But in 1956 that seemed long ago. Moore's career had recently taken a dramatic turn upward at a time when it might have been expected to wind down. He had become a champion in the '50s. He had fought and defeated the best light heavies and many of the heavies. He had achieved a reputation as a mystic through an Australian aborigine diet that allowed him to fight one night weighing more than 200 pounds and only a few months later at the light-heavyweight limit of 175. He was the wily and respected elder statesman of the squared circle. He was The Mongoose.
Moore looked less mystic than bored as he labored through the ropes into the Richmond ring. He wore a richly brocaded robe that, nonetheless, seemed faded. When he removed it, his belly was revealed, fairly spilling over the waistband of trunks that were so long they looked like Bermuda shorts. He weighed nearly 25 pounds more than he had for the Marciano fight and he carried this excess poorly. He was hardly a figure to inspire awe, a fat, graying, middle-aged man of either 43 or 40, depending on whether one accepted the birth date he faithfully recited or the earlier one his mother inadvertently disclosed during an interview. Only the long, thick boxer's arms were impressive.
Bean, Moore's opponent, was more athletic looking. He was tall and flat-bellied, with wide shoulders and a thick neck. The muscles on his back rippled as he danced, face lowered, in his corner. But when he turned to confront the portly old party opposite him, it was apparent he was scared stiff. He had never before fought anyone as formidable as Moore. He was a tune-up, and he knew it. He was already perspiring heavily. He was finished before he started.
He was, in fact, finished not long after he started. Moore cuffed him at will in the first two rounds, puffing from the exertion. The Mongoose was annoyed that his prey would not come to him, that he was obliged to plod after the frightened wretch. Bean scarcely threw a punch. His eyes were wide with apprehension.
In the fifth round Moore reached him with a combination of ponderous blows. Bean folded up along the ropes above me, not so much injured as relieved, even grateful, to have the ordeal come to a close. Moore consented to have his arm raised, then he hurried from the ring, the great tummy bouncing beneath the robe.
We writers also rushed to the dressing room, although I was detained by officious functionaries demanding to see my press pass. Did I look so callow they could not recognize me as a certified fight writer?
By the time I reached Moore's dressing room the other reporters were leaving it. Apparently Moore had not had much to say about the lackluster confrontation. I plunged into the room and found myself alone with the great man, save for a trainer off in one corner stirring his elixirs.
Moore was supine on the rubbing table, absolutely motionless. His eyes were closed. A Johnny Hodges solo on, as I recall, I Got It Bad and That Ain't Good reached us from a record player near Moore's place of rest. I started to say something like "Hi, Archie," but before I could utter a syllable, he raised a hand to silence me. The alto sax had more to say to him at that moment.
I was then—and am, regrettably, now—uncomfortable in the presence of athletes in a locker room. It is their place of business, and though it is obviously also mine, I cannot help but feel like an interloper. Perhaps I was too long a fan before I troubled to talk to famous athletes. Although in some company I am considered glib)—even, at certain hours of the evening, garrulous—around athletes I am without conversational resources. I am often resentful of my tongue-tied inability to say anything remotely intelligent to even the most unlettered lout of a game player. It is, I suppose, a hang-up.
So, on this night, I sat in a chair as Moore lay there like a corpse. The two of us listened wordlessly as the fine old Ellington record spun to a conclusion. Moore may well have been sound asleep when I padded embarrassedly out of the room, although I could have sworn I saw the trainer wink at him as I gently closed the door.