Remembering Archie Moore, “The ‘Ol’ Mongoose”

17.02.06 - By James Slater: It has been just over seven years since the passing of the man many experts believe was the finest light heavyweight champion in boxing history. This boxer is Archie Moore, and to give you an idea of just how good he was, consider this; it wasn’t until he was almost forty that he had his first crack at a world title. The very fact that he is even considered one of the greats after getting his chance to make his mark at such an advanced age, an age when a boxer’s best years are pretty much long gone, should make it obvious that Archie Moore was indeed something special.

Archibald Lee Wright was born (according to most records) on December the 13th 1913 and in 1936, after changing his name to Archie Moore, began one of the greatest careers in boxing history. Archie was one of the best fighters ever to lace on gloves, but because of an age of racial discrimination he was made to wait until he was thirty nine before getting a title shot. This finally came in 1952, against Joey Maxim. Moore won handily over fifteen rounds for the world light heavyweight championship. Now everyone knew how good he was and why plenty of fighters had used the color issue to their advantage by ducking him. Archie was to hold on to his title right throughout the rest of the 1950’s and well into the ’60’s. Some truly
brilliant displays of boxing genius were to follow.

He beat former champ Maxim twice more in defence of his title and then in 1954 he made his Madison Square Garden debut, KO’ing Harold Johnson, who held an earlier victory over him, in fourteen rounds. Then, after flattening Carl “Bobo” Olsen in three rounds, he decided to try his hand up at heavyweight. Facing the unstoppable Rocky Marciano for the world title, Archie surprised everyone by decking “The Rock” in the second round. Eventually, after a very memorable bout, the champion got on top of things in round six, dropping Moore twice, before finally stopping him for good in the ninth. It was Marciano’s last fight. For Archie, it was back down to light heavy and a tenth round win over Yolande Pompey in London, before another try for the heavyweight crown. Archie had performed very well against Marciano and though he would have loved another go at him Rocky’s retirement ruled this possibility out. Archie always maintained that if the referee hadn’t got between himself and the still stunned Marciano as he’d gone in for the kill after the knockdown, thus giving the shaky champion precious seconds in which to gather himself, he would have finished him off. Is there any substance to this claim? Archie always told the truth, that’s for sure, so who knows? Whatever the case, Moore wound up facing Floyd Patterson in a match to decide Marciano’s successor instead of having the rematch he so craved. Despite having a huge edge in experience over the twenty one year old Floyd, Archie just could not cope with his blinding speed. He lost in five rounds as Patterson became the youngest man to win the heavyweight title. Archie was devastated by the loss.

In a routine title defence back down at his natural weight, against Johnny Anthony the following year, Archie appeared to be simply going through the motions. But then, laying to rest any doubts people may have had about his commitment to the sport due to being so deflated after his efforts up a division, Moore fought one of his greatest ever fights. Defending against
the French-Canadian, Yvonne Durelle, Archie had to dig as deep as one could ever possibly imagine. Durelle stunned Moore in the first round, knocking him down three times and appeared to be a certain winner. But, somehow, the champion managed to survive the opener and then, incredibly, claw his way back into the fight. He was put down again in round five but by now Yvonne was tiring and Archie made him pay for letting him off the hook. Moore inflicted hurt on Durelle now. He put him down in the seventh and tenth rounds before ending matters in the eleventh round of a once in a lifetime classic. This fight would be talked about for years. Archie himself was proud of his brave comeback and said that all fighters dream of being in an epic “knock down, drag out fight such as this”.

How to follow such a classic? Why, with a rematch, naturally. Unfortunately for the fans, this time Archie won easily in three rounds. “It was a hard fight, I just made it look easy”, he said afterwards. Then came the last title fight of his career. In June of 1961, Archie out pointed Guilio Riualdi over fifteen with no trouble, but was then stripped of his world championship for not fighting former KO victim Harold Johnson. And we think boxing’s crazy politics are only a modern day curse!

Around this time Archie began training a brash, young upstart by the name of Cassius Clay. The winner of Olympic gold in 1960 had undeniable talent but the strict disciplinarian in Moore rubbed against all that Clay was about. They soon parted company, leaving Cassius to seek out Angelo Dundee from Miami. However, Archie and Cassius would meet again - in the ring! One of Cassius’ early managers, Bill Faversham, upon hearing of the friction in training camp, had remarked to Archie that “maybe Clay needs a good spanking”. Archie’s response was “he sure does, but I don’t know who’s going to give him one, including me.” In 1962, two years after so aggravating him as his teacher, Archie tried to do just this.

So incredibly, while aged almost fifty, Archie was to fight the man who is today generally considered the best heavyweight of all-time. It was no contest, as Moore himself had feared. The speedy Clay stopped “Ancient Archie” in round four, as he had predicted. But not before tormenting Archie verbally with references to the training techniques he had tried to use with
him. Cassius enjoyed this after being subject to what he regarded as disrespect for someone with his all too obvious talent. There is no doubt though, that Archie did impart wisdom on the young Clay while he had him as his pupil. For example, the rope-a-dope that Ali used in Africa against Foreman came from Archie Moore.

As far as his own fighting days were concerned, Archie would have one more fight, a win. He defeated one Mike Dibias in early 1963, before bringing down the curtain on a great fistic career. His days as a trainer though, were far from over.

Many younger fans will no doubt remember Archie being George Foreman’s trainer during Big George’s unlikely comeback. He was in Foreman’s camp back in the ‘70’s too and George knew who to call when he decided to return to boxing in 1987. Clearly, Archie Moore knew plenty about fighting as an old man and would provide him with some valuable pointers about how he should
tackle the fight game when having to do so without the benefits of youth. Unlikely comeback? Foreman’s chances of reaching the top once more may have seemed a long shot to most, but not to the man dubbed, “The ‘Ol’ Mongoose”.

A man who’s final pro record reads an amazing 183 wins with 22 losses and 9 draws with 129 wins by KO, which is the most ever scored by a professional boxer. There is no doubt, in the annals of boxing history Archie Moore is one of the true immortals.

Article posted on 17.02.2006

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