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Battle of Sexes win for Billie Jean 'fixed by Mafia'

BY JON SWAINE

It was hailed as a landmark victory for women in tennis. But Billie Jean King's defeat of Bobby Riggs in 1973's 'Battle of the Sexes' was fixed by Riggs to settle debts with the mob, it has been alleged.

Despite being 55 and retired, Riggs was expected to handily beat King, then 29 and the sport's number two-ranked woman, in a special event watched by a 30,000-strong crowd in Houston, Texas.

He had already easily defeated Margaret Court, the top-ranked woman in tennis at the time, earlier that same year in a match in Ramona, California.

Instead, he lost the $100,000 match 6-4, 6-3, 6-3.

Dismissing early sceptics, he said later: "Billie Jean beat me fair and square," adding he underestimated his fellow American.

Now, however, Hal Shaw, who was at the time working as a golf instructor in Florida, has offered new evidence that the match was indeed thrown.

Mr Shaw told ESPN he overheard Frank Ragano, a renowned mob attorney, discussing the match-fixing plan with the crime bosses Santo Trafficante Jnr and Carlos Marcello at his golf club.

"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' against King," he said.

Mr Shaw said the mobsters made clear Riggs wanted his substantial gambling debts with them paid off in return for throwing the game, which would allow them to place a lucrative bet.

"Ragano said 'He asked for his debt to be erased'," Mr Shaw said.

Riggs died in October 1995 at the age of 77. His son Larry told ESPN his father knew people involved with the Mafia and that it was "possible" he discussed throwing the match.

But King dismissed the claims. "A lot of people, men particularly, don't like it if a woman wins. They make up stories," she said.

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