Saturday, March 1, 2014

Sonny Liston - Cassius Clay - Barney Felix

Liston - Clay - Felix

As tends to happen from time to time, an event that occurred long ago suddenly resurfaces.  This past week, on its 50th anniversary, the famous boxing match between World Heavyweight Champion Sonny Liston and challenger Cassius Clay was all over the media.  Why?  Well, it certainly wasn’t because of a celebration.  Under the Freedom of Information Act, reports suddenly surfaced speculating that the fight was actually rigged…by the mob. 

The articles I read online were chock full of supposed mafia involvement; it appears that many journalists dream of becoming screenwriters! But I had a personal interest in this story.  You see my uncle - Barney Felix - was the referee for that February 25, 1964 match!  Yes, in all those classic photos of Liston and Clay (Clay, as many of you know, is Muhammad Ali), the ‘third man in the ring’ - as the referee is known - was Uncle Barney.  

Barney was the senior referee in New York State at that time and was tapped to officiate the bout in Miami Beach.  Once back in NJ, he told us all about his first-hand experience – including how Clay wanted to quit in the 5th round claiming he was blinded by a substance on Liston’s gloves.  Barney thought Clay was just plain scared.  But Clay escaped that round by dancing around the ring and when Liston didn’t answer the bell for the sixth round, Barney raised Clay’s hand up and Clay was declared the new World’s Heavyweight Champion.

Fast forward to the rematch on May 25, 1965… The referee for a world championship match was not chosen until just before the fight to avoid giving any 'unscrupulous' characters a chance to bribe the ref.  As the date of the fight approached, Barney didn’t know if he would be assigned the fight but he needed to be at the fight location in Lewiston, Maine, in case he was chosen.  I asked my uncle if he would take me to that match. “I’d like to bring you, but I don’t think it would be safe” he said, “There is a rumor that the mob has put a ‘hit’ out on Ali.”  I didn’t go. 

Barney didn’t get elected to referee. And Barney’s information wasn’t quite correct; the rumors about a possible ‘assassination’ of Ali did not emanate from the Mafia, but from The Nation of Islam, which Ali had joined immediately after becoming heavyweight champion. From Wikipedia: Malcolm X had been assassinated several months before the bout, almost certainly by the Nation of Islam, and rumors circulated that Ali might be killed by Malcolm's supporters in retaliation (Ali had publicly snubbed Malcolm after Malcolm's break with Elijah Muhammad).”  

On December 7, 1970, my fellow college-newspaper buddy, Charlie Oliver, and I took our Dads to Madison Square Garden to see Clay fight Oscar Bonavena.  It was Clay’s first fight in four years after being stripped of the title and his boxing license suspended because he was a conscientious objector refusing to serve in the US Army during the Vietnam War.  At the Garden, our seats were in the nosebleed zone, way up top.  With binoculars we were able to see all the action!  Ali was rusty and not at his best but put on a great show.  And I got to see “The Greatest”, live and in person.  

Uncle Barney later opened his own gym and boxing academy in the ‘basement’ of the Garden State Plaza shopping center in Paramus, NJ.  Funny, at that time, in the 1970’s, they couldn’t give the space away in that center.  Now, it’s one of the most successful shopping malls on the east coast.
Just another story from the Felix Family archives…


NAREIM (National Association of Real Estate Investment Managers) on the launch of their very cool iPad APP.  Read the NAREIM Journal, Dialogues and Viewpoints; check out their events which include council meetings on Human Resources, Architecture and Engineering, Accounting and IT, Legal and Compliance and Capital Raising/Investor Relations.  

On The Road...

Mar. 4 - 10:  Client Meetings, Behavioral Presentation Coaching Workshops, London

Mar. 19 - 20:  PREA (Pension Real Estate Association) Spring Conference, Boston, MA

Apr. 7 - 9:  Client Meetings, Branding Workshops, Chicago, IL

Apr. 29 - 30:  PERE (Private Equity Real Estate) Global Investor, Los Angeles, CA

May 2 - 6:  Visit with family, Asheville, NC

May 15:  Annual meeting of The Hoyt Fellows, North Palm Beach, FL

June 17 - 20:  Behavioral Presentation Coaching session, Annual Financial and Tax Conference, National Association of Real Estate Companies, Charleston, SC


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