Settling and Starting Controversies (diary entry)


Wednesday’s second lesson was “Learn from the Fight” where we examined two fights in 1953 and 1954. The first saw Rocky Marciano make his second title defence, this time against old rival Roland LaStarza. The second saw the amazing former World Featherweight champion Willie Pep in one of his most controversial fights with Lulu Perez.

275753633_10160265973823804_1081675824598740534_nRocky Marciano versus Roland LaStarza Undisputed World Heavyweight Championship 24.09.1953

Roland LaStarza was born on 12 May 1927 in the Van Section (that is the East Side) of the Bronx. He turned professional on 7th July 1947 and won 37 of his first fights. His first loss came on 24th March 1950 when he was put up against Rocky Marciano. LaStarza lost on a split decision, the first on Marciano’s record and the third person up to that point who gone the distance with him. The decision, which saw the referee scoring the bout a draw and the two judges split, was decided by a supplemental point system sanctioned only by New York and Massachusetts at the time. LaStarza contented to the New York Daily Herald:

“The fact is his manager Al Weill was matchmaker for the Garden. I would say that had a lot to do with the decision.”

It was a view supported by one of the paper’s journalists who called the decision, “paper thin and exceedingly odd”. They said that the decision was condemned around ringside and described as a miscarriage of justice.

However, the Associated Press gave a much different view that heavily favoured the decision going Marciano’s way:

“Rocky, a short-armed, slope-shouldered battler won the fight with a sensational punching display in the fourth round when he floored LaStarza. A low blow In the eighth round cost the free swinging Rocky a clear-cut triumph. He belted handsome Rollie all over the lot in the frame and hurt him with another one of his vicious rights to the jaw.”

This particular controversy was very much on Marciano’s mind and both he and LaStarza were eager to meet again. LaStarza won his next 10 fights via a mixture of knockouts and unanimous decisions before taking his second loss, a unanimous decision, this time to Dan Bucceroni. He would avenge this loss four fights later with his own unanimous decision but would then suffer his third loss to Rocky Jones via another unanimous decision. Again, he beat his vanquisher in a rematch before winning by split decision over Rex Layne. His victory over Layne was an elimination match that gave him the much wanted shot for the world title and a rematch against the one boxer he hadn’t beaten.

Roland LaStarza matched Marciano’s 185lbs and stood at 6’. His reach isn’t recorded anywhere that is easy to access. With a knockout percentage of 41 he was a technical out-boxer not far off becoming a boxer-puncher. His end of career record was 57-9-0 with 27 of his wins coming via KO and only two of his losses coming that way. He mainly won by points or unanimous decision, very rarely winning by split decision.

The fight was held at the Polo Grounds in New York, where a crowd of 44,562 produced a gate $435,817. Marciano earned 42½ of this revenue, gaining $185,000 and LaStarza got 17½ percent earning $65,000. The event was shown via theatre television on 45 theatres in 34 cities in America, blacking out New York with the nearest telecast being 50 miles away at a Commack, Long Island drive-in. Meanwhile Chicago saw 12,381 people paying a total of $46,108 to sit in four movie houses. Los Angeles received 7,000 fans via three theatres but had to refund 1,830 when the picture tube blew out prior to the fight starting. New Orleans made history as the city held its first televised event at the Saenger Theatre where 3,000 spectators watched the fight.

Round 1 – LaStarza used a high staggered guard, an almost exaggerated conventional boxing guard or even a type of muay Thai guard. His lead hand was very active, demonstrating a circling defence. As Marciano bulled in, LaStarza showed great poise and style in keeping him off. He tied him up to muffle the swarming and then shifted to the outside in order to pick his shots. These shots included some clean combination work. LaStarza did a great job at managing Marciano and won the first round.

Round 2 – Again Marciano propelled forward at LaStarza who did well manoeuvre out of the way or steer Marciano. However, here and there the Brocton Blockbuster pressed and bullied the challenger into the ropes. Despite a better showing from Marciano most would have given this round to LaStarza.

Round 3 – Another better round for Marciano who was landing more with his left hook and pressing the fight. However, LaStanza inched it again with his sharp counter-punching, fluid footwork and general handling of Marciano in the clinch.

Round 4 – This round was very close and looked very even. Marciano landed more punches but LaStarza never looked too bothered and landed plenty as well. It seemed a fair exchange of swarming and out-boxing strategies.

Round 5 – Marciano showed more urgency this time and leapt in with a powerful right. LaStarza went to the body when they clinched early on. He backed off firing jabs but Marciano looked more confident batting past them. However, once they clinched it was LaStarza who started digging in with hard uppercuts to the body. This pattern repeated a few times with LaStarza catching Marciano with a few left/right hooks to the face and worked the jab more effectively. Meanwhile, Marciano scored back with his left hook. However, every time he attempted one of his patented charges he was tied up and pummelled. LaStarza narrowly took this close round.

Round 6 – There was quite a lot of clinching at the beginning, which I put down to Marciano’s frustration and LaStarza’s spoiling. I also noticed some good angling off by LaStarza at mid and long range. Marciano began executing strong head movements, rolling from side to side as much to pen. Just ahead of the bell Marciano’s left hook found its mark, but on the whole this was LaStarza’s round again as he nimbly avoided most of his opponent’s punches and landed plenty of his own.

According to the Associated Press, Marciano had seemed over eager in his swarming style up to this point. They said “He lunged, butted, hit below the belt, on the break and after the bell. Once, he swung so wildly that he missed and slipped clumsily to the canvas. Out-boxing the champion and avoiding his blows, LaStarza managed to win four of the first six rounds.”

Round 7 – Trailing on points and clearly not getting very far with the head shots, Marciano changed tactics. He now aimed to work on LaStarza’s body. The round began with an energetic exchange rather than any wrestling. LaStarza did well to angle off, but Marciano now looked more in control. A with the previous round, there were rare examples of the Brockton Blockbuster’s jab although he did still try for his Suzi-Q punch. He seemed to get into his rhythm now and began bullying the challenger around the ring.

Round 8 – Marciano kept the momentum and pace up from the previous round, using more head movement to throw in shots from different angles. La Starza’s high guard began showing some weakness as Marciano upped his volume of liver and spleen shots. He also began to wise up on the clinching and move out of it or to a point where the referee had to separate them.

Round 9 – La Starza tried to angle off but this time Marciano began doing a much job at cornering him on the ropes where his two-fisted assaults began. The champion routinely threw his Suzi-Q to back up the challenger and then, a la Jersey Joe Walcott, dug in the shovel hook to the liver. The body shots became more evident now as Marciano started ripping in with hooks. Although his head shots were not ruses, he was clearly aiming for the body on an increasingly regular basis. LaStarza did well to manoeuvre off the ropes but just barely.

Round 10 – Marciano overbalances at one point and toppled over completely. Otherwise, he was on top form pressing the fight now. His head movement enabled him to close in more effectively as he continued his attacks downstairs. Some powerful head shots were also beginning to get through. He appeared more flat-footed and was clearly tiring.

Round 11 – LaStarza backed off, clearly still in the fight but no longer angling off nearly as deftly. The body shots had taken their toll and Marciano began testing with the head shots. Backing the challenger onto the ropes, the Brockton Blockbuster’s overhand right sent his opponent reeling back into the ropes. He just skimmed with an uppercut before a left hook/right uppercut combination sent LaStarza through the ropes. The challenger stepped back through and was able to re-join the fight but the writing was on the wall. Marciano smelt blood and swarmed in with a relentless barrage of lefts and rights coming in at all angles. LaStarza was forced back onto the ropes in short time and did his best evade them but he was out of the fight by now and the referee wisely stepped in when the challenger did not answer any of Marciano’s bombs.

Roland LaStarza would lose his next three fights win two more, lose again, win two more again and then lose his final fight in 1961. As can be seen, these fights weren’t very regular for the time and it would appear his loss to Marciano probably took a toll on his confidence. None of the fights put him near the contender position and he would never fight for another title. LaStarza pursued acting. His most successful role was as regular member of the cast of The Gallent Men, a World War 2 drama series that ran from 1962-63. He landed this role one year after his last fight. He then later landed guest apperances in Perry Mason, 77 Sunset Strip, The Wild Wild West and twice appeard in the 1960s Batman. He was also a minor supporting actor in the Lee Marvin thriller Point Blank and the Robert Duvall thriller The Outfit.


275563829_10160265973908804_7025201416285223908_nWillie Pep versus Lulu Perez 26.02.1954

After Willie Pep’s fourth and final world championship fight with Sandy Saddler in 1951 ended with Pep retiring (despite being ahead on the score cards) because of pain from his right eye (it was one of the dirtiest fights in professional gloved boxing history), Pep did not fight again until April 1952. He fought 12 fights that year, winning 11 and losing one to Tommy Collins (his fifth professional loss) who stopped him in round six. In 1953 he won all 11 bouts, entering 1954 with a 17 unbroken string of victories. He added one more to this list in January when he won a unanimous decision over Davey Seabrook before fighting Lulu Perez. As was often the case with Pep the vast majority of his victories they went the distance and were unanimous decision with the odd stoppage and even rarer split decision. It was clear that Pep was still on top form and was ranked as the number one featherweight contender. This was to be his 190th professional fight and he entered the ring with a record of 183-5-1, weighing 127lbs aged 31 but Pep remembers that he was 32 when recalling the fight.

Lulu Perez was born on 25th April 1933 and was a native of Brooklyn, New York. There is very little information available on fighter other than Pep claimed him to be a slugger or “a big right hand fighter” although his all-time knockout rate is only 26.7%.

Perez was 5’5” and also weighed 127lbs prior to the fight and was just 20 years old. This was his 31st bout with a record of 28-2-0. He was ranked fourth and was the 6-5 favourite on the afternoon of the fight. However, it should be noted, that just before the start of the fight Perez became the 3½-1 favourite and others had the taken the fight “off the boards”, meaning no more bets were taken. The fight took place at Madison Square Garden.

Straight into the first round Pep lunged in on Perez and began pummelling him with jabs. They clinched a couple of times with Perez trying to work his right uppercuts to no real effect. Moving to the long range, Perez continued to miss with his attempted combinations. Pep beat him to the jab. Perez caught Pep with a left hook and then Pep moved out and peppered in double jabs. Pep slipped Perez’s jab and caught him with his own before moving around. He landed a liver shot and then moved to edge of range. He feinted and drew Perez out. Here and there Perez tried to land jabs and left hooks, but he only seemed to catch Pep with counter-punches. The round ended with some trademark Pep footwork as he switched angles to safety.

In round 2 Pep began with work more at the mid-range. He moved in and out, slipping Perez’s jabs and bothering his opponent with flicker jabs. It was on one of these two and fro attacks that Perez landed a big right that sent Pep down. Pep was up in little time and moved back into the dangerous range apparently keen to trade again. He stiff-armed his opponent a few times but allowed Perez to bang away with two-fisted assaults. Pep then began landing fast jabs that created distance. However, rather maintain the fight from this range where he often won, he ventured in again and a sharp right uppercut from Perez clearly stung him. He began to back-peddle with Perez throwing lead hooks in pursuit. As they reached mid-range again a sharp one-two knocked Pep down again. Pep sat up and dramatically shook his head. He rose but this time Perez did not need further encouragement. He was on his opponent throwing lefts and rights in succession. Finally, he tracked him down to the ropes. Pep blocked a left hook but was sent facedown to the canvas off a short overhand right.

275783551_10160265973893804_3659628740009690523_nThe fight had a three-knockdown rule, which meant that it would end if a fighter was knocked down three times in one round. To date none of the major boxing authorities recognise this rule, but the states of Arizona, Connecticut, Florida, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas all have the rule in effect. This is the first time in the history of these lessons we have watched a fight where this rule has come into effect. Like the standing eight-count, this is a rule governed by different state jurisdictions.

Perez would go on to knockout Tommy Collins, the man who had handed Pep his stoppage loss two years ago. He would then get knocked out by Sandy Saddler in 1955. He would retire in 1958 with a record of 39 wins (15 by KO) 15 losses and two draws.

Speaking of the fight, Pep conceded that when in his 30s he couldn’t take the punches he used to be able to endure. He was examined immediately after the fight by Dr Vincent Nardiello, the chief medical officer for the New York Athletic Commission. Pep said, “Anyway, the doctor looks up my nose and says, ‘Kid, your reflexes are gone. It would be dangerous for you to fight again.’ I never thought my nose had anything to do with my reflexes; maybe they weren’t what they used to be (my reflexes, that is) but they weren’t gone, and certainly not up my nose. It didn’t sound like medical advice but more like sour grapes for my poor showing against Perez. I had heard that he had a good bit of money on me.”

Nardiello declared publically, “Willie can’t take a punch anymore. I won’t pass him in a physical.” Subsequently Pep was suspended indefinitely by the NYSAC. According to BoxRec, “Dr. Ira McCown, medical director of the commission, said he and Dr. Mal Stevens, head of the medical advisory board to the commission, recommended the suspension because Pep’s actions in the Perez fight showed ‘Pep was unable to defend himself and his reflexes had slowed perceptibly.’ Massachusetts and the National Boxing Association concurred in the suspension. In February 1955, the NBA lifted the suspension after physicians in Boston found Pep fit to resume boxing.” Pep would go on to fight 51 more times, losing only five, but would never box in New York State again. However, in later life, he would suffer the effects of Dementia Pugilista.

In July 1980 “Inside Sports” magazine Paul Good wrote an article called “The Fix”. He wrote that a fighter he called “The Champ” threw a fight against Lulu Perez in 1954 for $16,000. Willie Pep, who strenuously denied the allegation, filed a $75 million libel suit against Good and Newsweek Inc., who owned “Inside Sports”. After a two-week trial in February 1984 the jury took just 15 minutes to rule against Pep.




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