Besides losing the Mobil meet, Madison Square Garden announced last week that it will dissolve its boxing department by the end of the summer. Garden officials were being slightly disingenuous in putting out the story that the sport was being dropped because the arena's parent company, Paramount Communications, was dismayed by recent, but hardly surprising, allegations of ties between boxing and organized crime. The main reason for the move was financial: With casinos in Las Vegas and Atlantic City staging championship bouts as loss leaders, the Garden couldn't compete for fights in its 19,000-seat main arena, and the lesser cards it has been putting on in its 5,600-seat Paramount theater were struggling.
The decision virtually ends the long association between boxing and its most famous venue. In theory, the Garden could still host cards as a landlord rather than as a promoter, but that isn't likely to happen too often. If the Garden bosses can't make money on prize fights in their own building, how can an outside promoter who has to pay rent be expected to do so?
Counted Out (cont.)
Miami Beach's Fifth Street Gym is no more. The storied boxing sweatshop, which opened in 1951, drew everybody from Kid Gavilan and Roberto Duran to Archie Moore and the Sugar Rays, Robinson and Leonard, but it was Muhammad Ali who was most closely identified with it. SI's Pat Putnam reminisces.
The entrance was a narrow rectangle cut into a concrete block of pale pink. As you climbed the 15 linoleum-covered steps, you came to a sign that read STOP AND PAY FIFTY CENTS, NO DEAD BEATS. Chris Dundee, the promoter who owned the gym, stationed a hard-eyed senior citizen at the door to collect the levy.
Just inside the smoke-filled gym was a blackboard listing in chalk the boxers scheduled to train that day. The names of local stars were painted on, as though their careers would last forever. The solitary ring was seldom empty. Twin heavy bags and two speed bags groaned and chattered, except when Ali sparred and everyone stopped to watch. A large fly-specked mirror rested against a wall, by a door that led to tiny dressing quarters. Inside were dented lockers, a blistered wooden bench and two sorry-looking showers. When the showers clogged, the runoff flooded the drugstore downstairs.
Drawn like prospectors to Sutter's Mill, the big-time writers—Red Smith, Jimmy Cannon, Budd Schulberg—flocked to the gym, usually in the spring, when baseball brought them south. Angelo Dundee, Chris's younger brother and Ali's trainer, would host the visitors at Puerto Saqua, a short stroll north at 7th and Collins. The topic of conversation, boxing, and the lunch of Cuban steak, black beans and rice, and banana pie never varied.
Chris sold the joint in 1981, and it fell into decay, then disuse. The walls, once covered with fight posters and photos, became chipped and bare. Windows were cracked or missing. Eventually the only piece of equipment that worked was a padlock that secured the grill across the entrance. Last week, in an act of mercy, the building was razed, to be replaced by a parking garage or a shopping center.
If Ben Crenshaw had chosen a paintbrush over a putter, would he have produced a masterpiece rather than a Masters victory? Probably not, but the 49 pro golfers (including Crenshaw, Jack Nicklaus, Greg Norman and Ian Woosnam) and celebrity duffers (ranging from Lawrence Taylor to John Updike) whose self-portraits appear in the June issue of Golf Digest acquitted themselves well with their artwork, which the magazine will auction off for charity. Sandy Lyle sketched himself hitting the shot that won him a green jacket at Augusta in 1988, Pat Bradley outfitted herself in a dress in the shape of the bell her mother rings when Pat wins a tournament, and Nick Price showed himself reeling in a fish representing the PGA Championship he won last year. More self-deprecating is Mark Brooks, who is seen stranded in a cavernous bunker at 27 over par at the U.S. Open. Another portfolio highlight: 80-year-old Sam Snead's portrait of himself eyeing a long putt with a dollar sign above his head.