… Except for Big Fights Boxing Hour on ESPN Classic with boxing analyst/historian Al Bernstein. Last month we watched, for the fourth or fifth time this year, the 1957 welterweight whomp-a-thon in Salinas, Kansas that pitted Sal “The Bayonne Scallion” Scagliamuto against Irving “The Naughty Frenchman” LeGrand, which as you’ll recall LeGrand took on a narrow and still controversial decision. That vigorously contested 12-rounder, as Bernstein noted, “was probably the last time two competent white fighters of comparable skills staged an entertaining fight --- not only in a boxing ring, but in a barroom, on a street corner or while riding a public transit conveyance.” We recall with pleasure the then-novel haute cuisine that LeGrand dished out at his chain of “Naughty Frenchman” cafes in the late '60s, and we were saddened when we heard he had been shot in the head and killed by his fifth wife in a Tahoe motel room in 1972.
Then, two weeks ago, we were privileged to relive the 1966 “Red Harvest in the Garden,” as the middleweight non-title fight between Alceste L. “The L Stands for Love” Williams and Tederick “Country” Davis is remembered by fight fans. The digitalized enhancement of the fuzzy closed-circuit broadcast of the day clearly showed ringside spectators being soaked with blood, sweat and Dixie Peach Pomade as Williams cornered the hapless Davis against the ropes and beat him senseless for a full two minutes. “Some people have claimed that the massive brain hemorrhage Davis suffered a few hours after the fight was caused by the vicious mauling he suffered at Williams’ hands,” Bernstein pointed out. Sadly, Williams’ fight career went straight downhill after the Davis fight, although as a singer fronting his own show band Williams managed to break into the lower rungs of the Top 40 in 1967 with the James Brown knockoff “Lip Blister.” His 1969 heroin overdose ended both his boxing and singing careers.
And just last week we pulled up a chair for Bernstein’s presentation of the grainy, scratchy film of the 1916 heavyweight marathon in San Juan between champion Wee Willie “Little Willie” McGlashin and challenger Irish Jim Leibgott. “Boxing fans,” said Prof. Bernstein, “still marvel at the way the ‘Gaelic Jewboy’ from Pascagoula, Miss. went down 17 times in the 44th round, only to peel himself off the canvass and come back to knock the headstrong Scotsman out in the 58th. And he reportedly was dead drunk at the time!”
So when the kids/grandkids/great-grandkids whine that there’s nothing good on TV this summer, sit 'em down for Big Fights Boxing Hour.