Boxing: The expert touch of boxing's `diplomat'

Ken Jones looks at the colourful life of a resilient fighter who could talk as fast as he punched
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WHEN ARCHIE MOORE arrived here in May 1956 to defend the undisputed light-heavyweight championship against Yolande Pompey bets were foolishly struck on the basis of his corpulence.

Getting together with Moore at his training quarters in Windsor, boxing writers of the time asked how he could possibly make the 12st 7lb limit without going to the ring in a weakened condition.

Moore, who was probably around 14st at the outset of his preparation, told them not to worry. "I was given a secret recipe by a dying Aborigine under a gumtree in a desert near Woorawoorwoorowwoora. At least I figured he was dying - he looked mighty sick," he said. "I was in Australia at the time, which was just as well because that was where he was. And he made me promise I would never tell the secret of this semi-vanishing oil until he died. Well, how do I know he's dead. I ain't taking no chances."

As the Daily Mirror's sport's columnist of that era pointed out, Moore actually had not been in Australia since the summer of 1940, "and spent most of the time in such `deserts' as Melbourne, Adelaide and Sydney" - but, of course, this cast absolutely no reflection on the story.

In truth, Moore's weight loss was brought about by punishing sessions in the gymnasium for which he wore a sweat suit tightened at the neck, wrists and just above his knees. The sweat which poured off his muscular body was enough to fill a tea cup.

Another of the disciplines Moore employed to meet the problem of making a weight at which he was no longer comfortable was unsettling for fellow diners.

Like most fighters Moore was a hearty eater and supportive of the contemporary theory that steaks provided most nourishment. But, ever mindful of his weight, Moore would chew and and chew until he had got all the goodness out of the meat and then discard the tissue into a bucket.

If not a losing battle, things did not work out entirely to Moore's satisfaction. On the morning of the fight, before weighing in, he had to spend some time in a Turkish bath, which explained why he had to pace his effort carefully before stopping Pompey in the 10th round.

Moore's prudent strategy combined with Pompey's understandable reluctance to take chances made quickly for a contest that did not fulfil expectations. Taking heed of the crowd's growing displeasure the referee, Jack Hart, warned Moore that unless he put action into his work he would forfeit his title.

Afterwards, in his dressing-room, Moore was asked if he had been worried by Hart's admonishment. With great dignity, Moore replied: "I thought he was very rude."

Long before an explosion in the telecommunications industry, Moore was internationally famous, a fighter of three decades whose true age was a mystery. His mother said he was born in 1913, making him almost 85 on his death this week. Moore insisted he was born in 1916. His mother said he was born in Benoit, Mississippi; Moore said it was Collinsville, Illinois.

There was nothing mysterious about Moore's prowess in the ring, however. Cagey, evasive and a fast puncher he held the light-heavyweight title for 10 years from 1952 - by then 39, longer than any other fighter. When Moore did not like the way he was treated by the boxing community, he campaigned against perceived wrongs. When a sanctioning body threatened to take away his title for refusing to defend it at their time of bidding, he appealed to the United Nations.

President Eisenhower once invited Moore to the White House for a meeting on juvenile delinquency. "Are you a Republican or a Democrat?" Eisenhower asked. "Neither," Moore replied. "I'm a diplomat."

Fighting at a time when purses were only a fraction of what they are today Moore made money where he could. He sold used airplanes. When Moore fought in San Diego he took the ring announcer's microphone to advertise a restaurant - "The Chicken Shank" - he owned there.

In retirement Moore was recruited to work with George Foreman. Before Foreman knocked out Joe Frazier in 1973 to become the heavyweight champion, Moore forecast the outcome in near perfect detail. "How can you be so sure?" he was asked. "Because I'm an expert," he replied.

All the men Moore fought - including Rocky Marciano, and Muhammad Ali for the heavyweight title (when he was 49) - conceded that to him.