Category Archives: Boxing Articles

Hypothetical Matchup, Foreman vs Johansson

Thor’s Hammer

And Foreman’s Fatal Flaw

How Would Johansson Do Against Big George?

By Bobby Franklin

Ingo and Machen

Recently I wrote a column asking how well the second tier heavyweight champions would do when matched up with some of the greats when their different styles are taken into consideration. After all, even some of the best have problems with a less talented opponent because a certain technique can cause even the best difficulties. Ali always had major problems with Ken Norton, a fighter who was far from an all time great. 

While it is safe to assume the greats would have beaten the not so greats, it is interesting to try and find matchups where an upset could have occurred. 

Recently I’ve been thinking about a hypothetical matchup between Champions George Foreman and Ingemar Johansson. Johansson has never been considered an all time great, while there are many who would rank Foreman in the top ten greatest. In my opinion George is not an all time great and does not have the record to put him in the lofty company of Dempsey, Louis, Tunney, Marciano, Johnson, and Ali. But seeing that so many boxing fans do consider him to be one of the best I thought it would be interesting to consider how he would do against the Swede with the monstrous right hand.

While I believe Foreman is very overrated as a fighter, I also believe Ingo deserves more credit than he gets. George fought an incredible number of stiffs on his way up in contrast to Ingo who never faced an opponent who had a losing record. In fact, going into the first Frazier fight Foreman’s opponents had a collective record of 100 wins with 355 losses, and 48 draws. 

By contrast, going into his first title fight against Patterson, Ingo’s opposition had a collective record of 466 wins, 150 losses, and 43 draws. Quite a difference. On top of that, Johansson had some notable names among his wins. These included Joe Bygraves, Henry Cooper, Joe Erskine, Archie McBride, and most impressive of all, his destruction of Eddie Machen in one round. Machen was undefeated and the number one contender at the time and would go on to fight a prime Sonny Liston, taking the future champ the full twelve rounds while losing a very close decision. 

The most notable wins on Foreman’s record leading to to the Frazier fight were over George Chuvalo and two victories over blown up light heavyweight Gregorio Peralta who gave George all he could handle over almost 20 rounds of fighting.

The two most impressive wins in Foreman’s career part one were his victory over Frazier, though while impressive has to be considered in the light of Frazier being a shot fighter at that point in his career, and his blow out of Ken Norton. He was outsmarted by Ali and Jimmy Young, and struggled to defeat Ron Lyle in an exciting fight but not one where great boxing skills were on display.

Beyond their records it is important to contrast their styles to figure out how they would do against one another. It is here where I see Ingo being able to pull out the win. George had a serious flaw that only got worse as his career progressed. It was this flaw that would have played into Johansson’s strength.

Foreman Displaying His Fatal Flaw Against Ali. Reaching Out With Both Arms.

Early in Foreman’s career he had either gotten some instruction in parrying blows or he picked up the idea from watching footage of great defensive fighters such as Jack Johnson and Gene Tunney. The problem is, George never learned how to do it correctly. Instead of catching his opponents punches with an open hand when the fists came close to him, he would reach out and try to stop them just as they were being thrown. In doing this he also dropped his hands while his arms were extended. This left his chin exposed. Peralta, Ali, and Young all used that defect to great effect in countering Foreman. It is also the reason Lyle was able to deck him so many times. It was a very amateurish move that he never got over, in fact it got even worse as his career went on. It is also the reason any one of the great champs, and even many of the second tier ones would have beaten him. It is the reason I could not rate him as an all-time great. 

Foreman’s Flaw On Display Again

Going into a fight against Foreman, Johansson would have been very conscious of this flaw and would have exploited it. Ingo was a thinking fighter. He was quick on his feet, looked for openings, feinted well, had a tremendously powerful right hand, and knew how to set up an opponent.

In the first Patterson fight he used his left jab in a flicking manner that was employed to block Floyd’s vision so he would not see the right hand coming. The strategy worked perfectly as he destroyed Patterson and won the title. 

Ingo’s fatal flaw came outside of the ring. After winning the title he became quite the celebrity. He made the rounds of televisions shows where he would joke and sing. He loved the nightlife and his training took a back seat to the jet setter lifestyle he was living. It was this behavior that cost him the title.

In the Foreman/Johansson fight Johansson would not be a stationary target for the ponderous Foreman. Ingo, who was quite fleet of foot would be circling big George and feinting him with the jab. As he employed these feints Foreman would begin reaching out with his arms, just as Johansson would expect. This would go on for a few rounds as the Swede found the range and George became frustrated and would begin to tire. Being a patient boxer, Ingo would wait until George started pawing and reaching with both arms. At that point he would hit George with his hammer of Thor. If George got up after being floored by the punch he would get even more sloppy as he did with Lyle. Ingo, unlike Lyle, would not get wild but would continue to measure Foreman for the followup punches and would finish him off. In my opinion this would happen around the 7th or 8th rounds.

Of course, as with all of these hypothetical matchups, it is impossible to know what would have happened. The benefit of thinking these fights through is it forces you to think more deeply about the abilities of these fighters. If you had asked me a couple of years ago who I thought would win between George and Ingo I wouldn’t have blinked and gone with Foreman. However, now that I have taken the time to analyze both fighters more closely having written about each, my mind has been changed.

Great Punchers, Great Boxers

Great Knockout Artists 

Great Defensive Boxers

It Was Hard To Stop These Guys

By Bobby Franklin

Barney Ross

Recently, I wrote about Tony Canzoneri and argued that even though the stats did not show him to have an overabundance of knockouts, I still consider him to be a harder puncher than Roberto Duran. Of course, people will say if he was such a tremendous puncher why didn’t he have more kayos? The answer lies in the competition from the era in which he fought.

I’ve taken a look back at the Ring Magazine rankings of the featherweight, lightweight, and welterweight divisions during the 1930s. I choose these three divisions because many of the contenders in these weight classes fought in all three divisions during their careers. It is an impressive lot.

What is striking is the amount of all time great talent that was competing at the same time in these divisions. Even more striking is the fact that they did not avoid fighting one another. On top of this, it is amazing to read how often they fought and the total number of fights they had over their careers. 

Even more amazing is how rare it was for any of them to be knocked out. You are not looking at the records of fighters who were being fed stiffs. No, these guys were the best and they were consistently fighting the best. When any fighter during that era became a champion, he was truly a champion. Being a ranked contender was a feat in and of itself.

Henry Armstrong vs Fritzie Zivic

So who were these men? Looking through the rankings the names that show up are incredible. Men such as Tony Canzoneri, Lou Ambers, Henry Armstrong, Fritzie Zivic, Charley Burley, Cocoa Kid, Baby Arizmendi, Sammy Angott, Petey Sarron, Ceferino Garcia, Jimmy McLarnin, Holman Williams, Kid Chocolate, Andy Callahan, Sammy Fuller, Billy Petrolle, Teddy Yarosz, Fidel LaBarba, Johnny Jadick, Lou Brouillard, Battling Battalino, Andy Martin, and Louis Kid Kaplan. While there are a lot of names here, it is only a partial list and only includes top ten contenders and champions. There were also dozens of fighters competing on a level just below the top ten who were incredible fighters. After all, in order to get into the top tier a fighter had to wade through those guys. 

Looking at the records of the boxers on the list provides some interesting data. As I have pointed out with Canzoneri, many of these fighters were terrific punchers but did not have stunning knock out percentages the way many of today’s fighters do. Why is that? Because while today’s fighters are being fed a diet of stiffs to build up their records, the fighters from the 30s were fighting each other which meant they were fighting the best talent in the history of the sport. 

Another thing they had going for them is they knew how to practice the art of boxing. They had defensive skills, were highly experienced, knew how to keep calm and were able to fight while hurt. These men were professionals in every sense of the word. Even beyond that, that were highly talented artists and craftsmen. 

Something else to remember when taking their knockout percentages into account is the fact that these men were rarely kayoed themselves. When you have fighters of such high caliber fighting each other the odds of one stopping another go way down. 

Charley Burley

In the list of 23 fighters I have compiled above, they have a combined total record of 3,154 bouts. Out of that huge sum there were only 55 fights where they lost by kayo. Boxers such as Barney Ross, Charley Burley, and Fidel LaBarba were never stopped. Others, such as Teddy Yarosz (127 fights), Lou Brouillard (133 fights), Battling Battalino (88 fights), Sammy Angott (131 fights), Petey Sarron (139 fights), Jimmy McLarnin (69 fights), and Canzoneri (171 fights) were only stopped once. The highest amount of losses for a fighter by kayo was 6. One was Johnny Jadick (6 out of 153 total fights) and the other was Ceferino Garcia (6 out of 120 fights). 

Henry Armstrong had 183 fights and was only stopped twice. One of those was in his first pro fight. He was stopped one other time, by Fritzie Zivic. Zivic had a total of 232 fights and only lost four times by kayo. 

These are astounding numbers, made even more so when you look at the level of competition these men were facing. But if you think more deeply about what was going on, then it isn’t surprising to see these statistics.  

Teddy Yarosz

To begin with, none of these fighters entered the ring assuming they were going to win by knock out. They were always ready to go the distance. They would score a kayo if the opportunity presented itself, which was rare when facing such talented opposition. They also had great defensive skills. Fighting often, as did Canzoneri when he fought 13 times in 1930 alone, they were always sharp. On top of this, when in the gym they were sparring with seasoned pros. They studied the sport and knew it in depth. 

These great fighters also knew how to keep their wits about them in a fight. When hurt the kept their composure. They knew how to tie up an opponent and take time to clear their heads. They also knew not to get wild when they had an opponent hurt as often a hurt fighter could be more dangerous, and getting wild with punches would leave give that opponent an opportunity to land a shot that could turn the fight around.

When comparing fighters from today to the greats of the past it is important to look at more than just knock out percentages. You have to take into account the level of opposition. When you do that there is no comparison. Just spend some time watching these old masters at work and you will see how superior they were. 

Tony Canzoneri, Forgotten Great

Tony Canzoneri

Forgotten Great

From The Golden Age Of Boxing

By Bobby Franklin

Tony Canzoneri

I recently did a search on the internet to see what I could learn about the great three title holder Tony Canzoneri. I was quite amazed to see that very little has been written about this man who ranks among the greatest fighters of all time. There is some footage of him on YouTube and quite a few photographs but not much more. 

In 2012 boxing historan Mike Casey wrote a fine tribute about Canzoneri that gave a lot of insight into this interesting man who died at the age of 51. Mike’s well researched piece is definitely worth reading.

Tony Canzoneri, who looked like a cross between Babe Ruth and Edward G. Robinson, was born in Slidell, Louisiana on November 6, 1908. From an early age he wanted to be a boxer and began an amateur career while living there. As a kid he met the great bantamweight champ Kid Herman, and was fascinated by the old boxer.  When he was 14 he and his family moved to New York. It was there that Tony really got down to the business of perfecting his craft.

Canzoneri was a great observer and would watch other fighters and learn from them. He developed his own unique style. Benny Leonard said of Tony that he had a style that could not be copied as it only worked for him, but it made him a great fighter.

Canzoneri and Ross

Tony went on to win world titles in the lightweight and junior welterweight divisions. He was the NBA featherweight champion. During his career he fought 18 world champions and 6 hall of famers. He fought some of the greatest fighters of all time including Kid Chocolate, Barney Ross, Lou Ambers, Jimmy McLarnin, Billy Petrolle, Jackie Kid Berg, Benny Bass, Al Singer, and Bud Taylor. 

In a career spanning 175 fights he was only stopped once, and that was in his last fight when he took on Al Bummy Davis. Considering the opposition he faced, that was a remarkable feat. In fact, his record is awe inspiring. He had 137 wins against just 24 losses with 10 draws. 

Tony Kayos Kid Chocolate

Tony was a tremendous puncher and a great counter puncher. He carried his left hand low in a usually successful ploy to set up his right hand. His jab was powerful. He was a very hard puncher. One example of his power was when he kayoed Kid Chocolate in the 2nd round in 1933. It was the first time the Kid had been kayoed in 100 fights, and only one of two times the great Cuban champion had been stopped in 152 bouts.

Today’s fight fans would probably look at Tony’s record and say he couldn’t have been much of a puncher because knockouts only accounted for 44 of his 137 wins. What they don’t understand is the opposition he was up against. The great fighters of that day were next to impossible to kayo. 

You had opponents of Canzoneri such as  Kid Chocolate who was only stopped twice in 152 fights, Jimmy McLarnin lost only one fight by KO out of 69. There was Lou Ambers, stopped only twice out of 104 fights, and Barney Ross who never lost by stoppage in 79 fights. Benny Bass went through a career consisting of 195 fights and was only stopped twice. 

In that era having a big punch wasn’t enough. You had to know how to box. The great fighters all had great defensive skills, were extremely experienced, and knew how to survive when hurt. In fact, many of them were more dangerous when they were hurt.

I am a great admirer of Roberto Duran and have called him the last of the old school fighters, but I would argue that Tony Canzoneri was as hard, if not a harder puncher than the great Panamanian. If Duran had faced similar opposition his knock out percentage would be much lower.

McLarnin vs Canzoneri 1936

Canzoneri is exciting to watch in action. His fights against Jimmy McLarnin and Lou Ambers which are on YouTube are. Studying these great fighters really forces you to put things into perspective when comparing boxers from the different eras. The subtle moves, the ring savviness, the footwork they exhibit is something to behold.

As Benny Leonard observed, Canzoneri had a very unique style. He could do it all in there. 

In 1939, after fighting for 14 years, Tony hung up the gloves. A string of bad investments and high living left him broke after a few years, but he remained popular with the public and loved talking boxing with his fans. 

Gentleman Tony

Did he have any regrets? In Mike Casey’s article he quotes the Champ as saying, “I often wonder whether it was worth it. But I don’t have to wait long for the answer. Every day strangers stop me in the street and say, ‘Aren’t you Tony Canzoneri?’ Lots of times, little kids who weren’t even a gleam in their father’s eye when I was fighting, ask for autographs or just to shake my hand. It’s a wonderful feeling to be remembered after all these years. Sure it was worth it, every drop of blood and every stitch of it. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

It’s sad to think how few people recognize his name today. 

Was The Fix In When Lowry Fought Marciano?

It’s Been 60 Years Since

Tiger Ted Lowry and Rocky Marciano 

First Fought

Controversy Still Hangs Over The Fight

By Bobby Franklin

On October 10, 1949 at the Rhode Island Auditorium in Providence, the up and coming heavyweight prospect Rocky Marciano stepped into the ring with veteran Tiger Ted Lowry. Rocky had won his first 20 fights, 19 by knockout, and was stepping up in class against the cagey and hard hitting Lowry. Ted’s record going into the fight was 63 wins, 49 losses, and 9 draws, but the numbers don’t tell the real story behind what a formidable opponent he was.

Lowry had been fighting since 1942 and had faced many of the best fighters of the time. He had also squared off against champion Joe Louis in an exhibition bout where he more than held his own. He had been stopped only one time in those 121 bouts. He showed no scars on his face, a tribute to his fine defensive skills. His record lists such names as Archie Moore, Lee Oma, Omelio Agramonte, Aaron Wade, and Lee Savold. 

This fight would be Rocky’s first big test against a highly skilled fighter who would be able to extend him. The fight was scheduled for ten rounds, and went the full distance.

3,696 fans showed up, the vast majority were there to cheer on Rocky. As the bell rang for the first round it quickly became apparent this was not going to be an easy night for the kid from Brockton. Lowry stung Marciano at the outset with two right hands, and in the second hurt him with a pair of left uppercuts. Lowry held the upper hand in the 4th round as well when it appeared Rocky was close to being stopped. 

Things changed in the 5th round when Lowry went into a more defensive posture. Some of the fans started booing as they felt Ted was purposely backing off. Had he been told to back off? Perhaps he was tiring. 

At the end of the ten rounds the decision was awarded to Rocky. This did not go over well with the crowd that felt Lowry deserved the win. Of course, when a prospect has been on a roll and has been mowing down every opponent put in front of him, his fans will feel let down when he has a night where he looks less than formidable. 

Out of his 49 fights Rocky only had two that could be called at all controversial decisions. This fight with Lowry and his first bout against Roland LaStarza. In the LaStarza fight Marciano decked Roland at the end of the 4th round. Rocky had the 8th taken away from him because of a penalty for hitting low. One judge had LaStarza winning 5 rounds to 4, while the other judge had it for Marciano by the same margin. The referee had the bout even at 5-5 but gave Rocky the nod on points. The press reported the win as paper thin. This wasn’t so much controversial as it was a very close fight that could have gone either way.

UNITED STATES – JULY 12: Rocky Marciano is victorious over Harry Matthews at Yankee Stadium. (Photo by NY Daily News Archive via Getty Images)

In the Lowry fight it is very possible Rocky got the benefit of the doubt in getting the decision, but the controversy was not so much over the scorecards but rather Lowry’s change of tactics in the fight. Even today it is said either the fix was in or Ted was told to back off when he came to his corner after the 4th round.

To the first accusation, that the fight was fixed. This doesn’t hold up at all. If Lowry had agreed to throw the fight why would he have gone after Rocky so hard in those early rounds, almost stopping him in the 4th? He was obviously going for the win, there can be no doubt about that.

The other theory is that after the 4th round his cornermen told him to back off. The reason supposedly being that certain people had spoken to them during the round and told them it would be bad for their health if Ted kept up the his assault. Could this have happened? Well, it is boxing so anything is possible. 

Ted Lowry never ever said this happened. He felt he deserved the decision, and denied he had been told to back off. He told reporters that after the 4th round Rocky had changed his strategy and he only adapted to that change. He still felt that he won two of the last 5 rounds which, coupled with his strong start entitled him to the win. It must also be noted that Marciano came on strong in those later rounds, a trait he would display throughout his career.

Unfortunately, no film of the fight exists. What really happened? If you look at the rest of Rocky’s career, you will see a number of fights where he did not do well in the early rounds. His matches against Jersey Joe Walcott and Archie Moore are two examples. The Moore bout might be the best one to use when trying to figure out what happened in the Lowry fight.

Against Moore, Rocky was decked in the second round by a thunderous right hand. Moore landed heavily on him and appeared to have the upper hand. However, Marciano got stronger as the fight progressed, and by the 9th round had worn Archie down and stopped him. 

It is very likely a similar thing happened in the Lowry fight. While Tiger Ted was landing heavily on Rocky early on, the Brockton Blockbuster never stopped coming. When Ted says Marciano changed tactics after the 4th round, that is also quite possible. With the brilliant Charley Goldman in his corner he was surely given solid instructions, probably along the lines of being told to get into a lower crouch so he would not be an easy target.

I believe this fight was on the up and up. It is possible that Lowry deserved the decision, but it was not the Brink’s robbery. What was seen that night was the drive that would lead Rocky to go on to win the heavyweight title. 

The two would meet again a year later with Marciano winning a decision. Ted Lowry did not dispute the outcome of the rematch.

It is interesting to note that out of Rocky’s 49 victories, only two could be considered at all close. The win over LaStarza and the first fight with Lowry were close, but in both fights Marciano had a solid claim to victory.

It should also be noted that Ted Lowry was the only man go the distance twice with Rocky, and, with the exception of Ezzard Charles, he fought the most rounds against the Rock. That’s quite the accomplishment.

Book Review: “My Favorite Fights” By Jerry Fitch

Cleveland’s Mr. Boxing
Looks Back At His Favorite Fights

Book Review
My Favorite Fights
By Jerry Fitch
152 Pages
jerryfitch1946 [at] gmail [dot] com

Reviewed by Bobby Franklin

Every fight fan has his favorite fights. Some are those that were seen live either in person on on television. Others have been viewed on film and usually include classics such as Ali v Frazier I and Louis v Schmeling II. But those would be included on any list of “great” fights.

In Jerry Fitch’s latest book, he does not compile another list of the greatest fights. What he does is to look back at a lifetime, over 50 years of watching fights, and chooses his “favorite” fights. Yes, some of his favorites are also some of the great fights of all time, but there are many included in this collection that became favorites for other reasons. It is that difference that makes this book so enjoyable. In fact, after reading it I started to look back at my own history of watching fights and recalled how many fights I saw on the local level that would rank on my list of favorites.

In 25 chapters, Jerry describes the fights he fondly remembers and gives his reasons for why they stand out in his memory. Living in Cleveland, he had the good fortune to be in a place that had an active boxing scene over the years. He has written a book on the history of Cleveland boxing as well as biographies of two great fighters from that city, Johnny Risko and Jimmy Bivins. Jerry has earned the title “Cleveland’s Mr.Boxing”.

His list does have some of the all time great fights on it. He has chapters on Ali vs Frazier I, the first Leonard/Duran fight, the first Louis/Conn fight, and the fight where Rocky Marciano won the title from Jersey Joe Walcott. His take on these fights is very interesting, and there is no doubting Jerry is an “old school” boxing guy.

While reading his views on experiencing these well known battles is a treat, the book gets really interesting when Jerry writes about some of the lesser known matches between figures that never made to the top. Or fights that would never be considered great, but certainly are interesting. He has a fine eye for picking out the matches.

Doyle Baird

One favorite of mine, for obvious reasons, is the first fight between the exciting Akron, Ohio middleweight Doyle Baird and Boston favorite Iron Mike Pusateri, held in Cleveland in 1971. Baird had established himself as a world class fighter having fought a draw with champion Nino Benvenuti in a non title fight, scoring a win over Don Fullmer, and going ten rounds with Emile Griffith while losing a decsion. As any Boston boxing fan from that era will tell, Iron Mike Pusateri was one tough battler.

Jerry’s descriiption of the fight is terrific, but he also gets into some of the background of the promotion as well as telling a funny story about a fan he was seated next to. It’s all part of the charm of this book.

Another reason for choosing a fight as his favorite has to do with his personal boxing history. Most real fight fans will remember the first pro boxing match they ever attended. In Jerry’s case it was the third fight between Carmen Basilio and Johnny Saxton which was held in Cleveland. This welterweight title fight was the rubber match between the two combatants, and Jerry admit it was anti-climatic, but it was very exciting to have his first live boxing experience be a championship fight.

Some of the other fights discussed in the book are the 2nd bout between local fighters Billy Wagner and John Griffin, Cassius Clay vs Doug Jones, Danny Lopez and Bobby Chacon, Ali vs Wepner, and Palomino vs Muniz I.
There is even a very interesting chapter on a fight card Jerry attended in Palm Springs, CA where the main event had to be delayed because the ring was swarmed by grasshoppers.

Jerry Fitch “Mr.Boxing”

This is Jerry’s fifth book, and he is to be credited with doing much to keep alive the memory of the great history of boxing. In choosing to include a number of local fight cards in this collection he has seen to it that the guys who never made it big are still remembered for the wonderful fights they put on before smaller crowds. Some of these fight cards were more exciting than many of the big pay per view fights that fans laid out big money to see.

After reading Jerry’s book I hope you too will think back on those fights you saw at the local arenas, and come to appreciate how hard those fighters fought for the short money. While Boston boxing fans have never witnessed an infestation of grasshoppers before a main event, I am sure you will have many of your own stories to tell about nights at ringside. Jerry Fitch shows us just how interesting so many of those memories are.

To order a copy of My Favorite Fights, email Jerry Fitch at jerryfitch1946 [at] gmail [dot] com

 

A Weigh-In Or A Sideshow

The Weigh-In

By Bobby Franklin

Robinson and LaMotta

Fighters have always weighed in before a fight. This ritual used to take place the day of the fight, usually in the early afternoon. With heavyweights it wasn’t as important as with the other divisions as there is no limit on what weight the big guys can fight at. In the other categories it used to be watched closely because if a fighter did not come in below the limit for his division he would be forced to shed the extra pounds within a couple of hours. If he didn’t, the fight could be canceled, he could agree to pay a fine, or, if it was a title fight, the two camps could agree to go on with the bout without having the championship on the line. 

Schmeling and Louis 1938

With the heavyweights, it was more of a case of seeing what kind of shape the fighters were in. It was a bit like predicting earnings before a company makes its quarterly financial report. If a company exceeds expectations, its stock will rise, if not, the stock will take a hit. In a heavyweight fight a fighter coming in overweight, or even too light, could have an effect on the odds.

Today, the weigh-in is quite different. While in the past it was expected the fighters would enter the ring weighing pretty close to what the scales said earlier that day. Now fighters step on the Toledo a day or two before the bout and can put on as much as ten, fifteen, or more pounds by fight time. Quite often you will see one fighter who looks much bigger than another. That’s because he is.

Another difference is in how the ritual of the weigh-in is conducted. Throughout most of boxing’s history it was a fairly serious affair. Both fighters would appear and take turns stepping up to be weighed while the other looked on. A doctor would give each a brief examination, and then the two would shake hands and wish each other luck while photographers snapped pictures. With rare exception, great sportsmanship was displayed as each showed respect for the other.

Gene Fullmer and Ray Robinson 1957

Somewhere along the line, probably starting with Cassius Clay vs Sonny Liston in 1964, this ritual began to take on a circus atmosphere. While what happened that day in Miami was very unusual for the times, and remained rare for a number of years, it has now gotten even worse and has become the norm. Fighters hurl obscenities at each other while pushing, shoving, and throwing wild punches. It has devolved into something more like pro wrestling. It’s also interesting to see today’s fighters standing on the scales and striking body builder poses, another thing taken from wrestling. At its best it is silly, but it is more often childish and demeaning to the sport and its participants. 

I suppose it is just another reflection of the changes we see in society. As for me, I would like to see a return to the old decorum that made us look with respect upon the athletes who were going to step into the ring that night. Clowns may be funny in a circus, but for those of us who looked at boxing as a serious profession, it is depressing to witness. Could you imagine Jack Dempsey, Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano, Ray Robinson, or the hundreds of other great champions behaving like that?  

Book Review: The Magnificent Max Baer

MAGNIFICO!

The Magnificent Max Baer

by Colleen Aycock with David W. Wallace

Published by McFarland (McFarlandBooks.com)

A Book Review/Interview by Roger Zotti

“Primo Carnera’s a nice chap, and he’s got lots of heart, a lot more than I thought he had. I pleaded with [referee] Donovan to stop the fight.” 

Max Baer

l

 Colleen Aycock’s latest book conclusively shatters the negative stereotype of Max Baer as he was depicted in Cinderella Man and many of his other movies. Perhaps someday a movie about  the real Baer, the one Colleen so convincingly describes in The Magnificent Max Baer: The Life of the Heavyweight Champion and Film Star, will be made. 

Compellingly written with David W. Wallace and exhaustively researched, Colleen’s latest book is a terrific account of an intriguing and unforgettable prizefighter’s life inside and outside the ring. A must-read for boxing fans, boxing historians, and lovers of biography.

In an interview with Aycock, the first question I asked her was What Made Max Baer, well, Max Baer? “Max was seen as a clown, but he was a clever clown, much smarter than given credit for,” she said. “He tried to make the sport nicer, and the crowds loved his laughter, his stories, and his charisma, not to mention his powerful fist and unpredictable behavior. And he always stood strong for children and the just.”

Next question: Why has Max been  portrayed in  films, such as The Harder They Fall and Cinderella Man, as  “a villain?” “Hollywood is Hollywood,” Aycock replied, “and to make a good film you need a hero and a villain.”

She continued: “Because early in his boxing career Max had killed a man in the ring, Frankie Campbell, the story gave Max a ‘killer’ image and that’s what Hollywood came looking for: a good-looking man (he was beautiful) who could pass a screen test and who had a reputation as a killer, though in reality he was the opposite. Unfortunately, that ‘killer image’ was usually virtually in all of the films he made, or that were made about him, even in western comedies.”

(After Campbell’s death, Aycock writes, Baer “was an emotional wreck. It was a personal battle he would fight for the rest of his life” . . . New York Mirror columnist Dan Parker added, “Had it not been for the tragedy, his killer instinct would have made Baer [the] greatest.”) 

Asked How Baer would do against today’s heavyweights? Colleen said, “In boxing skill, Max was a slugger with a good chin—in the chronological line between Dempsey and Louis. The question is like asking ‘How would Joe Louis fare against the moderns?’ We have to remember that Louis in his prime beat Max.

“In entertainment value, Max would win hands down. I would love to see Max in the ring today—it would be entertaining as hell, and the millions of dollars he would draw would be difficult to predict.”

2

Colleen’s book contains eighteen chapters, among them “The Screwball Championship Fight, Galento, 1940” and “Glamour Boy in Hollywood, 1933 to 1958.” In the Baer-Galento chapter I recall seeing highlights of it on “Greatest Fights of the Century,” which aired from 1948 to 1954, with Jim Stevenson as narrator. I knew what to expect.

Before the Galento fight Baer spoke with Lou Nova, a victim of “Two Ton” Tony’s tactics in their 9/15/39 battle. For some reason the referee allowed Galento to repeatedly thumb Nova in the right eye. (Watch it on YouTube. It’s definitely cringe-worthy!)

Baer told Nova, who was stopped in the 14th round and later hospitalized, he had fought Galento incorrectly, that the way to fight  him was, Colleen quotes Baer as saying, “’at long range and go directly to the head . . . [Galento] couldn’t be beaten in a clean fight because he was one of the dirtiest . . .’” 

Before Max left Nova’s hospital room, Lou looked at him and said,   “’You’re the man who can beat Tony Galento.’”

Colleen writes, “It was a fight of head butts, slashes with laces, thumbs, and gouges.” (No surprise, eh!) Also, she quotes reporter Gayle Talbot of the Asbury Park Press as writing: “’The fat old tavern keeper was sitting on his stool, blowing blood like a harpooned whale, when the bell rang to start the eighth round. His handlers wouldn’t let him go out.’ The only thing the fight proved was that ‘there isn’t a heavyweight in the world today worthy of challenging Joe Louis for the championship.’”

While he was still active in the ring, Baer began his acting career. And why not? He had looks and was a natural ham. 

His first film was 1933’s The Prize Fighter and the Lady,” co-starring Myrna Loy, probably best known today as the wife of private detective Nick Charles in those great Thin Man movies of the thirties and forties. Prizefighter was a success and so was Baer. Aycock quotes the movie poster: “Watch your  pulse, Girls! A curly haired man is coming into your life. Resist him if you can. Handsome, strong, and alive! Hollywood calls him the male Mae West with a streamline chassis.”

Appearing in the film was then heavyweight champion Primo Carnera, who played a character named Primo. He and Max’s character, Steve Morgan, do battle. Reality intervened seven months after the movie’s release when Carnera and Max fought, in New York’s Madison Square Garden, for the former’s heavyweight title.

During his long career, Max appeared in mostly corny but enjoyable movie comedies, with such actors as William Bendix, Patsy Kelly, Brian Donlevy, and Walter Brennan, among others. 

In 1945, he teamed with former light-heavyweight champion “Slapsie” Maxie Rosenbloom in a vaudeville revue. “It was said that the boxers gave up clout for corn,” Colleen writes, “but it was very successful corn . . .”

 She quotes reporter Alan Ward of the Oakland Tribune as writing, “. . . unlike other fighters and champions who became broke and bewildered after their ring careers, ‘it is gratifying to realize that here are two who not only are doing well financially but are right up there with chips.’”

 In the last decade of his life, Max appeared as a guest in numerous televisions shows, such as “The Milton Berle Show,” “The Perry Como Show,” and “So This Is Hollywood.”

Baer had an important role in Humphrey Bogart’s last movie, 1956’s The Harder They Fall. Tautly directed by Mark Robson and adapted from Budd Schulberg’s memorable novel, the movie co-starred Rod Steiger, Jan Sterling, and Mike Lane. Lane played a Primo Carnera-like character—he was called Toro Moreno—and Max portrayed heavyweight champion Buddy Brannen, a thinly disguised copy of himself. 

“When the movie opened in 1956,” Aycock writes, “Primo Carnera sued Columbia Pictures and the book’s author  . . . for $1.5 million, charging that both products were an invasion of privacy causing him scorn and ridicule and the loss of respect.”

The Harder They Fall is a movie that digs deeply into the corrupt side of boxing; and its star, Humphrey Bogart, Colleen says, “fearlessly commented on the social impact of the film, saying he realized ‘a lot of fans are as interested as I am in seeing the bad elements in boxing cleaned up.’”

Colleen rightly believes the portrayal of Max, in 2005’s Cinderella Man, directed by Ron Howard and starring Russell Crowe as James J. Braddock, was a “character assassination.”  Craig Bierko, a fine actor, plays Max, who’s wrongly portrayed as a big mouth womanizer unremorseful about his tragic fight with Frankie Campbell. 

3

Aycock said The Magnificent Max Baer is her “heart book [because] it represents my connection to boxing through my father, a professional boxer during the Great Depression.” Abandoned as a teenager in South Texas, her father, Ike, “tried continuing his high school education while working in a dairy for room and board . . . There was a time in the 30s when a town’s entertainment was a make-shift boxing ring city center where men could throw pennies and nickels on the canvas to encourage a challenge. My father stepped into the ring as a young man so he could buy a pair of shoes.

“He always told me, ‘Don’t feel sorry for me, the black boxers had it worse.’ Coming from Mississippi, I admired his feelings for the black boxers at a time when society was still drawing the social color line and racial division was at a boiling point. He told me pointedly, ‘Everyone is equal in the ring.’ It was an early, visible lesson for me in equal rights.” 

When Baer advertised for sparring partners in 1934, Colleen writes, “my father took the train to California” to help the big heavyweight prepare for future fights. “He loved Max as many did during that bleak economic times. So I always dreamed of writing a book about Max Baer.”

A regular contributor to the IBRO Journal, Roger Zotti has written two books about boxing, Friday Night World and The Proper Pugilist. Contact him at rogerzotti [at] aol [dot] com for more information about them.

Where Are The Gloves From The Dempsey/Willard Fight?

Could The King Tut’s Tomb Of Boxing

Be At 50th Street And Eighth Avenue?

By Bobby Franklin

Are These Gloves Buried In NYC?

One hundred years ago, on July 4, 1919, in Toledo, Ohio, Jack Dempsey won the Heavyweight Championship of the World from Jess Willard. The fight, which took place under a blazing sun, is remembered for many things. It ushered in the Dempsey era and the making of a legend. The footage of the fight, which is amazingly clear, shows Jack giving the champion a vicious beating. Though he was outweighed by nearly sixty pounds, Dempsey tore into Jess like a hungry lion. He decked Willard seven times in the first round and Jess was on the verge of being counted out when he was saved by the bell. Willard managed to stay on his feet for two more rounds and fought back gamely before retiring as the bell rang for round four. 

In 1963 Jack Kearns, who had manage Dempsey at the time he won the title, wrote an article that was published in Sports Illustrated saying Jack’s gloves were loaded when he fought Willard. Dempsey vehemently denied it and sued the magazine for publishing the article. They settled out of court. 

There had been bad blood between Kearns and Dempsey for years, and  Kearns died not long after he wrote the article. It was as if he wanted to get one last shot at the great champion before he shed his mortal coil. He certainly did  hat and the controversy has raged on for years.

Much has been written about whether on not Dempsey went into the fight having an unfair advantage, and I am not going to rehash those arguments now. I do want to bring up another mystery that is connected to that day.

In all of the arguments over whether or not Jack’s gloves were loaded that day, one thing that was never done was for there to have been an examination of those gloves. In fact, nobody seems to know for sure what happened tom them.

Not long after the Kearn’s story appeared, former Bantamweight Champion Babe Herman announced that he was in possession of the gloves. He said they were given to him years earlier by a seaman, though he said he couldn’t remember the man’s name. He claimed the man was a close friend of Dempsey’s and also friend of his. He didn’t say how the man got them and didn’t offer and convincing evidence of their authenticity. Babe said that Dempsey knew he was in possession of the gloves and even suggested they be put in a glass case at his restaurant in New York. 

Jack Dempsey Burying The Gloves From The Willard Fight?
(Photo Courtesy Of The Great Spesh)

This doesn’t add up as there is a newspaper photo that was taken on December 10,1934 that shows Jack Dempsey placing what he claims are the gloves from the fight under the cornerstone of his soon to be built restaurant at the corner of 50th Street and Eight Avenue in New York City. This was directly across from the old Madison Square Garden. In the photo he is accompanied by his wife Hannah and Mayor LaGuardia along with a number of other people. Did Jack forget about this when he was talking with Herman, if indeed such a conversation actually took place.

One of the reasons for examining the gloves would have been to see if there were traces of plaster of Paris in them. Kearns claimed he soaked Dempsey’s taped hands in the substance before the fight. That claim has been pretty much debunked, but checking the gloves would completely rule out that possibility. 

Of course, the gloves in the photo very well may not have been the the ones Jack wore that hot July 4th afternoon. It is possible they were just an old pair of boxing gloves and the whole thing was staged for publicity for Jack’s new restaurant. It does seem odd he would bury the gloves rather than put them on display. Perhaps he was getting rid of the evidence, though that wouldn’t have added up since this was almost thirty years before Kearns wrote the story that got things stirred up.

Still, it would be interesting to uncover the gloves. Jack eventually moved the popular restaurant to between 49th and 50th Streets. It doesn’t appear the gloves went along for the ride. 

Could they still be buried at that location? It’s very likely. Are they the gloves Jack wore when he beat Willard? I doubt it, but it is possible. There is only one way to find out. Recovering them would be one of the great finds in the archeology of boxing. I say an archeological dig should be ordered for the site. It is time to recover this rare artifact from the reign of one of the greatest kings in the history of boxing. Can you dig it?

 

Book Review: “The Tragedy of the Hogue Twins”

 

TRAGIC TWINS

“[When the Hogue twins were 31 years old,] they were still young men, but life had taken its toll on them. Shorty was living in a variety of care facilities, and Big Boy, who spent several years in and out of Atascadero Mental Hospital,  appeared to have no discernible skills outside of the ring other than cheating at cards.” 

 The Tragedy of the Hogue Twins

By Harry Otty

256 pages

Read Corner Publishing 

Reviewed by Roger Zotti

 

One

 Willard Joseph “Big Boy” Hogue and Willis Burton “Shorty” Hogue  are their names, and boxing historian Harry Otty has written a meticulously researched, eminently readable, and informative book about them. Enhanced by many photos of the twins, family members, friends, and opponents, it’s titled The Tragedy of the Hogue Twins (REaD Corner). 

Harry’s intention is that readers take from his book the realization that  “boxing, for all its hype and glamour, is a brutal sport and some of those who fight to entertain the fans don’t make as much money as the Floyd Mayweathers of this world. Most fighters come away with little in the way of tangible rewards and some come out with a lot less than what they went in with— as was the case with Shorty and Big Boy Hogue.”

At first Otty, the author of the acclaimed Charley Burley and the Black Murderers’ Row, had no idea who the Hogues were, but after extensive research, he says, “I ended up in touch with family members, and then [learned more] about [the twins], and thought theirs was a tale worth telling. [The Hogues] are not well-known outside of the hardcore boxing fraternity, and I thought that was a shame. I think Shorty Hogue belongs in the West Coast Hall of Fame – he beat some great fighters and, perhaps if handled better, could have gone a great deal further than he did.”

Obtaining first-hand information from the Hogue family was challenging for Harry: “With the Charley Burley book I wanted people to know a little more about him outside of boxing, so I relied on friends and family for stories and insights . . . Getting the same insight on the twins’ lives as I got with Charley Burley was  difficult, as there were no siblings left to talk about them. There were a couple of nephews, a grandson and a daughter, but the daughter was not willing to communicate. The snippets of information I did get from the family often led to other avenues to explore. It was a slow process.”

Two

Hailing from Jacumba, California, “Big Boy” was a welterweight, Shorty a middleweight. They had outstanding amateur boxing careers and turned professional on March 3, 1939. In their debuts at the San Diego Coliseum, Shorty stopped Al Jimenez in the third round and Big Boy garnered a six-round decision over George Romero.

Big Boy’s first name opponent was veteran Bobby Pacho, who had fought Henry Armstrong, Eddie Booker, Turkey Thompson, Fred Apostoli, and Fritzie Zivic, among others. In their June 22, 1939, bout, Big Boy earned a ten-round decision. 

Shorty’s former sparring partner, a rising middleweight named Archie Moore—yes, the Archie Moore—was his first opponent of merit. They battled on December 29, 1939, at the San Francisco Coliseum. Moore’s 38-3-3 record didn’t faze Shorty, who won a six-round decision over the future light heavyweight champion.

Their rematch took place in 1941, at the San Diego Coliseum, before 4,000 fans. Harry brings the fight to life with his vivid description of the tenth and final round: “The tenth started with Archie staggering Shorty once more, but the determined twin came back yet again to swamp Moore with a constant cascade of leather. The aggression, determination and sheer volume of punches was enough for referee Benny Whitman to cast his vote in favor of Shorty.”

When the decision was announced, Harry writes, “The reaction would have been the same had the call gone the other way. Afterward promoter Benny Ford called the fight the greatest he had ever seen in a San Diego ring.” 

Their third bout took place in 1942, again at the San Diego Coliseum, and Archie had his revenge, stopping Shorty in two rounds.

Shorty, who fought from 1939 to 1943, compiled a 52-11-2 record. Big Boy battled from 1939 to 1943, was inactive from 1944 to 1951, and returned to the wars in 1952, retiring after two TKO losses. His record was  50-19-7.

During their boxing careers the twins didn’t duck anyone.  Big Boy fought the likes of Aaron Wade, Eddie Booker, Jack Chase, and Charley Burley, all members of the feared Black Murderers’ Row, while Shorty battled Booker (four times), Lloyd Marshall (two times), and Burley.  

How good was the Row? Many champions and contenders ducked them, including Sugar Ray Robinson, whom Burley said he’d fight for nothing,  the great Henry Armstrong, Freddie Cochrane, and Rocky Graziano. 

In his book Murderers’ Row, boxing historian Springs Toledo quoted what former middleweight champion Jake LaMotta said about the Row: “When those bombers got the chance against a white kid on the square, they sure tried their best to show what they could do, because they all had a dream that maybe they’d get enough of an audience clamoring for them so that someday some promoter would give them the chance they deserved and they’d get a shot at the real money.”

And how good were the Hogues? Harry quotes Archie Moore who praised them as “’two of the greatest prospects in my time. They had everything needed to be world champions. Well, maybe one thing was missing—patience.’” 

Three

Brace yourself for the book’s last chapters, which chronicle the twins’ horrific downward spiral. Shorty never recovered from his TKO loss, in early 1942, to the mighty Burley. He fought eight more times that year, winning only twice. His six losses were by KO. 

 After his last fight that year he joined the Navy, but his military career was short-lived. His behavior was unstable and “diagnosed by the Naval medical staff [as] ‘traumatic encephalopathy.’” . . . “Come April 9, 1943, Shorty Hogue . . . was now also ex-naval reserve . . . mentally unfit for military service, physically no longer able to continue in his chosen profession, and with no discernible skills, [he] was consigned to the scrap heap at 22.” Shorty  died in his sleep, at Sleepy Valley Rest Home, on November 29, 1971. He was 50 years old.

Big Boy didn’t fare any better. In his final fifteen outings, he was stopped ten times. After retiring in 1952, he lived a trouble-filled life. 

Jumping ahead to 1964 and Big Boy’s arrest: The police decided to hold [him] until he had ‘sobered up,’ Otty writes, “but he never did. Just before midnight, an officer went in to check on the prisoner. He found Big Boy hanging in his cell. He had used his own belt to end his life. He was only 43.  

“It appears that the symptoms of ‘punch drunk syndrome’”—dementia pugilistica—”[had affected] Big Boy as much as Shorty; the difference was that Shorty had received an official diagnosis,” Otty writes, adding that “[reporter Nelson Fisher] in one paragraph summed up [the Hogue twins’] lives and careers almost perfectly: ‘If their boxing careers were crowned by success and popularity, their lives after they put away the gloves were as contrastingly unfortunate, eventually tragic.’”

Four

Over the years many boxing writers and scholars have inspired Harry: “Like most boxing historians. I have read a great deal of books, essays, newspaper reports, and I would say I was most likely influenced by all of them in one way or another.” 

Boxing historians Kevin Smith and Jerry Fitch rank high as authors who persuaded Harry he “could/should do it” himself. Says Harry: “I read a good deal of Jerry’s essays in the 1980s and 90s and really liked his stuff on the Cleveland greats (Jimmy Bivins, Lloyd Marshall, Joey Maxim, etc.) and Kevin Smith’s work on the great black fighters opened my eyes to just how deep and wide the history of the sport was. Boxing historian and author John Ochs was a fantastic help once I had the book compiled and (almost) ready to publish.”

Harry commends “the many members of the IBRO who have written fantastic histories and biographies on some of the greats from our sport (and some of the not so well-known, too). I think that is what makes the organization so good – the breadth and depth of knowledge is amazing, and more people should join up!”

A contributing writer for the IBRO Journal, Roger Zotti has written two books on boxing, Friday Night World and The Proper Pugilist. He can be reached at rogerzotti [at] aol [dot] com. You’ll make him happy by emailing him and saying nice things about his writing.”

Requiem For A Houston Heavyweight: The Tragedy Of Cleveland Williams

Cleveland Williams Never Should Have Been Allowed To Face Ali

By Bobby Franklin

Williams and Ali

In the opening sequence of the movie Requiem For A Heavyweight, a young Cassius Clay is seen throwing a punches during a fight. The view of the action is seen through the eyes of his opponent Mountain Rivera, played by Anthony Quinn, a washed up former contender who is now being used as an opponent and as a way for his unscrupulous manager Maish Rennick, played by Jackie Gleason, to keep squeezing a few more dollars out of him. It is a tragic story about a fighter on the way out being milked by the creeps that infest the world of boxing. The movie is fiction, but the real life world of boxing is not much different from what is depicted in it. 

The story of Cleveland Williams and his fight against Muhammad Ali fits the ugly narrative of Requiem For A Heavyweight pretty closely. In fact, what was done to Williams was much worse than what was done to the fictional Rivera. First, some background.

When asked what fight shows Muhammad Ali at his absolute peak, most boxing aficionados will point to the champ’s bout against Cleveland “Big Cat” Williams. That choice makes sense when you look at the fight without knowing the background of the challenger and his physical condition at the time of the fight. It also adds up if you only look at Ali’s performance and don’t examine Williams’ moves during the fight.

Ali Drops Williams

The fight took place on November 14, 1966 at the Astrodome in Houston, Texas. Ali had won the title on February 25, 1964 with a stunning upset over Sonny Liston. A little over a year later he again defeated Liston, this time by a first round knockout in Lewiston, Maine. Muhammad vowed to be an active champion and he lived up to that promise. Over the next year leading up to the Williams bout, Ali fought five times defending the title both in the United States as well as in Europe. He decisively defeated all the opponents put in front of him. The list includes Floyd Patterson, George Chuvalo, Henry Cooper, Brian London, and Karl Mildenberger. These opponents may not make it to anyone’s list of all time greats, but they were the leading contenders at the time. Ali was not one to duck an opponent. 

During the reign of Floyd Patterson, most of the top contenders were denied a shot at the title. Things were different with Ali as champ. Talented and confident, he was willing to take on all comers. But unfortunately, as 1966 was closing out there really weren’t any outstanding contenders  that stood a chance against Muhammad. The young crowd which included Jerry Quarry, Joe Frazier, Oscar Bonavena, and Thad Spencer were still a few years away from being ready to challenge for the title. Ali had been going through the former champs and contenders that were now beginning to age. There had been an effort to make a match against Ernie Terrell who claimed the WBA Heavyweight Championship, but terms for a contract had not been able to be worked out. Ali would go on to face Terrell the following year. He would also give Zora Folley a chance in 1967 in what would be Muhammad’s last fight before being exiled from boxing over his refusal to be inducted into the United States Army.

In the meantime, the name Cleveland Williams was tossed into the mix. A resident of Houston, Williams had a reputation as a very hard puncher. At the time, Ali had been so successful at not getting hit it was thought he might have a weak chin. After all, Henry Cooper had decked him with a left hook. Even though he was not a ranked contender, the fight was sold on the basis of Cleveland’s punching power. While Ali would certainly be the favorite, Williams had a “puncher’s chance,” at least that’s what the promoters convinced the public of. 

The fight drew a live audience of 35,460 fans to the Astrodome, setting a record at the time for the largest crowd to witness an indoor fight. Gross receipts were $461,290 plus revenue from television and radio. The hype had worked.

As for the fight. Ali certainly looked impressive as he moved around Williams landing punches at will while never getting hit a serious blow in return. It was all over at 1:08 of the third round after Williams had been dropped on four occasions, three times in the second round and once in the third before the referee stopped the carnage. It was one of the most one-sided fights in heavyweight championship history.

Did Ali look magnificent that night? Without a doubt he did. He had the grace of a ballet dancer, the speed of a middleweight, and reflexes that were phenomenal. He was poised and relaxed. However, this was not a great win for him. While it is breathtaking to watch him in action against Williams, it must also be taken into account the caliber of his opposition. This is also not the fight to use when arguing how great Ali was. For while Ali had been staying very active in the years leading up to the fight, things were a bit different for Williams.

Cleveland Williams

And The Ugly Side Of Boxing

Big Cat Williams

Cleveland Williams was born on June 30, 1933 in Griffin, Georgia. He has stated he began his professional boxing career at the age of fourteen, lying about his age in order to get a license to box. When his real age was discovered he had to put his career on hold. A few years later he moved to Florida where he began boxing again. 

According tom BoxRec, his first official pro fight was against Lee Hunt on December 11, 1951. He won by a knockout in the 2nd round. He went on to win 28 in a row with 25 victories by knockout. All his fights were in the South. He proved to have terrific punching power but, with the exception of Omelio Agramonte who was long past his prime, had not beaten any significant opposition.

The win against Agramonte did earn him a chance to fight in New York  where he took on Sylvester Jones who was in only his tenth fight. This was a four round preliminary bout and Cleveland was dropped twice on his way to losing a decision. The fight was on the undercard of the Marciano/LaStanza Heavyweight Title fight.

Satterfield Knocking Out Williams

Williams returned to Florida and ran off five more wins including a knock out over Jones. He was now matched against Bob Satterfield in Miami Beach. Williams was a late substitute for Satterfield’s original opponent. Even though he had a 25 pound weight advantage, Williams was knocked cold by Satterfield in the third round and it took several minutes to revive him.

Again, Williams resumed his career and ran up a series of wins. His next big chance would be against top contender Sonny Liston. It was April 15, 1959 and Liston stopped him in the third round. The two would fight again a year later and Liston would win by kayo in the second round.

Williams did not give up and had his best years in 1961 and 1962. During this time he scored wins over such fighters as Alex Miteff, Wayne Bethea, Alonzo Johnson, and Ernie Terrell. He also held Eddie Machen to a draw. There was now some talk of him getting a shot at the title. In a rematch with Terrell he lost a decision and in the meantime a young upstart named Cassius Clay had wrested the title from Sonny Liston.  While Clay was winning the title in 1964, something major was also happening in the life of Cleveland Williams, something major and tragic.

On the night of November 29, 1964 Williams was stopped by a Texas State Police officer for suspicion of driving while intoxicated. What ensued is somewhat disputed, but the two got into a struggle and during the altercation the officer’s 357 Magnum was fired sending a bullet through Williams’s body ripping through his intestines and right kidney, lodging against his right hip. He was taken to a hospital where he died three times on the operating table. He lost a kidney and the bullet remained in his body. He shrank down to 155 pounds and had several more operations over the next 7 months. During his time in the hospital, Williams’s co-manager, Bud Williams, told him not to worry about the cost of his care as it was all being covered. Williams was not told by Adams that a tally was being kept and that Cleveland would be held liable for the expenses.

Hugh Benbow and Sonny Liston Visit Cleveland Williams In The Hospital

Cleveland Williams proved to be an amazing patient. In spite of all the damage he sustained from the shooting, he was determined to fight again. This was not a wise decision for a man who had been through what he had, but even though he now had only one kidney and a bullet still lodged in him, his managers encouraged him to continue boxing. They knew they could still make money with him. He began regaining his strength by working on his manger’s ranch. The manager, Hugh Benbow had bought out Bud William’s share of Cleveland’s contract and now was fully in charge. Williams regained much of his muscle mass and once again looked formidable, but the nerve damage had caused permanent harm to his reflexes. Just imagine, having your insides shot to pieces from a 357 Magnum and then stepping back into the ring just a little over a year later. That is just what Cleveland did.

On February 8, 1966 Williams faced Ben Black, a fighter with only four bouts on his record. He scored a first round kayo. He then went on to fight Mel Turnbow, Sonny Moore, and Tod Herring. He won all three but Turnbow dropped him during their match.

Based on these four wins and some amazing promoting by Hugh Benbow, Williams was now signed to fight Muhammad Ali for the title. Benbow must have had some real pull with the press as it was written that Ali’s camp was afraid of having him take on The Big Cat. It was claimed the only way Benbow could get them to agree was to convince them Williams was still suffering from his injuries from the shooting. To believe Ali only took the bout because he felt he was facing a semi invalid is ridiculous. However, it is true that Williams was in no condition to fight.

I looked back at the ratings during Cleveland Williams years boxing. Ring Magazine only rated him in the top ten during four years: 1961, 1962, 1963, and 1964. He was never ranked higher than number four, and was unranked at the time of his fight with Ali. His reputation was based on his punching power and the fact that Sonny Liston had called him one of the hardest punchers he had ever faced. His biggest fights were his losses to Liston, the victory, later reversed, over Ernie Terrell, and a draw with Eddie Machen.

On the night of the Ali fight, Williams was served with papers from lawyers representing his former manager Bud Adams. The suit being filed claimed Adams was owed $67,615.00 by Williams for the money that was spent while Cleveland was in the hospital. This meant that his purse for the fight would be attached and he would end up with pocket change after the bout. On top of having partial paralysis in his right hip, only one kidney, and a bullet pressing against his hip, Williams now knew he would make no money for the fight. He had to step into the ring that night against one of the greatest fighters of all time dealing with that burden. It was like a scene out of The Harder They Fall. 

When you watch the fight, instead of focusing on Ali pay attention to Cleveland Williams. At the opening bell you can see how stiff his legs are. He actually stumbles a bit as he moves out from his corner. His legs have very little muscle mass. When he misses with a left hook he stumbles. He might look powerful, but the man still should have been in a rehab working on his reflexes and coordination. For Ali, this was more like working out on a heavy bag than fighting a man. 

What Williams did was remarkable in coming back from death. He worked hard and restored his muscles, but he had been torn apart physically and emotionally. He never, never, should have been in a boxing ring. 

Calling this Muhammad Ali’s greatest fight is a travesty. Ali had many great fights, but judging his greatness off of this one is plain silly. I asked boxing historian Mike Silver, the author of The Arc of Boxing about this and he said: “To say that Ali’s knockout of a damaged Cleveland Williams was his greatest performance is like saying the greatest performance of Larry Holmes’ career was his fight against a damaged Muhammad Ali. Both Ali and Williams were “shot” fighters (Williams literally) and were incapable of offering serious resistance.” He is correct. To Ali’s credit he never bragged about this victory. 

Williams quit boxing after this fight, but broke and without a way to earn a living he made a comeback two years later. He fought from 1968 to 1972 when he retired for good. He ended up losing his remaining kidney and had to have dialysis treatments twice a week for the rest of his life. Boxing promoters and managers milked him for all they could get out of him and then left him to fend for himself.  It is an ugly story, but one not uncommon in boxing.

Cleveland Williams died at the age of 66 broke and sick. He was killed when hit by a car while returning home from a dialysis treatment, marking a tragic ending to a tragic life.

Next time you are watching the Ali/Williams fight and in awe of how “great”  Ali looks in it, just take some time to think about what condition Cleveland Williams was in that night. Also consider the type of people who inhabit the world of professional boxing. These are people who would throw an invalid into the ring with a great fighter and then take him for all he’s worth. Instead of watching that fight and getting all excited about Ali’s performance, you should feel sick when you know what really happened that night.