If he had been at his very fittest, Williams would scarcely have had a chance against the younger, faster champion. The idea of Williams being in a championship bout at all—fighting with one kidney and with a policeman's bullet still in his hipbone—is, on reflection, bizarre. But the Williams story has been a strange one since January 1963, when Benbow and Adams formed A&B Boxing Enterprises Inc. and bought Williams' contract from Lou Viscusi.
Benbow, a nonpareil talker, had convinced Adams that boxing should have a revival and that Cleveland Williams should be world champion. Adams paid for Williams' contract and gave Benbow half of it. He spent about $43,000 to remodel the upper half of a building in Houston as a gym and paid Benbow $1,000 per month and Williams' living expenses.
"From January 1963 through January 1966 I spent about $200,000 on this boxing project," says Adams. "I advanced Cleve $50,000 for living and medical expenses, a house, several cars that he wrecked, things like that."
Then in November 1964 Williams was shot in the stomach by a Texas policeman in a now-famous incident. Williams died three times on the operating table. A doctor phoned Adams, who moved Williams from a charity hospital to Methodist Hospital and sent for specialists, although Adams had been told Williams probably could never fight again and the investment was a loss. "Cleve wouldn't be alive today if it wasn't for Bud Adams," says Irene. "Every night I thank heaven for that man."
In the hospital Williams had lost some 50 pounds. 'The doctors told me if Williams ever fought again, he could be killed. All it would take was damage to that one kidney," Adams says. "Benbow wanted Cleve to get back in shape, but I didn't want to participate in that because I didn't want Cleve to die. But Cleve wanted to fight, and I turned the deal over to Benbow. All I kept was one-third of the manager's share of any future championship purse. Cleve and Benbow had the rest."
Williams went to Benbow's ranch, where the fighter lived in a tent and worked as a field hand for his meals. Eventually, after Williams complained, he says Benbow began paying him $1 per hour. Other fighters were arriving in answer to a magazine advertisement, but Williams claims they did not stay.
"Soon as they found out they had to bale hay and dig postholes for $40 a week, they walked off," says Williams. "I escaped the ranch three times, but Uncle Lou [Viscusi] talked me into going back and working for my one big shot at the championship. Bimbo tried to break up me and Irene. He said he couldn't see why I preferred her to him. He said she was making trouble, always wanting to know where my money was."
"After we got a house in Yoakum, Bimbo used to come see us at 4 o'clock in the morning, anytime he pleased," Irene says. "You could hear his car coming for a mile, he drives so fast. He'd just walk right in and say, 'Irene, what you up to?' He'd tell us how he'd been shot six times and was really mean. He'd make Cleve go riding with him in the middle of the night. Once he came over while our new friends were giving us a welcoming party, and he yelled, 'Cleve, I want you to keep away from all these lousy no-goods.' I finally cured him of coming to see us. I went to his house at 5:30 one morning and yelled, 'Mr. Bimbo, what you up to?' He never came back again except at a decent hour."
Williams, meanwhile, was winning four fights and moving toward his championship match. The purses for those fights amounted to $24,000. "I didn't get much money," Williams claims, although he admits Benbow did give him "a little something" now and then. "The rest of the money, he said I owed it to him," says Williams. "He said he was going to take care of me, but all he ever did was run off at the mouth."
"I've got two good things to say about Bimbo," Irene says. "He outtalked Cassius Clay and he promoted a good gate. Other than that, he hurt Cleve more than Clay did, and Clay busted his lip."