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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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Seasons Beatings from Philly where Local Fighters of Note are in Action This Weekend

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Seasons Beatings from Philly where Local Fighters of Note are in Action This Weekend

Tomorrow night (Friday, Dec. 8) begins a nice stretch of live boxing in the Philadelphia area after a relatively quiet fall schedule. These shows will wrap a bow on the 2023 fight schedule for the Delaware Valley with a slate of shows already scheduled for the early part of the upcoming new year.

This sudden boom, well overdue, is good for the Delaware Valley, for its fighters and its fight fans. So, while these shows aren’t large-scale, they are a great way for fight fans to learn about fighters they may see competing on those larger shows in the future.

Let’s look at what exactly fans are in for with the final shows of 2023.

Friday, December 8th – Wind Creek Events Center, Bethlehem, PA (Kings Promotions)

Jesse Hart (29-3) vs. Jeyson Minda (14-7-1) tops a massive 11-fight card. For years now, Marshall Kauffman’s Kings Promotions has put on successful shows in the Philadelphia region. Not only do they hit the mark from a commercial standpoint, but his shows always have entertaining fights where the result could go either way and this show should be no different.

Jesse Hart (pictured with Jarrett Hurd) finds himself somewhat in limbo in the sport. Staying active and keeping his tools sharp is crucial for Hart to continue to keep his name out there and work his way back into the rankings.

A powerful fighter who often finds himself in engaging battles, Hart’s three defeats happened against only two fighters — Gilberto Ramirez (twice) and Joe Smith, both former world champions. Since his last setback in 2020, Hart has won three fights on the local scene while enduring some setbacks outside of the ring due to hand injuries. Released from his contract with Top Rank, Hart finds himself in the position where his name and pedigree (he’s the son of former middleweight standout Eugene “Cyclone” Hart) coupled with a string of quality victories could open the door to another crack at a marquee name in the super middleweight or light heavyweight division.

Former super welterweight king Jarrett Hurd (24-3) takes on Tyi Edmonds (14-5). In his most recent fight back in March, Hurd returned to the ring after a long absence and was shockingly stopped in the tenth round by Armando Resendiz.  Against Edmonds, Hurd looks to prove that he still has elite-level abilities as he too tries to work his way back to the top. A much-needed victory would start that process while a third defeat in a row, especially if it’s physically taxing, would all but mark the end of having his name mentioned anywhere near the division’s best.

Julian Gonzalez (11-0-1) is a talented Kings Promotions fighter who packs a punch, especially for a super featherweight. The 22-year-old Reading, PA native continues his growth against Texas journeyman Juan Antonio Lopez (17-15-1). If successful, Gonzalez will set himself up for a bright 2024 that should see him face quality fringe contenders as well as other prospects which will lead to bigger fights down the road.

Saturday, December 9th – Showboat Hotel, Atlantic City, NJ (Champions Sports and Entertainment)

Philadelphia fan favorite Joey “The Tank” Dawejko (26-10-4, 14 KOs) is staying busy in the twilight of his career. He’s 3-0 thus far in 2023 which includes two exciting victories over Colby Madison (their first fight, a bruising tiff, will most likely be the 2023 Philadelphia Fight of the Year). On Saturday he returns to the ring to defend his WBC USA heavyweight title in an 8-round battle vs. Jesse Bryan (21-7-2, 16 KOs) of Jefferson City, Missouri. This fight headlines a nine-bout show by CSE which is trying to revive boxing on the boardwalk.

In the co-main, Glassboro, NJ native Derrick Webster (29-4-1) will take on the always durable Cleotis Pendarvis (22-19-2) in an 8-round battle of super middleweights.

Liverpool, NY super lightweight Bryce Mills (13-1, 4 KO) looks to add to his 7-fight winning streak when he battles the durable Tackie Annan (15-10) in a fight scheduled for six rounds. Mills has continued to grow his fan base in the northeast by taking part in action-packed fights from the opening bell. His fans tend to travel well and Saturday looks to be no different as a large contingent of his fans are expected to turn up in Atlantic City to support their young charge. It also helps that Mills, like Dawejko, has teamed up with Hall-of-Fame promoter J. Russell Peltz to help guide his professional career.

Edward Donovan (7-0), a super welterweight prospect from Limerick, Ireland, puts his undefeated record on the line when he battles tough Jetter Burgos (6-1, 5 KO) from the Bronx, NY. Puerto Rican lightweight Joey Borrero (11-1, 9 KO), along with super middleweight prospect Cali Box (2-0) from Franklin Township, NJ, will appear in separate fights.

Date TBD– 2300 Arena, Philadelphia, PA (R&B Promotions)

Tevin Farmer (32-5-1) and Patrick Okine (21-6-2) were slated to meet in the main event last Friday, Dec. 1, on a show at the always-fun 2300 Arena. At the last minute, the show was postponed. An e-mail announcing the unfortunate postponement stated that the show would be rescheduled soon. While a new date has yet to be locked in, all signs point toward the show coming to fruition at the close of 2023 or early in 2024.

A former IBF world super featherweight champion, Tevin Farmer was set to make his third appearance of 2023 as he continues to shake off the ring rust that formed after a much-needed break and continue his push toward becoming a two-time world title-holder. It’s crazy to think, but it’s already been more than three full years since Farmer lost his title to Jojo Diaz in January of 2020.

Farmer, who had a late start in the sport, turned pro without the glitz and glamour that accompanies a highly decorated amateur, but fought his way to the top, beating the odds to achieve his life’s dream of championship glory. His break from the sport following his defeat to Diaz was needed to reenergize him from both a physical and mental standpoint.

In Okine he will find himself in the ring with a sturdy opponent that has faced some of the top contenders in and around the lightweight division. “I wanted Tevin [Farmer] to stay active and keep sharpening his tools and Okine provides that opportunity for him,” stated Alex Barbosa, the promoter/matchmaker. “Okine is always tough and comes to win, which is just what Tevin needs at this point of his career.”

With the lightweight division having had a changing of the guard at the top in terms of the championships, Farmer, 33, just may get that second chance at the top of the mountain. And if he continues to stay active while racking up solid victories, it may come sooner rather than later.

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The IBHOF Class of 2024 includes Ricky Hatton, Michael Moorer, and Ivan Calderon

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The IBHOF Class of 2024 includes Ricky Hatton, Michael Moorer, and Ivan Calderon

The International Boxing Hall of Fame and Museum in Canastota, New York, has unveiled its newest class of inductees. The Class of 2024 includes Ricky “The Hitman” HattonMichael “Double M” MoorerIvan “Iron Boy” Calderon and Diego “Chico” Corrales (posthumous) in the men’s Modern category; Jane “The Fleetwood Assassin” Couch and “La Guerrera” Ana Maria Torres in the Women’s modern category; trainer Kenny Adams, manager Jackie Kallen, and publicist Fred Sternburg in the Non-Participant category; journalist Wallace Matthews and broadcaster Nick Charles (posthumous) in the Observer category; Luis Angel Firpo (posthumous) in the Old Timer category and Theresa Kibby (posthumous) in the women’s Trailblazer category.

The inductees will be formally enshrined during the annual Hall of Fame Induction Weekend. The 2024 event, a four-day jamboree, commences on Thursday, June 6.

The IBHOF is located at Exit 34 of the New York Thruway. Hours of operation are Monday-Sunday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Biographies on the Class of 2024 can be found on www.ibhof.com

Fred Sternburg was previously honored with the Marvin Kohn Good Guy Award by the Boxing Writers Association of America, an honor bestowed upon him in 2004. Rick Folstad interviewed Sternburg for a story that appeared on these pages in December of 2005.

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Ebanie Bridges Poised to Defend Her Title and Boost Her Brand in SanFran This Weekend

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Ebanie Bridges opposes late sub Miyo Yoshida on the undercard of Saturday’s Matchroom card in San Francisco featuring the WBC lightweight title fight between Regis Prograis and Devin Haney. It’s doubtful that Bridges vs. Yoshida will steal the show (Prograis vs Haney is a compelling match-up), but it’s a stone-cold lock that Bridges vs. Yoshida will steal the weigh-in. It goes at 1 pm Friday at the Chase Center and is open to the public.

This is all Bridges’ doing. She can fight more than a little, as Damon Runyon would have phrased it, but is best known for turning up at weigh-ins in lingerie so sexy that Matchroom honcho Eddie Hearn averts his eyes to keep from blushing. Others can’t keep their eyes off the 37-year-old, well-endowed Australian and on Friday the paparazzi will crash the scene to capture images that will be all over the internet within hours.

This doesn’t sit well with a lot of people. Former opponent Shannon Courtenay, who saddled Bridges (9-1, 4 KOs) with her only defeat, chastised her for selling their fight for the wrong reasons and disrespecting the sport. Her most recent opponent, Shannon O’Connell, called her a skank and other terms of derision unfit for a family newspaper.

Bridges stopped her in the eighth round in what is her most gratifying win to date. “She made it personal,” says Ebanie. “It felt good to make her eat her words.”

Bridges, who set a withering pace, was making the first defense of the IBF bantamweight title she won with a comprehensive 10-round decision over Argentina’s long-reigning Maria Cecilia Roman. Shannon O’Connell, a fellow Aussie, entered that bout on an 8-fight winning streak that included hard-earned decisions over Australian standouts Taylah Robertson and Cherneka Johnson.

So, although Bridges vs O’Connell was contested in Leeds, England, it was something of the culmination of an Australian round-robin tournament, and it would be Ebanie Bridges that emerged as the Queen Bee.

Bridges has a platform on Only Fans. Known for its “adult” content, the web site is also a place where B-list celebrities go to monetize their fan base by promising a closer look into their personal lives. For attractive female celebs, that usually means displaying more skin that can be found in generic publicity photos, but well short of hard-core. Current Only Fans performers include recording artist Cardi B, actress Denise Richards, the former spouse of Charlie Sheen, actress Drea de Matteo, best known for portraying Adriana on “The Sopranos,” former “Baywatch” sex symbol Carmen Electra, boxer Mikaela Mayer, and former Miss USA Shanna Moakler who shares a daughter with Oscar de la Hoya.

Women that profit from cheesecake, to use an old word for racy photos, aren’t known for having the brightest bulbs between their ears but Bridges, despite embracing her nickname, the Blonde Bomber, doesn’t fit the stereotype. She’s no bimbo.

Ms. Bridges has two college degrees, an undergraduate degree in math and a master’s in secondary education. In her spare time, she finds solace in playing the piano and in drawing, a skill that she inherited from her father, a painter and commercial artist.

In her drawings, she is partial to British soccer coaches and athletes, in particular boxers. Some of her photos are embedded in her smart phone. These, I can attest, are very good. There was no mistaking her drawing of Sugar Ray Robinson. It ranked right up there with Stanley Weston whose illustrations adorned the covers of 57 issues of The Ring magazine.

Bridges is her own best publicist. It’s an attribute she shares with UFC superstar Conor McGregor.

It comes as no surprise to learn that they are well-acquainted. Bridges and McGregor sat together at the first fight between Katie Taylor and Chantelle Cameron. She is a spokesperson for the latest product that McGregor is pushing, Forged Irish Stout, a brand of beer that debuted at the Black Forge Inn, the Dublin pub that McGregor owns.

“I love Conor,” she says, “he’s lovely,” a rather odd adjective to apply to a man who once attacked a bus with a metal barricade at a UFC media event in Brooklyn, injuring three people.

“He’s great for my brand,” says Bridges of McGregor, “and I’m great for his brand.”

Like it or not, this is the new world order. This reporter is old enough to remember when colleges and universities had football teams. Now they have football franchises, which isn’t quite the same. A franchise requires a well-oiled marketing department to enhance the value of the brand.

Bridges got her first crack at a world title (the WBA version held by Shannon Courtenay) after only five pro fights against opponents who were collectively 12-25-5. Her opponent on Saturday, Miyo Yoshida, sports a 16-4 record and is coming off a loss.

This is fodder for critics of female boxing but, make no mistake, Bridges would be a tough out for any female bantamweight in the world and she has paid her dues. She had 30 amateur fights after previously training in karate, kickboxing, and Muay Thai. (In fairness to Matchroom’s matchmaker, he salvaged Saturday’s date for her, securing Yoshida after three previous opponents fell out.)

Looking ahead to 2024, Bridges envisions fighting England’s Nina Hughes, the WBA belt-holder, and then Denmark’s Dina Thorslund who owns the other two meaningful pieces of the bantamweight title. A match with Thorslund (currently 20-0, 8 KOs) with all four belts on the line would be a blockbuster and, by then, should it transpire, the Blonde Bombshell would undoubtedly be one of the most well-known boxers in the world.

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