Archive for the ‘Remembering the Greats’ Category

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On October 25, 1957, Albert Anastasia’s murderous reign in the New York underworld closed under a barrage of bullets from two assassins at the Park Sheraton Hotel barbershop. As reporters swarmed and cameras flashed over Anastasia’s bloodied corpse, speculations began running rampant on the causes behind the first public execution of a Mafia boss in over 30 years. Was another conflict on the level of the 1931 Castellammarese War brewing? Was this related to the shooting of another tenured mob boss, Frank Costello, five months earlier? As expected, dozens were brought in for questioning. Perhaps most surprising among them was a tough local lightweight boxer named Johnny Busso.

Busso had turned pro in 1952 and built a strong following in the Northeast by being a tough out for any opponent. In June 1957, Busso scored an upset 10-round unanimous decision win over Larry Boardman, but then suffered an immediate setback in dropping a decision to Ralph Dupas in August. Busso’s next bout was scheduled for October 25 against Gale Kerwin at Madison Square Garden. The night before, Busso had a room booked at the Park Sheraton Hotel with his manager Andrew Alberti.

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Andrew Alberti (NYC Municipal Archives)

Boxing manager wasn’t the only professional title Alberti had. The 37 year old was a member of the Mafia and associated with the Anastasia crime family. Busso would later tell the NYPD that he received a call in his room the morning of October 25 from Alberti, who requested he come down to the hotel lobby to meet some colleagues. Alberti would later admit to authorities that he and Busso ran into Anastasia in the lobby and discussed Busso’s fight that night against Kerwin. However, Busso stated Alberti introduced him to “numerous” people and he could not recall if one of them had been Anastasia.

1957 was the year the underworld had enough of Anastasia’s antics. The former “Lord High Executioner” of Murder Inc. was rumored to have set his sights on becoming the fabled “Boss of Bosses” in the Mafia. He had begun meddling in the financial interests of other bosses, most notably wanting a piece of the Cuban gambling rackets held by Santo Trafficante and Meyer Lansky. With the sheer amount of soldiers under Anastasia, there was a fear that the Brooklyn boss was growing too strong.

“Albert Anastasia was doing so much wrong and it was up to his family to act,” Mafia informant Joe Valachi would recall years later.

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The plan for Anastasia’s removal allegedly went into motion from his underboss Carlo Gambino, Vito Genovese and Joe Biondo. According to an FBI report dated 1/3/63, Biondo and Alberti recruited a heroin trafficker Stephen Grammauta as the lead shooter. Organized crime writer Jerry Capeci would identify an Arnold “Witty” Wittenberg as the second assassin, and mobster Stephen Armone as an additional conspirator.

Anastasia’s movements had been tracked for months. The surveillance yielded the opening the conspirators had been waiting for — Anastasia ventured out twice a month to the Park Sheraton Hotel barbershop for haircuts. The hit team arranged for the weapons, .38 and .32 caliber handguns, to be placed in Johnny Busso’s hotel room before the hit.

At 10:20 am on October 25, Anastasia was at ease in the barber’s chair. He failed to notice two men enter the room clad in black gloves, fedoras and aviator shades. Anastasia’s back was to them as they flanked both sides of the chair and discharged their weapons. The 55 year old kingpin jerked out the chair as bullets ripped through him. A shot to the back of the head would be the coup de grace.

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Anastasia’s organization would be renamed the Gambino Family as it remains today. The murder would inadvertently lead to the national exposure of the syndicate when police broke up a Mafia summit meeting held in November 1957 at the Apalachin home of Joseph Barbara. One of the topics to have been addressed was the reallocating of Anastasia’s various criminal enterprises.

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No one was ever charged in Anastasia’s slaying. Andrew Alberti’s suspected role was enough for the New York State Athletic Commission to suspend his license as a boxing manager. In 1964, he committed suicide with a shotgun over being called to testify before a grand jury in a case involving fellow Mafia figure Carmine Lombardozzi. Stephen Armone passed away in Sicily in 1960. His younger brother Joseph would go on to become a caporegime in the Gambino crime family before passing away in 1992 at 74. The second shooter’s history, Arnold Wittenberg, becomes elusive after Anastasia. However, a public record does list him as passing away at 74 in 1978. Stephen Grammauta is reportedly still a Gambino family caporegime and will celebrate his 100th birthday on December 6.

The night of Anastasia’s death, Johnny Busso won a competitive 10-round decision over Gale Kerwin. Despite the story of the murder weapons being stashed his in hotel room prior to the crime, police were satisfied their interrogation showed Busso was not involved. Busso would achieve his greatest success in 1958 with decision wins over future Hall of Famers Carlos Ortiz and Joe Brown. He would lose rematches to both, including a 1959 decision to Brown in his only lightweight title opportunity.

Busso retired in 1961 with a record of 36-12-1 (15 KOs). He died at age 66 in 2000 following a long battle with cancer.

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Sources

NY Municipal Archives, Box 2, Anastasia Files 1957

New York Daily News, October 26, 1957

New York Times, November 10, 1964

Mob and The City, Alexander Hortis

Gangland News, October 1, 2001, Jerry Capeci

The Valachi Papers, Peter Mass

 

 

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It was a fight that simultaneously secured their legacies as all-time greats, and signaled the beginning of the end for their careers. It was a battle that for over 20 years held the heavyweight record for most punches thrown in a heavyweight fight. Decades later, both combatants still carried physical and emotional scars from the clash. It was perhaps the greatest heavyweight fight in history.

It was the Thrilla in Manila.

On October 1, 1975, Muhammad Ali was making the fourth defense that year of his heavyweight title. He had already vanquished three contenders in Chuck Wepner, Joe Bugner and Ron Lyle. Ali had evened the score with Joe Frazier via decision win in 1974, but Ali’s team saw an easy defense and tie-breaker in making this rubbermatch. Frazier had easily took out Jerry Quarry and Jimmy Ellis in recent rematches, but the former champ appeared far less explosive and ferocious than the fighter who turned back Muhammad Ali in 1971.

In the lead-up, Ali reignited his taunts of Frazier’s intellect and appearance. Before their 1974 bout, these actions lead to an outside of the ring tussle in front of Howard Cosell. This time, Ali would use assorted gorilla images (mascot, small toy, stuffed animal) to depict Joe Frazier. These techniques only fueled  the proud Frazier’s anger to destroy Ali once and for all in the ring.

Early in the bout, Joe Frazier was severely outclassed by Ali. The Greatest beat Frazier to the punch constantly, even staggering him in the first round. At times, Ali would mock Frazier by holding his left hand out to blind Frazier’s vision. When Smokin’ Joe would swat the glove way, Ali would smash him with a flush straight right.

The problem that Ali faced wasFrazier refused to stop coming, and by the middle rounds that aggression started to pay real dividends. Frazier was now breaching mid-range and crashing home snapping left hooks to Ali’s face, and hooks to his body. Ali was now a stationary target, and Frazier punished him as he languished against the ropes.

The momentum shifted a final time in the 10th round. Ali amazingly regained his legs and started to fire out sharp left jabs and straight rights to Frazier’s skull. It took only two rounds before Frazier’s eyes were so swollen he could no longer see his hated rival. The champion continued the assault, knocking Frazier’s mouthpiece deep into the audience during the 13th round. Frazier refused to quit, and took another wincing shellacking in the 14th round.

Under protests from Frazier, his trainer Eddie Futch stopped the bout before the 15th, awarding Muhammad Ali the most punishing, gutsy win of his career. In the immediate aftermath, both fighters were stripped of their malice towards each other.

“Man, I hit him with punches that’d bring down the walls of a city,” Frazier remarked. “Lawdy, lawdy, he’s a great champion.”

“Joe Frazier, I’ll tell the world right now, brings out the best in me,” Ali added. “I’m gonna tell ya, that’s one helluva man, and God bless him.”

Time waits for no man, and some old wounds never completely heal. But this day 40 years ago captured all that is horrific and beautiful about the sport of the boxing. And the Thrilla In Manila will hold those lessons forever.

Highlights

FULL FIGHT

 

 

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No one is above petty Twitter beef. Early this morning, Cheryl Lynn of “Got To Be Real” fame went after fellow legend Anita Baker for blocking her on Twitter. According to Lynn, the two had been friendly for decades until recently. Lynn claims Baker abruptly cut off contact, but of course we know there’s two sides to every story. The irony is seeing their older fans taking sides and throwing insults no differently than you see teenagers do.

Everyone’s singing voices change with age, so Lynn’s jabs about Baker’s current voice and being able to blow her off stage in a face-off is possible — maybe even likely based on their vocal styles. However, we know who holds the edge when it comes to catalogue.

Read the tweets and get a good laugh to start your day. And if you don’t think this is Hip-Hop, check some of the samples below.

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SAMPLES ANITA BAKER’S “CAUGHT UP IN THE RAPTURE”

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SAMPLES CHERYL LYNN’S “ENCORE”

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SAMPLES CHERYL LYNN’S “SHOW YOU HOW”

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Dedicated to Robin Williams, Statik Selektah drops the latest track off his upcoming What Goes Around album (August 19). If you’re in the New York Tri-state area, Statik will have a August 18 release party at SOBs. The night will have performances from Pro Era, Freddie Gibbs, Ransom, the Showoff Crew and more. Tickets can be purchased HERE. You can pre-order the album HERE.

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It’s quite easy as a Hip-Hop fan to get caught up in your region, especially when you’re from the Tri-State area, a location that until the last decade or so was viewed as the “Mecca” or cultural center of the Hip-Hop movement. It was that thinking that had me surprised a few weeks ago when casually mentioning to a friend the late 90s battle between Queen Latifah and Foxy Brown.

“Whaaat?,” said the friend, who happened to be from Los Angeles. “Latifah and Foxy had beef? I never knew that.”

In light of thinking there’s probably many more out there who’ve either forgotten or overlooked this small gem of a feud (which let’s be honest, produced records that are a lot better than many of their male counterparts), this post will catch you up on what happened.

THE BACKSTORY: Allegedly, this all stems from comments Foxy Brown allegedly made circa ’96 about Latifah making unwanted advances onto her in a club. While there’s no media quotes to substantiate this, the industry is not as big as it appears, so it’s feasible Foxy recalled this story to her inner circle and it eventually got back to the Queen. As expected, Latifah was none too happy about the comments. Latifah’s sexuality has always been an open secret, but it was a still a topic she ducked when asked, especially at this time considering the question was a red-hot considering how well she played the “Cleo” role in the hit crime caper film Set It Off.

Speaking of Set It Off, Latifah responded in true emcee fashion by taking it to the booth to record “Name Callin’.” Ironically, there was no names named, and those not in the know could easily interpret this as just a generic diss to any female emcee. However, those who knew about the brewing beef knew this was a clear warning shot.

Nothing was heard for close to two years after this, and for the most part any issues were forgotten between the two.

Well, everyone except Foxy. She took the opportunity to reignite the feud with a blatant and hard diss included on the first installment for Funkmaster Flex’s 60 Minutes of Funk series. Now, when you have a diss included on a retail album, it means war. Not to mention, she painted Latifah as being confused sexually, on the downside of her music career (using her platinum sales as the basis, as Latifah never had a platinum plaque), and had her brother Gavin playing the hypeman/Bundini Brown role in daring Latifah to respond.

Queen Pen, a good friend of Latifah’s, caught some shrapnel on this one as well, leading to a physical confrontation between them.

THE BATTLE’S PEAK: Latifah was not amused — in fact, she was pissed off. That incredulous anger was channeled into the mixtape track “Name Callin’ Part 2,” which utilized several classic Hip-Hop instrumentals from the era. As unexpected as the first “Name Callin'” was, this was a sheer jaw-dropper to hear the Queen going at someone this hard and efficiently. It would turn out to the high point of the feud and the record that got Latifah the “W” in most people’s eyes.

Foxy wouldn’t wait long to retaliate (she couldn’t in this case; the record was too hard). Foxy’s “Talk to Me” wasn’t a bad or subpar response. She used the angle of Latifah being hypocritical in trying to give her sound a tougher edge when by this point she was clearly one of the game’s best crossover brands. Still, it was nowhere near as hard-hitting as “Name Callin’ Part 2.”

AFTERMATH:  A few years later, Latifah and Foxy Brown quietly mended the ill will behind the scenes, as evidenced by the picture at the beginning of this piece. Back in ’06, Foxy would also make a public reconciliation with Queen Pen.

Overall, the battle was good for both sides. For Latifah, it showed she could get her hands dirty in a lyrical battle. She could have easily hid behind her public stature and side-stepped it. While Foxy did get some criticism from those believing she didn’t have the accomplishments to come for Latifah, it won her a grudging respect. Foxy was barely 18 years old when the first diss dropped, so for such a young emcee to show fearlessness in taking on a well-respected veteran says a lot. This battle was also served as good experience, as Foxy would build on it years later to deliver one of the more scathing disses and verses of the early 2000s when she went at Lil Kim on CNN’s “Bang Bang.”

For those of you just hearing these tracks or hearing them again for the first time in years, who do you think won this battle?

These days, no one would even consider taking an Olympic gold medalist straight out of the amateur ranks and throwing him in with the heavyweight champion of the world. But back in 1957, Pete Rademacher had a bright idea that would make history and himself a lot of money.

Rademacher was the premier amateur boxer of his day, winning major tournaments from 1949-1956, including the ’53 U.S. Amateur Championship. 1956 would bring him worldwide recognition when he won the heavyweight gold medal at the Melbourne Olympics. 

Soon after, Rademacher began to hit the press with claims that he was going to make history by winning the heavyweight title in his first professional fight. Floyd Patterson, who won the title in late 1956 over Archie Moore, initially scoffed at the idea until Rademacher offered 250,000 in guaranteed funds. It was an offer Patterson couldn’t refuse. The angle had been set with Patterson, the first Olympic gold medalist to win the heavyweight title, seeking to defend his crown against another gold medalist.

While seen as an intriguing mismatch on paper in favor of the 22-year-old Patterson, the 29-year-old Rademacher came into the ring outweighing his opponent by 15 pounds (202 to 187), possessing a significantly longer reach (77 to 71) and a slight height advantage (6’1 to 6’0). These attributes gave Patterson difficulty early as he struggled to get beyond Rademacher’s steady jab and counterpunching. The though of an upset grew to a fervor pitch in the second when a chopping overhand right dropped a visibly embarrassed Patterson for a three count.

Patterson refused to be discouraged and kept steady pressure on Rademacher behind leaping hooks. As the rounds progressed, the grueling pace of the fight began to wear on Rademacher, who was used to four round, two-minute amateur bouts. Patterson hooks began a series of knockdowns, six in all, that firmly put to rest the idea of an upset. Rademacher  labored badly around the ring until a Patterson left-right hook combination ended matters in the sixth.

Rademacher’s career never truly recovered from his ambitious first fight. He would suffer a fourth round knockout to Zora Folley in his second bout, and finished his career in 1962 with a record of 15-7-1, with 8 KOs.

Patterson would make several more defense before being upset by Ingemar Johansson in 1959. Patterson became the first man to regain the heavyweight title by knocking out Johansson in a 1960 return bout. He repeated the feat in a ’61 rubbermatch. Patterson would lose the title for good to Sonny Liston in 1962 but continued facing top fighters such as Jerry Quarry, Jimmy Ellis, George Chuvalo and Muhammad Ali before retiring in 1972.

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On what would have been Malcolm X’s 87 birthday, we take a look back on a Hip-Hop legend that he greatly influenced. 20 years ago, a young Tupac was asked to speak at a dinner honoring Malcolm’s life. Instead of a safe presentation, Pac choose to the challenge the black intelligentsia present to put action behind their words in engaging the youth. Some of Pac’s ideas were undeveloped (ie. his stance on higher education), but you can also see the hints of black nationalism and economic empowerment that were major concerns of Malcolm’s final years. Some questions to ponder. What would be Malcolm X’s opinion on the Hip-Hop generation and the music coming from it today? How differently, if any, would Hip-Hop culture view him had he lived?