1960 Begins with the Middleweights (diary entry)

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My client resumed her “Learn from the Fight” lessons at the beginning of 1960 and the first notable fight of that year concerned the great Sugar Ray Robinson. He had been through a lot of boxing business and politicking issues in the past year. The International Boxing Club had been dissolved in 1959 following the IBC’s failed appeal against the Supreme Court’s antitrust decision of 1955. James D. Norris and Arthur M. Wirtz no longer had a monopoly on boxing, where they had been responsible for promoting 47 out of 51 world championship bouts from 1949 to 1955 after buying the rights to promote fights at Madison Square Garden from an ailing Mike Jacobs for $100,000 along with four top contender contracts for Joe Louis’s then vacated world heavyweight championship title. 1960 would be the year that a senate hearing would see likes of Carmen Basilio and Ike Williams help confirm the IBC’s links organised crime via Frankie Carbo and Blinky Palermo tracing back to both the Luchese and Genovese crime families respectively.

Ray Robinson’s problems with his undisputed claim of the world middleweight title, which he had fairly won for an unprecedented fifth time in a split decision rematch over Carmen Basilio on 25th March 1958, began with arguments over gate percentages for a Basilio rubber match. Robinson demanded 45 per cent of the gate. However, Carmen Basilio believed he was entitled to 30 per cent. Robinson thought this was too much for a challenger. Basilio probably believed his celebrity status and draw counted for more than the average challenger. He was not only the former world middleweight champion but also two-time world welterweight champion. Robinson might have won fighter of the year twice (1942 and 1951) and by 1960 he would also be the only man in the history of the sport to win fighter of decade twice, but Basilio (also fighter of the year in 1957) would be the only boxer to be in five sequential fights of the year from 1955 to 1959. The dispute dragged on through 1958 and 1959 where Robinson refused to fight since his last match with Basilio.

’59 saw the Graham-Paige Corporation (originally an automobile manufacturer from 1927 until 1947 now under the direction of Irving Mitchell-Felt) buy Norris and Wirtz’s interests in Madison Square Garden for close to $4m. By 1962 they would change their name to the Madison Square Garden Corporation and begin the drive to create a fourth Madison Square Garden. The new owners appointed Harry Markson as managing director of the newly formed Madison Square Garden Boxing Club with Teddy Brenner as matchmaker and Rear Admiral John J. Bergan becoming its chairman. According to Robinson the first fight the Corporation wished to book was the aforementioned rubber match.

Ned Irish, the man behind the popularisation of professional basketball through Madison Square Garden since 1934, came to Robinson in his Harlem office with a guaranteed $350,000 and was sent away. Robinson then turned down his follow up offer of $450k offer. With monopoly now broken other promoters were emerging. Irving Kahn of the media company TelePromTer was guaranteeing Robinson three quarters of a million. Knowing this John Bergman and Harry Markson stepped in and offered Robinson a guaranteed $550,000 plus 50% of the net gate over $400,000 and 50% of the theatre-TV net over $400,000. He also gave reassurance of this being a solid company that would put the cheque in Robinson’s hand the day after the fight. Robinson recalled his first fight with Basilio how the IRS had held all his payment the moment the bell had rung. Markson had retorted that hadn’t even been the Garden’s fault but the Treasury Department and it had been a single incident. Robinson felt empowered by Kahn’s promise who he had stated was fronting a company with stocks owned by Western Union. According to Robinson Bergman won his respect by backing down and stating that if he could get $750,000 from TelePromTer then he should go with them as promoters.

Unfortunately for Robinson matters weren’t going to go as smoothly as he was hoping. The New York Athletic Commission were already threatening to strip Robinson of his title in 1959 as the Basilio fight was not forthcoming. Basilio, according to Robinson, was still being manipulated by Jim Norris, who had opened up as an independent promoter under National Boxing Enterprises, and had refused a guaranteed $250,000 offer from Irving Kahn for a fight in Philadelphia arranged by Johnny Attell. The NYAC ordered a hearing and were satisfied that Robinson had tried to secure the fight when he produced a certified cheque of Basilio’s share. However, the National Boxing Association decided to proceed without him, making their version of the title vacant. Basilio and Gene Fullmer, the two top contenders fought for title had for this with Fullmer taking the belt on 28th August 1959. Robinson said he thought it was unfair but was going through personal tragedies. His beloved eldest sister Marie died from cancer not long after a miscarriage had revealed the disease. To make matters worse, Robinson had dreamt an angel had told him she would be saved and he’d held onto the belief. With her on his mind he’d crashed his car and been delayed from being with her she had died. It is reasonable to say that Sugar Ray Robinson was not in a good state of mind in 1959.

This hadn’t stopped him from first pursuing a the light heavyweight title which never happened. The details for this were covered in Basilio/Fullmer fight diary entry. Robinson took his one and only fight of 1959 on 14th December. It was a non-title affair against Bob Young where he earned just $5,000. Despite being outweighed by 7lbs Robinson knocked Young out in round 2. The round saw his opponent hit the canvas a total of five times, the last one being a face-plant that was waived off without a count.

Basilio was now considering retirement and the new NBA champion, Gene Fullmer didn’t show any immediate interest in uniting the titles again with what would be their rubber match. Robinson’s management matched him with the New England middleweight champion, Paul Pender.

In January 1960 Sugar Ray Robinson was still considered the world middleweight champion by Ring magazine. His NYAC title was recognised only in New York and Massachusetts and he was also still recognised by the European Boxing Union. Fullmer was the number one contender with Basilio at number 6. Paul Pender was at number 8. Pender was born on 20th June 1930 in Brookline, Massachusetts, the only son of Irish immigrant parents, William and Anna (Lyster). He graduated from Brookline High School and played American Football at both Michigan State and Penn State university. However, he chose to pursue boxing as a career instead, picking it up at Stately College. Before winning the professional version of the title Pender won the amateur New England Boxing Championship.

Pender turned pro on 28th January 1949, knocking out Paul Williams in round 1 of their 4 round bout. None of his next four opponents went the distance. He won all eleven of his first fights and then drew will Bill Daley in their rematch. Pender’s first loss happened in his twenty-second fight where Norman Hayes got a unanimous decision. Pender avenged his defeat with a seventh round knockout in the rematch less than a month later. He then lost a unanimous decision to Joe Rindone. Their rematch less than two months later resulted in a draw. Despite having undeniable knockout power, Pender suffered from chronically injured and brittle hands.  From 1952 to 1956 he suffered a broken right hand in six consecutive fights, and this had a dramatic impact on his boxing ability. After drawing with Rindone he suffered his first knockout defeat in the third round of his bout with the extremely tough middleweight contender Eugene Hairston. Going to the Red Sox physician, a chip was discovered in his right hand. After an operation he returned to the ring for a unanimous decision over Otis Graham. However, he then lost on a fifth round technical knockout to another spoiler, Jimmy Beau.

Disheartened and still suffering pain, Pender gave up boxing and joined the Marine Corps. He left the service to become a firefighter. Over the next seven years he fought on six odd occasions. Pender enjoyed boxing but hated its politics and was very outspoken about the corruption. From this point onwards he would state that he was a firefighter first and a boxer second.

After three wins in a row he was matched with the then up and coming Gene Fullmer. Fullmer dominated the fight especially after Pender broke both his hands in the fifth round. Nevertheless, he showed his mettle and not only lasted to the end of 10th round but even knocked Fullmer down in this particular stanza. Fullmer got the unanimous decision but Pender had proven his ability. His next fight against Jimmy Skinner, after 10 months of rehabilitation, saw him win another unanimous decision but the pain was too much again and he decided to retire for a second time remaining inactive for two years.

Then, in 1958 he decided to give it another shot. This time Doctor Nathan Shapiro appeared to get to the root of his brittle hands problem. He had a calcium deficiency that could be treated with regular injections and an adjusted diet. He won his next four bouts by stoppage. Jackson Brown went down in the third, Pete Adams in the fourth, Willie Kid Johnson in the third and Joe Gomes was stopped by technical knockout due to cuts in the sixth.

His next bout was also technically a win but a bittersweet one. Young Beau Jack was a light heavyweight who was clearly being promoted as new version of the legendary two-time world lightweight champion of the 1940s. He was disqualified during his fight with Pender after he knocked his opponent out and continued to attack him on the canvas in round 3.

Pender then won a technical knockout in the fifth round of his next fight with Joe Shaw and a unanimous decision over Ralph Tiger Jones.  He then won the New England Middleweight crown in a unanimous decision over Jackson Brown. He defeated Gene Hamilton the same way next prior to facing Sugar Ray Robinson.

Quoting Marty Mulcahey in ESPN article on Paul Pender:

One look at Pender’s nose, which had more bends in it than a pretzel, told you that Pender was a boxer. In today’s vernacular, Pender would be called a spoiler – he learned every trick in the book to compensate for his chronically sore hands. In spite of fighting in Boston, Pender was a European style boxer with a stand up style, who worked behind an educated jab. Pender relied a lot on defense, hoping to frustrate opponents into mistakes, rather than eating three punches to land one. His sturdy chin permitted him to get a lot of rounds in, which in turn allowed him to learn the nuances of the game.

Pender was a thinking man’s fighter. When asked why he chose boxing over other sports, he said, “I consider boxing, probably, the biggest test of humanity in the world for endurance, mentally, and physically. It’s a test because no one is responsible other than yourself. No one can accuse anybody else of making a mistake, other than yourself. That’s why I enjoyed the challenge”

What set Pender apart from others was his confidence, which many mistook for arrogance. Boston promoter Sam Silverman commented, “Pender doesn’t think any fighter in the world can beat him. In fact, Pender doesn’t think anybody can fight like he can, and that includes Archie Moore, Floyd Patterson, and Fullmer, and anyone else you might name. I never saw a more confident fighter. He reminds me a lot of Billy Conn. Conn didn’t believe anyone else could fight either. That was Conn’s downfall against Louis.”


Sugar Ray Robinson versus Paul Pender NYAC and Ring World Middleweight Championship 22.01.1960

Paul Pender was 5’10” tall and had a 72″ reach. He weighed in at 160 lbs. His record at the time was 35 wins, 5 losses and 2 draws. Sugar Ray Robinson weighed in at 159 lbs and was 144–7–2 (1).

The fight took place at Boston Garden, Boston, Massachusetts.A crowd of 10,608 paid $85,010 to see the fight.The

Robinson was the 5-1 favourite.

Pender declared the day before the fight that his strategy was to start slowly before coming out late. His plan was to wear out his agining opponent. By contrast, Robinson planned to finish Pender early.

Round 1 – Robinson was clearly not wasting any time in the opening round. The champion went for the challenger’s head with some sharp combinations and hooked both upstairs and to Pender’s mid-section. Likewise, Pender stuck to his publicised plan and did his best to keep out of range.

Round 2 – The fight followed a similar pattern: Robinson looking for an early knock out and Pender using out-boxing tactics to wear him out. Pender did not engage much and gave away the first rounds to Robinson who finished the second with his signature left hook staggering his opponent.

Round 3 – Hopes of the aging Robinson tiring might have shown some promise in this round as both men went to the clinch. Both went to the body and it appeared that Pender was taking this opportunity to speed up the work rate. However, it is debatable whether he edged this round. Robinson was landing heavier shots. It seemed a little tight to me.

Round 4 – Pender began putting his foot on pedal for this set, probably aware that he couldn’t let too many rounds go in Robinson’s favour now. He began using his jab more but still it appeared that Robinson was using this weapon more efficiently and with more versatility, his famous body jab making a strong showing.

Round 5 – Pender’s round in what appeared to be an attempted stronger repeat of round 3 for him as the two men clinched. Robinson appeared to not fair as well this time and Pender began building up some aggressive momentum when in-fighting.

Round 6 – Pender took this new offence to the outside more and began landing some crisp jabs. Robinson replied with some harsh left hooks to the body but Pender took them well. Pender’s jab became lazy and Robinson caught him with a powerful destabilising right hand. Seeing his moment to bring his plan to fruition, Sugar Ray moved in to finish the job but Pender had been more surprised than actually stunned. Nevertheless, Robinson kept up the pressure tearing into the challenger’s body.

Round 7 – The following round is often credited with being where Pender was cut but it appears the left eye injury started here. However, Pender was on good form and put in a strong showing. In response to his own visible injury, the challenger busted open the champion’s nose. Paul Pender remained in control throughout this round.

Round 8 – Robinson, still liking the knockout plan, using his right along with some uppercuts. Pender was busier too and caught the champion a few times

Round 9 – Pender’s plan was now looking better despite the blood continuing to flow from above his eye. Robinson moved into clinch and ate two clean shots from the challenger.

Round 10 – The challenger’s jab began to do its work but Robinson was no slouch with a 1-2 combination. Pender countered with a left hook before falling into a clinch. It would appear the plan is working for Paul who demonstrated more energy at this point, winning the round.

Round 11 – The fight seems to have turned in Pender’s favour now. Robinson looked tired and Pender looked fresher, full of vigour. He caught the champion with several stunning punches.

Round 12 – This was a similar story with Pender clearly in control and Robinson’s hope of knockout deteriorating.

Round 13 – However, this seemed to change again with Robinson making a comeback with body shots and taking the first minute of the 13th. Then Pender shot back with a head-jolting jab and swiftly followed up with another one. Ray held on and milled at the in-fighting stage but then took a hook as the bell sounded.

Round 14  and 15 – To some, these rounds demonstrated Sugar Ray’s ability to come back from the brink and do enough to win the bout. However, it would not be what the hometown judge’s declared

Robinson and his management believed they had been robbed by a hometown biased decision. The referee, Joe Santoro, scored in favour of Robinson. However, writing in his autobiography, Sugar Ray is reflective of the episode and stated he had won plenty of split decisions. The Associated Press scored the fight 145-141 for Robinson. A poll of ringside press showed a 9-6 edge for Robinson.

Pender’s narrative spoke to Ring Magazine’s editorial who stated that Robinson appeared sloppy in the early rounds, missing more times than he connected and Pender was more patient, becoming busier in the final five rounds. However, this was in stark contrast to the views of Associated Press and many other journalists who believe that Pender did not do enough to win.

As candid as ever, Pender said of Robinson in his autobiography:

“Robinson was not a great boxer. I tell people that, and they look at me like I’m positively insane. ‘The great Ray Robinson!’ He wasn’t a great boxer. He was the greatest puncher that ever lived, with a repertoire of punches that nobody could throw. He was fast with his hands, fast afoot. That’s all. I hit him with left jabs, which he never had in his life. But Ray Robinson had the greatest repertoire of punches of any fighter that ever lived. But boxing ability, he couldn’t shine Willie Pep’s shoes as far as pure boxing ability.”

It’s an interesting statement given what we know Pep said of his only matching with Robinson.

Robinson and his management got set for a rematch but not before Sugar Ray was matched in a non-title fight with Tony Baldoni in April. Pender, now the new NYAC and Ring world middleweight champion, waited for Robinson in June.

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