There are excuses galore that fighters will use to avoid accepting certain fights. Here is a brief sampling: “We’re friends; we train in the same gym; I know his trainer and he seems like a good guy; I won't fight him in his backyard; he fired his strength trainer and I like the guy; he’s too tall; I cannot find video on him; why knock off another Philly fighter; he’s left-handed; let’s fight him later when it means something.” My favorite: “I heard he’s been in the gym.” Sorry, but what is a fighter supposed to do, not train?
Welcome to boxing in Philadelphia, 2014-style!
Ironically, things were not much better here in 1973 when The Spectrum got into the boxing business and hired J Russell Peltz to run the show. Reading about the state of boxing back then in old scrapbooks, I saw the same excuses. Of course, we still had Bad Bennie Briscoe, who fought anyone, anywhere, anytime, anyplace. But he was like an oasis in the desert. That must have been a transition year, because before that, at the Arena or Convention Hall, Philadelphia boxing was rockin’.
“In 1973, we ran about 17 shows at The Spectrum,” Peltz said. “We were hemorrhaging money. Only three of the 17 turned a profit and those were the three headlined by Briscoe. The other 14 finished in the red–way in the red. We had good fighters like Cyclone Hart, Boogaloo Watts, Willie Monroe, Sammy Goss, Tyrone Everett, Alfonso Hayman and on and on but trying to get them to fight each other was like pulling teeth. Near the end of 1973, Allen Flexer, who was the CFO, took me to lunch at the Blue Line Club at The Spectrum. Looking back on it, I believe the purpose of the meeting was for him to relieve me of my job. We sat and talked for a few hours and I told him we could be successful if I could make the local matchups everyone wanted to see.”
Peltz went out and posted notices on the walls of the local gyms about an upcoming meeting at Joe Frazier’s gym to discuss the situation.
“The place was packed that night,” he said. “I sat on the ring apron and everyone sat on chairs—some stood—in a semi-circle around me. I remember telling everyone that The Spectrum had the Flyers and the 76ers and the circus and concerts and the ice shows and that they certainly could survive without boxing and if they dropped the sport we’d be back at the broken-down Arena in West Philly and we’d be stuck in a time warp. I told them if they fought one another the crowds would turn out and the purses would go up and it would be a win-win situation for everyone. We went back and forth for more than an hour.
“When the meeting ended, Pop Bates, an old-timer who ran the Passyunk Gym, told his protégé, Jimmy Arthur, who managed welterweight Alfonso Hayman, to agree to let Hayman and North Philly’s William Watson settle their rivalry, which was 1-1. The major breakthrough came from Eddie Futch, who was in charge of the Cloverlay, Inc., fighters, which included Joe Frazier and Monroe. Yank Durham, who previously had managed and trained them, had died suddenly four months earlier. Yank was vehemently against local matchups, so, ironically, his death paved the way for the last golden age of boxing in Philadelphia. Futch, who three times put his welterweight Hedgemon Lewis in with Ernie “Indian Red” Lopez in Los Angeles, twice at the Olympic Auditorium and once at the Sports Arena for big money, understood what I was saying. Shortly after that, I was able to sign Monroe to fight Cyclone Hart, two dynamic middleweights who had risen through the ranks together.”
The meeting helped put a spark back in the local fight scene. It built the frame for these fighters to make a name for themselves. Something that I wish we could get through to managers and fighters that are currently on the scene.
“From 1974 through 1979,” ”Peltz said, “those six years, The Spectrum ranked up there with places like Madison Square Garden, and the Olympic and The Forum in Los Angeles.”
The Spectrum’s informal middleweight tournament in 1974 included Briscoe, Kitten Hayward, Watts, Monroe, Hart and Li’l Abner along with adopted out-of-towners Emile Griffith and Billy “Dyanmite” Douglas. Crowds ranged from 4,000 to 10,000 and The Spectrum became to go-to place on the East Coast. Junior lightweight rivals Sammy Goss, of Trenton, NJ, and Tyrone Everett, of South Philly, drew close to 10,000 for their showdown that year, won by the ill-fated Everett in spectacular fashion.
Briscoe and Hayward were the only two middleweights to challenge for world titles, but you have to remember that world-title shots were few and far between in an era where, for most of the time, there was only one champion and eight weight classes. Today there are four different world (alphabet) titles in 17 different weight classes, five if you include The Ring magazine.
If you look at The Ring magazine rankings in the April, 2014, issue, there is only one champion from Philadelphia (Danny Garcia) in all 17 weight classes and only one other fighter (Bernard Hopkins) in the Top 10 in any weight class. Talk about putting the past in perspective. In the 70’s there were six Philadelphia middleweights (plus the adopted Douglas) who were world-ranked at one time or another, a position they reached by fighting each another in their mutual backyard and creating a buzz throughout the city that will be etched in Philadelphia sports history forever.
The mother lode of local middleweight matchups came late in 1975 when Briscoe and Hart collided at Broad and Pattison. Over 11,000 people watched an all-action 10-round draw which the British-based weekly publication Boxing News rated the second best Fight of the Year behind the Thrilla in Manila between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier. Whew! Fighting on a percentage of the gate—remember those days—Briscoe earned $20,000.00 that night, Hart $15,000.00. Guess what those purses are worth today: $90,000.00 for Briscoe, $68,000.00 for Hart. No TV income, no bogus titles, just a good old-fashioned 10-round fight.
Their rematch six months later in the same ring drew an even bigger gate. Briscoe went home with $30,000.00 (worth $126,000.00 today) and Hart $25,000.00 ($105,000.00 today). It was a short night’s work for Briscoe, who knocked out Hart in the first round. I wonder how many non-champions are making that kind of money today for a main event without television or even with TV. Fighters hold out in hope of making big money but they don’t realize that without a fan base and without television, there is no big money. Believe me, no main-event boxer on ESPN 2, Fox Sports, Telemundo, UniMas or ShoBox makes that kind of money. Fighters need a local fan base to help generate bigger purses and the fan base grows when the fan is familiar with the fighter in each corner.
Later in the 1970s The Spectrum got into the light-heavyweight business, staging some of the best fights in the history of the 175-pound division featuring Matthew Franklin (Saad Muhammad), Marvin Johnson, Mike Rossman, Richie Kates, Jerry “The Bull” Martin, Yaqui Lopez, Jesse Burnett, Lonnie Bennett and Douglas, who by that time had moved up in weight. Franklin earned $20,000.00 beating Lopez and that’s worth $75,000.00 today. Nice!
So I can understand why the general public no longer shows much interest in the sport. Fans want to see competitive fights. From the beginning of time through the early 1980s, Philly fighters fought for more than money–they fought for pride. Hall-of-Fame bantamweight champion Jeff Chandler (right), of South Philly, once asked Peltz to get him someone better after Peltz had offered him a Spectrum 10-rounder with Jose Resendez, of Los Angeles, CA, when the then-unbeaten Chandler was moving into 10-rounders in 1979. Resendez was 10-8-1 and on his way to a career record of 14-39-3. Peltz acquiesced. On another occasion, after blowing away tiny Alberto Cruz in Atlantic City that summer, Chandler told Peltz never to embarrass him again in front of his fans by getting him someone who was not even close to Chandler’s skill level. When the opposition improved, so did Chandler and he won the WBA world title in 1980. Two years later, forced to fight Miguel Iriarte, a politically anointed No. 1 contender from Panama, Chandler mocked his pathetic opponent for eight rounds before dispatching him at Resorts International In Atlantic City.
“I wanted to embarrass the WBA,” Chandler said afterword. “I want to fight the best guys, not these phony challengers.” Chandler was not interested in the politics which had made the inferior Iriarte a mandatory challenger.
What I would give to deal with a fighter like him. They don’t come along like that anymore.