Did Bobby Riggs throw 'Battle of the Sexes' against Billie Jean King?

Aug. 27, 2013 at 1:30 PM
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NEW YORK, Aug. 27 (UPI) -- Tennis champion Bobby Riggs may have thrown the most famous tennis match in U.S. history, the "Battle of the Sexes" against Billie Jean King, ESPN reports.

ESPN in a major investigation has interviewed available witnesses, including a man who says he overheard Florida mobsters discussing the 1973 match ahead of time in a pro shop. The network says Riggs arranged to play the No. 1 women's player Margaret Court and then King, the No. 2 player, to erase his gambling debts.

Riggs defeated Court 6-2, 6-1 in what became known as the "Mother's Day Massacre." On Sept. 20, 1973, before a crowd of more than 30,000 in the Houston Astrodome, he lost to King 6-4, 6-3, 6-3.

Rumors that Riggs deliberately lost started almost immediately because he appeared to be playing well below his usual level.

"I don't understand," Howard Cosell, announcing the game for television, said at one point. "He's been feeding her that backhand all night."

Riggs' son, Larry, says his father told him later the match "was the worst thing in the world I've ever done."

Hal Shaw, who was an assistant golf pro at the Palma Ceia Club in Tampa, told ESPN that he has known about the fix for 40 years. He said he was alone in the pro shop late one night when four men who did not know he was there came in, including Carlos Marcello, head of the New Orleans mob, Santo Trafficante Jr., leader of the Florida mob, and Frank Ragano, a club member and part of the mob in Tampa. He did not recognize the fourth man.

Ragano told the others Riggs had promised to beat Court and then go on to be defeated by King, with the mob standing to make a lot of money from people betting on the matches. In return, he said, Riggs wanted his gambling debts wiped out and a sum of money on top.

Shaw said he kept his mouth shut for decades because he feared retribution.

"It's been 40 years, OK, and I've carried this with me for 40 years. ... The fear is gone," he said. "And I wanted to make sure, if possible, I could set the record straight -- let the world know that this was not what it seemed to be."

The Riggs-King match was as much theater as tennis. Riggs was carried into the Astrodome in a gilded rickshaw while bare-chested men pulled King in a chariot.

Before play began, King presented Riggs, a self-proclaimed "male chauvinist pig," with a piglet. The two later became friends and King continues to insist the match was a fair one, ESPN says.

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