Ali, being a living legend, is a hometown fighter wherever he fights

Sunday, October 10, 1976 
There was some, but not many, who could truly empathize with Ken Norton in Yankee Stadium 12 days ago. I was one of the few. Others might have included Harold Johnson Jr., Billy Graham, Joey Archer and Joe Walcott. I’ve included myself in this group of fighters, not for reasons of comparison, but to show something of the nature of our sport or, more accurately, our business.
The word in boxing circles is that Harold Johnson, Jr. got a one-way ticket to Las Vegas in 1963, when he was the light-heavyweight champion. He fought Willie Pastrano there. Johnson won 10 of the 15 rounds, but Pastrano got the decision and the tile.
Billy Graham was taken to the Havana cleaners in 1952 when he fought Kid Gavilan and became known as the “uncrowned welterweight champion.” Joey Archer got the short end of the stick against Emile Griffith when they fought in Madison Square Garden in 1966, and many say the same thing happened to Walcott against Joe Louis in 1947. The list goes on and on because, on one hand, boxing is a sport that requires subjective judgment, and, on the other hand, it’s loaded with chicanery.
I first learned of this at second hand. While training at Gleason’s Gym in the South Bronx, I heard bizarre tales from fighters who plied their trade on the road. Everything from bad decisions to unfair disqualifications to having the lights go out when the hometown boy hit the canvas.
I thought little of it because I was still a “white hope” and those things don’t happen to white hopes. Only after my hopes had been dashed (I lost a fight), did I learn the facts of boxing life.
I beat Chuck Wepner in December 1971 and became the heavyweight champion of New Jersey. In April 1972, against the advice of a crotchety old sports writer (“Kid, never fight a trial horse twice. You’ve got nothing to gain and everything to lose.”), I gave the Bayonne Bleeder a return match in the Jersey City Armory.
I got a first-hand lesson in the business of boxing. Ten of 11 sports writers at ringside thought I won the fight comfortably. The referee, the only ring official in New Jersey, gave the fight to Wepner.
I know just how Norton felt after losing the decision to Ali last week. After initial numbness that turned to disgust, I wanted to quit boxing at the age of 24. Associates said things like “Come on, kid. Don’t let it get you down; that’s boxing.” It did get me down and I realized that it was boxing, but boxing was still in my blood. I fought again, six months later.
By the end of 1974, I had beaten fighters like Jimmy Young, Raoul Gorosito, Petro Agusto and Wepner. I was a journeyman fighter. I took my show on the road without a manager (who needs  
a 50 percent partner who never gets hit?) and was ready to take on the world.
     
With one minute to go in the fight, I found the mark and dropped him on the seat of his pants. Four hands immediately shot into the ring with smelling salts, ice water and towels to revive the downed fighter. This was clearly against the rules, but the referee was busy tying his shoes in a neutral corner.
    
I took the law into my own hands – or more accurately, my feet. I stormed across the ring to stomp a hand and kick a shoulder. After I had cleared the ring, the referee made a comeback and counted out my recumbent opponent.
    
I received my Ph.D. from the school of hard knocks in Trinidad. I was fighting the local champion, Wendell Josephs, in Port of Spain, and the promoter asked me to carry the fight at least five rounds. It was difficult because Josephs couldn’t fight to keep warm. The whole thing became ridiculous, so I started to go to work on my small, weak and tired opponent.
    
Near the end of the fifth round, the referee stepped between us. I thought he was stopping the fight on a technical knockout. He wasn’t. He was stopping it on disqualification. Guess who was disqualified? A riot ensued because I was a 3-1 betting favorite and hadn’t thrown a foul punch. Oh, well, that’s boxing.
    
Ken, you have my commiseration. Ali, being a living legend, is a hometown fighter wherever he fights. The world is his backyard. Only he can score points by lying on the ropes, dancing around and auditioning for a position in a topless-bottomless lounge by shimmying his hips inside Everlast trunks.
    
Beating Ali by a decision is like giving Jack Nicklaus a stroke a hole. You’re beat before you start.
 
  
Randy describes himself as “an inactive fighter, like Floyd Patterson.” His seven years of professional boxing have left him with 31 victories, six losses and a sardonic perspective. He is a freelance writer and aspiring actor and is studying at the Warren Robertson Workshop.