80 — The first Games of Flavian Ampitheatre are held

The Flavian Ampitheatre – better known today as the Colosseum in Rome – was constructed between 72 and 80 CE. It is called Flavian because that was the name of the Imperial House that built it, Emperor Vespasian and his sons and successors Titus and Domitan being the three Emperors most associated with the building.

In addition to the gladiatorial contests, chariot races and executions that it is remembered for, the Colosseum was also the site of animal hunts, mock naval and land engagements (often re-enactments of famous battles) and theatrical presentations. It could seat 50,000 people at peak capacity, and continued to be used as a site for entertainments after the fall of Rome.

It was later used variously as a quarry, a fortress, housing, workshops and religious shrines. Today, it is an archaeological and tourist site, one of Rome’s premier attractions from the Imperial Roman era.

Referenced in:

In The Colosseum — Tom Waits

1911 – Jimmy Sharman’s Boxing Tent begins at the Ardlethan Show

Jimmy Sharman’s Boxing Tent is perhaps the best known – and most notorious – of the various travelling outback boxing shows that once went from town to town in Australia. It put on displays of bare-knuckle boxing as well as occasional bouts where locals could try their luck against the professional boxers.

It was a brutal sport, and often exploitative – but it was also one of the few ways a black man could make a living, albeit a dangerous one that might leave you maimed. The outback boxing circuit flourished for a few decades, but it largely faded away by the time of World War Two.

Referenced in:

Yesterdays — Cold Chisel
Jimmy Sharman’s Boxers — Midnight Oil

1913 – Emily Davison runs in front of a horse at the Epsom Derby

No one really knows what Emily Davison had in mind when she ran in front of the racehorse Amner that day. She had already established herself as a determined and clever protester – seriously, take a look at some her prior stunts – and it can’t be ruled out that this was intended as another one.

She was carrying a suffragette banner, so some sort of protest was probably intended. She was also carrying a return train ticket and a ticket for dance being held by the Suffragettes later that day, so it’s unlikely that she intended to die. Most likely, she expected the horse to stop.

For whatever reason, the horse did not. Davison was trampled and died four days later of a fractured skull. Whether it was her intent or not, she became a martyr to the Suffragette movement.

Referenced in:

Emily Davison – Greg Kihn

1932 – Charles L. ‘Sonny’ Liston born

It’s possible that this isn’t actually the birthday of Sonny Liston – certainly he looked older than his years for most of his life – but it’s the one he always claimed. Born in Arkansas, he was the 12th of 13 children and was frequently beaten by his father (leaving him with scars he would bear his entire life). Perhaps that’s why he started boxing – and it’s hard to imagine that it wasnt a motivation of his. In the course of his professional career, Sonny Liston would become one of the most successful boxers of all time.

He fought a total of 54 fights, of which he won 50 (and 39 of those via knockout), over the course of a career that spanned the years 1953 to 1970. Of his four defeats, two of them were to Muhammed Ali and one to Marty Marshall (whom Liston defeated in the rematch).

Referenced in:

Song for Sonny Liston – Mark Knopfler

1941 – Joe DiMaggio’s record hitting streak finally ends

Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio was one of the all time greats of baseball, and no greater proof exists than his hitting streak record. From May 15 to July 16, 1941, he hit an unbroken streak of 56 games, a record that still stands. (The next highest hitting streak is 44 games in a single season, acheived by both Pete Rose and Willie Keeler – Keller also hit in the last game of his prior season too, giving him a 45 game streak overall.) Even after the end of the streak, DiMaggio hit another 17 game streak (and his record of hitting in 73 out of 74 games also remains unbroken).

DiMaggio’s team was the New York Yankees – who won the pennant in ten of the thirteen years that DiMaggio played for them. DiMaggio’s 1941 season was his last for some years – in 1942, he enlisted in the US Army, although he saw no combat, being assigned safely to a behind-the-lines role. His parents spent the war interned as supposed ‘enemy aliens’. DiMaggio would return to pro baseball in 1946, and played until 1951.

Referenced in:

Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio — Les Brown & His Orchestra

1947 — O. J. Simpson born

Future pro football player, actor, possible murderer and man with no grasp whatsoever of tact or irony Orenthal James Simpson was born in San Francisco, where he also grew up and went to school. He went to the University of Southern California on a football scholarship in 1967, where he excelled. He turned pro in 1969, and played for the next decade. Before his retirement from pro football, he had already begun acting.

But none of this is the reason he is remembered today. His true claim to fame is either a) getting away with the murder of his wife and another man, or b) proving his innocence for trumped up claims of murder, depending on your point of view.

Referenced in:

The Chanukah Song (Part I) — Adam Sandler
The Chanukah Song (Part II) — Adam Sandler

1951 – Joe Di Maggio retires from professional baseball

One of the game’s true greats, Joe Di Maggio played his entire pro baseball career with a single team, the New York Yankees. A center fielder, Di Maggio’s greatest achievement came at bat: his record hitting streak of 56 consecutive games remains unequaled more than seventy years on.

Di Maggio’s retirement came at the end of his thirteenth season, one of the worst he had ever played due to age (Joltin’ Joe was now 37, old for a pro baller) and injuries catching up to him – he later stated that even had he had a much better season, he would still have retired, as he felt that he was getting too slow (and enduring too much pain) to keep playing.

Referenced in:

Mrs. Robinson — Simon and Garfunkel
We Didn’t Start The Fire — Billy Joel

1952 – Rocky Marciano becomes world Heavyweight Champion

Rocky Marciano had been a professional boxer for only a little over four years when he defeated Jersey Joe Walcott in Philadelphia. The 29 year old boxer defeated Walcott in a round 13 knockout, after a slow start that saw him behind on points for most of the bout.

Marciano would hold the World Heavyweight Champion title for three and a half years, successfully defending it six times before he retired from professional boxing on April 27, 1956. (Floyd Patterson would be the next holder of the title.)

Referenced in:

We Didn’t Start The Fire — Billy Joel

He was also, in name only, the inspiration behind a certain series of Sylvester Stallone movies

1957 – The Brooklyn Dodgers agree to relocate to California

In 1957, there were no professional baseball teams in the World Series (that is, the baseball league of the USA) west of Missouri. In 1958, that would all change, and it was largely thanks to one man: Walter O’Malley, who owned the Dodgers from 1950 until 1979. He took the Dodgers from Brooklyn to Los Angeles – from Ebbets Field to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum – and also persuaded the managers of the New York Giants (traditional rivals of the Dodgers) to relocate their team to San Francisco, preserving the rivalry (well, sort of).

To say that O’Malley is a controversial figure in baseball is little like saying that there’s a bright light in the sky called the Sun. Even today, he is still hated in some parts of Brooklyn – the Dodgers might have been a bunch of bums, but they were Brooklyn’s bums, dammit!

Referenced in:

We Didn’t Start The Fire — Billy Joel

1962 – Sonny Liston defeats Floyd Patterson

Charles L. ‘Sonny’ Liston pushed hard to get his shot at the title. He was a kid from the wrong side of the tracks who occasionally went a little too far – as in 1956, when he was charged with assault and served six months before being paroled. He was a strong fighter who won a large number of his fights by knockout. When Floyd Patterson finally let him in, after months of refusing on the grounds of Liston’s supposed Mob ties, he didn’t waste the opportunity.

Liston knocked Patterson out in the first round, winning the title of World Heavyweight Boxing Champion. On July 22 of the following year, he did it again in the rematch.

But his triumph was short-lived. Cassius Clay beat him in their first bout in 1964, and again in 1965 (although by that time, Clay had renamed himself Muhammed Ali). Liston continued to fight, and won most of his bouts. He retired from professoinal boxing in 1970, and later died in early 1971, in suspicious circumstances.

Referenced in:

We Didn’t Start The Fire – Billy Joel

1964 — Cassius Clay defeats Sonny Liston

Generally acknowledged as one of the greatest – if not, as he so often proclaimed, “the greatest” – Cassius Clay, or Muhammad Ali as he is better known, first fought Sonny Liston on February 25, 1964 in Miami Beach, Florida. Clay was an up and comer who had won gold for boxing in 1960, and recently defeated the British Heavyweight champion, Henry Cooper. Liston was the reigning World Heavyweight champion, who had knocked out Floyd Patterson in the first round of their title bout.

Coming into the bout, Liston and Clay were each immensely unpopular – Clay was seen as boastful and Liston was a convicted criminal – but most agreed that the champion would hold onto his title. 43 out of 46 sportswriters predicted that Liston would win with a knockout. In the event, Clay defeated Liston in the sixth round, although the match was not awarded until Liston refused to leave his corner at the bell beginning the seventh. Clay was declared the winner by a technical knockout.

The following year, in the rematch, Clay – now calling himself the more familiar Muhammad Ali – knocked out Liston in the first round of their rematch. Ali would go on to be the most successful heavyweight boxer of the modern era, but Liston would never again reach so high.

Referenced in:
Black Superman — Johnny Wakelin

1964 – Cassius Clay changes his name to Muhammad Ali

Cassius Clay was already the Heavyweight Champion of the World – having defeated Sonny Liston a little less than 2 weeks earlier – when he announced his conversion to the Nation of Islam (more widely known as the Black Muslims). With that, of course, came the change of name: Muhammad meaning ‘one who is worthy of praise’ Ali ‘fourth rightly guided caliph’.

Clay’s conversion was, to say the least, controversial. Many journalists refused to use his new name at first, and given Clay’s history of courting publicity, the name change was widely seen as a stunt. However, Ali’s conversion was quite sincere – although in 1975 he changed faiths to Sunni Islam – and he retains the name even today.

Referenced in:

Black Superman — Johnny Wakelin

1966 – Rubin Carter is falsely accused by Alfred Bello

Alfred Bello, and his partner-in-crime, Arthur Dexter Bradley, were small-timers. Knocking over factories was their style, and the last thing they wanted to was to get involved in anything more serious.

But on June 17, 1966, they saw two men leaving the Lafayette Bar and Grill is New Jersey – two light-skinned black men, one carrying a pistol, the other a shotgun. They gave statements to the police, and tried not to incriminate themselves.

If that had been as far as it went, it might have been okay. But on October 14 of that year, Bello fingered Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter as one of the shooters. His testimony was essential to the guilty verdict that sent Carter to prison for murder.

In 1974, Bello recanted, claiming that the police had pressured him into making the statement. In 1975, he changed his story yet again, leading to the 1976 over-turning of the convictions of Carter and his alleged accomplice, John Artis. The pair were tried anew and convicted again. Their convictions were over-turned permanently in 1986.

Referenced in:
Hurricane – Bob Dylan