In 1955 when California's Governor Goodwin J. Knight—spurred by SI's disclosures that boxing's business was as dirty on the West Coast as on the other end of the line—ordered an all-out investigation, the boxing fraternity from San Diego to San Francisco doubled up with laughter. It couldn't have been funnier if Willie Pep took on Rocky Marciano. Boxing traditionally was impregnable to political assault.
Last week when it was announced that the governor's committee—after nine months of painstaking research—would begin open hearings, the wiseacres yawned. Newspapers buried the notice on the obituary pages. The southern California boxing czar, 300-pound Babe McCoy, was so incautious he waddled down to the hearings without even an attorney to advise him.
What happened in the next five days turned McCoy, the pale, porcine Captain Bligh of California boxing, into an angry, badly rattled man, started his recent appendectomy (slow to heal because of obesity) to bleeding afresh and prompted a hurry-up call for San Francisco's famous criminal lawyer, Jake Ehrlich, subject of the book Never Plead Guilty.
The hearings in Los Angeles then played to packed headlines. City editors, who owe no allegiance to Babe McCoy or other dirty businessmen of boxing, took charge of the story. Babe McCoy, ne Harry Rudolph, quickly became better known to the public by his FBI number than his alias. He was described to the investigators as a hot-tempered tyrant of the ring who fixed fights, wrecked careers and operated with such arrogant contempt for the athletic commission that he once forced members to come hat in hand to his apartment before he would even show them a contract he held.
The fight mob couldn't have been more shocked by an honest wrestling match. What was testified to did not surprise them. It was the fact that the indentured slaves of the boxing game had the courage to talk at all. It had never occurred to them that prizefighters had a pride in the integrity of their profession. And it was ultimately these pathetic hunks of boxing's human debris who turned on Babe McCoy and left him, at the end of one week's legal fighting, cornered and desperate.
First to break open the headlines was a quiet Negro ex-lightweight contender named Tommy Campbell, who wears special glasses to see out of eyes stabbed by too many lefts—some of which, he testified, he could not even defend himself against because McCoy forbade him.
Tommy Campbell set forth how he had been forced by McCoy to throw a fight against Los Angeles' "Golden Boy," Art Aragon, in the spring of 1950. Aragon, a semiskilled but colorful brawler, was a great drawing card for McCoy and Co. Campbell, a better fighter, was not.
Campbell testified that McCoy had assigned him to a variety of managers, culminating in a bout Campbell had with Luther Rawlings in Los Angeles. Campbell testified he was upset at being given a short purse for the fight. He and his latest manager, George Moore, discussed it with McCoy.
Testified Campbell: "It is kind of hard...to remember exactly what the discussion was, but he [ McCoy] felt the fight didn't draw as they thought it would and that—He felt that I should pay part of the expenses of the fighter that he brought to fight me. And I didn't see it that way. We argued, you know, pro and con. And he eventually gave me my money....