The lightweight division, the one in which there is more action in the ring than in the hearing rooms of boxing commissions, has a modest surplus of legitimate contenders for the title. One of these worthy opponents, ranked No. 3 by the National Boxing Association, gets a proper chance at the championship in Washington, D.C. next week.
This No. 3 contender is Paolo Rosi, a balding bleeder in his 30s, a naturalized Italian who has proudly named one of his sons Dwight (for Ike) and the other Kenneth because it is so American. Paolo is essentially a club fighter, grotesque in style but remarkably effective against prettier men. On the night of June 3 he will be up against one of the prettier and prosier-named champions, Joe Brown, in one of the more attractive of TV's Wednesday Night Fights.
Joe has been a fighting champion, as the term is measured in these days of high taxes that generally make it unprofitable for a titleholder to risk his championship more than a couple of times a year. This will be Brown's seventh defense in little more than two years, and his 100th professional fight in 13 years of campaigning. Before that he was the Navy's lightweight champion during World War II, winning 16 fights between seven landings in the Pacific.
In contrast to Rosi, who is principally a slugger and taker, Brown is in the tradition of the truly knowing masters of the moves.
Paolo's brown eyes are ever a clear and present danger to his survival. He has had mounds of sensitive scar tissue removed from above them by surgery. But even so he has not lost a fight since December 1956, when he was stopped in the seventh (on a cut) by Baby Vasquez. Since then Paolo has rehabilitated himself with a decision over Vasquez and has destroyed the hopes of such wistful fellows as Frankie Ryff and Bobby Scanlon, both of whom, like Joe Brown, are sleek boxers. (What they lack, though, is the essential wisdom of the even sleeker Brown.) Paolo has, furthermore, beaten Johnny Busso, a club fighter who beat Brown when the title was not at stake, then made Brown look less than magnificent when the title was at stake.
The Brown-Rosi fight is, therefore, a natural sort of match, since it pits a sturdy puncher with a good left hook, conqueror of stylists and starchers, against a boxer-puncher of the old school, a sly trickster who can hit with either hand and doesn't care which.
Brown, who is known as Old Bones although he is a mere 33 by the official count and has not begun to approach the venerable status of an Archie Moore, has shown recent signs that he is about ready to be taken—not necessarily by Rosi but certainly, in due course, by one of the higher-ranking contenders.
There is, for instance, top-ranked Kenny Lane, the southpaw who was a mere point away from a draw and two points from the title when he met Brown last July at Houston. There is Carlos Ortiz, the young No. 2 challenger, a superior boxer and stout puncher now about to campaign against Lane in the regrettably revived junior welterweight division. On a good night, with a little bit of luck, either of these fighters might take Brown.
And so, for that matter, might Rosi, assuming that Old Bones is really over the hill, that time has drawn the temper of his ancipital weapons, and that he is about ready, as he himself has hinted in informal discourse, to pack it in for a lifetime of rest and contemplation of the better things.
The first hint that the end might be in sight for this once murderous puncher came on the night of the Lane fight, when his failure to handle an awkward situation with more than adequate grace was put down to the fact that he was baffled by Lane's southpaw stance and delivery. It was a forgivable lapse, but then in his next fight Brown was actually beaten by Busso in a 10-round over-the-weight contest. Well, it was assumed, that just meant Old Joe was shrewdly losing for the double purpose of building up a return match against Busso—this time for the title—and was trying to avoid a return match against Lane, who clearly deserved one. Still, when the title was at stake in the second Busso fight, Old Bones looked just barely good enough to win—and you can throw out some lopsided Houston judging in his favor.