CALM BEFORE THE BATTLE
Serenely awaiting their heavyweight championship battle are the four participants, Challenger Hurricane Jackson and manager, Lippe Breidbart (left, photographed by John G. Zimmerman), and Champion Floyd Patterson, with Manager Cus D'Amato (photographed by Garry Winogrand). Turn page for preview of fight
What the judges did to me in darkness the Lord will rectify in the light.—Tommy (Hurricane) Jackson, Madison Square Garden, June 8, 1956.
That is Hurricane Jackson's text for the night of July 29, 1957 at the Polo Grounds.
Such sonorous eloquence comes naturally to this illiterate prizefighter's lips. His trainer, Whitey Bimstein, reads the Bible to him daily. Jackson keeps two Bibles ("one Catholic, one Presbyterian") at his training camp, Harry's Farm, on the east bank of the beautiful Delaware.
The judges he referred to that night had just voted against him in his first fight with Floyd Patterson, the fight that won Patterson, by a split decision, his chance at the heavyweight championship. Hurricane, eyes closed, looked like a small boy too proud to cry. He was trying to hold back his bitterness and trying at the same time to find words to express it. Finally, he found them.
Now, a year later, Tommy Jackson has another chance, this time at the title itself. It is Patterson's first title defense. It is also the first heavyweight title fight in eight years that has not been promoted by the International Boxing Club ( James D. Norris, president). Cus D'Amato, Patterson's manager, has broken with the IBC, and so Emil Lence, a dress manufacturer with a love of the fight game's excitements, is promoting this one.
Despite the split decision of a year ago, Patterson is so heavily favored that bookmakers are reluctant to take bets. The 5-to-1 odds seem here to be an overlay. For one thing, judges in the past have been impressed, perhaps more than they should have been, by Jackson's curious but relentless pawings and slappings, by his stamina and by his ability to confuse prizefighters trained to contend with orthodoxy. For another, D'Amato is genuinely worried that should the fight go the distance and be as close as the last one his fighter will not get the best of it. Since the IBC, despite antitrust rulings, still is a tower of influence in boxing, its prestige hovers over this fight in an inverse sort of way. A Jackson victory will be an IBC victory, for, with D'Amato managing a mere ex-champion, one of Norris' thorniest problems will have been removed. If the boxing commission can find three officials who, even unconsciously, are not influenced by past IBC domination of boxing, there will be reason for everyone to have confidence in the judging of the fight, should it have to go to a decision.
D'Amato remembers Referee Harry Kessler's adverse decision in the last fight. Kessler was Commissioner Julius Helfand's pick as a referee of unquestioned integrity, but Kessler, counter to the opinions of the two judges and the vast majority of fans, voted for Jackson. Something like that could happen again. Honest officials do have their little quirks. And a hurricane spreads confusion wherever it goes.
This one already has spread confusion. Out of Christian conviction Jackson refuses to concede that the match will be a grudge fight ("It will be a fight, period"). But he holds that Patterson once betrayed him. It is a typically eccentric claim.