Paul Cavalier for the Defense
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.