In a week that saw the glittering ascension of Sugar Ray Leonard to the WBC welterweight title and two other exciting championship bouts (page 26), boxing was also saddened by the death of middleweight Willie Classen from injuries suffered in a Nov. 23 fight against Wilford Scypion.
Classen had been taken unconscious from the ring at Madison Square Garden's Felt Forum after he was knocked out 12 seconds into the 10th and final round. Many observers, Scypion among them, felt that referee Lew Eskin should have stopped the fight right after Classen was knocked down in the 9th round. And some ringside onlookers were surprised that Classen's young and somewhat inexperienced manager, Marco Minuto, and the State Athletic Commission's attending physician, Dr. Richard Izquierdo, allowed him to answer the bell for the 10th round. Classen was way behind in the scoring and so dazed he remained seated on his stool several seconds after the bell rang.
A State Athletic Commission review of the fight, conducted immediately after Classen was hospitalized, pronounced everything in order. In the aftermath of Classen's death, however, the commission reopened the investigation, and the labor standards subcommittee of the House Education and Labor Committee has indicated its interest in the fight by requesting copies of the commission's records on Classen.
The point of these investigations, we hope, will not be to assign blame or guilt to individuals, but to reevaluate the commission's licensing and regulatory procedures.
On Oct. 9 Classen was knocked out in a hastily arranged bout in London against Tony Sibson. Because New York automatically suspends a fighter for at least 30 days following a knockout and requires that the boxer apply for reinstatement at the end of that period, Classen had to have the commission's approval to fight Scypion. He told the commission the London bout had been stopped in the second round because of cuts. But referee Harry Gibbs says he stopped it because " Classen showed no inclination to fight." The commission did not follow up Classen's application with an inquiry to London. Had it done so, it would not only have heard Gibbs' account, but would have found that Classen told the London fight physician he was suffering from double vision after the bout.
Another revelation that came to light after the New York fight was that Izquierdo is also the Classen family's regular physician.
Izquierdo probably should have stepped aside because of his personal involvement with one of the fighters, and let another commission doctor oversee the Classen-Scypion bout.
Minuto would not comment on the specifics of the case, but he did say, "I am very upset. I regarded Classen as a friend and almost as a brother. I welcome any investigation that might lead to better rules to protect fighters in the future."
Anyone who cares about boxing must agree.