The quality of agelessness that Archie Moore has displayed for so many years, to the great joy of his generation, suddenly departed him last Saturday night and left only gallantry and guile to sustain him against youth.
Still the world light heavyweight boxing champion in everybody's book but that of the maundering National Boxing Association, Archie lost in a Roman ring to a fighter who would scarcely have caused him inconvenience two years ago. He lost to the Italian light heavyweight champion, Giulio Rinaldi, a 25-year-old who suddenly took on international importance by his feat. Neither man's title was at stake, for the match was decidedly over-the-weight. The 175-pound champions came in at 190.4 pounds for Moore, 181.7 for Rinaldi. Archie's excess was carried about his belly, which bulged beneath silk trunks artfully tailored to conceal his many dietary indiscretions. But the best tailor on the Via Veneto could not have hidden Archie's paunch this night.
Over-age, overweight, overconfident and undertrained, Moore was all but stopped in the 10th, the final round. Referee Marcello Tinelli, indeed, gave him an eight-count, observing the European rule that a fighter who has been "injured" may be counted over even though he has not been knocked down. Seeing that the referee was about to stop the fight, Moore flailed his gloves furiously in protest, and Tinelli motioned the fighters to resume.
It was an exciting fight, and the 10th was its most fascinating round, for it revealed to the capacity crowd of 14,000 screaming Italians packed into the new Palazzo dello Sport the innate bravery of Archie Moore, the stuff of the heart that has made him one of the world's most admired and beloved champions. Ringsiders had paid $32.20, an extraordinary ticket price in Italy and an extraordinary price anywhere for a nontitle fight these days. They were not, however, overcharged. They saw quite a show.
The star was Archie, wedged in the 10th round in Rinaldi's corner with the crowd howling for a kill. Desperately, on trembling legs, the star held to his footing and somehow survived Rinaldi's double-fisted poundings to the final bell. It was a stirring feat for an old athlete of at least 43, all the more stirring in that Rinaldi is known as a bit of a puncher. He won his title last March with a first-round TKO, when he forced the previous Italian champion to quit on his feet.
The decision was unanimously against Moore (though the Associated Press scorecard gave him a 5-3-2 edge), and Archie himself conceded that he would have asked only for a split decision or, at most, a draw. He had almost won the fight by a knockout in the eighth round, when he sank a fist into Rinaldi's liver, a painful blow that doubled up the Italian until one of his gloves touched the canvas. But Moore was too exhausted—he had begun to show his weariness in the seventh—and could not follow up. The round ended with Archie calling on all his old tricks of elusiveness to extricate himself from the Italian's counterattack. From then on the world champion's only purpose was survival. Rinaldi battered him about the ring in the ninth and almost did him in in the 10th.
It was Moore's first defeat since Floyd Patterson beat him in 1956. Archie took it philosophically. "It doesn't kill me to lose a fight once in a while," he said. "It only inspires me to fight better."
Archie was in fact inspired to suggest that the next time he fights Rinaldi it be for the world title. Although the NBA recently stripped him of his championship (for failure to defend it within a technically required and universally ignored six-month period), Europe as well as New York and other U.S. state commissions still hold that Archie is world champion. He felt that an actual title fight between him and Rinaldi—suddenly an Italian national hero—might be held at an outdoor stadium in Rome in early summer.
"I would fight him again," Archie said, "provided his men came up with a championship bout of 15 rounds, which is better for me than a 10-round fight. Also, if I were down to 175 I would do much better."
Archie's trainer, Dick Saddler, blamed some of Archie's excess weight on inability to comprehend the metric system and its confusing use of kilograms instead of simple pounds.
"I still don't know what we really weigh," Saddler sighed after the weighin, "and I haven't since we've been here. Everybody says 'It's about this' or 'It's about that' but we've never been sure."
It was costly fat in more than one respect. Archie had been guaranteed $20,000 but had agreed to forfeit $1,000 for every pound he weighed over 185. He could therefore have been docked $5,000 had not the promoters relented and given him $19,000. The promoters could afford to be generous, for, thanks to Moore's drawing power, they grossed about $65,000 in one of Italy's most financially successful fights of recent years.
"They sent us an old man to fight Rinaldi," an Italian fan cracked on getting his first look at Moore's graying head and ponderous paunch. And that, to be sure, was true, but it was a very remarkable old man. Next time, young Rinaldi, watch out!