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SHOWCASE FOR CRISIS
Mark Kram
March 04, 1968
The future of a bedeviled sport hangs in the balance as the promoters of Madison Square Garden stage their highly attractive but phony heavyweight title bout between Joe Frazier and Buster Mathis
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March 04, 1968

Showcase For Crisis

The future of a bedeviled sport hangs in the balance as the promoters of Madison Square Garden stage their highly attractive but phony heavyweight title bout between Joe Frazier and Buster Mathis

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Why, the question lingers, why did Iselin and Martin choose boxing for their chase after acclaim? No one knows, but one guesses they were fascinated by this mysterious, storied realm of sport. One suspects also that they thought boxing was a perfect playground for their sharp minds. They respected the treachery and delicate trickery rampant in the sport, but they were sure businessmen, with smooth, impressive methods, could conquer boxing and leave an indelible mark.

The methods and atmosphere are impressive—and screaming. Peers has spent roughly $150,000 on Buster, who probably consumed a large percentage of the money in food alone. The training quarters have cost plenty, too. A video tape is used in the gym, planes have been used to fly the press to a number of Buster's many insignificant fights, and various clothing ensembles are worn by Buster and those around him. Advertising is not missing, either. Red, white and blue is splashed all over the gym and house, and there are similarly colored insignias—indicating a jack Armstrong aura—dotting the roads leading to Mathis' lair.

So, it seems, it is a strange fight scene. It is different, too, because this fight marks boxing's final break with another time. More than anything, boxing in the old Garden meant characters, people who followed a curious way of life, people whose daily lives made you think of pipe smoke curling and fading in the air: Dan McKetrick, the manager who had a chauffeur for his Rolls-Royce but who was seldom sufficiently "holding" to pay him; Billy McCarney, the Mr. Micawber of boxing; Al Weill, the most disliked figure, who concealed his cigars and never appeared with more than $7 in his pocket for fear of being asked for money; Commodore Dutch, who haunted weigh-ins and the outer lobby and threw a benefit for himself each year.

All of them and many others are gone now. So, too, are their legendary places of operation: Stillman's, Jacobs' Beach, anywhere a hand could be shook and a deal closed. D'Amato remembers those times, but he is just as contemptuous of the past as he is of the future, where his fate surely will be similar to what Kid Norfolk once told a friend he would discover on his return to Africa. Kid Norfolk rubbed fighters at Stillman's. His friend was a Congolese named Beezy Thomas. Beezy, who had jumped ship in New York, was the official shine boy at Stillman's and on Jacobs' Beach. The two were inseparable, until they quarreled. They never spoke to each other again until Beezy, finally caught by police and sent to Ellis Island for deportation, returned to Stillman's for a final farewell.

"You should go over and speak to Beezy and be nice to him," someone said, pointing to Beezy standing alone in a corner. "Just think, you'll never see him again." Norfolk balked, but finally he edged over to Beezy.

"Beezy," Norfolk said, "why you so sad?"

"Because they gonna deport me," said Beezy.

"Where they gonna deport you?"

"Back to the jungle," said Beezy.

"What ya gonna do there?" asked the Kid.

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