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THE FIX THAT WASN'T
The Senate hearings on boxing clarified some issues and confused others. Intentionally or not, they encouraged public suspicion that the Clay-Liston fight was a fix—that the champion threw it.
It is a shrewd observer who suspects every upset in prizefighting, but a callow one who assumes that all upsets are crooked. Neither logic nor evidence supports such cynicism about the Liston-Clay fight. Liston was outboxed and took a thorough beating. He quit on his stool for reasons that will be found only in his strangely confused character. There was very little betting on the fight, and the odds appear to have held steady (at 5 or 6 to 1) for weeks before the match—conclusive evidence that there was no betting coup. Only such a coup could have provided reason for a fix.
Why, then, do so many of prizefighting's followers continue to believe that there was a fix? A big reason is the newspaper reports, in which not all, but not a few, sportswriters sought to justify predictions, made without reservation, that Liston would demolish Clay. Then there was a wonderfully inept radio broadcast in which Clay, light of foot and in full control of the situation, was described repeatedly, from the third round on, as seemingly "running out of gas." In the fifth round Liston was said to be "close to finishing it now." No radio listener got even a hint that Clay was winning until near the very end, when Liston quit. It is small wonder that distorted impressions of the fight persist.
All Clay did in this bout was to follow corner instructions to box Liston and stay out of range of his punch—something Floyd Patterson had been too foolishly vainglorious to do in his two brief encounters with the ex-champion.
As for the subsidiary contract giving Liston the right to share in the promotion of Clay's next fight and to pick his opponent, it was nothing more than a transparent (and prudent) subterfuge to get around the World Boxing Association's feckless opposition to return-bout clauses. This issue also was academic—if Liston gets back in shape, fans will demand a return bout and will pay to see it. No other obligation will be required.
The hearings demonstrated in greater detail than was known that Liston was not so much associated as festooned with bosses and hangers-on who might be flatteringly described as dubious characters. The New York and California state commissions were quite right to make it clear that Liston & Co. were unwelcome.
Because of the continuing presence of undesirables in boxing, and because of a series of deplorable accidents in the ring, some want boxing abolished. That we regard as a defeatist and even decadent proposal. We much prefer the Senate subcommittee's recommendation, made here long ago, that a federal boxing commission be established to oversee the sport, deny licenses to crooks or those who associate with them, and establish reasonable safety standards. It is good to see that the New York Boxing Writers' Association, among others, now supports this view, though unfortunate that prizefighting has lacked the will and the way to create its own effective self-government. But that is its history.
AT BAY AND AT BAT
As long as there are nine innings and four quarters and desperate situations in sport there will be a Frank Merriwell. Our nomination for the current reincarnation would be Russell Vollmer of Memphis State.