Moore: Soft-hearted man surviving in tough-hearted world

John Steadman

October 12, 1990|By John Steadman

IF ONLY ALL of God's children had the innate goodness and principled code of living, as practiced by Archie Moore, who is one year older than Methuselah, there would be no need for armies, courts of law, penitentiaries and signed contracts.

Moore earned his way in the toughest calling of all, boxing, where the prime prerequisite is to punish or be punished. During the fight for survival, always toiling with his hands in a career that included parts of four decades, from 1935 to 1965, he became the world light-heavyweight champion and set a record for knocking out 141 rivals in 229 matches.

But the sensitivity of the man is what sets him apart. Gracious. Humble. Considerate. It's almost difficult to believe boxing was his business. The clever moves, or what he defined as the art of "escapeology," enabled him to avoid physical torment. Force Moore into a telephone booth, throw a handful of rice and you still couldn't hit him.

Baltimore was always his friendly port of call. Twenty-two times he fought main events here and only lost once, to Holman Williams, but corrected the mistake with a knockout in the rematch. "As slick as grease and hard as lard," is how Moore colorfully refers to Williams.

Once again, Moore has befriended us with a visit since he's to be a guest of honor at Sunday's banquet at Martin's West of the Veteran Boxers' Association. Last night, he was with two former fighters and officers of the host club, namely Ray Klingmeyer and Sid Bernstein, as they and their wives had dinner at the A-1 Crab House.

Before that they paid a visit to Mount Auburn Cemetery to offer respects at the grave of Joe Gans, Baltimore's most gifted champion. Gans, a previous ruler of the lightweight division before dying in 1910, is Moore's all-time hero. As he bowed his head to offer silent prayer, tears dampened his face.

"This city has been a friendly place for me," said Archie. "When I came here the first time in 1945 to fight Nate Bolden, a fellow named Sam Bruton, who drove for one of the trucking lines, came to the gym and insisted I stay at his house. He had a lovely wife, Ollie Mae, and some nice children. If they are still around, I'd sure like to find them."

Moore is now an adviser to George Foreman, a recycled former heavyweight champion who is again a contender. "Don't let his weight bother you. He came back like Rip Van Winkle from a long sleep. All that time he was away from boxing was a plus. He never suffered any physical wear. Besides he's a one-punch fighter, which means he can get a bout over in a hurry."

As for Mike Tyson, it's Moore's opinion he's a harder puncher than Joe Louis. "If I had him he would be something to behold. I wouldn't change a thing. I'd just add to what he has. Tyson couldn't have boxed with Muhammad Ali but, in my heart, I know he wouldn't have lost to him. The unfortunate part is Tyson only scratches the surface. Just awesome natural ability."

He also believes Ali would have beaten Louis. How? "By staying away and using his footwork. The way he could move would have won for him."

Although Moore took the count only seven times in a career that elevated him to the Hall of Fame, he insists he was never reduced to an unconscious state. "I just wasn't able to get myself together to beat the count."

As for memorable fights, Archie recalls an occasion in Baltimore against Lloyd Marshall. Moore was on the deck four times but got the decision. He caught the last train in the early morning, still wearing boxing trunks under his street clothes. "I was so fatigued I sprawled on the concrete platform of the station. No limousines in those days. I had a grape soda to drink and rode a coach car back to New York. I was young and could handle such things then."

The hardest puncher he faced? He could list Ali, Rocky Marciano or Curtis "Hatchetman" Sheppard but, no, he mentions the little-remembered Oakland Billy Smith, who he fought in 1946 for the first of six meetings.

And was there ever a time he took pity on an opponent? "Sure, I did that with a lot of them." Did he ever get the same consideration? "No, because they all came after me and wanted to put me away."

But Moore, slipping punches, moving inside and then escaping the danger zone, had too much talent -- which is why he waited 16 years for a title shot and finally out-pointed the champion, Joey Maxim. Not once but three times.

Archie Moore, who the record book says is 76, had a style in the ring that was distinctive. Superb as a tactician but, more importantly, a gentleman by any standard of measurement.

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