For a while there, it looked as though the great Archie Moore would live to see his century. Instead, “Ageless Archie,” or, to go by his more famous ring nickname, “The Ole Mongoose,” passed away at age 84 this on this day back in 1998. There is some discrepancy regarding Moore’s actual date of birth, Moore always claimed he was born in 1916, while Archie’s mother always maintained her son was born on December 13, 1913.
Either way, Moore lived long, and, boy, did he live some fascinating life!
For many, Moore ranks as one of the top 2 or 3 greatest light heavyweights ever. And we all know Moore’s ability to punch, to render a man unconscious, was so magnificent that he holds the record for the most career knockouts scored by a world champion boxer, this at an amazing 131 KOs. Moore, who was born in either Illinois (his claim) or in Mississippi (his mother’s claim), was abandoned by his father when still an infant, with Moore being handed over to his aunt and uncle, who lived in St. Louis. Moore, who was born Archibald Lee Wright, took on their surname and, years later, he explained to reporters the name change – “It was less questions to be called Moore,” Archie said.
Boxing came to Moore at a young age, this when he was still a teenager. After a brief period of time spent running with a gang, Moore getting caught for stealing, the young Archie joined the Civilian Conservative Corps. It was there that he began boxing, Moore competing in and winning Golden Gloves tournaments. Archie then went pro in 1935 as a middleweight.
Moore would go on to fight numerous great fighters, each of them worthy of either a book written about them or at least an in-depth article or three. Moore would face legendary “Murder’s Row” fighters such as Eddie Booker, Jack Chase, Lloyd Marshall, Jimmy Bivins, Cocoa Kid, Holman Williams, Bert Lytell, and, perhaps the finest fighter of the group, Charley Burley.
Moore didn’t always win these encounters – with Archie stating himself how Burley gave him a “real licking” – but Moore was willing to fight the very best and the most dangerous fighters around. Interestingly, in an interview Moore gave not too long before his death, he stated that the hardest hitter he faced during this period of his career, if not during his career period, was a fellow named Curtis Sheppard. Moore won a 12 round decision over Sheppard in January of 1946. By this time, Moore was already 78-11-5, and he had been stopped by Booker and by Bivins. Moore had also boxed two draws with Booker, while he would go on to avenge the loss to Bivins. Moore had also had a heck of a tough time with a guy named Shorty Hogue, who bested Moore twice via points wins before Archie stopped Hogue quickly in a third fight.
It was in May of 1946 when Moore first met the man who could be described as his nemesis, Ezzard Charles. Three times Moore tackled Charles, and three times he came up short, the final fight by KO. The sport was vastly different in those days, however, and an unbeaten, shiny record was the least of it. Moore had learned an absolute ton from the fights he had won, lost, or drawn. Charles would not become world light heavyweight champ, but Moore would. In time, both men would fight for the world heavyweight title, with Charles winning it, and Moore falling short.
It wasn’t until December of 1952, this after Moore had already had a most fascinating ring career, during which he had fought so many terrors of the ring and had compiled a 133-19-8 ledger, that “The Old Mongoose” got his first shot at the world title. After having picked up wins over the likes of Harold Johnson (whom Moore fought a number of battles with), Sheppard again, and Bob Satterfield, Moore got a shot at Joey Maxim and the world light heavyweight crown. 15 rounds later, in St. Louis Moore was king of the world. He was either 36 or 39.
Moore would go on to retain the world title some nine times, with Moore engaging in some epic fights. But Moore really fancied his chances at heavyweight. An expert at placing punches, Moore was also a master at pacing himself in a fight, and of making the other guy make mistakes and then capitalizing. Moore ranks as one of the most cerebral of all boxers.
Title defenses came against former champ Maxin, but Moore also defeated notable heavyweights like Nino Valdes and Bob Baker. And so it was, in perhaps his most famous fight, Moore challenged Rocky Marciano for the world heavyweight title in September of 1955. Moore had studied Rocky, and he was convinced he could beat him, knock him out. Moore may have come close, as he dropped Marciano in the second round of their fight, with Archie convinced until his dying day (or trying to convince us) that the referee interfered and prevented him from following up when Marciano was still groggy after beating the count.
But Rocky did recover, the champ stopping a courageous Moore in the ninth round. It was Marciano’s last fight. Moore went back to defending his light heavyweight title before he got a second crack at the heavyweight crown. Facing Marciano’s successor, Floyd Patterson, Moore was stopped in five rounds in November of 1956, and he was devastated.
Moore, now 160-21-8, would fight on for another seven years!
Moore’s December 1958 fight with Yvon Durelle is the stuff of legend, and for good reason. The two men traded heavy knockdowns in a fight that has to be seen to be believed (thankfully for us, the fight is up on YouTube). Archie said years later that it is every fighter’s dream to engage in a “knockdown, drag-out fight,” and he sure got his wish. Moore, who looked gone more than once in the slugfest, cemented his claim to greatness when really no additional cement was needed, this by way of clawing his way back and stopping Durelle in round 11. In a rematch, Moore scored a straightforward third round KO win.
Moore’s final title retention came in June of 1961 when he decisioned Giulio Rinaldi (in a rematch of a fight that Moore lost, this a non-title fight from October of 1960) in New York. By now, Moore had been fighting as a pro for an almost unimaginable 26 years. And he still wasn’t done yet. Moore took on a few more heavyweights, including Pete Rademacher (a win), Howard King (a win)……and Cassius Clay.
The future Muhammad Ali was way too fast for “Ancient Archie,” and he made good on his prediction of a fourth round stoppage win. How Moore was still fighting against anyone, much less the future “Greatest,” was pretty crazy all by itself. Moore managed to go out a winner, as he stopped Mike DiBiase in the third round in March of 1963.
Moore’s final numbers a jaw-dropping 186-23-10(131).
In later life, Moore showed fine ability as numerous things: actor, boxing trainer, writer, and humanitarian. Truly the sport’s elder statesman in his later years, nobody, as in nobody, had a bad word to say about Moore. He was, and is, boxing royalty. The finest of the fine. Moore lived perhaps the fullest life of any pro boxer you care to name. Archie was, and is, super-special. And it’s more than worth pointing out how Moore suffered no ill effects from the rigors of the prize ring, this despite the fact that he fought as an old man, with plenty of his fights tough and punishing (for both he and for his opponent).
If you were to write a story about a great boxer, this in an effort to show people how special this great sport of ours can be, Archie Moore’s story would provide you with the perfect material.