A new report suggests that the mafia rigged Billie Jean King’s legendary victory over Bobby Riggs in the “Battle of the Sexes” tennis match.
On Sept. 20, 1973, King, the world’s second-ranked women’s tennis player, defeated Riggs, a former men’s tennis champion, in three straight sets, scoring a literal and a figurative win against sexism in the process. King’s victory was made all the more impressive by the fact that King had trounced Margaret Court, the world’s top-ranked women’s tennis player, just four months earlier.
However, a report by ESPN’s “Outside The Lines” investigative reporters suggests that the outcome of the “Battle of the Sexes” had been determined well before either King or Riggs took the court. Hal Shaw, Riggs’ former coworker at the Palma Ceia Golf and Country Club in Tampa, Fla., claims that Riggs met with organized crime figures shortly before his match with King.
Shaw claims that he witnessed mafia-connected lawyer Frank Ragano, Florida organized crime boss Santo Trafficante, Jr., and New Orleans mobster Carlos Marcello meet with Riggs at the country club. Riggs was to “"set up two matches … against the two best women players in the world," Shaw told ESPN.
"He mentioned Margaret Court — and it's easy for me to remember that because one of my aunt's names was Margaret so that, you know, wasn't hard to remember — and the second lady was Billie Jean King,” Shaw continued. "Mr. Ragano was emphatic … Riggs had assured him that the fix would be in — he would beat Margaret Court and then he would go in the tank"
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According to Shaw’s account, Riggs agreed to defeat Court in order to make his rigged loss to King look more convincing, ESPN reports. In exchange, Riggs asked that the mafia forgive his $100,000 in accrued gambling debts.
Still, not everyone is convinced by Shaw’s claims. Lornie Kuhle, Riggs’ business partner and longtime friend, disputes the account. "I've never heard anything so far-fetched," he told ESPN. "It's just complete bulls---."
King also dismissed the notion that her victory against Riggs was rigged. “Bobby Riggs wanted to win that match, I saw it in his eyes. I saw it when we changed ends, and there is no question,” King told ESPN. “I have played matches where players have tanked, and I know what it feels like and I know what it looks like, and he did not.”