It looks as if life is going to begin at 40 for Archie Moore. The "records" to the contrary, he's at least 39 now, and a 39-year-old fist fighter is something like a 60-year-old ballerina. Sure, it's possible, but you have to see it to believe it. Thirty is the great divide for most fighters. It's an 18-to-30 sport, and anybody functioning effectively into his fourth decade is a phenomenon. Even the great ones buckle in these middle years. Joe Louis was losing his magic at 33. The 35-year-old Ray Robinson is a creaky imitator of the incomparable Sugar Ray we want to remember. The indomitable spirit of Mickey Walker wasn't enough to keep him on his feet against the Paul Pirrones and the Eric Seeligs once he crossed the bar of 33. A good man like Ezzard Charles is an old man at 34.
But Old Man Moore keeps rolling along. He says he has a secret formula for losing weight, but when will he let us in on the secret of how to extend the vigors of youth into middle age? They say that a good big man will always lick a good little man, and maybe that was the wrap-up on Archie's workmanlike job on Bobo Olson last week in the Polo Grounds. The ring was set up in the infield, over the pitcher's mound, and in the third inning it was three clean strikes from Old Arch and Bobo was out. Bobo is a strong middleweight, as they go these days, but Archie played with him for a couple of rounds and then put three punches together and Olson, as a San Francisco reporter put it later, "was hit right out of his mind."
The ancient gypsy from St. Louis, Toledo, San Diego and wherever the hell he happens to be at the moment has hit a lot of good boys out of their minds over the years, but instead of catapulting him into the big time, his triumphs were liabilities standing between him and the logical matches he could never make. Nobody doubted he was the best light heavyweight in the world six or seven years ago, but the championship in those years was handed around from Gus Lesnevich to Freddie Mills to Joey Maxim. Four years ago Archie was knocking out heavyweights in Argentina because there was no way of his making money at his trade in America. He had never fought in the Garden. He had to stand aside while men half his age and with a smaller fraction than that of his ability got their names on the Eighth Avenue marquee. A couple of years ago he got a shot at Joey Maxim's 175-pound title by offering to fight for nothing. Archie had no more trouble with Jolt-less Joey in '52 than he would have had with him in '47. In 144 bouts over 20 years Archie's problem hasn't been his ability to win. His toughest fights are to get the guy into the ring with him in the first place.
But at an age when most fighters are 10 years retired, Archie Moore's long-postponed day is dawning. Last year he knocked out Harold Johnson to retain his light heavyweight title and took nine rounds to dispose of Bob Baker, Al Weill's idea of the next best thing for Rocky Marciano. This year Archie licked Nino Valdes, who had the No. 1 heavyweight contender rating, which should have put him in with Marciano, but out in San Francisco after the Cockell fight Al Weill was still talking Baker. How did Baker rate it if Old Arch had knocked him out and had twice beaten Valdes? The boxing business has a different logic from other sports. Especially when, as in the case of Mr. Weill, you are in charge of the logic.
THE UNNEEDED PROOF
Last week when Moore calmly took Olson apart in less than eight minutes of fighting, nothing was proved that had not been known for a long time to followers of the ring. His advanced years haven't yet caught up with Archie's reflexes; if he's a little slower than he used to be he makes up for it with ring guile, the cute tricks of defense, sneak punching and feinting that are becoming a lost art in these days of boxing decadence.
Archie Moore has been knocking over heavyweight contenders and running a full-blown press campaign for a Marciano match for the past year and, as they say, he was getting nowhere with rapidity. Now, by an odd turn of fortune, he knocks out a man who weighs 50 pounds less than Bob Baker and his right to meet Marciano is recognized at last.
Overnight the man who took 19 years to get into the Garden and 20 years to make it out-of-doors in the ball park has become a public figure instead of just a fighter's fighter, the one they all want to learn from in the gym and avoid in the ring. Al Weill won't have to "make" this match, as Cockell's was made, an artificial concoction that made no money and no friends for Rocky. Here, at last, is a match which has been made for him by public opinion. That "million-dollar gate" talk is in the air again. The match has that solid ring to it. There is, for a change, difference of opinion as to who will win. Rocky had two arduous nights with craftsmen who knew more than he did and were able to punish him by moving around him and beating him to the punch.
The first Walcott and Charles fights—two of the best contested heavyweight battles I ever saw—could be the models for Archie Moore's big try. If there is anybody in the world who has a chance with Rocky, it's the cagey old bopster who knows more about his trade than the whole heavyweight division put together. He'd be the oldest heavyweight champion in the history of glove fights, if he could do it, and just as Harlem had a special feeling for Joe Louis, and New England Italians get an extra charge from exploits of their Brockton strongboy, middle-aged fight fans short-winded and 40 inches around the belt line may take a Pitkinish pride in the prowess of their contemporary, the grand old man of this bloody business now that Deacon Jersey Joseph Walcott has sat down for the last time.
Despite a sentimental pull in Archie's direction because we were both born during Woodrow Wilson's administration, and regardless of strong sympathies for a man with overdog abilities and underdog opportunities, I'd like to cast an early vote for Marciano, an awesome competitor. In his dressing room after Archie's left hook had blacked him out, Bobo Olson was described by attending physicians as being "in a state of semi-shock...staring glassily into space" and when no physical injuries were found the medics went psychological and decided it was his pride that had been jarred because he had convinced himself that he would beat Moore and then turn the Fitzsimmons trick by taking Marciano. But Bobo was a middleweight pretending to be a light heavyweight and Archie was a hard-hitting heavyweight momentarily sweated down to 175. When Bobo got back to San Francisco early next morning he was able to talk again, but what he said had a subjective tone. Appraising Moore and Marciano, he oracled, "The one who lands the first punch will win." As a boxing critic, Bobo makes a pretty good middleweight. Archie Moore may land the first punch, just as Jersey Joe did in Philadelphia. But Rocky landed the last punch 13 rounds later. In between Rocky took some bombs that would have caved the normal professional. Archie will hit him some left hooks but instead of swooning glassy-eyed Rocky will keep coming.