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Kind Hearts and Cauliflowers
Myron Cope
October 19, 1964
It sort of chokes you up when you think of the beautiful friendship between Jake Mintz and his boy, Wilf Greaves
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October 19, 1964

Kind Hearts And Cauliflowers

It sort of chokes you up when you think of the beautiful friendship between Jake Mintz and his boy, Wilf Greaves

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Greaves began to win. For his 11th bout Jake pitted him against Al Andrews, a busy television performer with 60 fights behind him. Bookmakers made Greaves a 3-to-l underdog. He thoroughly walloped Andrews, however, winning all 10 rounds on the referee's scorecard. "Who's crazy now?" shrieked Jake at his critics. "Monkey-face is liable to upset the whole boxing."

On Greaves's 20th birthday Jake gave him a clock-radio. "Monkey-face got to have music, when he goes to sleep and when he wakes up," Jake explained. "He tells me he is a jazz fan—a pergessive. So let him. He's a sweetheart."

After Greaves had won eight straight, Jake thrust him on network television against title contender Ralph (Tiger) Jones. No other fighter had made TV with only 12 bouts behind him and Jake's enemies charged that he cared nothing for Greaves, that he was feeding him through the mill at a greedy pace. The facts were, however, that even though the Internal Revenue Service was jabbing Jake for back taxes he had not yet taken a cent from Greaves's earnings. Instead he had bought Greaves a $15,000 endowment policy and a $10,000 life insurance policy that cost Jake sky high premiums because of Wilf's occupation.

Says Wilf Greaves today: "Pops got me tough opponents, but he made sure the opponents he got wouldn't hurt me too much. Jones, Spider Webb, Gene Fullmer, Italo Scortichini—none of them was a killer puncher. And I learned something each time from guys like that."

Tiger Jones defeated Greaves, but only by a split decision, and Jake—who considered this a great moral victory—celebrated with a somersault in mid-ring. Having established Greaves as a name performer, Jake then hauled him off to Edmonton, Alta. for an easy payday against one Arley Siefer. There a huge, hairy man wearing a handlebar mustache and a brilliant red uniform showed up to work in Greaves's corner. He was Greaves's pal, Sergeant-Major John Primrose of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

Jake was hurt, but his fatherly feeling for Greaves made him let Sergeant-Major Primrose stay in the corner. "I don't mind this Trimrose," Jake said half-heartedly. "He worked Wilf's corner in the amateurs, and Wilf never lost with him. If working a corner with a cop means a win for my Wilf, I'll do it. By God, I'll do it."

Thus far in Greaves's young career, he and Jake were proving that close friendship could exist between a manager and a fighter and need not impede progress. But in the summer of 1957—only two years after Jake had found his white hope—Jake died of a heart attack.

Greaves was grief-stricken. Jake had booked him for an outdoor show at Pittsburgh's Forbes Field, but Greaves made a gesture of respect that few fighters would tender their managers, dead or alive: he canceled his impending payday.

Managers trampled each other to sign Greaves, but he signed himself over to Jake's widow, who had not been left wealthy. When the Pennsylvania Athletic Commission granted a license to Julia Mintz—"Mom" to Greaves—boxing men shuddered.

Under Julia, Greaves immediately lost three straight fights. With Jake's bellicose voice and lavish solicitude absent, Greaves could not seem to put his heart into his work. Soon Jake's widow sold Greaves's contract to C. W. Smith, a well-to-do Detroit businessman. In subsequent years Greaves fought courageously and entertainingly, putting up close fights (but not winning) against Joey Giardello, Eduardo Lausse, Sugar Ray Robinson and others. In 1958 he won the Canadian middleweight title, and in 1960 he outslugged Dick Tiger (who later won the world title) for the British Empire middleweight title. As Greaves himself concedes, though, he was not really an outstanding fighter. "I was always right on the edge of the top echelon," he says. "The edge seemed to be my destiny."

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