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THE AGELESS WARRIOR
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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SOME OF THE PEOPLE ARCHIE MOORE FOUGHT: PIANO MOVER JONES, THE POCAHONTAS KID, TIGER BROWN, TIGER WADE, DYNAMITE PAYNE, SAMMY SLAUGHTER, BANDIT ROMERO, IRISH BOB TURNER, HONEYBOY JONES, SHORTY HOGUE, BIG BOY HOGUE; KID HERMOSILLO, BATTLING MONROE, THE COCOA KID, SHAMUS O'BRIEN, DUSTY WILKERSON, THE ALABAMA KID, CHUBBY WRIGHT, WILLIE BEAN, PROFESSOR ROY SHIRE.

Some of the places Archie Moore fought:

Quincy, Ill.; Keokuk, Iowa; Adelaide, Australia Tasmania; Orange, N.J. North Adams, Mass. Toledo; Tijuana, Mexico Montevideo, Uruguay Tucumàn, Argentina Flint, Mich.; Fresno, Calif.; Panama City; Spokane; Stuttgart, West Germany; Michigan City, Ind.; Manila; Odessa, Texas; Rio de Janeiro; Hollywood; Edmonton; Oakland; Tucson; London; and Nogales—either Arizona or Mexico.

Generally, the tract of land where Moore plied his trade was known as the Free World. The time, as he usually describes it, was In Them Days.

Boxing was a most curious precinct In Them Days. In other sports, racial lines were distinctly drawn, so that when Jackie Robinson or Marion Motley or Chuck Cooper or the first Negro this or the first Negro that first played here or there, it was carefully recorded. But in boxing, the lines were blurred. Generally speaking, blacks had more opportunity in the lower weight classes, where if one of them beat a little white boy it didn't seem so threatening to the pride of Greater Caucasia. In some places black fighters were welcomed on the bill only if they boxed one another. In other places minority fighters could work only if they agreed to lie down for the white hopes because that would sell more tickets to white fans and maybe help the local favorite toward a title go.

"Guys would propose to you in them days," Moore explains. "Mostly hints, trying to draw you out. But my auntie—God rest her soul, she only died a couple of months ago, age 97—had made me promise: 'Archie, take your rest, mind your trainer, and bring no disgrace to your family, like throwing fights.' "

Moore probably didn't need this counsel, because his father had left home when Archie was an infant, and Moore was sure he would meet up with the man someday, somewhere down the road, and he wanted to be able to look square into his father's eyes, with no shame. So Archie Moore never took a dive.

Anyway, there was no pattern to the way boxing treated its fighters. For example, whereas Joe Louis was born at about the same time as Moore (although most people think of them as a generation apart) and they both came out of the Midwest during the mid-'30s, the Brown Bomber was fighting in the Polo Grounds barely a year after he turned pro and fighting for the heavyweight champeenship of the world in another two. Moore waited for more than eight years to get to New York and another eight to get a title go.

Boxing has always been as capricious as it is corrupt, and In Them Days it wasn't just color that counted against a fighter. Moore never seemed to have the right connections; also, though he was too good and tended to knock fellows out, he was a counterpuncher who didn't take the fight to his opponent—or to the box office. His situation would have been worse only if he had been a southpaw. So he roamed the wilderness. Charley Johnston, his manager for many years, would call Moore up and tell him to go to such-and-such city or town. "It makes no difference who we get to fight Archie," Johnston said In Them Days. "All he wants to know is when and where. and he's there at the appointed time."

Other blacks, though lesser fighters, got their chances, even their title shots. But Moore had to keep moving through the sticks—"what we called tank towns in them days," he says. He developed what airlines would later call hubs. St. Louis was his first home ring. Then San Diego, then Baltimore. Moore fought on 21 cards in Baltimore alone. Then Toledo was a hub. "I liked that challenge, to come into another man's territory," Moore says, positively chortling. "Come in, beat him in his own hometown, run him out and then set up housekeeping myself. Heh, hen."

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