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- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
Luis Firpo is best remembered in boxing as the man who deposited Jack Dempsey on a row of portable typewriters, but in the dark interior of the sport he will always be recalled as one of its few financial geniuses. Firpo came to the United States carrying a cardboard suitcase and wearing a high celluloid collar, and ended up owning five estancias and 14 million pesos. His avarice was boundless and his parsimony was a mania.
"Firpo is on the phone," the late fight promoter, Mike Jacobs, was once told by his secretary.
"Are the charges reversed?" Jacobs asked anxiously.
"No," she said.
"Then it ain't Firpo," Jacobs is said to have shouted.
One Firpo in a century is sufficient, a second Firpo is a cruel aggravation. Yet he is among us once again, this time in the person of Oscar Bonavena (the mild bull of the Pampas), who last week in the Radrennbahn stadium in Frankfurt, Germany planted his grotesque, flat feet to the fore in the World Boxing Association elimination tournament. The packagers of the tournament, Sports Action Inc., paid Bonavena $50,000 and $5,000 or thereabouts in expenses. They should not be easily forgiven.
To be certain, it was a week of ridiculous happenings ( Jack Dempsey defeated Jim Corbett in a computerized fight, and Novelist Alberto Moravia had to take a test for beginning reporters so he could write for an Italian paper), but all must bow to this third quarterfinal match that blended the frantic clumsiness of Bonavena, the embarrassing ineptitude of Karl Mildenberger and the gross inefficiency of the German promoters and boxing officials into a co-medic horror.
The Germans performed as if they had never conducted a fight before. A bean can was used as a bell. Rapped with a padded mallet, it was inaudible. At first nobody counted knockdowns, and when the gentleman in charge of that function decided it might be a trifle important he simply counted as if he were tapping a pencil. Wolfgang Mueller, Mildenberger's manager, ran around the edges and in and out of the ring during the fight uncensured, and the promoters, exhibiting matchless greed, even sold working press seats that had been allotted to reporters.
"It ranks," said Nat Fleischer, boxing's high priest, "as one of the worst conducted fights I have seen in my entire career."
No international fight, certainly no fight of major significance, should ever be held in Germany again, even though it seems to be fertile territory. There was a crowd of 18,000, and the gate came to $150,000. The top ticket sold for 150 marks ($37.50), and even before the fight the price seemed unreasonable. In retrospect, it was bank robbery. Mildenberger, ranked No. 1 by the WBA and No. 2 by The Ring magazine, is weaponless and defenseless. Bonavena just looks ferocious and, besides being a boor out of the ring, he is an unpardonable bore in the ring.