Archie Moore, “The Old Mongoose”, best known for his 10-year reign as Light Heavyweight Champion and dropping Heavyweight Champion Rocky Marciano in the second round of his title challenge in 1955, started out his career like so many other champions, as a struggling contender looking to force his way to the upper echelons of the sport.
Moore, born in Bennoit, Missouri, fought the early part of his career in Mid-Western cities like St. Louis, Indianapolis and Cincinnati, changing managers numerous times but often stealing the show from the main attractions with his performances in six and eight round preliminary contests. After headlining smaller shows in the Mid-West, Moore’s newest manager Felix Thurman brought him west to California in an attempt to advance his career. Despite losing one of his early contests to the experienced, heavy-handed southpaw ‘Bandit’ Romero over ten rounds, Moore scored eight victories on the west coast, including avenging the loss to Romero with an eighth-round stoppage, and returned home to St Louis to continue his career.
Scoring five victories on his return to St. Louis, Moore then suffered a temporary setback, losing a ten-round decision to 100-fight veteran and former title challenger Teddy Yarosz, before heading back to San Diego. Moore’s second trip to California was less fruitful. His first fight against Jack Coggins was ruled a no contest due to neither man trying. Moore won the rematch over ten rounds but had another controversial ending in a fight with Freddie Dixon two months later that was ruled a technical draw after Moore ended proceedings with an uppercut that strayed low.
Moore returned to St. Louis but struggled to impress against the defensive minded Honeyboy Jones upon his arrival. Moore won the ten round decision but was suspended by the Missouri commission for six months (Jones for one year) for the poor showing. Moore returned to California but dropped a six-round decision to Shorty Hogue and his career appeared to be at a standstill. Moore left his manager Felix Thurman and signed his contract over to Jack Richardson.
Richardson had made a connection in Australia with Stadiums Ltd, who ran boxing in Australia with control of the main stadiums in every major city and had sent fighters under his management to Australia previously. Stadiums Ltd representative Charlie Lucas was in the USA in 1939 to look for opponents to give competitive bouts with two local middleweights Ron Richards and Fred Henneberry, who had already fought each other seven times and were in negotiations for an eighth bout for the British Empire middleweight title. Moore, looking for a way to further his career, left for Australia with his new manager looking to make a name.
Moore was to meet the Australian middleweight and heavyweight champion Richards upon his arrival but Richards’ rival Henneberry opposed this bout taking place until they had fought for the eighth time. Richards, ranked number four in the world by The Ring Magazine, had taken the domestic middleweight title from Henneberry in their seventh fight in 1936 with a tenth-round knockout and had defeated a number of American fighters since that victory, including future world light heavyweight champion Gus Lesnevich. Since being knocked out by Richards, Henneberry had toured the UK and had fought one bout in the USA, a draw over eight rounds with Georgie Abrams at Madison Square Garden. Henneberry had also defeated Ken Overlin and, considering he was three wins a piece with Richards (and one draw), Henneberry was determined for a tie breaker with his rival and worried that if Richards lost to an unknown American, it could damage the appeal of their fight.
Moore arrived in Sydney on January 23rd and set up training camp in Megalong Valley in the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney. With Henneberry and Richards due to clash on February 26th, Moore took time to shed the excess pounds he had gained on the voyage by doing six miles of roadwork each day in the mountains. Moore claims to have learned the technique that allowed him to still make the light heavyweight limit well into his 40s while training in Megalong Valley. A local Aborigine, who traded the secret for the red sweater that Moore was wearing, said that he was able to get his energy from chewing, but not swallowing, his meat. Moore reportedly kept up this practise for the remainder of his career.
By mid February Archie commenced gym work at Ern McQuillan’s gym in Sydney and impressed local reporters with his workouts. Moore was temporarily booked to face Richards, whether he won or loss against Henneberry, a fortnight after the Empire middleweight title bout. Moore was in attendance for the Richards-Henneberry bout, in which Richards overcame a slow start to punish Henneberry in the second half in one of the best bouts seen in Sydney in years. Henneberry was out on his feet and covered in blood when he intentionally head-butted Richards in the eleventh round and earned himself a disqualification in front of 14,000 fans. It was the third time that Henneberry had been disqualified against Richards.
Archie was to meet Richards two weeks after the Henneberry clash, but Moore suffered a bout of gastric influenza which postponed the bout. Moore only wanted a short postponement but Richards signed to meet Puerto Rican boxer Atilio Sabatino on March 18. Sabbatino, who Richards had previously fought four times, scored a surprise victory over Richards in January prior to Moore’s arrival so Richards relished the chance for revenge. The new date for the Moore-Richards bout was the 8th of April, which would have left Moore out of the ring for four months, so he took a tune-up bout in Melbourne against former Australian welterweight champion Jack McNamee. Richards made short work of Sabbatino in Sydney, stopping him on a cut eyebrow in the third round.
Making an impressive showing in his long-awaited Australian debut, Moore felt McNamee out in the first round before starting his attack late in the opener, opening a cut over McNamee’s eye with a lead before ripping in a left hook to the head and a right to the heart just before the bell. Moore continued to duck under the Australian’s leads in the second and third rounds and worked the body almost exclusively. A left to the body put McNamee down in the fourth for a count of seven before the referee halted the contest at the conclusion of the fourth round with McNamee not in Moore’s league.
The Australian media were labelling Moore as the most dangerous opponent Richards had ever faced after his showing against McNamee. The delays and recent performances by both men only built the anticipation of the bout. The contest would be twice more postponed, this time by Richards, who requested an extra week to ready himself after hearing of the skills Moore possessed. This was granted and the fight moved to the 15th of April but after that week had passed Richards requested another week. At this point Jack Richardson was threatening to take Archie home if Richards pulled out. Stadiums Ltd told Richards he could only have an extra three days or Moore would be matched with someone else. Richards agreed to the new date and the much-anticipated fight would take place on the 18th of April at Sydney Stadium.
Moore hired his recent opponent Jack McNamee as his chief sparring partner and McNamee traveled with him back to Sydney where he drew a regular attendance for his workouts at Limutkin’s Gym. While Archie worked out, his manager Richardson did all the talking for his charge. In one afternoon Richardson stated that Richards’ best opponent Lesnevich “wouldn’t lay a glove on Archie in 20 rounds,” middleweight champion Ceferino Garcia was a bum and Moore would knock him out in three rounds and that if Ron Richards were to defeat Moore he should go to America and win the world middleweight title. Richards, however, was the more experienced man with well over 100 fights in his career and many of them over the 12 or 15 round distance and this, combined with his one punch power (particularly in his right hand), had many reporters tipping their local star to topple the import.
Richards was born on an Aboriginal Mission near Ipswich in south-east Queensland. His father was a skilled axeman and bare-knuckle boxer and Richards followed in his father’s footsteps, both with the axe and the fists, fighting in boxing tents that toured agricultural shows in regional Queensland, facing all comers. Richards rose to prominence with a series of wins in 1932, claiming the state middleweight and heavyweight titles in 1932 before travelling to Sydney where he faced the stadium stars Fred Henneberry and Ambrose Palmer six and three times respectively (Palmer and Henneberry also fought each other three times) between 1933 and 1935.
Richards never defeated Palmer (also losing a fourth bout to him in 1938) and only scored two victories in his first six with Henneberry, both via disqualification. Despite these losses, Richards would earn his status as Australia’s best drawcard thanks to his battles with Lesnevich, Ossie Stewart, Deacon Lee Kelly and the Alabama Kid, as well as his recent two victories over Henneberry, which gave him a 4-3-1 lead in their series. Both fighters made the middleweight limit at the 2pm weigh in on the day of the fight.
The crowd of approximately 9,000 were almost sent home early as the fight was almost ended in the opening minute. The two men came into close quarters and exchanged on the inside and as Moore backed off, Richards unloaded his potent right hand and put Moore on the deck. Archie was clearly hurt but was up at the count of six and survived Richards follow up assault by boxing defensively until the bell but was punished up close by Richards’ uppercuts. In the second round Moore tried to establish his jab and managed to evade many of Richards’ hard counter blows by keeping the Australian champion on the end of his punches, although he was punished when Richards was able to force the action up close.
Richards bloodied Moore’s nose in the third round with his own hard jab and continued to build his lead on points with hard shots on the inside. Moore had success with his jab in the fourth and opened a slight cut over Richards’ left eye. The eye was showing signs of swelling as he returned to his corner to end the fourth. The American had his range in the fifth and punished Richards with his jab. A pair of hard rights landed for Moore towards the end of the round, but Richards returned with a hard right of his own which sent Moore back to the outside and the safety of his jab
A second cut, this one under Richards’ right eye, was opened up in the sixth round and while Richards was having his own success with the jab, Moore was scoring the cleaner blows and seemed to have evened up the bout on the scorecards. Richards, perhaps sensing the urgency of his facial injuries, rallied in the seventh round and split Moore’s lip with his own jab. Moore still landed his lead left frequently and made Richards’ swings look wild and amateurish but in the eighth round another right hand from the Australian champion staggered Moore momentarily. Moore weathered the storm and regained control of the fight by the end of the round, punishing Richards with jabs and left hooks to the head.
Richards was fading in the ninth round and while he tried to land the equaliser, his blows were wide and wild, and Moore punished him with his left hand. The right eye continued to bleed and swell, and Richards could not move away from Moore’s left hand or adequately protect his eye. Moore continued to damage Richards’ eyes in the tenth round and referee Joe Wallis checked on Richards at the end of the round. After examining his injuries and speaking with Richards’ corner, Wallis stopped the bout and awarded the win to Moore on a technical knockout.
After the bout Moore was asked by ‘The Sun’ how bad he was hurt in the first round when he visited the canvas. “I saw a thousand opponents, the ring seemed to tilt and I thought I was going to fall out of it. But I know that if there was one thing I would ever have to do in my life it was to get up off that floor. To me it was like fighting for the world championship. I was all strung up with the idea that I had to keep fighting.”
Richards’ manager Jack Munro claimed Richards was under trained and blamed Stadiums Ltd for forcing him to take the fight for the loss. “Ron was beaten because he was not in the best of condition. That may sound as if we are making excuses, that is not so. Archie Moore proved himself a great fighter and we give him every credit. Richards would have been fit for an ordinary fight but tonight’s bout was one that required him to be in the pink. Stadiums Ltd forced Richards into the fight and must take their share of the blame for the result.”
The attendance numbers were between 8,000 and 10,000 depending on the source, which was seen as small considering the build up to the fight. The repeated postponements were to blame for this but Moore’s first performance in Sydney had made him into a draw and many were eager to see his return. While Richards was after a rematch once his eyes had healed, Moore stated he was eager to face other opponents prior to the rematch. The opponents were lining up too, with both Fred Henneberry and Atilio Sabatino issuing challenges to Moore in the days after his win over Ron Richards.