Column: Boxing Reform Act helps sport get off the mat

"If some people's greed and complete lack of honesty can only be controlled by intervention of the federal government, why did it take 40 years....?

-Gaius Phlebitus, Roman Bartender

Congratulations are in order to Senators Bryan and Reid for their Boxing Reform Act, which should go a long way toward opening the professional boxing door to many aspiring participants who've been frozen out because of the corrupt stranglehold on the sport by unscrupulous promoters and managers.

Of course, boxing has always been shady, even in the good old days. Great fighters like Jack Johnson and Archie Moore had to accept the crumbs off the boxing table during their careers. Archie was skillfully avoided by the light-heavyweight promotional establishment for many years before he finally got a shot at the title. And when he did, he went down in sports history as perhaps the best light-heavy of all time.

In those days I was an ardent fan. Every Thursday night in Long Beach, Calif., we had a good boxing card at our local arena, which doubled as an ice skating rink. The promoter was Kid Mexico, himself a retired boxer of national acclaim. If I remember correctly, I think the Kid was a welterweight, perhaps a middle weight, somewhere around 150 lbs.

Anyway, one Thursday night his main event fighters failed to show up and the Kid was faced with having to return everybody's money, so he climbed into the ring himself and challenged anybody in the audience to go six rounds. Twenty-five bucks, win or lose. Well, a huge Signal Hill oil field worker accepted the challenge since $25 was a lot of money in 1936. This guy was at least six feet three and outweighed the Kid by 100 pounds.

They put the gloves on, shoved in rubber mouth pieces, and away they went. Kid Mexico toyed with the big guy for five rounds, sticking him with left jabs to the nose, making him madder than hell. And the madder he got, the wilder his vicious swings became, fortunately for the Kid, always missing their mark. Had he connected, Kid Mexico would have been air-lifted to San Diego. This guy was big and tough. He could've destroyed a barroom and everybody in it!

But the Kid kept ducking, weaving and pecking away, and in the sixth round he suckered the big guy into another wild swing, leaving himself open for the Kid's left hook followed by a lightning uppercut. He was in la-la land before he hit the canvas. The crowd loved it and the big fella got a standing ovation and his $25 when he recovered. Now, those were real boxing days and just think, there were no Ed Bernsteins to file a lawsuit against Kid Mexico.

Looking back, like everybody else, I've often wondered who really was the best heavyweight of all time. Jack Johnson might have been, but fighting was so different in his day that it's impossible to compare him, or John L. Sullivan, with more modern fighters. Joe Lewis was certainly in the top three of all heavyweights from any era.

Personally, I think Rocky Marciano was probably the best of all time. He fought all comers, was knocked down by darn near every one of them and always came back to win. Also, being a brawler, he would have been right at home in the days of John L. and Jack Johnson when fighters fought until they either knocked the other guy out or got knocked out themselves. He retired undefeated at his wife's behest. No fighter could take a punch like Rocky. Moreover, he had a style which was impossible for taller fighters with longer arms, like Ali. He was willing and able to pay the price to get inside and nobody could keep him out for an entire fight! His short, super-strong, piston-like arms were devastating.

I remember a few years later being in a San Diego bar with a group of guys having a couple of drinks with Archie Moore after his retirement, and I asked, "Archie, who was the toughest fighter you ever faced?" Without a moment's hesitation, he replied, "Marciano!" Archie fought Rocky once when trying to move up from the light-heavyweight crown to the heavyweight. He went on to say, "When I knocked Marciano down with the best punch I ever threw at anybody, and he got up at the count of nine, I knew it was going to be the longest night of my life!"

Who knows, maybe Senator Bryan's bill might even pave the way once again for diversity in boxing. There was a day when the Irish and the Italians were well represented, and I'll bet the Japanese, with their superb martial arts skills, might even become interested in boxing if it's truly opened up to all comers. The Boxing Reform Act could be the best thing to happen to boxing in the past 40 years. Let's hope the bums don't find a way to riddle it with loopholes.

Bob Thomas is a Carson City businessman, local curmudgeon and former member of the Carson City School Board and Nevada State Assembly.


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