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Martin Kane
December 07, 1959
The promoter of the next Johansson-Patterson fight must have integrity, experience and money. But who has?
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December 07, 1959

Boxing's Hunt For Mr. Right

The promoter of the next Johansson-Patterson fight must have integrity, experience and money. But who has?

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The hunt for a boxing man of experience—and, if it be not contradictory, innocence—to promote Heavyweight Champion Ingemar Johansson's first title defense seemed on a hot scent for a few hours in Gothenburg, Sweden last week. Then the scent cooled.

Joe Tepper, aspiring promoter of the hour, a New Yorker who burps enthusiasm in long and frequent bursts, jetted across the Atlantic to Gothenburg, Ingemar's home town, and prayerfully presented his credentials to the champion and the champion's adviser, Edwin Ahlquist, Scandinavia's foremost boxing promoter. The credentials included Tepper's love for boxing, a brief career as amateur fighter and professional corner man, some years as a functionary of the New York State boxing commission, the persuasion that his current lack of means bespeaks a scrupulously honest past and a list of impressively reputable men who would put up the money.

The list, Tepper told them, included Stephen Masters, pioneer of the discount-house approach to retail selling and president of a chain of such stores; Angier Biddle Duke, former ambassador to El Salvador and president of the International Rescue Committee, devoted to the rescue of persons from behind the Iron Curtain; and Thomas E. Murray Jr., son of the former member of the Atomic Energy Commission. Bill Shea, who heads the movement to form a third major baseball league, was enlisted to serve as legal counsel for the promoters.

Every last one of them is an active Democrat, and that is how Tepper, a Lower East Side boy who grew up in idolatry of Benny Leonard, met them. Gifted at organizing sound trucks and getting them rolling on the right streets of New York, he was a useful worker in Averell Harriman's campaigns for governor and the Democratic presidential nomination.

In presenting his case Joe Tepper leaned perhaps too heavily on these names, unaware that Ingemar would be unimpressed by their prestige but knowing that the champion is determined to let no one resembling Tony (Fat) Salerno, the East Harlem racketeer involved in the promotion of the first fight between Johansson and Floyd Patterson, have anything to do with the projected return bout. Last week Tony Fat escaped extradition from Florida to New York on a Florida judge's very curiously technical decision that Tony (shown in sullen arrogance on the opposite page as he awaited the decision) would have to pass through Georgia on the way, thus balking New York District Attorney Frank Hogan's plan to have Salerno tell a grand jury the extent and nature of his involvement in the promotion. It was the discovery of Salerno in the background of the first promotion that set Ingemar on his search for a new and impeccable promoter.

For more than an hour the champion and Ahlquist listened—it is hard to do anything else in Joe Tepper's company—in the swank privacy of the Park Avenue Hotel's KAK Room (KAK are the initials of Sweden's Royal Automobile Club). They emerged, Tepper still smiling, to report no substantial progress.

While Ingemar, in scarlet shirt and scarlet socks, sat otherwise quietly, Tepper told an international press gathering that "we had a long discussion and decided that nothing can be done until we know what's happening in New York."

That was a reference to the revocation of Cus D'Amato's right to manage Floyd Patterson, to the precarious legal status of Ingemar's provisional contract with whatever may remain of Rosensohn Enterprises, promoter of the first Johansson-Patterson fight, and to the sum of $152,000 still due Ingemar from the proceeds of that fight. Ingemar's money was put in escrow to guarantee that he would meet Patterson in a return match, then was released a few days ago by the New York boxing commission, which also revoked the Rosensohn Enterprises license. But D'Amato announced he would sue to keep the money in escrow.

All this was quite enough to immobilize any sensible effort toward promoting a fight. Joe Tepper was not, however, immobilized. He is a man of sometimes erratic but nevertheless incessant action. To see him cross a hotel lobby is to see a rudderless sloop tacking in variable winds. He starts for the concierge's desk, veers toward a display of Swedish glass and luffs into the newsstand. Sometimes he trots for a few paces, then halts suddenly. When he starts up again he lunges.

The announcement to the Swedish press that no commitments were going to be made for a while was logical but, nevertheless, a letdown. Tepper, with headlong cheerfulness, promised that on the following Tuesday he would announce the names of his backers in New York. The names, however, were already being bruited from Gothenburg to Gotham.

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