You could count on the thumbs of two boxing gloves the number of prizefighters now around who shine with the radiance of the old masters. One is Sugar Ray Robinson. The other is Archie Moore. Some few more are competent but even in their declining years these two, in victory or defeat, are magnificent.
The magnificence of Archie Moore was clear to see the other night in the Montreal Forum. In the very ring where last winter he had all but surrendered his light heavyweight championship to the clumsy but hard punching of Yvon Durelle, the hero of French Canada, Archie took instant and effective command. On that December night Archie was downed four times, then rose and, with a groggy gesture of noblesse oblige, knocked out Durelle. Downed four times on this August night, Durelle was unable to rise the fourth time and was counted out by Referee Jack Sharkey.
As Archie put it afterward, with the sweet venom of one who has been gracelessly annoyed by a peasant, "You should not enter a mule in a race at Santa Anita."
A few weeks before the return bout, Archie had dropped into Jack Dempsey's restaurant in New York to entertain a group of well-wishers with his prevision of the fight. He was seething at Durelle, who was saying absurd things about long counts and other vain tricks that, Durelle professed, cheated him of victory in their first fight. But Archie chose to speak of revenge only in parables. He recalled to his listeners Aesop's fable of the wolf and the lamb, in which the lamb sought with simple logic to establish that he was innocent of wrongdoing to the wolf and, therefore, should not be eaten.
August 23, 1959
"I was drinking in the stream," the wolf snarled, as Archie remembers the quotes, "and you muddied it."
"But you were drinking upstream," the lamb replied so shrewdly.
"Well, I'm about to eat you anyway," the wolf quipped back at him.
Archie pondered a moment and then made his pronouncement.
"It doesn't matter what Durelle says," he proclaimed. "I'll eat him anyway."
Here and there you could find an excuse for Durelle's grumbling. The return fight had been twice postponed—once because Archie developed a psychosomatic condition of the right heel, caused by an excess of weight on his feet and resultant emotional distress at the thought of cutting out food altogether in the time left to him to get back down to 175 pounds. Then there had been a much more serious postponement because of an emergency mastoid operation on his wife, Joan, who recovered so well and so quickly as to be refreshingly present at the fight, a white orchid on her left shoulder matching the white bandage about her right ear. Only when the problem of his beloved's welfare was off his mind did Archie go back to training.
Durelle had his problems, too. He was, for one thing, getting a mere $15,000 for a fight that was to pay Archie a fat $175,000. Though this weighed on him somewhat, and led to financial sulking in his corner, he shrugged it off at last—until he arrived at the Forum and found that one of his entourage had forgotten to bring the dice. Deprived of his customary crapshooting workout in the waiting time before a fight, Yvon glumly submitted to a deviate version of gin rummy.
A BREACH OF ETIQUETTE
Maybe he won at gin, or maybe it was the cheers of the partisan crowd, 11,555 of whom paid to get in, but he did seem incongruously cheerful before the bell. A gap-toothed smile darkled on his lips at a witticism of Trainer Charley Goldman, who had been specially hired to make a brick without straw, just as he had done with the awkward Rocky Marciano when Rocky was 27. The awkward Durelle is 29.
"Once he gets hit," Charley said after the fight, "this fella forgets everything you tell him."
Durelle did in fact show some signs in the first round that he had had a mite of kindergarten schooling. He carried his right hand professionally tucked against his left jaw and he threw two combinations—a 1-2 and a 1-2-1. He also crouched a bit. That was all. Archie won the round easily with rights and lefts to the head.
Then Durelle made his first mistake. He went on punching after the bell. This breach of etiquette ruffled Archie. He went glowering back to his corner and in the next round, though one of the three judges (referees do not vote in Montreal) gave it to Durelle, Archie taught Yvon his manners, slamming him with rights and lefts to head and body. Durelle threw a lot of punches, too, and they may have influenced the minority judge, but they landed mostly on Archie's crisscrossed arms. One left hook to the body did clearly hurt Moore.
The third round ended it. Moore went out to finish the fight, partly because Durelle had hit him on a break in the second round, partly because the day has come when Archie's years make it dangerous for him to prolong a fight. After bashing Durelle with a succession of three-punch combinations he delivered the key blow—a hard left hook to the heart which, short of his knockout deliveries, is as punishing a punch as the learned Archie knows. It so weakened Durelle that moments later he was almost helpless when Archie caught him with a left-right to the head that put him down for a nine count. Up again, a left uppercut sprawled him through the lowest rope, and he stayed down for another toll of nine. By this time he was so unsteady that a mere left jab sent him staggering backward through the ropes. He was, furthermore, dim-witted enough now to be up at six, instead of taking a full, head-clearing count of nine. The final knockdown was on a smashing right to the head. Virtuoso Archie had used four different punches to put his man away.
After the fight, in a futile effort to escape the swarming press, a despondent Durelle retreated to a small cubicle in his dressing room and sat there wiping his tear-dimmed eyes.
"I'm just no good," he wept, as he had wept when Moore beat him in their first fight. "I was useless, no good for nothing. My conscience is hurt more than anything else. It won't be too long before I retire. Two more matches and I am through. There is no more future now. I am heartbroken. Sick, sick, sick."
But then, he thought, he might just try the heavyweight division, where there would be no problem of weightmaking. The idea seemed to cheer him.
In Archie's dressing room there was postfight joy among his handlers and friends but the master himself was playing it cool.
"Frankly," he said, relaxing in the white brocade silk robe he had worn into the ring, "I anticipated some little discomfiture in the early rounds until I could strike a damaging blow. I would have enjoyed a savage brawl until the last few rounds."
In or out of the ring, Old Arch is magnificent.