Getting Hooked (on Boxing)

By Ted Sares on September 25, 2013
Getting Hooked (on Boxing)
When Anton Raadik winked at me from the ring, a chill went down my spine. I was hooked.

Other kids my age could rattle off the names of pro baseball or football players, but when it came to boxing, I stood out…

Though I vaguely remember Bob Satterfield slaughtering Art McWhorter as an eight-year-old in 1945, the first impactful professional fight I witnessed was held at the same Marigold Gardens Outdoor Arena on the north side of Chicago on June 6, 1948.

The storied Marigold, also known for professional wrestling, was filled with cigar smoke, boxing being a bastion of political incorrectness and all. Of course, none of that idiocy existed back then. The smell of sweat, beer, cigars, and Italian sausage mixed with an occasional whiff of perfume provided a comfortable, if pungent, setting for this eleven-year-old as my dad, “Big John” as he was known, thought it was time we enjoyed a professional fight together. God knows he had had to break up many street fights so maybe he was working an “agenda” (another word that thankfully was unknown back then).

We had seen plenty of amateur fights at Rock-Ola Stadium just across the road from our home on the northwest side. Rock-Ola manufactured jukeboxes. We also saw amateurs fight at Parichy Stadium in Forest Park, Blue Bird Field in the western suburbs, and at many a beery union hall. But the atmosphere here was different. While there were men of different ages in the seats and lots attractive women, most of the audience seemed to be composed of men in their late twenties or early thirties who had a devil-may-care aura about them, though a hard look remained in their eyes even when they smiled. I later learned that the majority had fought in World War II which, of course, ended in 1945. In my young and envious eyes, these were men like my late brother who served valiantly from 1942–45.

Raadik vs. Bell

We had great seats about three rows from ringside. The featured fighters were two tough hombres, Anton Raadik (26-8), out of Chicago by way of Estonia, vs. Tommy Bell (44-16-3), out of Youngstown, Ohio. Raadik, a big favorite among ethnic Chicago fans, fought from 1940-1952. Opponents included the great Marcel Cerdan (102-2) whom he knocked down a remarkable three times in the last round while losing a clear decision. According to an account from the Chicago Tribune, “Raadik was credited with only one round, the 10th, in which he pushed the weary Frenchman to the canvas for a three count, then dropped him for two counts of four with right hand punches before the final bell rang.” Anton fought the likes of Rhode Island’s great Ralph Zannelli, Georgie Abrams whom he TKOd in a savage beating that ended Abrams’ career, another popular Chicagoan Anton Christoforidis, Jake and Joey LaMotta, Carl “Bobo” Olson, Steve Belloise (90-11), Danny Nardico, Harry “Kid” Matthews (twice),Sonny Horne (twice), and Robert Villemain.

Two months before this 10-round fight, Bell, who fought from 1942-1951, lost a split decision to Kid Gavilan. Indeed, Tommy’s resume included a who’s who of great fighters: California Jackie Wilson (twice), Sugar Ray Robinson (twice), Jake LaMotta (three times), Al Hostak, Steve Belloise of the Bronx’s fighting Belloise brothers, Fritzie Zivic (157-65-9 for an astounding total of 231 fights), and Cecil Hudson. The combined won-lost record of Tommy Bell’s opposition is staggering.

His first loss to Sugar Ray Robinson occurred in 1946 and according to newspaper accounts, Robinson finally got a shot at the title, having waited five years. The title had been vacated by Marty Servo in September. The first five rounds were hard ones for Robinson, including a knockdown for a seven-count in round two from a left hook by Bell. According to Jimmy Cannon of the New York Post, “Robinson then won the 6th, 7th, 8th, and 9th rounds. Bell took the 10th. Bell was dropped in the 11th for “eight,” and battered in the 12th. Tommy came back to win the 13th & 14th rounds, although both rounds were slow. No mention was made of the 15th.”

Based on the level of his opposition, Bell was a slight favorite. That night at Marigold, I noticed that cash was changing hands fast between men with big cigars or cigarettes dangling from their lips. It all added to the excitement as the boxers came out from their dressing rooms to a loud and ethnically raucous audience—the sound was almost guttural. No music, no long trunks, no posturing or theatrics, no entourages, no belt waving. Just serious-looking men with their trainers and cutmen ready to toil in the stifling humidity of a hot Chicago night. By the time the fighters made it to the ring, the fans were howling, some in Estonian, some in Chicagoan, and some in a strange-sounding combination.

The boxers were introduced, and each modestly nodded to the crowd in the manner of the great Joe Louis. They were given their instructions by the referee, headed back to their corners, and then the bell rang.

From the beginning, it was Raadik stalking Bell but never really catching him. As the rounds went by, Bell kept the incoming Raadik off of him with neat jabs, a slick defense, and good foot movement (at which the fans began to boo). But finally in the eighth Raadik landed some body shots that made a “whump” sound.

In the ninth Raadik caught the favorite on the ropes and attacked viciously to the body. When Bell dropped his hands, it gave Anton his opportunity and he launched a series of malicious blows to Bell’s head that forced Tommy to one knee. When a bleeding Bell got up, he fell backward into the ropes and was done. The tough-as-nails Estonian-Chicagoan had won by TKO in the ninth and the hometown fans were up and roaring, including my dad.

Money was again exchanged in plain sight, and slushy beers were toasted. Right then and there I caught the fever of this great sport, and when Raadik winked at me from the ring while his hand was being raised in victory, a chill went down my spine. I was hooked. This was no poetic rite of passage; this was plain old manly stuff. I was in it—hook, line and. sinker.

Tommy Bell, a road warrior, would go on to close his career with a 53-29- 3 slate. Tommy lost 12 of his last 15, mostly on points. His last fight was a six-round TKO loss to Pierre Langlois in Paris. Raadik was another who would fight anywhere in the world; he finished 37-25-1. He lost 13 of his last 15—his last to rugged Garth Panter in Boise, Idaho by 10-round UD.

After the fight and as we headed for a pizza, I asked when we could see our next fight, and my dad said something about Rainbow Arena. It turned out to be the cavernous Chicago Stadium one month later where we watched Raadik avenge a prior defeat to Sonny Horne.

I had found a whole new world. Soon, I would come to know names like Lee Sala, Speiser, Janiro, Beau Jack, Gene Burton, Davey, Vejar, Gavilan, Ike Williams, and, Johnny Bratton (one of Chicago’s most popular fighters ever). Others were Anton Christoforidis, Satterfield, Marciano, the two LaMottas, Graziano, Louis, Charles, Saxton, Gene “Silent” Hairston (a great favorite on Gillette’s Friday Night Fights), Dykes, Fusari, Rex Layne, Lee Oma, Zale, Laverne Roach (who would be fatally injured in a bloody televised fight that I witnessed in horror), Holly Mims, Enrico Bertola (who also would be fatally injured), and many lesser-known boxers who fought in the Chicago area.

Other kids my age could rattle off the names of pro baseball or football players, but when it came to boxing, I stood out. They might know about Jackie Robinson but I knew about Sugar Ray Robinson. They might know Ted Williams or Joe DiMaggio, but I knew Ike Williams and Jersey Joe Walcott. They might know baseball, but I knew boxing. This was my indoctrination period, an era that is sometimes referred to as “Old School,” but for me, it was neither better nor worse than watching a competitive bout today. It was simply a joyous beginning. I was hooked and I have been feeding my addiction ever since. 

How did you get hooked (on boxing)?

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  1. Your Name 06:47am, 10/02/2013

    This one of those threads where all I have to do is read the neat posts.

  2. Ezra Salkin 05:56pm, 09/30/2013

    This may be a personal indictment, considering some of the other fights mentioned here, but the fight that really got me was De La Hoya vs Vargas. Those two guys did not like each other and it was thrilling to watch Vargas try to impose his strength on the Golden Boy. But as the fight went on, a difference in class began to show, as Oscar outboxed the younger bull, ultimately getting the exciting late stoppage. That said, in my time with the sport, no fighter has given me more pleasure than the PacMan.

  3. kid vegas 04:12pm, 09/27/2013

    The one that hooked me was Chacon vs. Limon. Bobby was losing but pulled it out at the end with a knockdown of Limon and I threw my beer up in the air and screamed as loud as I could. That did it.

  4. BIG WALTER 03:51pm, 09/27/2013

    Ted, did your brother survive the war?

  5. Jim Crue 04:40am, 09/27/2013

    My earliest memories are from the early 50’s watching the fights with my grandfather on the really small screen. Chuck Davey, Kid Gavilan, Ray Robinson, Basilio, Johnny Bratton and on and on. I was hooked. I used to take the bus and subway to the great Johnny Coulon’s on the southside of Chicago. What a nice man. His wife Marie ran the gym while he worked with the fighters. I used to watch Eddie Perkins, spar. No one could hit him. He was a total craftsman.

  6. Ted 04:49pm, 09/26/2013

    My od, I could write an entire article based on the posts alone. Thanks gents.

  7. Mike Silver 04:07pm, 09/26/2013

    A great article that resonates with all of us boxing addicts.  Brought back many memories. I remember the first time my dad took me to St. Nick’s arena in early 1960 and, well, I don’t need to explain it to you, it was just like your experience at Marigold Gardens.  Match was a brutal 10 rounder between Doug Jones and Von Clay. I sat ringside.  While waiting for the first prelim a friend of my father’s who we met at the fights pointed out a rough hewn stocky old gentleman. In a respectful tone he said, “That fella over there, he fought Benny Leonard.” I wasn’t even that familiar with Benny Leonard at the time, but I’d heard his name spoken in my home.  To this day I kick myself for not remembering the old gent’s name but feel attached to ring history for having seen him.

  8. Robert Ecksel 02:28pm, 09/26/2013

    I first began watching the fights on TV when I was four or five years old. My grandfather, who was gentlest man I ever met, was crazy about boxing and would sit me down next to him in front of the tiny oval screen with the snowy black and white picture to take it all in. I was just a little boy and didn’t have the language to explain, to myself let alone anybody else, what was actually going on. But I knew it was unlike anything else in my life at the time. It was exciting. It was action-packed. It was so compelling. And the frisson of danger was obvious even then. I got seduced by boxing without even being aware that I was being seduced, which is perhaps the best of all seductions.

  9. Clarence George 01:11pm, 09/26/2013

    You forget, Ted, that I’ve mastered time travel.

  10. Peter Silkov 12:55pm, 09/26/2013

    I have hazy memories of watching Muhammad Ali in the mid-70s when I would have been about 5 years old, and getting the sense even then that this was something and someone fascinating to me.  By the time I was about ten I was an addict :)...

  11. kid vegas 11:07am, 09/26/2013

    I’d love to hear from Robert Ecksel on this.

  12. Ted 10:50am, 09/26/2013

    Great stories, everyone. I am going to reread each of them.

    At first blush, Ali-Frazier ranks high

    CG, 38 years ago, eh? I am homing in on your age..

  13. Clarence George 09:31am, 09/26/2013

    FFC:  Your “guess” might be very much on target.

    Ali was massively impressive in his third go-round with Frazier.  And there’s of course no doubt that he won—after all, Eddie Futch wouldn’t let Frazier out for the 15th.  Still, I think Frazier came across even better than Ali.  I’m no less in awe of Smokin’ Joe’s effort now than I was 38 years ago.

  14. Don from Prov 09:28am, 09/26/2013

    Sneaking out of bed and down the hallway to watch Rubin Carter knock poor Emile Griffith silly in the very first round—holy shite!!!!!!!

  15. The Fight Film Collector 09:04am, 09/26/2013

    A brilliant piece and proposition to your readers, Ted.  The boxing life for me was a hard fall in love.  As a teenager Ali-Frazier I caught my imagination.  I still remember my Dad waking me late at night with the result.  That year at summer camp a ragged issue of Sports Illustrated contained a feature with epic descriptions Willard-Johnson, Louis-Conn, Marciano-Charles and other classics.  As I read them over and over the events became as large and alive in my mind as any history I was taught in school.  I had to SEE them.  When I began collecting films and watched Johnson-Ketchel for the very first time, I jumped up and screamed at the sight of Johnson being knocked down, alarming my mother downstairs.  Then as now, I’m still asked why I would be interested in boxing, rather than following the corporate team sports.  Simple, that’s me up in the ring.

    Hey Clarence, I’ve often thought of Ali-Frazier III, and if it had been in New York with the battle raging just as it did in Manila, only held instead as a 12 rounder.  Ali would have squeaked out a decision but Frazier, coming on at the end, would have looked like the winner.  Great stories, everyone.

  16. Ted the Bull 08:13am, 09/26/2013

    Nice little synopsis here:

    “In 1928, the Chicago Tribune inaugurated the Golden Gloves amateur competition. The sport thrived, with boxers being trained and promoted by such private gyms as Coulon’s (1154 East 63rd Street), founded in 1925 by one-time bantamweight champion Johnny Coulon. The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago was important in the sport’s promotion, becoming the biggest sponsor of youth boxing through the Catholic Youth Organization, the Knights of Columbus, and the Catholic High School League. The Chicago Park District also nurtured and promoted boxing in the city.

    “The Marigold Gardens on the North Side emerged in the 1930s as the most significant venue for local professional bouts. Lightweight Barney Ross became a hero in the West Side Jewish community in the 1930s. In the 1940s, middleweight Tony Zane, from Gary, also captured the city’s fancy.”

  17. Ted 08:08am, 09/26/2013

    Thanks Tony. Great post. More to the other posters later. Golf beckons.

  18. Tony 08:03am, 09/26/2013

    —yep, that’s the place!

  19. Tony 08:02am, 09/26/2013

    Thanks, Mike -

    —-and by the way, I’m in your camp on Frazier-Ali I.  To me, that’s the biggest and best fight of my lifetime.

  20. Mike Casey 07:47am, 09/26/2013

    Nicely told, Tony!

  21. Larry Link 07:42am, 09/26/2013

    The Rhodes Theater

  22. Tony 06:26am, 09/26/2013

    —-Great piece, here. 

    —-I’m generally content with the place where I entered this world’s timeline, but as a fight fan, I was obvously born too late.  By the time I got around to site of all those historic Marigold Gardens events, it was a bowling alley.  Not that I was complaining—had big fun there, since it was a great cheap date and hangout spot.

    —-I got hooked by a fight I didn’t see in person, and didn’t even see live.  Back when, if you didn’t see a big bout on the night of, you could wait a week and the films would be on screen at your local theater.  My mom was in the hospital for the blessed event of the arrival of my little sister, and back in those days, new mom and child weren’t booted out the day after like they are today.  So it was just guys, me and my father, at home for several days.

    —-I don’t think he had any intention of seeing it live on closed circuit, because the fight was a mismatch, a foregone conclusion, one that was sure to end quickly and leave you wondering why you had bothered to spend the time and money.  But then—something about “shock the world”?  I was 4.  I understood that it was an upset.  I heard my father talking to his friends about it.  Apparently it was such an unlikely happening that it had to be seen with your own eyes, even if you already knew how it came out.

    —-And so my first memory of a fight viewing experience was seeing the movie of Clay-Liston I at the Rhodes Theater in 1964.  I was too young to have any critical eye for the boxing skill I was seeing.  But the excitement of my father and the rest of the crowd was contagious, something I never forgot, and something that I felt in anticipation of many more big fights in all the years since.

  23. Clarence George 05:11am, 09/26/2013

    Ha!  I have the same type of mind, Mike, and very glad of it.

    I find saltwater crocodiles fascinating.  Thousands of Japanese soldiers were eaten by them during the Battle of Ramree Island.  And I have a soft spot for rhinos.  I’ve been compared to one on several occasions.  Not meant as a compliment, but I’ve taken it as such.  I also kinda like the hyena, a much-maligned animal.  Tremendous bite force, sort of like Mike Tyson. 

  24. Mike Casey 04:48am, 09/26/2013

    Incredible creatures, Clarence, if Ted will forgive me for digressing a little. The croc shuts its body down during the dry seasons and knows exactly when to wake up. All bones and fur melt instantly in its stomach, it is immune from gangrene and never stops growing and getting stronger until it dies (sometimes in excess of a hundred years if it isn’t killed in a territorial fight). Takes a licking and keeps on ticking. A bit like George Chuvalo! (Sorry, but my hyperactive brain soaks up an unbelievable tonnage of generally irrelevant information).

  25. Clarence George 04:38am, 09/26/2013

    Mike:  Biggest fight, no question.  And yet I prefer the third.  It was almost a life-and-death struggle.  It reminds me of a story Peter Hathaway Capstick told of a croc who grabbed hold of a rhino at the water’s edge.  Back and forth they went in a tug of war that lasted for hours until the croc, inch by inch, dragged the rhino into the water and drowned him.

  26. Mike Casey 04:19am, 09/26/2013

    Clarence, the biggest fight of my lifetime - by a mile - was the Fight of the Century between Joe and Ali in 1971. Even Sinatra had trouble getting in until he took a ‘job’ as photographer for Life magazine. The fight was wonderful and Frazier was never better. He weighed 208lbs and significantly never made that weight again. In his own mind, I think he believed he could never top that performance. That titanic battle was the Rolls Royce of the Frazier-Ali trilogy in my opinion, before both fighters became decayed by wear and tear.

  27. Clarence George 03:41am, 09/26/2013

    By the way, the reason I watch Ali-Frazier III over and over…always hoping for a different outcome.

  28. Clarence George 03:31am, 09/26/2013

    I’d like to add, if I may, that the first boxer I “fell for” was Joe Frazier.  He remains among my top five favorites to this day; indeed, second only to Tony Galento.  Everything about Smokin’ Joe appealed to me, including the way he looked—like a tank made into a man.  I wrote to him (my God, it must be 40 years ago!), singing his praises, and he sent me an autographed photo.  It remains a prized possession.  And I can’t tell you how many times I’ve watched Ali-Frazier III.  I never rooted for a fighter, before or since, the way I did for Frazier on October 1, 1975.  How sad I was when he lost.  If only I’d prayed to Nicholas, the patron saint of boxers.  Ah, but like a lion he fought.

  29. Mohummad Humza Elahi 03:20am, 09/26/2013

    I had 2 bites at the cherry when getting hooked on boxing.  The first was pulling an all-nighter with my whole family (cousins included) to stay up for Tyson vs Bruno and that was incredible.  The second time, really, was Mayweather vs De La Hoya, the 24/7 series for the build up was nothing like I’ve ever seen and watching the training and the insight got me pumped up beyond belief!

  30. Clarence George 03:06am, 09/26/2013

    Smuggy Hursey, Magoon?  Haven’t heard that name in a long time.  He died serving his country during the Korean War.

    Anyway, lovely story, as Mike says.  I was reminded more of my brother than my father, and more of wrestling than boxing.  He used to wake me up late at night to watch it on a black-and-white set, when it was all about Killer Kowalski, Gorilla Monsoon, Haystacks Calhoun, and, most of all, the great Bruno Sammartino.  It was so different then.  You had the wonderful nonsense first introduced by Gorgeous George (Chief Jay Strongbow in full Indian headdress!), but none of the pyrotechnics.  It was nowhere near the mega business it is today.  More innocent.  Or maybe we were.

    As for my introduction to boxing…it took place when my father gave me a squeaky toy in the form of a baby-blue boxing glove.  I absolutely loved it, and took it with me everywhere.  I think it was meant for a dog, but that didn’t bother me.  I used to have a taste for dog biscuits, as my father knew.  He put two and two together, and got me the appropriate gift.  The rest, as they say, is history.

    By the way, Ted, gold star next to your name for calling political correctness the “idiocy” it surely is.

  31. Mike Thomas 03:03am, 09/26/2013

    I remember seeing Ali and Foreman as a seven year old, but Ali and Shavers really hooked me.  I began reading any magazines available, mainly Boxing Illustrated and Ring.  A writer named Bill Kelly did interviews with west coast fighters and trainers so I learned about Superfly Sandoval, Mike Weaver, Jesse Reid, Bobby Chacon, really great stuff.  I became a big fan of Ernie Shavers and lived and died with him every time he fought.

  32. Magoon 02:19am, 09/26/2013

    I wasn’t with him (not yet born), but one of the first fights my dad saw was when Raadik took Smuggy Hursey by split decision at Madison Square Garden. It was shortly after World War II.

  33. Mike Casey 01:29am, 09/26/2013

    Lovely story, full of great names. Raadik very nearly upset the applecart for Cerdan. Personally, I got hooked when my dad woke me up as a treat to watch the second Ali-Liston fight from Lewiston in 1965. I was ten years old and the fight came on at three in the morning in the UK. It was all over in a flash, but I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I had just seen an invincible superman go out in one round. Never mind. Joe Frazier and Jerry Quarry were on the way, and then I really got hooked. Guys like Pastrano, Giardello, Ortiz, Saldivar and Jofre assisted in making me an addict. And for all my moans and groans about the state of the game today, I still can’t bloody give it up!!

  34. Procopy 01:11am, 09/26/2013

    the first time i was hooked in boxing, was the time when i saw manny pacquiao crushed marco antonio barrera. long before, i thought boxing was a dirty, boring sport.

  35. BIG WALTER 12:45am, 09/26/2013

    I grew up there as well before I moved to Las Vegas and I can relate to the places you mentioned and especially to the guys who came back from the War. They were a special breed as I suspect your late brother was. Their sacrifices allowed us to enjoy these great times and savor the memories. Thanks for writing this article Ted Sares. I got hooked later during the 70s on Ali and Frazier. Been cultivating my addiction ever since.

  36. Giorgio Corsi 11:03pm, 09/25/2013

    I had the pleasure and honor to hear you telling this first contact with boxing few years ago and , after a few years 18, it is incredible how I still feel the same emotions and atmosphere ... I did not have the same experience but I has a similar one with my father when he took me to my first soccer game when I could see players of which before I only heard names or so picture ... you know after so many years I remember exactly in which part of the stadium we were sitting ....

  37. beaujack 07:29pm, 09/25/2013

    Ted, your article of you and your dad going to the fights seeing Anton Raadik fight Tommy Bell ,and making you a devotee of boxing brings back memories to me…My dad took me to my first pro bout at St Nicholas Arena to see the new lightweight sensation Beau Jack fight a tough Terry Young a friend of Rocky Graziano…A great fight it was and I too became hooked on boxing…Saw many of the boxing names you post ringside, but bringing up the name Laverne Roach brings up painful memories to me especially…I saw Laverne Roach fighting in NY several times…He just came out of the US Marines and was a great prospect…But his ko at the hands of Marcel Cerdan in 1948 ruined him…In 1950 a close neighbor of mine Georgie Small kod Laverne Roach, who was rushed to the hospital where he died the next day…A tragedy much like the death of
    Jimmie Doyle who died after Ray Robinson kod Doyle in Cleveland, 1947…

  38. kid vegas 05:13pm, 09/25/2013

    Superb piece. I could feel the sense of being there.

  39. Ted 05:07pm, 09/25/2013

    Eric, Scott Clark brings back memories and so does the Forum. Let’s toss some money into the ring to show what we thought of that fight!

  40. Ted 05:06pm, 09/25/2013

    Tex, both guys were rock solid and Bell almost made it to the top/

  41. Ted 05:05pm, 09/25/2013

    Thanks Dan. Sharing with dads was special back then. Proud blue collar men—a special breed. Craftsmen with pride in their craft. Men of values and honor. Different men. Different times.

  42. Ted 05:03pm, 09/25/2013

    Irish, Chicago pizza’s were special back then None of that deep dish crap ala Uno’s

  43. Tex Hassler 05:00pm, 09/25/2013

    Anton is one man who fought just about any one and avoided no one that I know of. Check out his record and check out Tommy Bell’s record while you are at it. Great article.

  44. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 03:07pm, 09/25/2013

    Ted Sares-Going for pizza in 1948…wow!.....that’s the difference between living in the “City of Broad Shoulders” and living in a small coal mining town in Southwestern Pa. I didn’t taste pizza until at least ‘52 even though I ate my school lunch at Siciliano’s Monday thru Friday…serving size plates of macaroni, spaghetti, raviola and plenty of bread for 50 cents… in and day out….and I loved it!

  45. Eric Jorgensen 02:51pm, 09/25/2013

    For my dad and me (age 13), it was Pipino Cuevas defending his WBA Welterweight Title against Scott “Golden Boy” Clark at the Fabulous Forum in Inglewood, California.  Good times!

  46. Dan Cuoco 02:45pm, 09/25/2013

    Ah, the names of boxing’s elite from one of the golden ages of boxing. I too shared my early moments of boxing with my dad. Great story—thanks for sharing.

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