Category Archives: Boxing Articles

“The Brain Of A Boxer”, Documentary Available April 6th

The Brain Of A Boxer
This Very Important Documentary
Available On Amazon, ITunes, and Google Play April 6th

A year and a half ago I had the opportunity to view Unforgotten: The Story Of Paul Pender at the Boston Film Festival has won numerous awards. The movie, directed by Felice Leeds, looks at the life of former Middleweight Champion Paul Pender, and included rare footage of Paul’s career along with much interesting commentary. More importantly, it took an in-depth view of the toll repeated trauma to the the head took on the former champ’s brain. The movie has now been released to the public and is available at Amazon, iTunes, and Google Play. It has been renamed The Brain Of A Boxer. The new title, along with its broad availability, will, I hope, ensure this important film receives a wide viewership.

When Paul Pender died in 2003 after suffering years from symptoms of dementia, it was concluded the cause of death was due to Alzheimer’s disease. It wasn’t until his courageous widow Rose allowed research to be done on his brain that it was found that he had not been suffering from Alzheimer’s, but rather it was Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) that caused the deterioration in Paul’s brain and eventually led to his death. Furthermore, this damage very possibly began during his days playing high school football.

Paul Pender

Much has been learned about CTE in recent years. Lawsuits reaching into the billions of dollars have been filed against the NFL by families of football players suffering from this horrible, and very preventable, disease. Public awareness is growing about the injuries being inflicted on the young participants who engage in contact sports. More parents are less inclined to allow their children to play football our climb into a boxing ring because of the high risk of brain damage involved in such participation. However, the public still has a desire to view these sports and is willing to pay huge sums of money to do so, and as long as the money is there people will be enticed to take up these professions.

In The Brain Of A Boxer you will learn much about the causes of and the research being done about CTE. Most of us assume brain damage is caused by serious concussions which usually result in unconsciousness. However, research has shown how even minor hits to the head, especially when received by young adults and children, causes damage. It is very important for parents to be aware of the dangers involved in many of the sports their children are participating in, and to find alternatives for them. Learning the competitive spirit and having children challenge themselves physically is a very important part of growing up, but having a brain that is injured beyond repair is not worth the price of that experience.

In making The Brain Of A Boxer, Felice Leeds has included interviews with many people from the world of boxing as well as from medical circles. Hearing from those who knew Paul Pender gives us insight into the man. Paul hardly fit the stereotype of the boxer as is seen in so many Hollywood movies. He had a deep intellect and a love for language. It would have been no surprise had he followed a different path in life, such as becoming a college professor.

Former boxers, boxing experts, and friends of Pauls such as former Champ Tony DeMarco, Joe DeNucci, historians Dan Cuoco and Mike Silver, former amateur boxing star Richard Torsney, sportswriter Bud Collins, and Richard Johnson the curator of the Sports Museum in Boston all bring their memories of Paul Pender to life. He was a complicated and interesting man.

Dr. Ann KcKee

For the medical perspective we hear from Dr. Ann McKee who’s tireless research on CTE has done so much to shed light on this terrible problem. Dr. McKee was recently named Bostonian of the Year by the Boston Globe. She has been studying the brains of deceased athletes for a number of years and the results of her findings are stunning. It has been learned that CTE can show up in the brains of athletes at a very young age. It is a progressive disease that gets worse with time and has no cure. It is also a very preventable disease. By no longer allowing athletes to receive trauma to the head the disease can be eliminated from sports.

Rose Pender

Ms Leeds describes Rose Pender, the widow of Paul, as the true hero in this story. It was Rose who made the very difficult decision to allow her husband’s brain to be used for research. Paul Pender’s brain was the first to be studied. If not for the actions of this very courageous woman research into CTE may have been delayed for years.

The Brain Of A Boxer is a very interesting and important film. For those who love boxing there is much to enjoy. The archival footage is just amazing. Hearing the voice of Paul Pender as he talks about the dark side of boxing is eye opening. Also, for those of us who have loved boxing all of our lives, it forces us to confront some very difficult realities. Is the pleasure we get from watching athletes inflict head injuries on each other really something we should accept? Is it time to rethink how we view contact sports? And just maybe we should ask ourselves, would we allow our sons and daughters to take part in sports that can cause such serious damage to their brains? If the answer is no, than we have to deal with the question of allowing others to do so.

The Brain Of A Boxer is an important contribution to the discussion surrounding these issues. It is an excellent film, well crafted and fascinating to watch.

Richard Johnson, the curator of the Sports Museum in Boston, best described it. I believe he was quoting Paul Pender when he said “It is a full day if you have laughed and cried.” This documentary will make you do both.

Tony DeMarco and Felice Leeds

Many thanks to Felice Leeds for making this film. I urge everyone to see it now that they have the chance. It will make you laugh and cry. And I hope it will make you think about the price so many athletes pay for entertaining us.

The Brain Of a Boxer
Directed By Felice Leeds
Available at iTunes, Amazon, and Google Play
For more information go to:
http://facebook.com/unforgottenchamp

Book Review: “Murderers’ Row: In Search of Boxing’s Greatest Outcasts”

By Springs Toledo

Foreword by Eddie Muller

Tora Book Publishing, 297 Pages

Reviewed by Mike Silver

“It was midnight when eighteen-year old Archie Moore jumped off a freight train at Poplar Bluff, Missouri. He ran four blocks to catch a truck that was to bring him back to Civilian Conservation Corps camp 3760. It was the summer of 1935….” So begins Murderers’ Row: In Search of Boxing’s Greatest Outcasts by Springs Toledo. To say that this book is just about the lives of eight of the greatest boxers to never win a world title is like saying John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath is just about a poor family in Depression era America. Springs Toledo has written not only a terrific boxing yarn, but an important social and historical document as well.

“To say this book is just about the lives of eight of the greatest boxers to never win a world title is like saying John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath is just about a poor family in Depression era America.”

Imagine you are the world’s greatest pianist but the powers that control the concert world will never let you play Carnegie Hall no matter how many great reviews and accolades you receive. Now imagine you are the top rated contender in the toughest and most brutal of all sports but no matter what you accomplish you are denied your ultimate goal—the opportunity to fight for a world championship. That was the situation for eight extraordinarily talented black professional boxers: Charley Burley, Holman Williams, Lloyd Marshall, Eddie Booker, Bert Lytell, Aaron “Little Tiger” Wade, Jack Chase and The Cocoa Kid. At various times during the late 1930s and through most of the 1940s they were all top rated contenders in several weight divisions. Yet not one of the reigning world champions would get into the ring with them. They were denied a shot at the title for reasons that included race, economics and the mob.

In this masterfully crafted and thoroughly researched paean to eight largely forgotten ring greats we not only learn about the amazing athletic achievements of these gifted artists, but also how their futile attempts to land a well-deserved title shot impacted their lives and the lives of their families.

Eddie Booker

In the early decades of the last century boxing was the only major professional sport that was open to African-American athletes. It was also one of the few professions that gave blacks access to the type of wealth and fame that would have been unthinkable a generation earlier. For the poorest segments of society boxing was seen as a way to escape poverty and attain riches and fame. Nevertheless, the black man’s status as a second class citizen was a burden that extended into the sport of boxing as it did everywhere else. Racism played its part but so did economics. If someone offers a champion enough dough to risk his title against a tough challenger you’ve got a match—most of the time. But if there is a good chance a popular champion will lose his title to a fighter who is less of a drawing card—and many a top black fighter did not have the same following as a popular but less talented white champion—a promoter would be less inclined to put on the match. Yet, as Toledo points out, sometimes even the right price was still not enough to entice a champion into the ring with these dark destroyers.

It was common knowledge that having the right “connections” could help ease the way to a title shot. A mob managed boxer had a better chance at lucrative matches in major arenas than an independent. Realizing that their only chance to secure a title fight involved handing over their careers to the organized crime figures who controlled big time boxing, a few decided to go that route. But in making a bargain with the devil these proud warriors paid a heavy price that included being ordered to throw fights.

“Abused and cheated and unable to make a decent living, some turned to drink, further eroding their spirit and their skills”.

Toledo takes the reader behind the scenes and reveals the sordid underbelly of boxing. Abused and cheated and unable to make a decent living, some turned to drink, further eroding their spirit and their skills. Most poignant is the story of The Cocoa Kid (real name Lewis Hardwick). He was the son of a Puerto Rican mother of Spanish descent and an African American father. The Cocoa Kid had over 246 professional fights. For eighty-one months between 1933 and 1947, he was a top contender in the lightweight, welterweight, and middleweight divisions. No champion dared face him in his prime, not Barney Ross, not Henry Armstrong. By the late 1950s Cocoa was wandering Times Square, homeless and suffering from dementia. Admitted to a hospital, he didn’t know who he was. Fingerprints sent to the Navy (he was a veteran) identified him. He died alone and forgotten on December 2, 1966.

Cocoa Kid

The other stories are just as compelling, if not as tragic. Aaron “Little Tiger” Wade, least known of the group, was for a time rated the third best middleweight in the world. A squat 5’5” powerhouse he defeated Archie Moore, Cocoa Kid and Bert Lytell. Faced with the pressure to throw fights he became a bit unstable and battled alcoholism for much of his career, sometimes fighting when drunk. Wade’s story ends well. In his mid-40s he became a born again Christian, stopped drinking, reunited with his family and took a full time job at the Gallo Wine warehouse (a job that certainly tested his resolve). He also began studying for the ministry, eventually opening a store front church in the Fillmore district of San Francisco that served the poor of his community.

“All told, Marshall and the other Murderers’ Row contingent defeated a dozen future and former champions from featherweight to heavyweight no less than 17 times.”

Lloyd Marshall, one of the most feared fighters of his era, whipped Jake La Motta, Joey Maxim and Ezzard Charles—three future champions at middleweight, light heavyweight, and heavyweight. All told, Marshall and the other Murderers’ Row contingent defeated a dozen future and former champions from featherweight to heavyweight no less than 17 times.

What makes this book such an enjoyable experience to read is Toledo’s descriptive and colorful writing style. He not only knows his boxing history, he understands the nuances of boxing technique. In his segment on Charley Burley, who many consider the best of the golden eight, he writes: “Charley Burley’s style was as complex as tax law. An uncanny sense of timing and distance allowed him to find blind spots and he would often leap into shots that carried enough force to anesthetize anyone, including full blown heavyweights.”

Charley Burley

Burley tried for years to get a shot at Sugar Ray Robinson’s welter or middleweight titles. Robinson, along with Joe Louis and Henry Armstrong, had proved to be the exception to the rule. These great black fighters managed the rare accomplishment of becoming cross over stars whose extreme popularity cut across racial lines. No doubt if someone offered enough money to Ray he would have complied, but it would have taken more than a small fortune to entice him into the ring against as formidable a challenger as Burley.
Since they were so often dodged by the top contenders and champions the best way for the elite eight to keep active and earn a payday was to fight each other as often as possible. And fight each other they did!—no less than 62 times. “It was a frenzy”, writes Toledo, “a free-for-all, a battle royal from the bad old days.” They matched up so evenly that a win in one fight could not guarantee the same result in a rematch. In the words of boxing scribe Jim Murray, who witnessed many of these classic encounters, they “put on better fights in tank towns than champions did in Yankee Stadium.”

The last of the Murderers’ Row had his final fight in 1951. Eventually their names drifted off into obscurity. As Springs Toledo points out, they would have remained mostly forgotten if not for Archie Moore. The wonderful “Old Mongoose” would have been counted as a Murderers’ Row member had he not won the light heavyweight title in 1952, at the age of 36, in his 171st pro fight. During the long and frustrating road to a title shot Moore was exposed to more than his share of boxing’s corruption and injustices. He knew that fate had been kinder to him than his former Murderers’ Row opponents.

“They would have remained mostly forgotten if not for Archie Moore.”

It is to Moore’s credit that he resurrected their names out of sympathy and respect. Beginning in the 1960s, whenever he was interviewed about his own remarkable career, Moore made it a point to mention them by name. Although he couldn’t correct the injustices done to them, he could at least make the world aware of their greatness. After all, who would know that better than Archie Moore? All eight were good enough to fight on even terms or better against him.

It was Budd Schulberg who first referred to several of the elite eight (in addition to other notable black fighters) as “That murderer’s row of Negro middleweights carefully avoided by title holders” in an article for Esquire in 1962. Since then authors Alan Rosenfeld and Harry Otty have given us two outstanding biographies of Charley Burley. And now thanks to Spring Toledo’s contribution the story of the Murderers’ Row is complete. “Consider me something of a private investigator”, he writes, “inspired by the memories of Archie Moore and hired by ghosts.” I have no doubt those ghosts are very pleased with the result.

Mike Silver is the author of The Arc of Boxing: The Rise and Decline of the Sweet Science and Stars in the Ring: Jewish Champions in the Golden Age of Boxing.  All are available at Amazon.com

 

Rest In Peace Joey Giambra

Former Great Middleweight Contender
Passes At The Age Of 87

By Bobby Franklin

Joey Giambra

To realize what a master boxer Joey Giambra was all you had to do was look at his face after he retired. Giambra, who passed away on March 2nd, didn’t have a mark on him and still retained his Hollywood leading man good looks. He had fought many of the top contenders of his day during his 77 bout career and was never knocked out. In fact, he only lost ten fights with five of those losses coming in his last eight fights as his career was winding down. His last fight took place in Boston where he lost a disputed ten round decision to local favorite Joe DeNucci. Giambra took the fight on 24 hour notice filling in for Joey Archer who had been injured.

Joey Giambra’s record reads like a who’s who of the middleweight division in the 1950s. He went undefeated in his first 17 fights before losing a decision to the very experienced Johnny Cesario in 1951.

Joey was right back the next month defeating Albert Adams and went on to score ten straight victories before dropping a decision to future champ Joey Giardello. Giambra would come back less than a month later to beat Giardello. The two would have to wait until 1958 to have a rubber match in which Giambra took the decision.

Joey Giambra was an artist in the ring. He was an excellent defensive boxer who could also mix it up in close. He had an accurate left hook that he could deliver to the head as well as the body. His right hand was like a laser. Hitting him with a clean shot was next to impossible.

Joey Giambra and Billy Martin

In 1962 when Joey was past his prime he was nothing short of magnificent in taking the hard punching Florentino Fernadez apart, stopping him in the 7th round. If you want to see the bull vs the matador, watch that fight.

Giambra fought both at a distance and in close, beating Fernadez to the punch time after time, finally busting up Florentino so badly and breaking his nose, that the referee would not let him answer the bell for the 8th round.

Other names on Joey’s record were Carl Bobo Olson, Bobby Dykes, Yama Bahama, Rocky Castellani, Gil Turner, Chico Vejar, Rory Calhoun, and Ralph Jones.

With so many victories and possessing such talent the question to be asked is why did he never get a shot at the middleweight title? It turns out Joey was a straight shooter and he wouldn’t play ball with the mob. In an interview he gave to the L.A. Times in 1989 Giambra tells the story of what happened: “Jim Norris who ran the Garden then, liked me and wanted me to get rid of my manager, Mike Scanlon, and give me one of his guys as my manager. I said I wouldn’t do it. Norris looked at me and said, ‘You’re a nice kid, Joey, but you’re naive.’ I didn’t say anything because I didn’t know what naive meant.” That pretty much sealed his fate when it came to ever fighting for the title.

Joey Giardello and Joey Giamba

Joey had movie star good looks and many thought he could have had a career in Hollywood. It turns out he did have an appearance in a major motion picture. He was fighting in Reno in 1960 and Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe were at ringside. Gable took notice of hm and the next day sent a guy to find Joey and had him play a small part in the movie “The Misfits”. Giambra got $1,000.00 for saying “Hey you”.

Giambra was born and raised in Buffalo, NY and later settled in Las Vegas where he worked as a blackjack dealer and later drove cab. He had a son and a daughter and after his wife ran off he raised both children himself, doing a fine job with them. Joey also worked with a foundation that helped keep elementary school kids off drugs. He stayed fit and active until he had a stroke at the age of 78. Joey was always a clean liver and a great example for how to live life the right way.

Joey Giambra, Boxing’s Elder Statesman

Joey Giambra was a man of integrity and great decency. He never sold out his principles and he never became bitter. He was also one of the most gifted boxers to ever lace on a pair of gloves.

Rest in Peace Joey, you were truly the Uncrowned Champ.

Clay vs Liston 1

Will We Ever Know What Really Happened?

By Bobby Franklin

On February 25, 1964 the young upstart Cassius Clay stepped into the ring in Miami Beach, Florida to take on Sonny Liston for the Heavyweight Championship of the World. The fight took place just three months after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and, like the Kennedy assassination, it has sparked many theories about what really happened.

Clay went into the fight undefeated but as a 7 to 1 underdog which was no surprise, Liston had won the title with a devastating knock out of Floyd Patterson and just a year later he had repeated the victory in the same manner.

MIAMI, FL – FEBRUARY 25, 1964: Sonny Liston (L) throws a punch at Cassius Clay (R) in a World Heavyweight Title fight February 25, 1964 at Convention Hall in Miami, Florida.(Photo by Focus On Sport/Getty Images)

In Clay’s two previous fights leading up to the title shot he had won a very close decision over Doug Jones and stopped Henry Cooper on cuts. In the Cooper fight Clay was dropped by a left hook thrown by Henry and if the bell had not rung just as he got up may have been kayoed. Neither of these two opponents would have ever been confused with Sonny Liston.

There were some sportswriters who not only didn’t give Cassius a chance, they feared he could be killed by Sonny. But then the unthinkable happened; Cassius Clay “Shook up the world” when Liston quit while sitting on his stool after the 6th round. This was stunnung, and immediately the cries of the fight being fixed rang out.

How on Earth could this loudmouth 22 year kid have made the unbeatable Sonny Liston give up the title by quitting? You have to remember, Liston was not only the Heavyweight Champion but also the scariest and meanest man on the planet. His awesome power and baleful stare sent chills down the spines of not only his opponents but of almost anyone who was in his presence. To the public in1964 this outcome just didn’t make sense.

Why would Sonny Liston quit and give up the most valuable prize in all of sports? Nobody could know for sure and Sonny wasn’t talking other than to say he hurt his shoulder.

190.tif

One theory has it that Liston had bet a huge amount of money on himself and had planned to lose a fifteen round decision to Clay, but when it appeared Clay was going to quit after the fifth round Liston figured he had better hang it up first or he was going to lose his bet. Liston also knew there was a clause calling for a rematch in the event he lost.

It seems unlikely Liston could have wagered enough money on himself that it would have benefited him more than having the heavyweight title. Perhaps the mob had gotten to him and pressured him to quit. That’s possible too, but it doesn’t explain one thing, the reason Clay wanted to quit.

After the 4th round Cassius came back to his corner and complained to his trainer Angelo Dundee that he had something in his eyes that was burning and he couldn’t see. He told Angelo to cut off the gloves. Dundee washed his eyes out and pushed Clay out for the 5th round. Clay, still not able to see, got on his bicycle and danced around the ring keeping his distance from Sonny. Sonny couldn’t or wouldn’t lay a glove on him. Cassius survived the round and in the fifth he was back on track and was hitting Sonny with beautiful left jabs that were causing Liston’s face to swell.

The fact that Sonny’s corner may have put a substance on the champion’s gloves should dispel the theory that Liston went into the fight planning to lose. I recently spoke to boxing historian Mike Silver about this. Mike has written a very good article about the controversy over the gloves entitled “Foul Play In Philly” where he compares what happened in Miami in 1964 to a similar situation that occurred when Rocky Marciano was fighting Jersey Joe Walcott for the title. Marciano was also blinded for a number of rounds during that fight. Rocky was always convinced Walcott’s cornermen had put a substance on his gloves. It is also believed the same thing happened when Liston fought Eddie Machen. It is called juicing the gloves.

I told Mike his article proves once and for all Liston did not throw throw the fight. “Not necessarily” Mike responded, “What if the people in Liston’s corner didn’t know Sonny was throwing the fight?” This would be the “Lone Gunman Theory”. Liston could have made a deal on his own with the mob, and the less people who know about such a deal, the less likely it would be found out. Knowing Sonny’s background this is very plausible.

Another camp posits that Liston quit because he had been threatened by the Black Muslims and he feared he would be shot if he won. This one could be listed as the “Grassy Knoll Theory” where a gunman is hiding somewhere in the crowd waiting to assassinate Sonny if things don’t turn out as planned. Again, given Sonny’s background dealing with mobsters, this also is somewhat believable.

So, what do I think happened? I used to believe the theory that Liston was going to planning on losing a 15 decision to Clay but then quit when he thought Cassius was going to. I no longer agree with that. The way the fight was going I doubt Liston would have made it the full fifteen rounds. He was tiring and the swelling under his left eye was getting worse. Liston had only a total of less than six rounds of action in the ring since 1961 and only less then two rounds since 1962. He was also confident he could easily beat Clay so he did not train hard for the fight. Meanwhile, Cassius Clay was in superb shape and he had been very active. He had 17 fights since 1961 and a total of 91 rounds of action. Quite a difference.

Clay was also pumped for this fight while Liston wasn’t. Clay’s confidence, or possibly fear, put all of his defensive mechanisms on high alert. His adrenalin was flowing and that made his already amazing reflexes all that much sharper. Put this all together and the outcome does not seem as implausible as many believed. Sonny was ripe for the taking that night and Clay had the tools to do it.

I’ll save the Magic Bullet Theory for when I write about the rematch.

Greb And The Southpaws

Having Fun With Boxing Lore

By Bobby Franklin

I have always maintained boxing is an addiction that is all but impossible to recover from. Once it is in your blood there is no getting rid of it. This applies to those who have actually competed (Once a boxer, always a boxer), or to those who get caught up in its very rich history.

Harry Greb

It is no secret baseball fans are sticklers for statistics, and boxing isn’t quite the numbers game that the American Past Time is. But in many ways the Sweet Science is even more fascinating when you start digging into the records of those who once made it great sport.

It seems like hardly a week goes by when I get a call, or I call, a fellow boxing aficionado and we share some new fact or oddity we have just learned. Sometimes these little known factoids just pop into our heads as if some enchanted muse of boxing has whispered to us. It is great fun to share these thoughts, and just about always the response is “Wow! I never thought of that”, or “That’s really amazing”.

By now I think we have amassed enough material to put together a game of Trivial Pursuit dedicated solely to boxing. We could also supply enough items to the TV show Jeopardy to keep them going with “Boxing” as a weekly category for years.

While a lot of these facts may not exactly excite the non boxing fan, they certainly prove to be great fun for those of us who are really into the history of the sport.

I have shared some of these in the past, and this week I want to offer up another.

Johnny Wilson

Harry Greb is considered by just about all boxing historians to have been one of the greatest fighters of all time. A few even rank him at the top of the list. Unfortunately, no film of him in action is known to exist, but just taking one look at his record is enough to confirm his being listed as great.

The other day I was thinking about Greb and the man from whom he won the title, my friend the late Johnny Wilson. I remembered talking with Johnny about their fights and how animated he would become when the name Harry Greb was mentioned even though decades had passed since they fought. I was recalling how Johnny was a southpaw and just how few middleweight champs had been southpaws. Then it hit me. Harry Greb not only won the title from a southpaw, but he lost it to one too.

The fellow who defeated him for the title was Tiger Flowers, also a leftie. As far as I have been able to determine this was the only time that a middleweight champion both won and lost the title to a left handed opponent. It may be the only time it has happened in any division.

Tiger Flowers

Is that a big deal? Not really. Does it change how we evaluate Greb’s greatness? Not at all. However, it is a lot of fun to come up with things like this, and it is a reminder about how many hidden gems there are to still uncover in boxing lore.

If you are into boxing history consider yourself an archeologist that is engaged in digging for more and more information among the ruins left behind. Grab your pick and start your search. You never know what you might find, but I’m sure you can come up with some artifact that will make the rest of us go “Wow! I didn’t know that”!

Joe Bugner

Joe Bugner
Former British Heavyweight Champ
Has Unique Accomplishment

By Bobby Franklin

Joe Bugner was born in Hungary in 1950. In 1956 during the Soviet invasion of the country his family fled to Great Britain where they settled. At school Joe excelled at sports and eventually gravitated to boxing, and after a brief amateur career he turned pro at the early age of 17. He got off to a poor start losing his first bout by a TKO in the third round.

That first loss did not discourage the young Bugner and he came back to win 18 straight, 13 by knockout. His next loss was to the more experienced American Dick Hall who won a decision over 19 year old Joe.

Again, undaunted, Bugner would go undefeated in his next 14 fights earning himself a shot against Henry Cooper for the British Empire and European Heavyweight Titles. Bugner won by the closest of decisions that was booed by the crowd, but sportswriters were mixed on who they believed the victor was. Unfortunately for Joe, it was not only the controversy over the scoring but the fact he had ended the career of the beloved Henry Cooper that caused the public to turn on him. Being the man who dethroned “Our ‘Enry” would prove a curse to him. Coupled with the fact he was not a native born Brit he would not receive the adulation he should have gotten.

Bugner was only 21 when he defeated Cooper and by that time he had already beaten such known heavyweights as Jack O’Halloran, George Johnson, Chuck Wepner, Brian London, and Eduardo Corletti.

Joe defended the European title against Jurgen Blin but lost all his titles in his next bout against Jack Bodell. Bugner was criticized for not fighting hard enough to beat the veteran, a cry that would be heard throughout his career. There is a reason many believe Joe would often back off in a fight.

In a fight earlier in his career he defeated a fighter by the name of Ulric Regis by decision. Regis collapsed after the bout and later from a brain injury. An autopsy ruled the death was from a preexisting medical condition, but the memory of that tragedy buried in his subconscious, would cause him to hold back in fights.

After the loss to Bodell, Joe came back winning ten of his next eleven fights while also regaining the European Title. This would pave the way for him to fight former champ Muhammad Ali in 1973. That year would prove to be a pretty amazing one for Bugner and it is what made him unique.

He began the year with a victory over Rudi Lubbers and then traveled to Las Vegas to take on Ali. You may remember this bout as the one where Ali wore a robe into the ring that was given to him by Elvis Presley emblazoned in jewels with the words People’s Champ. At a party given days before the fight Joe met Elvis Presley and asked him if he could get a robe as well seeing that he was also a champion. When Elvis responded by saying ”You’re no champion” Bugner told the King to ”Stuff it” and walked out.

Joe went into the Ali fight an 8 to 1 underdog but gave a very good account of himself while losing a 12 round decision. You would think it would have been time for a rest, but not for the hard working Bugner.

In his very next fight less than five months later he took on former champ Joe Frazier in England. In the tenth round Frazier dropped Joe with a left hook, but Bugner arose and hurt the former champ near the end of the round. While the decision was not in doubt, Frazier knew he was in a fight and looked the worse for wear at the end. Joe Bugner left the ring with his head held high last night. He also left going down in history as the only man to fight Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali in back to back fights.

Amazingly, Joe was not done fighting in 1973. He would close out the year with wins over Giuseppe Ros and the hard punching Mac Foster. He would continue winning bouts and earn a rematch with Ali who had by now regained the heavyweight crown. The fight took place on June 6, 1975 in Kuala Lumpur. Bugner was disappointing in this match fighting from a mostly defensive stance while losing a one sided decision. This performance further fueled the anti Bugner sentiment in England where it seemed he just could not get any respect from the fans.

At the age of just 25 he had gone the distance with Ali twice and Joe Frazier once. Taking the two former champs in the space of a few months was a truly remarkable feat, but one that is largely forgotten.

After the second loss to Ali, Bugner seemed to lose motivation. He continued fighting but at a much less hectic schedule. In many of his fights from this point on he did not appear to have the drive to again earn a title shot.

In 1986 he moved to Australia where he continued fighting as well as acting in movies. There was talk of him fighting Mike Tyson, but in 1987 after being stopped by Frank Bruno he retired. He was 37 years old at time.

He made a comeback in 1995 and won the Australian Heavyweight Title. He was victorious in 8 of his last 9 bouts before retiring for good at the age of 50 in 1999.

Joe Bugner is rarely mentioned when talk turns to the heavyweights of the 1970s, but he should not be forgotten. He had a stand up European style and possessed a very decent left jab. He could put together combinations when he wanted to. He ended his career with a very respectable record of 69 wins (41 by knockout), 13 losses, and 1 draw. He was only stopped on four occasions.

Joe should be remembered as the only man to step in the ring with Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier in consecutive bouts. The fact that he did this within a few short months of each other is truly amazing, and for this Joe Bugner deserves respect.

100 Years Gone: Remembering John L. Sullivan

By Paul Beston

“I have anchored here,” John L. Sullivan said, speaking of Donelee Ross farm in Abington, Massachusetts, “until my time comes. There is no place like home.” It was at Donelee Ross that he died 100 years ago today, February 2, 1918, of heart failure at the age of 59. Surprisingly for a man whose exploits had often led the news, Sullivan’s passing did not make the front page of the New York Times, dominated by coverage of the war in Europe, in which American soldiers, shipping out across the Atlantic in ever-growing numbers, would soon start fighting. The country that Sullivan helped define—the America of the Gilded Age, what some called the Age of Confidence—already seemed quaint and far away, its outlines receding into history. Sullivan died a nineteenth-century man at his pastoral home, far from the mechanized clamor of a nation always impatient to race into the future.

Sullivan in 1881

“It is a dollar to a nickel that he is known to more people in this country than George Washington,” the Police Gazette had written of Sullivan as late as 1905. But like almost all heroes, his memory began to fade as the years passed.

By the time I encountered Sullivan in the 1970s, browsing books on boxing at my local library, he may as well have lived in Roman times. Younger generations see a great, lauded figure from the past, and they think to the present for reference. My point of comparison back then was Muhammad Ali, the only champion I’d yet known. Ali was then in his second reign as heavyweight champion and generally regarded as the most-recognized face on the planet. He was a hard man to compete with, even for his contemporaries; all the more so for those dim figures in boxing histories, who fought only in photos, not on film. They looked frozen in antiquity by comparison, their fighting stances ponderous, their bodies less defined. They wore tights. It was as if the history of boxing mimicked the timeline of the evolution of man, a slow accretion from crawling to walking, left to right, across a foldout page. Ali stood, arms raised, at the far right. Sullivan, barely off all fours, occupied the space on the far left. Or so it seemed to my young mind then.

It would be some time before I could understand Sullivan and his world and come to appreciate his fighting accomplishments and the trajectory of his remarkable life. He was champion for ten years, from 1882 to 1892, and he lost only one match, his last, to Jim Corbett, in New Orleans, losing the heavyweight championship along with it. They fought into the 21st round, and Sullivan took a relentless battering for over an hour before finally succumbing. His greatest victory was a 75-round marathon bout against Jake Kilrain in 1889, waged with bare fists under the old London Prize Ring rules, in 100-degree Mississippi heat. That battle lasted more than two hours and took on mythic qualities almost the moment that it was over—with fans gathering up sod, pieces of ring posts, and any other sacred relic that they could find. Sullivan vs. Kilrain stands alone in the history of boxing, a real-life myth. Nothing else compares with it.

Sullivan’s idea was that his possession of the heavyweight title made him an important person, a kind of king.

Certain people have ideas about themselves, and when they live out these ideas, they create new realities. Sullivan’s idea was that his possession of the heavyweight title made him an important person, a kind of king. There was no precedent for thinking so. There had been heavyweight champions before him. They were small-time figures, toiling in an illegal sport for modest payouts, and usually slipping into obscurity (and poverty) when their fighting days were over. None were known widely to the general public or written about with such fevered interest. When Sullivan won the title in 1882, prizefighting, as it was then largely known, was illegal in every state, and the efforts that went into making and staging matches were sometimes as dramatic as the matches themselves. When Sullivan left the ring, the sport remained broadly illegal, but his matches had been covered nationally and internationally; he had been to the White House; he had been the subject of literature, song, and art; he had made “the heavyweight championship of the world” (though he was not recognized overseas) into a compelling—and commercial—prize; and he had identified that title with America itself.

“There isn’t a self-respecting American,” he said, “no matter what tomfool ideas he may have about boxing in general, who does not feel patriotic pride at the thought that a native born American, a countryman of his, can lick any man on the face of the earth.” Where a void had been, Sullivan left behind a world. Alas, that world included the infamous color line, which Sullivan took it upon himself to draw against black fighters, shutting them out of a chance at the title. (It would take Jack Johnson to breach the line and Joe Louis to eradicate it.)

Even as a kid, ignorantly dismissive of him as a fighter, I was struck by Sullivan as a character. His story leapt off those musty library pages. He did everything on a grand scale: traveling, boasting, eating, drinking (especially drinking), and spending. He estimated later in life that he had earned about $1 million and squandered all of it. His famous boast, “I can lick any sonofabitch alive!” became an archetypal fighting man’s motto. It lingers today, as does “Shake the hand that shook the hand of the Great John L.!” a line that originated in a vaudeville song and became emblematic of the adulation so many Americans, especially men, had for him.

When I was working on The Boxing Kings, one of my brothers asked me where the book would begin. With John L. Sullivan, I said. Many years had passed since that name had come up in conversation between us. My brother thought for a moment and then, as if pulling the phrase from the mists, said: “Let me shake the hand that shook the hand of John L.—that’s him, right?” That’s him.

 

***

In 1905, the 47-year-old Sullivan was 13 years past his championship years and well into a second career as a touring stage personality—but he was also deeply mired in the alcoholism that scarred so much of his life: it had wrecked a marriage and several friendships, got him into scrapes with the law, cost him half a million dollars by his own estimation, nearly killed him more than once, and left behind him a long trail of terrible behavior. Now, sitting in a hotel bar in Terre Haute, Indiana, Sullivan drained a glass of champagne (ale, in other accounts) into a cuspidor and vowed never again to take another drink—and never did, amazing his friends and more importantly, laying the foundation for a new life. He became a temperance lecturer. A few years later, he married a childhood friend, Kate Harkins, and they settled on their humble estate, Donelee Ross— its name an amalgamation of their Irish ancestral origins—and farmed, among other things, potatoes. After Kate died in 1916, Sullivan took in an orphan boy, William Kelly, and at the time of his death seemed to be preparing to adopt him. By all accounts, he doted on the boy, who was left parent-less, again, by his passing. Sullivan was also adored by the children of Abingdon, whom he regaled with stories while letting them play on the farm. He gave generously to charity. Thus Sullivan, who had been as notorious as he was famous during his fighting days, died a cherished old lion, revered in a way not unlike Ebenezer Scrooge after his ghostly visitations. “I have seen it all,” he said, and he had—and perhaps had attained some measure of redemption, too.

The arc of Sullivan’s life and career would be recreated by some of his heavyweight successors, in addition to becoming a kind of celebrity template: rise, fall, rebirth. But for all its familiarity, the model has a timeless lesson: one is never counted out unless he counts himself out. A century after Sullivan poured out that last glass of booze, Mike Tyson began traveling a redemptive path of his own. The stages of his life and career had resembled Sullivan’s: spectacular, iconic success; decline, fall, and descent into caricature; reclamation. Like Sullivan, Tyson left much wreckage behind him and had battled the demon of substance abuse; like Sullivan, he found an anchor in a later marriage; and like Sullivan, he wound up on stage, giving his testimony. Not everyone buys this reformed Tyson, but few would describe him as the same man who served a three-year prison term for rape or bit off part of Evander Holyfield’s ear.

All the heavyweight champions had to start over in some form or another when their fighting days were done. Some of their transformations, like George Foreman’s, or, more somberly, Muhammad Ali’s, were dramatic, others more ordinary. The courses they took illustrated in different ways that the qualities that make champions—determination, will, and the capacity to envision something that others may not see—can be applied outside the ring as well, for more enduring purposes.

 

****

John L. Sullivan was buried in Old Calvary Cemetery (now Mount Calvary Cemetery) in Roslindale, beside Kate. “He was an old and valued friend, and I mourn his death,” Theodore Roosevelt said. It had been such a bitter winter, and the day of the funeral itself was so frigid, that the ground had to be dynamited to make room for his body—a parting touch he would surely have cherished. “Never has the American prize ring had such a character as Sullivan,” the New York Times observed, “and never again will the fighting game produce another man who will stamp his personality on the world of pugilism as the blunt, gray, old philosopher of Donelee Farm.” One hundred years have passed now, and great and memorable champions have come and gone to challenge that judgment. But John L. is father to them all.

Paul Beston is managing editor of City Journal and author of The Boxing Kings: When American Heavyweights Ruled the Ring.

 

Neeno! Neeno!

Neeno! Neeno!
Fifty Years Ago Nino Benvenuti
Arrived In America

By Bobby Franklin

On April 17, 1967 Nino Benvenuti stepped into the ring at Madison Square Garden to challenge Emile Griffith for the Middleweight Championship of the World. This would only be the third time Nino had fought outside of his native Italy and would be his first appearance in the United States. He brought a record of 71 wins in 72 fights with him. Twenty-nine of his victories were via knockout.

Nino Benvenuti

While it was not unusual for European fighters to arrive in the States with outstanding records on paper, many of the opponents they had would be viewed as being of questionable talent and lacking in motivation. With Benvenuti this wasn’t the case.

In the 1960 Olympics Nino had won a Gold Medal in the welterweight division. He was voted outstanding boxer in the games beating out a young American boxer by the name of Cassius Clay for that honor. Of course, the Olympic games that year were held in Rome, but by all accounts Nino was deserving of the recognition.

It has been reported he had an amateur record of 120 wins and no losses. It is hard to verify that figure, but anything close is still quite impressive. He won numerous amateur titles.

Nino would turn pro in 1961 and begin amassing a very impressive record that led to his winning the Italian Middleweight Title in 1963. In 1965 he won the World Light Middleweight Title by defeating Sandro Mazzinghi. He would beat Mazzinghi in a rematch. In Sandro’s career he suffered only three losses in sixty-seven bouts, two of those being to Benvenuti.

Nino would stay busy in the ring defending the title and fighting non-title bouts. He defeated American Don Fullmer and in his first fight outside Italy he defended the title against Jupp Elze in Germany. His next stop would be a title defense in South Korea against Kim Ki Soo. Fighting Soo in the Korean’s hometown Nino tasted defeat for the first time losing the title. Benvenuti claimed he was robbed and that is very likely. However, instead of looking for a rematch and a chance to regain the title he decided to campaign for a shot at the World Middleweight Title.

Emile Griffith was the champion, and promoters were looking for someone exciting to match against him. Things were a bit slow in the division at that moment and Nino had wins over top contenders Mazzinghi and Fullmer. Nino also had something else going for him; personality. He was handsome and could light up a room with his smile. Combine that with his not so bad boxing abilities and you had the perfect combination for a very attractive bout. Tex Maule writing in Sports Illustrated would call Benvenuti “The best Italian import since olive oil.”

Benvenuti Decks Griffith

As Nino entered the ring for the fight he looked fit and relaxed. At 5’10” he was tall for a middleweight and he had broad shoulders. One thing that was in question was how he would adapt to fighting under American boxing rules which allowed for a lot more infighting and roughhousing than he was used to. Remember, all but one of his previous fights took place in Europe where the rules were similar to those in Olympic boxing and a fighter could be disqualified for crouching too low and going to the body too aggressively. Nino dispelled any notion that he would have a problem with the change as he came out very strong in the first round and showed that he could be every bit as rough as his his American counterparts. He fought hard in the clinches, so much so he had Emile complaining about the tactics he was using. It was clear Benvenuti was there to win and was not going to give any ground.

Nino floored Griffith in the second round for a two count but the champion wasn’t hurt. In the fourth round the champion connected with a solid right that put the Italian down and had him hurt. Griffith was unable to take advantage of the moment and Nino, using his defenseive skills, survived the round. The rest of the fight was hard fought with Benvenuti bleeding from a cut on the bridge of his nose that he sustained in the second round.

Griffith worked the body hard in hopes of slowing Nino down in the later rounds, but the tactic did not work. To the chants of Neeno!, Neeno! from the crowd Benvenuti finished strong and won a unanimous decision bringing the Middleweight Crown to Italy for the first time.

After the fight the new champion had to be secluded in his dressing room for about an hour before meeting with the press as he was ill. No, not from the effects of the punches but rather from the emotions of having accomplished his dream.

Nino Benvenuti not only won the title that night, but he also gave boxing a much needed shot in the arm. He brought an excitement to the sport. He proved so popular that in his rematch with Griffith five months later it was decided to hold it at Shea Stadium. Nino would lose the title on a close majority decision that night and then regain it the following year.

Nino was in his thirties now and his fine boxing skills were slowly starting to diminish, though he still could dig down and show what made him a champion. He did just that in his defense against former Welterweight Champ Luis Rodriguez where he was taking a pretty good lacing and then flattened Luis for the count in the eleventh round with a perfectly timed uppercut. He defended the title four times before losing it to the great Carlos Monzon. After losing to Monzon in a rematch he retired. Benvenuti always said he would get out of the game when he no longer had it and he made good on that promise. He was one of the few who knew when it was time to pack it in.

Old Rivals Emile and Nino

He invested wisely, acted in movies, hosted a television show, and opened a restaurant. He also became a city counselor in his home town of Trieste. He maintained a friendship with Emile Griffith and helped him out financially. Griffith was godfather to one of his sons. Nino also became friends with Carlos Monzon and had him as a guest on his television program a number of times.

Nino Benvenuti is living la dolce vita in Italy. On April 26th he will celebrate his eightieth birthday making him the oldest living middleweight champion, though he looks years younger. He still flashes his infectious smile and looks more like a movie star than a former boxer.

Nino’s name is rarely mentioned when the topic of all time greats comes up, but he certainly was a very impressive boxer/puncher. He was a master at throwing a hook off the jab. He could move very fast, had great defense, a lethal right hand and a devastating uppercut. Nino was always very courageous in the ring and had no quit in him. He was a proud and popular champion and is still well loved in Italy.

His professional record was 90 total fights with 82 wins, 35 by knockout, 7 losses and 1 draw. He was stopped on only three occasions, two of those were in his final two bouts which were against Monzon.

Nino Benvenuti was a classy champion. He made the sport interesting and fun. He deserves to be remembered with the respect and dignity he earned. On April 26th raise a glass of wine to him and say “buon compleanno Nino Benvenuti campione”

The Joe Louis Effect

How The Quiet Dignity Of The Great Champ
Influenced A High School Wrestler In 1982

By Bobby Franklin

Recently, I read the latest biography of Muhammad Ali. In it the author describes  former Heavyweight Champion Joe Louis as having been “docile”. This view of not only Joe but so many other black celebrities who were in the public eye before the 1960s has become all too commonplace. It has been said that Joe Louis played the “white man’s game”, that he went along to get along, that he remained silent in the face of injustice. The same has been said about Jackie Robinson and Louis Armstrong to name just a couple of others.

During the nervous breakdown our country was having during the 1960s it became cool to denigrate many who had suffered and struggled in the past. The mindset had become one of having to show your convictions by having a public temper tantrum. To acknowledge there had been people who were able to accomplish great things while not going out of their way to alienate others was considered being subservient. If you weren’t screaming at the top of your lungs you weren’t serious about change. And if you were black it meant you were being “docile”. Ali belittled Louis for this as did Miles Davis when talking about Louis Armstrong.

In the case of Joe Louis it worked in managing to erase all he had accomplished when it came to the cause of Civil Rights. Not only in what he did concerning policy where he had refused to box exhibitions before the troops unless the audiences were integrated or when he would become the first black man to play in the Professional Golf Association, but also in all he did to bring people together.

You see, Joe Louis set a tone. Joe’s actions outside of the ring mirrored what he did in the ring where he stood strong and forceful yet always dignified and respectful of his opponents. While Louis may not have talked a lot and never bragged, he certainly got the job done. This was true in and out of the ring. Jackie Robinson once said that baseball would have gone another ten years before being integrated if it had not been for Louis.

Louis did something else; He brought people together through leading by example. He showed that being strong did not mean being obnoxious. If you were going to emulate Joe Louis, and most young people wanted to, you would have to show respect to others and earn it yourself. You would act like a gentleman in the best sense of the term. My, how times have changed. The way celebrities, dare I say role models, behave influences people, especially young people. In the case of Joe Louis, he showed us how it should be done.

This all brings me to a conversation I recently had with a good friend of mine named Paul. He related a story  from his time as a wrestler in high school.

Paul was a huge boxing fan but seeing as his high school did not offer boxing he joined the wrestling team. He hadn’t been terribly successful and had yet to have his “glory moment” when in 1982 he was matched up with an opponent with comparable abilities. They were paired up to go at it in a junior varsity match which normally did not garner a lot of attention. However, in this case the match took place just before the varsity matches so the gym was packed. On top of this, Paul’s brothers were there and got the place going crazy in support of him. As the young grappler stepped into the circle he could hear the crowd shouting his name. It was nice to have the encouragement but also meant the pressure was on.

In Paul’s head he was thinking of the focus Roberto Duran had before his first fight with Ray Leonard. He wanted to carry that same type of determination into this match, and he did. Paul came out on fire and in the second period he pinned his opponent. When he heard the referee shout “pin” his first impulse was to stand up and pump his fist into the air. You can imagine his excitement and the rush he must have felt.

But, then something happened. In that instance an image flashed in his mind. No, it was not one of Roberto Duran gloating as he got the decision over Leonard. Instead, he suddenly saw Joe Louis in 1941 calmly walking away from the fallen Billy Conn. Joe was “cool as a cucumber” after having finally caught up with Conn who had been giving him an awful time of it. Joe hadn’t jumped around doing a victory dance. No, he had shown respect to his defeated opponent. It was this image the young Paul
wanted to emulate. He wanted to be seen as winning with honor and dignity, and what better role model for such behavior than Joe Louis. You have to remember, this was 1982 and by this time it had become the norm to practice self praise when winning. Paul would take another road. In his moment of competitive sport’s glory he would think back to footage he had seen of a great champion in victory. For Paul’s win that day in a high school gymnasium meant as much to him as Joe’s win against Conn at the Polo Grounds meant to Louis, and Paul got it right.

He could not have been blamed if he had pulled a Duran or an Ali and jumped all over the place in celebration of his big win. It would not have been shameful had he done that. It would have been entirely understandable, but showing deep character means keeping things in perspective. It means showing respect for those whom you compete against whether you have come out victorious or on the losing end. It means having class.

Joe Louis had died the year before Paul’s big moment came, but the legacy of this very great champion lived on the heart of that young high school wrestler. We’d all be better off if there were a few Joe Louis’ around today to help guide us in how we behave towards one another. We’d also be better off if more young people acted in the manner 16 year old Paul did back in 1982. On that day he showed not only that he could win a wrestling match, but that he could also be a champion.

Cerdan vs Robinson

The Title Of Greatest Pound For Pound
Fighter Would Have Been At Stake

On September 21,1948 Marcel Cerdan defeated Tony Zale and won the Middleweight Championship of the World. Cerdan had made his American debut just two years earlier with a hard fought win over the very tough Georgie Abrams. With the win over Abrams Cerdan proved he was no paper tiger, and he would cement his reputation as the best middleweight in the world with his decisive victory over Zale. He gave the Man of Steel a terrible beating, dropping him with a left to the jaw at the end of the 11th round. Zale had to be helped back to his corner where his seconds decided he had taken enough punishment and ended the fight.

Zale vs Cerdan

After the Zale fight Marcel returned to Europe where he had a couple of non title fights stopping Dick Turpin and Lucien Krawczyk. He returned to the States to make the first defense of the title against Jake LaMotta on June 6, 1949 at Briggs Stadium in Detroit, Michigan. LaMotta was the top rated middleweight contender and one very tough customer. Never the less, Cerdan was made a two to one betting favorite.

Only fragments of film footage from the fight exists, and these fragments do not include what happened early in the first round of the fight. It was widely reported that LaMotta threw Cerdan to the canvas. Marcel landed on his left shoulder causing an injury serious enough that he was not able to use his left hand for the rest of the fight. Remarkably, Cerdan continued to fight. Sportswriter Red Smith reported:

“In spite of his injury and in spite of a severe beating in the first round … Cerdan won the second round big and the third and fifth by lesser margins. A master at handling his opponent, turning him, tying him up, slipping or blocking his punches, and setting him up, Cerdan could do none of this one-handed. He couldn’t even stick his left out to ward off his foe … it is difficult to believe LaMotta would have a chance with a two-handed Cerdan.”

Cerdan vs LaMotta

Fighting Jake LaMotta with two hands would be enough of a problem for any fighter, just ask Sugar Ray Robinson, so standing up to him with one arm was truly remarkable. Unfortunately for Marcel, he just couldn’t keep it up. Cerdan hung in there until the end of the 9th round when his corner stopped the fight.

Because of the circumstances surrounding the end of the fight a rematch was quickly scheduled for September 28th of the same year. Ironically, the bout had to be postponed when LaMotta suffered a shoulder injury while training for the fight. The bout was rescheduled for December 2, 1949. In the meantime, Marcel returned home to Paris.

Robinson and Cerdan

According to legend, Marcel was booked to travel back to the States via ship, but when he got a call from his paramour, the singer Edith Piaf, asking him to make the trip by plane so he would arrive earlier and they could spend time together before he began serious training, he changed his plans. It has also been rumored that a fortune teller him told him not to fly. If so, Marcel ignored the advice from the seer and on Friday, October 28, 1949 boarded a Lockheed L 749 79 46 Constellation in Paris for the trip to New York City.

After leaving Paris the flight was scheduled to make a stop at Santa Maria, Azores. The flight crew reported into the tower there that they were approaching and traveling at an altitude of 3000 feet.They received their landing instructions and that was the last that was heard from them. The wreckage of the plane was later found on Redondo Mountain, there were no survivors.

Ray Robinson Attending Cerdan’s Funeral

Cerdan’s death was widely mourned and thousands attended his funeral which was held in Morocco where he was laid to rest. Marcel Cerdan was extremely popular on both sides of the Atlantic, and it seemed unbelievable that this larger than life man was no longer alive.

Boxing history was almost certainly changed by this tragedy. Most boxing experts agree Marcel would have regained the title in his rematch with LaMotta. While Jake was a great fighter, Cerdan was just that much better, and there seemed to be little doubt that a Marcel with two good fists would prove too much for the Bronx Bull.

Here’s where it gets interesting. If Cerdan had gone on to regain the crown it would have meant that Sugar Ray Robinson would have faced him and not LaMotta for the title in 1951. This would have been a truly great matchup between two all-time greats. At the time if his death Marcel had a record of 111 wins against only 4 losses. He was only stopped once and that was because of the shoulder injury in the LaMotta fight. If the fight had taken place at the same time as Ray’s bout against LaMotta, Robinson would have entered the ring with a record of 121 wins, 1 loss, and 2 draws. Cerdan had defeated 65 opponents via the knock out route while Ray had stopped 77 foes at that point in his career. In spite of these amazing knockout records I don’t see this bout ending in a stoppage. Both of these fighters had rock solid chins along with great defensive skills. Both fell solidly into the category of boxer/puncher. Cerdan had always campaigned as a middleweight while the majority of Ray’s fight at that time had been in the welterweight division where he also held the world title. For the previous few years Robinson had been successfully testing the middleweight waters where he suffered his only loss to Jake LaMotta. A defeat he would avenge.

Marcel Cerdan

I truly believe this is a difficult fight to pick. Cerdan would certainly have to rate as one of, if not the, toughest opponent Robinson would ever face. This had all the makings of a dream match and would have been a major attraction. I could see it breaking records for attendance and gate receipts. It would no doubt have been held in a ballpark.

So, who wins? Well, as with any truly great matchup it is impossible to say with any certainty. I will tell you that Marcel Cerdan had a better chance than LaMotta did of defending the title against Sugar Ray, and it would not have surprised me if he won. It must also be kept in mind how different boxing history may have been if Cerdan had defeated Ray and then gone on to defend the title for a number of years. If that had happened we very well may be calling Marcel Cerdan the pound for pound greatest fighter who ever lived instead of Sugar Ray Robinson. Unfortunately, fate intervened so we will never know.