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Meeting the mob

I visited my friend in Chicago, who has one of the largest fight film collections in the world, in 1998. He took me to the cemetery where Jack Johnson and Bob Fitzsimmons were buried, and also arranged a meeting to meet Sean Curtin, the head of the Chicago Boxing Board of Control. Sean is a personal friend of Muhammed Ali – he had a collection of Ali memorabilia you would die for. Then my friend arranged for me to meet the infamous Truman Gibson, who was in cahoots with Frankie Carbo in the IBC scandal that controlled boxing in the 1950s.

Truman was born on 22nd January 1912 and passed away 23rd December 2005. He was a lawyer and financial advisor to Joe Louis and Sugar Ray Robinson. On meeting Truman for lunch, I had so many questions I wanted to ask him, hoping he would at least answer some. I asked what was the outcome of the trial when he was in the dock with Frankie Carbo – he looked surprised that I asked that question. He said “I got 5 years probation and a hefty fine, which at the time I thought I got off lightly.” It seemed that he took a liking to me (could have been my goodlooks or my charm), but the lunch ended abruptly as a chauffeur-driven car came to pick him up. We shook hands and he said “Next time you’re in Chicago we will meet up.” I said my friend would let him know when I was in Chicago next time around.

The following year I met Truman again – he had arranged to take me to Chinatown in Chicago for lunch. Since our first meeting, I had done some research on Truman and knew a lot more about the man – I did not realise he was what the American call a Mugalato (he looked like a white man but was of black heritage) but that never even bothered me he was a friend as far as I was concerned. We had a lavish Chinese meal, then I got into grilling him about the fight game and the corruption involved.

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Knowing he was closely associated with Joe Louis and Sugar Ray Robinson – and of course the Mob – I had a long list of questions. I asked about his involvement with Ray and Joe, and he said he was their financial advisor, but acted as their lawyer at the same time. I asked if Joe had ever been in a fixed fight, he said not to his knowledge. His biggest trouble with Joe was his womanizing. “I was paying off broads left right and center to keep quiet about Joe’s infidelities. Joe had so many women it was amazing that he was such a great fighter, but women just flocked to Joe like he was the Pied Piper.

The IBF was set up with Joe in mind – we were going to use his Title to dominate the heavyweight division when Joe retired by signing all the contenders under our banner. In that way Joe would have had a good income for life, but as you know, we got busted under the Anti Trust Law. Very sad situation all-round, and it kind of broke the Mob’s control of boxing in the USA somewhat.”

I asked about Sugar Ray Robinson – Truman shocked me when he said yes, Sugar was in a fixed fight. “The Mob told Sugar he was to lose to Joey Maxim in his Title shot for the Light-Heavy Title, they wanted Sugar to lay down in the eighth round. Sugar refused to lose like that – he agreed to lose on his terms, which the boys agreed to.” I butted in and said “But Truman, it was the heat that beat Sugar that night, even the referee was replaced during the fight because of the heat.” He laughed at that “Dave, go figure – Maxim, the white guy, had no problem with the heat.” But why would a great fighter agree to lose? “Extra money, and it’s better to lose a fight than your life.”

What was Sugar like to deal with? “[laughing] Sugar was a nightmare from day one when we made contact. In the Second World War Joe and Sugar were going all over the USA to box exhibitions for the troops to boost morale. Both wanted me to put a end to the segregation in the army, as Joe and Sugar refused to just box in front of just white soldiers. Dave, it planted a seed in me to fight this shocking segregation in the armed forces. After many meetings with officials, we started to get some changes made, and I’m very glad now that I got involved with this crusade. Sugar acted like a primadonna with promoters – always demanding the bigger share of purses. Sometimes he would refuse to leave the dressing room on fight night unless less he got extra. Many ex-fighters from Sugar’s era resented him as they were always on the short end in the money stakes.” Before we parted, I encouraged Truman to write a book about this amazing story of the darker side of boxing.

The last time I was in Chicago was in 2004 and Truman arranged for us to meet again in the restaurant in Chinatown. I arrived a little early, entering the restaurant and sitting at a table as the owner came over to take my order. I said I was waiting for Truman Gibson before I ordered. “OK,” he said “Don’t sit there, I’ll put you on our best table – we always cater for Truman, only the best will do. Well Truman arrived carrying a folder, which he placed in front of me.

Upon opening, I discovered it was Truman’s life story -he had taken my advice and written his book, and was in the process of having it printed. I asked if he had gone into detail about fixed fights. “I had to be careful, Dave – a lot of Mob guys are still alive.” During the meal I asked about Rocky Marciano – was he ever in a fixed fight? Truman replied that when Rocky fought Archie Moore, the fix was on, which shocked me. “But Truman, Archie took a beating in that fight – it’s pretty hard to believe.”

“Dave,I was in Archie’s dressing room 10 minutes after the fight and Archie was getting dressed as he was heading off to party. Look at it like this: White American, Italian stock and Rocky was mob-controlled – no way he was going to get beat.”

Thinking back, that makes a lot of sense to me. Before we parted, he thanked me for planting the idea of the book, and promised me a signed first edition.

A few months later a parcel arrived with Truman’s book enclosed, entitled Knocking Down Barriers: My Fight For Black America. Sadly, I never met Truman again as he sadly passed away, but I will never forget my good fortune of knowing him.

R.I.P my friend.

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