By Ted Sares
Maybe you can remember the first professional fight you saw and what impact it had on
you. Though I had a pretty good idea about what my first one was and where I saw it, I nevertheless consulted with my older sisters and did some serious research. Here is the result.
Marigold Gardens Outdoor Arena on the North side of Chicago was a smoke filled place on June 6, 1948.....boxing being a bastion of political incorrectness and all. Of course, none of that idiocy existed back then. The smell of beer, cheap cigars and Italian sausage sandwiches mixed with an occasional whiff of perfume and sweat made it a comfortable setting for this 11 year old. I guess my dad, "Big John" as he was known, thought it was time I witnessed a professional fight. God knows he had to break up way too many street fights in which I was engaged so maybe he was working an agenda (another word that thankfully was unknown back then). We both had seen plenty of amateur fights at Rock-Ola Stadium near our home on the Northwest side or at Parichy Stadium in the western suburbs, but the atmosphere here was very different. While there were men of different ages in the seats (and some very pretty women), most of them seemed to be in their late 20's or early 30's and had a "devil may care" a kind of aura about them. I later determined this was due to there having fought in The Second World War which, of course, ended in 1945. In my young eyes, there were real men.....men like my late brother who served from 42 through 45.
Well, we had great seats...right up near ringside. And the featured fighters were two very tough hombres, Anton Raadik, out of Chicago by way of Estonia and 26-8 at the time, vs Tommy Bell, 44-16-3 and out of Youngstown, Ohio. Raadik, a great favorite among ethnic Chicago fans, fought from 1940-1952. Opponents included Marcel Cerdan (whom he knocked down 3 times in losing a highly controversial decision), Jake LaMotta, Joey LaMotta, Carl 'Bobo' Olson, Sonny Horne, Georgie Abrams, Steve Belloise, Danny Nardico, Harry 'Kid' Matthews, and Robert Villemain to name a few.
Two months before this 10 round fight, Bell, who fought from1942-1951, had lost a split decision to the great Kid Gavilan. His resume included a "whose who" of great fighters, California Jackie Wilson (twice), Sugar Ray Robinson (twice), Jake LaMotta (3 times), Steve Belloise, Fritzie Zivic (157-65-9 for an astounding total of 231), Maxie Berger, Cecil Hudson. If one added up the combined won-lost record of his opposition, it would have been staggering.
Based on his level of opposition, Bell was a slight favorite and I noticed the frenzy of betting that was going on. It added to the building excitement as the boxers came out to a cheering audience....the sound was almost gutteral. No music, no long trunks, no posturing or theatrics, no entourages or somebody waiving an inane belt. Just grim and serious looking pros with their trainers and cut men ready to get it on in the stiffing humidity of a hot Chicago night. By the time the fighters were in the ring, the fans were howling, some in Estonian, some in Chicagoan, some in a strange sounding combination.
The fighters were introduced and each modestly nodded to the crowd in the manner of the great Joe Louis. They were given their instructions, went back to their corners and the bell rang. From the beginning, it was Raadik stalking Bell all over the place but never really catching him. As the rounds went by, Bell kept the incoming Anton off of him with neat jabs a slick defense and good foot movement (and the fans began to boo), but finally in the eighth Anton landed some serious body shots that made a "whump" sound. In the ninth he caught the favorite on the ropes and attacked viciously to the body. When Bell dropped his hands, it gave Raadik the opportunity he was waiting for and he launched a series of deadly shots to Bell's head that brought him down to one knee bleeding. When he got up, he fell backwards into the ropes and the fight was halted. The tough-as-nails Estonian-Chicagoan had won by TKO in the ninth and the hometown fans were up and roaring as was my dad. Money was being exchanged in plain sight and drinks were toasted. Right there and then I caught the fever of this great sport and when Raadik winked at me from the ring as his hand was raised in victory, a chill went down my spine. Hey, this was no poetic rite of passage; this was plain old manly stuff and I was in it......hook, line and sinker.
Tommy Bell, a real road warrior, would go on to close his career with 53 wins (32 ko's) 29 losses and 3 draws. He would lose 12 of his last 15, mostly on points. His last was a 6 round TKO loss to the great Pierre Langlois in Paris. Raadik, another boxer who would fight anywhere in the world, would finish with 37 wins (26 ko's) 25 losses and I draw. He would lose 13 of his last 15....his last to rugged Garth Panter in Boise by 10 round UD. Two very tough middleweights who got me started on something I have since followed, participated in, bet on, handicapped, researched and now write about.
As my dad and I headed for a pizza, I asked when we could see our next fight and he said something about Rainbow Arena. We would later see Raadik fight again at the Chicago Stadium. I had found a whole new world and could only imagine what awaited.
Later, I would come to know names like Chuck Speiser, Bert Whitehurst, Tony Janiro, Beau Jack. Gene Burton, Chuck Davey, Chico Vejar, Ike Williams, the great Johnny Bratton (one of Chicago's most popular fighters ever), Verne Patterson, Anton Christoforidis, Bob Satterfield, Marciano, LaMotta, Graziano, Louis, Charles, Durando, Johnny Saxton, Gene "Silent Hairston (a favorite on Gillette's Friday night fights), Bobby *****, Charley Fusari, Livio Minelli, Gary's Tony Zalinski aka Zale, Luigi Valentini, Laverne Roach (whom I saw be fatally injured in the ring), Holly Mims, Georgie Small, Enrico Bertolo, and many lesser known guys who often fought in the Chicago area. This was my indoctrination period and these were some of the fighters who indoctrinated me.Today, this is sometimes referred to as "old school stuff." For me, it was neither better nor worse than watching a competitive bout today. It was what it was.......and it was joyous just as it is today. As an aside, in high school I heard about a tough tall fighter at Farragut High across town named Ernie Terrell, two years my junior, and often wondered why we never fought each other in the amateurs. As it turned out, I'm glad we didn't.
"Let the other guy have whatever he wants before the fight. Once the bell rings he's gonna be disappointed anyway." George Foreman relating boxing advice he received from Archie Moore on posturing before a fight.
Ted Sares can be reached at [email protected]