1939-02-03 Melio Bettina w rsc 9 (15) Tiger Jack Fox, Madison Square Garden, Manhattan, NYC, New York, USA - NY

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1939-02-03 Melio Bettina w rsc 9 (15) Tiger Jack Fox, Madison Square Garden, Manhattan, NYC, New York, USA - NY. Referee: Eddie Joseph. Contesting the vacant NYSAC version of the title, Bettina (172½) began well when taking the play away from the hard-hitting Fox (174¾) almost from the start and despite it being a dull affair he kept plugging away while waiting for the opportunity to open up. Unorthodox, game and aggressive, the hard-hitting southpaw eventually caught up with Fox in the eighth, dropping him with a left hook, and when the latter made it to his feet at ‘nine’ he was battered into the ropes for another count. Picking it up where he left off, Bettina came out for the ninth with only one thing on his mind and at 1.22 of the session the referee rescued Fox, who was being pounded against the ropes without reply.

Really, there was no way that Fox should have been in the ring that night as he had been stabbed near the heart a couple of months earlier and had been on the critical list for several days, which would explain why he threw so few solid blows during the fight. The contest was also given plenty of advance publicity due to Bettina’s manager, Jimmy Grippo, a magician of some repute, claiming that his charge would be in a hypnotic state come the night.

Following Bettina v Fox, John Henry Lewis was still claiming the title, regardless of the result and on 31 March went forward to defend against Dave Clark in the latter’s home city. However, the fight was prevented from taking place when two doctors failed Lewis on his eyesight.

At this point, John Roxborough, Clark’s manager, claimed the title on behalf of his charge, while Grippo wrote to the NBA asking them to consider Bettina as their champion. Both claims were immediately rebuffed. Nat Fleischer, of The Ring magazine, then attacked the NYSAC for allowing Lewis to fight Joe Louis when it must have been obvious that his eyesight had already failed.

It did not stop there however. With Lewis still claiming the championship, and having travelled to England to defend against Len Harvey in London on 22 June, the BBBoC doctors inspected his eyesight on arriving and immediately banned him from fighting in Britain. Prior to that, the NBA had actually implied that Lewis’ eye damage was not as bad as first thought and were still considering him to be their champion.

Back in America, Lewis was banned from fighting on 19 June due to failing eyesight, despite continuing to claim the championship and refusing to retire. At that juncture, the NBA said that they would support a fight between Bettina and Billy Conn, who had won 45 of 56 since turning pro at 17 four years earlier, and had twice beaten the reigning NBA middleweight champion, Solly Krieger, along with the NYSAC equivalent, Fred Apostoli. After ignoring the claims of Australia’s Ron Richards, who had beaten Gus Lesnevich (w pts 15 on 27 October 1938 at the Sports Ground, Sydney, Australia), and Harvey, the British and British Empire champion, it should have been no surprise when the BBBoC decided to recognise a match between Harvey and Jock McAvoy as being for their version of the title.