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MACHEN v. JOHANSSON

June 9, 1959

Eddie MACHEN, Plaintiff,
v.
Ingemar JOHANSSON, Defendant



The opinion of the court was delivered by: KAUFMAN

In this action tried to me without a jury the plaintiff seeks to enjoin the defendant from engaging in a boxing match with Floyd Patterson, the heavyweight champion of the world, scheduled to be held in New York City on June 25, 1959, approximately two weeks from today. He asks that this injunction continue until the defendant shall have engaged in a return boxing match with the plaintiff. *fn1"

Plaintiff's claim for an injunction is grounded upon the contention that the defendant had agreed to a rematch with the plaintiff and had also agreed not to engage in any fights in the United States and specifically not to fight Floyd Patterson anywhere in the world before the rematch with the plaintiff had been held. At this juncture a brief statement concerning the factual contentions is in order.

In 1958 and until September 14, 1958, the plaintiff was recognized by the National Boxing Association and 'Ring Magazine' (a recognized publication in the boxing world) as the Number One or Number Two challenger for the world's heavyweight title. The defendant was the European heavyweight champion and ranked 6th or 8th.

 In the latter part of April, 1958, negotiations for a boxing match between plaintiff and defendant to be held in Sweden were begun between the Swedish promoter Edwin Ahlquist and Eddie Machen's manager, Sidney Flaherty, or his designated agents.

 After preliminary negotiations the plaintiff mailed and Ahlquist received a letter dated June 7, 1958, containing plaintiff's terms for a boxing match in Sweden. *fn2" The letter stated among other things 'one of the conditions of Eddie Machen meeting Ingemar Johansson is that should Johansson win then he agrees to a rematch with Machen, said rematch to take place in San Francisco at a date to be agreed upon when we arrive in Sweden.'

 On June 27th Flaherty telegraphed Ahlquist urging a reply to his letter of June 7th. Here, a serious cleavage in the facts develops. Ahlquist insists that sometime between June 12th and 15th, or in that vicinity, he replied to Flaherty advising him that Johansson would not agree to a rematch provision. A copy of the purported letter n.3 [Footnote Omitted] was produced at the trial and it was asserted by Ahlquist that he had prepared the letter in handwriting and then gave it to an employee to type and mail, his regular secretary being absent because of illness. In this letter and in his testimony at the trial Ahlquist insisted that the declination of a return match was the direct result of specific instructions received by him from Johansson.

 In a subsequent telegram, dated July 18th, Ahlquist agreed to arrange a contest pursuant 'to your terms in previous letter.' There was a further exchange of letters ultimately leading to the signing of an agreement, dated August 3rd, between Ahlquist as 'promoter' and Western Promotions, Inc., a corporation of which Flaherty was President, as 'manager'. This document (Exhibit 10-A) does not contain any provisions for a rematch. Plaintiff's explanation is that he did not expect such a provision in a contract between a promoter and plaintiff's manager and, therefore, did not insist upon the provision in this agreement. Ahlquist, plaintiff claims, was acting in two capacities. He urges that by Ahlquist's telegram of July 18th accepting all of the terms contained in the letter of June 7th, defendant had already agreed to the rematch. Plaintiff asserts that Ahlquist was the promoter of the Swedish fight as well as Johansson's manager and agent. Defendant, on the other hand, points to this agreement as containing all of the terms agreed upon and the absence of the rematch provision as indicating that it was never consented to.

 The fight between plaintiff and defendant was scheduled to take place on September 14, 1958, in Gothenburg, Sweden. Plaintiff, has manager and party arrived in Sweden in late August 1958. It is plaintiff's contention that on the day of his arrival his manager Flaherty approached Ahlquist with the demand that the details of a proposed rematch be agreed upon and embodied in a writing. Defendant, on the other hand, introduced testimony to show that Flaherty's first demand for a rematch was made in Sweden on September 12th, two days before the fight. It is Flaherty's position that as plaintiff's agent he had reached an agreement, prior to his departure for Sweden, that there would definitely be a rematch in the event of a defeat of the plaintiff at the hands of the defendant; that only details remained to be worked out and that this was what he was attempting to do in his pursuit of Ahlquist during the days immediately preceding the September 14th match. Ahlquist, of course, denies that there was an agreement for a rematch and insists that it had been specifically rejected in his June 1958 letter. He insists that the conduct of Flaherty on the eve of the Swedish bout constituted coercion and duress; that Flaherty threatened that if a rematch provision was not promptly reduced to writing and the terms finalized, he and his fighter would leave Sweden at once and not fight Johansson. It is conceded by Flaherty that he told Ahlquist on September 12th that there might be no fight unless a rematch agreement were signed. This, Ahlquist insists, had catastrophic implications for him since he had invested over a $ 100,000 as promoter. If the fight were cancelled it would have meant financial ruin for Ahlquist and the end of his reputation as a promoter. In any event, on September 13, 1958, a document prepared by Flaherty *fn4" was signed by Ahlquist in the room of Sidney Flaherty at the Park Avenue Hotel in Gothenburg, Sweden. The document was witnessed by Olof Ahlsted, a Swedish lawyer, who represented Mr. Ahlquist, and Sven Holmberg.

 On September 14, 1958, the fight was held between plaintiff and the defendant, resulting in the surprise knock-out of the plaintiff by the defendant in the first round. As a result of his dramatic victory over Machen, Johansson was immediately thrust into a position of prominence in the boxing world. The November 1958 issue of Ring Magazine stated that, as of September 16, 1958, Johansson was the number one ranked contender, and Machen number five. The National Boxing Association ratings listed Johansson as second and Machen as fifth. On January 29, 1959, after months of negotiations between Johansson, Ahlquist, promoter Rosensohn and Cus D'Amato, manager for Floyd Patterson, an agreement was signed for a match between Patterson and Johansson. These negotiations began the day after Johansson's victory.

 Defendant has refused to honor the alleged agreement for a rematch and to recognize the document of September 13th on several grounds: (1) He contends that Ahlquist was never his agent, actual or apparent, and was never given authority to sign this agreement in his behalf, and that Flaherty had been specifically informed that defendant would not agree to a rematch; (2) that the agreement was obtained by coercion and duress; (3) that the agreement for a rematch in void and unenforceable for lack of consideration and is further invalid because its terms are indefinite and uncertain. Other grounds are urged, such as the inability of the International Boxing Club, named in the document of September 13th as the promoter of the rematch, to perform because of its dissolution pursuant to a decree of Judge Ryan in an anti-trust suit brought against it. United States v. International Boxing Club, D.C., 150 F.Supp. 397; 171 F.Supp. 841; 358 U.S. 242, 79 S. Ct. 245, 3 L. Ed. 2d 270.

 As I have already stated, plaintiff seeks drastic relief by his prayer for an injunction restraining the defendant from engaging in the boxing match with Floyd Patterson now scheduled for June 25th and for a continuance of this injunction until Johansson shall have engaged with the plaintiff in a rematch. I am convinced that the applicable law prevents me, in the light of the facts in this case, from granting the equitable relief sought by the plaintiff. Furthermore, even if such relief could be granted, I would deny the injunction in the exercise of my discretion. I, therefore, find it unnecessary to determine whether Ahlquist had actual or apparent authority to enter into the September writing on behalf of Johansson or to agree to any provisions for a rematch in his behalf. Likewise it becomes unnecessary to decide whether the document of September 13th was extracted by duress or coercion or whether it was based on adequate consideration.

 By reason of this disposition it follows also that any alleged violation of Judge Ryan's decree or assertion of a conspiracy to violate the Sherman Act, 15 U.S.C.A. §§ 1-7, 15 note, need not be dealt with. In short, I make no findings or conclusions concerning the validity of the writing of September 13, 1958, or the enforceability of any part of that writing except the negative covenant contained in paragraph 5 thereof.

 Meaning of the Negative Covenant.

 Even were I to assume that the writing of September 13, 1958, constitutes a valid agreement between Machen and Johansson for a return fight in the event of Machen's defeat in the September 14, 1958, fight, I would be compelled to ...


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