The Mob's Control of Prizefighting Molded Sport's Evolution

Incredibly absorbing documentary about the mob's decades-long control of prizefighting.

Most notable - the film uses modern technology to highlight the so-called "phantom punch" that sent Sonny Liston to the mat. This knockdown -- further screwed up by the referee, a former boxer himself -- marked the beginning of the end of both Liston's boxing career and the mob's influence over the sport. (Some even believe the mob murdered Liston.)

The two fights between Muhammad Ali and Sonny Liston for the World Heavyweight Championship were among the most watched and controversial fights in the sport's history.

The phantom punch ended the second fight between Muhammad Ali (then still known as Cassius Clay) and Sonny Liston.

Mobsters at the forefront of organized crime's infiltration of the sport were Frank "Blinky" Palermo (1905-1996) and "Frankie Carbo," who together "owned" boxers and fixed fights, including the famous 1947 Jake LaMotta-Billy Fox fight.

Palermo was an associate of the Philadelphia crime family and ran the largest numbers racket in that city.

"Frankie Carbo" (born Paolo Giovanni Carbo; named Paul John Carbo) was a New York Mafia Luchese family soldier who had once been a Murder Inc. hitter.

By 1959, Blinky and Frankie Carbo owned a majority interest in the contract of heavyweight boxer Sonny Liston, who went on to win 1962's World Heavyweight Championship. Since 1953, when he became a professional prize fighter, Liston had been claimed by St. Louis mobster John Vitale, who continued to own a stake in the boxer.

During the 1940s, Blinky and Carbo headed a group called "The Combination," which included underworld figures Ettore "Eddie" Coco, James "Jimmy Doyle" Plumeri, Harry "Champ" Segal and Felix Bocchicchio.

The group thrived at fixing high-profile boxing matches. 

Carbo was referred to as the "Czar of Boxing."

In a 2002 interview with The Observer, Budd Schulberg talked about Carbo and Palermo and their involvement in a 1954 welterweight championship fight.

"...Frankie Carbo, the mob's unofficial commissioner for boxing, controlled a lot of the welters and middles.... Not every fight was fixed, of course, but from time to time Carbo and his lieutenants, like Blinky Palermo in Philadelphia, would put the fix in. When the Kid Gavilan-Johnny Saxton fight was won by Saxton on a decision in Philadelphia in 1954, I was covering it for Sports Illustrated and wrote a piece at that time saying boxing was a dirty business and must be cleaned up now. It was an open secret. All the press knew that one - and other fights - were fixed. Gavilan was a mob-controlled fighter, too, and when he fought Billy Graham it was clear Graham had been robbed of the title. The decision would be bought. If it was close, the judges would shade it the way they had been told."

British journalist Kevin Mitchell wrote about the mob and boxing in Jacobs Beach: The Mob, the Fights, the Fifties:

Of Carbo, Mitchell wrote:

“He was a charmer, looked after his mum, all that stuff. But he had this split personality; he could be ruthless, aggressive, one of the scariest guys you’d ever meet. They called him 'Mr. Grey', because he just stayed in the shadows. 
"He didn't want a public profile; he wanted to do things in private, without people knowing his face. That’s just how he operated, a nameless face who was arguably the most powerful man in boxing at that time.”

In 1961, Carbo and Palermo, along with Los Angeles mobsters Joe Di Sica and Louis Dragna, were charged with conspiracy and extortion against National Boxing Association Welterweight Champion Don Jordan. After a three-month trial (U.S. Attorney General Robert Kennedy served as prosecutor), Carbo and Palermo were sentenced to 25 years in prison. 

Granted early parole due to ill health, Carbo was released from prison. He died in Miami Beach, Florida on November 9, 1976. Palermo served seven and one-half years.


  1. Add the Mike Tyson vs Lou Saverese to the list. Saverese was owned by the Lucchese Family.

  2. The story is a prolonged caption to the video, which included stuff I found highly interesting. The story is boilerplate really to the video -- unless you don't know anything about the topic...This is the kind of stuff I'd be churning out a lot if I didn't speak to "turncoats"...what if I was working on a story about Frank Gangi and Tommy Karate Pitera? It wouldn't be boring..... But I'd need Frank Gangi to talk to me...he's a rat though.... how can I talk to a rat and disappoint some of my readers?? See Anthony?

  3. The second fight between Liston and Clay was a fix. I don't care what Bill Gallo said on the B.S. Mobsters series made some years back by A&E or Bio channel. That whole series was made to downplay the mob's role in American during the 20th Century.

  4. I agree. This documentary is from the UK; I think they make some of the better documentaries about the Mafia. They view it as news while in the US, I think it's viewed more as entertainment.

  5. Everything always revolves around Italians. Hiw can you talk about mob control of boxing without mentioning Owney Madden's control of champions Primo Carnera, Max Baehr and Jim Braddock? This assumes that corruption in boxing started with Carbo when it didnt.

  6. They highlight the "phantom punch" in the video -- a right hand did make contact with Liston's head; previously no one could see it and it looked like he absolutely threw the fight. (And the ref had to run to a ringside newspaper reporter to find out what the hell was going on, which made it seem all the more odd). However, while the video points out that there was a right, the questions remains -- just because there was a phantom punch that made contact doesn't mean Liston didn't throw the fight....

  7. Everything revolves around the Italians because no other group of organized criminals ever matched their peak. No other group has ever or will ever infiltrate legitimate business as they did. Corruption in boxing did not start with Carbo just as labor racketeering did not start with Lucchese, but the Italians perfected these rackets and took them to higher levels than the Jews and Irish ever dreamed of.


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