Saturday, August 25, 2012

From Beyond the Grave - The Weight of Gold

Photo: FPG/Getty Images

"...And then I come home with the Olympic gold medal and the lightheavy weight championship of the whole world representing my country, America. Coming back to this city called Louisville, Kentucky, where I was born and raised. And then go to a restaurant and can't get served. I did this a lot of times. In the not summertime I'd go in an open door for a glass of juice, and they'd say, 'Can't serve you here, darkey.' I went in one place and asked to be served and the waiter told the boss, 'He's the Olympic champion,' and the boss said, 'I don't give a damn who he is, get him the Hell out of here.'"

     - Cassius Clay, St. Albans Daily Messenger, 1967

"Seales won the gold medal in the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich, but unlike some boxers, that was never turned into a springboard for pro riches. Certainly Seales could have been better advised. His career was bungled from the outset. If Seales is blind now, what were his managers -- since fired -- then? After 20 straight victories in 1973 and 1974, over setups in places like Tacoma and Stockton, Seales allowed himself to be lured to Boston to perform what he understood was a benefit for United Way. 'I thought it would be like an exhibition, where I could dance, get a chance to perform,' he says. He trained accordingly. The day of the benefit, scheduled for a TV showing, he learned he was matched with Marvin Hagler, an up-and-coming middleweight. 'Here I'm looking at this bald-headed guy, all greased down, his muscles out to here -- a guy who's been training in the woods for about six months. It was the start of my trouble.' This time Seales was the setup. Hagler, who needed to notch a gold medal winner to advance his own career, decisioned Seales. And it was really the start of Seales' trouble. Thereafter, Seales' career became that of a club fighter. There were successes, but enough timely defeats to halt advancement."

     - Richard Hoffer on Ray Seales, Los Angeles Times, 1983

"Patterson looks forward to the Seoul Olympics with particular anticipation. He believes that good amateur competition is invaluable to the nourishment of new young talent; his own life, begun as one of ten children of a hardworking but impoverished Brooklyn family, would be unimaginable without the opportunities that the Olympics offered to him. But amateur boxing differs considerably from professional, and a young man with the talent for one might not have the talent for the other. The amateur bout, for instance, consists of three rounds -- 'like sprint running'; the professional bout consists of up to 15 rounds  -- 'like marathon running.' When he turned professional at the young age of 17, Patterson's greatest anxiety was not over being knocked out by an opponent but being able to endure longer fights. Another way in which amateur boxing differs dramatically and rather misleadingly from professional boxing is that a knockdown is scored by judges no differently than an ordinary clean hit. The power of the boxer's blows is not supposed to count."

     - Joyce Carol Oates on Floyd Patterson, Seoul Olympics Viewer's Program, 1988

"Fourteen years ago, Howard Davis, a middleweight boxer, lost his 1976 Olympic gold medal in a burglary at his home in Dix Hills, N.Y., but yesterday the prizefighter and his prize were reunited. For four years, the medal had been in the possession of Jay Fiesel, who spotted it while he was cutting the grass on the median strip of the Long Island Expressway. But Mr. Fiesel, not realizing the nature of the shiny object he had retrieved, took it home to use as a paper weight, said Morgan Roth, a spokeswoman for New Brunswick, where Mr. Davis now lives. It was not until recently, where a visitor to Mr. Fiesel's home 'put two and two together,' that steps were taken to find Mr. Davis, Ms. Roth said."

     - Terry Pristin on Howard Davis, Jr., New York Times, 1995

"As for Benvenuti, he is the wonder of the Italian peninsula. In his 120 amateur bouts and 63 professional fights, he never has been defeated. He has knocked out 26 professional opponents, has been Italian champion five times and of course now holds the European title. He won the welterweight gold medal at the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome and, in the opinion of Cus D'Amato, who was there to size up the available material against the day when Floyd Patterson would no longer be around, Benvenuti was the "class of the Olympics," notwithstanding the presence there of Cassius Clay, then in the cocoon stage of his metamorphosis into Muhammad Ali. The Olympic committee chose Benvenuti as the Games' most proficient boxer. Until the Fullmer fight, though, Benvenuti's record had not been overly convincing to the world at large. He never had fought outside Italy or Trieste, which is his home. His opponents were either Italians, unknown and unrespected outside Europe, or washed-up or never-was Americans. There was a suspicion that he had been, so to speak, "protected." His opponents should have had the protection."

     - Martin Kane on Nino Benvenuti, Sports Illustrated, 1966

"Papp is the only three-time winner of an Olympic boxing gold medal. His titles came in 1948, 1952, and 1956. He defeated Jose Torres for the latter championship. That's the Torres who became world light-heavyweight king. Papp has been called the Babe Ruth of Hungary. He is the premiere sports hero of Hungary's past. He fought more than 500 amateur bouts. In 1957, by an unprecedented decision made at top-government level, he was allowed to go out of the country to fight professionally. He quickly became the nation's hope for something better than Communist rule. He had a 30-0 pro record when the government forced him to retire in 1965 at age 38. He hadn't realized his ambition of fighting for the world's middleweight championship -- and he never had fought professionally in his homeland because the Communist regime banned professionalism ... The New York Times reported: 'A man played violin, emotional Hungarians hugged and kissed the former prize fighter and sang songs of their country, and a waitress danced with a tray of dishes.'"

     - Wally Provost on Laszlo Papp, Omaha World Herald, 1975

Now that sufficient time has passed since the distribution of Olympic boxing gold medals in London, and despite that the majority of fans have gone back to their general state of apathy towards amateur boxing, the future of this year's gold medalists still remains to unfold as it pertains to the paid ranks.

There exists no probability matrix, no pugilistic version of reading tea leaves that can accurately predict whether or not the blondes of 2012 will go on to become utter busts, sensational celebrities, or even turn professional at all. 

Indeed, Oliver Kirk, who won gold in two weight classes and by default became the most prolific single Games boxing medalist from 1904, wasn't even acknowledged as any sort of champion in post-fight reports from his 6th round TKO over Abe Attell, who promptly announced his retirement; Abe Attell was the story. Granted, Olympic boxing was in its underoos and still sported a pacifier, but it wasn't until many moons later that boxing historians could consider it an accomplishment at all. 

For now, time must past and developments must be made, and only when the headgear vanishes will we learn what exactly the gnawed-up flaxen medals will be worth. 


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