Davey Moore: Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em

By Clarence George on December 18, 2015
Davey Moore: Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em
"A dark cloud hung over the sport. Creating a boxing game was now out of the question."

My brother “managed” the red robot, the “Red Rocker.” He liked red and he was older. That was a good red, sort of a mix of blood and brick…

“Rock’em Sock’em Robots was impervious to even the most sadistic little shits.”—Alan Siegel

It was Christmas 50 years ago (my God, how depressing), and I can’t remember if it was for me or my brother. Maybe it was a joint gift. Who the hell gives a joint gift to siblings? An only child, I guess. People like that, they don’t know any better.

Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots. The ring was yellow. Not just any yellow. The way a taxi is a yellow you don’t see anywhere else. Toys that had yellow, they were like that. A toy yellow. A yellow not mustard or lemon, not quite butter, sort of American cheese. Anyway, looking good enough to eat.

My brother “managed” the red robot, the “Red Rocker.” He liked red and he was older. That was a good red, sort of a mix of blood and brick. It was a color unmistakably boy. That left me with the blue one, aka, the Blue Bomber, but it wasn’t of a shade that would today be called “awesome” or “legit.” It wasn’t a policeman’s blue or the navy blue of my Popeye puppet. It was sky. Too pale, too baby. And yet…there was an undercurrent of gray. I consoled myself with the thought that my mechanical man’s sky color was holding something back. Maybe a storm was brewing.

Or maybe not, as my brother took almost every match, knocking my block off. Or, rather, up. I didn’t even get a kick out of the rare occasions I beat him, as I was always more surprised than anything else. My brother pretty much always beat me at everything. I once had one of his teachers, who told me how much she expected me to meet the high standards he’d set the previous year. Those expectations got shot down in flames, and in short order, let me tell ya.

Still, win or lose (there was no draw), all us boys loved Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em. And who do we have to thank for this wonderful toy coming into our lives? Why, Davey Moore.

Born in Lexington, Kentucky, on November 1, 1933, Moore fought out of Springfield, Ohio, from 1953 to 1963, winding up with a record of 59 wins, 30 by knockout, seven losses, two by knockout, one draw, and one no contest.

The “Springfield Rifle” became Featherweight Champion of the World by retiring Hogan “Kid” Bassey in the 13th at Los Angeles’ Olympic Auditorium on March 18, 1959. He successfully defended his title five times, retiring Bassey in the 11th in their rematch at the same venue that August 19; beating Kazuo Takayama by unanimous decision at the Korakuen Baseball Stadium in Tokyo on August 29, 1960; knocking out Danny Valdez in the first at the Olympic Auditorium on April 8, 1961; again beating Takayama by unanimous decision at Kokugikan in Tokyo on November 13 that year; and stopping Olli Maki by second-round TKO at the Olympic Stadion in Helsinki on August 17, 1962.

On March 21, 1963, Moore defended his WBC and WBA titles at Los Angeles’ Dodger Stadium against Sugar Ramos, a Mexican Hall of Famer, by way of Cuba, who fought from 1957 to 1972, retiring with 55 wins, 40 by knockout, seven losses, four by knockout, and four draws. 

A Ramos left in the 10th put Moore on Queer Street, leaving him vulnerable to a merciless pummeling. Falling, he struck the base of his neck on the bottom rope, which injured the brain stem. Demonstrating his warrior spirit, Moore got to his feet and finished the round. Referee George Latka, however, wouldn’t let the fight go into the 11th.

Though Moore at first appeared clear-headed, he fell into a coma in his locker room. Never regaining consciousness, he died two days later, age 29, and is buried at Ferncliff Cemetery in Springfield, Ohio.

What does this tragedy have to do with Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots? Toy inventors Marvin Glass and Burt Meyer had been in the process of developing a boxing toy, but following Moore’s death, “A dark cloud hung over the sport,” writes Tim Walsh in Timeless Toys. “Suddenly, creating a boxing game was out of the question.” Glass recognized that no one would manufacture such a toy “with this stigma of death in boxing.” But Meyer “had the ingenious idea of making the combatants robots,” writes Walsh. “Obviously they don’t fall over dead,” Meyer told Glass. “Maybe their heads can pop up.” Can and did. And do.

Maybe it wasn’t gray that I saw in the Blue Bomber. Maybe it was silver.

As in lining.

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Davey Moore vs Sugar Ramos (1963-03-21)

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  1. Clarence George 03:15am, 12/20/2015

    Appreciate your filling in the blanks, Jan.  I knew the other Davey Moore died under bizarre circumstances, but wasn’t sure of the specifics.

    I think he was born in the late ‘50s, which means it’s a safe bet he played with Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em.  Perhaps that’s what inspired him.

  2. Jan Swart 10:19pm, 12/19/2015

    Edit: should be “southpaw LEFT cross”

  3. Jan Swart 10:17pm, 12/19/2015

    The second Davey Moore died at home when he was run over by his own car while opening the garage door. It is thought the automatic transmission engaged by itself. Moore tried to hold the car back but was bent over backwards and his spine snapped. We saw him in South Africa when he knocked out Charlie Weir in defense of his WBA championship. (Weir BTW also died young, of cancer in his mid-30s). Weir could hit like a mule’s kick but had a suspect chin and was open to an orthodox left hook and southpaw right cross - weaknesses exploited by Moore in quick fashion. Soft-spoken, gentle guy but a handful in the ring.

  4. Clarence George 09:20am, 12/19/2015

    Chandler was a second-tier leading man, Eric, a decent actor.

    Speaking of James Bond, I used to have the action figure (looked like Sean Connery, of course) and still have the metal gun he came with.  Also had the Oddjob action figure.

    “Jonny Quest” was, and remains, among my favorite cartoons.

  5. Eric 08:53am, 12/19/2015

    Clarence…I do remember Race’s love interest, but I had never heard of actor, Jeff Chandler, although I quite remember Joltin’ Jeff the boxer. Did a search on the actor version of Jeff Chandler, and Race certainly looks like him. Never knew that little tidbit. Tanks for the 411.  Race Bannon certainly belongs up there with legendary characters like James Bond. hehe. Jonny Quest was a great cartoon back in the day, not like that weird crap they have today.

  6. Clarence George 08:05am, 12/19/2015

    I had all of them, Eric, including the WWII ones.  So cool.  If I’d kept some of them boxed, a small fortune would be mine.

    I share your admiration for Race Bannon, whose physical appearance was based on Jeff Chandler (the actor, not the boxer), though I see what you mean about his resemblance to the blonde G.I. Joe.  Remember his hot girlfriend, Jade?

  7. Eric 07:54am, 12/19/2015

    Clarence, I had the blonde G.I. Joe. Guy always reminded me of Race Bannon. Race was the coolest SOB in cartoon land IMO.

  8. Mike Casey 06:02am, 12/19/2015

    Quite right! Petey was a great, no doubt about it.

  9. Clarence George 05:37am, 12/19/2015

    Speaking of great featherweights, I see that Petey Sarron (stopped only once, by Henry Armstrong) is to be inducted into the IBHOF.  About bloody time, too.

  10. Clarence George 03:43am, 12/19/2015

    My favorite, Eric, was G.I. Joe.  He cost five bucks.  True, that’s about $40 today, but still not too bad.  Almost all of my toys came from Rappaport’s (long gone, but it had been on 79th and Third), famous for its red and gold polka dot wrapping paper.  I, too, always identified with the Blue Bomber.  Despite his more or less being assigned to me, I developed a great deal of affection and respect for him.

    Thanks, Mike.  Yes, one can only wonder what Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em would have been if not for the death of Davey Moore, who was so very impressive.  He was one of only two men to stop the very good indeed Cisco Andrade (the other was Art Aragon) in what turned out to be the last fight of the “Compton Comet.”  Ramos was amazing, as was Saldivar,  stopped only by Eder Jofre, I think.

  11. Mike Casey 12:58am, 12/19/2015

    Nice angle on a great little champion, Clarence. So sad it ended the way it did for Davey. I remember the big punching Carlos Hernandez coming to prominence when he scored a stunning non-title victory over Moore in a couple of rounds. It was a real shocker, but Davey seemed t recover well from it. Sugar Ramos was a terrific fighter too and of course the great Vicente Saldivar followed on from him. Talk about talent!

  12. Eric 09:12pm, 12/18/2015

    YES. Back then you could receive LOADS of Christmas presents and not break Pappy’s wallet. I received my Rock’em Sock’em set back in the day along with an electronic football game featuring the Browns & Giants, a Skittle Pool game, a Snake vs. The Mongoose Hot Wheels cars and race track and other assorted gifts. I always wanted to be the Blue Bomber, seeing as how blue is my favorite color.

  13. Clarence George 05:21pm, 12/18/2015

    Thanks, Peter.  Yes, there’s something exceptionally sad about what happened to Davey Moore.  I remember that his namesake died in some freakish car accident, though I don’t recall the details.

    A link to an early commercial for Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em.  Anyone recognize the boy on the left?


  14. peter 02:08pm, 12/18/2015

    Chalk up another excellent Clarence George article. The name “Davey Moore” has meant boxing tragedy. Years later, another Davey Moore, another talented fighter, lost his life in a tragic car accident. It breaks my heart watching this Davey Moore at the end of the fight,  being interviewed. He’s barely able to stand, yet he is polite and coherent—it breaks my heart…Here is Bob Dylan’s song about Davey Moore—https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IssR_J0QWr4

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