The night of June 25, 1952 may not have been the hottest in the history of New York City, but the suggestion that it was not would bring an instant argument from the 47,983 people who sweltered at Yankee Stadium while Joey Maxim fought Sugar Ray Robinson for the light heavyweight championship of the universe.
It was not a great fight. In some respects it was no fight at all. But for an odd set of reasons it was a memorable one.
In the press area we sweltered too, but even without our jackets we looked a tolerably civilized lot. Or so it seemed to me: I was covering the fight as a young correspondent for a chain of newspapers in England, and the thrill of such an event was still untarnished. The clothes I was wearing were lightweight by British Standards, but Americans would have considered them too heavy even for early spring. It is a measure of the night's discomfort that I still remember what I wore. It was agreeable to be in the presence of the sort of VIPs who are often to be found at ringside. In the row behind me and only two seats away sat Governor Thomas E. Dewey of New York and General Douglas MacArthur. The Governor looked a little wilted, but General MacArthur, in a white collar and what might have been a Savile Row suit, set a Starch) example for us all.
It was something of a silver, if not golden, age of the sub-heavyweights, and these fighters were the class of the lot. Joey Maxim was defending the title he had won in 1950 from Freddie Mills of England. Sugar Ray was the middleweight champion of the world, having already held the welter title. He had defeated the middles (Graziano, LaMotta, Turpin, to name just three), and he was trying, as Henry Armstrong had done 12 years before, to hold world titles in three divisions. He was the overwhelming favorite for this fight.
Maxim's reputation was that of a relatively gentle soul with immense Style and boxing prowess. That would have been my impression of him, too, save for One thing. Everyone at some time is told a story so extraordinary that it defies contradiction, a private wisdom that remains an id�e fixe in his mind, like a caraway seed in the teeth. Such a thing accounted for my impression of Maxim.
Some months before I was having lunch in Gennaro's Restaurant in London with Freddie Mills. Mills was craggy, tough and decently straight forward. As a boxer he could be described as a minor-league, Cockney version of Rocky Marciano. His only failing seems to have been a rather poor choice of associates. He later opened a Chinese restaurant in the Charing Cross Road, and was found shot dead in his car. Over our lunch Mills told me. " Joey Maxim is the hardest puncher I ever fought."
Astonished, I suggested that surely he had meant Gus Lesnevich, the man from whom he had taken the world title. Everybody knew Maxim could not hit.
"No." he said. " Joey Maxim. He knocked two of my teeth out."
And so, as the tight began that sweltering Bronx night, I was waiting to see the secret, lethal Joes Maxim, a pugilist unknown to anybody but Freddie Mills and myself, knock out the teeth of the incomparable Ray Robinson.
The fight, as it progressed, went exactly as predicted by everybody but Freddie Mills and me. Maxim floundered along, full of good intentions, while Robinson pirouetted around him, hitting him whenever the fancy took him. In fact it was not until the ninth round that Maxim landed a respectable punch.