a man fond of a joke. Jack explained clearly – the people who handled world champion Ismael Laguna were after a soft touch; a stand-up boxer who wouldn’t give Laguna any trouble, a “patsy” in the parlance of the time. Buchanan was furious.

“A patsy?  Is that what they think of me in America? Get me the fight Jack and I’ll show these people what us Scottish patsies are like.”

Buchanan’s date with destiny was set for September 26, 1970 in San Juan, Puerto Rico. To further discomfort the Scotsman the fight would be fought at 2pm with temperatures soaring to 100 degrees Fahrenheit. “I knew there was no promoter in Britain ready to put up money for me to have a shot at the title,” he remembered in his 2000 biography The Tartan Legend, “so I’d have to go for this in a big way.”

The champion, Ismael Laguna, was a wonderful fighter. In 1965 he had defeated the mighty Carlos Ortiz in a narrow decision that must be seen to be believed. Laguna inverted his combinations, turned square against the lethal Ortiz to lead with his right, a baffling, extraordinary execution. It remains one of the finest maverick performances I’ve ever seen against a genuine all-time great and although Ortiz avenged himself and reclaimed his title, when Ortiz was out of the picture Laguna once again rose to the top. Buchanan and his father developed an audacious plan that only another maverick could conceive of: they would travel 4,000 miles from home and outbox this man to a 15-round decision.

Buchanan, in many ways, was ahead of his time and that he was undertaking sprints as interval training in the build-up to the San Juan contest may have been the single most important factor (outside of his brilliance) in winning that fight. Bathed in sweat and “unable to fill my lungs with air” Ken battled the oppressive heat as keenly as he did his opposition in the ring. This training mirrored Ken’s style in the ring – movement, control of the distance, then lengthy combination punching or a period of infighting under maximum commitment, then back on his toes. Almost as important was may have been the shuffling of the officials prompted by Ken’s manager, Eddie Thomas, who had heard that a judge and referee had been imported by Laguna’s team for the occasion.

Ken boxed early and was perhaps out-pecked – he stepped in to provide pressure through eight and the fight was balanced on a knife-edge and remained there through twelve. What really made the difference in this fight was not Ken’s skills and quickness and what is perhaps the most cultured left hand in the history of British boxing, but his decision in the championship rounds to attack. “By the twelfth round we are both tired.  Really lead-weight tired. But Laguna won’t give in…I decide to change my tactics.  I decide to go for him.”

It was just enough. Ken Buchanan became the new lightweight champion of the world by split decision, both his eyes closed and “at the limit of [his] endurance.”

Buchanan fought his first defence in February of 1971, outpointing Ruben Navarro in LA and fought his second and last defence in a rematch against Laguna. Made in New York, this battle was every bit as torrid as the first, a savage cut to his left eye hampering him throughout and forcing an adjustment that is every bit as much a part of Buchanan’s legend for me as his forthcoming meeting with Roberto Duran. His legendary jab hampered by that damage to the left eye, Buchanan fought squarer, just as Laguna had against Ortiz all those years ago, the injury forcing him in to what McIlvanney called the “slugger’s stance.” I’ll bow to his summary of this fight:

insert

“Most boxers, faced with the demand for such an adjustment, would make a respectable lunge at it for a few minutes, then sag into resignation. The Scottish world champion, whose blindingly sudden and confusingly flexible left jab is not only his most telling weapon but the triggering mechanism for all his best combinations, might have been forgiven if he had gone that way…far from wilting he gained in assurance and authority as the fight moved into the final third of the contest. Time and again he turned back the spidery aggression of Laguna.”

For Buchanan, I’m sure it was nice just to have McIlvanney in attendance. Almost no British press had followed him east for his shot at the title and the reception at home was underwhelming, not least by the BBBC’s preposterous stand over Buchanan’s championship honours. Now, he had earned his status as one of Britain’s great champions.

It is a status he enjoyed at the time of his death today at age 77, a year after his diagnoses with dementia, a status he will always enjoy despite his loss of his lightweight title in his next defence against his nemesis, Roberto Duran.

Duran stopped Ken Buchanan in the thirteenth round of their 1972 Madison Square Garden match, but it is time now to be explicit: the refereeing in this fight was questionable. Johnny LoBianco allowed Duran to foul Buchanan throughout. Sports Illustrated adjudged from ringside that Duran “used every part of his anatomy, everything but his knee” in his pursuit of the title.

Buchanan was even more direct: “I thought I signed up for a wrestling match, not a boxing contest.  He hit me in the balls a couple of times without so much as a nod from the referee.”  In the thirteenth, Buchanan, trailing on the cards, felt he had one of his better rounds but at the bell, “I turn towards my corner and in the same moment Duran lunges…with a punch that went right into my balls.” The punch was so hard that it split Buchanan’s protector. Examined by a doctor after the fight he was found to have significant swelling of the testicles. The referee, incredibly, didn’t even admonish Duran for throwing a fight-finishing punch after the bell while simultaneously claiming that the punch had been “to the solar plexus.”

To be clear, Duran was better than Buchanan. It’s almost impossible to envisage Buchanan turning the fight around and however he personally felt about the thirteenth, if he received four rounds on a scorecard, that scorecard would be generous. But it is also wrong to see anyone drop his title in such circumstances and the unfortunate event saw the beginning of Buchanan’s slide from relevancy and then, later, mental health. He waited by the phone for far too long for Duran to call him up and offer a rematch. Whatever is to be made of it, Duran had no interest in providing one, and in Buchanan’s defence, it’s probable that he never fought a fighter as good as Ken during the whole of the rest of his lightweight reign. Buchanan took it badly, so badly he even flew to North America in the 1990s to see if he could track Duran down and have it out with him. Fortunately, Buchanan didn’t get much further than some downtown bars where he was still fondly remembered by some of the patrons.

Buchanan’s life post-boxing was difficult, but never pitiful.  He was proud and however difficult things got, he remained proud. Last year, and just in time, he was in attendance as a statue of him was unveiled on Leith Walk in Edinburgh where he ran as a boy.

Gone now, he will never be forgotten in Scotland. Blessed with speed and great heart he made of himself what he could and it turned out to be just about as much as a Scottish fighter has ever made of himself. To end I offer a quote from The Fight Game In Scotland, a book written by Brian Donald who himself boxed Buchanan when both were Edinburgh teenagers. Brian ran 0-3 but began a lifelong friendship with Buchanan who was always ready to offer the hand of friendship to his defeated opponents.

“Buchanan, like a top-grade malt whisky, held his own in any foreign environment no matter how distant he was from his native shores…he was and remains one of the most accomplished British fighters to fight in foreign rings. His ring style was in some respects a metaphor for his own personality, elusive and tough, and the soaring singularity of his talent was matched by an equally single-minded determination that nobody, but nobody, knew better than Kenny Buchanan what was good for him.”

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