Prizefighters are thrust into prominence with such intemperate speed these days that they become main-eventers before the public really gets a chance to know who they are and to learn what they can do. As a service to the televiewer and the occasional attending fan SPORTS ILLUSTRATED therefore presents on the following pages an appraisal of the champions and top five contenders in the six heavier classes. Not included are the bantam and flyweight divisions, in which there is negligible action in the United States.
When one sets out to evaluate prizefighters, the two most important qualities to consider are skill and heart; condition is a property the spectator has a right to expect, and it is to the game's discredit that he doesn't always get it. Skill is relatively simple to appraise. A fellow boxes adeptly or clumsily, defends well or poorly, has a mighty punch or a powder puff—all this is rather obvious. But heart, or lack of it, is more difficult to discern. A fighter is said to lack heart if he has a tendency to lose the initiative when the going gets rough, to go purely defensive, to lose the desire to fight back when he is hurt or knocked down. When he has heart, adversity stings him to greater effort. Most of the champions listed here have first-rate fighting hearts. That, perhaps more than their craft, has made them champions. Lack of heart will prevent some of the contenders, whose skills are equally refined, from ever attaining a title.
On certain nights, especially when the course of a match is to their liking, these relatively fainthearted fighters perform brilliantly. But watch when they are crowded, severely tagged, or dazzled by a flighty boxer. See if they go into a shell, change their styles radically to an unnatural and somewhat passive counterpunching strategy—though a good counterpuncher does not necessarily lack heart. Notice whether they become flustered and swing desperately without thought to aim or pattern—these are all signs of faintness of heart. On the other hand, watch how a Carmen Basilio, for instance, reacts to pain or misfortune. His unruffled, resolute manner amply demonstrates the soundness of his heart. As is said of courageous Thoroughbreds, he is like hickory and does not bend.
Examining the names and accomplishments of the boxers discussed here, one could easily conclude that boxing—as an art or science—is in a grievous state. Rest easy, this has been the plaint from time to time throughout boxing history. It is true, nevertheless. What with the inroads of television and the concomitant closing of many small clubs, there are fewer boxers than ever and less talented ones because, for one, there are fewer opportunities to fight. Also, in the present economy, there are easier and better ways to make a living—if not to achieve the old glory—outside the prize ring. Although talent drops off sharply after the first few contenders in several of the divisions, the rankings do contain some remarkable fighters. There is Ray Robinson, beyond his peak, of course, but a fighter who would rank at the very top in any year; Carmen Basilio, a splendid fighting machine; Floyd Patterson, who has lately become one, and a host of young men not yet in the top six, who seem to have excellent futures if they are not rushed prematurely into television's maw.
The rating of professional prizefighters is an old, inexact and occasionally dishonest business, but it does serve to establish a necessary hierarchy in the game. Most important, it settles who the champions (and top contenders) are in the various weight classes. There have been times when several managers, with the connivance of promoters who liberally billed matches for one championship or another, simultaneously claimed the same title for their boys. The middleweight division, particularly, has a long, confused history of multiple claimants. In 1912, for instance, no less than seven middle-weights regarded themselves as champions. Throughout the 1930s, there were usually two middleweight title-holders, one recognized by the National Boxing Association and the other by the New York commission, and often neither of them was recognized internationally. There has been only one such case in the last few years, when the NBA recognized Raul Macias as the bantamweight champion, while Alphonse Halimi was the choice of everyone else. The two finally met and Halimi defeated Macias to become undisputed champion.
It was not until recently that the NBA decided to publish monthly rankings of the 10 top contenders in each class. However Nat Fleischer's The Ring magazine has for years published its own highly respected ratings, and its exhaustive compilation of boxing statistics has been of great help in composing this report. SPORTS ILLUSTRATED has used the NBA's rankings here only because they are quasi official.
W-win, L-loss, D-draw, NC-no contest, ND-no decision, TD-technical draw
A fine, young, thoughtful champion who has all the moves. He is at once a resourceful boxer and a punishing hitter, although his punch is not quite heavy enough on most occasions to take an opponent out with a single blow. Patterson has consummate hand speed and responds with flurries of combinations to the most meager opening. He has splendid stamina, speed afoot and heart. His two defects are, curiously, opposites: at times he is overeager and throws punches off balance, even in mid-air; at times he is overcautious and lets attack opportunities slip by. He is devoted to small animals and small children. Record: W 33, L 1.
1: EDDIE MACHEN
A sturdy, workmanlike, upright fighter, Machen has a good straight punch, particularly with the right hand, but is not too impressive as a hooker or infighter. He does not adapt easily, performing best from medium range, allowing for ample punching room. He is open to right hands and, if pursued, tends to lose poise. Although he has a powerful punch, the feeling is that Machen is a manufactured rather than a natural fighter. His opponents have been largely hand-picked to suit his style—either ponderous, deliberate types like Johnny Holman or harmless old men like Joey Maxim. He still needs instruction and experience. Record: W 23, L 0.
2: ZORA FOLLEY
A tall, even stately, fighter with great reach, Folley boxes from a classical upright stance, shooting out the left jab and crossing over, on occasion, with an overhand right. Rather than pick off punches, Folley leans back to avoid them, which results in his being, at times, off balance for mustering a quick counter. He has a reputation as a lackadaisical, safety-first fighter who can be bulled and discouraged, a good counterpuncher who would rather not lead. This reluctance has now been explained by a chronically reinjured knuckle on his right hand, which he now protects with a radical hand wrapping. Record: W 39, L 2, D 1.
3: ROY HARRIS
Harris comes out of Cut and Shoot, Texas (pop. 193) and much has been told of his barefoot beginnings. But little is known of Harris the fighter, since he has never fought outside of Texas or on TV. He's licked Bob Baker, but mild-hitting Bob put him down with a right hand. And he whupped Willie Pastrano by beating him to the punch, slipping to the right on Willie's second jab and coming back with a right to the body. When Willie wised to this, Harris feinted him with his right hand and landed a left hook. Said Willie: "He is effectively awkward." Harris has been brought along with great care in friendly arenas. Record: W 21, L 0.
4: WILLIE PASTRANO
He is the fastest heavyweight afoot, this New Orleanian with the sullen good looks and the elaborately curled hair. And he most surely can travel, bounce, dance, slide and glide. Nimbleness and grace are his preoccupations. Pastrano can jab prettily—his chief weapon—he has quick hands, but is, at best, a mediocre puncher. This is due, perhaps, to his constantly being on his toes and therefore not sufficiently set to deliver a jarring blow. He is a guileful evader, takes a punch well and rallies nicely when hit. Pastrano looked sluggish in defeating Willi Besmanoff last November. He needs more power if he is to be a threat. Record: W 44, L 5, D 5.
5: NINO VALDES
Geraldo Ramos Ponciano Valdes, called Nino, the 33-year-old, 6-foot 3-inch Cuban with skin the hue of fine Havana wrapper, was once (1954-55) ranked the No. 1 challenger to Rocky Marciano's title. A series of defeats depreciated his stock and only this month has he regained the top five. Valdes, though somewhat cumbrous, is a skillful boxer for his mass and has a fine right hand. He prefers to counterpunch, and there is controversy about the size of his heart. Last February he finished Joe Erskine, the British champion and a possible opponent for Floyd Patterson, in the first round. Record: W 41, L 14, D 2.
Age apparently cannot wither nor custom stale the infinite ability and variety of the game's most venerated pappy guy. No current practitioner, with the possible exception of Willie Pep and Ray Robinson, has done so much positive thinking on the art and such resourceful application. Moore has lordly confidence, extreme cunning and the patience to husband his strength and wait for the propitious moment. He can almost "see" with his hands and thereby thread a punch home. He is accomplished at smothering and picking off blows with his forearms, shoulders and gloves and has a fine punch, too. Record: W 161, L 24, D 5.
1: HAROLD JOHNSON
This 29-year-old Philadelphian, celebrated for eating the "doped" orange, has been fighting for 13 years and has learned his lessons well. He has magnificent boxing ability and is a sharp hitter who is capable of taking a man out with a single well-timed and delivered blow. Unfortunately he tends to be extremely cautious under pressure and his style becomes mechanical and unpleasing. Johnson is also not the bravest fighter and there are plentiful doubts about the stoutness of his chin and the consistency of his purpose. There is no doubt, however, that when Johnson is having an "on" night, he is extremely dangerous. Record: W 55, L 8.
2: YVON DURELLE
"You can't kill a Durelle," Yvon's family doctor has said, and it is this enduring condition which is largely responsible for his eminence. Durelle shows little boxing ability, but he is a rugged and tenacious type, whose crude movements and wildly careering swings make him a mettlesome and troublesome opponent. He admits he does not always have the opportunity to get into the best of shape. Durelle's main concern is the fleet of fishing boats he owns in his native Baie St. Anne, N.B. "My future is in fishing," he says. "Boxing is a hobby, and my heart wouldn't be broken if I didn't win any titles." Record: W 46, L 16, D 2, NC 1.
3: TONY ANTHONY
Although he can box like a bandit and hit resoundingly, it seems that young Anthony, like Aristotle's tragic hero, has a flaw resident within him which is his doom. For a while it appeared as though it might be a gentle chin, but against Durelle's moderately heavy blows last June his chin was unyielding, but his heart seemed to give out when he found he could not put the man away. In the Moore fight last September, however, he was gallant to a fare-thee-well, although his chin ultimately was his undoing. Boxing's cynical citizens still must be shown that his heart is not faint, his chin not dime-store china. Record: W 30, L 5, D 1.
4: WILLY HOEPNER
It is quite baffling to find Hoepner here ranked so high. In his only U.S. performance—at Milwaukee in 1956—Southpaw Hoepner was knocked out in the second round by Chuck Spieser and showed very little save for several right leads to the body. Hoepner watches, waits and boxes—German papers call him The Mathematician—and thus is often absolutely colorless. He does, however, have a substantial right-hand punch which has knocked them out in his native Germany. As one Frankforter said: "He's beautiful to watch, but he's very cold." He is, in addition, very old: he will be 35 next month. Record: W 48, L 8, D 3.
5: YOLANDE POMPEY
Yolande James Michael Sonney Caius Pompey Babathy, of Princeton, Jamaica, B.W.I, and London, England is really a better fighter than he looks. He does not show to advantage against pressers or bobbers and weavers but is an accomplished adversary against the straight-up-and-down fighter. Pompey fights in the orthodox English style, left elbow tucked well in, always ready to use a straight right. His most damaging punch is a right hook, although he is no particular threat as a banger. According to one British observer, Pompey "is really one of the gamest kids in the game—and one of its real toffs." Record: W 33, L 4, D 3.
Marvelous condition, resolve and a mean fighting disposition are the makings of this champion. Basilio does not discourage, no matter how thick the going gets, plodding determinedly on in his flat-footed pursuit. He has middling power with either hand but his left hook is his most celebrated punch, particularly to the body. He has a wonderful chin but cuts easily about the eyes. A boxer with good footwork, who is able to move from side to side, in and out, could outpoint him. And it remains to be seen—while giving away an expected five or six pounds—how he will do against the division's young bombers. Record: W 52, L 12, D 7.
1: RAY ROBINSON
What tense to tell of the Sugarman, that canny cock of the walk: the past or the present? He has had it all: the quickness and the deceit, the sudden power, the good, moving legs, the will and the dazzling way. Now these are but a residue to which he can no longer add; only call upon until it is, at last, used up. But Ray has lost much of the will. Training, even with Soldier Jones softly whistling him Sweet Lorraine to skip rope by, is a tiresome necessity. If he fights Basilio again it would be foolhardy to regard it only as the last payday. "We that are young shall never see so much..." as Albany said of Lear. Record: W 140, L 6, D 2, ND 1.
2: GENE FULLMER
A brawling, little, club fighter who charges doggedly, throwing fists, arms, head and shoulders at his opponent. He has marvelous purpose, toughness and stamina, and although he possesses very little punch, he keeps swinging as though he had one. He has scanty boxing ability but his inherent awkwardness proves puzzling. Fullmer has a formidable defense of rigid, vertical forearms which cage his head, but sometimes, in his fury, he neglects it. Fullmer can also be a quick and reasonably effective counter-puncher. His strength, however, is his main asset and he makes sound use of it in infighting. Record: W 43, L 4.
3: JOEY GIARDELLO
A first-class fighter for four or five rounds, but if he doesn't hurt you early he looks just to beat you. Although predominantly a hooker, he has a strong right cross and likes to make a combination of the left hook followed by a right uppercut. Giardello is a reasonably upright guy who can evade a punch. He has a tendency to get discouraged and there have been fitful complaints about the quality of his heart. Giardello's most spectacular defeat came after he belabored a South Philadelphia filling station attendant about the head with a crutch in 1954. He was paroled after 15 weeks in Holmesburg Prison. Record: W 71, L 13, D 5, ND 1.
4: RORY CALHOUN
Rory's Sunday punch is a clubbing, overhand right which he cocks awesomely before launching. It is supplemented by a somewhat tentative jab and a sweeping left hook. Although Calhoun can be led on a merry chase by the stab-and-clutch guy, he is bad news when he gets the range. In early fights he seemed to have a weak foundation, but that has not been evident of late. He has picked up one bad habit, however: impatiently pawing a thigh with a glove, a mannerism which a quick puncher may take advantage of. His given Christian name is Herman; and, yes, Virginia, he was named after the film actor. Record: W 31, L 2, D 1.
5: CHARLES HUMEZ
Known as the "machine de boxe" in his native France, Humez has fought professionally but twice in the U.S., losing narrowly to Ralph (Tiger) Jones and Gene Fullmer. In these two efforts he showed that he was a diligent, well-conditioned and brave fist fighter who doted on infighting. He also makes good and consistent use of the left, jab, even to the body. Humez is reasonably open to a right hand, as his cauliflowered left ear testifies, and he cuts quite easily. Besides having some 300 amateur bouts, he has campaigned as a pro for 10 years and may well be reaching the close of a good, if not spectacular, career. Record: W 91, L 6, D 1, ND 1.
1: ISAAC LOGART
Like Kid Gavilan, the bolo-punching ex-champ with the hooded, Reptilian eyes, Logart wears white ring shoes, comes from Camaguey, Cuba and has a lot of the old flash. He is a picture fighter who moves according to the book. He has a variety of punches and good legs but, alas, not the biggest heart in the world. When the going gets tough he becomes a defensive fighter, slipping, warding, feinting admirably, but he is reluctant to take the initiative. In a word, he is a procrastinator. Although he takes a punch nicely, a smart puncher will beat him. The youngest of a family of 11 boys and three girls, Logart is a skilled mechanic. Record: W 52, L 7, D 5.
2: GIL TURNER
The trouble with Turner is that he is not really a welter. His best fighting weight is as a 150- to 153-pounder, and he is weakened when he has to make weight. Conversely, Turner is at a considerable disadvantage when he fights full-grown middle-weights, and he often does. Withal, he is a courageous, feisty and well-conditioned fighter, always hustling forward, throwing an unrelenting succession of punches. Although he doesn't hit with any great power, Turner is a pleasing fist fighter because of his willing ways. On defense, he does not attempt to evade blows, instead picks them off on the way in with elbows, gloves and arms. Record: W 55, L 15, D 1.
3: VIRGIL AKINS
The career of the St. Louis Honey-bear has been curiously inconsistent: one night a tiger, another, a lamb. This has been attributed to brittle hands, lack of condition and a disposition to work no harder than the demands of a particular bout necessitate. Akins is a good puncher with unusually long arms and has a very sneaky right hand. His best blows are body shots and he belly-jabs beautifully. When he is tigerish, Akins is a shifty, aggressive fighter, but despite his industry and cute ways he has never caught the fancy of the crowd. He is strangely colorless and, indeed, something of a mechanic. Record: W 45, L 17, D 1.
4: VINCE MARTINEZ
An adroit and highly skilled boxer, Martinez has, as his major weapons, an efficient jab and a whale of a right hand. Once he hurts you, he shucks his aloof ways and wades in strong with both hands for the finish. He is also a remarkable defensive fighter, as his dapper features attest. There has been opinion that Martinez becomes overcautious when he is ahead, that he is too concerned with maintaining his noble profile and that his heart is not what it could be in the hurly-burly. "I don't want to be a bloody hero," Martinez has said. "I want to win without getting hurt if I can help it. Why should I stick my chin out?" Record: W 58, L 5.
5: GASPAR ORTEGA
El Indio is unusually tall for a welterweight (almost 6 feet) but makes despairingly little use of his height and reach, being disinclined to stand off and box with the jab and cross. He prefers, instead, to bustle headlong in on his long legs, running like a man on a treadmill, to crouch, weave and come up inside with right uppercuts, or flail away with pumping shots to the body. Ortega is easy to hit; he does not slip or sucker leads and counter. He takes a punch well, however, and has plenty of heart. His condition is uncertain and his punch not too damaging. Ortega is 22 years old and was born in Colonia Morelos, Mexico. Record: W 42, L 10, D 1.
6: TONY DeMARCO
An unruly, rough-housing fighter, DeMarco has a first-rate left hook, fair right hand and a meaningless jab. Punching power is, assuredly, his principal asset. Since he has become something of a success—and no longer hungry, as it is said—he seems to have lost a little edge. He is a smart fighter who can slip a punch well and come back strong with a hook. If you move, you can confuse him. If you are aggressive, you can take it out of him. He has a tendency to tire in the late rounds, not so much physically, however, as mentally. DeMarco, born Leonardo Liotta, was briefly welterweight champ in 1955. Record: W 54, L 10, D 1.
Burdened with a name which reads like an inept alias, Joe Brown has fought in what they call obscurity for 12 years and even now, as champion, is little known and lightly regarded. It is a shame, for Brown is a first-rate boxer-puncher who has a thorough mastery of his craft, superb legs for a man of 31 and a good sense of strategic pace. A clever counterpuncher, Brown has a snappy jab which he often hooks off, a sparingly used but powerful right. If you give him room, he'll pull you out of position and, as one manager grandly phrases it—annihilate you. He doesn't like to be crowded, however. Record: W 67, L 14, D 9, NC 2.
1: KENNY LANE
He is one of the most deceptive fighters in the business, and not only because he is a left-hander. The last, of course, compounds an opponent's bewilderment—the right jab, the left cross, the way the lefty moves away from right-hand shots. Lane's greatest asset is his ability to get set before hitting; and he hits hard and can inflict cuts. In addition, Lane is an accurate puncher, fair infighter and takes a good wallop. In fact, he has never been counted out. His deception is also due to well-reasoned bobs, weaves and spins. His best fighting weight, however, seems to be several pounds over the division limit. Record: W 51, L 5.
2: RALPH DUPAS
Trained by the prudent Whitey Esneault, the one-legged New Orleanian who doesn't like to see his boys get hurt (Heavyweight Pastrano is another chary pupil), Dupas developed into such a flighty, stab-and-run, pop hitter that he was called Native Dancer. The fans used to turn out in the expectation that one night someone would catch up with him—and, pow! Although he now attempts to be more aggressive, Dupas still has a minimum of power, but he is an artful boxer who uses the ring and ropes extremely well. Lately he has fought as a 141- to 142-pounder and it is felt that he may be outgrowing his class. Record: W 68, L 8, D 6.
3: DUILIO LOI
The chief defect of this husky Italian fighter is, as one manager puts it, "that he is not constantly at the top of his form. Sometimes he even turns out to be utterly mediocre." When Loi is in condition and has the proper attitude, he is an ingenious and elusive boxer who has exceptional judgment and surprising speed of hand and foot. Born in Trieste of Sardinian extraction, the 28-year-old European champion has fought only once in the U.S., outpointing Glen Flanagan at Miami Beach early in 1955. He is apparently reluctant to return, however, except, and even that is doubtful, for a title bout. Record: W 85, L 1, D 4.
4: WILLIE TOWEEL
Kid brother of the former (1950-52) world bantamweight champion, Vic Toweel, Willie came within a whisker of winning that very title in 1955 when he held Robert Cohen to a draw. Toweel is essentially a fast, clever, upright boxer with good footwork and a sound defense. He has a fine left jab, a fairly solid right counter but no real power in his left hand. Although he has an impressive number of knockouts, they have been scored against opposition that can hardly be regarded as demanding. Toweel, who has never fought in the U.S., lives in Johannesburg, South Africa and is of Lebanese extraction. Record: W 37, L 1, D 2.
5: PAOLI ROSI
Something of a late bloomer, Rosi, who will be 30 this month, didn't start fighting professionally until 1951. Partially bald and aquiline of feature, Rosi is a hard, quick, clever puncher, particularly with his right hand, has a neat defense and is regarded as an accurate hitter. In his last outing against Johnny Busso, however, he was often wild, due, perhaps, to the effects of a long layoff. He has been knocked out twice but both fights were stopped because of cuts; Rosi is known in the trade as a bad bleeder. Originally from Rieti, Italy, a city 70 miles distant from Rome, Rosi now resides in The Bronx. Record: W 27, L 4, D 1.
HOGAN (KID) BASSEY
The first Nigerian to gain a world's championship, Bassey started scrapping for chunks of ice in a Calabar cold-storage plant when he was 10 and named Okon Bassey Asuquo. In his only U.S. appearance, in which he outpointed Miguel Berrios last April, the stubby Bassey was singularly impressive. He is essentially a puncher with a redoubtable left hand, and is very long on heart and intensity. He is a good hooker, throws swift jabs and a combination built of hooks to the body and a robust right to the head. Although Bassey has been knocked down with some frequency, he usually bounces right back. Record: W 49, L 10, D 1.
1: CHERIF HAMIA
He is a good, smart, busy combination fighter who moves with alacrity and purpose, and he was exceedingly well thought of when he won three fights here in 1956. Hamia is alert to all openings, is an excellent counterpuncher and is always superbly conditioned. Like most French pugilists (he was born in Guergnon, Algeria), his chin is nicely protected by closely held gloves. He fights in rattling flurries and hits sharply, although not renowned as a knockout puncher in recent years. Hamia likes to force the issue with a series of peppery jabs and then close with a sequence of bristling rights and lefts. Record: W 31, L 2, D 2.
2: DAVEY MOORE
A chunky (he is only 5 feet 3 inches tall), clubfighter who punches solidly but does not always maintain the pace. He is known as a good front runner but has a tendency to go into a shell when the going gets sticky. Moore has risen rapidly in the rankings by dint of winning all five of his starts last year. The 1952 AAU featherweight champion, Moore was on the U.S. Olympic team that year and advanced to the quarter-finals before losing for want of aggressiveness. He lives in Springfield, Ohio, is married, has two children and is an enthusiastic hunter. Moore's father is pastor of the Jesus Only church in Urbania, Ohio. Record: W 27, L 5, D 1
3: RICARDO MORENO
He is called Pajarito or "the little bird," but he is a formidable and violent battler. In 33 bouts he has knocked out 29 (most of them, indeed, nonentities). Moreno is never on his toes and therefore has the leverage to throw his most awesome combination—a double left hook; ribs first, head after. He has absolutely no defense and takes punches with haughty disdain. If you are cute enough to stay out of his way, you can outpoint him, and even Pajarito can be out-bludgeoned. His manager had a revealing excuse after his lone knockout: "He hits so hard, he thinks he don't have to train—only in front of dance orchestras." Record: W 29, L 3, TD 1.
4: IKE CHESTNUT
A classy and quite durable combination puncher, Chestnut has quickness of hand and can fight either from long range, boxing smartly and keeping his man off balance with the jab, or go inside and mix it. Chestnut is a fast starter but sometimes tends to lose his form and composure under pressure. He was not considered much of a bleeder until Moreno stopped him on a cut cheek last November. Chestnut had a long amateur campaign, with All-Army and Golden Gloves titles among his 86 triumphs. Before becoming a professional boxer, he worked as a sail cutter and as a hospital orderly. Record: W 28, L 9, D 3.
5: ISIDRO MARTINEZ
The Panamanian champion has, as a bewildered Ike Chestnut once said, "a cockeyed style.... [He does] a lot of goofy stuff." Izzy's goofiness comes, in the main, from a practice of switching over to a southpaw stance, either for the moment or for a sequence of rounds. He is an extremely quick, shifty and courageous boxer, darting in and out, jabbing, dancing off, ducking, whirling about and lowering with his best punch, a left hook. Martinez, 23, was born in the coastal hamlet of Cacique, moved early to Colon but presently lives far from the capital at Las Mercedes Beach because he likes its solitude. Record: W 19, L 3, D 1.