A few months back, when I was swatting away the absolutely absurd notion that Brittney Griner could play in the NBA, I snarked, “Then again, Billie Jean King did beat a 55-year-old former pro that one time, so maybe Griner will totes fit into the NBA.”
But even that bit of credit was unwarranted, apparently. Because it turns out the infamous battle of the sexes—in which the 30-year-old King routed the 55-year-old Bobby Riggs—wasn’t a legit match. Allegedly, the fix was in:
Ragano explained that Riggs “had the first match already in the works … and the second match he knew would follow because of Billie Jean King’s popularity and everything that it would be kind of a slam dunk to get her to play him bragging about beating Margaret Court,” Shaw says Ragano told the men. Shaw also says he heard Ragano mention an unidentified mob man in Chicago who would help engineer the proposed fix.
“Mr. Ragano was emphatic,” Shaw recalls. “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, but Riggs pledged he’d “make it appear that it was on the up and up.” …
Finally, Shaw says, the men asked about Riggs’ price for the fix. “Ragano says, ‘Well, he’s going to [get] peanuts compared to what we’re going to make out of this, so he has asked for his debt to be erased.’” Riggs “has also asked for a certain amount of money to be discussed later to be put in a bank account for him in England,” Ragano told the men, according to Shaw.
After nearly an hour, the four men stood up, shook hands and agreed they’d move forward with Riggs’ proposal, Shaw says.
The story is filled with fascinating nuggets. Like JVL, I hadn’t realized that Riggs trounced—just absolutely crushed, in straight sets, giving up only three games over two sets—Margaret Court, then the most dominant* women’s player in the world, just a few months before playing King. Whereas he trained long and hard for the exhibition against Court, he slacked off before going to battle with Billie Jean. Riggs’ son was so angry with his lackadaisical approach he apparently wagered on King to win—and he wasn’t even in on the fix.
Anyway, you should read the whole (long) piece. It’s fascinating from start to finish.
*Court at the time was the number one female player in the world and had won 18 of her last 25 tournaments.