“For years,” Moore later observed, “I couldn’t get near Maxim. And now I couldn’t get away from him.”
That was because Doc Kearns still managed Maxim in addition to having a piece of Moore.
“If it weren’t for fight managers,” Moore grumbled, “a lot more fighters would have been millionaires.”
During this time frame, Moore also began to have trouble making the 175-pound weight limit. That led to some unusual practices.
Moore claimed that he had learned invaluable nutritional secrets from an Aborigine while fighting in Australia in 1940. Being a teller of tales, Archie confided, “I was given a secret recipe by a dying Aborigine under a gum tree in a desert near Wootawoorwoorowwoora. At least, I figured he was dying. He looked mighty sick. And he made me promise I would never tell the secret of this semi-vanishing oil until he died. Well, how do I know he’s dead? I ain’t taking no chances.”
Speaking of the Aborigines on another occasion, Moore maintained, “They were all quite lean and possessed tremendous stamina. They attributed this to the fact that they would chew on strips of meat, chewing until the last bit of juice had been extracted. This would nourish them and keep up their strength without adding any weight. They never swallowed the bulk of the meat from which they had extracted the juice. Of course, this chewing meat without swallowing it is not an easy thing to do. It takes great control to keep from swallowing a delicious piece of meat instead of just chewing on it and swallowing the juices before spitting out the bulk.”
Publicist Bill Caplan, who spent time with Moore, says simply, “It wasn’t pleasant eating with Archie when he was trying to make weight. He’d chew the meat for the juice and spit the rest out on his plate. No napkin or anything like that. Just chew, spit, chew, spit.”
Following his third triumph over Maxim, Moore won three more over-the-weight non-title bouts and successfully defended his championship against Harold Johnson and Bobo Olson. Then he reached for the stars.
For much of the 20th century, the heavyweight championship was the most coveted prize in sports. Three months prior to Moore beating Maxim to claim the light heavyweight title, Rocky Marciano had knocked out Jersey Joe Walcott to annex the heavyweight throne.
Reprising a tactic he’d used to get his title opportunity against Maxim, Moore sent hundreds of handwritten letters to sportswriters around the country urging them to support a Marciano-Moore fight. That was followed by press releases, classified ads, and a “wanted” poster offering a reward for the capture and delivery of Marciano to “Sheriff” Archie Moore.
“I got Marciano in a corner,” Moore later reminisced. “People would ask him when he was going to fight me and he could no longer say, ‘I don’t want to hurt that old man.’ He had to either fight me or face the embarrassment of refusal the rest of his fighting career.”
Marciano-Moore was contracted for and scheduled for Yankee Stadium. The challenger carried the brunt of the pre-fight promotion. Jerry Izenberg (then a cub reporter) recalls, “Archie was a blessing to the writers. He always gave us something we could write.”
In the weeks leading up to the bout, Moore was often seen wearing a blue yachting cap. “It lends an impression that you own a yacht,” he explained.
He also got maximum publicity out of his dietary habits by putting a lock on the training camp refrigerator and claiming that his nutritional secrets were “too valuable to be left lying around.” A screen was erected around his table during meals to protect against prying eyes. In a similar vein, Moore carried a flask that he sipped from occasionally and told reporters that it was a secret brew prepared from a recipe given to him by a tribe of Aborigines in Australia.
“If the outcome of the fight was dependent on conversation,” Arthur Daley of the New York Times noted, “Marciano wouldn’t have a chance.”
On September 21, 1955, a crowd of 61,574 filled Yankee Stadium for Marciano-Moore. Former heavyweight champions Jack Dempsey, Gene Tunney, Max Baer, James Braddock, and Joe Louis were at ringside. Another 400,000 fans watched the fight on closed-circuit television in 133 theaters across the country.
Moore’s purse was $270,000, the largest of his career (equivalent to $2,250,000 in today’s dollars). Marciano received $471,000. Moore weighed in at 188 pounds, Marciano, a quarter-pound heavier. The most youthful estimate dated Moore as three months shy of 39 years old. Whatever his age, he was well past his prime. Marciano, an 18-to-five favorite, was 32.
Moore was a showman. After beating Maxim, he’d ordered custom-made robes for many of his fights. In his title defense against Harold Johnson, he’d entered the ring wearing a black satin robe with a gold satin lining, mandarin collar, and 10-karat gold edging. For Bobo Olson, he unveiled a white English flannel model with a gold satin lining, gold braids, and 10-karat gold epaulets.
Against Marciano, Budd Schulberg reported, “Moore entered the ring in a flowing regal robe of black brocade trimmed in gold with Louis XIV cuffs and a brilliant gold lining, under which he affected another silken robe of saintly white. Aeneas himself could not have born himself more proudly. Whether the venerable pugilist is truly a god or merely a fine play actor who has a way with Homeric material, I know that the gods of ancient Greece and Rome would have been delighted with him.”
The fight itself was high drama.
“At the opening bell,” Moore later recounted, “I came out of my corner to meet Marciano and, strangely enough, he started backing away. I jabbed several times, but they went over Marciano’s head as he was boxing pretty low. I thought I would change tactics and make him straighten up because he was pretty hard to hit while in the crouch. So in the second round, I feinted Marciano and took a half-step back. As he followed me in with a short overhand right, I took another short step backward so that he missed me by three inches and I came through with an uppercut that hit him right on the chin and he went down heavily on one knee and both elbows.”
For only the second time in his career, Marciano was on the canvas. “I was dazed,” he admitted afterward, “but my head cleared quickly.”
Marciano rose at the count of two. Two minutes and 30 seconds were left in the round. Moore later contended that referee Harry Kessler erroneously began a mandatory eight-count, forgetting the eight-count rule was not in effect for title fights.
“Rocky was a wide-open target at that point,” Moore claimed. “Dazed, confused, and with absolutely no defense and no mobility. It would have been like hitting a punching bag. If I could have gotten him when he got up after the two-count, I could have become heavyweight champion.”
But film footage of the fight is at odds with Moore’s version of events. It shows that the action resumed within three seconds of the time that Marciano rose from the canvas. Kessler didn’t even wipe off his gloves.
Marciano survived the second round. Then, inexorably, he wore Moore down with brute force, battering his arms, upper body, and every other part of his anatomy that could be hit with heavy sledgehammer blows.
“Rocky didn’t know enough boxing to know what a feint was,” Moore mused years later. “He never tried to outguess you. He just kept trying to knock your brains out. If he missed you with one punch, he just threw another. Of all the guys I fought, Marciano hit me harder than everybody else combined. I felt like someone was beating all over my body with a blackjack or hitting me with rocks.”
“I don’t think I ever threw more punches in a fight than I did tonight,” Marciano told reporters when it was over. “I just couldn’t seem to get a clean shot at him. He’d hide beneath those arms and bob and weave and roll with the punches, so the only thing I could do was keep pitching them.”
Marciano put Moore on the canvas twice in the sixth round. In round eight, Moore was knocked down for the third time but was saved by the bell. In round nine, he was counted out. “I had the braggadocio and the skill and the guts,” he acknowledged, “but that wasn’t enough. Marciano beat me down.”
Of the final rounds, Schulberg wrote, “The golden-robed god of the fistic wars was getting the hell beat out of him. The cestus-like fists of Marciano were punishing the old man terribly. The Greeks would have wept for Moore. In the end, he sat there in great sadness as the referee administered the fight game’s numeric version of the last rites. There was tragedy in the way he sprawled there with the fight and the will beaten out of him; a very old man of forty-two who, some thirty minutes earlier, had been such an astonishing young man of forty-two.”
Years later, Moore would look back on his conqueror and that night with a mixture of sadness and pride.
“The Marciano fight was like a dream come true,” he wrote. “This was the one fight that I had always wanted – a fight for the heavyweight championship of the world. It is a bout I will always cherish. The cheer that went up when I decked Marciano was the most thrilling and inspiring sound I have ever heard. You cannot imagine what the roar of sixty thousand people can do to your spine. You stand under the lights with a fallen champion at your feet and, as one voice, the crowd salutes you. It is a thrill that cannot be measured. It is a memory I can conjure up by just closing my eyes. When I was knocked out, the same crowd saluted Rocky, and that is as it should be.”
After losing to Marciano, Moore, in essence, told the boxing establishment, “You wouldn’t let me fight for the light heavyweight championship when I was in my prime. Why should I give it back to you now that I’m old?”
Over the next year, he engaged in a well-orchestrated sleight of hand that saw 10 over-the-weight non-title fights against mediocre opponents and one championship defense in London against the non-threatening Yolande Pompey. Then opportunity knocked once more.
Seven months after beating Moore, Rocky Marciano retired from boxing without fighting again. The powers that be then decreed that Moore should be matched against Floyd Patterson for the vacant heavyweight throne.
Moore-Patterson was contested in Chicago on November 30, 1956. Had Moore won, he would have been the oldest man as of that time to claim the heavyweight crown. As it was, Patterson, age 21, became the youngest. He knocked Moore out in the fifth round.
Moore was simply too slow.
“I trained hard for the Patterson fight,” he said afterward. “Too hard, I overtrained. I was stale. Patterson didn’t surprise me when we fought. I knew what type of fight to expect and I got it. I planned to bring the fight to him and I wasn’t able to. My reflexes were off and my timing was terrible. I was beaten as badly as I have ever been beaten in my whole ring career.”
Moore had two more over-the-weight non-title fights after his loss to Patterson. Finally, on September 20, 1957, he entered the ring to defend his championship against a credible challenger for the first time in more than three years.
Twenty-two-year-old Tony Anthony was the opponent. Four months earlier, Moore had weighed 206½ pounds for a fight against Hans Kalbfell in Germany. On the day of the Anthony fight, the “Old Mongoose” (as he was now known) had to get on the scales six times before making the 175-pound weight limit. Then he knocked Anthony out in the seventh round.
“He’s the Einstein of boxing,” the vanquished challenger said afterward.
“It’s my candy,” Moore said of his title, “and the only way you’re going to get any of it is to take it away from me.”
Twelve more over-the-weight non-title fights followed. Moore journeyed to Canada, Germany, and Brazil, and added Nevada and Kentucky to his itinerary.
“Do you know why I can continue on while others fade away?” he asked before answering his own question. “I am a man who has more faith in himself than others. Every day, I do something to improve my skill of the game, whether it is refining an old move or mastering a new one. I never stop learning. I realize age is just a number.”
But the most fabled episode in Moore’s ring career lay ahead. By late-1958, according to The Ring Record Book (considered the final authority on boxing records at that time), he had accumulated 126 career knockouts. That placed him in a tie with Young Stribling, a light heavyweight from Georgia, who was credited with 126 career knockouts before his death in a 1933 motorcycle accident.
Then Moore signed to defend his championship in Montreal on December 10, 1958, against a French-Canadian fisherman named Yvon Durelle.
“I’m aware that many observers tend to regard Durelle as just a rough club fighter with no style or class,” Moore said of the impending contest. “I fought another fellow who fit this description – Rocky Marciano. Durelle is like one of those pit bulldogs that are bred to fight to the death. He never steps back. A fighter like Yvon is out only when the referee counts him out. You can’t knock him out with a typewriter or a verbal opinion. December 10th could be the roughest night of my seven-year reign as 175-pound king.”
In truth, Moore thought Durelle was an easy mark. Archie appeared at the weigh-in attired in a tuxedo, camel’s hair coat, and Homburg hat accessorized by a silver-headed cane. Durelle wore work pants, an old sweater, and rubber boots. Always the showman, Moore approached his opponent and asked, “Who is your tailor?” He then told reporters, “I am counting on Monsieur Durelle showing proper respect for a man old enough to be his father.”
Durelle entered the ring on fight night knowing that he had a tough task ahead of him. Moore had no such foreknowledge. The 11 rounds that followed are now part of boxing lore.
Fifty-five seconds into round one, Durelle landed a perfectly leveraged, short right hand flush on Moore’s jaw. Moore dropped to the canvas like he’d been shot. Through an act of Herculean will, he rose to his feet a fraction of a second before the count of 10.
Lester Bromberg, who was at ringside for the New York World-Telegram and Sun, recounted the impact of the blow that knocked Moore down for the first time: “The punch landed with the impact of a Marine battalion hitting a beach. Moore’s legs instantly sagged. The shock running through his body appeared to disjoint it and he came down backwards like children’s miniature blocks, his head rapping the floor loudly. If the punch hadn’t stunned him, the smash of the back of his head would have. This clearly was a punch-paralyzed man, his right arm stretched limp, his left balanced strangely on his elbow, his torso flat to the thighs, and his right leg crooked in an inverted ‘V.’ The French-Canadian fans were on their feet, screaming wildly. The gauche fisherman had nailed the defensive master. At five, Moore was still on his back…six, seven, eight…Archie hauled himself to a knee. Nine…He managed to beat 10, but his feet could not have been heavier if he were mired in sand.”
Dazed, Moore lurched around the ring, unable to defend himself. Durelle pounded him from post to post and felled him with a glancing left, then decked him for the third time with a brutal right hand. A minute and 10 seconds remained in the round. Moore barely made it to his feet at nine. Boxing’s ageless warrior looked ageless no more.
In later years, Moore would recount that first round as follows:
* “The fight was about a minute old when he caught me with a right hand. I didn’t see the right hand, but I felt it. It seemed like a bomb exploded in my head. The first thing that struck the floor was the back of my head. I felt a trickle of blood inside my mouth. I knew I had a concussion. I thought, ‘Well, this is the way they happen.’ I guess if I hit my head that hard on the street, I would have been killed.”
* “The first thing I heard was number five. I knew I had to get to my feet, but it felt as if the top of my head was blown off. I rolled to one knee. I think I was up at nine. Then he hit me again and I thought he’d broken my head. I said to myself, ‘Well, I guess this is the end for me, but I’m going to fight this son of a bitch. I’ll die fighting him if it comes to that.’”
* The noise that Canadian crowd made was deafening. It sounded like the drone of a million bees in a small room. Over the roar of the fans, I could hear the referee shouting the count in my ear. And I could hear my cornerman begging me to get up. I pushed myself to my feet. Then I was flat on my back again. Once again, I staggered to my feet. I came in with a left hook and he split me with a right hand and I went down again. I thought, ‘Oh, my goodness; this guy really can hit. And I began to pray softly to myself, ‘Oh, God, if I can just last this round and get to my corner.’ Somehow, I managed to get to my feet. Finally, the bell rang and I stumbled to my corner.”
In round four, Moore took the initiative. But less than a minute into round five, Durelle backed him into the ropes and landed a hard right high on the cheek that put the champion on the canvas again. Moore rose on wobbly legs. Once again, the end seemed near. Amazingly, he survived the round.
Then, remarkably, the fight turned.
In round seven, Moore knocked Durelle down. Ten seconds before the end of round 10, a barrage of punches put the challenger on the canvas for the second time. He rose on unsteady legs at the count of eight and was saved by the bell. At the start of round 11, a six-punch barrage punctuated by a left hook to the jaw put Durelle on the canvas for the third time. Now the tables were turned. He struggled valiantly to his feet at the count of nine and Moore ended matters with a straight right hand that matched the blow Durelle had begun the carnage with in round one.
“The title is all I’ve got,” Moore told reporters when the fight was over. “I just couldn’t give it up.
“A champion,” Jack Dempsey once said, “is someone who gets up when he can’t.”
Anyone who wants to learn about the heart of a champion should watch round one of Moore-Durelle on YouTube. Years later, Moore would reflect back on that night and observe, “The fight with Durelle was the fight that every fighter hopes to have. This is the fight that a fighter dreams about, getting knocked down and then being able to get up and conquer his opponent. I had always known that I would come to the end of the road someday. No fighter lasts forever. And I was in my 40s, so losing after all these years was excusable. But there is no excuse for a champion not putting up the best fight he possibly can.”
Part Three of “Archie Moore Revisited” will be posted on Friday evening.
Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. His most recent book (And the New…: An Inside Look at Another Year in Boxing) was published by the University of Arkansas Press.
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