It is possible for the honey bear, an easily tamed, nocturnal, carnivorous animal with lustrous eyes, to turn rabid. This has happened, on occasion, to Virgil (Honey Bear) Akins, a lustrous-eyed welterweight who once served steaks to nocturnal, carnivorous patrons of his St. Louis restaurant, Honey Bear Inn. It has happened, on occasion, that he has been tame.
Now Akins, a Sunday school teacher and beagle fancier, is to dispute for the welterweight title with Vince Martinez, a Miami Beach innkeeper, at St. Louis on the night of June 6, which TV tuners will recognize as a by-no-means meatless Friday.
As late as last summer it had been widely assumed that neither Akins nor Martinez ever would have a chance at the championship Carmen Basilio tossed aside when he won the middleweight title. At that time the Akins stock had slumped into the penny brackets. It was even called an upset when he stopped the presumptuously overballyhooed Sugar Hart. Akins also gained no prestige when he lost to Franz Szuzina and Gil Turner. Szuzina is not ranked by the National Boxing Association, and Turner is only No. 6, but the man they licked is favored (by odds of 5-9) to become a champion.
Somewhat mysteriously, by winter the honey bear had turned into a tiger. Akins came clawing back to contention with two smashing knockouts of Tony DeMarco (Basilio's stepping stone to the welter title) and, finally, a surprising, odds-upending TKO over Isaac Logart, from whom he had previously won and lost.
This is a very peculiar record. District Attorney Frank Hogan is now asking a New York grand jury if Mobster Frankie Carbo played it on his low-fidelity machine.
As for Martinez, he was beyond the pale when Basilio was welter champion. Basilio despised him as a "pop-off guy" and vowed never to give him a chance at the title.
Martinez, whose won-lost record (60-5) is superior to Akins' (47-17), is an underdog because there is a dubiousness about his desire to fight once he has been hurt. When he fought DeMarco a couple of years ago, Martinez boxed like a master until the rude DeMarco joyously busted through his defense with stunning body and head blows. Thereafter Martinez looked like a craven seeking a haven. He lost going away.
Martinez has been "popping off" again. He says he will knock out Akins, who has not been stopped since 1953. Martinez himself has never been stopped. He has kept his head on his shoulders and his feet on his bicycle pedals at all times.
Akins has a hard jab, a sound right and fine endurance. He was able to wait out DeMarco, a 10-round fighter, until the 14th and 12th rounds of their two battles, when he took sudden command.
A lover of the arts is distressed to have to choose Akins over Martinez. Martinez has a stylish sweetness in his ways, grace and artistry when matters are going well. But, looking at it as a Hemingway might see it, his grace disappears under pressure. The odds ought to be shorter, but the favorite still must be Akins.
Some other TV fights will be worth a look. On Friday (May 30) Spider Webb is favored over Jimmy Beech-am at Miami Beach, and on Wednesday (June 4) there is the Jay Fullmer-Joe Miceli contest, previously previewed (SI, May 26) in this space. Then comes the June 11 (Wednesday) bout between Joey Giardello and Franz Szuzina at Washington.
Something else to look forward to: the probability of Floyd Patterson defending his heavyweight title in a midsummer outdoor extravaganza against Roy Harris of Cut and Shoot, Texas.
District Attorney Hogan's investigation knocked out another International Boxing Club functionary last week. First to go was James D. Norris, president, who resigned a few weeks ago for reasons of health, he said. Last week his pudgy New York matchmaker, Billy Brown, resigned for reasons of moody resentment.
Brown, whose real name is Dominick Mordini, said he was unable to stand the grand jury's "smears" about his relationship with Carbo, an old Murder, Inc. gunman whose fighters long have been assured of frequent employment by the IBC.
Brown has admitted, perhaps because Hogan had revealed that his telephones were tapped, that he has talked to Carbo "in code," presumably about matching Carbo-controlled fighters, although, for all Brown has admitted publicly, these talks could have been mere coded conversations about the weather.