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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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True enough. Nearly every country in the WB A's little world has dozens of boxing matches every week—more than the U.S. may have in three months. Beyond that, of the 110 WBA rated contenders in September, no fewer than 75 were from outside the U.S. And of the 11 current world champions acknowledged by the WBA, only two—Welterweight Curtis Cokes of Texas and Junior Welterweight Paul Fujii of Honolulu—are natives of the U.S. As Hindman mused during the Latin American outbursts, "You really can't blame these fellows for being upset. If it weren't for them, there wouldn't be any boxing worth mentioning."

But Bob Evans felt the Latins were being poor sports. "Ol buddy," he said, "if there's one thing you can say about what's happened, it's that I've tried to be fair. You just know we leaned over every which way to give them a vice-presidency, and they wouldn't take it, would they?"

Perhaps. But the Latin American delegates still went home from Reno muttering Spanish threats of withdrawal. And ringing in their ears was an echo of the last acrimonious moments of the convention when Evans hit the ceiling about something that had obviously irked him for a long time. "I have told you and told you," he shouted angrily at the delegates. "I say now and I say it for absolutely the last time—I will not accept any more communications from anyone that are not written in ENGLISH! I got to spend $10, $11 everytime to get them translated at the University, and I will not have it! We're tryin' to operate on a businesslike basis here, and I will not accept any other language of communication from you except in English."

There were no ol�s to that, and for a moment it seemed the Latins would leave right then—forever. But the WBA's executive secretary, Jay Edson of Phoenix, saved the day—and perhaps part of the world—for the WBA by offering to have Spanish missives translated by his bilingual neighbors in Arizona. "It won't cost any $10 either," he said. The convention adjourned amid heavy applause.

But even that tiny blow for harmony wound up in discord later when Edson went on a Reno television station to plead for a truce between U.S. and Latin American delegates. That did it. Evans now became convinced that Edson was a turncoat, that he was pro-Latin. Of course, in the lexicon of Bob Evans' WBA, that translates to mean anti-American—or, more specifically, anti-one-specific American-named-Evans. After the banquet following the last convention session, Evans approached Edson in the Riverside Hotel lobby and said, "I want you to resign because of ill health. Jay." Edson replied, "I'm not sick, Bob." Evans said, "I have to have men who will work with me and apparently you won't, Jay." Said Edson, "Well, I'm not sick, and I won't resign. You'll have to fire me." In mid-September Evans got up the postage to send an airmail letter from Louisville to Phoenix and told Edson that he was fired. He ordered Edson to forward all his records and future correspondence to Hindman in Toledo, where almost no one speaks Spanish.

Petty and chaotic as the WBA may seem in some of its truly uninspired moments, the organization has somehow lasted through nearly half a century of frustration and turmoil. There has to be a reason. It is not necessarily, as Evans puts it, "What's good for boxing is good for the WBA."

The WBA is too flaccid, too vacillating to rate such aggrandizement. Yet despite its pomposity and its thrashing ineptitude, the association has been about the only consistent force for order in all of boxing over the years. Unless Congress decides to create a Federal boxing commission (which it has absolutely no interest in doing), the WBA will remain, as Abe Greene puts it, "the only game in town—a pretty bad game, but the only one."

There is some truth to Greene's rationale—and rationalization—for the WBA's existence. "Since there isn't any fixed, incontrovertible, indisputable, legally constituted director to rule on the ways and means of boxing as a sport, the presence of the NBA and the WBA has been important," says Greene. "Feeble as our attempts may have been, we have at least kept enough order in the sport to prevent it from becoming a jungle. We have insisted on a broad measure of control over the validity of contracts and the performance of fighters over the years. And if we haven't made our ideas work every time, at least we have made people conscious of the need for controls and uniformity in boxing. I know as well as you do that the heavyweight tournament is run by television and not by the World Boxing Association. But for the first time TV is working for the good of boxing and boxers, instead of against it—as it did in the '50s when it was a monster consuming its own infants by overexposing every young fighter who came along.

"The WBA can't enforce its own rules among its own members. I know that. But we are all boxing has had to keep it from total chaos. You've got to give us that."

Maybe so. But whatever its heady claims to a new place in the sun, the WBA will almost certainly remain for all time in the deep shadows of its own intrinsic selfishness. As a rule, its individual commissioner-members are no better than the total profits available from any given promotion—whether it is WBA sanctioned or not. Thus, despite its righteous demands for planet-wide morality in boxing, the World Boxing Association too often winds up being no better than the meanest actions of its weakest member. As Bob Evans says with a chuckle, "Listen, ol' buddy, we just delight in hurting each other sometimes." And, he might have added, boxing sometimes, too.

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