Pulling punches is losing proposition

John Steadman

July 02, 1993|By John Steadman

Most of the time, when a boxing match is in the planning stages of being fixed, the perpetrators try to cover themselves with a semblance of respectability by referring to it as merely a "business arrangement." This, to them, is a more dignified connotation.

But in truth it is a low-down and dirty act of violating the rules of the game and, yes, the laws of the land. Calling it a "business arrangement," at least to the twisted minds of those involved, gives such nefarious actions an air of formality, even if such goings-on smell to high heaven. If proven, the charges are serious enough to send the plotters off to prison for a long stretch making license plates.

Rigging the outcome is what's known in the boxing trade as a dump, a dive, "putting one over" or even by the more colorful description of "going in the water." Yet in all such discussions, it's never a fix. They seem to be telling themselves to talk in proper language, even if they are in the midst of rolling around in the gutter destroying the public trust.

The subject of a fixed fight is back with us again after the indictment of Ray Mercer for comments he made on Feb. 6 in JTC New York's Madison Square Garden while in the process of losing a 10-round decision to Jesse Ferguson. Tapes of the bout, according to Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau, reveal Mercer offered a bribe while the match was in progress.

Mercer supposedly offered $100,000 to Ferguson if he would allow him to win. But Ferguson paid no heed to making any kind of a deal. He kept piling up points while on his way to a decisive victory. If the bribe attempt happened the way Morgenthau says it did, then it illustrates a flagrant effort, in the ring, of trying to spend money to make money.

It meant he would give up $100,000 to assure himself of a win so he could go on to battle heavyweight champion Riddick Bowe for a purse reported to be $1.5 million. Because he was losing to Ferguson, the promise of a title shot was vanishing as the rounds clicked off. By winning, it was Ferguson who got the chance to battle Bowe, even if he was knocked out in the second round of a May 22 match in Washington.

He didn't get the $1.5 million Mercer was going to receive, but, instead, earned $400,000 for the brief encounter. It's pertinent now to ask if Ferguson reported the bribe to authorities? If not, he broke the law since it's incumbent upon the recipient of such an offer to notify either the athletic commission or the next police officer he sees on the street. Otherwise, he has placed himself in a position where he can face charges for remaining silent.

We once witnessed a bout at the Baltimore Coliseum when "Black Jack" Billy Fox of Philadelphia was putting together a long string of knockouts -- most of which, it later turned out, were "business arrangements." While Fox went to a neutral corner, his foe, Rudy Evans, crawled about the ring on all fours, much the way a baby travels, while the referee counted him out.

It was bizarre. Later, Jake LaMotta, a middleweight, claimed he deliberately lost to the same "Black Jack" so he would be afforded a chance at the title. The confession brought LaMotta a suspension.

Sometimes, in the retelling of boxing tales, the truth becomes distorted. But we were told of a featherweight fighting a later Hall of Fame champion who was knocked down. It wasn't supposed to be that way, according to the script, because the champ reportedly was going to fall over later to collect a huge bet that had been placed for him on the outcome.

According to the story, he won in spite of himself and wasn't at all happy. Boxing manager Benny Trotta once related he had a fighter ahead on points and the arena lights suddenly went out. It was ruled "no contest." Years later, he met the owners of the other boxer and, after several hours of pleasantries, one of them told him, "Geez, Ben, if we had known you was such a nice guy we'd a let you have the title."

Now one final recollection. A boxer friend once won decisively in New York against a British opponent. Then he lost the rematch in London. How could such a reversal of form have happened? The explanation he provided is a classic. "They told me if I didn't let him win it would be a long swim home."

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