King of the Fights
In the sport’s peak era, crusty Sam Silverman ran New England boxing.

Sam Silverman


Back to Silverman: “I took him [Robinson] into the fight promoter’s office — which was the men’s room — and I put the blast on him. ‘Well, I wanted to think it over,’ he says. ‘You rushed me too much.’ I said, ‘Rushed you too much? We’ve been talkin’ about this for a year!’

“I understood his problems. He ran out on me one night at 7:30 in Boston Garden. Claimed he was sick. He owed me $49,000 in advances. Christ, the ushers were there, the door tenders were there collecting tickets, the police were there. We had to pay all that. Nothing. We had no fight.

“He coulda been sick, too. That can happen. No one believed he was sick. I believed him. But it’s tough to give a guy 49,000 bucks in advance. This ain’t the furniture business. I don’t get 90 days to pay my bills. He don’t fight, it ain’t worth two cents to me, you know?”

Pender: “So I went to New York, and we signed the contracts. Silverman had this big party going on at the Park Sheraton. There must have been 100 people. He had hired a suite, hors d’oeuvres, drinks, and all. So I went to the Park Sheraton and I said, ‘Sam, lookit. I gotta go back into training for two months. I want to have a good time while I’m here. Give me 200, ’cause I’m a little short myself.’

“Sam reached into his pocket. He had $40 in his pocket. He said, ‘All I got is 40. You want 20?’ I said, ‘For Chrissakes! How you holding this big party?’ He said, ‘On the cuff. On the cuff. If this fight don’t draw, I’m dead.’”

Watch video clips from the first season of Monday Night Football and you’ll see the undeniable appeal of the cheesy production values and Cosellian self-importance. (It’s been more than 40 years. Annoyance abates.) But now, along with MNF, there are also TNF, SNF, NFLTV in HDTV and, sad to say, CTE, and with those things has come an equally undeniable sense of lost innocence.

There are no claims being made here that boxing is anything other than a brutal, savage enterprise. It’s easy to make the case justifying the sport’s fall from the preeminence it held (along with baseball) in the ’40s and ’50s. Exhibit A: Another name for CTE is “dementia pugilistica.”

In spite of that, though, it’s hard not to be at least a little bit wistful about the innocence that was also lost when those grainy black-and-white images of the Friday Night Fights began to be replaced by ever more gaudy spectacle, $50 pay-per-view prices, and buffoonish principals sporting diamond pinkie rings the size of second base. You don’t have to be a lover of boxing to have a soft spot for the kind of charming (and charmed) chicanery that could only be provided by men who grew up in gyms, didn’t read the rulebook, and conducted their business out of cars, in men’s rooms, and on the cuff.

— John Guaspari is a management consultant and the author of numerous books and articles about business and management.