Tarasewich lost, but what made the evening memorable was the scuffle Minuto and Classen had in the hallway afterward. "Willie grabbed me by the throat," Minuto says, "and he shouted, 'You're not paying attention to me!' I said, 'Get your hands off my throat. I can't stay on top of you. You're not in the gym.' I threw a punch at him. Eleven specials grabbed me. Willie screamed, I want him arrested.' He hit me with a jab. But I didn't press any charges."
Several weeks later, Classen resumed training, and on April 6, 1979 he met John Locicero in the Felt Forum. Locicero gave Classen a beating and in the eighth round sent him to the canvas beneath the ropes. "He rolled out, got up, but he didn't come back into the ring," says Minuto. "It looked like he quit." Classen was counted out. While Minuto protested to the referee, the fighter appeared dazed. "That night I told him to get a job," Minuto says. "Our relationship was different. I tried not to get emotionally involved. After the Locicero fight, he lost it."
In accordance with the policies of the New York commission, as a result of the knockout Classen was suspended for medical reasons for an indefinite period. Dr. Edwin Campbell, the commission's medical director, ruled that Classen would have to undergo a neurological examination, including an electroencephalogram, before being permitted to fight again in the state.
Classen stayed away from the gym, but continued to work part time in a Pathmark supermarket near his home, where he stacked bread in aisle 16 for $3.10 an hour, the minimum wage. "We liked to give him the hours," recalls bookkeeper Eileen Sweeney. "When you called Willie, he would always come. He was very respectful. He always had something nice to say, that you looked nice, any little thing to make a person feel nice. He was a soft-spoken, well-mannered type of guy."
But there was the other side of Classen's personality. Last July 7, a transit police officer arrested Classen and two other men for holding a man at knifepoint on a subway in the Bronx. Along with the two others, Classen was charged with kidnapping, attempted robbery, possession of a weapon and possession of marijuana. The charges were reportedly dropped when Marilyn and the wives of the two other defendants told the complainant outside the courtroom that nothing would happen to him if he didn't press the case any further.
Soon thereafter Minuto got a call from Marilyn Classen. "She said they were six months behind on the rent," says Minuto. "Then the landlord called me and said, 'Willie's been telling me that he's gonna fight.' I said, 'He's not in shape. As soon as he comes to the gym, I'll look for a fight.' Willie started to train again. He was training for about a month until one Sunday evening early last October I got a call. John Bos, a booker, told me he had a fight in England for Willie if he wanted it for $2,000. I said no deal. I also said, 'He doesn't have a license.' [Classen's license, even though invalid because of the medical suspension, had expired, as do all New York boxing licenses, on Sept. 30.] Bos said, 'That's no problem.' He called me back and offered $3,000 and expenses. 'O.K.,' I said, 'the fight's yours.' It was a three-way conversation on the phone, Johnny Bos, Mickey Duff and myself." Duff was looking for a substitute to go against Sibson. "The fight was in London Tuesday night, and they were very amazed that I would take a fight with two days' notice," Minuto says. "Fighters like Willie Classen have to pull off upsets and take last-minute fights. That's their only chance. We arrived in London Monday morning. I allowed one day for jet lag."
Fight manager Paddy Flood says, scornfully, "Just two days' notice so the fighter can't get acclimated. Duff has to reach over here because all the fighters are known in England. He doesn't want to stink out the house, but he doesn't want anyone who's going to hurt Sibson. Yet if you wanted Sibson to fight over here. Duff would demand that he came a month and a half beforehand to get acclimated. No fighter in New York should be allowed to go overseas without at least 10 days to get acclimated."
In London, Classen told officials that he had not had time to get a certificate of medical clearance in New York so Dr. Sydney Gould of the British Boxing Board of Control sent him to Dr. John K. Dauncey, a Harley Street general practitioner, who certified Classen as fit to fight Sibson the next day. Dr. Gould also gave Classen his pre-fight check and declared him fit to fight. Neither Classen nor Minuto told either doctor that Classen was under indefinite medical suspension in New York. Had he known that, Dr. Dauncey says, "In no way would I have passed him fit to box."
But the matter goes deeper than that. Classen did not have a license from the New York commission, and Denis Lehane of The Sunday Times of London, who has been digging into the affair, has reported that the regulations of the British Boxing Board of Control demand that five individuals were each required to prove that Classen had a valid license before he entered the ring against Sibson. They were his manager, Minuto; the matchmaker, Duff; the promoter (or co-promoter in this case with Duff, Mike Barrett); Classen's British agent, Al Phillips; and the whip, Harry Davies, who is supposed to see that the boxers arrive in the ring on time, provide the gloves and perform other tasks, such as checking licenses. Further, Lehane reported in The Sunday Times, "It is usual for a Board Inspector to check all boxers' licenses at the weigh-in before the fight." Finally, the board's Regulation 22, Paragraph 1(b) states, "Every boxer from overseas must be in possession of a current boxer's license, and a medical certificate of fitness to box issued by his National Federation or Control Board, before being granted a BBB of C Boxer's License or Certificate of Authorization." Despite all this, the board refuses to explain why Classen was permitted to fight, and its chairman, Alexander Elliot, has refused even to discuss the subject with Lehane, saying, "There is no Act of Parliament that says I have to speak to you." Until Elliot speaks, the explanation of whip Harry Davies as to why he never tries to check the licenses of foreign boxers will have to do: their managers object and "Mickey Duffs people clear all that long before I ever see the fighters."
When Gibbs stopped the fight, fans booed and pelted the ring with programs. Minuto says, "Willie was knocked down in the first round, and he says, 'I see double.' I said, 'Well, cover up and keep moving.' The second round he got hit early, went down and got up. Then he's down again like to take a breather when the bout was stopped." Classen complained of double vision to Dr. Adrian White-son, who was in attendance at the fight, and Dr. Whiteson told him to go to Moor-fields, London's premier eye hospital. "But Willie wanted to eat," says Minuto, "so we went to a Kentucky Fried Chicken. He seemed fine. The next day we flew back to New York. On the way home, Willie was apologetic. 'I'll try harder,' he says."