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Moore’s opponent list reads like a “Who’s Who” of boxing; it includes nine world champions and seven Hall of Famers. Starting his career in the middleweight division, Moore moved up in weight class in 1945. Ultimately he dominated the light-heavyweight division, winning his first world title in 1952 (at age 39) and successfully defending that title for nearly a decade. The versatile Moore often fought at heavyweight in the 1950s, twice challenging for the heavyweight crown, including an epic battle with Marciano in 1955.
Following the 1960 Olympics, Moore took over training duties for Ali (known then as Cassius Clay). The two eventually parted ways before their fight in 1962. Retiring from the ring in1963 after compiling 194 career wins, Moore remained active in boxing for the rest of his life, helping guide George Foreman to the heavyweight title in 1973 and overseeing his legendary comeback in 1987. Moore was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990. Archie Moore’s life wasn’t just about boxing, however. The Ageless Warrior also spotlights his Hollywood career in the 1960s, his five marriages, and his beloved “Any Boy Can” youth organization, which reached underprivileged youth. Featuring a foreword by the “Raging Bull,” Jake LaMotta, who provides his own fond memories of Moore, The Ageless Warrior: The Life of Boxing Legend Archie Moore is certain to provide a never-before-seen side of one of America’s all-time greatest athletes.
About the Author:
Mike Fitzgerald is an established biographer of boxing legends who co-authored former heavyweight champion Ken Norton’s book Going the Distance and Welcome to the Big Time: The Earnie Shavers Story. He also wrote Tale of the Gator, the autobiography of boxing’s contending amputee, Craig Bodzianowski. Fitzgerald lives in Janesville, Wisconsin, with his wife Debra and son Ross.
Theft on a St. Louis Trolley
"Moore is down! He's hurt! Durelle goes to a neutral corner as Moore struggles to get up...Moore is up now, and Durelle charges, throwing bombs from every angle, and Moore seems unable to defend himself. Moore goes down again for the third time! This fight could be over in the very first round. Moore is badly hurt! Well...Father Time has finally caught up with 'The Old Mongoose.'"-Announcer Jack Drees
Montreal, December 10, 1958
Archie Moore, boxing's ageless wonder, lay on the canvas looking older by the second as the referee stood over him counting them off. The light heavyweight champion of the world had been down before in his long career, but it appeared he would not beat the count this time. Moore strived to gain his footing as the referee continued to count 6...7...8. But apparently listening to his heart and not his head, Moore's legs somehow righted him just before the count of 10.
Referee Jack Sharkey, the former world heavyweight champion, signaled for the action to resume. Moore tried to come back swinging, but once again he was sent to the canvas by an overhand right from brawling Yvon Durelle. In Archie's seventh defense of his 175-pound title, it appeared that Father Time had not only caught up with Moore, but then used his scythe to chop him down at the knees. Many fighters in Moore's position-horizontal-would've stayed that way. But it took Moore 17 years to get his shot at the world championship, and he had vowed that they would have to carry him out of the ring unconscious before he would ever surrender what he had worked so hard to achieve.
On this cold, rainy night at The Forum in Montreal, Canada, Moore was within a week of being either 45 or 42 years old, depending on whether one believed Archie, who claimed the former, or his mother, who swore he was three years younger. Whoever was right, Moore was still an antique by boxing standards.
As a boy growing up in St. Louis, Missouri, he ran the streets and ended up in the state reformatory. As a fighter he had long been denied the opportunity to advance to the front rank of his chosen profession because of the color of his skin. Twice along the way he almost died. So a few booming right hands from local hero Durelle-including the one that sent Moore down a third time in the opening round and had Jack Drees and most of the national TV audience writing Archie's boxing obituary- weren't enough to separate Archie from his consciousness and his title.
When the bell sounded to end the opening round, Moore wobbled back to his corner for the 60-second intermission. Waiting for him there was his manager, Jack "Doc" Kearns, a figure as legendary in boxing as Moore himself. Almost 40 years before, Kearns had guided Jack Dempsey from the hobo jungles to the heavyweight championship. Kearns was an unabashed hustler who once said, "Maybe I'm fast with a buck, the booze, and the broads, but I was always pretty quick with ideas, too." He once likened himself to a stripteaser, claiming that "you couldn't get anywhere without a little exposure."
But the most important item in Kearns's bag of tricks now was the ice water he poured down Archie's trunks to get Moore ready for the second round. Archie was still groggy when the bell rang, but he fought out of the ether in the ensuing three rounds and even seemed to be turning the tide, scoring with a big body punch in the fourth. However, in the fifth round Durelle landed another solid right that dumped Moore to the canvas for the fourth time. Once again, boxing's eldest statesman courageously regained his feet and, on unsteady legs, traded bombs with the brawling fisherman until the bell rang. Now it was time for sheer genius, not ice water.
Moore's wife was seated behind Durelle's corner, and Kearns's brainstorm was to have Archie stand up in his corner and wave to her. He did as instructed, and the stunned Durelle, thinking the champion was gaily waving at him, wondered what he had to do to let the air out of the old man once and for all. He'd punched Moore down four times and seemingly had him on the verge of a knockout, and here was Archie waving at him as if they were playing a game of tag. The fact was that Moore himself was too dazed to know what he was doing; but Kearns's ploy worked to perfection. Durelle was disheartened, and Moore went out and took charge. In the eleventh round, he put Durelle down for the count, achieving one of the most astonishing and memorable come-from-behind victories in boxing history.
The Durelle fight was the centerpiece of a career that lasted until 1963, almost 30 years, and saw Moore become boxing's all-time knockout king. Boxing took him around the world and made Archie an international idol. He held the light heavyweight title for nearly a decade and was a shining counterpoint to the stereotype of a boxer as all brawn and no brains. Moore's career highlights included knocking down champion Rocky Marciano in a bid for the heavyweight title, training a young Muhammad Ali, advising George Foreman in his miraculous comeback, and, most important to Archie, coaching and motivating troubled youngsters.
Archie Moore was born Archibald Lee Wright on either December 13, 1916, or December 13, 1913. Moore always kept his true age a secret, claiming the less you told people about yourself, the more interested in you they would become. Throughout his life, his birth date remained in constant question, which suited Archie just fine. When he ran for Congress in California in 1960, he even registered as a candidate using both birth dates. Whenever pressed for a definitive answer to the riddle and reminded that his own mother differed with him on the subject, Moore would muddy the waters even further by claiming that he must have been three years old at birth.
This much is known fact: Archie was born in Benoit, Mississippi, the second of two children of Lorena and Thomas Wright. The first was a daughter, Rachel, born two years before Archie. Moore's mother-who was correct on her son's true age-was only 17 when he was born. His parents were only children themselves and had difficulty facing the responsibility of raising their own family. Not long afterwards, Lorena and Thomas separated, and Archie and Rachel were sent to St. Louis to live with their aunt and uncle, Willie Pearl and Cleveland Moore. To prevent any embarrassing questions in that stricter, more moralistic time, Archie's last name was changed from Wright to Moore.
Cleveland Moore came from the Deep South. Like most African-Americans living below the Mason-Dixon line, he was a sharecropper. It was grueling work for small pay, and when Cleveland heard about construction jobs available in St. Louis, he and Willie Pearl headed north in 1917. Construction work did provide a better living, but with the addition of Archie and Rachel to the family, Cleveland worked six days a week to put food on the table.
To Archie, his aunt Willie Pearl was "one of the finest women a man could know, and she was everything a mother could be." His aunt was a wise woman of high moral character who never had children of her own, and raised Archie and Rachel as if they had been born to her. Willie Pearl had a favorite poem she recited often to Archie, and throughout his life he applied it to every challenge that confronted him. It went:
When a task is once begun,
Never leave it until it's done,
If the labor is great or small,
Do it well or not at all
In the Moore household, cleanliness was not only a virtue but also a commandment. "My family was too poor to paint and too proud to whitewash, so we kept everything spotless," Archie said. "We grew up with bare wood floors, and on Saturdays scrubbed them with lye soap. The house was so clean it was like a hospital. My auntie taught us that we might not have the best furniture or wear the best clothing, but we could sure keep them clean."
Uncle Cleveland was a large, muscular man who ran a strict household. Moore grew up with a lot of respect for him. "My Uncle Cleveland never hit me for misbehaving," he said. "I knew better than to go against his ways. He always meant what he said, and I knew that it would never be in my best interest to cross him!"
In the summer, after school let out, the Moores would visit relatives in Mississippi. These vacations were much anticipated as there were plenty of relatives to visit with lots of young cousins to enjoy being around. Their relatives lived in a shack, but it was considered one of the nicer shacks in the area. Archie's grandfather farmed his own land, and thus was a step above a mere sharecropper. His shack had four rooms, and guests slept on straw mats on the floor. The property stretched over several acres, and the Moores never lacked for good food when vacationing in the South. An abundance of fruit grew near the shack, and there was always plenty of chickens and hogs on the property. This is where Archie developed the famous appetite that often caused him grief years later when it came time to keep his weight at the 175-pound light-heavyweight limit.
"I always looked forward to visiting my cousins in Mississippi," Archie recalled. "There was a big swimming hole that provided a break from the summer weather. We used to play there all day. Then later in the evening we'd pull a big melon up from the water well. After soaking all day, it was cool and delicious by nightfall. We'd chase each other around and spit the melon pits at each other. I have great memories from those days."
In St. Louis, the Moores lived in an all-black area on the city's south side, and the school Archie attended had only black students. The ugly face of racism was unknown to him until he was eight, at which time racism introduced itself on his last summer vacation in Mississippi. It was a hot summer day, and Archie was riding bareback on one of his grandfather's horses. His sister Rachel was leading the horse into town down a country road. From out of nowhere a young white boy jumped in front of them and lashed out at the horse with a stick. The panicked animal reared up, kicking its front feet up high, and Archie went tumbling off. He picked himself up and then grabbed and violently shook the white boy until the latter started to cry. Meanwhile, Rachel raced back to the shack and informed everyone there about the incident. After Moore led the frightened horse back home he was greeted by a furious Aunt Willie Pearl. She warned Archie about racial tension in the South and the inherent danger of mixing it up with Caucasians even if the one in question had deserved what he got. The very next day, the Moores headed back to St. Louis. It was their last vacation in the Old South.
Not long afterwards, Archie got his first taste of boxing fever. "When I was eight years old and living in St. Louis," he recalled, "I was coming home with a wagon full of chips from the ice house and heard noise coming from behind a fence. Behind the fence people were screaming and yelling. I peeked through a hole in the fence noticing people shouting with excitement and I saw two men were slugging it out. The people screamed, the men punched, and I was thrilled. I almost fainted with ecstasy. I decided that I gotta be the champ someday."
Archie's birth mother, Lorena Wright, met and married World War I veteran Mordell Brown. Through that union, Archie and his sister acquired a step brother, Samuel, who went by the name of Jackie. When Mordell Brown took ill and passed away soon after the marriage, Jackie moved in with the Moores.
Archie's mother married once more, and gave birth to another son, named Louis. Recalled Moore of his half-brother: "Louis liked to get into trouble. He was a hustler as a teenager. Shooting dice or placing bets. I would only see him on and off through the years. I used to visit my mother on weekends and Louis and I would run around. We were only separated by a few years."
Archie had only slight memories of his father, Thomas Wright, who had fallen out of touch. Wright had gone into the grocery store business with his brother in St. Louis, and fathered eight children after Archie. One of them, Arnold Wright, recalled that his father, "was like a rolling stone. Wherever he laid his hat he called home." Archie would not see his father again for over 30 years. Rena Moore, Archie's daughter, said in a 1998 interview, "Daddy never really mentioned his father to us kids. I don't think they were ever close."
Archie attended Dumas Grade School in St. Louis. It was located next to the Loose Wiles Biscuit Company where, Moore often recalled with a smile, for a nickel you could get a large bag of broken cookies. Archie was an excellent student, doing especially well in history and music.
Not all the lessons he learned at Dumas came out of textbooks, however. One in particular that always stood out in his mind occurred when Archie's fifth grade teacher, tired of his laughing and carrying on in class, slapped him in front of the other children. Recalled Moore, "I was embarrassed and contemplated leaving school. Later, I asked the teacher why she had done that to me. The teacher made me realize that if I was going to turn into something special someday that I shouldn't carry on like that. I should hold myself with more dignity. The teacher cared about me as a person and about my future. It just took me a while to figure that out at that young age."
That same year, Moore had his first real fistfight after his best friend, Mose Howell, laughingly sicced his dog on Archie and the animal tore a hole in the seat of Moore's pants. "I laid for Mose and gave him a shiner," Moore later recollected. "Hit him with a right. Mose got his brother Rube after me. Rube was two years older. He followed me and Rachel after school and kept goading me. Finally, Rachel slapped his face. Then Rube hit Rachel. I never knew I had so much fire in me. I tore into him and we scrambled for five minutes until somebody broke it up. Neither of us wanted to continue. I was satisfied with a draw. I had saved our pride, and Rachel and I walked home arm in arm with our heads up."
There were street gangs in the 1920s, but not the kind that we hear about today. "Back when I was a kid in St. Louis, a gang fight meant only fists, and it was usually an ethnic thing," Moore recalled. "The Irish against the Italians or the blacks took on the Latinos. It was the type of fight that an adult could break up with a few stern words. No killings, that's for sure, maybe a black eye or fat lip. I could hold my own, so I never had any worries."
Except if Aunt Willie Pearl found out it. "Auntie was opposed to street fighting," Moore said. "If she saw I had a black eye or heard I'd been fighting, I'd have to face her punishment, too." Archie was small for his age-just barely over 100 pounds-too short for basketball and too light for football. However, Moore lived near a professional fighter named Kid Roberts, who gave him his earliest boxing lessons. Two school buddies, Robert Stamps and "Pretty" Eddie Williams, also had an interest in boxing, and the three of them became regulars at Roberts's place.
Roberts showed Archie how to properly hold his hands in a boxer's stance and throw a left jab. Archie was a quick study, and soon he was the best fighter in his neighborhood. Then he branched out into the Italian and Jewish neighborhoods. It was good-natured competition, and after the bouts the kids would pool their money and buy fruit and soda.
Archie's passion for boxing grew to the point that he spent most of his free time practicing. He worked hard to build his muscles for the fight game, employing some unconventional methods. He spent a great deal of time walking on his hands, climbing up and down stairs on them and even going around the block that way. Moore also attacked the chin-up bar, one time chinning himself 250 consecutive times. He'd also stand in front of a mirror for hours with five-pound flat irons in each hand, throwing punches.
On the home front, Moore spent a lot of time with his sister, until Rachel discovered men. After she fell in love with a man named Elihu Williams, she and Archie would only see each other on the way to school. Eventually, Rachel and Williams were married. Around that same time, Archie's interest in school began to diminish. He had always received decent grades, but in his junior year he decided to drop out of high school after another slapping incident in front of his classmates. This time Moore's crime was yelling "Ouch!" after a student stuck a splinter in his leg.
Difficult times were ahead for the Moore household. Rachel became pregnant with twins and died shortly after delivery. Her son died soon after birth, leaving the girl, June, to be raised by Aunt Willie Pearl. Another major blow was the death of Uncle Cleveland in a work-related accident. On his deathbed, Uncle Cleveland called for Archie. "Put your hand in mine," he told his nephew. "Promise me one thing, Archie-take care of your auntie for me, will you please?" Moore agreed. It was a promise he never broke.
The family received some insurance money, but Willie Pearl typically lent it out to relatives and the Moores were soon on welfare along with the rest of the neighborhood. Even worse, Archie started to run with a gang of friends that involved itself in minor criminal activities. Petty theft was at the top of the list. They began stripping empty houses, removing the lead pipes and selling them, as well as cutting the wiring for the copper it contained. One of Moore's pals, Arthur "Knox" James, was in on it, too. His mother treated Archie like a son, offering pie or cookies whenever Archie visited. But it was illicit goodies that tempted Moore and James the most. Together they were caught three times attempting various illegal schemes. Their last one landed Moore in jail.
The plan was to rip off a cable car. Arthur got aboard first and pulled down the pole that carried the current from overhead to stall the car. When the conductor went back to investigate the problem, Archie jumped on board and stole the unattended change box. Unfortunately for him, Moore's getaway route took him right past an on-duty police officer. Sizing up the situation, the cop fired a couple warning shots into the air, halting Archie in his tracks.
Archie was sent to Juvenile Hall to await trial. He passed the time by looking out the window, knowing that his aunt was suffering even more than him. Archie remembered, "I found myself gazing out the window, reminiscing about the good times I had and then my mind wandered to going before a judge. I then felt guilty for putting my wonderful aunt through the ordeal."
Willie Pearl and Archie's mother were alongside him when the judge pronounced sentence. "I glanced at my aunt and my heart was about to break because I knew that this was a beautiful woman," Moore would recall. "Then, I looked at my mother, and my mother held my hand, and I said, 'Mother don't cry.' And when I said that, two big tears welled up in my eyes and, try as I could, I couldn't fight them back. They rolled down my cheek like big drops of rain."
The sentence was a three-year term at the state reformatory for young men in Booneville, Missouri. Moore left the courtroom in chains. Aunt Willie Pearl sobbed uncontrollably. She had always been there for him, and hurting her like that made Archie realize his mistake more than any punishment. He vowed right then to be a better person and to make something of himself. He couldn't have known it then, but his reform school stint would help him keep that vow.
New reformatory inmates were assigned to the brickyard detail, back-breaking work designed to instill discipline. But Moore's brickyard duty was short-lived. He injured his hand in a scuffle and was transferred to the laundry room. There the work was less physically demanding, but the scalding steam on top of the hot summer weather made the duty unbearable. Eventually Archie switched to working in the dining room.
When he wasn't working, Moore recalled, "I had many hours to sit down and work at many of the mind-accelerating programs available to inmates. I read everything I could, especially history. I enjoyed reading about heroes of the past, especially western heroes. I didn't go to school at the reformatory, but I spent a lot of time in the library."
The 15-year-old Moore was one of the smallest inmates. That made him a natural target for reform school bullies, but that ended when Archie whipped one of the largest inmates after an incident during mealtime. Absolute silence was the rule during meals, so the boys used sign language to communicate. But some signs had double meanings. An upraised little finger meant pass the sugar, but it also was used as a homosexual signal. When the big inmate raised his little finger at Archie, Moore had no doubt what he had in mind and then disabused him of the notion by smacking the kid with a solid right hand that sent him crumbling to the ground. The rest of the inmates watched in disbelief as the smallest kid in the reformatory whipped one of the biggest. It was the last time Archie had any trouble in reform school.
The reformatory in Booneville had a boxing program open to all inmates and Archie joined up. Moore fought 16 matches in reform school, knocking out all but one of his opponents. The discipline and his own determination to make his aunt proud of him again made him a model inmate, and his good behavior eventually led to an early discharge. He was at Booneville for 22 months.
Aunt Willie Pearl arranged through a parole officer for Moore to get a job with an ice and coal dealer. Archie's job was to carry buckets filled with ice up several flights of stairs. It was hard work for which he was supposed to be paid a dollar a day. But at the end of his first full day on the job, when Archie attempted to collect his daily wage he was told it had not been a profitable day and so he would only get 50 cents for his 12 hours of hard labor. His employer knew that as a parolee Moore was required to work full time, and figured he had Archie over a barrel. There were two ice picks sticking in the wall, and Archie somehow managed to resist the urge to grab one and stab his boss. But he did quit on the spot.
Moore had to find another job quickly to satisfy his parole officer. Afraid of being exploited again, he confided his fears to the mother of his old friend Arthur James. She worked in a factory full time but also rented out rooms in her home for extra income. Mrs. James came up with the idea of having Archie work for her twice a week, cleaning, doing maintenance work and any odd jobs that needed to be done around the house. It was a perfect arrangement for Moore, giving him plenty of free time to practice his boxing, which was gaining importance in his life.
Moore's hero was Kid Chocolate, the featherweight titlist, an exceptional boxer with gleaming charisma. Whenever one of the Kid's bouts was aired on the radio, Moore would rush over to the James residence for the broadcast. He vividly recalled listening to his hero battle Tony Canzoneri for the latter's lightweight title on November 20, 1931. Chocolate lost the decision, but that didn't stop Archie from wanting to be just like him, although Aunt Willie Pearl preferred that he become a gospel preaching minister.
Looking for a way to improve both as a boxer and a man, Moore found the answer in the Civilian Conservation Corps. The CCC had been established in 1933 by President Franklin Roosevelt to provide work for unemployed men at the height of the Great Depression. Over three million of them enrolled in the program. It was run military-style, and all the enrollees were relocated to camps in national parks, where they built roads, trails, bridges and campgrounds. Everyone was given food, shelter, clothing, and $30 per month, of which they were required to send $25 home to their families. The remaining $5 was for spending money.
Moore's parole officer was Thomas Brooks, a decent man who always had Archie's best interest at heart. Once Brooks caught Moore violating his parole by staying out past curfew and instructed him to go home immediately. The cocky Moore didn't feel like being ordered around and let Brooks know it. Instead of writing him up, Brooks answered by smacking his parolee in the mouth and ordering him home. Archie went. Later, when approached by Moore for permission to join the CCC, Brooks arranged everything, figuring Archie would profit from the experience.