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The Riddle of the Jolly Do-gooders
William Johnson
October 09, 1967
Called buffoons, windbags and political hacks, the men of the World Boxing Association have achieved a measure of control in the sport—but in the end the payoff decides
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October 09, 1967

The Riddle Of The Jolly Do-gooders

Called buffoons, windbags and political hacks, the men of the World Boxing Association have achieved a measure of control in the sport—but in the end the payoff decides

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Soothingly, Evans said, "That's been given a lot of consideration. We're going to have a meeting of the ratings committee up in my room after this session. I think it's safe to predict that some action will be taken right up there in Room 630 this very day."

The prediction was safe, all right. Right up there in Room 630 that very day, without so much as one copy of the Toledo Blade to read or even a stamped envelope from Bangkok, Joe Frazier was dumped from No. 2 to No. 8. The vote was 9 to 1, with the only nay coming from a Pennsylvania commissioner who was predictably loyal to Frazier's Philadelphia ties. After the ratings change, Evans said privately, "Listen, Frazier come awful close to not being in the ratings at all, ol' buddy. The committee caught lotsa hell by puttin' him No. 2." When it was pointed out that there might be a bit of hypocrisy involved in dropping Frazier just because he chose to ignore the WBA's competition, Evans chuckled, "Those ratings are ours to give, by God. We'll give 'em to whoever we want."

Genial Arch Hindman was philosophical about things. "Oh, I guess there was no really logical reason to drop Frazier now," he said. "He probably should have been Fighter of the Month for what he did to Chuvalo. But everyone thought he ought to be lower, so we all went along to keep peace."

Obviously, it was the WBA's overweening pride in its tournament that motivated Joe Frazier's arbitrary demotion. Yet there is a horrendous irony in the WBA's chest-thumping claims of new power and new positions in the sun because of its tournament.

The fact is, this most dazzling of WBA-related promotions is in itself as symptomatic of the organization's weaknesses as any of the ill-reasoned inconsistencies the group has perpetrated over the last 48 years. In the seven fights scheduled, from quarterfinals through the championship, no fewer than five are slated for cities that have no connection with the World Boxing Association. Two quarterfinals were held in Houston in August, and the Patterson-Quarry fight will be in Los Angeles. Only the Mildenberger-Bonavena match was in a WBA affiliate city—Frankfurt, Germany. Of the two semifinal fights, one is scheduled to be in California and the other—well, there were bids from WBA bailiwicks such as Louisville, New Orleans and Miami, although no decision had been made as of two weeks ago. The finals will be back in non-WBA Houston.

Mike Malitz, 33, the rotund Princetonian whose firm, Sports Action, Inc., has been a kind of packager-promoter for the whole tournament, is sanguine about the WBA's nonparticipation. "They understand the economics," says Malitz. "They know we have to place the fights where it makes some sense for both television and for drawing money."

In a way even the WBA's sanction of the tournament is almost beside the point. It really amounts to nothing more than a label, vague enough yet pretentious-sounding enough to give the Malitz-ABC-produced fights an aura of sweeping respectability. As one executive close to it all said: "Look, no one will watch TV fights that are held just for fun. This thing needed some kind of official-sounding approval or the guy who won wouldn't be any more than the heavyweight champion of the American Broadcasting Company. Can you see the papers giving a good damn about that? The point was to keep ABC behind the scenes; let the network put up the big cash, but stamp the whole thing with a seal of approval that sounds good."

Or as Malitz coolly pointed out: "These things have to be sanctioned by someone, and the WBA has the widest geographical coverage in boxing."

There has long been a feeling among foreign delegates—notably the Latins—that the WBA is manipulated by a small knot of U.S. members who cater to foreigners in public but who in reality are secret xenophobes. In Reno, the slate of officers dominated by Latin Americans was crushed by a U.S. landslide. Each state has one vote and so does each country. The states swept Bob Evans back into office along with an all-American slate of four vice-presidents.

The Latin Americans turned sulky in defeat. When Evans and Greene pleaded with them to save face and to select someone—anyone—for appointment to a "regional vice-presidency," they refused. In an impassioned floor speech, Fernando Mandry of Venezuela cried out in an accent so thick that most U.S. delegates were not sure what he said, "Boxing is not the property of the U.S.A. Boxing is universal and its authorities must be an image of that conception." He accused Evans and his compatriots of trying to "control boxing for the United States" and declared that "other countries don't get equal rights." And Mexico's Ramon Velasquez chimed in, "The U.S. has lots of commissions, but not very lots of boxing!"

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