Friday, July 22, 2011

Hudson-Bell at the Orchard

by Pete Ehrmann

Even baseball has its shady past (How 'bout them Black Sox!), but probably no sport has a history more replete with baleful underworld forces pulling strings behind the scenes and fixing results to suit their own crooked ends than professional boxing.

Gangsters and fixed fights are staples of ring lore and literature, and according to one expert on the subject on a very hot August night 64 years ago the corruption splattered the ring at Borchert Field.

On August 4, 1947, Cincinnati welterweight Tommy Bell, the Number One-ranked contender in the 147-pound division, stepped between the ropes in the orchard an 8-1 favorite to step back out of them 10 rounds or less later with his second victory in 11 months over Milwaukee's Cecil Hudson.

Cecil Hudson's leaping left jab was in Tommy Bell's face most of the 10 rounds in their boxing match at Borchert field Monday night. The picture shows Hudson (right) executing his specialty. This time, though, Bell got home a left jab, too. Both of Hudson's feet left the mat when he threw this punch.
—Journal Staff
When they'd met on September 27, 1946 at the Milwaukee Auditorium, Bell was awarded a razor-thin decision.

"The sooner the two can be rematched, the better," urged R.G. Lynch, sports editor of the Milwaukee Journal after what he called "the most savage 10-round battle" seen locally in years. "Bell had the punching power and in the end that was the difference. He caught up with Hudson in the 9th round and only a chunk of bone and gristle like Cecil could have stood up under such a beating. Hudson, however, had piled up such a lead that Bell's big round did no more than pull him up even, and when the bell sounded to start the last round they still had to settle it. The winner of the round would win the fight. Hudson seemed to know it and put up a grand finish, but Bell had the range and outpunched him."

Tommy Bell

Bell's very next fight was for the vacant welterweight championship of the world. In New York City's Madison Square Garden on December 20, he knocked down Sugar Ray Robinson in the third round, but at the end of 15 rounds the referee and two judges awarded their decision and the first of six world titles that Robinson, considered by most experts the greatest boxer ever, would win in his 24-year career.

Although he dropped the decision to Bell at the Auditorium (and in his next bout, on November 1, was stopped by Robinson in five rounds in Detroit), 1946 was a better than average year for Hudson. In his eighth year as a professional boxer, the native of San Jose, California had won 10 (including a decision on May 6 over Bell in New York City), lost five, and gained a new hometown. Hudson relocated to Milwaukee after beating local favorites Charley Parham and Jimmy Sherrer in Auditorium bouts.

Cecil Hudson

At the end of '46, both the Milwaukee Journal and Milwaukee Sentinel declared Hudson the city's "Fighter of the Year."

In his first fight of 1947, on March 14, Tommy Bell lost a unanimous 10-round decision to a boxer who would eventually become world's middleweight champion, a member of the International Boxing Hall of Fame, and the subject of what is arguably the best boxing movie ever turned out by Hollywood. Losing to "Raging Bull" Jake LaMotta, then the top-ranked fighter in the 160-pound division, didn't affect Bell's standing as a welterweight, and after two subsequent victories in the 147-pound class Bell went into the rubber match against Hudson at Borchert Field as the overwhelming favorite.

"(Bell) has the equipment to beat Hudson," wrote Sentinel boxing savant Ray Grody — "a short, but dynamite loaded right, a fine boxing style featured by a jolting left jab, and more than a touch of ring wisdom."

Bell had withstood the bombs of Jake LaMotta for 10 rounds, and according to Grody he had no worries on that score from Hudson, "a pushing, jabbing 'cutie' who can make the best look bad," but no KO puncher.

What's more, after winning his first four fights in 1947, an out-of-shape Hudson had taken a pasting in his last bout, losing a 10-round decision to Eddie O'Neil at the Auditorium on July 1.

On the eve of the fight at the orchard, Bell told Ray Grody that he was "determined to murder that guy Hudson this time."

"I'm ready to start fast right away and level for a knockout," Bell continued. "I now he's a cutie (and) I've been told he's in very good shape. But I have too much at stake to blow this fight."

It was the first boxing card at Borchert Field in two years, and 3,850 fans braved the fiercest heat wave in seven years (99 degrees at 3 p.m.) to attend. "The combination of heat and lights over the ring (made) it a great night for the bugs," wrote Lloyd Larson n the Sentinel the next day. "The little 'flyers' swarm(ed) all over the place."

Hudson did plenty of swarming himself, boxing as if he and not Bell was the top-ranked welterweight in the world. After 10 rounds, the decision for Hudson was unanimous.

"Bell was willing but not able," wrote R.G. Lynch in the Journal. "He threw plenty of punches in the early rounds but missed time and again. Finally, tired and discouraged, he decided it was too hot to chase butterflies and in the 5th, 6th and 7th rounds Hudson salted the victory away. Tommy found new life near the end and gave Hudson a thumping in the 10th round, but it was too late."

According to Lynch, Bell "seemed acutely aware of the fact that he looked very bad." Twice after the final bell when Hudson tried to shake his hand, Bell refused. In his next day column about the fight in the Sentinel, Lloyd Larson wrote: "…One can't help but wonder what caused Bell's poor showing. Surely he has a lot at stake in every bout if he still hopes to get another shot at Robinson… He won't get it by looking like a chump against any top-notcher, welterweight or middleweight."

(Bell probably couldn't get out of town fast enough. Along with everything else, two days before the fight when he and three friends went to hit golf balls at a driving range on N. 100th St. and W. Blue Mound Rd. in Wauwatosa, owner William Beveridge refused to let them. "I told them that I had no objection to them personally as Negroes," Beveridge told a reporter, "but that if I permitted them to use the range it would ruin my business.")

On September 3, Cecil Hudson pulled an even bigger rabbit out of a hat. At Comiskey Park in Chicago, he scored what was called "the greatest upset boxing has had in several years" by winning a 10-round decision over Jake LaMotta.

"His jolting left jab kept LaMotta off balance most of the time, and when the harassed New York Italian tore loose with desperate rallies in the 5th and 9th rounds, Hudson was ready with two-fisted punching in which he more than held his own," reported the Journal. "The agile Hudson again was the little man who wasn't there."

His successive upset victories over the Number One welterweight and middleweight challengers, respectively, were rewarded when it was announced that Hudson would fight Sugar Ray Robinson for the welterweight championship at Madison Square Garden on December 19.

But then in the September 25 edition of the New York Mirror, columnist Dan Parker, the country's most relentless and influential crusader against corruption in pro boxing, lobbed a grenade at the proposed title fight and the explosion was felt back in Milwaukee. Parker wrote that Hudson was an unsuitable challenger for Robinson's title and said Hudson been maneuvered into that position "principally because he is owned by Frankie Carbo, one of the sinister backstage figures in the boxing racket."

"The sudden resurrection of Hudson as a welterweight contender," wrote Parker, "traces back to two bouts which have all the earmarks of Carbo specials. In Milwaukee, when Cecil was an 8-1 underdog he won a decision over Tommy Bell, and in Chicago, where he was a 3-1 short-ender, he scored the season's biggest upset by beating Jake LaMotta."

Dan Parker

What Parker called a "Carbo special" meant the fix was in, that Hudson was a guaranteed winner before he even laid a glove on Bell and LaMotta.

The gutsy columnist was smack on target on two points: Frankie Carbo owned Hudson's contract, and he was as sinister as mobsters came in boxing or any other racket.

When it came to manipulating, fixing, extorting and otherwise throwing his weight around in boxing, Carbo's best days were still ahead; but in 1947 the man who would become known and feared as "Mister Gray" and the "underworld czar of boxing" already had a lengthy and fearsome criminal record.

Frankie Carbo, "the underworld czar of boxing"

A graduate of the infamous organized crime outfit known as "Murder, Inc.," Carbo committed his first homicide in 1928. "It is hard to know how many murders Carbo committed," wrote Jim Brady in his 2007 book Boxing Confidential: Power, Corruption and the Richest Prize in Sport, "but some said he was one of the 'top torpedoes' of the time. He was arrested a total of 17 times, five of them for murder."

Carbo muscled into the fight game in 1933, and by 1946 an FBI report noted that he was "said to manipulate odds by causing desired results in fights, and to cash in heavily on fixed fights."

By 1950, pro boxing would be Carbo's personal chessboard. From behind the scenes he controlled most of the eight world championships, determined what fighters fought for them, and usually had a stake in both corners. He and his henchmen ruled boxing by threat, violence and pay-off (the takers included some respected boxing writers), and it finally ended in 1959 when Carbo went to jail for a deuce after being convicted in New York of managing boxers without a license. Tried again in 1962 for separate misdeeds in boxing, he was sentenced to 25 years by Judge George Boldt, who said: "Never in his life has (Carbo) been associated with any useful activity. He has been a menace to humanity and a hardened and degenerate criminal."

So, was Dan Parker right in labeling the Cecil Hudson-Tommy Bell fight at Borchert Field and the subsequent Hudson-Jake LaMotta bout as phonies?

At the time, Milwaukee Journal sports editor R.G. Lynch doubted it. In his "I May Be Wrong" column printed the same day as Parker's bombshell in the New York Mirror, Lynch defended Hudson as a "tough, tricky fighter who might beat any man," and said, "it is not reasonable to believe that even Carbo would induce (Bell and LaMotta), or their managers, to lose deliberately and risk their title chances, their reputations and their careers — and all the potential earnings involved."

Lynch also scoffed when reports of another fix swirled in the New York press after LaMotta's four-round TKO defeat by Billy Fox at Madison Square Garden on November 14, 1947, in LaMotta's first fight after losing to Hudson.

"What is the matter with all of those big brains in New York?" Lynch wrote on November 18, referring to the skeptical Big Apple newshounds. "Don't they realize that if it had been a fix LaMotta would have taken the count on one punch without creating all of this fuss? And without taking a bad beating? But he did not."

Thirteen years later, though, LaMotta confessed to a U.S. Senate subcommittee investigating corruption in boxing that he had in fact taken a dive against Fox because the Carbo-led mob said it was the only way he would ever get to fight for the middleweight title. And in a 1962 magazine article titled "Honest Fighters Finish Last," LaMotta wrote that he had also "carried" Cecil Hudson in their 1947 bout on orders of the mob, but hadn't expected to lose the decision.

In the article, LaMotta said: "I was a thief. I threw a fight. I did two terms in jail and I'm lucky I wasn't a murderer. But those rats who ran boxing made me look like Little Lord Fauntleroy."

Jake finally became middleweight champion in 1949.

An ailing Frankie Carbo was released from prison in 1976 on "humanitarian" grounds, and died later that year.

Cecil Hudson's career did an abrupt 180 after the Bell fight at Borchert. Not only did he not fight Sugar Ray Robinson for the welterweight title in December of 1947 (thanks, at least in part, by the uproar ignited by Dan Parker), but he won only one of his next 13 bouts.

Tommy Bell did better than that, but he never got another title fight.

No official charges were ever brought against anyone connected with the Bell-Hudson match in the orchard, and the result stands in the record books as a win for Hudson.

But with underworld czar and infamous fight-fixer Frankie Carbo in his corner, it's more likely than not that among the bugs having a high old time there on August 4, 1947 were the slimy ones that infested boxing then.

No comments:

Post a Comment