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Jeff “Candy Slim” Merritt: A Fighter’s Life (Part Two of a Three-Part Series)

NOTE: Once we left Jeff Merritt, he had simply superior his document to 11-1 with an eight-spherical unanimous determination over Henry Clark, his most seasoned opponent. The match performed out at Madison Sq. Backyard on a present headlined by George Foreman vs. Chuck Wepner. It was Merritt’s fourth look on the Backyard underneath the aegis of his sponsor, the Nationwide Maritime Union.

Merritt was shortly matched for an additional bout within the Backyard’s Felt Discussion board however the battle by no means got here off. Inside a number of months Merritt’s contract had been bought from the Union by a ten man syndicate calling itself U.S. Championships, Inc. which included Bob Arum, Joe Louis, Norman King, Henny Youngman, William B. Williams, David Popsfsky, and William Walters. Muhammad Ali’s former courtroom jester Drew ‘Bundini’ Brown was on the town for the Joe Frazier-Jimmy Ellis heavyweight unification and trying to connect himself to a brand new fighter on the upswing together with his former meal ticket in exile. He was given managerial and coaching duties over Merritt with Angelo Dundee.

Merritt’s new settlement gave him a $150 every week wage, dwelling bills, a automotive, and 50% of his purses. The syndicate would additionally pay for his coaching bills, administration charges, and transportation out of their share. As a way to manufacture some low cost publicity they carted Merritt to the New York State Athletic Fee workplaces to file the contract. Accompanying the group was a stomach dancer named Leila Sohl who they introduced can be Merritt’s coach. They invited a bevy of photographers who popped flashbulbs as Merritt and his “trainer” danced and gyrated to the horror of the fee members. The photographs and Merritt’s story appeared in newspapers throughout the nation. Bundini then rebranded Merritt “Candy Slim” as a result of he was slim and had the sweetest left hook since Sugar Ray. It was a reputation that stayed with Merritt the remainder of his life.

The syndicate instantly made the choice to ship Merritt south to Miami the place Angelo and Bundini would polish their new diamond within the tough at Chris Dundee’s fifth Road Fitness center (Chris was Angelo’s brother). Simply over a month after arriving at Miami Merritt headlined his first card with a devastating two spherical knockout over Johnny Hudgins. Sweet Slim pounded Hudgins mercilessly earlier than lastly lifting him off the canvas with an uppercut that left him glassy eyed and confused on the canvas for properly over the ten seconds required to finish the competition.

At some point in April or Might of 1970 whereas Merritt educated at Dundee’s Fifth St. Fitness center, Muhammad Ali, nonetheless in exile because of his stance over the Vietnam Conflict, determined to check himself towards one of many younger weapons within the fitness center. He chosen Jeff Merritt as his foil. Accounts differ as to the result (Ali stated by the top of the session he was in a position to determine Merritt; Merritt claimed he hit Ali so arduous he knocked his headgear off, forcing Dundee to name a halt to the session). Regardless of the consequence, Ali and Merritt struck up an affiliation that might final a number of years.

Over Might and June of 1970 Merritt reeled off two extra spectacular victories over Eddie Vick and Charlie Well mannered however a collection of alternatives at wider publicity did not materialize. Merritt was scheduled to seem towards Sylvester Dullaire however begged out of the competition when he was provided the chance to seem on the undercard of the Emile Griffith-Dick Tiger struggle at Madison Sq. Backyard. Merritt was additionally scheduled to seem in an exhibition bout with Muhammad Ali in Charleston, South Carolina which might be Ali’s first public look in a boxing ring since his exile started three years earlier. Nevertheless, the day earlier than the Ali exhibition opposition to Ali’s stance proved so nice that promoters have been pressured to cancel the bout. Two days later Merritt was injured in coaching forcing him to tug out of his bout with Al ‘Blue’ Lewis on the Griffith-Tiger card. It will be almost a yr earlier than Merritt would reappear in a boxing ring.

Jeff returned house to Kansas Metropolis for an prolonged keep the place he capped off 1970 by marrying Bernice Cox simply earlier than Christmas. The following spring he returned to Miami together with his new bride and her younger son to renew coaching. He opened his marketing campaign stating that he meant to struggle each three weeks till the top of the yr so as to crack the highest ten however his ambition was brief lived. He stunned two cannon fodder opponents, George Dulaire and Willie McMillan, within the span of three weeks (a battle towards Stamford Harris that seems on his report sandwiched between these two by no means passed off) however Merritt pulled out of his subsequent bout citing meals poisoning regardless of going by means of with an exhibition bout towards Muhammad Ali the next day.

On the finish of July Merritt travelled to Houston with Jimmy Ellis to function sparring associate whereas Ellis educated for his upcoming bout with Muhammad Ali (a struggle towards Ollie Wilson that seems on Merritt’s document presently by no means befell). Bob Arum, who was part of the syndicate that owned Merritt’s contract and was selling the Ali-Ellis card, discovered room for Merritt on the undercard. Chris Dundee provided Olympic heavyweight champion George Foreman $50,000 to battle Merritt on the cardboard however Foreman’s supervisor Dick Sadler declined. As an alternative Merritt confronted Al Banks who he stopped in two rounds.

Merritt returned to Miami for a scheduled 10 rounder towards Leroy Caldwell, who was a late substitute for Wendell Newton. The night time of the battle Jeff Merritt was nowhere to be discovered. As Angelo Dundee grew frantic he despatched one other of his fighters, Vern McIntosh, to the lodge the place Merritt was dwelling solely to seek out that Bernice had no concept the place Jeff was. To be able to save the present Dundee put McIntosh in Merritt’s place and Vern proceeded to knock out Caldwell in six thrilling rounds. The following day the Miami boxing fee suspended Merritt’s license. The followers have been informed that Merritt had refused to struggle as a result of he “felt weak.” What the followers weren’t advised, and what wasn’t revealed till later, was that Merritt was now within the throes of heroin habit. It was a wrestle which might ship his as soon as promising profession right into a tailspin and finally eat his life.

It was greater than three months earlier than Merritt would emerge once more. He appeared on a brief exhibition tour in the course of the winter months of 1971/72 with Muhammad Ali. In between exhibition bouts with Ali he lived in a rundown lodge in South Seashore. He had despatched his household residence as a result of he couldn’t afford to help them. He complained that the syndicate which managed his contract had devolved into infighting and misplaced curiosity in his profession whereas Chris Dundee was struggling to maintain his lease on the Miami Conference Middle. All of this made it almost inconceivable for him to get fights although his suspension was up. The solely factor that stored him struggling alongside have been the handouts that Angelo Dundee would give him every time Merritt confirmed as much as half heartedly practice.

In March he joined the coaching camp of Vicente Rondon who was coaching for his mild heavyweight unification bout with Bob Foster. He gave Rondon such a battering in sparring that when Foster stopped him simply in two rounds Rondon’s promoter Mickey Duff, seated ringside, remarked “How they hell do they expect him to have any confidence after Jeff Merritt killed him for two weeks?”

The following month Merritt had his first bout in almost a yr, knocking out Junior Grant however months of on and off drug abuse had left him on the lowest weight of his profession and he admitted that his timing was off. Regardless of this, his efficiency was ok to curiosity a rich native businessman, Jules Freeman, to take over his administration. Merritt expressed optimism and excessive hopes for the longer term however three months later, with no fights underneath his belt, Merritt was described by the Miami Information as in poor form bodily and emotionally “and probably through” as a fighter.

Within the fall of 1972 Paul Mitrano, a profitable Boston automotive vendor and battle bug, took over Merritt’s administration. His first order of enterprise was to maneuver Merritt again to New York and place him beneath the steerage of Sugar Ray Robinson’s former coach George Gainford. Any hope that a change of surroundings and administration would get Merritt’s profession again on monitor was misplaced. He begged out of a late January battle in Las Vegas and a month later was arrested in New York for housebreaking. It had been a yr since Jeff had been within the ring and never simply his profession however his whole life appeared in free fall.

Nonetheless believing in Merritt’s potential Bundini put him in touch with a person he’d met by way of Muhammad Ali. Don King was an rising participant in boxing. He had lately bought the contracts of sunshine heavyweight Ray Anderson and heavyweight energy puncher Earnie Shavers, each based mostly in King’s native Ohio. King had heard all about Merritt’s potential and all about his issues. He spoke to Jeff and regardless of all of Merritt’s baggage he satisfied himself that this was a fighter he might work with. King, a product of Cleveland’s streets and a former felon himself might perceive and talk with Merritt in a method that not one of the businessmen who had managed him up to now might. He determined to take a chance on the wayward fighter. Whereas in New York for Earnie Shavers’ struggle with Jimmy Ellis King filed managerial contracts with the New York State Athletic Fee. It was the start of probably the most vibrant yr of Merritt’s profession.

King instantly went to work rebuilding Merritt’s confidence and physique. He talked to him on a philosophical degree about the place he’d come from, how he acquired the place he discovered himself, and what he needed for his future. Merritt responded to King’s Svengali charms and rededicated himself to coaching. He was despatched to Earnie Shavers’ coaching camp at Grossinger’s the place Shavers was getting ready for the most important check of his profession, a showdown with Irish Jerry Quarry. Merritt shortly discovered that he had plenty of work to do with a purpose to get again into preventing type. Shavers, who was by no means one to tug his punches in sparring, battered Merritt. Merritt resented this remedy and as he rounded again to type their sparring periods turned hellacious.

In response to Larry Holmes, Jeff shortly developed resentment towards Shavers born out of jealousy. He resented the eye Don King paid Earnie. These tensions flared in mid-July when, with King away from camp, Archie Moore, who had been employed to coach Shavers, let a sparring session with Merritt and Shavers get out of hand. Throughout one heated trade Shavers, who had been warned a number of occasions towards protecting his mouth open, was caught with a mixture by Merritt that broke his jaw in two locations and compelled a cancellation of the Quarry struggle. King was livid. He instantly fired Moore and, making lemonade out of lemons, used the publicity to get Merritt a marquee struggle at Madison Sq. Backyard towards former WBA heavyweight champion Ernie Terrell. Merritt was instantly again within the limelight.

When Merritt signed with King he weighed 200 kilos, had seen needle tracks on his arms, and was a bodily wreck. When he stepped into the ring with Terrell he was a muscular and wholesome 221¼ kilos and a drive to be reckoned with. The battle would function a reside undercard to the closed circuit telecast being beamed into the backyard of the Muhammad Ali-Ken Norton rematch. Terrell, who eight years earlier had been dubbed ‘the octopus’ by Muhammad Ali, rushed out and grabbed Merritt in a vice like bear hug. After the referee broke them a number of extra waltzes adopted earlier than Merritt landed a dynamite left hook that despatched Terrell spinning. Sweet Slim pounced on his dazed opponent and chased him across the ring with a torrent of punches. Arthur Mercante tried to leap between the fighters however Merritt continued his assault, forcing the stoppage. The official time was two minutes and forty-two seconds of the primary spherical and Merritt was again to being a sensation.

The win over Terrell was probably the most publicized win of Merritt’s profession up to now. Forgotten was the truth that Terrell’s efficiency had been so dangerous that the New York State Athletic Fee had revoked his license and forcibly retired him because of the deterioration in his expertise over the earlier two years. After the success of the Terrell battle Don King moved Merritt again to Cleveland with him and for a time allowed Jeff to remain at his house. King offered Merritt a automotive and even bought a house in Kansas Metropolis for Jeff’s mom on Woodland Avenue. It was the primary residence she had ever owned. For the primary time in a very long time, perhaps in his complete life, the whole lot appeared to be coming collectively for Merritt.

With a purpose to maintain Jeff out of hassle you needed to maintain him busy. To that finish, one month after the Terrell struggle, Merritt was matched with Ron Stander. Like Terrell, Stander was in a special class from Merritt’s earlier opponents. Stander was a brief, squat heavyweight. What he lacked in talent he made up for in coronary heart and sturdiness. Within the first yr of his profession he had stopped Merritt’s stablemate Earnie Shavers and solely a yr and a half earlier he had challenged Joe Frazier for the heavyweight championship and regardless of dropping in 4 one-sided rounds he gave an amazing displaying of willpower and grit. But by Stander’s personal admission he had dissipated after the loss to Frazier. Drunk on the profession excessive purse he acquired and copious quantities of beer and wine, his weight had steadily climbed. By no means svelte at an marketed peak of 5 foot eleven (however nearer to 5 foot 9), Stander was now a blob of a person, in no situation for a critical contest towards a person knocking on the door of the contender class.

When Stander arrived in Cleveland his weight was introduced as 233 lbs however reporters made notice of his heft, his unwillingness to coach, and his prodigious urge for food. One paper said that within the days earlier than the struggle he dined on steak and wine and gained a exceptional 13 kilos the day earlier than the battle to return in at a profession excessive 245 kilos. No matter when or how Stander gained the load he was a jiggling mass of flesh when he got here to satisfy Merritt ring middle and had no enterprise anyplace close to a boxing ring.

Merritt approached his quarry like a butcher approaches a fatted calf. Stander feigned confidence and bravado however he would later admit he took the battle only for the payday. Merritt was assured as properly and went proper after Stander. Within the early moments of the competition Stander landed a glancing proper that despatched Merritt right into a clinch. Merritt’s tendency to surrender his peak benefit allowed Stander to land the occasional punch however Merritt answered again, ultimately discovering his vary with arduous jabs and driving hooks deep into Stander’s mushy midsection. In shut Merritt, angered by Stander’s trash speaking, started raking him with lefts to the top and physique, reddening Stander’s face. Because the spherical drew to an in depth Merritt landed a tough hook to Stander’s face inflicting Stander to dramatically shake his head within the trend of Ali, denying he was harm nevertheless it was evident that he was tiring quickly. The spherical ended with the fighters buying and selling punches after the bell and Stander dismissively waving Merritt off.

Because the second spherical opened Stander tried for a Hail Mary proper hand that missed wildly. Merritt shortly took over and earlier than the spherical was a minute previous he snapped Standers head again violently with a strong left hook. Each fighters traded low blows after which Merritt shoved Stander into his personal nook and commenced to cannonade his pudgy adversary. A left despatched Stander down for what was reported to be the primary time in his profession. Stander argued angrily with referee Lew Eskin that he had slipped on the moist canvas however moments later a collection of punches despatched Stander down once more and this time when he tried to rise he fell flat on his face. There was no denying that he had been harm. Merritt went again to chopping Stander down and violent spun him into the ropes. With the viewers screaming wildly a collection of unanswered blows despatched his defenseless opponent down. Eskin rushed in to cease the struggle and Merritt raised his palms in victory, spit his mouthpiece out, and marched across the ring to take in the adulation of the gang as seconds and officers crammed the ring.

As Bundini Brown, Don King, and co-coach Richie Giachetti embraced their victorious cost referee Eskin approached and notified them that the spherical had ended earlier than he had stopped the competition. The battle would proceed. It was educational. When the third spherical belatedly started Merritt resumed his slaughter and shortly despatched Stander, bleeding and mouth agape, reeling into the ropes. Eskin jumped in as soon as once more and rescued him on his ft.

Jeff was joined by Don King and Earnie Shavers at King’s Sheraton Inn headquarters. Merritt appeared happy with himself as he spoke to a small gathering of reporters from the rostrum. Wearing an imperial purple bounce go well with and sporting a shy smile on his face he remarked merely that “I trained to fight the guy and that’s what I did.”

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