The Harder They Fall: Sunset's Mid July Boxing Journal
By Sunset Thomas, Doghouse Boxing (July 23, 2009)  
“Las Vegas has been robbed!” that’s what Frankie Gambino lamented as we walked from City Hall to our parking spot on the 2nd Floor of the garage.

I had no idea what the old coot was talking about—though I recognized the boxing euphemism about being robbed—common talk amongst fight folk who feel they’ve been given a bum decision by the judges…

“What are you talking about Frankie?” I asked with little patience, I was, after all, on cloud nine.

“These frickin’ term limits. See Mayor Goodman can’t run for an office he oughta hold for life—that’s what I’m talking about!”

That’s one decision I couldn’t’ argue with…

See Frankie and I seem to cozy up with politicos, especially mayors. Hey, I first met Frankie in Reno while they were rolling out a big birthday cake for Heavyweight Sam Peter. I was serenading—doing my best Marilyn Monroe/Happy Birthday—while Mayor Cashell was standing by, ready to proclaim “Sam Peter Day.”

I’ve also spent many a lunch with Willie Brown, in San Francisco, seated at Wilkes Bashford’s window table at Le Central.

And now we were leaving the office of Las Vegas’ iconic mayor, Oscar Goodman…

We’d been at 400 Stewart Avenue—10th Floor—interviewing the mayor about boxing in the fight capital of the world—Las Vegas, Nevada…

I’d asked Mayor Goodman about his favorite two-fisted fable and he told Frankie and me about one evening—many years ago—when he was awaken at 2 AM with a call from Don King himself…

“I’m usually in bed by nine,” the mayor recalled. “I answered the phone only to find Don King on the other end, asking if I could please meet him at the Riviera and pronto. Apparently, he and Heavyweight Champ Larry Holmes had agreed to a parting of the ways and they wanted, needed, something written up.”

Of course, Oscar Goodman (attorney at the time), threw himself together and got down there within the hour.

He meets with the Champ and the “King” and wrote—in longhand—on a napkin—a termination agreement, which they both signed!

He went on to wax about freeing up a fight purse (again with Don King) after the Esteban de Jesus vs. Roberto Duran fight.

And as we sat in awe—he kept rattling ‘em off.

vHe spoke of repping Mike Tyson with the Nevada Athletic Commission after his ear-biting incident with Evander Holyfield and something about Oliver McCall and he finished the flourish with a ditty about flying to Jersey to speak before their Athletic Commission regarding a charge of steroid use by South Africa’s heavyweight Francois Botha (he saved the hide of the “White Buffalo” in that one too!)…

I asked him whether or not Sonny Liston’s picture would hang in the (hopefully) soon-to-be-open Mob Museum. And Hizzoner simply smiled—looked at me good—real good (Frankie said it was close to getting the “evil eye”) and went on to tell me how he’d met the ex-champ in Philly. Seems Oscar was in Law School at the time. Used to eat at the Chuck Wagon Deli (apparently, Liston lived upstairs). He spoke of the gentleness of the fighter who had hands the size of hormoned enhanced hams!

I wanted to know who the mayor thought would win a fight between Muhammad Ali and Rocky Marciano (with both being in their prime). Frankie Gambino leaned in to hear the answer to this one and he scoffed when Mayor Goodman pronounced that Ali would have shredded the Brockton Bomber…

So Frankie, trying to be clever, piped in, “So what about a fight between Bugsy Siegel and that Tony Spilotro fella?”

“With just fists?” the mayor asked…

“Sure, just fists,” Frankie followed.

“The Ant (meaning Spilotro) would have destroyed him.

Frankie was fuming; his old school cronies had gotten the backside of both Hizzoner’s hypotheticals.

“As a matter of fact,” the mayor continued, “I imagine when they killed Tony there must have been a hundred guys—that’s how tough that fire-hydrant of a fella was!”

All Frankie could mutter was “Bugsy could handle himself…”

I asked the mayor about his favorite Vegas fight memory, and I’m thinking about Hagler/Leonard, Tyson/Holyfield and what of Pacquiao and Mayweather et al, and you know what the mayor says (and this time it brought a smile to Frankie’s snarling mug), why he said, the Sonny Liston/Floyd Patterson title fight at the Convention Center in 1963.

That was the rematch from a year earlier in which Liston took Patterson’s title with a 1st Round KO in Chicago’s Comiskey Park (ironically, the outcome in Vegas was exactly the same).

Oscar waxed about how he’d somehow cornered some great seats—ringside—and how he was next to Lieutenant Governor Paul Laxalt and a major banker and a reputed mobster—only in Vegas kids!

That was, in his eyes, the most memorable fight and that sort of summed it up for Frankie Gambino. He acknowledged that the mayor was a good fella. A guy who could appreciate the texture of time—not hype, but history. Like a martini—gin but with a whiff of vermouth—a little preening and pomp but mostly just life with a punch!

“That’s Oscar Goodman,” Frankie said…

We got up to leave and I just had to embrace my mayor (I’m a registered Clark County voter). He squeezed nice and I asked him (he’s kind of tall) about the future of prize fighting and he cautioned that it’s important for Vegas and boxing to hold on to their edge—to keep that romantic, Damon Runyon mystique alive.

As we loaded into the Benz, Frankie, paraphrasing Oscar, muttered “Corporate cleanliness might be great for restrooms but it don’t do much for tactile traditions such as joints called Sin City and a sport called the Sweet Science.”

I couldn’t agree more!

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