Suspicions of fixing fights and protecting certain boxers have plagued the sport since it’s earliest days. The great author Budd Schulberg even wrote a novel in 1947 titled “The Harder They Fall” which was about a boxer whose fights are fixed. The book was later developed into a popular film of the same title in 1956.
The first fighter who comes to mind whose legacy has endured whipsers of fight fixing is the former Heavyweight champion Primo Carnera. Carnera was a muscular giant of a man who stood 6-7 but he did not have a powerful punch or precise technical skills. He had heart and he had the right management. Carnera won the title by stopping Jack Sharkey with an uppercut, according to the history books, but many ringsiders don’t believe the punch actually landed. There was rampant speculation that the fight outcome was a mob fix and Sharkey had thrown the fight.
Carnera later fought Max Baer and was floored 11 times before being stopped in the 11th round.
Carnera’s manager was a man named Lou Soresi, who was linked to the underworld, so naturally it was suspected that many of Carnera’s fights were controlled events.
Carnera was a very popular cultural figure who had success in making Hollywood films and also performing in professional wrestling. Carnera was a leading draw in the grappling sport and had 187 pro wrestling matches.
It was said in press releases during Carnera’s prime years that for breakfast he would consume 19 pieces of toast, 14 eggs, a quart of orange juice and two quarts of milk. Carnera recorded 72 KO’s in his boxing career but if you look at the films of his fights, there was not much special about his athleticism or fighting prowess.
Another boxer who had a fraudulent aspect about his career was the former Pro Bowl NFL defensive lineman Mark Gastineau. At the age of 35, Gastineau decided to try pro boxing in 1991. His first fight was a first round KO win over a pro wrestler named Derrick Dukes who later admitted he took a dive.
60 Minutes did a segment on Gastineau’s boxing career and interviewed several of his opponents who spoke on the record about being told to take dives to make Gastineau look good.
Gastineau showed marginal skills if not remarkable boxing talents and kept at the art of pugilism for five years before calling it quits in 1996. His last fight was a loss to another NFL player turned boxer, Alonzo Highsmith. Gastineau’s final ring record was 15-2.
Perhaps the most outrageous fraud in modern boxing history was the Mike Tyson-Bruce Seldon WBA Heavyweight title fight at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas in 1996. Mike Tyson, at that point, was a shell of a shell of his prime self, the Iron Mike Tyson of 1985-1988. But he was a massive name and after the jail stint in Ohio, there was a gigantic audience who still wanted to see Mike Tyson terrorize the heavyweight division. Don King controlled Tyson for most of the 1990′s and he knew how to make smart business decisions in running and handpicking Tyson’s career despite the fact Tyson no longer able to unleash his combinations with the same pinpoint accuracy or ferocity.
To keep the public interested, the illusion needed to be created that Tyson could still score devastating knockout wins. And that’s what Tyson was supposed to do with the muscular though weak-chinned Seldon. However a funny thing happened – Seldon went down in the first round – but Tyson’s punches did not appear to connect, or connect cleanly. Fans in the arena shouted, “Fix! Fix! Fix!” Seldon retired after the Tyson fight – which was by far the largest payday of his career.
Was Tyson-Seldon indeed a fix? We’ll never know for sure. But the motives were certainly there. And some of the visual evidence is rather persuasive.
Another heavyweight boxer who had a curious career was the former Dallas Cowboy Pro Bowl defensive lineman Ed “Too Tall” Jones. The 6-8 Jones decided to take up pro boxing in 1979 at the prime age of 28. His first fight was televised by CBS and it was against a Mexican named Yaqui Menesis in November 1979. I saw this fight live on TV and Jones handlers either overestimated their man’s talents or underestimated Menesis because it was a very competitive, tough fight. Menesis decked Jones but ended up losing a majority decision over six rounds. Jones, despite enormous height and reach advantages, struggled with Menesis and was lucky to get the win.
Jones had a total of six pro fights, all broadcast nationally by CBS. Too Tall won them all (6-0, 5 KO’s) but decided to quit boxing and return to the NFL gridiron in 1980.
Another suspicious "fight" was the Ali-Liston rematch in Maine, which was won by Ali by first-round KO although many ringsiders claimed the punch couldn't squash a grape, some called it a "phantom punch." I will never forget what Hall of Fame matchmaker Teddy Brenner once told me in an interview regarding the Ali-Liston fight: "...the less said, the better."
Which leads us to the modern era fraud of boxing – Floyd Mayweather Jr. Mayweather is a different breed of fraud as he is very talented and accomplished, a winner of six world titles. His wins against Diego Corrales, Genaro Hernandez and Arturo Gatti were some of the finest ring performances by a champion in this modern era.
But Mayweather deceived the public and the sport. He promised to fight the biggest fights for the fans, against the most lethal of competition. “If it makes dollars it makes sense…I’ll whup any one from 154 on down.”
But when formidable, high risk challenges emerged to threaten Mayweather, all we got were an endless list of excuses and reasons, faked retirements, vacations, to avoid Antonio Margarito, Paul Williams, prime Miguel Cotto, prime Shane Mosley, and of course, Manny Pacquiao.
Mayweather even told us before he fought Victor Ortiz, that “Manny Pacquiao, you’re next" and then later denied he ever said that, though the statement was captured on video.
That's the way boxing is, it's not always "what you see is what you get."
As former WBO Heavyweight champion Michael Bentt once told me, "Boxing is 90% bluffs."
Floyd Mayweather actually said in an interview last year that he doesn't love boxing like he used to "because it's not real anymore."