On the Circuit: Part Three

By Ted Sares on March 10, 2013
On the Circuit: Part Three
Kid Azteca, who fought from 1930-1961, ran up a slate of 155-44-8 in 207 bouts.

Still, it’s pretty clear what this is all about. Certain fighters play a certain role. Some seemed to have found a comfortable way to lose…

The infamous circuit was not the exclusive domain of the Knucklehead Boxing Club. The southern circuit yielded many of these types of fighters, and God only knows that the U.K. has its own brand of “Have Gloves Will Travel” types. However, their story has been told elsewhere and perhaps once too often. Even Mexico has had its globe trotters.

Mexico

Luis “Pocket Battleship” Castillo was a Mexican barnstormer extraordinaire who fought from 1940-1959 and chalked up an amazing record of 98 (KO 41) – 70 (KO 13) – 12 in 181 outings. He alternated between multiple locations in Mexico and Cuba with frequent stops elsewhere including Washington, California (Hollywood, which was a favorite venue), Oregon, Texas, Minnesota, Hawaii, Australia, the Dominican Republic, Panama and Venezuela. He went 4-4-2 against Tony Olivera who himself finished with 81-28-14 and was only stopped twice. “The Pocket” was 4-2 against Otilio “Zurdo” Galvan (104-47-5).

Juan Soberanes, at 45-31-2 was another Mexican road warrior type who fought the highest level of competition, In fact, he was 38-1 before being KOd by rough Terrence Alli after which he hit the cul de sac and went 6-30-2–in an amazing career turn around.

Other Mexicans like Juan “Bombin” Padilla, 71-32-7, Humberto “Hamlet” Carrillo, 66-23-7, and Cesar “Chino” Saavedra, 69-42-8, ran up monster slates, but few ventured outside of Torreon, Coahuila de Zaragoza, Durango, or Mexico City. Of course, Kid Azteca (alias Luis Villanueva Paramo), who fought from 1930-1961, occasionally would fight outside Mexico City, but only occasionally as he ran up an astounding slate of 155 (KO 88) – 44 (KO 7) – 8 in 207 bouts. Ricardo Arredondo, 76 (KO 57) – 22 (KO3) – 1, broke the mold by taking his act globally and even duked in Soul Korea and Denmark.

Lupe “Macho” Guerra, 24-27-2, was the quintessential Midwestern fighter. Heck, he never even fought in Mexico. Go figure.

Cuba

Global barnstormer, Angel Robinson Garcia, fought from 1955 to 1978, and did his early work in Cuba, the States, Venezuela, Mexico, and Jamaica. He then shifted to Europe in 1961 with France and Italy being his favorite ports of call, with frequent jaunts into many other countries including Abidjan and Algeria. Spain soon became his new home until 1972 when he closed out his remarkable career with a series of dukes in the United States against extremely stiff opposition. Angel’s final record was a remarkable 133 (KO 53) – 81 (KO 3) – 21 in 235 battles. Yes, only three stoppage losses in 235 fights!

Those at Risk

There is another, darker story about boxers who differ from the ones mentioned in the first two parts of this series. These are fighters who may be at serious risk as the ply their trade in such countries as Hungary, Slovakia, Romania, Thailand, Indonesia, and Nigeria. This topic was covered in depth in my 2008 Book, “Reelin’ in the Years: Boxing and More.” However, with five years having gone by, most of these boxers have now run up such mind boggling and horrific records that even the likes of Reggie Strickland (66-276-17) and “Professor” Peter Buckley (32-256-12) would shake their heads in astonishment.

Reunion of the Knucklehead Boxing Club

“Buck Smith and Verdell Smith … stuffed their cash in their socks or inside their athletic supporters because there were no locker rooms in some of the places they fought – Paducah, Ky.; Bozeman, Mont.; and Goodlettsville, Tenn.”—Geoffrey Gray (New York Times)

A reunion of sorts occurred in 2004-2006 when the U.S. Government attempted a crackdown on fight fixing, but aside from sending a widely felt chill through the boxing world, it did not yield much grist from the Knuckleheads. Or anyone else for that matter.

Buck Smith, along with colleagues Verdell Smith and Sean Gibbons, were called upon to give testimony before a federal grand jury in Las Vegas. However, they exercised their Fifth Amendment rights to avoid self-incrimination.

Buck, in denying any wrongdoing, explained that his fights were not important enough to bet on in Las Vegas. ‘‘We’re just the little fish in the pond, man,’’ he said.

Verdell Smith also denied any wrongdoing, and In the plain style of the Heartland he explained, ‘‘I’m not going to risk my brain and my kids to prove anything…I fight, I get paid and I go home. That’s all I do.”

During the FBI probe and amidst numerous allegations, Bob Arum fired matchmaker Sean Gibbons in 2004.  “He is not an employee any longer. I am not going to comment on any reason,” Arum attorney Richard Wright said.

“They’re allegations. Nothing has ever been proven. There’s nothing there. [Gibbons] has done what he’s supposed to do—help make matches. If we had to worry about allegations without any proof ... I just can’t work that way,” said former Nevada State Athletic Commission executive director Marc Ratner. (See: http://www.lasvegassun.com/news/2004/jan/21/ex-top-rank-figure-had-checkered-past/#ixzz2LxhpTdeE)

For a more though account of the investigations and related allegations, see the following May 14, 2006 article by Geoffrey Gray titled, “BOXING; While Panel Digs Deeper, Journeymen Put Up Fight.”
http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9A00E6D8143EF937A25756C0A9609C8B63

Here are two excellent articles that deal with how the sting was allegedly perpetrated:
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/1451993/How-FBI-put-its-man-in-the-ring-to-investigate-Vegas-fight-fixing.html
http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/magazine/archives/news/story?page=magazine-20050314-article31

Another revealing article titled “A Boxer’s Credo: Any Old Alias Will Do” by the late and legendary Mark Kram tracks, in part,  the Arkansas Boxing Commission in the 1980s and warrants attention. See: http://articles.philly.com/1987-11-17/sports/26173260_1_boxers-professional-bouts-tex-cobb

In the end (and with compliments to Pedro Fernandez of Ring Talk who was one of the few who doggedly covered this story), the sting investigation dubbed Operation Match Box went done the drain due to alleged investigative bungling; and that’s a juicy story in itself. Suffice it to say that to my knowledge, no one was indicted by a grand jury, despite a slew of allegations of wrongdoing being made and a host of names (some very familiar) being cited. Allegations are allegations, and until they become more substantive and eventually lead to convictions, they remain allegations.

Conclusion

“Without losers, there would be no winners.”—Denise Grollmus

The Boxing Encyclopedia definition of Barnstormer seems to fit well, but only to a point. Many barnstormers made a decent living with ultra frequent activity. Most seem to do it as losers. However, many like Argentinian Jorge Fernando Castro (130-11-3) and Harold Brazier (105-18-1) were highly skilled winners and world champions. They need to be included in the picture.

Still, it’s pretty clear what this is all about. Certain fighters play a certain role. Some seemed to have found a comfortable way to lose. They are savvy enough to survive without undue risk, but at the same time provide enough excitement to guarantee more fights. Their ability to come back time and again is their meal ticket. They are a promoter’s dream; they represent reliability and virtual certainty. For them, it’s not if; it’s when. Did skullduggery play a part? Does the sun set in the west?

We will never again see guys getting into a broken down van and driving hundreds of miles along dark and lonely roads to fight as often as they can in front of small town crowds in Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Indiana, and Kentucky. I reckon that’s a good thing—at least I think it is. You decide.

On the Circuit: Part One
On the Circuit: Part Two
On the Circuit: Part Three

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  1. the thresher 09:44am, 03/14/2013

    Thanks Mike

  2. Mike Casey 08:41am, 03/14/2013

    Catching up on my reading, Ted. Good, good stuff!

  3. TED SARES 02:15pm, 03/13/2013

    I’m gonna get that patented. They are using it without my permission on ESB. LMFAO!!

  4. David Ball 12:02pm, 03/13/2013

    bikermike has the beat

  5. the thresher 04:52pm, 03/12/2013

    biker, I sure will buddy

  6. bikermike 06:31am, 03/12/2013

    Great Stuff Bull…......Keep ‘em coming

    Lotsa converts from esb….and your articles are just one of the reasons ! Thanks Ted

  7. dollarbond 06:30am, 03/11/2013

    Thanks for the series, Bull.

  8. pugknows 07:09pm, 03/10/2013

    Damn right allegations are allegations.

  9. the thresher 04:25pm, 03/10/2013

    Tex Cobb’s last 20 fights during which he went undefeated occurred in such places as Indiana, Missouri, Idaho, Oklahoma, Nebraska, North Carolina, Florida, Kentucky, and Arkansas. 13 were against guys with losing records.

    When he “stepped up” to fight Bill Duncan (4-0) in 1987, he fought to a draw in Springfield , Missouri.

    His last fight was against Andre “Randy White” Smiley who finished with a 0-25-1 record and who once lost to Ross Puritty by first round stoppage twice in the same month. Andre also lost to Olian Alexander thrice in 3 months by KO.

  10. Tex Hassler 03:22pm, 03/10/2013

    There is no telling how many men have fought under some other man’s name. I know for a fact when a promoter get desperate for a last minute opponent some will not hesitate to pull someone off the street, with no boxing experience, that just needs some quick cash.

  11. the thresher 12:39pm, 03/10/2013

    With a final record 100-27-11 in 138 outings,Jeff Flash Malcolm was Australia’s version of Harold Brazier, but perhaps even better. This welterweight fought from 1971 to 2002 when he suffered a stoppage loss
    to Fernando Sagrado in his career last. But prior to that, he had gone 18 in a row without defeat.

  12. the thresher 12:35pm, 03/10/2013

    Cuba

    Global barnstormer, Angel Robinson Garcia, fought from 1955 to
    1978, and did his early work in Cuba, the States, Venezuela, Venezuela,
    Mexico, and Jamaica. He then shifted to Europe in 1961 with
    France and Italy being his favorite work sites with frequent jaunts
    into many other countries including Abidjan and Algeria. Spain soon
    became his new home until 1972 when he closed out his remarkable
    career with a series of dukes in the United States against extremely
    solid opposition. Angel’s final record was an eye opening
    133 (KO 53) - 81 (KO 3)-21 in 235 battles. Yes, only three stoppage
    losses in 235 fights!

    Middleweight Sugar Boy Nando, from Aruba, fought throughout Europe,
    in the Caribbean, and in both North and South America while running
    up a fine mark of 64-42-7. A staple in Aruba and Jamaica, he participated
    in many high profile bouts against some rugged opposition.

  13. the thresher 12:33pm, 03/10/2013

    But no, I was not just writing about journeyman losers. Fact is, aside from a few others which I could cite, there were not all that many great fighters who were both road warriors and who also had an unusual number of fights.

  14. the thresher 12:31pm, 03/10/2013

    Angel, I agree with your point but I had to mention them because of thier gaudy records. But points taken

  15. angel 12:27pm, 03/10/2013

    Excellent series,but i must admit you lost me with this one.i tough you were writing about journeyman losers.neither Azteca or Arredondo fit this profile. Azteca was a world class boxer with wins over champs Ceferino Garcia and Fritzie Zivic plus other outstanding ringmen. Arredondo was a130 champ who made 5 sucessful defenses at a time when we had two titleholders in that class not 8 or 16 like happens now.Most of his loses came after he lost the title and against world class fighters.

  16. angel 12:15pm, 03/10/2013

    Excellent series,but i must admit you lost me with this one. I thought you were writing about journeyman losers. Neither Azteca or Arredondo fit this profile. Azteca was a world class boxer with wins over champs Ceferino Garcia and Fritzie Zivic plus other outstanding ringmen.  Arredondo was a 130 champ who made 5 successful defenses at a time when we had two titleholders in that class not 8 or 16 like happens now. Most of his losses came after he lost the title and against world class fighters.

  17. nicolas 11:57am, 03/10/2013

    The mention of Juan Soberanes is not so much a cul de sac, but a fighter who basically after losing to Ali, did not go back to the drawing board, but continued to fight competition that was above him. A look at Boxrec I think confirms this. However, I think that by Ted mentioning this, there are fighters who do reach a Cul De Sac. Some fighters after they go so far, lose to superior opposition, but then, because of that, may actually lose to inferior opposition due to not having the desire to put in the hard work they once did. It is like a worker at a job, who works hard, may be an asset to the company, but due to not perhaps getting promotions that he feels he should have, will have a decline in his productivity. In looking back at boxing history, I even wonder how much the bad performance of Harry Wills against Jack Sharkey contributed to his loss because a title shot against Jack Dempsey was not going to happen. My argument I think about NIno Valdez, a man on a eleven fight winning streak before fighting Archie Moore, and feeling he deserved the decision, rightly or wrongly, I think may have also contributed to his decline after, when he realized he was not going to get his title shot against Marciano, when he clearly I feel showed he deserved it during that time. We bemoan the fact that there are so many weight divisions, and specially so many organizations. But Jake LaMotta felt that was a good thing. He pointed out that deserving fighters at least now got the opportunity to fight for a title. When he won the middleweight title, it could be I think rightfully said that his best years were actually behind him.

  18. the thresher 11:45am, 03/10/2013

    Thanks Irish and Don.

    These guys are a dying breed. Historians go far back, but there is some rich history to be mined out of the plains states with these guys. Hell, I can still remember seeing some of them fight in Wisconsin and Indiana.

  19. the thresher 11:42am, 03/10/2013

    Walt, he is not worth mentioning.

  20. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo (aka) Gimpel 10:21am, 03/10/2013

    Ted Sares-Amazing research and chronicIing…I believe that Teddy Roosevelt would have admired these guys who were not “cold and timid souls”....but were “actually in the arena”...he certainly didn’t reserve his praise only for the winners.

  21. Don from Prov 10:01am, 03/10/2013

    I imagine those that travel far enough also circumvent KO rules—
    They likely fight when they shouldn’t be.

    I’m for no traveling the dark roads in broken down vans

  22. walt 09:44am, 03/10/2013

    Thanks for this very neat series. I loved the way you tied the parts together, very seamless. Good writing. BTW, who are you talking about in the Hopkins thread?

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