Perhaps it has something to do with the season, these long months between the Pan-Am Games and next summer's Olympics. Possibly it is tune-up time for Soviet athletes. Whatever the reason, the hills are alive with touring Russians, and hardly had the U.S.S.R. basketball team concluded its 14-game swing around the country (SI, Nov. 24) when along came 11 Red heavyweights. Nobody really seemed to know exactly why they were here. Not an awful lot of people seemed to care.
The thing that saved the one-week, three-city tour was not the high caliber of boxing, it was the element of low comedy. If the U.S. suffers one certifiable shortage, it is in amateur heavyweight fighters. Soviet officials, on the other hand, estimate that Russia has some 650 in that class. And the disparity was evident from the moment the Red team moved into New York's Madison Square Garden for the opening match.
Top U.S. amateur Michael Dokes, 18, national AAU champ and silver medalist in the recent Pan-Am Games, was conspicuously absent, reportedly suffering from a hairline jaw fracture. That shifted the burden to No. 2-ranked amateur Jimmy Clark, 1975 New York Golden Gloves champ, a peppery 196-pounder from West Chester, Pa.
Problem was, Clark was scheduled to face none other than Igor Vasotsky, the 204-pounder who a year ago had out-pointed the estimable Teofilo Stevenson, Cuba's Olympic and Pan-Am gold medalist. Garden officials talked hopefully, even confidently, of matching Vasotsky with Muhammad Ali, amateur against pro, to settle all the world's titles. And, sure enough, no sooner had he bounded out of his corner than Clark was knocked flat by the big Russian. It was the first time the American had been jolted off his feet in all his 46 fights. But Clark arose, bleeding from a cut alongside his left eye, and walloped the borscht out of Vasotsky. By 1:46 of Round 3 the Russian also was bleeding, above both eyes, and the referee stopped the fight and gave the decision to Clark. For the rest of the tour, nobody talked about fighting Ali, especially Vasotsky. The New York engagement ended six bouts to four in favor of the U.S.
Someone, Lord knows who, had promised the Russians an all-new U.S. team for stop No. 2 in Cincinnati, though it had become a matter of open speculation as to where one could turn up more U.S. amateur heavyweights. That's when officials went to the Stateville Correctional Center at Joliet, Ill. and came back with 238-pound Floyd "Jumbo" Cummings, who has 19-inch upper arms and is serving a 50-to 75-year sentence for murder (SI, April 28). So much for an all-new team. Cummings went after opponent Mikhail Subbotin as if he had been threatened with solitary confinement if he didn't knock out his man immediately. But Subbotin, not noticeably alarmed, countered with long spearing jabs. Eventually both men grew weary, and the strange encounter was stopped, with the Russian cut and Cummings having trouble lifting his arms. He went back to his cell a victor.
The next most celebrated U.S. fighter was Marvin Stinson, a silver medalist in the 1974 World Games in Havana, who beat Sergei Plisov on a decision. After that, the roof fell in. Chicagoan Daron Anthony stepped up to face Victor Ivanov of Donetsk, all jawline and dark curls, the one the Russians call "our great young hope." The erect, stolid 19-year-old Ivanov scored his second straight Round 1 knockout. Next, Victor Ulyanich won handily, sending American Lane Hammond bouncing off the canvas three times. Then Eugeny Gorstkov beat John Tate, who did not seem enthusiastic about filling out the U.S. team, and finally Anatoly Klimanov played left-hooking Frankie Williams like a pinball machine, popping in point after point to the body. The Cincinnati final score: 7 to 2.
Off they went to Las Vegas and, again, off went U.S. officials in search of large, warm fighters. As befits that neon Mecca, long black limousines and long-legged show girls carrying carnations were at the airport to pick up the Russians. The Sahara Hotel presented each fighter with $6 in nickels for fighting the slot machines.
Forty hours before the bouts were to start, the U.S. was down to three men who had promised to appear, at least. Star attraction Jimmy Clark couldn't suit up; the cuts from his New York fight had not healed. Gerald Cooney, who had scored a one-round knockout over Nikolay Aksymov at the Garden, had packed his bags for Nevada but discovered, possibly upon attempting to pick them up, that he had an injured hand. And Joliet officials apparently were determined not to let Jumbo Cummings quite that far out of his cell.
So on Saturday afternoon as the crowd assembled, out of the AAU dragnet stepped Richard Shaner, a 22-year-old from Phoenix, whose record was 6-0, seemingly ready to face Ivanov, a veteran of 53 fights, 42 of them victories. Fifty seconds later the referee mercifully stopped it.
Then along came another U.S. surprise, one Vaiao Suafoa. The 209-pound Samoan professed to have 50 knockouts in 58 fights, but where—and against whom—nobody seemed to know. Never changing expression, Suafoa leaped after the retreating Sergei Plisov, stirring both excitement and astonishment. "Hit him Samoa," yelled one punster and, sure enough, at 2:28 of the second round, Suafoa unloaded a roundhouse that ended Plisov's day.
Subbotin, the man who had lost to Jumbo Cummings, this time held off a lesser boxing light, Ron Burton, stopping him in Round 2. Next came baby-faced George Chaplin of Baltimore, who had fought only 12 times, against Alexsandr Nikulin, with 111 bouts. The Russian was as tough as expected, but Chaplin came on in the final round with strong combinations and outpointed his man. "Give him another 10 fights," said AAU Boxing Chairman Roily Schwartz, "and everybody will be afraid of him."
And so the tour faded. Henry Koopman, 8-2, obviously out of shape, offered up his face to Eugeny Gorstkov, then retired in the second round. Stinson and Ulyanich ended the program on a note of mutual respect, by now old rivals and old friends. After all, Ulyanich had won in New York and now Stinson won in Las Vegas.
Ulyanich allowed as how he sure would like to see Stinson in the coming Olympics. Stinson allowed as how he'd like to make it. And in three cities across the country, everybody allowed as how we sure could use a lot more heavyweights.
SWINGING A ROUNDHOUSE THAT STARTED IN SAMOA, VAIAO SUAFOA DROPS HIS MAN