Archie Moore's Most Memorable Triumph

23.07.04 - By Mike Dunn: He was just three days away from his 45th birthday, on the downside of one of the truly remarkable careers the sport of boxing has ever seen. When he entered the ring that was set up in the Montreal Forum that cold December night in 1958, light-heavyweight champion Archie Moore was a 3-1 favorite to turn back the challenge of a strong-armed but crude Canadian fisherman named Yvon Durelle, the pride of Baie-Ste. Anne, New Brunswick.

Durelle, the Canadian and British Empire champ, couldn’t match his opponent’s experience or ring longevity, but the 29-year-old challenger was certainly no wallflower. He brought a sturdy 81-20-2 record with him that memorable night and a well earned reputation as one who made up in rugged aggression what he lacked in artistry.

In 1953, Durelle won the Canadian light-heavyweight title with a 12-round decision over Gordon Wallace. Four years later, he added the British Empire laurels with a second-round KO of the same Wallace, a boxer whose name appears frequently in Durelle’s record. Durelle had previously held the Canadian middleweight title and had attempted to win the Canadian heavyweight title also, but had been a KO victim to a young slugger named George Chuvalo.

Durelle went through a tough patch in his career in the mid-1950s, losing eight of 12 encounters, including a KO loss to another prominent opponent, future heavyweight champ Floyd Patterson, in May of 1955. Durelle persevered, however, and went on to post a solid 22-2-1 mark in the two-and-a-half years preceding his fateful opportunity to fight for the world title. “The Fighting Fisherman,” as Durelle was known, was a big favorite of the Montreal crowd that was on hand to see if the native son could wrest the crown from the head of the venerable warrior, Mr. Moore.

The champion owned a 173-22-9 record when he was introduced to the fans. He was on his way to recording more knockouts — 131 by official count — than anyone who ever traded leather in the squared circle. Moore had won the title six years before, on December 17, 1952, with a unanimous 15-round decision over Joey Maxim. Since then, he had successfully defended the title six times, including two more decisions over the durable Maxim. In 1955, Archie had challenged Rocky Marciano for the heavyweight crown and had lost a brutally exciting slugfest in nine rounds at Yankee Stadium. In November of 1956, Moore and Patterson squared off with the vacant heavyweight title on the line and Moore was knocked out in the fifth after a surprisingly ineffective performance.

Moore shrugged off the loss to Patterson — what he considered the low point of his fistic career — and was unbeaten in his next 16 fights, the only blemish being a draw with journeyman heavyweight Howard King in the summer of ’58.

The big question going into the Moore-Durelle bout was if Yvon could get to the champ early enough to take him out. It was believed that a longer fight would favor Moore, not just because of Moore’s advantage in experience, but because Durelle did most of his “training” on the job, hauling lobster traps from the frigid waters near Bais-St. Anne. Durelle was physically strong and tough enough, for sure, but was he in good enough “ring shape” to last 15 hard rounds with a puncher like Moore? And if he did last 15 rounds, could Durelle box effectively enough to earn a decision against the crafty champion? It was doubtful. A knockout seemed Durelle’s only path to becoming a world champ.

The third man in the ring was former heavyweight champion Jack Sharkey. As things turned out, Sharkey played a key role in what would prove to be Moore’s most memorable triumph.

AT THE BELL, the champ and challenger circled each other harmlessly for about a minute before the first telling blow of the fight was struck. And what a blow it was! Durelle brought over a right hand to the jaw of Moore that seemed to paralyze the champ. The messages from Moore’s brain to the rest of his body were immediately scrambled by the perfectly timed right cross, and Moore fell down to the canvas in a heap. As Sharkey picked up the count from the timekeeper and began to toll the numbers over the prone Moore, it appeared that the fight was over. Moore looked dead to the world. And, if by some miracle of recuperation, the champ was able to reach his feet before Sharkey reached 10, how would he survive two more minutes of combat before the bell sounded ending round one?

In 1997, Moore talked about being hit by Durelle in an article that appeared in The Ring. “I had fought a lot of great punchers,” Moore is quoted as saying in an excellent piece written by Jim Prime. “And I could always handle them pretty well, but this guy — oh boy, he hit me harder than I’d ever been hit in my life.”

Moore was dazed and disoriented. But he had enough of his wits about him to realize that he was about to be counted out and lose the title. At seven, he turned and looked at Sharkey. At eight, he somehow lifted himself up to his knees. At nine, he stood up on very wobbly legs.

Here is where Sharkey’s role was pivotal. If the same circumstance occurred today, almost any ref would wave it off right there. And no one would have argued much if Sharkey had done the same thing back in 1958. But the prevailing opinion at the time was that the champion should be given every opportunity to retain the title. So Sharkey simply wiped Moore’s gloves and let the fight go on.

Durelle is also quoted by Price in The Ring article. “I was amazed he didn’t stay down after the shot I hit him,” he said.

Moore didn’t stay down, but he didn’t stay on his feet either. A short while later, the champ was on the deck a second time. He hadn’t been hit with another clean, jolting shot like the first one, but Durelle was loading up and getting through with enough hard shots to keep Moore in survival mode. The second knockdown was the result of a volley of mostly muffled blows by the challenger. Moore got up again, but he didn’t seem quite as bad off this time as he had after the first knockdown. A few seconds later, though, and Moore was on the canvas again! It appeared that his legs wouldn’t hold up upright. Fortunately for Moore, the three-knockdown rule was not in effect for the championship bout, or the fight would have automatically ended.

Moore got up a third time on shakey legs and somehow managed to last the round. He held Durelle when he the challenger got close enough to grab, and he avoided being hit by another hammering right cross. Before the end of the round, Moore was actually throwing some retaliatory shots of his own.

In rounds two and three, it was evident that Moore was still trying to clear his head, but it was also evident that Durelle, looking a bit overextended after throwing all those haymakers, would have to work diligently for a knockout against the savvy veteran. There were some who thought Durelle was too cautious in following up his advantage in the second round, and Moore agreed with that assessment. “He thought I was in better shape than I actually was,” Moore related. “He should have come out like he did in the first round, but he didn’t. He hesitated.”

By the fourth round, Moore seemed more like himself. For the first time in the fight, he began to land with stiff, hard jabs to Durelle’s noggin and put together a semblance of a fight plan.

And then in the fifth round, it happened again. Just when Moore looked to be taking control of the fight, Durelle landed another clean, hard right hand on the button ... and Moore went down again.

This was almost a replay of the first knockdown, though Moore didn’t seem to be quite as badly dazed. Probably no one in the Montreal arena was surprised, including Durelle, when Moore scrambled to his feet before the 10 count. Moore went into retreat mode for the remainder of the round and managed to survive again.

“When he knocked me down in the fifth round, he hit me just as hard as he had in the first, but by now I had gotten myself warmed up a bit,” Moore explained in the same ’97 article by Prime.

How long could this go on, though? Was Moore getting old before the eyes of the boxing public watching the fight live and on national TV? Would Durelle’s next successful onslaught bring the end? Time would tell.

THE SIXTH ROUND turned out to be the turning point of the fight. Durelle was beginning to show signs of fatigue while Moore seemed to be gaining strength, if that was possible. Between rounds, the champ had drunk deeply from the deep reservoir of youthfulness in his soul, and now he seemed almost refreshed.

Moore landed several solid blows to the cranium of the Canadian in the sixth, then pressed the advantage in the seventh, briefly sending Durelle to the canvas with a well-placed right. Moore continued to press his advantage in the eighth and ninth rounds. By the end of the ninth, the only question was if Durelle would last 15 rounds. Durelle was still very game, but he appeared to be fading fast.

In the 10th, Durelle was hammered to the canvas again, the final blow being a vicious left hook. The game challenger got up and was knocked down again before the end of the round. He was in a bad way, but refused to quit. Still, it seemed only a matter of time before the end. Moore finished the job in the 11th, finally putting the rugged Canadian on the canvas for the full 10 count.

It had been a great fight, maybe one of the best of all time. The champ had been down four times in the early rounds, and the game, rugged challenger had been down four times late in the fight. The drama had been intense throughout.

Archie Moore, who turned 45 three days after beating Durelle, had fought twice for the heavyweight championship and had engaged in countless ring wars with virtually every notable light-heavyweight and heavyweight champion and contender for more than two decades. He had been in more meaningful encounters in his career, but certainly none more memorable.

“Yvon Durelle was one of the fights that keeps my name alive,” Moore said in 1997. “He was a great warrior, and I loved to fight men who could fight. He was game to the very end.”

Moore and Durelle, who became good friends in later years, had a title rematch in 1959, again in Montreal. The result was the same, this time a 3-round KO for the champ. There was little of the drama of the first fight, however.

The first fight between Archie Moore and Yvon Durelle will be remembered and talked about as long as there are boxing fans who share an interest in recounting the greatest ring battles of all time. It will remain Archie's most memorable triumph.

Mike Dunn is a writer and boxing historian who resides in Gaylord, Michigan.

Article posted on 24.07.2004

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