Paul Cavalier for the Defense

By Clarence George on January 6, 2017
Paul Cavalier for the Defense
"Cleverness," and probably a pretty good chin, ensured that Cavalier was never stopped.

Cavalier’s defensive technique must surely have been at its peak if he was able to evade and defuse “Two Ton” Tony’s lethal left hook…

“He can have heart, he can hit harder and he can be stronger, but there’s no fighter smarter than me.”—Floyd Mayweather Jr.

Fighting out of his native Paterson, New Jersey (where he was born on June 16, 1904), from 1922 to 1936 (though out of the ring in ‘23), heavyweight Paul Cavalier wound up with an official record off 44 wins, 14 by knockout, six losses, none by knockout, and three draws. There were also three newspaper decisions, Cavalier winning two and losing one.

Although he was the first man to beat James J. Braddock, by newspaper decision at Arcola Park in Paramus, New Jersey, on May 27, 1927, perhaps his most impressive win was in outpointing Tony Galento at Madison Square Garden on May 15, 1931. Galento hadn’t lost since Bud Gorman outpointed him at Laurel Garden in Newark, New Jersey, on April 21, 1930. He then won 14 in a row, 12 by KO or TKO. Cavalier’s defensive technique must surely have been at its peak if he was able to evade and defuse “Two Ton” Tony’s lethal left hook, as well as his grouchy-bear approach to the manly art.

Galento, who received $750 (more than $11,000 today) for the 10-rounder, was “spirited and willing,” reports Galento biographer Joseph G. Donovan, but “no match for Cavalier, a crafty fellow.” The bout, according to Donovan, “was none too exciting or impressive,” which is so often the case with defensive wizards. “Paul was not a very exciting fighter, he told me that many times himself,” says boxing historian Henry Hascup. “He was a defensive boxer with a good left jab.”

And, indeed, the tough Garden Stater was renowned for his defensive genius. The “cleverest” heavyweight, according to Gene Tunney, Cavalier trained and sparred with champs Joe Louis, Mickey Walker, Max Baer, Jack Sharkey, Primo Carnera, and Jack Delaney, as well as “The Fighting Marine” himself.

“Baer hits harder” than Louis, said Cavalier while preparing “The Brown Bomber” for his September 24, 1935, bout with the “Livermore Larupper,” Louis kayoing Baer in the fourth at Yankee Stadium. “He [Baer] has to set to punch, but when he lets it go you know it. Louis is a great fighter. He is always in position to punch, because he can punch from any angle. He punches often, more often than Baer does. Joe is very cool in the ring. When I worked with Sharkey, I had only to hit him and he went wild. Louis, while trying hard, is never wild. He reminds me a lot of Gene Tunney in that respect. Gene was the smartest fellow I ever boxed with. He didn’t throw as many punches as Louis does, but every move Tunney made meant something. He knew where to hit you, too.”

“It was said that he [Cavalier] actually knocked Louis down once,” says Hascup. “It was also said that while sparring with Tunney for the Tom Heeney bout, he hit him so hard that Tunney couldn’t remember anything for days. There was supposed to be an article in a non-boxing magazine that stated that Tunney said that one of the reasons he retired was that there was a light heavyweight from Paterson, New Jersey, by the name of Paul Cavaliere [the fighter’s real name], and he wanted to retire before he became a heavyweight.”

“Cleverness,” and what was probably a pretty good chin, ensured that Cavalier was never stopped. Only seven mean beat him — Phil Mercurio, Billy Vidabeck, Tom Kirby, George Manley, Al Friedman, Larry Johnson, and Al Gainer — and only on points (except for Vidabeck, who won by newspaper decision). Worth noting that Cavalier beat the mercurial Mercurio (23-15-5, 5 KO wins, 5 KO losses) three times and Friedman and Johnson once each.

In addition to never being stopped, only two men managed to put him down — George LaRocco and Charley Smith. Despite those visits to the canvas, Cavalier won both matches, beating LaRocco by split decision at Columbus Hall in Yonkers, New York, on April 7, 1927, and outpointing Smith at the Garden on September 12, 1929. Smith “hit me in the Adam’s apple,” recalled a 69-year-old Cavalier. “I remember I couldn’t breathe for about three rounds, but I won.”

Following a draw against Phil Johnson in Paterson on May 21, 1936 (whom he’d outpointed at Paterson’s Music Hall on March 7, 1935), Cavalier retired from the ring. Sort of.

He judged a couple of fights in 1947, and then again from 1978 to 1984, for a total of 36. When Chuck Wepner lost the Garden State’s heavyweight title to Scott Frank, who won by unanimous decision at Ice World in Totowa, New Jersey, on September 26, 1978, Cavalier scored it 11-1 in favor of Frank (the last hurrah of the “Bayonne Bleeder”). A double whammy, as Cavalier had stopped Chuck’s father, Charlie, by sixth-round TKO at Grandview Park in Morristown, New Jersey, on August 20, 1929 (the first man to do so). It was Cavalier, by the way, who won the inaugural title by outpointing never-stopped Harold Mays in Garfield, New Jersey, that September 6, outpointing him again three months later, on December 27, at the Garden. (Frank was the last holder of the title, which has only been contested 15 times, until March 19, 2016, when Daniel Pasciolla won it by beating Imamu Mayfield via unanimous decision at the Claridge Hotel in Atlantic City, New Jersey.)

“The epitome of poise when he was officiating a boxing bout,” said The New York Times on October 3, 1973, Cavalier reffed 268 fights from 1938 to 1964. “He was the premier official in the Garden State,” continued the Times, where boxing “wilted before he did.”

The first bout Cavalier reffed was between Tippy Larkin and Jackie Stewart in Passaic, New Jersey, on February 10, 1938, Larkin scoring by sixth-round TKO. The last was when Holly Mims and Joe Louis Adair faced off at the Armory in Elizabeth, New Jersey, on May 13, 1964, Mims losing by sixth-round TKO, the only time he was stopped in his 19-year, 102-bout career (he would go on to win his remaining six fights). Most famously, perhaps, Cavalier reffed the rubber match between Rocky Graziano and Tony Zale at Ruppert Stadium in Newark on June 10, 1948, Zale regaining his title by third-round KO (the first middleweight to do so since Stanley Ketchel kayoed Billy Papke in the 11th at the Mission Street Arena in Colma, California, on November 26, 1908). He also reffed the championship bout between Zale and Marcel Cerdan (The Ring‘s Fight of the Year) at Roosevelt Stadium in Jersey City, New Jersey, three months after the third Graziano fight, on September 21, 1948, Cerdan winning the title by retiring Zale in the 11th (which resulted in the “Man of Steel” retiring from the ring altogether).

In addition to his remarkable 46-year boxing career — as fighter, judge, and referee — Cavalier worked for Paterson’s Board of Education, eventually becoming head of the Attendance Department.

Inducted into the New Jersey Boxing Hall of Fame on September 12, 1971, he was also honored at a testimonial dinner, boasting an audience of about 700 (including Braddock, Walker, and Sharkey, among other boxing luminaries), in Wayne, New Jersey, on October 5, 1973 — “No, I haven’t prepared a speech,” he said. “I really haven’t. Being before all those people won’t affect me and I know I’m not going to talk about myself. I’m just going to make it short and sweet.”

Paul Cavalier died age 89 on July 20, 1993.

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1948-6-10 Tony Zale vs Rocky Graziano III

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  1. Clarence George 03:00am, 01/16/2017

    So glad you liked it, Mike, thanks very much.  I certainly envy your having known Paul.

  2. Mike 10:10pm, 01/15/2017

    Excellent article…I’ve spoken to Paul z couple of times years ago.thanks

  3. Clarence George 06:35pm, 01/10/2017

    Thanks, Lindy, glad you liked it.  I’m working on another one that I hope will also meet with your approval.  By the way, I liked your doughboy story.  Not sure why, but I was reminded of Calvin Graham, who joined the Navy at the age of…12!

  4. Lindy Lindell 02:26pm, 01/10/2017

    Clarence, you really outdid yourself this time.  Great stuff.  I like the lightbulb imagery for the Louis punch;  when a cherry bomb exploded nearby in a German bar when I was a doughboy, it was also like a punch and the loudness made it worse.

  5. Clarence George 07:35pm, 01/08/2017

    The Braddock quote I remember is, “When you’re hit by Louis, it’s like a light bulb breaking in your face.”

    My own theory is that Louis’ idea of defense was his opponents knowing what he’d do to them if they had the temerity to try too hard.  It worked far more often than not.  What he did to Galento is a case in point.

  6. Lucas McCain 05:02pm, 01/08/2017

    Two anecdotes I recall about Louis’ power (I think I’ve got them right):  Braddock said after their bout that he reached up to feel the side of his head “to see if it was still there.”  And the first thing Baer remarked to Braddock after Joe beat him was to nod his head knowingly and say in a rare understatement, “kid hits hard, doesn’t he?”  Makes me appreciate how tough Tommy Farr must have been.

  7. Clarence George 08:35am, 01/07/2017

    Thanks again, Bill.

    1974, early ‘80s…tomayto, tomahto.

  8. Clarence George 08:25am, 01/07/2017

    One of the fun things about boxing, Moon-man (though it can also be frustrating), is how subjective it is.  Who hits hardest, who has the best chin…hell, who won.  There’s no debate, for example, about who won a tennis match.  Me, I have Joe Louis as the hardest puncher of all time.  But someone else might say Sam Langford or Sandy Saddler or Jack Dempsey or…

  9. Bill Angresano 08:20am, 01/07/2017

      By the way , for the sake of accuracy my original post mentioned Paul Cavalier being at ringside in the town of Belleville New Jersey Kof Columbus Hall in the early 80’s . It was 1974 !!! HA trying to “buy time” Again great article.

  10. Moon-man 06:56am, 01/07/2017

    Just to add another example to that list and probably the most shocking. Bob Foster said that the hardest punch he ever received in his career was from light heavyweight, Roger Rouse. After watching Frazier flatten Foster in two short rounds, kind of hard to believe that one.

  11. Moon-man 06:48am, 01/07/2017

    Archie Moore claimed that Curtis Sheppard hit him harder than any other fighter, and that Yvon Durrelle hit him harder than Marciano or Patterson. Seems like most fighters always choose the fighters that they defeated rather than the guys who would actually stop them. Maybe that is why it is Earnie Shavers who always ranks numero uno when you asks fighters from his era on who was the hardest puncher they faced. Lyle picks Shavers over Foreman, and Ron Stander gives the nod to Shavers over Frazier. Same thing with Holmes, who would say Earnie was a harder puncher than Tyson.

  12. Clarence George 02:15pm, 01/06/2017

    While Baer ranks very high as a hard puncher, Irish, the historical consensus is that Louis was incomparably superior in that regard.  In other words, most would disagree with Cavalier’s “Baer hits harder.”  Unlike Cavalier, however, most haven’t been on the receiving end of both men’s punches.

  13. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 01:18pm, 01/06/2017

    He probably was right about Baer’s punching power….just imagine Max’s punches landing full force on your shoulder….your arm….your chest….anywhere on your body….let alone the side of your head or your jaw….yikes!

  14. Clarence George 01:05pm, 01/06/2017

    Cavalier was one of the relatively few exceptions, Irish.  Most sparring partners of that era were about as unsung as it gets.  Galento used to spar with (anyway, knock out) a guy by the name of Joe McDougall, of whom I’ve been able to find out absolutely nothing.

  15. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 12:12pm, 01/06/2017

    I’m betting that In sparring Cavalier could see Baer’s punches coming down the track….probably knew what was coming next before Max did. If he did knock Louis down, he probably timed a right over Joe’s jab ala Max Schmelling in the first go round.

  16. Clarence George 09:15am, 01/06/2017

    Thank you kindly, Irish.

    Newman did indeed have a great physique in his portrayal of Graziano, but perhaps a bit too stylized.  Rocky’s build was more rough-hewn.

  17. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 08:53am, 01/06/2017

    Clarence George-This one gets me thinking as do all of your great contributions to Sparring session gossip always interests me and I suspect a lot of fights are made or not made based on what transpired in sparring, a lot of which we will never hear about….kinda’ like State secrets. Which reminds me…looking at Rocky’s blocky, muscular physique in the video above and comparing it to Paul Newman’s in Somebody Up There Likes Me….I say Paul was closer to Super Lightweight than Middleweight in that film   still… Paul was in great shape and actually looked the part of a fighter.

  18. Clarence George 08:45am, 01/06/2017

    Magnificent reminiscence, Bill, thank you.

  19. Bill Angresano 08:28am, 01/06/2017

    Thank you for shedding light on this NJ great. Quick recollection, back in the early 80’s , I had the rare fortune of Boxing (amateur) at an AAU sanctioned night of fights at a Knights of Columbus Hall in the town of Bellville NJ. at ringside with among others , Charlie Fusari, Jersey Joe Walcott, Kid Gavilan , Willie Pep AND Paul Cavalier ! I won my match and upon passing Paul Cavalier he shouted out , “Hey Bill that’s a fine jab you have, keep it up.” How can any aspiring kid forget that gesture of kindness?

  20. Clarence George 07:40am, 01/06/2017

    Thanks very much, Moon-man, glad you liked it.

    Yes, I would have liked to have found more of Cavalier’s observations.  He reminds me a bit of Randall Jarrell, who’s generally (if mistakenly) not considered a great poet, but a great critic.

  21. Moon-man 07:20am, 01/06/2017

    Another great article, Mr. George. Interesting to read about Cavalier’s take on the heavyweight greats he sparred with.

  22. Clarence George 05:10am, 01/06/2017

    Delighted you liked it, Juror #11, and much appreciate the kind words.

    Yeah, I unfortunately couldn’t find out the location of Cavalier’s gravesite.  But if he isn’t buried somewhere in the Garden State, I’ll eat my newly acquired newsboy cap (made of Donegal tweed, which would render it particularly unpalatable).

    Best wishes,

    Phillip Pine

  23. George Voskovec 03:50am, 01/06/2017

    Great story about another person I was unaware of. I especially like the multi-generational Chuck Wepner connection. Mr. Cavailier sounds like he was a truly upstanding boxing fixture for decades. Wonderfully engaging story, as we have come to expect from the inimitable author. Mr. Cavalier is probably interred within 20 miles of the George Washington Bridge. Great work, Mr. George. Enlightening and enjoyable, as is your custom.

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