Philadelphia’s IBHOF promoter J Russell Peltz promoted his first show at the legendary Blue Horizon on North Broad Street on September 30th 1969 and on October 4th 2019 he completed 50 years of boxing.
His dad took him to his first boxing match on December 6th 1960, three days before his 14th birthday, at an All-Star card at Convention Hall, then at 34th & Spruce Street in West Philadelphia. The promoter was Al Lewis, whose real name was Louis Feingold, who owned a check-cashing business in the Kensington section of North Philadelphia.
Peltz and his dad sat in the second row and he was mesmerized. In the Main Event was Philly’s Len Mathews lost big to Cuba’s Doug Vaillant. The co-feature had southpaw Kenny Lane labored to take a decision over Lahouari Godih. Then welterweight champ Virgil Akins lost a highly controversial decision to Camden’s Marvin “Candy” McFarland. Jesse “Crazy Horse” Smith knocked out Jimmie Beecham in the 10th round, both from Philly, and the best fight of the night. Philly vs Philly would become a trademark for Peltz in the future.
Peltz was 22 years old. He was nearly broke. And he wanted to be a fight promoter. He had contacted this virus while fighting as a featherweight in the Old Elks Club on Arch Street. Over cherry- Cokes at the Owls Nest while at Temple and later a round the morning sports desk of the Bulletin. Peltz would say: “Someday you guys are going to be coming to my fights.”
On August 265, Peltz got married. On August 31st, he worked his last morning at the Bulletin. And he rented the Blue Horizon, a North Broad Street loft that had hot seen a pug for three years. There were livlier morgues than the Philadlephia fight scene, which had been dead since May.
On Peltz first card would be North Philly’s “Bad” Bennie Briscoe taking on Panama’s Tito Marshall. On the undercard he had Bobby “Boogaloo” Watts, a 6-round middleweight who sold over 100 tickets. Eugene “Cyclone” Hart, a 4-round middleweight sold over 50 tickets. These two along with Briscoe would become legendary Philly fighters in the future. Jimmy Toppie owned the Blue Horizon.
The cashier didn’t show up so Peltz, his father Bernard and his brother-in-law, Arnold Weiss, were behind the window selling tickets at 7:30. At 8:45 the cops advised Peltz to close shop.
“You can only sell 150 standing room tickets,” a policeman said. “Too bad. There must be a couple hundred people out on the street wantin’ in.”
Peltz had paid off the fighters, about $3,000. The hall cost $600. There were other expenses. But the fight had drawn $6,010, the biggest gate in the Blue Horizon’s eight-year history.
Old fight guys would pass the window. They would beam at J Russell Peltz and reach in to shake his hand and talk about his next show. “You’re a smash, young man,” said one. “Someday you’ll have a cham-peenship fight.”
“I don’t think that way,” said Peltz, as the Blue Horizon emptied. “I just like club fighters. I like the four-round guys. I talk their language. Let somebody else have those $100,000 headaches. This is all I wanted.”
At 11:30 J Russell and Pat Peltz walked out the door, under the Blue Horizon Arena sign, with its great painting of a blue, cloud-encircled mountain. He had two well-stuffed envelopes under his arm. Ringside price was $5 and the balcony $3.
“Maybe we can buy some furniture now,” said Mrs. J Russell Peltz.
People often ask about my favorite moment in boxing or my most memorable moment and I never waver: Bennie Briscoe’s fifth-round knockout over Tony Mundine on Feb. 25, 1974 in Paris. There have been greater fights I promoted (the first Saad Muhammad-Marvin Johnson fight in 1977 at The Spectrum) or greater achievements (induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2004) but nothing compares to that night in Parris more than 45 years ago.
In the 1970’s, Philadelphia and Paris were the middleweight capitals of the boxing world. Philly had Briscoe, Eugene “Cyclone” Hart, Stanley “Kitten” Hayward, Bobby “Boogaloo” Watts, Willie “The Worm” Monroe, Li’l Abner and Billy “Dynamite” Douglas, the transplanted Ohioon. Paris had Jean-Claude Bouttier, Max Cohen, Jean Mateo, Gratien Tonna and featured top foreign middleweights from around the world. Hall-of-Famer Emile Griffith often boxed in both cities. Boxing was hot and no division was hotter thabn the 160-pound weight class.
Briscoe had lost a 15-round ldecision to Carlos Monzon for the world middleweight title in 1972 in Bueno Aires Argentina, but had won five out of six since then, including a brudal demolition of the hard-hitting Douglas at The Spectrum midway through to 1973. He was entrenched in the Top 10 when we headed to Paris to fight Mundine, the Golden Boy of the division who was being hailed as Monzon’s successor.
Mundine had flown from Sydney, Australia, to Paris in 1973 and had knocked out Cohen in four rounds at the Palais des Sports, the Madison Square Garden of France. Three wins later, he returned, this time with a convincing 12-round decision over Griffith, in the same ring. Mundine was the toast of Europe. He was in the newspapers, on magazines covers, TV shows. Everyone in the business was talking about him. He was the heir apparant to Monzon.
Dewey Fragetta, the most powerful booking agent in boxing, offered us a fight for $17,500 to go to Paris and fight Mundine. Why not?
Quenzell McCall, who trained Bennie at the time, was born in Panama and spoke English, Spanish and French so we had our own guide in Paris. Even so, I remember eating duck l’orange nearly evey night because it was the ony thing I recognized on the menue. So much for two years of French in high schol. We stayed at a hotel in the heart hof Paris. Bennie ran the streets in the morning, then sparred in the afternoon with unior middleweight Li’l Abner and a young light-heavyweight who would later mold a Hall-of-Fame career for himself—-Matthew Saad Muhammad, than known as Matt Franklin.
On fight night, as we waited for the van which would take us to the Palais des Sports, I met Reg Gutteridge in the hotel lobby. He was a British journalist who was coverin the fight for several publications and, I believe, also doing color commentary for European TV. I was 27 at the time and had been in business less than five years but he recognized me—as I did him—and we spoke briefly. I’ll never forget what he said: “Mundine is the hottest thing in boxing, in Euope certainly. He can name his price to fight (Carlos) Monzon. Why would he want to tune up with Bennie Briscoe?” I just shrugged myi shoulders and gave him a Mona Lisa smile.
At the Palais des Sports we descended a spiral staircase to the dressing room, much too small for Briscoe, Abner and Saad, but we had no choice.
This fight was as big as it gets without being for a world title, especiallyi back then when there weren’t world titles on every corner in every city. Briscoe vs Mundine was a 10-round eliminator when such terms meant something. Every major European newspaper was represented at ringside as well as the Associated Press (AP), United Press Internaational (UPI) Reuters and the International Herald Tribune.
I scampered to the top row of the building, something akinto be at the top of the old Convention Hall on 34th & Spruce. I had my 8mm home mnove camera with me, the kind where you had to change the spooo of film after every round, asnd I filmed the fight from there.
Bennie wore the Star of david on his trunks in honor of his Jewish management. As he approached the ring, a couple of Israeli citizens stood up, took out their passports and waved them and yelled: “Bennie, we’re Jewish, too!”
Mundine got off to an early lead, moving side to side and firing away at Bennie, who never stopped walking him down. Whenever Bennie got close, he whacked Mundine with crunching body shots. Mundine was on his toes, not running, just moving enough and popping Bennie with counkters every time Bennie tried to land a bomb.
Occasionally Bennie would get inside to do some damage but Mundine would move away, side-to-side, landing a stinger from a distance. He had to know he was ahead on the scorecards. As always Bennie moved forward, sometimes making Mundine miss, sometimes not, always firing back. Mundine was scoring but he had to fight evey inch of the way. By the end of round four, however, Mundine probably was wonderin why his management had made this fight. He was winning but he had to work for every point and Bennie was still coming forward. Imagine hitting someone with youir best shots and he’s still coming for you. There was a slight undercurrent from the pro-Mundine crowd, some of them aware that an ill-wind was blowing.
In round five with Mundine moving not quite as quickly, Bennie then followed him across the ring and trapped the Australian in his own corner. Bennie whaled away, body and head. Mundine was not throwing anything in return and the crowd, sensing the turn of events, stood and roared. If you watch film, it gets shaking at this point, people were leaping to their feet in front of me and I was nervous myself, also sensing a change.
An overhand right from Bennie followed a barrage of body and head shots and it sent Mundine halfway through the ropes and onto the canvas. He finally assumed a semi-crouching position, his right knee on the canvas, his right arm holding onto the ropes. He could have gotten up, especially when the referee appeared to be counting in fractions, but he chose not to and was counted out.
The Israeli citizens rushed into the ring and lifted Bennie on their shoulders. Jewish people then and now were having a rough time in Paris and this was their dream come true. One of them coerced Bennie into leaning down to kiss him on the cheek. I quickly went down the steps of the building, to the dressing room where mass hysterial broke out.
I looked like Gene Shalit, the movie critic, in drag. I was wearing a three-piece plaid polyester suit with a bowtie. The bowtie looked like one of those a clown wears whee you squeeze a button and water squirts you in the face. I climed on top of a file cabinet and I filmed the commotion.
There’s one scene where Bennie puts on a white T-shirt without taking a shower and I remember yelling “nice shower Ben” and he turns around and laughs. I gave the camera to Bennie’s manager my brother-in-law Arnold Weiss. He filmed me as I went over to Bennie and kissed him and I worew the sh*eating grin of a lifetime.
We left the arena and went back to the hotel and had a wonderful post-fight victory meal. We tried to remain calm because the promoter (Charley Michaels) and matchmaker (Gilbert Benaim) were seated at a table near us and we didn’t want to gloat. My sister Bootsie made the trip as did Buzz Marcus (of Buzz Marcus Toyota) and his wife Ronnie.
I telephoned the Philadelphia Daily News back home and spoke with Tom Cushman, who had asked me to call with the results. The headline of his story the next day, on the back of the Daily News sports section: “Briscoe, A Swingin’ American In Paris.” I grabbed every souvenir I could including posters and original photos the next day from the Paris newspapers and I brought back a copy of France-Soir, a daily Paris newspaper which had a picture of Bennie Standing over Mundine on the FRONT PAGE. It read: BRISCOE: LE DEMOLISSEUR. The photo took up half the page—thats how big this fight was.
When we got to the Paris Orly Airport the nexgt day, Ididn’t need a plane to fly us home ovefr the Atlantic–I was already on cloud nine.
There have been a lot of wonderful moments since then, including the winning of several world titles in foreign rings, but nothing will ever match that magical night in Paris.
Down Memory Lane…Joltin’ Jeff Chandler was one of the most talented fighters I ever promoted. He had two amateur fighs, but he decided to turn pro for money, not trophies. He wa managed by tiny K.O. Beckiy O’Neill and trained by her husband, Willie. We never had a contract between us.
After Jeff won the WBA world bantamweight title in November, 1980, Beckyi and Willie got a visit of their south Philly home from low-life mobster Frank “Blinky” Palermo, who had done jail time for undercover management in the 1940’s and 1950’s. When Palermo offered them $50,000 cash to leave me, they threw him out of their house.
Jeff was a network television regular through nine successful title defenses and he was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2000.
MAYOR OF NORTH PHILLY: When I was in high school and college, I paid to see middleweight legend George Benton fight at The Arena at 46th & Market and at Convention Hall at 34th & Spruce. When I was 23, I paid him to fight for me twice at the Blue Horizon. It was an honor to have promoted his last two fights in Philadelphia.
Before his fight with David Beckles, of Trinidad, in 1970, I asked him to “carry” Beckles for a few rounds to give the fans something to see because the four preliminary fights that evening had lasted a total of eight rounds. He winked at me and said “no problem, baby cakes.” The fight with Beckles lasted two minutes, 44 seconds. Later he told me he couldn’t help himself. He is in the Hall of Fame as a trainer.
TYRONE EVERETT and I were not exactly bosom buddies, but business was business and we both understood that.
Good as he was, I always thouight he could be better. I thought he could take more chances. His fights, even against the best in the junior lightweight division, often were one-sided and I wanted him to end them earlier rather than box safely to a decision.
The night he challenged Alfredo Escalera for the world title in 1976, Spectrum managmenet forced me to go into the ring to be introduced as having helped bring the first world title fight to our city in eight years.
When I walked to his corner to shake his hand, I told him that I loved him. He never forgot that, even though it did little to remove the stench from perhaps the worst 15 round-decision in the long history of boxing (this writer was there and had Everett ahead at the end 13-2 in rounds). I can write about all the characters who helped to arrange for that putrid decision, but there are lawyers around who could sue me.
BAD BENNIE. Never fall in love with a fighter; he’ll break your heart. That’s what the lold-timers told me, but when lyou’re 22 and you think you know everything, you’re not going to listen to a bunch of old codgers dispensing advice.
Now I’m one of those old codgers and I’m here to tell you that I loved Bennie Briscoe and Bennie Briscoe loved me and anyone who doesn’t know that either wasn’t around back then or wasn’t paying attention.
In the summer of 1970, my broteher-in-law Arnold Weiss, bought Bennie’s contract. I was working with middleweights “Cyclone” Hart, Willie “The Worm” Monroe and “Boogaloo” Watts. One day each of henm would have to go through Bennie to become the Top Dog in the city. Whoever controlled Bennie’s career would congtrol those fights and, eventually, control boxing in Philadelphia. I never tought that Bennie, himself, would develop into the gate attraction he became. Bennie Briscoe made me!
Harold Johnson was my boyhood idol. He was No. 1 light-heavyweight contender for so many years, then finally won a piece of the title early in 1961 in Miami Beach. I saw him defend in May, 1962, beating Doug Jones, also at the Arena. I have the Ring magazine champonship belt he earned in 1962 and I have the robe he wore into the ring.
Harold always had his hair cut really short, not shaven-headed, but close to that. So in high school I did the same thing; I got my hair cut really short like his. My head looked like a dirty tennis ball. Friends used to say: “There goes Peltz with his Harold Johnson haircut.”
He won 767 out of 87 fights. The night Willie Pastrano stole his title by scandalous decision in Las Vegas, I was watching on televison at a friend’s house. When the decision was announced, I started crying and I ran out into the street screaming. Amazing I was able to drive home safely. (this writer was told by Jim Jacobs it was the worst decision he ever saw. When I first met Harold at a boxing event I asked him “how did that Pastrano beat you? He became a friend of mine)
Middleweight Frank “The Animal” Fletcher was one of NBC-TV’s most popular fighters in the earely 1980’s. His saturday afternoon slugfests from The Sands Hotel Casino in Atlantic City were celebrations of blood and guts. With mom Lucille leading thel cheers from the stage which practically butted up againstthe ring, the showroom at The Sands sounded and looked like Times square on New Year’s Eve.
For fights against Norberto Sabater, Tony Braxton, Clint Jacksonand James “Hard Rock” Green, Fletcher was earning more money than some “world” champions. His brothers, Anthony and Troy, also were solid pros, but I still think Lucille was the toughest one in the family. As close as she got to the ring at The Sands, I think some of Frankie’s opponents were as fearful of her as hey were of “The Animal.”
Frank was twice signed to figh Marvin Haglef for the world title, but losses to Wilford Scypion and Juan Roldan ended those dreams.
If the Bennie Briscoe-Tony Mundine fight in 1974 is my No 1 moment in boxing, then Jason Sosa’s 2016 knockout over Javier Fortuna in Beijing is No. 1A. It was for the WBA junior lightweight title and champion Fortuna, the betting favorite, was far ahead on the scorecards after nine rounds. Then Sosa knocked Fortuna down twice in the 10th and once in the 11th before the referee stopped it.
I never before had seen my wife, Linda, so animated. When Jason won she leaped from her seat and screamed and cried. She loves Jason to this day and his entire team.
It was especially gratifying because of when it happened, on the back nine of my career. I needed that title for personal validation. His trainer is Raul “Chino” Rivas who also trained another world champion in Tevin “American Idol” Farmer.
Marvin Johnson had a simple philosophy about boxing: “Once the bell rings, you start fighting.” A Bronze Medal winner in the 1972 Munich Olympics, Marvin’s career was at a standstill until I ran into him while crisscrossing the country in April, 1976, looking to sign talent for The Spectrum boxing program. I was on the road for two weeks and he was my lone signee, but what a beauty he was. The Indianapolis lefty became the first man to win the world light-heavyweight title three times.
Johnson’s 1979 knockout of Vicgtor Galindez in New Orleands and his 1986 KO of Leslie Stewart in Indianapolis were two of the highlights of my career. After he beat Stewart in his last to-around for the title. I actually got into the ring and kissed him.
The month of my graduation from Lower Merion HIgh School (May, 1964), I sat in the balcony at the Blue Horizon and watched Stanley “kitten” Hayward get off the floor and knock out future welterweight champ and Hall-of-Famer Cutis Cokes in the fourth round of a nationally televised fight. I consider it to be the greatest fight ever at the Blue Horizon.
Seven years later, when he was getting ready to fight “Cyclone” Hart for me at The Arena in West Philly, I picked “Kitten” up at the Rickshaw Inn across from Garden State (NJ) Race Track and took him to dinner in Philadelphia. As we got to the Benjamin Franklin Bridge and I paid the toll, he reminded me to get a receipt so I couild deduct it as an expense on my income tax. He taught me that and I never forgot it.
I think “Kitten” spent more time at Garden State than he did in the gym for that fight; he loved the horses.
All of the before mentioned were from BLOOD, SWEAT & 50 YRS from Peltz Boxing Promotions, Inc. brochure given at his show.