DEATH OF A CHAMPION

Battered helpless by Sugar Ramos, Champion Davey Moore sits on the canvas at Dodger Stadium a moment after his head bounced off the ring ropes. An hour later Moore fell into a deep coma, and three days later he died, setting off new demands from California to Rome that boxing be outlawed
April 01, 1963

'TRAGEDY IS A THING FIGHTERS MUST LIVE WITH'

Little Davey Moore sat on the edge of the rubbing table in his dressing room at Dodger Stadium. Except for a bloodshot left eye, his face was unmarked. It was hard to believe that he had just lost his world featherweight championship in a savage fight with Sugar Ramos, a Cuban expatriate. The fight had been scheduled for 15 rounds, but in the 10th Moore took such a pounding that his manager, Willie Ketchum, asked the referee to stop it after the bell rang for the end of the round.

Yet for all the battering Moore had taken, here he was, last Thursday night, talking and joking with reporters while Ketchum rubbed him down with a towel. "I'll take the rematch, you better believe it," Moore said. "Look, you guys know that when I'm right nothing gets to me. Not nothing. I was off. That's it plain and simple." He laughed and added, "Just like you writers, if you'd only admit it. Can't write a lick some days. Well, that was me tonight. I just wasn't up to my best."

The newsmen jotted down the quotes and left. The Moore-Ramos fight was only the second of three championship bouts on one card, and the final fight, between Roberto Cruz of the Philippines and Battling Torres of Mexico—for the so-called junior welterweight title—was ready to start. But no sooner had the reporters hurried out than Moore clasped both hands to the back of his head and cried out to Ketchum, "My head, Willie! My head! It hurts something awful!" With that, he collapsed into unconsciousness. Ketchum called for an ambulance, and Moore was taken to White Memorial Hospital in Los Angeles.

On Monday morning, 75 hours later, Davey Moore died—the second world champion to lose his life within a year. Last March Benny Paret died from the battering he got from Emile Griffith in their welterweight championship fight in Madison Square Garden. Ever since then, boxing has been under fire, particularly in California, where Governor Pat Brown called for abolition of the sport after Heavyweight Alejandro Lavorante was knocked into a coma last September. Still unconscious, Lavorante slumbers in a hospital only a few miles from Moore's deathbed.

As might have been expected, Governor Brown was quick to issue a statement on the Moore affair. Before the press and TV cameras he again demanded the abolition of boxing, which he termed a "barbaric spectacle," and said he would seek to have the voters ban it. To do this he must persuade the state legislature to put his proposal on the ballot as a constitutional amendment. The earliest this can be done is next year.

Sol Silverman, a San Francisco attorney named by the governor to investigate boxing, publicly disagreed. Instead of abolishing the sport, Silverman suggested that the State Athletic Commission adopt new safety measures. "Professional boxing," he said, "has a chance by cleaning itself up to take a part in the President's physical fitness program."

However, there were many echoes of Governor Brown's demand. Senator Kefauver planned to reintroduce his bill for federal regulation. In Paris a headline read DAVEY MOORE LATEST VICTIM OF FIGHT MOB. The semiofficial Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, condemned boxing as "morally illicit," and on the next day Pope John himself denounced fistfighting as "contrary to natural principles."

By a ghoulish quirk, Emile Griffith, the fighter who started the uproar last year by battering Paret, was on the same championship card as Moore. He and Luis Rodriguez, another Cuban expatriate, met in the first fight for the welterweight title. There was a fine crowd of more than 26,000 on hand, most of them Cuban or Mexican fanàticos, who had come with castanets, maracas, bongo drums and horns to urge the Latin fighters to victory. The Rodriguez-Griffith fight was close. When Rodriguez got the decision the fanàticos whooped it up.

The Davey Moore-Sugar Ramos fight aroused the fanàticos to an even higher pitch. Moore had been an outstanding champion, and he was favored 2 to 1. But Ramos, only 21 years old, came into the ring with a remarkable record: 40 victories, one draw, 30 knockouts in 41 fights. Four years ago, in Havana, a preliminary fighter named Tigre Blanco died after Ramos knocked him out.

The Moore fight was a fierce but cleanly fought battle. As the fury and punishment mounted round after round, Ramos and Moore seemed joined in a brotherhood of courage. When the bell sounded for the end of a round, they stopped their assaults as if frozen, then patted one another admiringly before heading to their corners. Moore started fast, and in the second round he caught Ramos with chopping combinations that left Sugar stunned and wobbly. Each time he was hurt, his partisans would chant, "Ra-MOS, Ra-MOS, Ra-MOS," and Sugar would respond with a rally. In the third Ramos changed his tactics. Instead of moving into the body, he stayed outside and started knocking Moore off balance with a vicious, twisting left jab. In the fifth the jab sent Moore reeling across the ring. A shove sent him down, but the referee, George Latka, rightly ruled it a slip. Moore arose and belted Ramos with a right. The Cuban countered with five straight jabs and a right cross that sent Moore's mouthpiece flying and cracked it in several places. Moore kept using it even though it cut his mouth and forced him to swallow blood. In the corner Ketchum had another mouthpiece. It wouldn't fit over Moore's loosened teeth.

In the eighth Moore's right hammered Ramos' eye to a slit, but Ramos kept belting Moore with the left. At the end of the ninth Ramos shook Moore with a strong right. When the bell rang for the 10th Moore charged from his corner and struck Ramos with two solid rights. Ramos fought back and Moore went into a clinch. The fanàticos yelled, "Arriba! arriba!" and Ramos whipped five upper-cuts that sent Moore stumbling across the ring. A quick tattoo of snapping jabs, followed by a right hand, dropped him to the canvas on the seat of his pants. He landed with such force that the back of his head bounced off the lowest strand of the ring ropes. Moore got to his feet at the count of three. Referee Latka dusted off Moore's gloves and sent him back in at the end of the mandatory eight count.

"Moore's eyes looked O.K.," Latka said later, "although the thought ran through my mind that Davey was taking some hard blows. His arms were moving and his reflexes still seemed to be all right. He appeared to be very, very weary, but his eyes were real clear, real sharp, real alert." But, curiously, Latka added that he "had been worried about Moore's legs from the start. Frankly, I've never seen him flounder so much with his footwork. He didn't move like he did in the past. He was tangled up all the time. From the first round on his legs weren't working right. He didn't move like he usually does."

Flounder Moore did as the fight resumed. He stumbled around the ring defenseless while Ramos landed at will. Finally a right smashed Moore through the ropes, draping him over the middle strand, his back to the ring. Even Ramos apparently had had enough; he just stood to the side watching. "I grabbed Ramos by the hand," Latka said, "and was going to give Moore a mandatory eight count even though he wasn't down. But then the bell rang, and I grabbed Moore and pulled him up. I put down my score for the round, and I was about to go over and look at Moore when Willie [Ketchum] came up and said he wanted it stopped. I had determined that if Moore hadn't come around in 30 seconds I was going to stop the fight."

Ramos, the new champion, and Moore, the battered ex-champion, posed for photographers, then walked to their dressing rooms. After talking to reporters, Ramos and Rodriguez, stablemates as well as countrymen, went to a Latin restaurant on Wilshire Boulevard to rejoice in their championships. Ironically, hanging among the pictures of boxers in the window were the championship gloves of the late Benny Paret. Not until morning did Ramos learn of Moore's collapse.

For the better part of three days, until his condition began to deteriorate in the early hours of Monday morning, Moore remained unconscious but alive in the hospital. From the first, however, there was little room for medical doubt—only hope—as to Moore's eventual fate. "In his case, I am very pessimistic," said Dr. Kenneth H. Abbott, one of three brain specialists attending Moore. "My personal feeling is that it is much less than a 50-50 chance." According to Dr. Abbott and Drs. Phillip J. Vogel and Cyril B. Courville, the other specialists, Moore had a bruise on his brain stem. Specifically, it was a swelling about an inch in diameter. The doctors said that the swelling was caused by a fall rather than a punch, and after looking at a video tape of the fight, they concluded that Moore probably suffered the injury when the back of his head struck the ring rope—which has a steel cable core—after the knockdown in the 10th. "This hitting the rope was the only thing that would have given him enough of a jolt to do it," Dr. Courville said. "The jabs earlier probably set the stage." Dr. Vogel said, "I think that explains it pretty well. At least hitting the rope was the coup de gr√¢ce. Of course, he got hit in the chin after that happened, and this could have been a contributing factor, too."

The doctors did not consider surgery because, unlike either Paret or Lavorante, Moore had no hemorrhage or clot. They had no choice but to wait—hoping that the swelling might subside. It never did.

The California commission, perhaps the most capable in the country, has already started an investigation. And based on past performance, the commission's report can be expected to be straightforward and unsparing in its criticisms. Moore's death is a terrible thing, but in this case the public interest can best be served by scientific inquiry, not by the hasty pronouncements of the governor.

For a sport so bound up with physical violence, there has been an almost criminal lack of controlled, scientific exploration in the area of protecting that primary target of a fighter's fists, the human head. Prefight encephalographic examinations—which California administers—and a quick look by even the most competent referee during the heat of a championship fight obviously are only part of the answer. If boxing is to survive, its supervisors need to know a lot more about it.

This is an era, for example, in which athletes run faster, jump higher and lift greater and greater weights. Do boxers hit harder than the Sullivans and Ketchels of yesteryear? If they do, as is quite likely, then some protection must be provided for the delicate tissues of the brain, which certainly have not changed with the years. There is both boxing and medical opinion that headgear is ineffective. But that does not necessarily mean that no adequate protective headgear can be found now. The promoters wail that artificial head protection is certain death at the box office, but this is hardly a consideration when the alternative may be death in the ring.

The often enervating practice of making weight, in which a fighter forces an already taut, strained body to lose another pound—or even five ounces—deserves a great deal of special research, particularly after what happened last Thursday night. It was an open secret that Moore had endured a frightful ordeal in making the 126-pound limit for his last few fights. Between fights, friends say, he had ballooned up above 150 pounds. While there are no scientific data that would connect Moore's brain injury with the dehydrating process of weight reduction, enervation may have helped open him to Ramos' attack. (Moore's hands began to drop from their usual defensive position as early as the fifth round.)

Emile Griffith may also be having trouble making weight. After his fight with Rodriguez his legs cramped, and he had to be helped from his dressing-room chair into the shower. His manager blamed "soft" ring padding, but this bothered no one else. Doctors agree that muscle cramps are a frequent sign of dehydration. Torres, knocked out by Cruz in the "junior" welterweight fight, also had trouble making the weight. In fact, before the weigh-in his camp talked of giving him a diarrheal pill to make him lighter for the scales. They finally decided against it. Again, no scientific study ever has been made of weight-reduction methods employed by boxers. One should, and a boxing commission is the obvious agency to authorize it. If the California commission hopes to benefit boxing, it will press for answers to some of the questions stated here.

In the meantime, the remarks uttered by Sugar Ramos when he heard of Moore's collapse must stand as the valedictory in this tragic affair.

"I did not want to hurt Moore," Ramos said. "In the ring the fighters are partners. They put on the match. Not to hurt or kill, but to show skill and win the challenge. After the fight my opponent is my brother. But this tragedy is a thing all fighters must live with. It might have been me who was badly injured. Knowing that it could happen, I accept it, and perhaps so did Moore. Perhaps yesterday was his destiny and mine some other day."

PHOTOJACK SHEEDY AND GEORGE LONG PHOTOJACK SHEEDY AND GEORGE LONGWith the end of the fateful 10th round only seconds away, Referee George Latka restrains Ramos as the beaten Moore collapses over rope PHOTOJACK SHEEDY AND GEORGE LONGSTRAPPED TO A STRETCHER, UNCONSCIOUS MOORE IS CARRIED TO AN AMBULANCE PHOTOJACK SHEEDY AND GEORGE LONGFOLLOWING HIS VICTORY, RAMOS CELEBRATES WITH CO-WINNER RODRIGUEZ (LEFT)
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)