If the scuffle between Ernie Terrell and Eddie Machen in Chicago last week proved anything, it was that, after Cassius Clay and Sonny Liston, boxing's heavyweights are lightweights. Terrell was embarrassingly inept and the fight often ludicrous. When it ended Ernie was solemnly proclaimed the heavyweight champion of the world—a world, unfortunately for his pocketbook, that does not include Clay or Liston. Since his manager, Big Julie Isaacson, has ruled out Floyd Patterson as a contender, this leaves Terrell with an empty title—champion of the World Boxing Association—and a world of leisure time.
Off his conquest of Machen, Terrell does not appear to be either a formidable or a desirable foe for Clay. The heavyweight picture remains much the same as before: Clay's only worthwhile opposition is Liston, followed by Floyd Patterson should Cassius beat Sonny again in Boston on May 25.
The trouble with Terrell is that he is a year or two away from being anything like a competent fighter. But if he works with Joe Louis on developing his right into a weapon as effective as his left, he could be dangerous. Against Machen the lack of an effective right hand was painfully apparent, even though Terrell threw the right more often than he has in the past. But once Machen sneaked in under that long, long left hand, Terrell's only tactic was to fold himself over the smaller man, wrapping him in what looked and doubtless felt like yards and yards of arms. Since Machen tried to avoid the long left by bobbing and crouching, the fight was carried on in an area somewhere between Terrell's knees and his waistband. Machen could not reach high enough to punch effectively, and Terrell could not stoop low enough. When it was over Joe Louis, who had sat in Terrell's corner, summed it up neatly.
"It was a lousy fight," Joe said in Terrell's dressing room. "He didn't fight good. But the other man didn't let him make a good fight. Seem like he didn't want to make a good fight."
Actually, Machen looked much better than he did last year against Floyd Patterson in Stockholm. He is a far more polished fighter than Terrell; he may be the best pure boxer in the division.
"I wanted to be aggressive," he said after the fight.
"He was robbed," said his wife, standing behind him. "It's that simple."
"I thought I won pretty big," Eddie said. "He didn't hit me five times with that jab all night. He's got a good punch there, but it wasn't a factor in this fight."
At times during the fight Machen looked like a man facing several batters in a pepper game. Terrell's left jab is a long, straight and hard punch, and he uses it with pistonlike speed. Machen's defense against it was to keep both gloves in front of his face and catch Terrell's jab in one or the other. It worked well as a protective device but, with both hands engaged in fielding jabs, Machen had little time for punching.
"He's a hard guy to fight," Eddie said. "He's awful tough to get inside on because he's all arms when you get in close. And he's strong."
Machen bent over to pull on tight charcoal trousers.
"He's as hard to fight as any of them," he said softly. "And I've seen a lot of them."
He shrugged into his coat and prepared to leave. As he went he said, to himself, "Just keep right in there winging, Eddie. One of these days...."
Terrell, with a mouse under his left eye, looked more battered than the loser.
"I tried to fight, and he wouldn't fight," Terrell said to the small group of writers surrounding him. He gingerly touched the swelling under his eye.
"This he didn't do with no punch," he said. "He laced me. And he kept sticking that thumb in my eye, too. You can see what it did to me. They was times out there I could see three Machens. I had to try to pick the right one and hit him."
He seemed somber for a newly crowned heavyweight champion, but in answer to a question he said he certainly considered himself the champion of the world.
"As far as I'm concerned," he said, "Clay and Liston are two unranked fighters."
Big Julie Isaacson, sitting next to him, said, "But we'll fight anyone. Except Patterson. He never give nobody a chance, we ain't going to give him one. We'll fight anyone the WBA approves."
"How about a rematch with Machen?" someone asked.
"If the WBA approves," Julie said, "but don't seem like there would be no demand."
"He didn't come to fight," Ernie said. "It take two men in the ring, both of them want to fight to make a fight. Ever time I hit him, he'd ball up into a little nut. Sometime he even turn his back on me. There wasn't nothing I could do about it. It's tough to hit a guy who balls up like that. But one time I think I knocked him down with my right hand, but the referee didn't see it that way. I know I caught him a couple of times with it and hurt him with it, too."
The World Boxing Association has given Terrell 90 days to defend his title and has mentioned Patterson as the logical contender. But it is doubtful that Patterson would want any part of Terrell when all he has to do now is wait to meet the winner of the Clay-Liston fight.
Had Terrell defeated Machen impressively, the WBA would have had a strong wedge with which to split the Clay-Liston-Patterson combination.
Al Bolan, who more or less manages Patterson, was a pleased spectator at the fight in Chicago. Afterward he said, "I see no reason for Patterson to fight Terrell. I suggest Bruno Sammartino would be a logical opponent for Ernie." Sammartino is a wrestler. In fairness, the principals do not deserve all the blame for the grotesqueries of the bout. The referee, Sonny Weismann, lost control of the fighters and of the fight early on. Twice Machen's manager, Walter Minskoff, yelled at him to handle the fighters, but he was not strong enough to break up the frequent wrestling encounters.
Terrell's problem now is to find a way to exploit his considerable potential.
"He can move for a big man," said ex-champion Ezzard Charles. "And he got a very fine left hand."
"I'm gonna work with this boy for about six weeks before his next fight," Joe Louis said. "He got to learn to let the right hand go when they is a place for it. You can't teach a man to do that in a week. It take a long time. But when he get the right hand to go with the left he could be the best."
Joe had divested himself of a special sweater made up for the occasion by Isaacson. Terrell's seconds came into the ring wearing the sweaters inside out, so that the lettering on them was not legible. When the decision was announced they turned them right side out, revealing, "Ernie Terrell, World Heavyweight Champion" stitched in red letters. The crowd, which had booed lustily at the officials' unanimous decision for Terrell, booed even more.
Since Patterson probably will not fight Terrell, and Clay and Liston are otherwise engaged, it is likely that Terrell, who made almost nothing out of the Chicago bout, can sharpen up that right hand on fights with the likes of George Chuvalo, the Canadian who lost a close decision to Floyd Patterson, and with Zora Folley or Karl Mildenberg, the left-handed German.
He should realize some good paydays with them; more important, he can probably beat any one of them with his left hand while he is testing, and gaining confidence in, his right. If he develops as he should, in two years he could give either Clay or Liston a difficult evening.
Frustrated Machen peers under glove at Terrell, whose left was offense and defense enough.
Terrell looks pensively from his corner as his advisers Sam Solomon and Joe Louis confer.