Archie Moore was one of the most colorful and respected figures in the modern history of boxing. His professional career, which included well over 200 bouts, spanned from 1936 to 1963 and included matches against Rocky Marciano , Cassius Clay (as Muhammad Ali was then called), and Floyd Patterson . The world light-heavyweight champion from 1952 to 1962, Moore's most notable match came on December 10, 1958, when he boxed against Yvon Durelle in the Montreal Forum in defense of his title. After being knocked down three times in the first round and again in round five, Moore regained control of the bout and eventually knocked Durelle out to take the fight in the eleventh round. He triumphed over Durelle in a rematch in 1959 and still held the light-heavyweight title through 1962, when it was taken away from him by the New York Boxing Commission and European Boxing Union for inactivity. Indeed, by that time Moore had moved on to a career as a trainer, author, actor, and philanthropist. During his retirement from professional boxing, which began in 1964, Moore devoted most of his time to the Any Boy Can (ABC) program, which he founded to help at-risk youth in San Diego. At the time of his death in 1998, Moore was hailed as "an American original" by Dave Kindred of The Sporting News, who wrote, "No deal with the devil is necessary to write about Archie More because anyone writing about the great man writes a celebration of life."
Grew Up in St. Louis
Archibald Lee Wright was born on December 13, 1913 in Benoit, a small town in the Mississippi Delta. His parents, Lorena and Thomas Wright, worked as farm laborers and separated not long after their son was born. Taken in by his aunt, Willie Pearl Moore, and her husband, Cleveland, he moved to St. Louis to live with the couple and took their surname as his own. The Moores eventually raised Archie, his older sister, Rena, and their half-brothers, Samuel and Louis. Around 1930 two tragedies struck the Moore family in quick succession. First, Cleveland Moore was paralyzed after an initiation
ritual into a fraternal organization went awry. He eventually died from the injury. Shortly thereafter, Moore's newlywed sister, Rena, died while giving birth to twins. One of the twins also died and the surviving child was brought up by Willie Pearl Moore. The loss of Cleveland Moore's income plunged the family into economic hardship, which was compounded by the effects of the Great Depression.
With the loss of his uncle and sister, Moore entered into a period of rebellion. An indifferent student at racially segregated Lincoln High School in St. Louis, he began stealing in his neighborhood and even from his own family. As Moore recalled in his 1960 autobiography The Archie Moore Story, the theft and sale of two oil lamps from his aunt's house paid for his first set of boxing gloves. "I should have worn the boxing gloves the clock around," he wrote, "But I became adept at light-fingered lifting along with the rest of my gang." Moore progressed from stripping the copper wiring from abandoned houses to sell to scrap metal dealers to running onto streetcars and stealing the change box while a friend distracted the operator. After being arrested three times for theft, the authorities lost their patience with Moore and a trial resulted in a three-year sentence in the Missouri Training School in Boonville.
Moore subsequently spent twenty-two months in the Missouri Training School and the experience turned his life around. As he wrote in The Archie Moore Story, "The reform school was my personal crossroads. I had burned the bridge of formal education behind me and I now had a choice of which way to go and what to do. The feeling of shame that came over me when I thought of how my auntie must feel made the good she had built into me come forth." Hearing that professional fighters could earn up to $750 for a night's work, Moore decided to pursue boxing as a career. He began training in the school's facilities and scored sixteen knockout wins in his first year of intramural matches.
After nearly two years in reform school, Moore earned an early release and returned to St. Louis in the depths of the Great Depression. After struggling to find regular employment, Moore entered the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), a New Deal program set up by the administration of President Franklin D. Roosevelt to give employment to young men. Moore was sent to work on a forestry project in Poplar Bluff, Missouri and the hard work helped to build his muscle mass. He practiced his boxing moves every day, often improvising his workouts while he performed his duties. Moore also organized boxing matches for his CCC camp and helped to train some of the other fighters. As an amateur, Moore made his debut in an April 1935 match against Julius Kemp in St. Louis, which he lost in three rounds. Moore triumphed over Kemp in their second meeting with a third round knockout. Moore's other fight in his first year as an amateur took place in Poplar Bluff, where he won by a knockout in the second round over Billy Sims.
Makes Professional Debut
Moore continued to box as an amateur through much of 1936, when he fought in St. Louis and Cleveland with mixed results. In mid-1936 he turned professional and claimed his first win against Kneibert Davidson in two rounds. The following year a string of knockout victories earned Moore the reputation as a powerful and skillful fighter. At five-feet, eleven inches tall, Moore maintained his weight around 160 pounds as a middleweight fighter. Later, as a light-heavyweight, he would weigh in at just under 175 pounds. As impressive as his punching abilities were, it was his defensive moves that allowed him to outlast his opponents. Moore's quick reflexes eventually led him to claim the nickname "The Old Mongoose" after the fast-acting animal.
After leaving the CCC, Moore worked on a federal Works Progress Administration road crew around St. Louis in 1937. Inspired by the promise of bigger prize money, Moore moved to San Diego, California in early 1938. He continued to fight around the country, but San Diego became Moore's permanent address. On New Year's Day, 1940, he married Mattie Chapman, but the union did not survive the long separation entailed by Moore's eight-month absence to fight in Australia, where he was booked in a series of bouts with some of the country's best-known boxers. Moore enjoyed the publicity surrounding his trip, although the financial rewards seemed to be less than what his manager had promised. Based on the experience, Moore started to take a more active role in managing his own career.
Upon his return to the United States, Moore separated from his wife; the couple had been married less than one year. Moore also encountered a setback to his boxing career in February 1941 when he was disabled by a perforated ulcer that required extensive surgery. Moore was unconscious for five days after the operation and carried a long scar, shaped like a hockey stick, on his stomach as a reminder of the ordeal. His weight dropped from 163 to 108 pounds during his hospitalization.
|1913||Born December 13 in Benoit, Mississippi to Lorena and Thomas Wright|
|1934||Completes twenty-two month term in Missouri Training School|
|1935||Works in Civilian Conservation Corps|
|1936||Makes professional debut as boxer|
|1940||Marries for the first of five times|
|1940||Boxes on international circuit|
|1941||Suffers from perforated ulcer|
|1942||Resumes boxing career|
|1943||Wins California Middleweight Title in bout against Jack Chase|
|1952||Wins light-heavyweight boxing title in match against Joey Maxim|
|1955||Fails to win heavyweight boxing title against Rocky Marciano|
|1956||Fails to win heavyweight boxing title against Floyd Patterson|
|1958||Retains light-heavyweight boxing title in match against Yvon Durelle|
|1960||Appears in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn|
|1962||Light-heavyweight title taken away for inactivity|
|1965||Ends professional boxing career|
|1966||Inducted into Boxing Hall of Fame|
|1974||Coaches George Foreman in fight against Muhammad Ali in Zaire|
|1981||Named by President Reagan to the Project Build sports program|
|1990||Inducted into International Boxing Hall of Fame|
|1998||Dies in San Diego on December 9|
With his recovery delayed by an appendicitis attack, it took the boxer almost a year to regain his health. Taking a job as a night watchman at a San Diego shipyard, Moore exercised regularly to retrain his muscles and increase his strength. Before reentering the ring against Bobby Britt in Phoenix in January 1942, Moore slipped a metal license plate into his high-waisted foul cup to protect his injured stomach from his opponent's punches. Moore won the fight by a knockout in the third round and continued with a string of knockout victories throughout the year. He ended 1942 with a loss against Eddie Booker in ten rounds. His bout against Jack Chase in May 1943, on the other hand, resulted in a fifteen-round win for Moore. Moore also walked away from the match with the California Middleweight title, which he held until August 1943, when Chase took the title back in a fifteen-round fight.
Over the next several years, Moore compiled an impressive record of wins, with many of his victories coming by knockout punches. Considered a leading contender for the light-heavyweight boxing title by 1946, Moore attempted in vain to set up a title match with any of the successive titleholders of the day, Freddie Mills, Gus Lesnevich, and Joey Maxim. "I took matters in my own hands, as much as I could," he wrote in The Archie Moore Story, "I began a letter-writing campaign to sports writers all over the country. I pleaded, I cursed, I demanded a shot at Maxim's crown." In December 1952, at the age of thirty-nine, Moore finally got his light-heavyweight title bout with Maxim.
Wins Light-Heavyweight Title in 1952
The Maxim-Moore fight took place in St. Louis and the hometown support helped Moore take thirteen of the fight's fifteen rounds, winning by a unanimous decision. Moore defended the title against Maxim in a June 1953 fight in Utah, which he won in another fifteen-round decision. In their third and final meeting, Moore repeated the feat and retained the title by decision after fifteen rounds. Moore subsequently retained the light-heavy-weight title in bouts against Harold Johnson in August 1954; Carl "Bobo" Olson in June 1955; Yolande Pompey in June 1956; and Tony Anthony in September 1957.
As he held on to the light-heavyweight crown, Moore made a number of attempts to claim the heavyweight title as well. His first heavyweight title bout came against Rocky Marciano in a fight staged at Yankee Stadium on September 21, 1955. After knocking down Marciano in the second round, it looked like Moore would take the title. Yet Marciano came back to deliver a knockout blow to Moore in the ninth round that ended the fight. After Marciano retired and vacated the heavyweight title, Moore met Floyd Patterson in a match to decide who would get the crown. The November 1956 bout ended when Patterson knocked Moore out in the fifth round. It was Moore's final attempt to win the heavyweight title.
Although he was disappointed in his quest for the heavyweight crown, Moore retained his light-heavy-weight title throughout the 1950s in a series of contests. The most notable challenge to his title came in a fight against Yvon Durelle at the Montreal Forum on December 10, 1958. Cheered along by the crowd, Canadian Durelle seemed to have the advantage early on in the fight, especially after sending Moore to the canvas three times in the first round and again in the fifth round. Moore's endurance and defense training were crucial in the remaining rounds, as he sent Durelle down in the seventh round and again in the tenth. In the eleventh round Moore knocked Durelle down for good with a punch that ended the fight. Moore's perseverance had led to one of the most impressive comebacks in boxing history. In recognition of his feat, the Boxing Writers Association named him the Fighter of the Year. His victory over Durelle also marked his 127th victory by a knockout, which set a record for the sport. In a rematch with Durelle in August 1959 in Montreal, Moore retained his title with a knockout victory in the third round.
Author, Actor, and Philanthropist
After four divorces, Moore married Joan Hardy in August 1955; the couple remained married for the rest of Moore's life. With the money from his title fights—the bout against Marciano alone brought in over $270,000—Moore invested in his own training camp located just northwest of San Diego, which he christened "The Salt Mine." Among the fighters who trained there were Cassius Clay (as future world heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali was known in the early 1960s) and George Foreman . Clay's stint at the Salt Mine was a brief one, as he refused to do the chores that were part of Moore's training regimen. Moore later fought against Clay in a November 1962 fight that left him reeling from a fourth-round, knockout punch. Moore had just one more professional fight after that, a March 1963 bout with Mike DiBiase that he won by a knockout in the third round. In 1964 Moore announced his retirement and fought just one exhibition match after that, a bout against Nap Mitchell in August 1965 when he was fifty-one years old. In all, his professional career, which began in 1936, spanned twenty-seven years. Although Moore's erratic career made statistical information difficult to verify, most sources counted 181 wins and 24 losses in his professional career. Moore himself claimed 193 victories in 228 bouts, with 140 knockout wins. In 1966 he was inducted into the United States Boxing Hall of Fame; an induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame followed in 1990.
Awards and Accomplishments
|Overall professional record: 181 wins; 24 losses.|
|1943||Wins California middleweight title|
|1952||Wins light-heavyweight championship from Joey Maxim|
|1958||Named Fighter of the Year by the Boxing Writers Association|
|1966||Inducted into the U.S. Boxing Hall of Fame|
|1968||Awarded Key to the City, San Diego, California|
|1985||Inducted into the St. Louis Boxing Hall of Fame|
|1987||Awarded Rocky Marciano Memorial Award|
|1990||Inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame|
As Moore's boxing career drew to a close, he received an unexpected offer to star in the film adaptation of Mark Twain's classic novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in the role of Jim, the runaway slave. When it was released in 1960 the film received lukewarm reviews, with Moore's performance judged to be better than the movie itself. Coinciding with the release of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Moore wrote an autobiography that was published as The Archie Moore Story by McGraw-Hill in 1960. The book detailed Moore's hard-luck childhood, his battles with physical and emotional adversity, and his eventual triumph in the boxing ring. The work also gave readers extensive physical training advice, including Moore's own "secret diet" that instructed its followers to drink sauerkraut juice every day and chew, but not swallow, the meat portions of their meals. His film appearance and autobiography made him into perhaps the best-known boxer of his generation.
Moore remained active as a trainer in the 1960s and 1970s. His most notable client was George Foreman, whom Moore accompanied to the famous "Rumble in the Jungle" fight with Muhammad Ali in 1974. In addition to his work as a trainer at the Salt Mine, Moore also devoted much of his time to philanthropic work after he retired from the ring. In 1967 he founded the Any Boy Can (ABC) program in San Diego to give underprivileged youth the chance to participate in sports programs. Moore took an active role in the ABC program as a mentor, coach, and inspirational speaker to its participants. In 1968 the mayor of San Diego awarded Moore the Key to the City in recognition of his work through the ABC program. Along with Leonard B. Pearl, Moore wrote a book detailing the ABC program, published in 1971 as Any Boy Can: The Archie Moore Story. The volume also discussed Moore's lengthy career and the development of his interests in civil rights. As he concluded the work, "I am doing what I can to bring about civil rights, to help the young and the old, to erase poverty, war and civil unrest, and then, when I see all
these things come about, then, and only then, will I be able to say that I am the happiest man in the world."
After the ABC program was opened to female participants, it changed its name to Any Body Can and continued to serve the youth of San Diego through the 1970s. In 1981 President Ronald Reagan appointed Moore to the Project Build program, which brought sports programs to public-housing residents. He was also honored with the Rocky Marciano Memorial Award in 1987. Moore suffered from declining health in the 1990s and underwent heart surgery that took away much of his physical prowess. In late 1998 he fell into a coma for two weeks and died in a San Diego hospice facility on December 10. He was survived by his wife, Joan, and eight children.
Any Boy Can: The Archie Moore Story
In 1962 I hung up my gloves after a match with Cassius Clay, now known as Muhammad Ali. I knew long before this that Clay was going to be a great fighter, probably one of the greatest heavyweights of all time, but for a while it looked like he wouldn't have a chance to prove it.
The reason I fought him in 1962 was not because of me wanting to fight him or trying to prove something, you understand. After all, I was almost fifty years old at the time, and no man that age belongs in the same ring with a youngster in his prime, especially one who had Clay's great talent. I was just fighting him because I had some paper hung on me, in the vernacular of the ring. A promoter had hung a $25,000 check on me that bounced. I had to make it good, and my money was tied up in my house and so on, and I had to come up with ready cash, and the quickest way I could get cash was to fight Clay. So I boxed him. I felt that if I could put together all the things I had learned in my many years in the ring that I stood a good chance of beating him in spite of the age difference, but he was just too much.
A lot of times I've been asked how I thought I would have done against Clay when I was in my prime. Well, truly, the only way I can answer that is to say I don't honestly know. I always went into the ring feeling that I could beat my opponent, but it didn't always happen that way. One thing I can tell you for sure—it would have been an interesting and exciting fight.
Source: Archie Moore and Leonard B. Pearl. Any Boy Can: The Archie Moore Story, 1971.
For his record of knockout punches—estimated between 129 and 144 knockouts in all—Moore was recognized as one of the greatest boxers the sport had ever seen. Although the number of knockout wins was impressive, most critics agreed with Moore's own claim that he was a consummate boxer who thought on his feet, not just a slugger like Rocky Marciano, Rocky Graziano , or Jake LaMotta , to name just a few of his contemporaries. Moore's career was also notable for its sheer length, lasting for twenty-seven years and including ten years as light-heavyweight champion. Unlike many former champions, Moore found lasting satisfaction in his post-professional days as a trainer and philanthropist. "Here I am, my ring days over, gray and balding, teaching young boys, doing what I can to fight juvenile delinquency, doing what I can to make this a better America for all of us," he wrote in Any Boy Can: The Archie Moore Story. "And when one of my boys makes it big I'm proud of him. I'm happy to have been given the opportunity to help…. That is what I am proudest of."
SELECTED WRITINGS BY MOORE:
The Archie Moore Story, New York: McGraw-Hill, 1960. (With Leonard B. Pearl) Any Boy Can: The Archie Moore Story, Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1971.
Douroux, Marilyn. Archie Moore: The Ole Mongoose. Boston: Branden Publishing Company, 1991.
Moore, Archie, and Leonard B. Pearl. Any Boy Can: The Archie Moore Story. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1971.
Moore, Archie. The Archie Moore Story. New York: Mc-Graw-Hill Book Company, 1960.
Hirsley, Michael. "Archie Moore Dies at 84." Chicago Tribune (December 9, 1998).
Katz, Michael. "Light Heavyweight Archie Moore Dies in San Diego." New York Daily News (December 10, 1998).
Kindred, Dave. "A Celebration of Life." Sporting News (December 21, 1998): 62.
Lyon, Bill. "Archie Moore Treated Boxing with Reverence." Philadelphia Inquirer (December 11, 1998).
O'Brien, Richard, with Mark Mravic. "A Smiling Champion." Sports Illustrated (December 21, 1998): 30.
"Cyber Boxing Champion Archie Moore." The Cyber Boxing Zone Encyclopedia,. http://www.cyberboxingzone.com/boxing/amoore.htm (September 25, 2002).
Sketch by Timothy Borden
December 13, 1913 (or 1916)
December 9, 1998
The boxing champion Archibald Lee "Archie" Moore, nicknamed "The Mongoose," was one of America's greatest and most colorful fighters. The year and place of his birth are uncertain. He was born Archibald Lee Wright on either December 13, 1913, in Benoit, Mississippi, or on that same date in 1916 in Collinsville, Illinois. Moore's father, Tommy Wright, was a day laborer, and his mother, Lorena Wright, was a housewife. Following his parents separation, Moore was raised by an uncle and aunt, Cleveland and Willie Moore, in St. Louis, Missouri.
Moore's early years were difficult ones. He never liked school and sometimes found himself in trouble. He spent twenty-two months in Missouri's Booneville Reformatory for stealing coins from a streetcar motorman. Fortunately, Moore eventually channeled his aggression into the ring, carving out a boxing career that would last thirty years. He made his professional debut in 1935, knocking out Piano Man Jones in a bout organized by Moore's fellow Civilian Conservation Corps workers from St. Louis. Following his bout against Jones, Moore spent years traveling the country fighting anyone who would enter the ring with him. He had a terribly difficult time, however, in securing a championship fight. The ineptitude of his managers, combined with racial discrimination and the refusal of the best boxers to fight him, forced Moore to wait a long time before engaging in a title bout. Finally, in 1952, he got his chance, and he took advantage of it by beating Joey Maxim for the light heavyweight championship. He successfully defended the championship against Harold Johnson in 1954 and Bobo Olson in 1955. In that same year, Moore fought for the heavyweight championship against Rocky Marciano. Although performing admirably, Moore lost to Marciano, the great undefeated heavyweight champion putting him to the canvas four times before knocking him out in the ninth round.
In 1956 Moore fought again for the heavyweight championship against Floyd Patterson. At Chicago Stadium, Moore was knocked out by the much younger Patterson in the fifth round. Moore never fought again for the heavyweight championship, but he did capture four more light heavyweight titles. He defeated Tony Anthony in 1957, the French-Canadian Yvon "The Fighting Fisherman" Durelle in 1958 and 1959, and Italy's Giulio Rinaldi in 1961. Perhaps the most memorable of these four title fights was Moore's bout against Durelle in 1958. He was knocked down three times in the first round and once in the fifth round by Durelle, but somehow managed to recover and knocked out the very tough French-Canadian fighter in the eleventh round. As a result, he was named Fighter of the Year by Ring magazine.
In 1962 Moore was stripped of his light heavyweight championship because of his refusal to engage in more title defenses. But he did continue to fight. Not long after being stripped of his light heavyweight championship, Moore fought the young Cassius Clay in Los Angeles. Either in his late forties or early fifties at the time of the fight, Moore lost to the future heavyweight champion in a fourth round knockout. In 1963 Moore defeated Mike DiBiase before retiring from the ring. His final career numbers included 228 bouts, a record 140 knockouts, 53 wins by decisions, and 24 losses. Following his retirement, Moore pursued a career in show business, served as a trainer and boxing manager, and worked with inner-city youth through his ABC ("Any Boy Can") program. Among his many honors was election to Ring magazine's Boxing Hall of Fame in 1966 and the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990. He died at a hospice in San Diego following a long illness.
See also Boxing
Ashe, Arthur R., Jr. A Hard Road To Glory: A History of the African-American Athlete. New York: Warner, 1988.
Moore, Archie, and Leonard B. Pearl. Any Boy Can: The Archie Moore Story. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1971.
david k. wiggins (2005)