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An english heavyweight has come over to the States for a visit. While he's here he hopes to win the championship of the world. He has a better chance of accomplishing that than Archie Moore, Nino Valdes, Bob Baker or any of the other challengers, because the latest importation from the far shore is being allowed to meet our champion, Rocky Marciano, in San Francisco on May 16.
This may signal a victory for modesty over brashness, for while Archie Moore, the light heavyweight champion, has gone around the country beating a big bass drum for Archie Moore, Cockell has remained quietly on his English farm, raising pigs, growing fat and waiting for the gods and the IBC (two separate organizations though sometimes confused) to wave their magic wand over his stoutish figure and wisp him off to San Francisco for his night of glory. On the other hand, there is a school of thought which contends that even if Archie Moore out-silenced and out-humbled Don Cockell, the pig farmer with the soft Battersea accent would still have gotten the shot, because Al Weill, the last of the Medici, has a soft spot in his heart for Englishmen who can't hit too hard and who are unable to do any better against Roland La Starza than to squeeze through a hometown London decision. That is what Cockell-and-muscles did a year ago, slap through to a decision that turned Roland La Starza against the United Kingdom.
The champion of England hasn't much of a record. He has outpointed Elizabethan heavyweights like Johnny Williams and Johnny Arthur for the high-sounding but fistically plebeian Empire championship. In three fights with Jack Hurley's aging and fading heavyweight Harry Matthews, Cockell won a couple of close ones and was finally credited with an eight-round knockout when Harry's aching and ancient back began to give way on him. Cockell hasn't knocked out anybody else recently except the venerable Tommy Farr, who happens to be the last Britisher to have had a go at the big title. Farr tried it with Louis 18 years ago and scored a moral or a Pyrrhic, or some kind of a non-victorious triumph by remaining on his feet the full 15. This was hailed the world over as an accomplishment of rare significance, for the truth was that English fist fighting, especially among the big ones, had plain gone to hell in the 20th Century, and a British heavyweight who could maintain a vertical position over 10 or 15 rounds was credited with courage above and beyond the call of duty and qualified for a V.C.
Describing a man as a British heavyweight has become something less than a compliment in this century, which has seen such stand-up, knocked-down specimens as Joe Beckett and Bombardier Wells, vintage World War I, who were both flattened twice by Carpentier. That Frenchman didn't help Franco-British relations by scoring three one-round KO's over the London prides; the Bombardier stoutly hung on until the 4th the first time he was in there with the Parisian middleweight. A decade later there was Phil Scott, who boxed quite well but seemed to resent being hit to the body. Phainting Phil, they used to call him. More recently there was Bruce Woodcock, another Empire champion, who was being touted by his countrymen not so many years ago as a coming champion of the world. He also visited our shores and turned out to be a stand-up straight-left boxer with a chin of purest porcelain. Tami Mauriello dumped him in five and that was the last of that Empire champion except for a couple of appearances with Lee Oma and Lee Savold that would be described more appropriatey in Theatre Arts than in a magazine devoted to competitive sport.
A DEBT TO THE ENGLISH
In the previous century it was altogether different. Prize fighting owes its resurgence to the English, who were stirred by the remarkable courage and endurance and ferocity of such bareknuckle heroes as Daniel Mendoza, Tom Cribb, Tom Sayers and Jem Mace. These were men who stood up for two or three hours and fought effectively with blinded eyes, broken arms and injuries that could only be endured with superhuman pride.
In this century that sort of valor seems to have been inherited by such American champions as Corbett and Dempsey, Louis and Marciano. Whether our British visitor is of that mettle remains to be seen.
Along Piccadilly the London buffs may like to think of Cockell as a throwback to the glorious days when Britannia ruled the waves and a champion of England ruled the ring. But on Eighth Avenue, where feeling for the English prize ring tradition does not run high, my connection says they're laying 6-1 that Cockell is just another imported stiff.