During a week in which the Boston Pops Orchestra could bring itself to play The Rock and Roll Waltz at Symphony Hall it was not, perhaps, off-key for the Massachusetts Boxing Commission to issue a manager's license to Honest Bill Daly to the contrapuntal rhythm of Julius Helfand's real jazzy decision that Welterweight Champion Johnny Saxton may, if he wishes, fight in New York, and never mind what anybody (including Helfand himself) ever said about whacking up purses with Blinky Palermo.
These events were the confusing overture to the Tony DeMarco-Vince Martinez fight at Fenway Park. They made a tune that boxing will dance to long after DeMarco's truly stirring comeback victory is forgotten in all but the record books. For they make it seem that Helfand cannot now hope to win the cooperation of some important boxing states on anything like a dependable basis. Helfand has insisted that the various states must recognize each other's suspensions, even to the extent of refusing to let boxers sign their own fight contracts if their managers are suspended. As he said at the New York Boxing Writers' annual dinner last winter, it would be "sheer hypocrisy" to suppose that a fighter and his suspended manager would not meet after such a bout and "whack up the purse." He was very bitter indeed that the Massachusetts and Illinois boxing commissions felt this policy would visit unfair hardship on innocent boxers. He was particularly bitter that Illinois allowed Saxton, managed by the unlicensed Palermo, to sign for the fight in which Saxton won the welterweight championship from Carmen Basilio.
But last week the New York commissioner, who had won respect and cooperation in other troubled boxing centers by sticking to stern principle, compromised his own rule. On the plea of Basilio and Norman Rothschild, Syracuse promoter, Helfand decided that it would be all right for Saxton to sign for a Basilio fight in New York. He did not, he said, wish to deprive Basilio of a chance to win back his title.
Certainly Carmen Basilio deserves a full measure of justice, but just as the onions of Canastota grow in mushy soil, so boxing's ills depend in great part on the mushy decisions of boxing commissions. By this one, for all its charitable purpose, Helfand has given aid and comfort to his enemies.
"Hah," exulted Bill Daly at the Martinez-DeMarco weighin, his fair body covered with bruises from Helfand's pounding fists. "Hypocrite Helfand. You can take notes. Remember the great speech he made at the Boxing Writers' dinner? Him and his high-powered press agent. Not one supposed racketeer has he discovered but he has destroyed more people who have been in boxing 35 years—Tex Sullivan over there, without a stain on his name until Helfand.
"He has done this Basilio thing to satisfy the whims of upstate politicians in New York. He is the stooge of the politicians."
Daly had just benefited by a decision of the Massachusetts commission. Last April, he says, the commission promised him a license. But a few days before the Martinez-DeMarco fight, his application was rejected, out of respect for Helfand's feelings in the matter and a long-standing agreement with the New York commission. Next day, after consultation with the attorney general, it was accepted. The agreement, it seems, has expired.
As for Blinky Palermo, he sat at ringside with Saxton and proudly passed around a statement, signed by Saxton, which proclaimed the Blink as "my manager, my friend and my adviser...honest and trustworthy in every dealing we have had."
"I am going along with Mr. Palermo," Johnny said.
This too was a slap at Helfand, who once told Palermo he could not hope to get a license in New York. With the expiration of his Pennsylvania license, Blinky just doesn't have one. But he goes on managing. He will manage in New York too, if Helfand's latest ruling leads to a Saxton-Basilio fight there. Saxton, however, seemed loath to make any deals without Palermo or to fight Basilio in his home town.
The Martinez-DeMarco fight? In fight-fevered Boston, it seemed to a visitor that it overshadowed all problems of principle in public concern. And it really was a dandy. Martinez took the first four rounds with a magnificent display of boxing, then succumbed to an overwhelming, two-fisted attack from a reborn DeMarco, who crashed lefts and rights to the body and head with unstoppable abandon for the remaining six rounds and earned a close but well-deserved decision.