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1970s / ESPN Reveals 1973 King-Riggs Match was Fixed
Confirming many people's suspicions that have lingered for 40 years, an expose on ESPN.com this week showed strong evidence that Bobby Riggs deliberately lost his famous Battle of the Sexes tennis match to Billie Jean King as a way to erase his gambling debts with organized crime. The 55-year-old Riggs had throttled Margaret Court, the world's top female tennis player, in a televised match on Mother's Day 1973 6-2, 6-1. Four months later King, the defending Wimbledon champion, beat Riggs in surprisingly easy fashion 6-4, 6-3, 6-3 before a big TV audience and more than 30,000 fans at the Houston Astrodome--despite being a 5-2 underdog at Las Vegas sports books. When one views the Riggs-King match with a critical eye, Riggs played passively and listlessly--not remotely the same way he played against Court in May. Riggs' shots were soft and usually placed directly at King. Riggs, the 1939 men's Wimbledon champion, whose serve was impeccably accurate, also double-faulted at four critical points in the match--including set point in the first set. Several all-time male tennis legends, including Don Budge who achieved the Grand Slam in 1938, expressed doubts about the honesty of the match, but their doubts were dismissed as wounded male pride at the time. According to the ESPN story, Riggs was anywhere from $100,000 to $500,000 in debt to the mob. A witness, now 79, who was close to the mob, told ESPN he had overheard the discussions regarding the fix. Riggs came up with a two-part plan: In exchange for having his gambling debts expunged, Riggs would goad Court into a TV match with sexist comments knowing full well he could beat her soundly. He would then purposely lose to King as a way for the mob to make a killing in wagers on King at long odds. Riggs died in 1995 at age 77. King was among the last people to speak to him.