Johnny Saxton may be an orphan, but no one can say he lacks for cousins in Philadelphia. Anybody who can clown his way through 15 listless rounds and still be rewarded with a world's championship must have a covey of doting relatives in the Friendly City. I am still checking on the lineal connections between the new "champion" and his benefactors, Referee Pete Pantaleo and Judges Jim Mina and Nat Lopinson, all of whom gave the defending champion, Kid Gavilan, the treatment a GOP candidate expects in Mississippi. They voted the straight Saxton-Palermo ticket. The three officials, if not blood relatives of the hitless wonder, have at the very least a touching sentimental attachment for the Riverdale foundling who plays Cinderella to Manager Blinky Palermo's unshaven Fairy Godmother.
Blinky's champion "fights," as they used to say, "out of Philadelphia." He can't move far enough out to satisfy the nearly 8,000 fans who suffered through the gruesome, gluesome twosome between him and fading Kid Gavilan in Convention Hall the other evening. Blinky Palermo, a numbers man who traffics in fighters ( Ike Williams, Billy Fox, Clarence Henry, Dan Bucceroni, Coley Wallace, etc.), operates out of Philadelphia. One of boxing's top-ranking ambassadors of ill will, a field in which there is always stiff competition, Blinky is frequently identified as "The Philadelphia Sportsman." It has become a sort of private joke, especially suitable to those papers who would rather not spell spade s-p-a-d-e. In 1951 a federal district court found Blinky guilty of contempt for refusing to answer questions before a rackets grand jury. Contempt is also the word for Blinky's attitude toward boxing fans in foisting Saxton, the human grannyknot, on them as Kid Gavilan's successor.
Johnny may never have known what it is to have a real brother but he has certainly found the next best thing in Honest Pete Pantaleo, another Philadelphia sportsman, who handled the fight with such tender concern for Saxton's welfare that it is difficult for me to understand why there should have been such bitter criticism of him in the press. Extending a helping hand to an orphan boy trying to make something of himself is certainly a praiseworthy gesture. Statues of Pantaleo may yet be found in orphanages throughout America. A fitting inscription, to be engraved at the base of the noble bronze head of Pantaleo, might read as follows:
"For service to one of our own, above and beyond the call of duty, in donating the welterweight championship of the world to Johnny Saxton. Disregarding his own safety and placing himself in the greatest jeopardy by inviting the wrath of 7,909 onlookers and millions of irate TViewers across the nation, Pantaleo nevertheless persevered and proved the courage of his convictions by awarding Saxton even those rounds in which he failed to throw a single punch. Hail Pantaleo, boxing's Patron Saint of Orphans!"
The cost of this charitable project will surely be underwritten by Blinky himself. It is the least he owes Honest Pete. The debt can never be paid in full.
Not to be forgotten while we hand out these skunk-cabbage bouquets is the role of Commissioner Frank Wiener, who made quite a show of rushing to and fro, exhorting the "fighters" to cease their loving embraces and affectionate staring at each other. Wiener had already distinguished himself by announcing before the weighin that if Gavilan came in over the official weight limit, Saxton could still win the title by winning the fight. If the Kid won, the Commissioner went on to explain, the title would be declared vacant. You and I, who aren't so courant with these things, may wonder why, if Gavilan was to be asked to turn in his title, it should be handed on a silver platter to Blinky's boy, who ranked fifth in the division, below the logical contender, Carmen Basilio. The only explanation that comes readily to mind is that it was Be Kind To Saxton (and Palermo) Week and Commissioner Wiener was getting things started early.
Not since the days when Schmeling was winning his heavyweight title while reclining on his back after an alleged low blow from Jack Sharkey, or when Carnera was receiving his crown from the benevolent Sharkey, not since those sleazy days when talking pictures and smelly fights were in flower?well, I guess what I am trying to say is that Saxton can now share with Camera the booby prize for being the most undeserving and unwelcome champion in modern ring history.
GOING DOWN, BREAKING EVEN
The bloodless and?except for Gavilan's earnest final round?nearly hitless mazurka was actually a fitting climax to a prolonged shell game that really began over a year ago when Carmen Basilio knocked Gavilan down and came within a lash of depriving him of the title that had made him the assistant Presidente de Cuba. The Kid rallied to win but the smart boys looked at each other and decided that another good fighter was showing signs of wear and tear, no disgrace after more than a decade of active campaigning against Ike Williams, Ray Robinson, Billy Graham, Johnny Bratton, Tony Janiro, Tommy Bell, Paddy Young?the best of the welterweights and middleweights throughout the 40s and early 50s. When your champion begins to have trouble making the weight and his best is a year or two behind him, you look for the fattest money match over the weight. So the Kid made a pass at Bobo Olson's middleweight title, which not only produced a pleasant pay night for Gavilan, Manager Angel Lopez & Co., but postponed the agony of paring down to 147 from an aging natural weight of 155. Then, when you can no longer escape the ordeal, you naturally look for the most money combined with the easiest opponent who can pass muster as an approved contender.
Bypassing Carmen Basilio, who had been waiting nearly a year for the rematch he had earned, Angel Lopez, who does the Gavilan business, made a private deal with Blinky Palermo whereby Blinky would guarantee Angel $40,000 if the Kid would put his title up for grabs, and with Saxton how else could you describe it? It seemed strange that there should be no provision for a rematch, a customary protection for champions.