Inspired by a post by P(D)enny La(i)ne of Nothing Is Real...
On February 16, 1964, the Beatles made their second historical appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. The broadcast from Miami Beach, Florida featured two boxers in the audience, Sonny Liston and Joe Lewis (a menu from "Beatles On Ed Sullivan" DVD is pictured below). This marked the beginning of a long running connection between the Beatles and Boxers. While the earlier connections were obviously tied to promotional gimmicks, the later ones often seemed to be tied to the concept of "taking a dive" or losing a fight on purpose and deceiving the public in order to make more money for organized crime.
Sonny Liston intersected with the Beatles again three years later on the cover of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Like many people on that album cover, Liston's life was a tragic one full of run-ins with the law, ties to organized crime, and allegations of boxing fraud (after his second loss to Muhammed Ali, fellow fighter George Chuvalo was quoted as saying, "It was a phoney.") Several other prominent boxers agreed that Liston took a dive for the mob. Liston went on to do a bit of acting, including a small part in the Monkees movie "Head" where Davy Jones was supposed to take a dive for the mob. Liston died of suspicious causes sometime between December 30, 1970 and January 5, 1971. The official cause was heroin overdose, but his aversion to needles and the lack of related paraphernalia at the scene caused many to question the accuracy of the police findings.
The Beatles also met Muhammad Ali (then Cassius Clay) during their first U.S. visit. They participated in a mutually beneficial photo op at the boxer's training camp on February 18, 1964. The Beatles apparently overruled Brian Epstein by their participation in this event. Ali was one of the guests when John and Yoko co-hosted the Mike Douglas show.
There is a boxing monster who gets an exploding cigar in "Yellow Submarine."
Another boxer, Sugar Ray Robinson made a cameo appearance in the movie "Candy," co-written by Terry Southern and starring Ringo Starr.
Ringo's next solo feature film, "The Magic Christian," featured a boxing scene that brought a whole new meaning to the expression taking a dive. The scene in the movie goes by quickly and strangely, but Terry Southern's novel commits several paragraphs to describing the boxing champ as a national hero who, like everyone else, had his price. Two million dollars was enough to convince the champ to throw the fight in "a gay or effeminate manner." Even his challenger, the rough tough Tex Powell was paid to win the fight in the "most flamboyantly homosexual manner possible."
Paul McCartney recruited yet another boxer, John Conteh, for the cover of "Band on the Run." In 1974, Paul honored Conteh by appearing on an episode of "This Is Your Life" dedicated to the boxer.
Paul's song "Average Person" from "Pipes of Peace" not only features a verse about a fireman who likes to keep his engine clean, but also a verse dedicated to a boxer.
Well I Bumped Into A Man Who'd Been A Boxer
Asked Him What Had Been His Greatest Night
He Looked Into The Corners Of His Memory
Searching For A Picture Of The Fight
But He Said He Always Had A Feeling
That He Lacked A Little Extra Height
(Could Have Used A Little Extra Height)
Yes Mate, You Heard Right
He Always Had A Feeling That He Might Have Lacked A Little Height
Ironically Paul himself was accused of gaining a little extra height in late 1966.
Finally "Magical Mystery Tour" had its premier on Boxing Day. The holiday where gifts are given to the less fortunate was also mentioned in the movie "Give My Regards To Broad Street." I realize that Boxing Day has nothing to do with the sport of Boxing. Celebrated in several countries, the holiday seems to be tied to providing workers and the lower class with bonus gifts after Christmas. While the charitable tradition seems to benefit those with fewer financial resources, some claim that it is also ploy to maintain the distinction between the economic classes. When I was in school studying cultural traditions I was told that Boxing Day was the holiday when the classes would reverse roles: the poor would receive gifts of the rich, workers would be the bosses of their employers, and a Canadian policeman would become the leader of the world's greatest band.