Barbara Long Has a Boxing Proposition
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December 2, 1965, Vol. XI, No. 7
The Lady Proposes A Final Solution
By Barbara Long
Hell's bells, baby, it's not my fault, so don't blame me. Okay, I like fights. I'm not ashamed of that. True, there is a copy of Nat Fleischer's "Fifty Years at Ringside" on my desk next to the bound volumes of "Mary Worth," 1957-1964. Yes, over my bed hangs a picture of Billy Graham corkscrewing his right hand into what's left of Kid Gavilan's face. Obviously I am not only a fight fan but a pretty serious one. However, the money men never consult me before a fight, and I can justly disavow any responsibility for the entire heavyweight hassle. I don't know if everybody bugged Hannah Arendt about The Human Condition after she published her book on it, but two days before a heavyweight title fight my phone starts ringing. Perfectly pleasant people forget their manners, skip the amenities like "how are you," and hit me with a salty "Well, what's going to happen this time, Barbara?" How the hell should I know what's going to happen? Nobody ever tells me anything. A couple of hours after the fight the phone starts ringing again. "Well, Long, what's your explanation?" Here is some guy I haven't seen for a year, he's lost a lousy sawbuck on the fight, and he's demanding an explanation from me.
I play the paranoid game too. Before the fight I listen for clues. I don't think that the Clay-Liston-Patterson sequence of fights is fixed, but public paranoia affects everyone, so when I hear a radio interview with Sonny Liston and he says that Patterson can handle Clay, I begin to wonder if that's the way the dodge is going. But when I go to see the fight, I revert to ringside habits. I watch the fight, and I believe the fight. What I saw was what I reported a few months ago after the Clay-Liston fight. Clay is a superb young athlete who has to prove it and can't prove anything much by going up against Floyd Patterson. Patterson's a sweetheart...noble, lovely, the favorite neurotic of Murray Kempton and the Liberal Press, but as a fighter he's over the hill and to some of us he wasn't much of a fighter even as he was climbing up. Since Clay needs to eat and there's not much fodder to feed him, I would have tossed him a hunk of Canadian George Chuvalo. I'm not saying that Chuvalo had a chance against him, but I did want to see some things that a fight with Chuvalo would have brought out. Instead, like everyone else, I had to see Clay fight Patterson, and Patterson just never had a chance. His only hope was to get inside and reach Clay's chin. He couldn't get close to a Clay who moves like a new vacuum cleaner gone made. Clay's defenses were not impressive, but he didn't need many. The press clamor over Clay's contemptuousness? What do I care? I don't go to fights to see gentlemen. If I want to watch two old ladies drink tea and eat crumpets, I go to a tea party. The point of fighting is to give two men a room in which the can work and it's their work I'm interested in, not their manners. Clay's razzing of Patterson in the ring? There are no rules about that and post facto rules don't count. Could Clay have knocked out Patterson? Seems like he should have been able to, and couldn't. Well, it looked to me like he was trying, and possibly we're in an era of non-knockout champions, but the press bitching about how he should have done it out of kindness is absurd. The press needs copy and they turn it out. Millions of words of it. Last time they could talk about a dump. This time they fastened on Clay's attitude. The point of the fight was not citizenship, and if you doubt that, then just ask Patterson. He might not be a great fighter, but he is a pro, and he knows what two men go into that ring for, and you don't hear him complaining about attitude. He wanted to win the fight, and so did Clay, and that's what it was all about.
Okay, so I buy the fight. It was a good show. Clay's style interests me. I still think he's going to be champion for a long time. I am sensitive to my fellow countrymen's hurt feelings, however, and I think that something should be done about them. Here's my plan...start writing to your Congressmen. Tell them that I should be appointed the first Federal Boxing Commissioner. I need the money, and I have friends who need some cushy appointments. I'll abolish the heavyweight division. That's what upsets my countrymen -- it's not boxing, because they don't give a damn about boxing, it's their foolish feeling after heavyweight title fights. I've never been that fond of heavyweights either. We'll have only middleweights and the lighter weights. We'll act out the burlesque of interest in boxing. Everybody's complaining about paucity of talent. All right. I'll use Federal funds to start boxing clubs, and I'll take talented kids out of schools and put them in training programs at the clubs. Compulsory education is ridiculous anyway, and fighters should start their training when they're 13 or 14. The program for re-interesting the public in boxing will include some fixed matches, but I promise good ones. If the apprenticeship program works, if the club houses are packed with all of these people who call me once a year or so when they decide they're really interested in boxing, if some talent comes along, then America will be a fighting country again.
Meanwhile, every few months I'll call Clay into my office, stick a cigar in my mouth, put my feet up on the desk, and say, "Start fighting, boy." Bears, lions, anacondas, I don't care what kind of competition I have to bring in. I just get a kick out of watching him.
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