Wednesday, May 29, 2019

My Washington Times Review of 'Boxing And The Mob: The Notorious History Of The Sweet Science'

The Washington Times published my review of Jeffrey Sussman's Boxing and the Mob: The Notorious History of the Sweet Science.

When I was a teenager in the 1960s, I used to visit the Passyunk Gym at Passyunk Avenue and Moore Street in South Philadelphia. As an amateur boxer and aspiring writer, I enjoyed watching the fighters train, spar or simply hang out at the famous gym. Some of the most well-known professional boxers of the day, such as heavyweight champion Sonny Liston and middleweight champion Joey Giardello, used to visit the Passyunk Gym. Also in attendance were the ubiquitous gamblers and mobsters.

I recall a short, elderly man who sat quietly at ringside while everyone treated him like royalty. In the world of boxing at the time, Frank “Blinky” Palermo, a member of the Philadelphia Cosa Nostra crime family, was indeed royalty. Along with his partner, Frankie Carbo, a New York Lucchese crime family member, Palermo managed and controlled many of the professional boxers around the country.

Palermo and Carbo are two of the mobsters involved intricately in the sport of boxing that are covered in Jeffrey Sussman’s “Boxing and the Mob: The Notorious History of the Sweet Science.”

“This book is about the intermarriage of mobsters and boxers, of fixed fights and the millions of dollars earned by mobsters through the 1960s, right up until the time when Frankie Carbo and his minions were given long prison sentences,” Mr. Sussman writes.

Mr. Sussman profiles the shady promoters and managers who controlled boxing from the sport’s early days in America. The book charts the gangsters’ involvement in boxing beginning with Arnold Rothstein, the New York gambler who was suspected of fixing the 1919 World Series.

Mr. Sussman calls Rothstein a “visionary” and the father of organized crime who turned gambling into big business. Rothstein mentored some of the most notorious mobsters in crime history, such as Charles “Charlie Lucky” Luciano, Frank Costello and Meyer Lansky.

Rothstein found boxing an easier sport to fix than baseball, as there were far less participants to corrupt. Rothstein’s aide in corrupting boxing was Abe “Little Hebrew” Attell, who had been the featherweight champion from 1906 to 1912.

“He was a champion boxer, a bagman, and enforcer for Arnold Rothstein, and a gambler who had a thumb on the scales of many fixed fights,” Mr. Sussman writes. “Any history of boxing in the United States in the twentieth century would have to shadow the career of Abe Attell, for his presence unlocks the secret of many fixed fights. At ringside, in boxing gyms, at training camps, Abe Attell was a presence that indicated something was not on the level.”

… Prior to his involvement with boxing, Carbo was a professional hitman with the mob’s infamous “Murder, Inc.” Carbo’s partner in boxing crime was Frank “Blinky” Palermo, a mobster known as the “Numbers King of Philadelphia.”

“Palermo, was a short and short-tempered man, not much more than five feet tall, who always seemed to operate on the edge of anger. He reminded some people of an angry bulldog,” Mr. Sussman writes. “Ultimately, in addition to owning boxers and promoting matches, he was Carbo’s muscleman, the guy who threatened recalcitrant boxers and devious managers that they had better accept Carbo’s deals, no matter how unfair and onerous they were. Few had the courage or the foolishness not to go along.”

Carbo and Palermo were behind the fixed fight between Jake LaMotta and Billy Fox, which was later dramatized in the Martin Scorsese and Robert DeNiro film, “Raging Bull. “They were also behind the two contentious fights between Sonny Liston and Muhammad Ali.

You can read the rest of the review via the below link:

Note: The below photos are of Frank “Blinky” Palermo in between Sugar Ray Robinson and Charlie Fusari prior to their fight, Frankie Carbo, Arnold Rothstein and Abe Attell.

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