Barbara Long: A Riotous Good Time At the Fights


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August 12, 1965, Vol. X, No. 43

Good Night at the Fights

By Barbara Long

A riot? Not really.

True, there was a bit of hanky panky following the fight at Madison Square Garden last week. One hundred or so of the 7,000 people present did destroy several rows of seats and were willing to destroy the rest. True, also, that, in a gesture of aesthetic activism only worthy of the highest possible praise from anyone with half an ear, they threw the console organ over the mezzanine railing onto the main floor below. Pushing and pummeling, some fireax-wielding, a couple of arrests, a smidgeon of terrorism. All of that, certainly, but hardly a riot.

This was the first boxing event held at the Garden in over a month, and perhaps the rowdiness was more a joyous reunion than a riot. Fight fans are shy and awkward in verbalizing the social amenities, and have their own way of saying it’s-good-to-be-back.

A lot of familiar faces were missing from ringside that night, however. The fight between Flash Elorde and Frankie Narvaez was important because the winner is scheduled to fight the lightweight champion in the fall, but lightweight is not a popular division in this country. There were few Negroes or non-Puerto Rican whites present, many Puerto Ricans, and a surprising number of Filipinos, new to us, constantly smiling and congenial.

Possibly some of the ringside regulars were out of town, although it’s difficult to imagine K.O. Kelly summering at the Hamptons. K.O. is an elderly fellow, wearing a maroon flannel jacket with his name spelled out across the back, who claims to have invented the athletic cup. No one has ever proved his claim but neither have they disproved it, there being little literature in the field. The second-row Mafiosi nothing first row-pushy about these guys) were missing. So were their New York City-blonde tootsies, the ones who look gorgeous until they start chomping on their chewing gum. The dark, intense-looking college kid who always reads from his New York University Press paperback edition of “Godel’s Theorem” between bouts wasn’t there either. Nor was the albino who shouts instructions to any fighter on whom he happens to be betting a buck. “Come, come, my Argentinean angel, make him arm-weary. Arm-weary, we got him arm-weary. Ref, stop this fight. We do not, my man and me, want to kill this poor unfortunate foe.” Invariably he puts his money on a bum, and on good nights, when his mentoring, if not his fighter, has reached the heights of genius, he comes out of the spell saying, good-naturedly, “Who are the winner?” One night his friends got embarrassed at his monologue and said shut-up-for-crissake and he answered, “What’d you come here for, to sit like a poet?”

With everybody feeling self-conscious after being away so long, no one wanted to be the first to throw out “stick him” or “the right hook, baby, give him the right hook.” A Negro chap sitting behind me, wearing an English driving cap and a tatersall vest, shouted a tentative “Keep the pressa on, Shorty.” The response in our section was favorable. We were home at last. He continued, “You waited too long with the right, Shorty.” English Cap repeated, “You waited too long with right, Shorty.” The man sitting in front of him asked friendily for a definition of terms: “Which one is Shorty? They’re both short.” English Cap responded graciously that Shorty was Luke Ervin. Ervin, 133 1/2, was being completely outfought by Mike Cortez, 133 /2, a very classy kid.

Ervin was classy in his own way. No doubt remembering the old show biz axiom that it’s bad luck to be seen with losers, he avoided going back to his corner.

He spent some time in Cortez’s corner shaking hands with the victor and hugging the winning trainers, and then stopped off at a neutral corner to shake hands with the referee, who, while he hadn’t won anything, hadn’t lost anything either. Finally, he reluctantly returned to his own corner and joined his party there.

The prelims were exceptionally good, and the main event was excellent, far better than I had expected. The odds had been heavy for Freddie Narvaez to take the junior lightweight title (unofficial) away from Elorde, who hasn’t fought here since 1956 when he lost a decision to Miguel Berrios.

Elorde surprised the crowd by taking everything Narvaez, a hard hitter, gave him. They appeared even going into the third round during which Elorde showed signs of tiring. Narvaez always finishes strong and things were looking pretty much as predicted, when Elorde came out for the fourth both untired and now concentrating combinations to the head, with the Puerto Rican dropping his right hand each time he saw one coming. After opening a cut over Narvaez’s right eye in the eighth, Elorde never let up. At no point did Narvaez have any insurance rounds and, despite the bad bleeding, had to stay in with Elorde until the final bell. The referee and one judge gave it to Elorde 5-4-1 and another referee had it 7-2-1 for Narvaez, a score difficult to understand. The fight was as close as they come, and the decision was fair.

Did the Narvaez Puerto Ricans in the balcony start their prankishness because they thought their man had been cheated? Probably not, but given the misleading 7-2-1 count by judge Bill Recht, and stimulated by a good night at the fights, some of them proved reluctant to go home.

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