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Frank Deford
May 08, 1989
Archie Moore, who waited for 16 years to become the light heavyweight champ, remains boxing's most fervent disciple
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May 08, 1989

The Ageless Warrior

Archie Moore, who waited for 16 years to become the light heavyweight champ, remains boxing's most fervent disciple

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"Ahhh." The Mongoose settles for that line of inquiry. Again, he closes his eyes and twiddles his thumbs in his lap. (When was the last time you actually saw anyone twiddle his thumbs?) The feline grin spreads over his face once more. "The less you tell people about you, the more interested they become," he declares, and it is all but possible to see his mischievous eyes dancing behind the shuttered lids.

He has never revealed his true age. He intimates that Dec. 13, 1916, in Collinsville, Ill., is the date he first played the world; others are of the opinion that it was Dec. 13, 1913, in Benoit, Miss. Prominent among the latter group is Archie's mother, Lorena, who is still alive, age 91. Years ago, when Moore was first apprised of his mother's contradiction of his own testimony, he considered the issue (probably closing his eyes and twiddling his thumbs) and replied: "I have decided that I must have been three years old when I was born." To further frustrate inquiries, when Moore ran for city councilman in San Diego and was obliged by law to report his birthplace and date, he responded by listing both the 1913 and 1916 dates, and both Mississippi and Illinois.

In any event, he was still the reigning world light heavyweight champion at 45 or 48 and had his last fight in either his 48th or 51st year. Better yet, Moore is probably the only person to have the expression "going on" as part of his listed age. For about two decades, whenever Moore was written about, the story read: "Archie Moore, 31 going on 35..." or "the light heavyweight champion, 40 going on 50..." or "the challenger, 38 going on 42, put down Marciano in the second round...." And so, today, he is 72 going on 76; either that or he is 75 going on 16.

He remains quite active, working on his memoirs (with Marilyn Doroux, a New Orleans writer), entitled The Last Autumn, and working with young people in Los Angeles. He runs his own organization, ABC (Any Boy Can) and, until the advent of the Bush Administration, when he was let go, commuted regularly from his home in San Diego to Los Angeles, where he served in the Department of Housing and Urban Development, laboring in the ghettos, preaching the gospel of boxing as a way of warding off the evil of drugs. He called himself, simply, Instructor Moore.

"Sometimes, it seems some of the best ones are the ones who end up on drugs," he says of the ABC boys. "They're the smart alecks, the ones who think they can be somebody. Fine, I tell them: You want to be somebody, first you got to do something. So I try to pass on the arts I know: self-control, self-reliance, self-defense. The smart alecks will go around corners, but if you can get them face-to-face, you can make them think."

Moore often took along a movie about his boxing career to show his students. "The boys see me up there fighting, and then they sneak a look over at me. You can see them saying to themselves: 'Is this really the same guy?' That knocks me out." His eyes crinkle and he chuckles, "Heh, heh, heh."

The boys would be even more surprised to learn that the youthful figure on the screen was often called Old Archie or the Old Mongoose. By hanging on to his form longer than his contemporaries, Moore paid that penalty. Besides, In Them Days age was much more limiting in sport. Athletes often quit in their 30's because they thought they were supposed to. It wasn't like today, when all sorts of athletes remain of world-class caliber for many years, and kids dare to become adult champions when they're still wet behind the ears. Moore was old when he was young, and now he is young when he is old.

Moore resides contentedly in San Diego with his fourth wife, Joan, and two of their six children. There Archie reads, ponders, listens to jazz and shoots pool. "I have never discussed my marriages," he says. "But when you're married to a career, as I was, your wife must be cognizant of that. My present wife, the former Joan Hardy, understood. I told her: 'Just be cool and let me work this out.' "

And did the incumbent Mrs. Moore understand your vocational passion?

"We have been happily married since 1956," he declares. In fact, since 1940 Moore has resided in the same quarters, a handsome, sprawling ranch house with cast-iron gates that has remained undisturbed while the city of San Diego has grown up around it. Once there was a bluff by the side of the house. Now there is a freeway. Within, though, there is refuge. The gypsy always had a haven to return to.

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