The Time Tunnel: Charley Burley

13.01.04 - By John Garfield, Courtesy of When great fighters are discussed, invariably, Charley Burley's name is always mentioned among the very best. Yet few fans have ever seen him. I did. It was only one fight, and it was on tape -- some where's between 44' and 46', at the tail end of Burley's career, so I don't know if it's the best indicator of how good he was... but it probably gives some sense of his style.

The fighter Burley fought was "Oakland" Billy Smith... and I believe it was a light heavyweight fight. (I do know Burley fought Smith twice, and won two decisions)

The tape was in black-&-white. There was no sound, just titles to indicate the round numbers. But, for a tape that was dubbed probably many times, it was pretty clear. And it didn't have that quick-stutter look that old-time footage has because it was shot at a silent camera speed.

First off, Burley didn't look more than a blown-up welter; not a very physically imposing guy, and certainly in comparison to Smith, who was a mountain of muscle, much taller, with a much longer reach, Burley looked dwarfed.

Burley was clearly from an earlier era. His hair was slicked down and parted in the middle, like all the pictures you've seen of Greb and Mickey Walker. And his stance could have come right off the front cover of the Police Gazette. The palms of Burley's hands almost faced him, not sideways, as we're used to seeing now. It had that John L. Sullivan look.

The only thing he was missing to complete the picture were those tight, knee-length trunks with the tied silk sash hanging down. Burley was almost an anachronism, because Smith looked no different than a modern fighter.

Burley moved well and circled in the pocket, but his stance almost resembled exactly Max Schmeling's against Joe Louis, with his head appearing to be forward, but all of his weight and body back on his right foot. He would sucker Smith into believing he was within range, to draw a right hand, than counter over the top.

Burley was pinpoint accurate...but threw few punches. In ten rounds, he never threw a combination--only one punch at a time... never fought inside or against the ropes. He darted in and punched and quickly held and smothered Smith.

Burley bided his time till he could fire that sniper of a right hand, and rarely followed it with a left. His right hand was straight-as-string, seemed to have some pop...and never missed.

But, what I was aware of after a few rounds-- and this was against a fighter that looked like he had pretty good skills--Burley appeared to be unhitable. He didn't even make elusive moves; he was just not touched by anything.

The only other fighter I've ever seen who seemed to have that same radar was Marcel Cerdan. When Pep and Whitaker did it, you wanted to applaud their skill. With Burley, he just wasn't being hit...and he didn't avoid the punches (It was the damnedest thing), and Smith didn't appear to be a slouch.

Burley did everything he wanted to, and either he'd lost his zest for battle or he was such a consummate pro, he did what he had to do to win and not much more.

Off this fight, I could see how Burley had the tools to win most all of his fights, but he'd certainly not be a crowd pleaser; he was strictly a tactician, and no fighter or manager would want any part of him.

It would be impossible to look good against Burley... even if you won; and Burley's style wouldn't bring fans out, so I can understand why it was tough for him to get fights. Promoters wouldn't book him.

After viewing this fight, I think it wasn't so much Burley's color that held him back, but his lack of it in the ring.

Though I'm sure both Robinson and his people were leery of facing Burley, even in the twilight of his career; if I had to hazard a guess as to who would come out on top in their primes, I'd say Robinson two out of three. In a single fight, it's dicey. Burley was very cagey and might have been a tough nut for Robinson to crack--the first time.

But Robinson was far more diversified offensively; his combinations were very flashy and explosive and would not only catch the eyes of the judges but excite the fans and affect the scoring.

Burley was sweet but "Sugar" was sweeter.

Article posted on 13.01.2004

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