The Memory Bank: Part Nine

By Ted Sares on June 13, 2012
The Memory Bank: Part Nine
Two years after Cerdan, Laverne Roach would make an ill-advised comeback in the ring

We had watched this one from the safe confines of our living room and it was my first scary experience witnessing a ring fatality…

“Few Men in New York have ever had so many friends. Once you knew Lavern you always felt you gained a friend.”—Roach’s Pastor Romaine F. Bateman’s eulogy

Roach vs. Cerdan: 1948

On March 12, 1948, young and promising boxer Raymond “Laverne” Roach (23-1) was badly beaten by the legendary Marcel Cerdan (105-2 at the time) in front of 17,000 fans in Madison Square Garden. Cerdan, miffed because he was only a 2-1 favorite, clubbed Laverne (23-1) to the canvas three times in the second round and four more times in the eighth as Cerdan’s monster blows continued to rain down upon the Texan. The slaughter was finally and mercifully stopped after eight punishing rounds. The Texan had been brought along too fast to fight the likes of the great Frenchman, even though Laverne had easily taken the measure of tough and heavily favored Tony Janiro (63-4 coming in) two months before.

Two things contributed to Lavern’s elongated beating. First, when he had been drilled and mugged to the canvas in the second round, he was dazed and waited for the count, but timekeeper Jack Watson didn’t begin one until the referee ordered him to do so. Watson finally got his act together and Roach got up at the count of nine with the entire fiasco using up 32 seconds. As it turned out, the young Texan and ex-marine would have been better served had he been counted out.

The second thing was the fact that just when Roach appeared ready to go, his fighting heart allowed him to fire back with just enough to stay in the fight. In fact, he was still countering in the seventh, but things finally ended in the eighth stanza when referee Artie Donovan put an end to what had become a slaughter as Laverne crawled helplessly around the ring. The accumulation of brutal punishment and numerous knockdowns over eight rounds had been mindboggling. Still, up until that beat-down, Lavern sole loss came at the hands of rugged New Yorker Artie Towne, a gifted boxer with a great record (who fought as one Henry Johnson when he beat Roach). In fact, Roach had been Ring Magazine’s Rookie of the Year in 1947.

After Cerdan, Roach said goodbye to boxing and went back home to peddle insurance, but after two years, he would make an ill-advised comeback in the ring, perhaps as badly damaged goods.

Roach vs. Small: 1950

While Enrico Bertola’s fight with Lee Oma was, by extension, my first experience with death in the ring, the first such chilling fight I actually witnessed was on television when I was in grade school (I was around 13 at the time). Lavern Roach (26-4) and Georgie Small (38-6) met on February 2, 1950 at the fabled St. Nicholas Arena in New York. Small was a crafty Brooklyn-born middleweight who had gone up against the very best opposition. Roach was a good looking tough ex-Marine out of Texas, but he also was a staple in the New York City area. The fact is, the raw-boned Texan never fought in Texas and was more at home fighting in Small’s borough of Brooklyn. Both were great sportsmen who were well appreciated by knowledgeable boxing fans.

This was a televised middleweight fight and was highly anticipated by fans in the New York metropolitan area. As I recall, it, took place on a Wednesday night and I believe the great Don Dunphy was doing the announcing. Back then, Jimmy Powers was doing the popular Friday night bouts. Hundreds of thousands would watch over the CBS network telecast. The setting was quintessential ‘50s and it included a tiny black and white television set with a rabbit ears antenna in our living room in Chicago. The only thing missing was the smell of cheap perfume, cheaper cigars, and warm foamy beer.

Roach was well ahead in the fight and seemingly on his way to an easy points win. His “reward” would be a match with Sugar Ray Robinson. Suddenly, Small uncorked a desperation shot in the eighth stanza that landed squarely on the ex-Marine’s jaw. It was a right hand blow, and the tide changed just like that. The blow ripped into Roach like a sledge hammer and the blood immediately gushed from his lips and mouth. Bleeding profusely and staggering, he managed to hang on until the bell rang. Thank God the fight had been televised in black and white. The amount of blood that flowed was beyond description.

While Laverne somehow made it through the ninth using every survival trick he knew, the now one-sided turnaround continued through the tenth until another crunching right put Roach down like he had been sapped. Everyone in our house, my Dad, my friends, started to scream “Stop it! Stop it!” Little did I know at the time that I would repeat this scream many times in the future. The fans at ringside were doing the same, and referee Frank Fullam responded the right way, but just as he stepped in, another shot sent Roach sprawling. Unfortunately, the damage had been done. This scene would be repeated years later when Wilford Scypion knocked out Willie Classen at the Garden, but in culpable circumstances.

As Lavern lay glassy eyed on the blood-spattered canvas, he seemed to know what was happening. He told the ref “I’m all right,” but then, in what would become an all-too-familiar scenario, the raw-boned Texan suddenly went slack eyed and unconscious and lapsed into a coma. We all yelled “oh no, oh no,” because our instincts told us that were witnessing something very bad. Fourteen hours later, Raymond “Lavern” Roach, just 25, passed away from a dreaded subdural hemorrhage in St. Clare’s Hospital.

We had watched this one from the safe confines of our living room and it was my first scary experience witnessing a ring fatality. The same was true for other shocked television viewers who saw the tragic ending of the fight over the CBS telecast. Laverne Roach was one of the first boxers ever to suffer a fatal blow live on national television though I have seen far too many since 1950 (including Paret-Griffith, Mancini-Kim, the aforementioned Classen-Scypion, Wangila-Gonzalez, Johnson-Chavez, and Scottland-Jones). But this is the one that has stayed with me through the years.

Georgie Small would go 5-7-1 after the Roach fight, but finished with a fine career mark of 44-13-1. The well liked Brooklyn native passed away in 1999.

The Memory Bank: Part One
The Memory Bank: Part Two
The Memory Bank: Part Three
The Memory Bank: Part Four
The Memory Bank: Part Five
The Memory Bank: Part Six
The Memory Bank: Part Seven
The Memory Bank: Part Eight
The Memory Bank: Part Nine

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  1. Krs10 03:46am, 05/19/2017

    Does anyone remember Irish Frankie’s girl’s name. Or if he had one?

  2. Robin 10:05am, 03/20/2015

    George Small was my uncle, my dad’s older brother.  The fight took place four years before I was born, but was always remembered and discussed within the family.  It took a terrible toll on my uncle and he never lived it down.  Ruined much of his life and that’s a long story. So tragic for two families.  Some articles claim that Georgie passed away in 1999, but he actually disappeared from the family in the 1970’s and his only surviving dad (there were 7 others including my dad) have no idea where he is buried. Never able to get any info or records

  3. jeff crawford 05:10pm, 04/11/2013

    wow ! hello to all of you guy that were speaking of my dad Frankie Crawford
    particularity “Frankie Crawford beat saijo” man I love all the stories they are awesome ! I live for stories about my dad he was my best friend ever man. gonna cut it short here but if any one ! out there can give me a call i really need some answers maybe one of you could help me out ? it would mean alot to me. Thank You very much oh oops by the way im his youngest son
    Jeff   Thanks   818-571-0217

  4. Kris Roach 05:09pm, 03/27/2013

    I am the grandson of LaVern Roach and there is one missing fact regarding the Cerdan fight. As many of you know, the mafia controlled all of boxing in the 1940s 50s, and 60s. I believe the 32 second count was not started strictly because of the mafia control. There was a lot of money at stake and a second round knockout probably would’ve had lost a bunch of people a lot of money. I believe the ref didn’t started the count so late because he feared the mafia would have come after him. 32 seconds for a count is unheard of and even tho Lavern got up at “9” he still wasn’t the same even though the fight lasted until the 8th. He suffered permanent brain damage from the bout and it makes me believe that his comeback & death as “damaged goods” he was somewhat of a victim of the mafia.

  5. mikecasey 06:59am, 06/17/2012

    Another gem, Ted - great read despite the sadness.

  6. RJT 01:38pm, 06/15/2012

    Tnx for the story - however it was very typical of his behavior.  I can remember several similar accounts.  I met Frankie and his dad when they came to Valley Garden in very early 60s.  He was prolly a teenager and had won a gloves title in Cleveland(?).  Under the tutelage of a sports writer, Frankie Goodman, we were the only ones who stuck it out.  Usually Frankie whipped the newcomers so badly they never returned.  I alone was left, and we sparred for more than a year.  Your story made me laugh - Frankie would throw the golden colored gloves over his shoulder and strut down the street, hoping someone would make a remark or bump into him - which happened frequently.  Scared me to death.  I was a couple years older and had a car, therefore he rode with me to Main St Gym and to fights.  It was his entire life.  You mention ‘bouncing up and down’ before a fight.  I assure you it was not nervousness.  He always did that even when sparring.  I thought he won the first Ramos fight, but he gave it all.  He required oxygen and medical attention after that fight.  He was greatly handicapped in the second fight - it was postponed because he had broken a knuckle in an encounter.  I don’t think it had time to heal.  He was in his usual arrogant mode when accosted by four much larger thugs.  IIRC he KOed the first, flattened the second, and was last seen chasing down the other two.  I never checked the obits to see what happened to the other two.  They picked the wrong guy!  I liked Frankie, but the most open characteristic was his lack of any prejudice.  He hated everybody equally.  I’m glad we got along well.

  7. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo 02:39pm, 06/14/2012

    Richard-Back in the late sixties or early seventies, as I recall, my wife and I were having breakfast at Mr. Ed’s either on Hollywood Blvd or Santa Monica Blvd. when we spotted Frankie at the end of the counter in some kind of a beef that must have been brewing before we got there. Much like you post about Frankie’s guts….the guy was a head taller and about a hundred pounds heavier than Crawford and looked like anything other than a sissy to me…. anyhow Frankie mad dogged the guy and they were told to take it outside….the thing was ended in the parking lot without violence probably because there were too many witnesses,  it was a bright and sunny Socal Saturday morning, and the other guy begged out…the thing I noticed about the other guy as they walked by was that the blood had drained from his face and he was literally quaking in his boots. My sense at that time was that Frankie could be dangerous if crossed.

  8. Richard 11:18am, 06/14/2012

    I stand corrected.  The Ramos fights were at the Olympic - It was the Dwight ‘Hawk’ Hawkins fight at the Forum.  I was also at that fight - Frankie took a fearsome beating until it was stopped, but he still thought he had won!  He wouldn’t ever admit defeat even though losing to Hawkins is no shame - the Hawk was the hardest-hitting smaller fighter I’ve ever seen.  Few middleweights would even spar with him - including myself.  Wise choice on my part - I still have my original teeth.

  9. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo 11:12am, 06/14/2012

    Richard- The first Ramos fight was at the Olympic Auditorium as well as the return a few short months later. I was in attendance at both…Frankie was so wired for the first that when he was bouncing up and down in his corner before the bell, he was getting serious air time! By the way, there’s a story to be told here that would make Micky Ward’s seem like a walk in the park and it should be told while eyewitnesses like yourself are still around.

  10. Richard 10:44am, 06/14/2012

    I too was at the first Ramos fight, but IIRC it was at the newly opened Forum in Inglewood - not at the Olympic.  Frankie could have been one of the best of all time.  He wasn’t afraid of anyone - and I mean anyone.  Once I saw him fight a guy who outweighed him by 100 lbs - and he won easily.  Another time he was the only volunteer to climb into the ring with Victor the Wrestling Bear - at Valley Garden Arena in No Hollywood.  He actually thought he could whip the bear, but lost that one rather quickly.  AFAIK I am the only living witness to these events.  He was a character!

  11. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo 09:35am, 06/14/2012

    Richard-I was at the Olympic when he beat Mando in the first fight and was sold on him ever after…win lose or draw! As a fan I just wanted him to win….your up close and personal experience was an entirely different matter. Sounds like you’re another fighter I would have been pulling for way back then!

  12. TEX HASSLER 07:16am, 06/14/2012

    Cerdan was a truly great fighter. The well written story about Laverne Roach was tragic to say the least. We all hate to see a fight stopped to soon but in reality to soon is better than to late.

  13. Your Name 10:28pm, 06/13/2012

    Irish Frankie,
    Tnx for info.  A couple of insights:  First - Frankie’s entire life was tragic. Secondly - the rabbit punches were patently poetic justice.  If he didn’t invent it he certainly perfected it.  He was perhaps the dirtiest fighter ever.  Over 2 years I sparred more rounds with him than anyone, with the possible exception of Mando Ramos.  I learned every dirty trick such as foot stomps; ear claps; knees to the groin; eye gouges, etc.  When he was ‘on’ he could beat anyone in the world.  Even though I was 30 to 40 lbs heavier he would have beaten me over 10 rounds.  A sideline insight - originally he was known as ‘Schoolboy’ Crawford, but that changed when it was learned that he had little to do with school.  Lotsa memories.

  14. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo 06:21pm, 06/13/2012

    Richard-When I post under that ID I’m referring to the first fight only. I wasn’t in Japan for the fight but I have the video and In my view the Japanese ref, who as I recall scored for Saijo by a three point margin favored Sho by allowing him to rabbit punch Frankie throughout the entire fight. The other Japanese judge scored it 69-69 and Nick Pope scored 71-70 for Sho. Throughout the bout Saijo swarmed Frankie, but was ineffective in my view. I felt that Crawford fought his best fight ever in the most important fight of his boxing life and deserved to get the nod and the title (he did get the return bout). I was following Crawford very closely in those days and felt then as I do now that this was major turning point in what turned out to be his very tragic life.

  15. Richard 05:35pm, 06/13/2012

    Irish Frankie,
    Were you there at the Saijo fight?  I remember the two fights, and while pretty close I don’t think anyone complained that Saijo did not win.
    R J

  16. The Thresher 05:30pm, 06/13/2012

    Rax, these things have to be documented because they are a part of boxing history—sad as they may be.


  17. raxman 04:19pm, 06/13/2012

    jofre - i was going to ask what the affect on smalls was. as you say a double tragedy - thanks

    i’m with Irish on this one Ted - i feel as flat as a shit carters hat after that one.

  18. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo 01:21pm, 06/13/2012

    God Almighty….. he looks like he could be Canelo’s abuelo!

  19. FrankinDallas 11:22am, 06/13/2012

    You know, I bet if Roach had just said “no mas” in later part of the Cerdan fight, there would have been fans calling him a quitter.

  20. jofre 09:21am, 06/13/2012

    A sad ending to a valiant warrior. Small was never the same again. He suffered from nightmares for the remainder of his life. He was unable to work or enjoy his family. A double tragedy.

  21. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat saijo 09:19am, 06/13/2012

    Ted Sares -This Memory Bank installment made me sad this morning.

  22. johnwriter60 09:10am, 06/13/2012

    Ow! I can feel it now, all these miles and years since…the heart of this warrior was only NEARLY death defying…

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