Charley Burley: The Greatest Avoided Fighter In Boxing History?

Today in 1936 in Pittsburgh, one of the finest, and most criminally avoided, boxers in the long history of the sport fought his very first pro bout. Charley Burley, for many old-time historians one of the finest, most beautifully equipped boxers, punchers, defensive fighters ever, defeated a man named George Liggins by KO. What followed was a career that many fans still marvel at, and wonder about what might have been, many decades later.

Burley was a superb welterweight and middleweight, yet he never got a sniff of a world title chance. Though he was clearly deserving of his chance, Burley, boxing in an era that discriminated against many a black fighter, was denied. In time, Burley would join the legendary group of avoided fighters the included Holman Williams (who Burley would fight no less than seven times, winning some, losing others), Jimmy Bivins, Elmer “Violent” Ray and Lloyd Marshall; better known as “The Murderer’s Row.”

At his peak from around 1940 to 1942, Burley managed wins over rough, tough and highly skilled fighters such as Fritzie Zivic, Cocoa Kid, Billy Soose, Shorty Hogue and, in by far the biggest win of his entire career, Archie Moore.

Moore is today rightfully recognised as one of the finest light-heavyweight champions in all of boxing, yet when he fought Burley in a non-title middleweight bout in April of 1944, “The Ole’ Mongoose” was given, by his own admission, “a boxing lesson.” Legend has it Moore paid a visit to Burley’s dressing room after the fight, telling him, amongst other things, ‘man, I couldn’t even tie you up!’

Burley should have been given a crack at either the welterweight word title or the middleweight championship; maybe both. Instead he was forced to make do with being crowned ‘The World Coloured Champion’ at both weights. Even the incomparable Sugar Ray Robinson is said to have avoided Burley, reportedly asking for double his fight purse, thus killing the fight and knowing it.

In over 90 pro fights, Burley was never once stopped; this despite the fact that he gave away plenty of weight in a number of his bouts. 83-12-2(50) when he walked away (basically losing heart and interest, and who could blame him?) Burley wound up his career in 1950. Burley passed away in 1992 at the age of 75. He is remembered today as a true boxing genius who was, in the words of many a fine writer, too good for his own good.

To many the finest fighter to never win a world title, Burley was avoided like the plague. Rumoured to be the only man Ray Robinson ducked, Burley literally begged for a shot at a world title. One great man who did fight him was Moore, and Moore, who was beaten handily on points, deserves enormous credit himself for having agreed to face Burley. Archie, though, found himself on the floor three times during the one-sided fight.

In short, Charley Burley deserved a world title shot far more than many men who actually received one.