Gentlemen & Gangsters (diary entry)


Wednesday saw two historic bouts from the welterweight and heavyweight divisions. The first was the hastily arranged rematch between Carmen Basilio and Johnny Saxton and the second saw Archie Moore make a second attempt at the heavyweight title against newcomer Floyd Patterson.

Johnny Saxton versus Carmen Basilio Undisputed World Welterweight Championship 12.09.1956

Carmen Basilio wasn’t going to leave much to chance and decided on an even more aggressive strategy than before, looking to cut off Saxton and inflict a stoppage. Swarmers typically have shorter careers than other stylists due to the high risk of damage they endure and, with a determination to regain his title, Basilio clearly wasn’t going to risk getting injured before he next fought Saxton. Therefore, he fought no one before facing Saxton again for the title. He didn’t feel he needed a tune up or warm-up, as far as he was concerned he was going to reclaim his property. The previous fight had been very controversial with many citing Blinky Palermo’s influence over the decision. In fact, contemporary reports cite their match as the true catalyst for the Senate hearing and investigation into prize-fighting. Basilio had described his loss as “It was like being robbed in a dark alley.” Meanwhile, Johnny Saxton had been far busier with non-title matches in the interim. He had begun with a last round knockout of Gil Turner followed by a unanimous decision over Barry Allison and a majority win over Don Williams.

The fight was held at the War Memorial Auditorium, Syracuse, New York. With the previous bout being held in Chicago, home of the Outfit or South Side Gang, New York, seemed a little like going from bad to worse as far as judge interference was concerned. In fact, Palermo’s partner in the International Boxing Club, Frankie Carbo, was from the Lucchese family, one of the infamous Five Families that ran the New York scene.

Basilio came in at 146 1/4 lbs and Saxton at 145 3/4. Saxton had a four inch range advantage. The match was judged using the round system with points as a supplementary factor in order to reduce the chances of a draw.

Round 1 – Interestingly it was Johnny Saxton who first showed signs of changing his strategy. He fully engaged with Basilio early on, clinching and trapping Basilio’s rushes.  Early on Saxton landed a right and Basilio even looked over to his corner presumably for advice on his opponent’s sudden change of style. Basilio landed his own right and went to the body. Saxton was the most aggressive we had seen him and probably took this first round. The challenger returned to his corner with blood trickling from his nose.

Round 2 – Saxton continued his close-quarter attacking and maintained the pressure. Basilio worked way with his famous hooks digging into his opponent’s body and let fly with an uppercut that glanced off the chest. A few short jarring uppercuts found Saxton’s jaw. Basilio wove in and began to edge it over the champion, more of his punches now landed.

Round 3 – Basilio met Saxton hard, driving his punches off his crouched posture. Saxton’s game and regular punches were now missing and Basilio rolled and hit his targets. At the one minute remaining mark Saxton moved to his more comfortable range where he could take advantage of his greater reach. A stinging left hook caught the champion’s ear. Then another hook stunned him. He fought back but his punches were wild.

Round 4 – Basilio was clearly getting the better of the close-range exchanges. Saxton continued to press them, but the challenger prevailed on all this back and forth rallies. After the one minute mark, the champion began mixing in his long range jabbing. However, towards the end of the round Basilio smashed through his opponent’s defence and pummelled Saxton against the ropes, sending punches upstairs and downstairs. The bell rang but not even the referee heard it and Saxton continued to take punishment seconds after time had been called.

Round 5 – Saxton, although remaining aggressive, began to more readily work from the outside. Basilio continued to work Saxton’s body and hit him with a hard spleen shot.

Round 6 – Saxton started out in his usual out-boxing counter-punching style, using his jab and picking shots. It was quite evident Basilio had won most of the rounds when Saxton had been pressing the fight. However, the champion was now looking tired and Basilio looked like he had command of the fight. Saxton landed a check-hook but it did little to slow down The Onion Farmer.

Round 7 – Basilio landed a combination of uppercuts and hooks to the body and head during the opening seconds of the round. He was in again, stunning Saxton and cutting his mouth. Saxton tied up Basilio trying to muffle his enemy and tire him out. However, he wisely moved out as the challenger burrowed in with body shots. At the one minute mark, Saxton looked in trouble and Basilio continued to pursue him around the ring homing in on his damaged mouth.

Round 8 – Saxton’s corner and the referee hurried around the champion’s corner to see if the blood could be stemmed from his split lip. The cauterising appeared to work and Saxton moved out with a high right hand. He back-peddled out of range as Basilio continued to seek his moments to charge. Saxton worked the jab and coupled it with a few rights. Meanwhile Basilio continued his body attacks, dangerously moving up from them to the champion’s head. Saxton was beginning to miss at his preferred range now and Basilio tried to hedge him in, throwing his liver shot and left hook to the head.

Round 9 – Saxton really looked hurt now. Basilio worked in with his left to the clearly injured right side of Saxton. Saxton stayed at long range and fed a few ineffective jabs as his opponent moved forward. They circled and the crowd booed at Saxton’s reluctance to engage. Basilio moved in with a jab followed by that dangerous left hook to the head and then a chopping right that sent the champion stumbling back on his heels. Basilio swarmed in and Saxton sought to clinch. The hungry challenger was having none of it and his left hook found its mark again. Saxton moved out of the pocket but his back was against the ropes now. Basilio moved in on his quarry and went to the body again. The champion managed to circle out and attempted some check-hooks as Basilio calmly hunted him down. These punches missed by a mile. The challenger had his opponent against the ropes again and this time pinned him down, landing another stunning overhand right. Saxton stood and weathered the punishment, but it was clearly all over. The referee made the right decision in jumping to end the fight. Basilio was stopped Saxton at the 1:31 mark of this round.

This time referee Al Berl, Frank Forbes and Harold Barnes all ruled in favour of Basilio up to his knockout, having given the challenger seven of the eight rounds, allowing Saxton only one. For the second year running, Carmen Basilio was featured in Ring Magazine’s “Fight of the Year”.

Basilio was only too happy to grant Saxton a rubber match as soon as possible. Neither man fought anyone until their fight on 22nd February the following year. There is no easy to access footage of the bout, only a radio broadcast. This time Basilio came in as the 3-1 favourite. Both fighters came in at 147 lbs. However, in contrast to the previous fight, Saxton had been heavier than Basilio at the first weigh in and was forced to cut 3 oz. They fought The Cleveland Arena in Ohio. The radio broadcaster made an interesting point about the compulsory wearing of 8 oz gloves in welterweight championship bouts. Most other states still mandated 6 oz at championship level, but since Jimmy Doyle died from the injuries he sustained in his welterweight challenge of Sugar Ray Robinson at the Cleveland Arena, Ohio, in 1947, the authorities enforced a new ruling. We can’t forget the argument that padding gloves doesn’t decrease the risk of brain injury and, in fact, it may well increase the risk by preserving the fists more and increasing their weight at impact.

 At the opening of the first round Basilio caught Saxton with his signature left hook. Saxton replied with a double jab to Basilio’s chin. The champion bobbed and weaved, keeping the pressure on. It is unclear what tactic Saxton was going or if Basilio allowed him to fight outside. Saxton appears to be adopting a jab and clinch method, but before even the halfway mark of the first round Basilio was swarming all over Saxton. The challenger apparently landed a hard left hook to Basilio’s chin but this only served to open up his own defence as the champion threw a right to his body and again landed his lethal left hook to the head. Up against the ropes, it sounded like Saxton was valiantly fighting back landing a left and right to Basilio’s head in retaliation but he mainly try to tie his opponent up. However, there was no stopping Basilio as he worked the body relentlessly, rebounding up to an unprotected head at regular intervals. As the first round slipped away Saxton desperately tried to hang on as Basilio’s lefts and rights, including a crushing uppercut, caught the former champion on the jaw. This was repeated again as Saxton landed one or two punches to the multiple two-fisted attacks thrown by Basilio. The referee separated them on the bell as the challenger did his best to stay upright.

Round 2 saw a continuation of the previous onslaught. Saxton, clearly in bad condition, tried every trick in the book to survive. The punches he landed appeared to be lucky ones as Basilio charged him down, smelling blood. He drove Saxton to the neutral corner and pounded away, going to the body the moment Saxton covered his head. Saxton moved out of the corner but could not stay off the ropes as Basilio maintained his swarm. The commentator noted that this pace would not be sustained and clearly this was what Saxton was hoping would happen. However, the champion knew better. Saxton was hurt too badly and just wasn’t good enough. His retaliatory punches did nothing to dissuade the Onion Farmer’s forward pressure, as overhand and straight rights were coupled with regular left hooks to the body and head, here and there punctuated by stunning right uppercuts. Finally, a left hook to the body cut Saxton down and opened his head up for more punishment as he went down. He struggled to his feet but could not beat the count.  If the previous fight had made Basilio’s point about his ownership of the belt, the third one would drove it home. Basilio was the undisputed world welterweight champion and the mob would have to find another way to tie up this division.

The night Basilio won back his title can easily be seen as vindication for the game swarmer who had fought a hard and patient battle to get the title in the first place, fighting two decisive and bloody wars with the man who had first upseated Saxton, Tony DeMarco. However, Saxton is the bitter and tragic side of this tale. Like other mob controlled figures of the era, he would suffer once he had outlived his use. He lost three of his four remaining fights, two of these were technical knockouts. He retired with a record of 55-9-2.

Unlike other fighters controlled by Palermo, Saxton was noted to have remained loyal to his manager. When he first won the crown from Kid Gavilan, he told the press: “”Since my first professional fight in 1949 Frank Palermo has been my manager, friend, and adviser. He has been honest and trustworthy in every dealing we have had during my career. I now hold the welterweight championship of the world. I am going along with Palermo.”

Saxton retired from boxing in 1958 and immediately hit financial problems. He had all his property seized by the IRS and ended up penniless. He found work as a security guard and a boxing coach, but a hit-and-run accident left him severe damage to one leg. After being arrested for robbery and treated in a mental facility he told reporters of his time working as a boxer: “I was supposed to have got big money from fighting on TV, but I never saw it. No one ever gave me more than a couple of hundred dollars at a time.”

In the early 1990s, Saxton was found living in a New York City apartment with no electricity. Fortunately a friend was able to get him into a retirement home in Florida where he was diagnosed with pugilistic dementia. He died aged 78 on 4th October 2008.

In 1957 Basilio would now attempt what Kid Gavilan and Sugar Ray Robinson had tried to do: aim for the world middleweight title.

downloadFloyd Patterson versus Archie Moore Undisputed World Heavyweight Championship 30.11.1956

After successfully defending his light-heavyweight crown for the fifth time against Yolande Pompey, Archie Moore went back to his heavyweight campaign. Last year he had been the number one contender for the title. He knocked out James J. Parker and Roy Shire in rounds nine and three respectively.

After his technical knockout win over Willie Troy, Floyd Patterson stopped Don Grant in round five and Esau Ferdinand in round 10. He had been one of five contenders named by Jim Norris of the International Boxing Club who would fighting in tournament for the title vacated by Rocky Marciano in April. The others were Archie Moore, Tommy “Hurricane” Jackson, Bob Baker and Johnny Holmann. Besides Jackson, none of Patterson’s next nine opponents were part of this tournament. All but Jackson were stopped inside the distance, including the rising light heavyweight star, Yvon Durrelle. The tournament idea really wasn’t followed. Bob Baker had more than earned his right to fight with Patterson in a semi-final, having beaten John Holmann after a career that had seen an initial streak of 26 straight victories and later 13. Archie Moore had beaten him back in ’54, but that should not have reduced his chances. Baker had even been promised a shot a Marciano but it hadn’t materialised. Ultimately the fighter selection was more down to the aesthetics of TV viewership. The Holmann/Baker fighter had been very boring contest by most accounts of the time. Moore, with his own stylings inside the ring and ability to publicise a fight, would always be a draw and Patterson was a very exciting new prospect who, through his Cus D’Amato’s peek-a-boo teaching, had elevated swarming to a new technical level.  This would be classic old lion versus young lion with all the dramatic trimmings for a paying, gambling audience.

39 year-old Archie Moore came into the fight with a record of 160–20–8. 21 year-old Floyd Patterson was 30-1. If Moore won the title he would beat Jersey Joe Walcott’s record for being the oldest man to win the heavyweight title. If Patterson won the title he would beat Joe Louis’s record for being the youngest man to win the belt. Moore was the 5-6 favourite and later the 9-5 favourite. This was initially put down to his experience but later to the information that Patterson had fractured his right hand in his last contest with Jackson. Patterson’s training camp was set up at a local horse racing track called the Sportsman’s Park. He used the track to do his roadwork and sparred on the park’s luxurious grandstand. Cus D’Amato was an enemy of the International Boxing Club who ran this event and he feared they might poison his fighter. The trainer slept with his cot blocking the doorway of Patterson’s room.

According to Fight City:

“As it turned out D’Amato had reason to be suspicious; it was later revealed Moore had cut a backroom deal with the IBC, offering them exclusive rights on promoting the heavyweight title in exchange for a higher guarantee should he win. The deal went against the Illinois Athletic Commission’s regulations, which mandated that both men receive a thirty percent cut of the fight’s total revenue.”

According to BoxRec:

  • There was an announced crowd of 14,000.
  • The gross gate was $228,145 and the net was $187,585.
  • The TV-radio rights were $180,000.
  • Each fighter got 30 percent of $367,585.”

D’Amato was always a meticulous student of filmed fights. He made his fighters watch reels upon reels of previous champions and great fights. However, he was most astute about studying upcoming opponents and listening to the advice of old trainers. Dan Florio the man who had guided Jersey Joe Walcott, Tony Canzaneri and Gene Tunney to victory was also brought into the camp. The two trainers made Patterson repeatedly view Rocky Marciano’s defeat of Moore. Patterson immediately became wary of Moore devastating right hand. This punch had nearly cost Marciano his belt and apparently Floyd would become agitated every time he saw Moore land it in the second round. The Old Mongoose had countered with his right every time Marciano had led with his own. The strategy would be to set an even pace and to not peck away at Moore. They didn’t want Moore to set up his offence. Patterson was to keep Moore busy in close-quarter exchanges and then withdraw with a high, tight guard.

Moore weighed in at 188 lbs to Patterson’s 182 lbs. Both were natural light heavyweights. We know about Moore’s famous dieting to lose and gain mass in short periods of time, but Patterson had put on a remarkable 15 lbs in two years. Moore mounted his psychological warfare ahead of the fight, publicly stating that Patterson did not have a chance.

Round 1 –  Moore came out with his familiar style of goading his opponent to attack with a heavy punch so he could launch his counter. It worked for a while, but the peek-a-boo style afforded Patterson good protection against these counters. The bobbing and weaving peek-a-boo style confused Moore nevertheless his own shell did well to protect him from Patterson’s double-fisted hook attacks. Patterson, often regarded as having the fastest in hands in the history of the heavyweight division, put them to good use early on as he overcame Moore’s attempts to bait him into a knockout trap.

Round 2 – Both fighters came out a little more loose. Moore took the to the outside. Patterson displayed his tremendous speed with his left, firing to the head and body in one burst. At the half-way mark of this round, Patterson drove more into the ropes with his swarming attack. After being separated he risked his first gazelle and did not lose out even if Moore successfully covered. In an interesting style comparison the two regularly butted up shoulder to shoulder, Moore in his cross-arm defence and Patterson in his peek-a-boo guard. However, Patterson was far more active and began landing hard hooks to the body. By the end of the round, Patterson looked like he had gained control of the fight and Moore was looking tired.

Round 3 – This was one of the best rounds of the fight. It demonstrated the contrast and comparisons in styles very well. Moore took a more direct approach and began picking at Patterson’s guard. Unlike other swarmers, his opponent did not rush him but inches in bobby and weaving or, quite significantly, slipping from side to side. Moore began using lead uppercuts, possibly as a substitute for the rear uppercut counter used on most swarmers. D’Amato taught more slipping and straight ducking as his boxers moved in, which is a type of goading. Moore used a more traditional dipping and rolling or bobbing and weaving version to match his enigmatic opponent. Finally, Moore landed a right counter but it did little interrupt Patterson’s dogged approach. The younger fighter had also landed the most jabs up to this point. After being separated from a clinch, Patterson renewed his attack and backed Moore into the ropes. Closed in, the Old Mongoose put in a far better showing as the two tight guard closed shoulders, coming out with his own hooks to the body. They clinched again and were separated. The two now engaged in a tactical to and fro in the middle of the ring. Moore began to angle off now and threw downward angled straight shots off both hands whilst Patterson stuck to his style, slipping and ducking. Moore ducked in close and Patterson responded with short hooks to the side of the head. The round ended with evidence that had Patterson opened up a gash on Moore’s eyebrow.

Round 4 – The two began with a war for the centre of the ring. Initially Moore mounted the offence, but Patterson then took it back and stood his ground. Moore remained active and, keeping his right high, he began clipping Patterson with longer range hooks. The Gentleman of Boxing fought back again and a clinch ensued. Once parted, Patterson risked another gazelle punch. Moore shelled against it again and it was back to in-fighting. Using his lead uppercut, it began to look like the Mongoose was getting somewhere. He also caught Floyd with a jab at long range, which was possibly an example of understanding the rhythm of peek-a-boo. However, he was not accounting for Patterson’s conditioning and his constant speed. The younger fighter did not look tired from any other clinching and within the last 15 seconds he was just as energetic as he had been up to this point. By contrast, Moore looked tired as he moved his stool at the conclusion of the round.

Round 5 –  Commentating on the fight retrospectively, Rocky Marciano said he believed Moore was thinking that Patterson was going to coast this round and it might be his opportunity to land his big shots. After missing with a big haymaker, the two fighters became momentarily cagey. Patterson simply would not open up when Moore leant forward, having been disciplined to maintain a high guard at suc moments by his coaches. Moore broke the stalemate and appeared frustrated. Patterson’s initial jabs were deflected but seemed more controlled. Moore, the consummate technician, was missing with what would be considered wild shots for him. Finally a left hook to the body connected and Moore moved in, hoping to dominate with his superior weight. However, the resulting clinch was quickly separated and the two closed in again with Patterson peppering the veteran’s ribs with hooks. Moore moved out of danger, cross-arm guarded and weaved in only to come up with a pawing jab. Patterson fired a jab from a distance and Moore evaded it, closed in and missed with his own left hook. Patterson’s defence was proving to be a problem. After some shoulder leaning Patterson slipped but quickly got back to his feet. They circled one another. Moore’s threw another left hook to the head but this time Patterson just took it on the shoulder. He was closing in and sent out a stiff jab simultaneously as Moore. Neither did any apparent damage. Patterson slipped and ducked, his guard up high, ready to get set. He squatted low and threw everything into a picture perfect left hook that sent Moore almost face forwards to the canvas. The Old Mongoose got this feet but he was down on one knee after Patterson milled in briefly with two short punches. The hook had done all the damage. He was counted out although Moore claimed the referee stopped the bout. Patterson had knocked Moore out at 2:27 mark of the round.

Moore told reporters, “I’m all right. The referee shouldn’t have stopped it. I felt Floyd Patterson is a vastly improved fighter. He has potentialities of being a great fighter when he gets some experience. I felt confident I could beat him, but I also learned that youth can be too much. I came up the long hard road, but when I got there I found the door slammed shut.” Much later and in his autobiography, Moore would also say that the problems he was incurring from his blackmailer was weighing greatly on his mind.

Patterson told the press: “I knew that tonight I was opposed by one of the smartest boxers and sharpest punchers in the business, but I never had any doubt about what I could do to him…The turning point came in the third round. I landed a left in his stomach and I heard him say, ‘ugh’ — or something like that. I knew then I had hurt him and I knew I could beat him.” The press reminded him of Moore’s earlier taunts and wondered if they had bothered the new champion. Patterson said, “No, I really think that he said so much that he was worried himself. It gave me a world of confidence.”

After winning the title and making boxing history as the youngest man to win the heavyweight crown, Floyd Patterson was immediately shown a wire photograph of his wife Sandra holding his newly born daughter, Seneca. The baby had been born a few hours before the fight but his camp had conspired to keep the news from Floyd so he could keep his mind on the fight.