Tuesday’s “Learn from the Fight” lesson focused on two championship bouts where Isiah “Ike” Williams defended his World Lightweight title. Williams was born in Brunswick, Georgia on 2nd August 1923. He moved to Trenton, New Jersey as a boy and apparently worked as a newsboy. He turned professional in 1940 aged 17. He fought 157 fights, including newspaper decisions, with an official record of 128 wins (61 KOs), 24 losses and five draws. He was a natural lightweight and did best in this division but routinely took on fighters from heavier weight classes. He stood at 5’9” with a reach of 68”. According to historian, Bill Kelly in his “The History of the Sweet Science”,
“Ike was more than a world class fighter to me. Ike was a mythic. Ike was quite simply, with apologies to Benny Leonard, Henry Armstrong, Lew Jenkins, Beau Jack, Jimmy Carter, Bob Montgomery and even Roberto Duran, the best lightweight fighter who ever lived”.
The two fights we watched occurred one after the other in 1948, the same year Williams was declared Ring Magazine’s Fighter of the Year.
He took the NBA version of World Lightweight Championship in 18th April 1945 in Mexico City via a technical knockout in the second round over Mexican, Juan Zurita. The match had originally been scheduled to take place in Philadelphia, but the Philadelphia Boxing Commission recognised Bob “Bob Cat” Montgomery as the world champion via the NYAC version of the title. Zurita had won the title from Sammy Angott who had caused the division of the title claims in the first instance when he retired from boxing with an injured hand whilst still holding the title. The NYAC had nominated Beau Jack as their champion who then lost it to Montgomery. When Angott returned to fighting and the NBA said they still recognised him, Zurita challenged and beat him. Zurita’s loss (his first title defence) resulted in a Williams being surrounded by fans and police to escort him safely back to his dressing room.
Williams fought many notable opponents, including welterweights like the aforementioned Sammy Angott (who has been a regular feature in these lessons) who gave him a rare loss, and defended his title for the first time against Enrique “The Durango Dropper” Bolanos on 30th April 1946. Bolanos would end his career with 79 victories out of over 100 fights. He was born in Durango, Mexico but moved to the United States during World War 2. Mexico was neutral during the war and often sent over works and a good number of prize-fighters at a time when many American boxers were enlisted in the military. He moved his family to live in Los Angeles.
His fights became very popular and he was a good draw at the box office. He fought such notables as the great bantamweight Manual Ortiz who he stopped after the sixth round when his corner pulled their man out. He fought Chalky Wright twice, losing the first to a split decision and then avenging his defeat in two rematches. He also defeated such notables as Jackie Wilson, Joey Barnum, and John Thomas. Bolanos’s most celebrated fights were against “Golden Boy” Art Aragon and Ike Williams. He considered Williams to be the toughest opponent he ever faced and he faced him three times.
The first time Williams won the match via technical knockout in the eighth round. Williams then fought his way through nine opponents, including one loss to Gene Burton and one successful title defence against Ronnie James, before finally facing Bob Montgomery in a title unification bout. Montgomery apparently had a personal dislike of Williams due Williams’s disrespectful brutal destruction of his friend old Johnny Hutchinson in three rounds. Some critics have called Williams on being a particularly ruthless fighter who did little to spare a losing opponent. We would see room for discussion on this during his match with Beau Jack. Anyway, the Montgomery had been able to exact vengeance on his friend’s behalf when they had first met in 1944. Williams suffered his first stoppage in round 12 of a 12 round match. Williams complained that Montgomery had fouled him several times during the bout. Their rematch for the unification championship was a far different affair. This time Williams was wise to Montgomery and had his own vengeance to enact. He got the stoppage this time and in half the time, getting a technical knockout in round six. He had successfully defended his NBA title but also won Montgomery’s NYAC title and the Ring title that was vacant.
After eight straight wins, he defended the title again. This time it was tonight’s first spotlight and his second match with Enrique Bolanos. Bolanos was an out-boxer who used a lot circular foot movement and a very sharp jab. Williams was a boxer-puncher in style. He was a shrewd fighter who looked for the knockout but rarely chased it. He went into the fight with a record of 92–10–4. He went in as the 2-1 favourite. The fight was held, as the previous match had been, at Wrigley Field, Los Angeles.
Ike Williams versus Enrique Bolanos World Lightweight Championship 25.05.1948
Round 1 – Williams took the offensive, holding the centre ring from the beginning and throwing single jabs. Bolanos used his footwork and fired out multiple jabs from the outside. He also dropped for body jabs and hooks to the body. The round was fairly even with little getting in although I would have edged it to Bolanos.
Round 2 – The round started with a good square off in the centre of the ring, both fighters exchanged their own brands of jabbing, switched levels regularly and both were beginning to land. Williams began forcing Bolanos back to the ropes and pinned him against them briefly. Bolanos was soon out and fighting back although Williams never really backed off. They had few brief exchanges with a greater variety of punches being thrown by both boxers. This was even.
Round 3 – This time Williams began to get busier and landed a few combinations. Bolanos maintained his circular, counter-punching style, but this was not his round.
Round 4 – Bolanos came out more aggressive this time and threw a decent lead uppercut early on in the round. We also saw the first genuine clinch, putting the moment on the ropes in round one to one side, which might have been a tactic by Williams to slow his man down. This was a pretty even round with both men landing telling blows to the head as well as going to the body. Williams had a particularly mean mid-range left hook and Bolanos stung the champion with his regular double jabs. We also witnessed a common Williams combination – jab/right uppercut – that found its mark.
Round 5 – The jab/uppercut combination came into play early this time. He regularly pressured Bolanos and cut him off, using a single jab to close in and throw the above combination. It became more a battle of footwork now. Bolanos kept his jab going, but also scored a few times with lead hooks and the classic jab/cross/hook combination. So far the fight had been very light on in-fighting, but we began to see both some clinching and also shoulder to shoulder exchanges towards the end of this round.
Round 6 – This was a much more active round from both fighters. Williams came in early with stiff jabs, but Bolanos was very much on his feet, demonstrating a lot of rolling and firing off jabs, lead hooks and lead uppercuts from long range. Williams continued to push hard and throw in two-fisted attacks. This was Bolanos’s round.
Round 7 – Bolanos busied himself early, circling and throwing multiple lead shots and a few combinations. Williams began doubling up his jabs for the first time in this match and sought to cut off the ring again.
Round 8 – Williams closed the distance effectively and began winning the mid-range exchanges with confidence. However, the fight then went back to long range and evened out again with each man winning at times. Bolanos probably won more outside range exchanges and finished strong but probably didn’t do enough to balance Williams’s victories at mid-range.
Round 9 – Williams took control at the beginning and won the first few long range exchanges this time. However, Bolanos then began scoring with his very deft and versatile lead hand, landing that distinctive lead uppercut. Up to this point the lead uppercut has not been a particularly favoured or obvious technique demonstrated in any of the fights covered. Although it hasn’t featured in any articles I have read on Bolanos, I have highlighted here for analysis in the lesson. This technique is often preferred by fighters who are on the back-foot, a position Bolanos seemed to find comfortable.
Round 10 – The round began with lots of jabbing exchanges. Williams also began combining his with right hooks and overhands at long range. Williams also demonstrated his swift head movement. Williams pressed his opponent into the corners and varied his combinations with rear hand uppercuts. Bolanos was out of trouble quickly using his excellent circling movements.
Round 11 – Having taken the previous round, Williams was clearly trying to keep the momentum going and to push the advantage. Bolanos began to clinch to muffle the assaults. After the breaks Williams showed no signs of slowing down and continued to stick to his pathway by throwing regular jabs, sometimes doubling up and sometimes varying with his own straight hooks and uppercuts before closing in with hard two-fisted attacks.
Round 12 – Bolanos seemed eager to return the favour and was waiting for Williams in the middle of the ring from the start of this round. In classic stick and move fashion he let fly tight combinations before circling away. However, Williams was giving no ground as these exchanges progressed on through the round.
Round 13 and 14 were missing. However, according to reports no knockdowns were scored here or for any other part of the bout.
Round 15 – Both fighters were noticeably slower but this had not been a slugfest by any stretch of the imagination. What followed was a “greatest hits” (if you will pardon the expression) from the previous rounds we had watched. More body shots were thrown but no clinching. Both men tried to win the war of the jabs again. Williams threw what looked like his version of the bolo punch and Bolanos landed a liver shot to no effect.
The fight was awarded to Williams on a split decision. Two of the officials and most of the onlookers gave it to Williams although there remained a reasonable number of viewers who gave it to Bolanos, seeing it as one of greatest performances. They would fight a third time on 21st July 1949 with Jack Dempsey as the referee once again at the Wrigley Field, Los Angeles venue. There is a copy of it somewhere on scratchy 8mm film, but it is not readily available on regular streaming channels. This time Bolanos would be knocked out in the fourth round.
The very next fight Williams took after his second bout with Bolanos was against Beau Jack. Beau Jack was Cus D’Amoto’s favourite lightweight boxer. He was one of the most popular boxers of the 1940s, headlining Madison Square Gardens a still standing record total of 21 times. He was born Sidney Walker on the 1st April 1921 in Waynesboro, Georgia. He was 5’6” tall with a reach of 68.5
After the death of his mother he lived with his grandmother in Augusta where he worked her poor farm during the day and as a shoeshine boy during the evening. His grandmother, Evie Mixom, gave him the nickname, Beau Jack. He also engaged in Battle Royales. Before this became a professional wrestling gimmick match, it was a very real racist exploitation boxing competition where up to 10 black men or boys would fight for a money prize set up by a white organiser. These fights were sometimes done blindfolded. Jack Johnson apparently fought in these matches during the turn of the 20th century. They appear to have remained popular in the American south during the ‘30s.
After his first battle royale at Augusta National Golf Club, Jack got a job as a caddie and he also caught the attention of club members, including the hugely influential Bobby Jones, who funded his early boxing training. Turning professional in 1940, Jack had a record of 27-4-2 in Massachusetts within one year. In 1941 he made the move the boxing capital: New York City. In 1942 he caused an upset as the 3-1 underdog when he stopped Allie Stolz in round seven. He then challenged for the vacant NYAC World Lightweight Championship and knocked out Tippy Larkin with an uppercut in round three, he had already almost done the same with a left hook in round one. It had been an all -out brawl from start to finish from two fighters who were virtually the same weight and was another dramatic upset.
After three straight UD wins – two over Fritzie Zivic that respectively drew 22 and 19,000 spectators and one over the great though fading Henry Armstrong – he lost his first title defence to Bob Montgomery. After winning two and losing one fight he would get his rematch for Montgomery’s title and win it back. He would fight three more times, winning two and drawing one, this time with former world champion, Sammy Angott before losing the title again in a rubber match to Montgomery. After 20 fights, including a win over Angott, he got a chance to challenge for the title again. This time it was not against Montgomery but Montgomery’s bitterest rival, Ike Williams.
Beau Jack was a classic swarmer and won audience admiration for his relentless style of fighting. He entered the fight with a record of 73–12–4 with one no decision. Swarmers are usually regarded as out-boxer’s biggest stylistic problem, but Williams was a hybrid who had knockout power.
The Fight City website writes:
“Going into the match, few gave Jack a serious chance of defeating champion Williams, one of the deadliest punchers around. Ike had already stampeded through the lightweight division, knocking everyone out including Bob Montgomery and Bobby Ruffin, boxers who had bested Jack in recent outings. Beau hadn’t made the lightweight limit in over four years and after all those wars with the likes of Montgomery, Ruffin, Tippy Larkin, Sammy Angott, Henry Armstrong, Fritzie Zivic and Johnny Bratton, people knew the best of Beau Jack had already come and gone, though his best performances would be long remembered. Heart and courage like Beau Jack’s remains a rare and splendid thing to see.”
Ike Williams versus Beau Jack World Lightweight Championship 12.07.1948
Round 1 – Jack stunned the audience and Williams when he came out aggressively at the beginning of the round, striking with jab after jab and pushing his opponent back. Williams was forced to clinch several times and Jack showed that he wanted to fight on, keeping an under-hook in and pummelling away to the face with rights. Williams looked to take charge from the outside, connecting once with a jab/overhand, but ended up clinching again as Jack pushed forward. They began to mix things up in the centre of the ring and Jack used a bolo punch style taunt with his rear hand raised high. Between clinches Jack dominated in the exchanges, landing clean jab, hooks and uppercuts whilst ducking under Williams’s jab.
Round 2 was missing from our footage, but according to Fight City “Towards the end of the second, Jack landed a series of cracking left hooks and then a huge right that stunned Williams, forcing him to clinch. At the end of the round Beau trapped Williams on the ropes before landing another big right.”
Round 3 – Beau Jack used a lead posting jab or pawing jab to bridge the fight and stifle Williams’s stiff single jabs. Williams looked to circle out and angle off on his opponent, the latter being a common tactic used against swarmers. We could see he was beginning to get a feel for Jack’s style. Using methods akin to Bolano’s, he also began using the lead uppercut on the back-foot and began managing the edge of range, prompting misses from Jack. Still Jack ate up the distance, wading in with punches until he occupied the mid and close ranges that inevitably ended up in clinches. They began some regular exchanges to the body. After they separated, both fighters continued the competing strategies typical of their styles: Beau Jack waded forward with hooks, uppercuts and overhands whilst Williams stiff armed to set up long-range punches. Finally, we saw evidence of Williams punches doing their damage and Beau Jack began to take on a more shelled crouched posture. From here he regained his composure and again began tearing out long range hooks from both hands to the head and body that he used to propel him forward into his preferred range.
There was no footage of round 4 but apparently it was scored evenly. However, it was also reported that this was round when Williams was beginning to time his opponent’s punches and catching him on the way in.
Round 5 – The round began with Beau Jack continuing to swarm the champion, but now Williams was wise to what was happening and agreed to fight at Jack’s preferred distance. This is the way it was going to stay for the majority of the round. Jack, now having established the playing field they would fight from, began to eat hard lefts and rights from Williams. He was still wailing down as the bell went but he was now hurt.
Round 6 – Williams now entered visibly stronger. His close range punches in the previous round had found their mark. Beau Jack was fading. He moved forward with his shoulder up defensively and Williams threw his first jab. It landed and Jack dipped straight into several lead shove hooks. Williams smelt blood. With no reply, he followed them up with power shots pushing Jack into the ropes and letting rip with hooks to the body and head. Jack covered and then fled from the ropes with Williams in hot pursuit. Jack hit the corner with his guard down only for Williams to pour on punch after unanswered punch. The referee was close but in a moment of total incompetence did nothing to stop the fight. Williams even famously paused to look at him as if to say “Stop the fight” or “Do you want me to keep punching this guy?” With no response from the referee, the fight was technically still on and Williams resumed punching. Finally the referee dived in between the
The scorecards revealed referee Charley Daggert giving each fighter two rounds apiece and one even before the sixth round. Judge Frank Knarsborough scored it 3-2 in favour of Williams and Judge Harry Lasky had it 3-2 to Jack, proving how close it had been.
This would be the last time Jack fought for any title, but perhaps the early rounds of the match would inspire promoters to set up a rematch that neither man could refuse. They fought three more times, once in a non-title 10 rounder whilst Williams was still champion in 1951 and then twice more at the end of both their careers. The first rematch was unanimous decision to Williams, the third rematch was a draw and the final match finished both their respective careers on 12th August 1955 with Williams stopping Jack in round eight.
It was said that Beau Jack, despite headlining Madison Square Gardens more than any other fighter in history, was ruthlessly fleeced by his managers during his career. He retired with 83 wins, with 40 knockouts, 24 losses and five draws. With little money, he ran a drive-in barbecue stand and operated a small farm in Augusta Georgia. He also found some work training fighters at Miami’s Fifth Street Gym. He had a wife, Josephine, and seven children to support, and soon faced poverty. His last recorded job was back to shoe-shining where he worked for Miami Beach’s Fontainebleau Hotel. He died in 2000 aged 78, in a Miami nursing home suffering from Parkinson Disease.
Ike Williams remained the World Lightweight Champion until 1951, one of the longest reins in boxing history. He also had problems with managers, but his biggest obstacle came via the mob that had a strong influence over boxing during his era.
By the 1940s the mob had taken a firm hold of the sport thanks to Murder Inc.’s former hitman, Paul John “Frankie” Carbo, often known as “The Grey Man”, who was ably backed up by another notorious hitman, Frank “Blinky” Palermo. Carbo now represented the Lucchese Crime Family and Palermo represented the Philadelphia Crime Family. Palermo’s nickname came from a reputation of being able to his victims in their eyes before killing them. Frankie Carbo was an almost mythic figure in organised crime. He had done time in Sing Sing prison for shooting a cab driver, but his main reputation came from being a member of Murder Inc., The Commission and National Crime Syndicate’s assassination arm. This is when it was rumoured (and later supported by the testimony of former Philadelphia mob boss Ralph Natale) that he was the triggerman who killed the notorious gangster (and also a former hitman from the same branch) Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel. Carbo was also suspected of killing bootlegger Mickey Duffy. In 1949 American sports businessman James D. Norris and entrepreneur Arthur M. Wirtz set up the International Boxing Club of New York to promote fights in Madison Square Gardens. The Senate Subcommittee on Antitrust and Monopoly in 1961 revealed the IBC had strong connections to the mob and Carbo’s wife had been employed as a secretary on an annual salary of $45,000.
Even when Carbo was put behind bars at Riker’s Island the late 1950s for undercover management of prizefighters and unlicensed matchmaking and Palermo was later convicted in 1962 for conspiracy and extortion against National Boxing Association Welterweight Champion Don Jordan, they continued to own the majority interests of and control the soon-to-be heavyweight champion of the world, Sonny Liston.
As we saw in the previous lesson, the likes of Jake LaMotta threw at least one fight and bought a chance for the title shot from the mob. Incidentally the mob’s man who LaMotta took the fall for in 1947, Billy “Blackjack” Fox, was soon left penniless by the mob.
Back to Ike Williams and it is rumoured that he carried Bolanos in their second match – the one reviewed in tonight’s lesson – but, for the most part, he appears to have been a fighter who did well to put off bribes and somehow live to tell the tale. In 1946 he parted ways with his chronic alcoholic manager, Conny McCarthy. Williams wanted to self-manage but risked getting blacklisted by the Manager’s Guild. He was forced to take Palermo as his manager.
When testifying before the subcommittee in 1961, he claimed that he was bled dry by the mob and was now broke working for $46 a week despite winning over $1million in purses from his fights. Apparently he was owed $32,500 and $32,400 for two of his fights, one tonight’s reviewed match against Beau Jack in 1948 and the other was the championship defence immediately afterwards against Jesse Flores. He apparently gave his earnings from these fights to the boxing association, presumably the International Boxing Club, to temporarily hold them for tax purposes. However, when he asked for them his shares of the profits had been taken by Palermo who had “fallen on hard times” yet Williams still had to the outstanding taxes.
He said that Palermo was offered $30,000 for Williams to throw the championship fight in favour of challenger Freddy Dawson. Williams contacted the media and reckons knowledge of this stopped the judges from unfairly swaying the verdict to Dawson who lost by unanimous decision. Williams was fined $500 for talking to the media. His two losses against the natural welterweight Kid Galivan were by majority and unanimous decision respectively. Williams says he was offered $100,000 to throw the match, refereed by Jack Dempsey, but he declined the offer but later wished he had taken it. Many, including Sugar Ray Robinson, believed Williams was robbed of the first decision. He said he was also offered a bribe to throw his fight against Jimmy Carter in 1951 and wished he hadn’t declined it as Carter knocked him out in the fourteenth round.
Maybe this was on his mind in 1952 when Williams admits to taking a dive in the fifth round against Chuck Davey. By this stage, Williams had lost two and won one match since losing the championship.