DID BOBBY RIGGS intentionally lose his epic tennis match against Billie Jean King to pay off gambling debts to the mafia?

An ESPN "Outside The Lines" report quotes a source as saying that Riggs, who died in October 1995, fixed the 1973 "Battle of the Sexes" match he lost to King.

It has long been speculated that the match was, you'll excuse the expression, "rigged." But now there is, apparently, an ear-witness.

Hal Shaw, a former assistant golf pro, told OTL that 41 years ago he secretly overheard mobsters at a Tampa, Fla., country club discuss the deal. The 79-year-old Shaw claims Tampa mob boss Santo Trafficante Jr., lawyer Frank Ragano and New Orleans don Carlos Marcello talked about Riggs throwing the match in order to erase more than $100,000 in gambling debts.

"There are certain things in my life that I have to talk about, have to get off my chest," Shaw told OTL. "It's been 40 years, OK, and I've carried this with me for 40 years . . . I wanted to make sure, if possible, I could set the record straight - let the world know that this was not what it seemed to be."

Shaw said he overheard Ragano say that "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]."

Riggs, then 55, beat Court, who was 30 and the top-ranked female player at the time, in the "Battle of the Sexes I" in May of 1973. Four months later he lost to then-29-year-old King in BOTS II.

King, who believes she beat Riggs fair and square, has her own theory on why people think the match was fixed.

"People who were unhappy - guys who lost money," she told OTL, "and a lot of people, men, particularly, don't like it if a woman wins. They don't like it. They make up stories. They start just thinking about it more and more. It's hard on them. It's very hard on their egos."