The Big Controversy & The Big Comeback (diary entry)


Kid Gavilan versus Johnny Saxton Undisputed World Welterweight Championship 20.10.1954

After failing to go up a division to win the Middleweight title from Bobo Olson, Kid Gavilan returned to defend his welterweight title against Johnny Saxton. This would be his ninth defence since uniting the three major versions of the title in a contest with reigning NBA champion Johnny Bratton, where the two vacant Ring and NYSAC versions were also put on the line in 1951. The contest had been postponed twice due Gavilan’s health. The first postponement had occurred due Gavilan injuring his right hand and the second time due to him contracting a virus and the mumps.

Johnny Saxton was born on 4th July 1930 in Newark, New Jersey. He learned how to box in a Brooklyn orphanage  and won 31 of his 33 amateur fights. He was twice a National AAU champion and won a Golden Gloves title before turning professional in 1949. He won all 37 of his first fights before drawing with Olympic contender and future world lightweight champion Wallace Bud Smith. He then defeated famed “Murderer’s Row” vanquisher, Charley Williams as well as Joe Miceli. This was followed by his first defeat, which came via a split decision to Gil Turner. Pegged as a contender he won five of his next seven fights, losing only to the impressive up and coming middleweight Del Flanagan and taking a draw against Johnny Lombardo. His second victory over Charley Williams, a win over future world middleweight champion, Joey Giardello, and his defeat of old Gavilan rival and former world welterweight champion Johnny Bratton, earned him a shot at the title.

The fight was held at the Convention Hall, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA. On the day of the fight an ugly rumour began to spread that it would be a fix and the initial 2 1/2 to 1 odds favouring Gavilan quickly turned to even money. The bookies quickly wiped the boards as they were flooded by Saxton money. 7,909 attendees resulted in a gate of $57,121.

Gavilan came out early with circling footwork and multiple jabs. Saxton adopted a crouched stance but did not show any of the attributes of a swarmer unless you count clinching a lot. He came back with some of his own jabs but they lacked quality and quantity compared to the champion. Saxton always seemed to keep a very low lead hand when he guarded.

For the first half of the bout much of the action was stalled by a lot of clinching that appeared to be mainly coming from Saxton. Saxton did show sudden bursts of enthusiasm but Gavilan appeared to be running matters. The fight pretty much went this way for the first eight or so rounds – Gavilan doing most of the work and Saxton holding on. Towards the end of round eight Gavilan appeared to be frustrated and started throwing his signature bolo punch.

There was a rather bizarre moment towards the beginning of round eight after a tight clinch. The referee separated the two fighters and they watched each other from across the ring. Saxton had his hands straight down to his sides before re-engaging. Later in the round matters seemed to heat up a little. Gavilan tried to handle the clinches with a single underhook to set up his bolo punches.

Round nine was definitely livelier with Gavilan using lead uppercuts as well as bolo punches and more aggressive jabbing. Saxton looked like he was trying to go the body more with short hooks during the in-fighting. Saxton finished the round brimming with confidence with his hands in the air but it all looked like Gavilan was doing the work again.

400px-Gavilan-Saxton-U1070483Saxton seemed to show the most workrate he had done all night by lunging and charging in more. Despite some dabbing with his jabs his main work still remained short hooks to the body. Gavilan absorbed a lot of it for the first half of the round but came back strongly once it seemed that Saxton wanted to trade. It was relatively short-lived and the clinching resumed.

Round 11 was Saxton’s most active round and it would be fair to say he won this one. Most of the punching came from the challenger although it didn’t look particularly effective. Gavilan wasn’t very active. Saxton seemed less keen to clinch and even pushed Gavilan away.

Round 12 was the most exciting so far, but that wasn’t saying much. Saxton came out again exhibiting what looked like very unearned confidence as he paused, crouched and moved his head around. Gavilan was more selective with his punches but they landed well enough and he was clearly winning the exchanges. Despite Saxton’s early shoving and attempts to corner by the end of this round, Gavilan had him up against the ropes with a barrage of punches.

Although still not a particularly exciting exchange, Gavilan appeared to be bringing the fight in round 13. He caught Saxton with several uppercuts and bolo punches to the jaw and was clearly in charge.

Round 14 saw Saxton again seemingly bluffing as he threw in shuffles from the outside and brought in some dramatic head bobbing. However, his actual performance was all energy without any actual power. Gavilan continued to pound the challenger into the ropes, landing sharp hits the head and more damaging blows to the body as Saxton hung on.

The final round was a messy clash of styles with Gavilan landing most of the important shots.

20 out of 22 of those watching from ringside had Gavilan as the winner. Ring Magazine owner, Nat Fleischer said that referee Pantaleo was clearly biased and penalized Gavilan for holding when Saxton was clearly at fault. This was not the first time Gavilan had been mixed up in rumours of fight fixing. One of his opponents had apparently refused to take a dive against Gavilan for $100,000. Saxton, being managed by gangster Blinky Palermo, remained an unpopular fighter and his record had apparently been manipulated in a manner similar to Billy Fox (the man Jake LaMotta admitted taking a dive against). Kid Gavilan would never be given an opportunity to fight for a world title again.

After the Saxton bout, Gavilan appeared to have lost his drive and he headed on a steep career decline staying in the sport too long. Some of this might have been put down to the fact that he began losing his sight towards the end of his career in 1958. Of the 30 losses in his 143 fight career, 15 of them occurred after his loss to Saxton. He lost more than he won, only winning 10 during this period and drawing once. Gavilan’s career record was 108 wins, 30 losses and five draws. He remains one of the very few professional champions to retire without once being knocked out. During his career the Boxing Writers’ Association of America named him Boxer of the Year in 1953.

He became a Jehovah’s Witness after he retired from fighting and was jailed under the Castro regime for preaching. Despite anticipating a comfortable retirement in his native Cuba, he had his ranch confiscated by the government and was almost destitute when he returned to the US in 1968. Apparently he made a living selling sausages in Chicago during the early ’80s before moving to Miami, Florida. He was inducted into the Ring Magazine’s Hall of Fame in 1966 and after that disbanded was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990. He lived the last eight years of his life at an assisted living facility in Hialeah, Florida. He had become estranged from his family and began suffering from dementia. It was reported that he remained gracious to fans whenever they spoke to him about his glory days. Despite being blind, in 2001 Gavilan attended a testimonial evening in Miami and treated the audience to an impromptu display of shadow boxing ending with a perfectly executed bolo punch.  Ring Magazine ranked Gavilan as the 26th boxer of the last 80 years in 2002, just ahead of Larry Holmes and behind George Foreman. He died in Miami on 13th February 2003 of a heart attack. Being penniless, he was set to be buried in a pauper’s grave with a 10 inch bronze plaque. Two years after his death a group of boxing elite headed by Ray Mancini and Mike Tyson raised enough money to have Gavilan’s remains exhumed and placed in another part of the cemetery where he received a more dignified burial with a headstone that reads “Kid Gavilan, Welterweight Champion of the World”.

Jimmy Carter versus Paddy DeMarco World Lightweight Championship 17.11.1954

carter demarcoAfter defending his title against George Araujo, Jimmy Carter lost a non-title fight to Johnny Cunningham. He then won his next four contests including defending his title for the third time with a fifth round knockout over Armand Savoie. Carter had lost the previous match to Savoie on a split decision. His next fight was his fourth title defence where he lost the belt for the second time in his career. This time he was vanquished by the out-boxer Paddy “The Brooklyn Billygoat” DeMarco on a unanimous decision.

Paddy Demarco was born Pasquale DeMarco on 10th February 1928 in Brooklyn, New York. He turned professional in 1945 and won his first five contests before Butch Charles outpointed him. He won his next six and then lost on points to Gaby Ferland. He wouldn’t lose again until 1948 and his 35th fight. This was against the legendary Willie Pep. His next defeat would be his 47th fight, this time against Pep’s arch-nemesis, Sandy Saddler who gave him his first stoppage. He won his next seven fights and then lost to Teddy Davis on points, a man he had previously beaten. His next 12 fights were all victories, including avenging his loss to the great Sandy Saddler twice, although both were on split decisions. He then drew with Eddie Chavez who he had been outpointing but then lost points due to cutting him with a headbutt. His next 12 fights were somewhat chequered winning and losing in equal amounts. However, his standard of competition was high and included many of Jimmy Carter’s current rivals. With that in mind he earned his right to contend for the Lightweight crown and won a unanimous decision over the aforementioned Jimmy Carter on 5th March 1954. It was considered an upset win with DeMarco being the 4-1 underdog. He built up a lead in the early rounds against Carter with some effective close-range striking to the head and body, clearly winning the fight at the mid-way point. Carter had made a late comeback and taken the 14th round but it wasn’t enough.

A rematch between the two fighters was arranged. Carter won three fights before he faced DeMarco later that year. DeMarco did not fight anyone after winning the title until he made his first defence of it against Carter.

Round one started aggressively with both fighters clashing hard in the centre of the ring. DeMarco fired a lot of jabs that were miles off target, more as a means to move in close. Carter’s jabs were as accurate as ever, but the pair spent more time in close. This is where DeMarco had done most his damage before and Carter was wise to tie him up. This isn’t to say the round was stilted in anyway. The clinches were very brief with both fighters game to trade shots at mid-range.

We only watched the highlights of the fight, but according to the commentator DeMarco continued the momentum he set at the start to win rounds two through to five. Carter then rallied to take six through to eight.

In round nine Carter landed a powerful left hook in the ninth that floored DeMarco for a count of four. DeMarco was back on his feet and although he initially held on to clear his head, seemed undaunted by the knockdown within a couple of seconds. Nevertheless, another sharp left hook found its mark on the champion’s chin. DeMarco stood his ground and continued to trade until the bell rang. Carter edged ahead but his wins in rounds 10 to 13 were apparently very close.

carter demarco 2Carter knocked DeMarco down again in round 14 with a solid overhand right just before the bell. This had followed an exciting rally initiated by Carter who had been pressing the champion throughout the round. The challenger had finally landed a powerful right uppercut in the clinch and continued scoring, only to suddenly have DeMarco fight back strongly. Carter had then countered this counter-attack, punctuating it with the overhand. By round 15 DeMarco demonstrated impressive bravery and bounced out of his corner despite not having recovered much from the previous round. His cheek was apparently turning dark blue and his left eye was almost swollen shut. Carter didn’t believe the bluff and immediately swarmed in, catching DeMarco in the corner with a two-fisted assault. The referee stepped in and counted it as a knockdown. Carter then resumed his attack and, seeing the signs,  the referee stepped in when it was clear the champion could not defend himself. Jimmy Carter won by technical knockout in round 15 and joined a very rare number of boxers to win the same world championship three times.

Paddy DeMarco would never challenge for a title again but he had at least one memorable fight left in him when he fought top contender southpaw Kenny Lane in 1955. Described as a very awkward mix of styles, much of the fight was fought in the clinch with DeMarco repeatedly striking whilst holding and throwing in some obvious headbutts. DeMarco eventually retired in 1959, losing far more of his remaining fights than he won or drew. Paddy DeMarco’s career totalled 104 fights with 75 wins (8 by knockout, 26 losses, and 3 draws). He died on 13th December 1997 in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Jimmy Carter would fight three more non-title matches, winning two and drawing once with top welterweight contender, Tony DeMarco who would next face Johnny Saxton in 1955. That year would also see Carter put his lightweight title on the line against a previous opponent: Wallace Bud Smith.


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