Category Archives: History

History for new site

September 11, 2018
September 11, 2018
bn-birthday

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IN the year 2009 we celebrated a huge milestone – 100 years of Boxing News – and our then editor, Claude Abrams, penned this wonderful piece on the history of our incredible magazine in a special 100-year edition [below] – and it’s place in boxing history.

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FLASH GORDON, an American writer in the 1970-1980s, was respected and renowned as someone who didn’t mince his words.
 He produced a newsletter, which he’d often sell outside Madison Square Garden in New York, and regarded Boxing News as the No. 1 publication. In a February 1979 editon, Harry Mullan wrote in his editorial about Gordon’s latest review of the world’s boxing periodicals.

Gordon said: “Boxing News is unquestionably the world’s finest boxing magazine.

“The weekly 24-pager has complete pro coverage of the world, results, new, photos, amateur and pro and all week after week,” said Gordon. “It’s truly an amazing and a super piece of editing well worth the apparent high costs.”

I wonder what Gordon would have made of today’s weekly, twice as deep (48 pages – and sometimes more) on glossy colour paper with outstanding photos, regular columns, strong news pages and more extensive ringside and global coverage on pros and amateurs than at any stage in the 100-year history of the magazine. I am biased, of course, but I feel it’s punching harder than ever.

On September 11, 2009 BN reached an historic and impressive milestone, especially as the paper was severely threatened during the second World War, when the staff still persevered in spite of daily bombings. Even if for periods the magazine could only be published by-weekly and sometimes with even longer gaps – and had to incorporate dog racing and football, it still came out, serving its passionate following.

One front-page editorial in August 1940, just after the paper had again changed hands, captured the mood, labeling Hitler and the Nazis “the most wearisome and lasting bores in human experience.” 
It continued, “But he [Hitler] will fade away in due course, and cannot be permitted to interfere with that infinitely more important business of boxing championship regularisation.”

In a notice to the readers, the editor said: “We are all at it, in our various ways. Some of us under heavier handicaps and with scantier materials than others.

“With your full aid we shall win through this present pass. A hazardous venture, truly, with the handicap of restriction munitions. With your full aid we can and shall win through, and present to the world a bigger, brighter and better Boxing Bible than any yet visualised in the most honeyed dreams.”

I can’t imagine for a second that the editor could have dreamt of the sophisticated changes through technological advancements that have enabled us to produce the publication we have now.

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Even when I first started reading BN, back in 1980 following Marvin Hagler’s victory at Wembley over Alan Minter, the paper was black and white, the ink smudged and there were no staples to hold the pages together. But the content was fantastic – everything a fan of the sport could wish for.

However, whenever I now look back at editions from that period, I can see the strides that have been made, the expansion in coverage on every level. For instance, in 1977, when Matthew Saad Muhammad had his first fight with Marvin Johnson in a thriller, we covered the match in only four paragraphs. Nowadays it would be at least two pages with an abundance of pictures.

Mainstream television played a huge part in my fascination for boxing, though it’s interesting how in the beginning (in the 1950s) promoters fiercely resisted TV coverage for fear of it damaging ticket sales.

During that period, though, there wasn’t the diversity in entertainment that exists today. Times were most definitely tougher and boxing was regarded as a sport that nurtured character, whereas nowadays I’m not convinced that notion remains.

Boxing has taken its knocks – scandals, controversies, deaths, farces, outrage, all of which are covered in this book, the grandest project I’ve worked on since joining BN in 1987 – but always endures.

Like our publication, boxing has a fascinating history. And in the same way BN has seen off its competitors, boxing is likely to survive the challenge of MMA.

I still maintain boxing has to sharpen up its act – as we at BN have done in recent years as changes in the market have been forced upon us – in order to keep its heart pumping. The competition is sterner now than ever I can recall and yet I still sense a resistance to change and modernize from those who can ultimately ensure a healthier future for the sport.

Nonetheless, it’s always heartening for me to meet BN readers and fans and to recognise the sport’s following has a young heartbeat – that a new wave of supporter is still attracted to the Noble Art.

It was my dream from about the age of 12 to one day write for Boxing News and so often now when I meet readers at shows I am told that I have the best job in the world.

I learned my trade under Harry Mullan, a marvellous writer who upheld the firm ethos of the first editor, John Murray.

The first words ever written in this publication still resonate as a resounding chorus of what Boxing News stands for and, I hope, always will.

“Boxing [or BN as it later became and is today] is not offered to the public with an apology,” wrote Murray. “We claim it is wanted, and wanted badly.

“It will stand for good, clean sport. Its success or failure is in the hands of those who believe in sport of that character.

“Our energies will be devoted to giving the best paper that time, thought and money can devise.

“It’s up to you, the reader, to help a good thing along.”

I remember writing in 1999, when we turned 90, about the ‘Friday Feeling’ – the day when Boxing News arrives and is a must for every reader to get his copy (admittedly, at this time, the new publishers had made a catastrophic decision to change BN from a glossy A4 to newspaper tabloid, costing us thousands of readers).

But Boxing News hasn’t always been published on a Friday. In fact, the very first edition was made available on a Thursday with the publishing date a Saturday. In many early years, like from the 1920s into the 1940s, it came out on Wednesdays. Sometimes it was published on a Tuesday.

The demand for that first issue, printed on recycled pink paper, was so high that extra copies had to be reprinted. Some 77,500 issues were sold out in two hours and soon sales, according to the proprieters, reached 150,000. At one stage they hit the 250,000 mark.

How we’d like a readership like that today. But times have changed. Boxing [News] came into being during a period when the sport featured prominently in the national papers (all of which had specialised reporters) and boxing was thriving.

It was then – and is today – the only weekly magazine in the world devoted to the sport and to have lasted 100 years is a remarkable achievement by any standards.

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Editors like Gilbert Odd continued Murray’s exemplary work. Gilbert, who contributed several million words to BN’s pages in two stints as editor, wrote in one editorial: “We [Boxing News] have built up an enviable reputation for straight dealing and straight writing. We are independent, but not aloof; critical without being dictatorial; and ready to help all those who have the game at heart, without special favour or obligation.”

It was a great privilege for me to take over as editor in 1996 – to follow in the impressive footsteps of Murray, Odd, Graham Houston and Harry.

It says a lot about the prestige of this job that only 12 men had preceded me.

Although I have worked under four publishers, over the course of a century, since the Berry brothers, three enterprising Welshmen, started the paper, the total is relatively low and I know that on several occasions quite lucrative offers from those with a conflicting interest have been rejected.

Thankfully, BN has always retained its integrity and neutrality, the core value of the mag, even if on occasion a sense of patriotism has consumed its pages. Our opinions aren’t always taken with full agreement, but I like to think the reader at least recognizes we haven’t a tainted agenda and trusts we write from a position of honesty, unfazed by any possible retribution.

It is our job to observe and report with impartiality and to do so with any slant would be an insult to the efforts and standards of all those who have ensured that this innings has lasted so long, not to mention you, the readers.

Inevitably, we have incurred the wrath of many a promoter, manager and boxer. However, I have always been more concerned in knowing that I have acted with a clear conscience than worried about the reaction of the subject of my words.

I know from my time under Mullan – and from reading Murray’s tenures – that accusations of bias are inevitable; nobody wants to be the focus of criticism or to feel they are wrong. But BN’s task isn’t to make friends. We are here to report things as we see them and offer a sense of perspective and analysis.

Boxing may not exactly be booming now as it was in 1909 and for periods following the second World War. In Murray’s day news travelled by newspaper, radio or word of mouth. However, his inspiration for this periodical was the 1908 world heavyweight title contest between Tommy Burns and Jack Johnson in Australia that shook the world.

Back then boxing promotions throughout the United Kingdom were more widespread than today. In the mid-1930s, for instance, there were more shows in the UK than ever before – for example there would routinely be up to 12 or 15 shows on a Monday night and many more on the remaining days of the week. In the late 1950s we had terrible difficulty getting all the action into the then-16 pages of the paper even with tiny print and few images.

The two wars, though, had a massive, almost paralysing, effect not just on the sport but also the paper. But BN survived, in spite of its offices being reduced to ashes during the blitzes as Hitler bombed our shores.

After one such attack our front page in June 1942 carried the heading ‘Beating the Count’ and the story said: “In the 32 years and nine months of its existence, the old paper has suffered a few knockdowns, not to mention other shocks, its most recent experience having been the most severe, yet has managed to survive.”

It continued, “We have, we hope, arrived at its end, and can, at least, feel confident of surviving Hitler. A feat which not a few other publications have failed to achieve.”

One morning Odd arrived at the offices in Fetter Lane only to discover a pile of rubble. “The shock brought tears to my eyes,” he wrote. “I stumbled around over the debris trying to realise that everything had come to an abrupt halt. A kindly policeman told me, ‘This place is cordoned off because it’s highly dangerous. Anyway, what are you looking for, mate?’

“’My fountain pen’,” Odd told him. When Odd said it was on the sixth floor, the policeman replied, “Well, you’re a bloody optimist. The sixth floor came down the rest last night, so I should think you are wasting your time.”
That overhand right from Hitler was as close as Boxing News has come to conclusive defeat. During this period, when paper was scarce, the publication was on wobbly pins.

In January 1941, for instance, publication was irregular to say the least courtesy of “Hitler’s destroyers” as editor Odd put it.

“In these days of restricted travel, postal delays and the calling-up of the various age classes, we cannot rely with any sure confidence on the arrival of reports from the provincial boxing centres.”

By May little had improved. “We have been compelled to interrupt our sequence of regular issues once more and our readers will miss a fortnight’s news and comments, but will understand that this was unavoidable,” explained Odd.

“Certainly, the office files, dating from our first number, the general stock of photos etc, have been reduced to ashes, but the old flag is still flying.”

And thus the editor called upon readers to rally round and send in details, entitling his column (on the front page), ‘We Wouldn’t Object to Assistance’.

The following year Odd announced, “there is a present shortage of paper and it must be obvious that space for any full description of the contests cannot possibly be provided, but only sufficient for the bare results.”

The 1947 fuel crisis also posed problems. “Readers have been without news of Britain’s boxing for a fortnight,” said the editor.

“Demand for this journal is unprecedented and coming, as it does, at a time when paper supplies are insufficient to cope with it we must ask those of you who are fortunate enough to get a copy to pass it on to your friend for perusal until such time as we are able to meet the demand in full.”

Earlier, in 1926, times were also trying. “There has been so little to report,” wrote Murray. “Our readers have been deprived of their Boxing for two full weeks and we have decided to make this a composite issue, covering all the events we should have reported and published had matters followed their normal course.”

As you can tell, the fortunes of boxing – and this paper – swayed quite dramatically. When Sid Ackland was editor in the early 1930s, he wrote with great optimism, in one editorial in May 1932 announcing grand plans for “a new, bigger and, I hope, a better Boxing. Today, Boxing has been reborn. Free and untrammeled – Boxing would only be the champion of boxing – it will seek to blow a breath of fresh air whenever the occasion demands, for while it will be tolerant in its criticisms, it will be fearless, showing favour to no one.”

In more recent times Tim Riley took over, improving the presentation, and Houston, who succeeded him in 1972, left his mark by giving the magazine a greater international flavour, especially on the European scene.

Since Houston there have been only two editors, Mullan, who would become a Hall of Fame writer, and myself.

Harry gave BN a presence in the United States by attending major matches towards the end of Ali’s career and then while Leonard, Hearns, Duran and Hagler all fantastically squabbled for supremacy.

I have tried to continue that trend and though BN still isn’t as well known in America to fans as it ought to be, we are highly regarded and include on our subscriber list the major forces in world boxing.

Having been on the staff for nearly a quarter of its life, I feel as strongly today as I did when I started that one cannot seriously be regarded as a genuine boxing fan without Boxing News.

For more on BN’s history, see the ‘About Boxing News’ section at the bottom of our homepage.

September 10, 2018
September 10, 2018
Muhammad Ali vs Ken Norton

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ENJOY our original report from an important fight in Muhammad Ali’s career. One in which he was forced to call on all his pride and all his courage, if need be, to prove to the world he was not a has-been. Ali had his jaw broken by Norton six months earlier and both were in for another punishing evening.

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WHERE Inglewood WHEN September 10, 1973

MUHAMMAD ALI, trimmed to a svelte 15st 2lbs, called on pride and courage to snatch a bitterly-fought split decision over muscled ex-Marine Ken Norton (14st 9lbs) in a thrilling return 12 round battle at the fabulous Forum.

So Ali gained revenge for the shock split loss inflicted by Norton when they clashed in Ken’s home town of San Diego last March. On that occasion, Norton snatched victory with a tremendous onslaught in the 12th and last round.

This time it was Ali, who, incredibly, called on his flagging reserves to put in a thrilling finishing burst. Ali’s big last round clinched the decision after a savage battle.

Ali was in probably his finest shape since he met Joe Frazier in March 1971. He came in 9lbs lighter than for the first fight with Norton, who was 5lbs less than he had been in San Diego.

But Ali failed to subdue the diehard, 28-year-old Norton and there were times when it looked as if Ali was in danger of being over-run.

Norton, who broke Ali’s jaw in the last battle, fought fiercely. He never gave up trying to nail the former world heavyweight champion.

His relentless pursuit earned Norton the vote of judge George Latka, who tabbed it 6-5 in favour of Ken. But judge John Thomas had it 6-5 for Ali and referee Dick Young’s vote of 7-5 in Ali’s favour decided the issue.

Ali had promised he would dazzle Norton with his speed and dancing. Indeed, Ali was up on his toes in the early rounds and looking much like the super-athlete of yesteryear.

He tried to psyche Norton by standing between rounds. But gradually the fast pace got to Ali. He sat on his stool for the first time in the interval before the fifth round and in the closing stages looked arm-weary and leaden-legged.

But Norton, too, was feeling the pace and they seemed equally tired as the fight reached its climax.

Although there were no knockdowns, the rivals got in some hard shots. Norton sought to batter Ali about the body and then come over the top with dangerous right hands and left hooks.

Ali snapped out left jabs, his feet sometimes leaving the ground. While many of Ali’s jabs fell short, a lot more made contact and Norton was bumped and puffy around the eyes after the halfway stage.

Probably Ali’s most effective single punch was his straight right hand, slammed in after the jab. He shook Norton several times with this shot.

The crowd of 12,100 who paid a Los Angeles record gate of £273,000 had plenty to cheer about. Most of the crowd were with Ali, almost willing him on when the People’s Choice came under pressure.

There were moments when Ali’s legs looked like giving out. It was alarming to see Ali standing in corners, arms down, as Norton smashed punches at him.

Ali’s corner screamed for him to move, but Muhammad seemed transfixed, finally lurching away as if by a supreme effort of will.

These were the moments when Ali’s speed deserted him, when it looked as if his very fast early pace might have taken too big a toll on his stamina.

Had Norton been able to put together a few more punches he might have toppled Ali in the seventh and eighth. These were rounds in which Ali often seemed rooted to the ring floor and took heavy punches.

But Muhammad survived and grimly fought back. No longer able to dance and prance, Ali lashed back flat-footed, meeting Norton with jabs and right hands, sometimes stringing together brief flurries.

Norton kept coming but Ali refused to be ground down. It was a battle of attrition, often punch for punch. Ali proved he is a real fighter but there was a time when Norton would not have been allowed to turn it into a slugging match.

The fight was tense and exciting from the very start. Ali looked comfortably ahead after four rounds but Norton began getting to him in the fifth, a round he won on the scorecards of referee Young and judge Thomas.

Ali stopped Ken dead with a perfectly-timed right hander in the sixth. But Norton began throwing everything he had at Ali in the seventh and suddenly Muhammad was under terrible pressure.

The eighth was a punishing round for Ali. Norton hit him with some brutal blows. One left hook rocked Ali back and he briefly grabbed the top rope for support.

But it was noticeable that Ken was tiring a little himself by the ninth. His massive effort of the previous two rounds had failed to crush Ali and now Norton had to ration his resources as Ali dug in his heels and fought his way back into the fight.

Norton made another concerted drive in the 10th and 11th rounds, both of which he won on all three official cards.

But Ali was still in there pegging away, giving and taking punches.

With points in the balance, Ali completely took the play away from a surprised Norton in the final round.

Ali opened up with volleys of punches, jabs, hooks, straight rights, uppercuts. For the first two minutes of the last round Norton could do little but try to cover up under this avalanche of punches, while the fans went wild.

Finally Ali’s attack subsidised and Norton thumped back at him. They banged away at each other up to the final bell, neither prepared to yield an inch. It was that kind of fight.

So Ali lives to fight another day. But it remains to be seen just how long he can go on producing such monumental efforts. At 31, time is visibly running out for him.

September 7, 2018
September 7, 2018
Stanley Ketchel

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ONE of boxing history’s fiercest rivalries wrote one of it’s most ferocious chapter on September 7, 1908 as the middleweight champion of the world, Stanley Ketchel, was knocked out in the twelfth round at Jeffries’s Vernon Arena in California by Billy Papke.

Both 21 year olds entered the ring in pristine fighting condition, but the fight ended as one of the bloodiest in ring history.

Ketchel – already a decision winner over Papke that June – was a clear favourite with the crowd. When Papke entered he walked briskly to Ketchel’s corner and cordially greeted him with a handshake and smile, but when referee James J Jeffries called time and Ketchel walked to the centre of the ring, extending his hand for the shake, Papke ignored the hand and sailed into Stanley with the kind of savage impetuosity that earned him the ‘Illinois Thunderbolt’ nickname.

Stanley Ketchel

The fight was practically over thereon.

It was merely a question of how long could the champion last after such a shocking start. Papke tore into Ketchel with such fury that he was lifted off his feet no less than four times in the first session.

Ketchel was fighting on instinct. Already a defeated man, dazed, bleeding and staggering around the ring fighting for his survival.

Yet, like the champion he was, he fought back with incredible resolve and for the next three rounds held his own.

Ketchel’s right eye was closed from the second and for the last three rounds he reeled around the ring like a drunk, practically blinded.

Stanley Ketchel

By the time the end came both boxers were covered in blood.

The fight was scheduled for 25 rounds.

The pair would battle four times in all: Stanley Ketchel exacted harsh revenge in their third meeting by knocking out Papke in 11 rounds and outpointing him in their last contest for an overall 3-1 series win.

The third fight was so overwhelming that one Martin Carter, a farmer from California, dropped dead at ringside when Papke was knocked out.

September 7, 2018
September 7, 2018
Mike Tyson

Action Images/Nick Potts

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IN one of the more bizarre world heavyweight title fights, the WBA’s defending champion Bruce Seldon timidly surrendered his crown to Mike Tyson in 109 seconds at the MGM Grand on September 7, 1996.

Seldon appeared petrified as he climbed in the ring and was down twice in total from not one significant blow. The crowd booed it’s displeasure with chants of “fix… fix…” and even Tyson looked surprised at the ease with which the “Atlantic City Express” was derailed.

The first knockdown, barely a minute into the round, was little more than a glancing right hand that whistled over Seldon’s crown. The champion collapsed dramatically, spreadeagled to the canvas but sheepishly scrambled to his feet as referee Richard Steele reached the count of six.

Tyson, hungry for another first-round finish, on the signal of Steele was back on Seldon and swiped with a left that no more clipped the pawing Seldon who again folded along the ropes. Seldon rose again, before his legs gave a convincing jig which left Steele with no option but to end the “fight”. Time on the clock: 1 minute 49 seconds of the first round.

Mike Tyson

It was Tyson’s 39th inside-the-distance win and without doubt one of his easiest. Seldon “fought” every inch the 22-1 underdog that he was.

“You know how hurt I am right now?” pleaded Seldon “I came to fight, I came to win. I did not realise how hard he hits or how fast he is. He is a destroyer, and I am witness to that. The shot rattled my eyes, and I couldn’t see straight. I did not train 12 weeks to come here and take a dive. I am already a millionaire. It’s not about money. I’m sorry. I tried my best. He is a great fighter. He is a bad man.”

The undercard saw knockout victories for light-middleweight champion Terry Norris (KO 5 Alex Rios) and Felix Trinidad (KO 6 Ray Lovato).

A gruesome epilogue to the night as rap icon Tupac Shakur was shot four times and murdered after leaving the fight. A Cadillac pulled up alongside the BMW in which he was travelling and opened fire. Shakur was a close friend of Mike Tyson.

September 7, 2018
September 7, 2018
James J Corbett

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OVER 10,000 people crammed into the Olympic Club in New Orleans to watch the first world heavyweight title fight to be boxed under Queensbury Rules on September 7, 1892.

The formidable John L. Sullivan, a crude but effective destroyer, was taking on the fluent skills of James J. Corbett.

In his 1926 book, The Roar of the Crowd: The true tale of the rise and fall of a champion, Corbett recounted his memories of the historic contest:

“NOW, I knew that the most dangerous thing I could do was to let Sullivan work me into a corner when I was a little tired or dazed, so I made up my mind that I would let him do this while I was still fresh. Then I could find out what he intended doing when he got me there. In a fight, you know, when a man has you where he wants you, he is going to deliver the best goods he has.

“From the beginning of the round Sullivan was aggressive-wanted to eat me up right away. He came straight for me and I backed and backed, finally into a corner. While I was there I observed him setting himself for a right-hand swing, first slapping himself on the thigh with his left hand-sort of a trick to balance himself for a terrific swing with his right. But before he let the blow go, just at the right instant, I sidestepped out of the corner and was back in the middle of the ring again, Sullivan hot after me.

James J Corbett

“I allowed him to back me into all four corners, and he thought he was engineering all this, that it was his own work that was cornering me. But I had learned what I wanted to know – just where to put my head to escape his blow if he should get me cornered and perhaps dazed. He had shown his hand to me.

“In the second round he was still backing me around the ring. I hadn’t even struck at him yet, and the audience on my right hissed me for running away and began to call me ‘Sprinter.’ Now I could see at a glance that Sullivan was not quite near enough to hit me, so suddenly I turned my side to him, waved both hands to the audience and called out, ‘Wait a while! You’ll see a fight.’

“…So far Sullivan hadn’t reached me with anything but glancing blows, and it was my intention, when the third round started, to hit him my first punch, and I felt that it must be a good one! If my first punch didn’t hurt him, he was going to lose all respect for my hitting ability.

“So, with mind thoroughly made up, I allowed him to back me once more into a corner. But although this time I didn’t intend to slip out, by my actions I indicated that I was going to, just as I had before. As we stood there, fiddling, he crowding almost on top of me, I glanced, as I had always done before, first to the left, then to the right, as if looking for some way to get out of this corner. He, following my and thinking I wanted to make a getaway, determined that he wouldn’t let me out this time!

“For once he failed to slap himself on the thigh with his left hand, but he had his right hand all ready for the swing as he was gradually crawling up on me. Then, just as he finally set himself to let go a vicious right I beat him to it and loosed a left-hand for his face with all the power I had behind it. His head went back and I followed it up with a couple of other punches and slugged him back over the ring and into his corner. When the round was over his nose was broken.

“At once there was pandemonium in the audience! All over the house, men stood on their chairs, coats off, swinging them in the air. You could have heard the yells clear to the Mississippi River!

“But the uproar only made Sullivan the more determined. He came out of his corner in the fourth like a roaring lion, with an uglier scowl than ever, and bleeding considerably at the nose. I felt sure now that I would beat him, so made up my mind that, though it would take a little longer, I would play safe.

“From that time on I started doing things the audience were seeing for the first time, judging from the way they talked about the fight afterwards. I would work a left-hand on the nose, then a hook into the stomach, a hook up on the jaw again, a great variety of blows, in fact; using all the time such quick side-stepping and footwork that the audience seemed to be delighted and a little bewildered, as was also Mr. Sullivan. That is, bewildered, for I don’t think he was delighted.

“In the twelfth round we clinched, and, with the referee’s order, ‘Break away,’ I dropped my arms, when Sullivan let go a terrific right-hand swing from which I just barely got away; as it was it just grazed the top of my head. Some in the audience began to shout ‘foul!’ but I smiled and shook my head, to tell them, ‘I don’t want it that way.’

“When we came up for the twenty-first round it looked as if the fight would last ten or fifteen rounds longer. Right away I went up to him, feinted with my left and hit him with a left-hand hook alongside the jaw pretty hard, and I saw his eyes roll. . . . Summoning all the reserve force I had left I let my guns go, right and left, with all the dynamite Nature had given me, and Sullivan stood dazed and rocking. So I set myself for an instant, put just ‘a little more’ in a right and hit him alongside the jaw. And he fell helpless on the ground, on his stomach, and rolled over on his back! The referee, his seconds and mine picked him up and put him in his corner; and the audience went wild.”

September 6, 2018
September 6, 2018
Charley Burley

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FOR years Charley Burley was more or less a forgotten man – now he’s rightly respected as one of the finest boxers of his or any other time.

Burley was too good for his own good: a classy, economical boxer who knew how to feint an opponent into making mistakes and then punish him. He was one of a group of avoided black fighters in the 1940s – Holman Williams, Eddie Booker, Jimmy Bivins, Lloyd Marshall, Elmer Ray and others – and Burley was a genuine master of his craft.

He was inconsistent, temperamental, but in nearly 100 fights, nobody ever knocked him out.

When Burley outpointed future light-heavyweight champion Archie Moore over ten rounds in Los Angeles in 1944, Moore was knocked down four times. “Burley gave me a boxing lesson,” he said. “He kept his punches coming at you like a riveting gun beats a tattoo on a rivet.”

Moore was to say later: “He was the best fighter I ever fought, and the best fighter I ever saw.”

Born in Bessemer, Pittsburgh on September 6, 1917, Burley fought between 1936 and 1950. At any time in the 1940s he could have justified a shot at the middleweight title, but the war years and then the trilogy between Tony Zale and Rocky Graziano kept the championship in limbo as far as anybody else was concerned. (Zale had won undisputed recognition in November 1941 by outpointing Georgie Abrams, but had not boxed because of war service for almost four years.)

Jimmy Bivins outweighed him by 7lbs and beat him on points in September 1940, Ezzard Charles, then a brilliant young middleweight, twice outpointed him in the summer of 1942, which is a measure of Charles’ talent. Mostly, though, Burley was too good for whoever they put in front of him. Between the Bivins and the first of the Charles fights, he won 20 in a row, including a decision over the graceful Holman Williams.

He could also have fought for the welterweight crown – his roughhouse Pittsburgh rival Fritzie Zivic beat Henry Armstrong to win that in October 1940, but Burley had won two out of three fights with Zivic before that. Again, the welterweight title was in abeyance while Zivic’s successor, Freddie ‘Red’ Cochrane, was away in the war.

Sugar Ray Robinson won the welterweight title in 1946, but he avoided Burley, one time doubling his price demand, knowing that in doing so he was making the fight an impossible business proposition. Either writer Walter Winchell or the legendary trainer Ray Arcel (depending on your source) suggested Robinson fight Burley and the great man replied: “I thought you were my friend!”

Gradually Burley lost interest – and the public did too. By 1950 he was appearing in a small ballroom in Pittsburgh in front of hundreds, instead of thousands of fans. He had his last ring outing in, of all places, the Peruvian capital of Lima in July 1950.

He won 17 of his last 18 fights and was still only 32, but just gave up on boxing, taking a job in his home city’s garbage collection department.

Burley died in October 1992, aged 75.

BURLEY refused to compete in the US trials for the Berlin Olympics of 1936 because of his objection to racial and religious discrimination in Nazi Germany.

Ray Arcel said in an interview with New York writer Dave Anderson: “Charley Burley was the best fighter I ever saw who not only never won a title but never got any glory. In those days, if you were a good black fighter, nobody wanted to fight you.”

September 6, 2018
September 6, 2018
jack dempsey

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1. JACK DEMPSEY  savaged Jess Willard to win the world heavyweight title in July 1919 but had to wait until September 6, 1920 to make the first defence of his crown. The delay was largely caused by his manager Doc Kearns and his promoter Tex Rickard failing to agree on a suitable opponent for the young champion. In the end, Dempsey himself picked his challenger, and settled on veteran Billy Miske.

2. MISKE [below] was a long-time friend of Dempsey, and told his buddy he was broke and desperately needed the $25,000 purse on offer for the fight in Benton Harbor, Michigan. Rickard wanted no part of the promotion and was not involved. Floyd Fitzsimmons stepped in and promoted the contest – which was the first to be broadcast on the radio. It was the last time Dempsey fought without Rickard promoting.

Billy Miske

3. THE Champion received $50,000 in cash and a share of the $134,904 gate receipts. It was reported that 11, 346 attended the contest.

4. DEMPSEY sensed there was something else besides his financial woes troubling Miske. The pair had fought twice before, with Dempsey winning both via decision, but early in the bout, Jack Dempsey knew that Miske was no longer the same competitor. “During the fight, I began to feel that Billy wasn’t giving me as tough a battle as I had expected,” Jack would later say. “He did not seem like his old self.”

5. IT later emerged that Miske was suffering from Bright’s Disease, which affected his kidneys. He had been diagnosed with the disease in 1918, but $100,000 in debt, he fought on. By the time he entered the ring to fight Dempsey, he was slowly dying.

6. MISKE took a count in the second round which was the first time he’d been down in his career. The fight was over in the next when Dempsey dropped him for the count. It was the only time in over 100 bouts that Miske was knocked out.

7. INCREDIBLY he fought on afterwards; a beating of the formidable Bill Brennan in November 1923 would be his final fight. He would die just weeks later, on New Years Day, 1924.

8. THE MANASSA MAULER‘ clearly regretted his part in the 1920 bout with Miske. “Billy Miske and Benton Harbor…” he would later say. “Well, I wish it never happened.”

9. ON the same bill, the legendary Sam Langford, by then past his best, fought Bill Tate over six rounds in a heavyweight contest. The bout was officially a No Decision, but was won “by a shade” according to The Chicago Tribune.

light-heavyweight

10. ANOTHER No Decision occurred on the bill when Harry Greb [above] and Chuck Wiggins collided over six. But, as was standard in the era, newspaper reporters would declare the winner.  Both the Chicago Tribune and the Pittsburgh Post felt that Greb’s rally down the final three rounds trumped his rival’s solid start, and he was declared the winner.