Boxing: Damaged Goods

26.10.07 - By Ted Sares: Laverne Roach, 26-4, and Georgie Small, 38-6, met in February 1950. Small was a Brooklyn favorite having fought there many times. Roach was a tough ex-marine out of Texas. This was a televised fight from St. Nicholas Arena in New York City which, I recall, took place on a Monday night and I believe Don Dunphy may have been at the mike. At any rate and in retrospect, the setting was quintessential 1950’s.

Roach appeared to be well ahead in the fight and seemingly on his way to an easy points win when suddenly Small uncorked a right out of nowhere in the eighth stanza that landed flush on Roach's jaw. It was more desperation than planned, but the tide of the fight changed just like that. The blow ripped into Roach like a sledge hammer and the blood immediately gushed from his lips and mouth. Bleeding profusely and staggering, he managed to hang on until the bell rang. While he somehow made it through the ninth using every survival trick he knew, he was a bloody mess and the one-sided assault continued through the tenth until a crunching right put Roach down like he had been sapped. Everyone in our house, my Dad, my friends and I, started to yell "Stop it! Stop it." The fans at ring side were doing the same, and Referee Frank Fullam did just that, but simultaneously, another punch sent Roach sprawling. But the damage already had been done.

As Lavern laid glassy eyed on the blood-spattered canvas, he motioned that he was ok, but he was anything but and everyone watching knew it. He went slack eyed and then lapsed into a coma. Fourteen hours later, Lavern Roach, just 24, passed away from a sub-dural hemorrhage in St. Clare's Hospital.

We had watched this one from the safe confines of our living room and it was my first chilling experience witnessing a ring death. Thank God, the fight had been televised in black and white since the amount of blood that flowed was horrific. Though I have seen [too] many since, this one has stayed with me through the years. This is the one I think about the most.

But wait. There is more to the story; there is something else that needs to be said here. Less than two years previously, Roach had been badly beaten by the great Marcel Cerdan, 105-2 at the time. He had been clubbed to the canvas three times in the second round and four more times in the eighth as Cerdan's monster blows continued to rain down upon him. As he crawled around the ring, the slaughter was finally and mercifully stopped after eight punishing rounds. Clearly, the Texas marine had been brought along too fast to fight the likes of Cerdan.

Still, up until that beat down, he had been 23-1 with his only loss coming at the hands of rugged New Yorker Artie Towne, a gifted boxer with a great record (who fought as one Henry Johnson when he beat Roach). In fact, Roach had been Ring magazine's Rookie-of-the-Year in 1947.

After the Cerdan massacre, Roach said goodbye to boxing and went back home to sell insurance, but after two years and a few warm-up fights, he was back in the ring, perhaps as badly damaged goods…..for one last time.

Article posted on 27.10.2007

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