Discussion in 'Classic Boxing Forum' started by InMemoryofJakeLamotta, Jun 4, 2023.
Mike Jacobs ruled the heavyweight division with an iron hand. He and he alone was the one who decided who Louis would fight. Jacobs was not inclined to match Joe with a Black challenger because he figured most of his paying customers were White, and in his mind they wouldn't support a title fight between two Black men. Jacobs was also not inclined to have Franklin fight Joe in New York, normally Jacobs' favorite venue, because Lem had been a total bust in his only previous New York appearance against Freddie Fiducia, and all the New Yourk boxing writers remembered that fight. The third factor militating against Franklin was that he was a pariah in his hometown of Cleveland because he had been stopped there in eight rounds by Eddie Simms in December 1939, in a performance so poor the local promoters had no interest in having him back.
So when Jack Hurley took control of Franklin, he had two major obstacles to overcome to rehabilitate Franklin's career: 1) get Franklin enough wins against some recognized contenders so Jacobs would think a Louis-Franklin fight would draw enough people to make money and 2) find a place where Franklin would be popular enough to draw the crowd that Jacobs demanded.
All this couldn't be done overnight. The logical place to start was to go back to Cleveland and build up Lem there. At first, the Cleveland promoters wouldn't even talk to Hurley about a Franklin fight. At the time, Hurley was promoting in Chicago, so he was able to match Lem there in July 1941 with Jimmy Bivins, a young Cleveland light heavyweight who had become hometown attraction with wins there over Anton Christoforidis, Teddy Yarosz, and Buddy Knox. Lem stopped Bivins in nine rounds. Franklin's victory didn't do much to improve his status as a heavyweight contender since Jimmy was only a light heavyweight and Lem outweighed him by more than 27 pounds (200-3/4 to 173), but it did help him in Cleveland where Bivins was popular since it gave Hurley the opportunity to start a dialog with the city's new matchmaker, Larry Atkins. After Franklin eased the stigma of his prior loss to Simms by stopping Eddie in Omaha in August, Atkins felt confident enough to give Lem another chance before his hometown crowd.
The opponent Atkins chose for Franklin's Cleveland comeback on September 24. 1941, was Tony Musto, the ninth-rated NBA contender, who had eked out a close decision there against Bivins a month earlier as well as having lasted nine rounds with Joe Louis the previous April. When Lem stopped Musto in two rounds, Tony told reporters he thought Franklin would "do all right with Louis. He hits just as hard as Joe." The victory over Musto gave Hurley the opportunity to step up his campaign for a title fight by writing letters to a raft of reporters emphasizing that it had taken Joe Louis nine rounds to stop Tony as compared to the two rounds it had taken Lem to do the job. (to be continued in next post)
(continued from prior post)
The success of the Franklin-Musto fight encouraged Atkins to match Lem with Abe Simon who had made a name for himself by lasting 13 rounds against Louis in March 1941. By this time, Lem had risen to No. 4 in the NBA ratings while Simon was No. 5. The fight took place on October 20, 1942, and resulted in an impressive fifth-round knockout by Franklin. After the fight, Hurley was heard telling the boxing writers at ringside: "Eight rounds faster than Louis tonight. Seven rounds faster when we stopped that Tony Musto in two. Is this fellow goin' some place, or what?" Just as impressive was the turnout. Attendance was reported at 13,256 and gross receipts at $31,624, both of which were indoor records for the city.
It was not until this point in time that Mike Jacobs began to seriously consider the possibility of staging a fight between Louis and Franklin, but he still needed convincing that the fight would be a worthwhile investment. At this time, Ring Magazine rated Lem No. 3 behind Bob Pastor and Billy Conn, and the NBA listed Franklin No. 2 with Conn at No. 1 and Pastor No. 3. Jacobs was holding the Louis-Conn rematch in reserve for a big ballpark show at New York in June, but he wanted to stage another show before the outdoor date.
For his next big show, Larry Atkins signed the bout between Franklin and Pastor. Unfortunately, Lem had broken a bone in his right thumb against Simon's sturdy jaw so the fight did not take place until February 24, 1942, with Jacobs in attendance. Seeing the standing-room-only crowd of 13,278 (gross receipts $52,447) was all it took to finally convince Mike that a Louis-Franklin fight would be a moneymaker. Before the bout, he met with Hurley and Franklin in the dressing room and assured them that if Lem defeated Pastor the Louis fight would be theirs.
As it turned out, Pastor, not known for his punching power, surprised everyone by kayoing Franklin in eight rounds and putting an end to Lem's title hopes. Subsequent one-round kayo losses to Harry Bobo and Joe Muscato and the onset of World War II further sealed tight the window which had been closed by Pastor's victory.
So to summarize, we can talk all we want about wins and losses and ratings, etc., etc. but the window that Franklin had to pass through for a title shot was the window in Mike Jacobs mind. That window was open for only a very brief period of time, and though Lem had set his foot on the window's sill for an instant, it was closed forever by his unexpected loss to Bob Pastor.
What made him go downhill so quickly?