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Fight Night at the Garden

At one time a noble and noisy fight arena, Madison Square Garden is now a mausoleum inhabited by a lonely crowd

Maussollus was the satrap of a place called Caria (377-353 B.C.), and his tomb, the original mausoleum, was one of the Seven Wonders of the World. And James D. Norris was, until a fortnight ago, the satrap of boxing in Madison Square Garden and during his reign (1949-1959 A.D.) the Garden became a mausoleum, and no wonder. From its opening on Dec. 11, 1925, when 17,675 watched Paul Berlenbach defeat Jack Delaney, until Norris, it was filled with great, noisy throngs on Friday nights, fight nights. It's still crowded for other sporting events, but for boxing it's a high, gloomy tomb, and the one or two thousand about the ring—its gleaming brass posts crowned by ruby lights, relics of another, gaudier era—sit in the vacant attitudes of people waiting for trains or until it is light or it stops raining. The balconies are empty; only the red eyes of the villain, television, brood upon the ring. Where did everybody go? They never left home and their TVs, where they can catch the show for nothing, and what it's worth.

Who goes to the Garden on fight nights? The managers; the sportsmen to place like $20 bets; servicemen on pass, tired of walking around and looking up; guys from the neighborhoods of the fighters; guys who get tax tickets and think they got a bargain; guys who never give up, and sometimes they see a fight, like some sublime error, which rewards their sentiment and faith. And Foulproof Taylor who'll tell you he made F.D.R. president. He'll tell you he invented the protective cup which eliminated fouls; that his cup made Jim Farley, who was boxing commissioner; that Farley made F.D.R.

It would be one of the seven wonders of any world if boxing consistently filled the Garden again, made another president; but the Garden has new owners and, hopefully, new ideas.

The prologue is the solemn procession of second, fighter and second from the dressing room to the ring. Then the house lights go out, and in the white center of the vast Garden (below) the old, personal drama begins.

In the middle of the night, the fighter on the stool (above) wearily attends the entreaties of his second, water from the sponge sluicing down his back, and awaits the bell; the fans, some intent, some somnolent, some knowing in back of their cigars, wait implacably for something sudden or something inevitable to happen; beneath the corner a second sits (below left) sourly contemplating his boy.

The attitudes of the supporting cast are traditional; only the fight is unique. The referee marks his card on his knee, the photographer rests his camera on the apron, waiting for a knockdown, the old timekeeper sits by his clock and a handler clambers into the ring.