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The History Of The Sweet Science

A LAST INTERVIEW WITH IKE WILLIAMS
by Bill Kelly

Ike Williams was more than a world-class fighter to me. Ike was a mythic. Ike was quite simply --- with apologies to Benny Leonard, Henry Armstrong, Lew Jenkins, Beau Jack, Jimmy Carter and Bob Montgomery and even Roberto Duran - the best lightweight fighter who ever lived.

Fighting didn't come naturally to Ike; he mastered it, absorbed it, as he did every challenge in his life. As a kid in New Jersey I worshipped him. One of my finest hours in boxing came when I interviewed Ike in 1994. The last time I spoke with him was on August 28th. He was found dead in his home at 520 Hobart Boulevard, Los Angeles, California on September 7th.

I took Ike to dinners, and fight banquets because he didn't have the price of admission. His closest neighbors didn't know they were living with one of the best lightweight fighters of all time.

In 1947 a determination was made to fused the lightweight division which had been unraveled for five years, thereby crowning one undisputed world champion. The aspirants were Bob "Bobcat" Montgomery, who had won recognition by the New York Commission by beating Beau Jack on May 21, 1943, and Ike Williams. Ike was sanctioned by the National Boxing Association. He had recently dethroned tough Juan Zurita in two rounds on April 18, 1945. After that, he retained his title by knocking out Ronnie James in 9 rounds in Cardiff, Wales.

Getting two champions to unify a title has always been tantamount to sending Elian Gonzalez back to Cuba where he belongs. It's a familiar ode. You are asking each fighter to give up dispensations that even a fragmentary championship brings -- and bringing Williams and Montgomery together was even more challenging since the two battlers got along like Red Foxx and the IRS. Ahab and Moby Dick. Don King and anybody.

According to Ike, the intense hatred he and Montgomery held for one another reached back to their first meeting on January 25, 1944. If you like skyscraper infernos, or Sam Peckenpah movies, you would have loved the private wars of Bob Montgomery and Ike Williams. Classic grudge matches. Terrorist organizations recruit guys like these. Al Capone would have covered his eyes. Too gruesome.

Ike was born Isiah Williams in Brunswick, Georgia on August 2, 1923. His family moved to Trenton, New Jersey while he was still a teenage featherweight. Fighting as an amateur, he picked up various titles around the Jersey/Philly area, winning most of his fights by knockouts.

He stood 5 ft. 9 inches tall. His fighting weight: 125-150 pounds.

Graying at the temples when I interviewed him, he still possessed the physique of a praying mantis. He had compiled a record of 125 wins - 60 by knockouts -- 25 losses and five draws. In the following narration, he pulled no punches.

_______________________________________________________

KELLY: Ike, you say you are working odd jobs? Are you broke?

IKE: The million bucks I made as a fighter is gone. I'm having a tough time finding work at my age. All I know is boxing. I would like to find work connected with boxing. Jersey Joe Walcott said he would help me, but nothing ever came of it.

KELLY: What the hell did you do with all your money, Ike?

IKE: Bill, I was a soft touch. I loaned money and never got it back. Gave some to relatives. My managers took a lot from me.

KELLY: You never invested any money?

IKE: Oh, yes. I owned a couple of apartment houses but I lost them. I gambled, mostly on the golf course. I contributed money to college scholarship funds and I sponsored baseball teams, you know, for kids. When I had money, I spent it like everyone else does.

KELLY: What about your managers?

IKE: Connie McCarthy was a good enough manager, I guess. But he was a drunkard. I finally told him I was going to another manager and that's when he called the Boxing Guild. They blackballed me. Any fighter who tried to stand up to his manager in those days was blackballed and labeled a troublemaker. I wanted to start my own fighter's guild. I approached Sugar Ray Robinson, Willie Pep, Sandy Saddler. But they were too scared. Even Jake LaMotta was afraid to be seen talking to me. I'm not saying they were wrong. They were making plenty of dough so why stick your neck out. For a long time I couldn't get a fight in Philadelphia that's how powerful the Guild was. I had fought over 20 fights for Herman Taylor and he turned his back on me.

Jimmy White, head of the Boxing Guild, said he would boycott anyone who fought me. The only man who had the guts to stand up to them was Blinky Palermo. Blinky was managing Billy Fox at the time he was training for his rematch with Gus Lesnevich. 'Listen,' Blinky said to me, 'you sign with me and I'll straighten out that Guild.'

KELLY: So you went with Blinky? Was that a good move?

IKE: Well, it was the only move I could make at the time. No one else would touch me. You have to eat. But, honestly, I didn't know about Blinky's reputation or association with gangsters or I wouldn't have gotten mixed up with him. But I wanted to fight Bob Montgomery again in the worst way. In our 1944 fight he bragged that he was not only going to knock me out, but knock me clear out of the ring. It was a damn tough fight. I was knocked out for the first time in my career -- in the 12th round. But he fought dirty all the way. He fouled me repeatedly. I told Blinky, 'if you can get me a rematch with that bastard, I'll sign with you.' Blinky said, 'I'll get the fight.' So I signed with him and he got he the fight.

KELLY: There were fights in between. I was at ringside in Philly when you flattened Joey Peralta, and again when you knocked out Mike Delia in 1 round. I saw you beat Slugger White and Sammy Angott - twice. I lost ten bucks when Willie Joyce outpointed you --

IKE: ( Interrupts): I whipped him in a return match (January 8, 1945) then in June he decisioned me -- but it was an over-the-weight match, just like my loss to Angott later, when he stopped me on a cut.

KELLY: Getting back to Montgomery. You finally did get the rematch you wanted.

IKE: ( Interrupts): Yeah, it was for the vacant World Lightweight Championship ( August 4, 1947). I whipped him like his daddy. It was the greatest night of my life. I was in the best shape I could possibly get in. I knew his style by then, it wasn't like today, you can watch video tapes of your opponent. Back then, you had to learn the hard way. When a fighter's in a crouch he loses power and he has to come up, so I caught him coming out of a crouch and nailed him good. It was the most perfect punch of my career. He got up at 9, but he was out on his feet. I went after him and referee Charley Daggart counted him out. But I had a terrible cut over my right eye which took six stitches to close.

I firmly believe that Montgomery was more interested in causing further damage to my eye than he was in winning the fight, the way he went after it.

KELLY: When I attended a Boxing Hall of Fame banquet in Hollywood a few years back, I asked Henry Armstrong and Lew Ambers if they would pose for a picture together. Neither of them would do it. They still held a grudge after all those years. Sandy Saddler told me that Willie Pep refused to talk to him to this day. Is that how you felt toward Montgomery?

IKE: No. As far as I'm concerned it's all in the past. But I understand he still carries a grudge against me.

KELLY: Let's back up. What was your first pro fight?

IKE: I won a four round decision over Carmine Fatta. The record books say it was in New Brunswick, but it was in the Masonic Temple in Highland Park, New York. I got ten bucks. Six months later I fought Patsy Gall to a six round draw in Hazleton, Pennsylvania and I got four bucks. There were no easy paydays back then -- not like today. These fellows pick and chose the easy fights for the big money.

KELLY: So you were back on top after you stopped Montgomery?

IKE: Yes. I beat Kid Gavilan, who had whipped everybody. I beat Enrique Bolanos in eight rounds. I stopped Beau Jack, then Jesse Flores. All of these fighters would have beaten any of these lightweights you have today.

KELLY: Didn't Kid Gavilan beat you twice?

IKE: I have a good story to tell you. When I was training for the Gavilan rematch, after I beat him, Blinky comes to me and says he was offered $100,000 to throw the fight. He advised me not to take it. I should have. I lost anyway. But you see, Blinky wasn't as bad as people think. Oh, he robbed me blind -- that's a fact. I never saw a dime of the $33,000 I was supposed to have gotten for the Beau Jack fight in 1948. I was supposed to get $33,000 for the Jesse Flores fight after that. I got zilch! Blinky took it all. He told me he was going to get his head blown off if he didn't pay a debt to some mobsters. Not only that, I had to pay the taxes on those two fights that I fought for nothing. Hell, you wonder why I'm broke?

KELLY: No offense, Ike, but you were stupid.

IKE: I know it.

KELLY: Was Bob Montgomery the toughest guy you ever fought?

IKE: No. Kid Gavilan was. But you see, I had trouble getting the money-makers to fight me -- even for the title. Paddy DeMarco and I would have sold out the Garden, but he said nothing doing. Terry Young was hot at the time, but he avoided me like the plague. Poor guy, he got shot down in a night club. Killed. Just like Al "Bummy" Davis.

KELLY: Henry Armstrong told me a story about the time a set of golf clubs saved your life ---

IKE: ( interrupts. Laughs). Oh, yes. How did he know about that? Anyway, in June of 1948 I was at the Los Angeles County Club and I saw this beautiful set of golf clubs that a fellow was using and I made a fuss over them. He told me he bought them at Tam O'Shanter in Chicago. So, on my way back home, I got off the plane at Chicago and went to Tam O'Shanter's in search of these beautiful clubs. Well, the plane crashed in Mount Carmel, Pennsylvania, killing fifty-six people. Imagine what might have happened to me if I hadn't gotten off that plane to buy those golf clubs. That's why Hank said golf clubs saved my life.

KELLY: I guess that was the most frightening experience of your life, wasn't it Ike?

IKE: Not really. The most scared I ever was when I went to Mexico City in 1945 to fight Juan Zaurita. I arrived the day before the fight. The crowds at the hotel where I was staying treated me like some hero. I mean, they actually hoisted me up and carried me through the streets. Everyone cheered me. That night, I called my wife, Virginia, and told her, 'Hell, I could run for president down here.'

KELLY: That was frightening?

IKE: Wait a minute -- after I beat Zurita for the NBA lightweight title, I was leaving the ring and some thugs pushed a gun into my ribs and took my championship belt. They would have killed me if I wouldn't have handed it over. But later I lost my title to Jimmy Carter.

KELLY: Carter knocked you out didn't he?

IKE: He stopped me in the 14th round (May 25, 1951). I had successfully defended my title seven times in six years. I hate to sound like sour grapes, but I injured my shoulder four days before I was to fight John L. Davis in Seattle. That was in 1950. I was fighting a kid named Walt Hayes and he threw a punch that caught me on the forearm and tore the muscles. I was never right after that. I was training for the Carter fight and Blinky comes to me and says, 'Ike. they want to give you fifty grand to go into the tank. In six months he'll fight you again and you can win.' I turned him down flat. But again, I should have taken the money because I knew I couldn't beat him with my bad shoulder. Besides, I was 21 pounds over the lightweight limit and taking it off so fast it left me so weak that by the 12th round I couldn't lift my arms. Eighteen days after the Carter fight, win or lose, I was suppose to fight Art Aragon, the Golden Boy. I knew I couldn't beat Aragon with a lame wing. So you see, I should have taken the money because I could see the end was near. But I didn't.

KELLY: I think it was right after that I saw Gil Turner beat you in Philly and I couldn't believe it.

IKE: He stopped me in the tenth ( Sept. 10, 1951). I was only 26-years-old, an age when a fighter should be in his prime. But I had lost three in a row because of my shoulder.

KELLY: But you kept going. Carmen Basilio decisioned you (Jan. 12, 1953). There was a tough guy.

IKE: Beau Jack made a comeback and fought him in 1955. In April I fought Beau Jack in Augusta and they called it a ten round draw. It was a Don King decision, if you know what I mean. A rob job. I beat him good and they robbed me. In August we fought again and I stopped him in the ninth. I was 33 years old and the boxing commission made me quit after sixteen years of fighting. They wouldn't give me a license. It was not only my last fight but Beau Jack's last fight, also.

KELLY: The thing that bothers me is your loss to Chuck Davey. He couldn't break bread --

IKE: (Interrupts) Bill, I swear to you that I went in the tank for $10,000. Pride knuckled under to desperation this time.

KELLY: (Astonished) You did?

IKE: I never told anyone that before and I'm ashamed of it.

KELLY: Doesn't it leave a bitter taste in your mouth that now that you need help none of you old cronies in the boxing game will help you out?

IKE: A couple have tried. I was part of Mahammad Ali's entourage back in 1974, up at Deer Lake, Pa.; while he was training for the George Foreman fight in Zaire. When Ali went to Zaire, I stayed behind. The majority of his entourage was Muslims. One day I went to the grocery store and brought back some pork, intending to mix it with some beans for dinner. Well, these Muslims got mad because I bought pork into their camp, and some guy that I had knocked out in 1943 called Zaire and told Ali. When Ali returned he told me, 'Ike, pack up and git!' He put me on that bus of his and drove me home. And that was that. Muslims took Ali's life over. They had him brainwashed.

KELLY: Did Ike Williams ever duck anybody?

IKE: Yes. I turned down a fight with Sugar Ray Robinson because he outweighed me by 15 pounds.

KELLY: There have been a lot of tough years, right, Ike?

IKE: A broken marriage after the money ran out. My daughter, Barbara Ann, died of pneumonia in 1958. She was only 10. Most of my friends disappeared when the money ran out. And now, I'm broke and desperately need work. I know I could be a good trainer or referee. But boxing doesn't take care of their own. It's money. Look at me, no one will give me a job sweeping floors in the gym.

KELLY: What, if anything, have you gotten out of boxing that pleases you?

IKE: I can't say money, because I'm broke, and that's nobody's fault but my own. Some of the celebrities I've met I wouldn't have known if I hadn't been in the limelight myself, Mickey Rooney, Abbott and Costello. Some of the places I've been: Mexico City, Perth Amboy, Atlantic City, Cleveland, New Orleans, New York, Fort Wayne, Havana, Europe. I've fought everywhere.

KELLY: Aside from not socking your money away for a rainy day, any regrets, Ike?

IKE: I would have to say losing my Championship belt to those thugs in Mexico City hurt me very much. It was hanging in a bar in Mexico the last time I saw it and I could never get the money to buy it back.

KELLY: Do you wish you were just coming up today, Ike?

IKE: I would have beaten them all, easy. ******




A Bit About Bill Kelly

From 1965 to present Bill Kelly has written for dozens of magazines and newspapers either as a staff writer or free-lancer. His 15,000 published articles include modern crime and gangsters, celebrity interviews, old West gambling stories, treasure stories, tales of the old West, and boxing. His most memorable interviews were conducted with John Wayne (Wayne's last interview), Henry Fonda, Rocky Marciano, Muhammad Ali, Joe Louis, Sugar Ray Robinson and Ike Williams.

His California tabloid experience includes The Los Angeles Herald Examiner, Orange County Register, Valley Tribune, and Valley Star, where he doubled as Managing Editor and feature writer.

Kelly's magazine experience includes Gambling Scene Magazine, Poker Digest, Treasure Search, Oklahoma State Trooper, California State Trooper, Virginia State Trooper, Boxing Digest, Boxing Illustrated, KO Magazine, Hollywood Studio, Country Review, Sports Illustrated, and too many true crime magazines to list here.

Kelly's true crime stories, and his book, Homicidal Mania, can be viewed on http://www.cybersleuths.com/

For additional true crime by Bill Kelly: editor@crimemagazine.com

His stories on New Mexico History are currently running in the On-Line New Mexico Magazine: http://www.southernnewmexico.com

Autographed copies of Bill Kelly's books, Gamblers of the Old West ( $25 plus $3.50 shipping & handling) and Treasure Trails and Buried Bandit Booty ($14.95 total) can be purchased by contacting the author at: wildbill@cosmoaccess.net

Bill is currently looking for a publisher for his manuscript, Empty Saddles. This book contains interviews with 50 of the 1940 B-cowboy movie stars including Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, Bob Steele, Sunset Carson, and many more. This book is the result of 25 years research and writing, and Kelly considers this his finest work to date.

Bill Kelly is a writer for hire. His Kelly's Korner was at one time syndicated and well received. He is especially interested in reviving this column for an interested tabloid.




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