The late men's tennis champion Bobby Riggs threw his historic 1973 "Battle of the Sexes" tennis match with women's champion Billie Jean King
to wipe out a gambling debt of $100,000, a retired tennis pro has told ESPN.
Hal Shaw told ESPN
for a story posted Sunday that he overheard voices at the Palma Ceia Golf and Country Club in Tampa, Fla. talking about how Riggs, who died in 1995, would throw the match to pay off a huge gambling debt.
In a piece story titled "The Match Maker," for ESPN's news magazine "Outside the Lines," the network describes Shaw as a 39-year-old assistant golf pro at the club in 1973. Shaw told ESPN he recognized the voices at a late night club meeting as reputed mob attorney Frank Ragano, Florida mob boss Santo Trafficante Jr., and Carlos Marcello, a New Orleans mobster. Shaw told ESPN there was a fourth person at the meeting who he did not recognize.
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Shaw, now 79, told ESPN that the men did not know he was there because his workroom was about 20 feet from where they were talking. The men talked about Riggs gambling debt and how his "Battle of the Sexes" matches were all a ruse to wipe the clear the debt.
"The men, Shaw says, used an array of nicknames for Riggs – 'Riggsy,' 'BB,' 'Bobby Bolita,'" ESPN wrote Shaw's recollection of the 1973 meeting. "Ragano told the men that 'Riggsy' was prepared to 'set up two matches … against the two best women players in the world,' Shaw says."
"Mr. Ragano was emphatic," Shaw told ESPN, recalling the secret meeting. "Riggs had assured him that the fix would be in – he would beat Margaret Court and then he would go in the tank" against King.
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Longtime Riggs associate and friend, Lornie Kuhle told the Herald and Review
in Decatur, Ill. earlier in August after he was approached by ESPN that he believed the charges were unfounded and an attempt to sully the tennis star's reputation.
"I looked at him and told him it was the most far-fetched story I’d ever heard,” Kuhle told the Herald and Review about his interview with ESPN. "Why would four mafia guys be in a golf pro shop at midnight? Why is the golf pro in there at midnight? I asked him, 'Do you believe this bull——?' I told him if he was looking for a scandal, there’s not one here. It was a real match and he got beat."
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