Another Knockout by Archie Moore
Slowly the door opened to reveal the distinguished brown face, highlighted by a graying mustache and goatee, of Archie Moore…
On a summer evening in 1980 I called Archie Moore, introduced myself as a correspondent, stated my admiration for his thunderous punching, and asked for an interview while he was in Sacramento to be honored during an amateur boxing tournament.
“That’s fine,” he said. “Can you come about eight tomorrow morning?”
“Well, is ten or eleven okay?”
“No, I’ll be busy later. I’m free at eight.”
“Sorry. I can’t come then.”
In the most mellifluous voice I’ve heard, he asked, “Whhyy?”
Had I been candid, I’d have answered, “I usually work till midnight and then stay out too late and struggle to get up at eleven or so and even then often feel like a zombie.” Instead, I said, “Ah, eight o’clock is…it’s really early and I don’t know…okay, I’ll see you then.”
“My room number’s…”
Despite maintaining discipline that Friday night, I was frightened by the six-thirty alarm but stumbled out of bed and, in honor of a champion, did a few exercises before showering and driving to the motel. I knocked on the appointed door and waited about a minute before knocking again. Slowly the door opened to reveal the distinguished brown face, highlighted by a graying mustache and goatee, of Archie Moore, attired in a white bath towel around his waist.
“Come in, Mr. Clark,” he said, and I shook his hand, noting it was much larger and stronger than mine.
Moore dressed, and for two hours I listened to boxing tales that spanned Jack Dempsey to Muhammad Ali, and when I wasn’t scribbling notes a tournament official photographed us in several boxing poses that show a beanpole squaring off against a still-powerful pugilist. We then walked to the motel restaurant, where men recognized and praised him and introduced him to their families, and he bought me a delicious high-cholesterol breakfast.
After covering the boxing tournament that Saturday night, and delivering some fact-clotted words on deadline, I had my chance to perform Sunday night. And in three hours, for twenty bucks that also covered the interview time, I wrote a feature that’s here revised and updated:
Rocky Marciano was hit with a right uppercut and plunged head down to the canvas, landing in haphazard fashion on his hands and one knee. He arose at the count of four and staggered into the ropes where he draped his arms while staring glassy-eyed into the crowd of sixty thousand at Yankee Stadium. Archie Moore, the forty-two-year-old light heavyweight champion, tried to heed his corner’s cry, “Hit him, hit him,” and lunged at the dazed heavyweight titlist. But referee Harry Kessler, either forgetting or ignoring the agreement to wave the mandatory eight-count rule, jumped in front of Moore and told him to back off and started the count again. Then Kessler grabbed Marciano’s gloves and jerked him in an apparent effort at revival.
That was in 1955 but Moore remains incensed. Scowling while he recalled the incident, he told me to hold my hands out to represent Marciano’s gloves, and demonstrated Kessler’s maneuver with a tug that indicated “The Old Mongoose” is still powerful.
“Henry Kessler jobbed me by not letting me get to Marciano in that second round, and I defy him to prove otherwise,” Moore said. “The next day, when we studied the films, it proved my case. Then, several days later, the sequence where Kessler got between us had been carefully edited out.
“I got too angry after that and started to go after Marciano. We traded a lot, and I’m convinced that no fighter, past or present, would be smart to stand and trade punches with Rocky Marciano. He decked me twice in the sixth round and stopped me in the ninth.”
So Moore was unable to realize the long unachieved goal of a light heavyweight champion winning the heavyweight crown. But he owns boxing’s counterpart to the home run record, that of most knockouts: one hundred forty. He was a consummate strategist who conceived countless methods to render his opponents unconscious.
“I had knockout power everywhere,” said Moore. “I had no preference whatever which type of punch I hit a man with, or where. You’ve just got to go, that’s all. My philosophy was to get guys on queer street right away and keep them there.”
Poverty, the spawning ground of most boxers, was the keynote of Moore’s youth in St. Louis. He and his friends couldn’t play golf or tennis so they fought bare-knuckled in the street or carried boxing gloves with them as they roamed and sought to test themselves. Those impromptu brawls in the ghettos served as Moore’s amateur career.
“I didn’t box in the amateurs because I wasn’t interested in trinkets. I wanted money,” he said, and began to fight for pay as a welterweight in 1936. His age at the time, as today, has been kept secret. The Encyclopedia of Boxing lists his year of birth as 1913. Moore won’t confirm that but does admit to “being up in years.”
For the next sixteen years Moore fought for subsistence wages in a succession of smoky gyms, auditoriums, and warehouses. Sometimes he earned enough for transportation to fights in the next backwater towns. Sometimes he didn’t. When broke, Moore often hitched rides on freight trains and fought for the short end of purses against hometown foes favored by corrupt judges. As Moore’s knockout record expanded, he had increasing difficulty convincing highly-ranked boxers to fight him.
“I couldn’t get a title shot in any division I was in on the way up,” he said. “Billy Conn never would fight me. Some people said I was too good for my own good. Also, I wouldn’t cater to people. Did people ask me to throw fights? I don’t use that kind of language, but it was tantamount to that.”
In 1952, when Moore was probably thirty-nine years old, he was awarded a long-denied chance at the light heavyweight title and defeated Joey Maxim. What he had striven so long to achieve, he was unwilling to relinquish. The master of the knockout, even in his forties, was superior to his youthful competition. No light heavyweight ever beat Moore in a title fight and he retired with his championship belt in 1962.
If a man can beat the world’s best in middle age and last a few rounds with much younger and larger Cassius Clay—as Moore did at forty-nine—then it’s likely he’ll be formidable in old age. In 1976, as an effervescent sixty-three-year-old, Moore went to Nigeria to coach boxing. One morning he was being chauffeured through a scenic region outside Lagos and asked the driver to stop on a bridge so he could take a picture of the river that flowed underneath. He saw workers below who were called “sand hogs” and carried hundred-fifty-pound buckets of sand up the banks to be used in making cement. Moore was impressed with their huge, sculpted muscles, and snapped several photos. As he was returning to the car, the largest worker approached and angrily said, “Bring it.”
“Bring what?” said Moore.
“The camera,” said the hulking young man.
“I don’t want you taking pictures and making fun of us.”
“I’m not making fun of you. I’m your brother,” said Moore.
“Bring it here,” shouted the man, who began to approach Moore.
The old champ’s geniality had been strained. He gently tossed his camera into the car and waited as the powerful laborer charged. Moore caught the African with a left hook that knocked him against the railing and opened a bloody cut on his mouth. Still, he attacked Moore again, grabbing him around the neck.
“I could just feel that man’s strength about to crush me,” he said. “I knocked off one of his arms with my right hand and followed with a left hook to the body and a three-punch flurry. Ah, that man was so big and beautiful. He was bigger than Ken Norton. He just sank to the ground like he was sitting down.”
Archie Moore had just recorded his hundred-forty-first knockout.
This is an excerpt from Uppercuts: Tales from the Ring, by George Thomas Clark. Uppercuts is available as an eBook at Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble, Kobo Books, Google Books, and Apple iTunes. The price is only $0.99. Additional information is available on the author’s website at www.GeorgeThomasClark.com.