Corruption has always been an aspect of professional boxing, in varying degrees. As one Hall of Famer described it: “Boxing is contemporary corruption. As long as there is greed there will always be boxing.”
Fight fix suspicions, protecting and manufacturing certain boxers have decorated the sport’s intrigue since its earliest days. The great author Budd Schulberg even wrote a novel in 1947 titled “The Harder They Fall” which was about a boxer whose fights are controled. The book was later developed into a popular film of the same title in 1956.
Perhaps the most obvious example of boxing corruption that comes to mind is Jake Lamotta’s fight against Billy Fox where LaMotta later admitted he lost the fight on purpose, to secure a future world title shot. Lamotta disclosed to me in an interview in 2011 why he did what he had to do: “I had to throw a fight to get a title shot. Nobody wanted to fight me. They guaranteed me a shot to fight for the title if I threw a fight. I would never have done that but I was uncrowned champ for five years. I couldn’t get a shot at the title. Then when I got a shot at the title I had to pay $20,000 under the table to get it,” the Raging Bull revealed.
Another example of a fighter whose legacy has endured whispers and allegations of fight fixing is the former Heavyweight champion Primo Carnera. Carnera was a muscular giant of a man who stood 6-7 but he did not have a powerful punch or supreme technical skills. He had heart, desire, stamina, courage, good techniques…and he had the right management. Carnera won the title by stopping Jack Sharkey with an uppercut, according to the history books, but many ringsiders don’t believe the punch actually landed. There was rampant speculation that the fight outcome was a mob fix and Sharkey had thrown the fight.
Carnera later fought Max Baer and was floored 11 times before being stopped in the 11th round.
Carnera’s manager was a man named Lou Soresi, who was supposedly linked to the underworld, consequently, it was generally suspected that many of Carnera’s fights were controled events.
Carnera became a very popular cultural figure who had success in making Hollywood films, such as “Mighty Joe Young” while also performing in professional wrestling.
Carnera became a leading draw in the grappling sport and had 187 pro wrestling matches.
It was said in press releases during Carnera’s prime years that for breakfast he would consume 19 pieces of toast, 14 eggs, a quart of orange juice and two quarts of milk. Carnera recorded 72 knockouts in his boxing career but if you look at the films of his fights, there was not much special about his athleticism or fighting prowess.
Another boxer who had a fraudulent aspect about his career was the former Pro Bowl NFL New York Jets defensive lineman Mark Gastineau. At the age of 35, Gastineau decided to try pro boxing in 1991. His first fight was a first round KO win over a pro wrestler named Derrick Dukes, who later admitted he took a dive.
The television news program “60 Minutes” did a segment on Gastineau’s boxing career and interviewed several of his opponents who spoke on the record about being told to take dives to make Gastineau “look good.”
Gastineau showed marginal skills and kept at the art of pugilism for five years before calling it quits in 1996. His last fight was a loss to another NFL player turned boxer, Alonzo Highsmith. Gastineau’s final ring record was 15-2.
One of the more curious and suspicious evenings in modern boxing history was the Mike Tyson-Bruce Seldon WBA Heavyweight title fight at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas in 1996. Mike Tyson, at that point, was a shell of his prime self, the once mighty “Iron” Mike Tyson of 1985-1988. But Tyson was still a massive figure to be exploited and after the jail stint in Ohio, there was a significant audience who still wanted to be entertained in watching Mike Tyson once again terrorize the heavyweight division. Don King controled Tyson for most of the 1990′s and the wily promoter knew how to maximize Tyson’s career despite the fact Tyson no longer unleashed venomous combinations with the same pinpoint accuracy or ferocity.
To maintain public interest, the illusion needed to be created that Tyson could still execute devastating knockout victories. And that’s what Tyson was supposed to do with the hulking but weak-chinned Seldon. But a funny thing happened – Seldon went down in the first round – eventhough Tyson’s fearsome punches did not appear to actually connect, or connect cleanly. Outraged ticket-buying fans in the arena were not convinced of the authenticity of the “knockout” and shouts of “Fix! Fix! Fix!” echoed throughout the arena.
Seldon, in the prime of his career, retired after the Tyson fight – which had earned him, by far, the largest payday of his career.
Was Tyson-Seldon indeed a fix? We’ll never know for sure. But the motives were certainly there. And some of the visual evidence is hard to refute.
Another heavyweight boxer who had a curious career was the former Dallas Cowboy Pro Bowl defensive lineman Ed “Too Tall” Jones. The 6-foot-8 Jones decided to take up pro boxing in 1979 at the prime age of 28. His first fight was televised by CBS and it was against a Mexican trialhorse named Yaqui Menesis in November 1979. I saw this fight live on TV and Jones’ handlers either overestimated their man’s talents or underestimated Menesis because it was a very competitive, hard-fought, exciting duel. Menesis decked Jones but ended up losing a majority decision over six rounds. Jones, despite enormous height and reach advantages, struggled with Menesis and was very fortunate to get the win.
Jones would have a total of six pro fights, all broadcast nationally by CBS. He won them all (6-0, 5 KO’s) but decided to quit boxing and return to the NFL gridiron in 1980.
Antonio Margarito coined the nickname “Fraud Gayweather” for WBC 147 champ Floyd Mayweather Jr. back in 2006. Margarito, the WBO champ, tried everything to schedule a unification showdown with Mayweather, even offering to accept the short end of a 90-10% purse split, with promoter Bob Arum offering Mayweather a guaranteed $8 million plus pay-per-view upside.
But Mayweather rejected three separate Arum offers to fight Margarito in 2006. Margarito even tried confronting Mayweather at a Vegas press conference with a videographer to document the confrontation but Mayweather slicked his way out of the situation by nervously promising Margarito that he would fight him in the future when it made better business sense. Of course it was just lip service by Mayweather, who never did step into a boxing ring with Margarito.
Years later another boxing manager based on the east coast told me that Mayweather’s advisor Al Haymon revealed to him that the reason he would never allow Margarito to fight Mayweather was because the Mexican was “too big, too strong, and just never stops coming.”
Of course, Mayweather later ducked and dodged the unbeaten Miguel Cotto in 2008 and Manny Pacquiao from 2010-2012.
None of these welterweight superfights ever happened, despite Mayweather’s public proclamations that he wanted to give the fans the best fights possible, you can only be the best by beating the best, and that he could whoop anyone “from 154 on down.”
Tony Mandarich was a muscular 6-foot-6, 311 pound offensive lineman from Michigan State who was selected as the #2 overall pick in the 1989 NFL Draft by the Green Bay Packers. Before starting his NFL career, Mandarich seriously considered a career in the ring, even working out with trainer Lou Duva, who was so impressed by the athleticism, strength and speed of the gigantic Mandarich that the Hall of Fame trainer claimed on the David Letterman TV Show that the Ontario, Canada native had the talent and potential to be world heavyweight champion someday. Mandarich himself said on the Letterman Show, “I want to fight Tyson,” the dominant world champion at the time.
But Mandarich never had a pro fight and his disappointing pro football career was plagued by steroid allegations and injury. Mandarich played two years with Green Bay (1989-1991) then missed five years before playing for the Colts (1996-1998).
These are just a few examples of some of the fraud characters who so colorfully liven the landscape of the most mysterious and fascinating of all sports, professional boxing.
Topics: Budd Schulberg, Former Heavyweight Champion, Frauds, Future World, Heart Desire, History Books, Intrigue, Jack Sharkey, Jake Lamotta, Max Baer, Primo Carnera, Professional Boxing, Raging Bull, Rampant Speculation, Right Management, Stamina, Stood 6, Suspicions, Uppercut, Whispers