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Leonard Morrow–The California Kid: Part II

A talented light-heavyweight/heavyweight boxer from the stacked 40's and 50's
Publish Date: 09/11/2017
Fact checked by: Mike Goodpaster
Morrow ready to tangle with Godoy

An eye for an eye

After pulling off the biggest upset of his career, a win that put him in the number 2 spot at light-heavyweight, Morrow wasn’t slowing down and just over a month later on July 13, he was matched with the Irish Blockbuster, Fitzie Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick was a fighter that didn’t look to put much work in once he was in the ring, he was going to end the show in a hurry and could put you away with either paw. Fitzpatrick, who was deaf, was an aggressive, two-fisted blitz of power that was always entertaining and sure to give the crowd their money’s worth. For Morrow this was a great matchup to take after beating Archie Moore. Fitzpatrick was a serious knockout artist but beating him would add even more value to Morrow and the fight would be a guaranteed thriller.

Walking into the Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles, California in front of 5,000 fans, Morrow was a 3-1 favorite for a change. In the first round, Fitzpatrick showed his lethal right to Morrow, smashing him on the chin and leaving him leaning on the ropes to think about what he got himself into—it was an early lead for the Irishman. In the second round, Blitzy Fitzy as he was sometimes called, unleashed another lethal right-hand smash on Morrow’s chin dropping him into the ropes and down to the canvas. The count from referee Benny Whitman got to nine before Morrow could rise; once to his feet, Morrow started on a vicious assault on Fitzie with his left that didn’t stop until the round ended.

Morrow’s left eye was smashed shut coming out for the third round but he was on a seek-and-destroy mission now and he had found his range. Morrow sent a hard right to Fitzpatrick’s chin that dropped him for a count of two. A right of Morrow’s would find its marked again before the round was over, sending Fitzpatrick down for a count of five. When Fitzpatrick got back to his feet he got a barrage of lefts to end out the round. The fourth round was much like the third with Morrow sending Fitzie down with a right hand for a count of six. Another right later in the round dropped him for a count of nine. Fitzie got to his feet and was clearly hurt but not only did he manage to last the round, he finished strongly.

In the fifth round, it was a lightning-quick right hand that put the Irish Blockbuster down for the count with just over a minute gone. Morrow had won in one of the most thrilling fights on the West Coast that year and was set for a rematch with Archie Moore in Baltimore on July 26, 1948. However, the rematch with Moore would have to be canceled because during the fight with Fitzpatrick Morrow injured his back. Dr. Samuel H. Goldman checked Morrow out and linked the injury to the Fitzpatrick fight.

Instead, Morrow would be matched with Fitzpatrick in a return fight just a month later. The rematch went a little faster and Morrow would stop Fitzpatrick in the second round with a nasty left hook—the weapon of choice during the contest’s entirety.

Throughout Morrow’s career, he carried the confidence of a world champion and it was only growing. Morrow’s managers, Billy Newman and Allen Moore usually carried the same confidence that the California Kid had, but when Morrow was scheduled to meet Bob Foxworth just two weeks after he fought Fitzpatrick they weren’t thrilled with the matchup. Morrow would hear none of it because he believed he could whip any man in his weight in the world so the match was going to go forward as planned.

Foxworth stood six feet tall with broad shoulders, a powerful build, and legs that looked like they belonged on an NFL fullback. He had a sensational amateur background, winning the 1942 & 1943 National AAU championship at light-heavyweight, and the Chicago Golden Gloves Tournament in 1946, which he did in devastating fashion. The Chicago Tribune in March of 1946, said Bob Foxworth was considered the greatest 175-pound fighter to come out of the Golden Gloves tournaments since Joe Louis. He was no Joe Louis however, as he found out when he fought an exhibition with Joe Louis in January of 1947, losing every round while wearing 16 oz. gloves. Afterward, Foxworth said, “He’s got the fastest hands of any man I’ve ever seen.” The exhibition brought Foxworth’s name out to many of the public and the fact Louis was willing to face him in an exhibition showed he had a good reputation.

Bob Foxworth relaxing

Before facing Morrow, Foxworth carried a pro record of 19 wins, with 15 of them coming by the knockout route, and 3 losses, with one being a stoppage to Oakland Billy Smith. One of Foxworth’s other losses was in his 9th fight against McKinley English which was a wrongful decision that was mixed with foul tactics from English. The other was a split decision loss to the veteran Joey Maxim where Foxworth was giving Maxim a rough fight until he started to gas.

One of Foxworth’s wins came over Fitzie Fitzpatrick in the 5th round. After the fight, one spectator said, “He’ll be heavyweight champion of the world inside of two years. He hits 100% harder than John Henry Lewis did at his best.” Former fighter and referee, Ray Palmer, agreed and added, “Foxworth never missed a punch.”

To add to the win over Fitzpatrick, Foxworth became a father the very next day and like Morrow, he was on a mission to get to the top and beat the best in the world. Foxworth knew how important his fight with Morrow was and unlike many of Morrow’s other opponents, Foxworth wasn’t going to underestimate his rival. Morrow trained for his fight with Foxworth at his manager Billy Newman’s gym, while Foxworth worked out at Harry Fine’s gym. Morrow’s California light-heavyweight title wouldn’t be on the line due to the fact that Foxworth hadn’t been a resident of the state for six months as required by the rules.

Foxworth, who was known as Bobcat Bob, wore a robe with a gold and red bobcat on the back and before every fight he would wear his solid gold replica of a boxing glove that had a large diamond in it as a sign of good luck. It was given to him for winning the Golden Gloves 175-pound title in Chicago in 1946. The Morrow fight was no different, and Foxworth made sure he had his lucky piece.

In the first round, Morrow glided into the center of the ring with his normal self-assuredness and met Foxworth head on. It was a pier 6 brawl from the opening bell. During the first round, Morrow’s left eye was closed shut in the mayhem of right and left-hand punches. Both men were letting it all go in every second of the round, both men were swinging for the fences looking for the home run until the bell sounded. Morrow’s corner worked on the eye diligently until they had it back open for the next round, but one of Foxworth’s clubbing right hands closed the eye shut for good in the third. According to Alan Ward of the Oakland Tribune, another right hand of Bobcat Bob’s landed just two inches lower and Morrow’s face swelled to grotesque proportions immediately. Foxworth went on a merciless attack with right-hand punches to the jaw and eye of Morrow. Over and over again and without an answer, Morrow took sledgehammer shots to the eye and jaw as the crowd winced and screamed for the fight to be stopped. Johnny Lotsey who was the referee for the bout seemed to be the only one in the Auditorium who didn’t notice the bad beating that Morrow was taking. As Lotsey skipped around the ring as if he was a kid playing hopscotch, Morrow continued to take heavy right-hand blows to the badly injured eye and swollen jaw from one of the hardest punchers in the light-heavyweight division. It wasn’t Morrow’s legs that were keeping him vertical, it was his heart; he took bombs from Foxworth and until the third round he was giving them right back. He had the courage of ten men but there’s only so much that even he could take.

Morrow went back to his corner after the third round a battered man, his left eye completely shut, his jaw swollen to the size of a grapefruit, and he was exhausted from the punishment he endured. The fight was all but over but referee Lotsey remained deaf to the crowd’s cries for it to be stopped and was completely blind to the fight that was just a few feet away from him.

Without someone stepping in to stop the carnage, there was no way Morrow was going to say he had enough so when the fourth round started, Morrow was off his stool and willing to go out and fight on. Morrow may have been bulldogged in his courage and shown Spartan-like willpower, he only had one body, and it had reached its limits in the fourth. Morrow, who could no longer see out of his left eye, started taking hard rights and lefts again from Foxworth until he fell back onto the middle rope and slid down to his knees. As Morrow slid to the canvas, someone in the crowd must have passed referee Lotsey a note explaining his job to him because he stopped his stroll around the ring and decided to pick up the count that got to eight before he waived the fight off.

A crowd that produced a gate of only $4,641 witnessed one of the most brutal brawls that California has ever seen, along with one of the worst jobs by a referee in boxing history. State Athletic Commissioner Dave Stevenson, who usually sat in a press row seat, east center, had passed away just three days before the bout. Had Stevenson been present there was no way he would have allowed the fight to go on so long, according to Alan Ward.

The next day the Oakland Tribune office was flooded with letters and phone calls from fans bashing Lotsey’s refereeing job—comments such as, “the battle should have been halted in the third round, but the referee was blind until it appeared a fatality may occur.”

Alan Ward from the Oakland Tribune had this to say: “I’m not trying to be an alarmist. But in many years of covering prizefights, I’ve seen a prospectively good pug ruined in a single fight. In a single round for that matter. If Morrow is irreparably damaged, physically and emotionally, he can charge it to a single round, three minutes, of last night’s main event. Few fighters under my observation have taken a more savage beating than Morrow absorbed in the third.”

The talk of the brutal bout was the same no matter who you asked. Dick Friendlich of the San Francisco Chronicle called it “One of the most savage slugging duels of the year.”

Dr. C. E. Burton, the house physician, urged Morrow not fight for a while and to have a further examination done. “The boy needs rest, time for his injuries to heal.” Morrow was then checked out by two doctors, one for his badly swollen jaw and face, the other for Morrow’s badly damaged left eye. The rumors from the first x-ray that came out were that Morrow had a broken jaw but additional x-rays showed that Morrow had suffered a broken cheek bone. The punch that Alan Ward had reported that landed just two inches under the eye of Morrow and had immediately swollen his face to grotesque proportions was the blow that did it.

Billy Newman, one of Morrow’s managers, denied the claims, saying that Morrow had simply lost a tooth in the back of his mouth. It appears that Newman was trying to cover up the eye injury and downplay it so Morrow didn’t seem like he was going to be yesterday’s news. During this time in Oakland, with the boxing fans not showing up in large numbers for the fights, it was a big concern for a boxer to be forgotten or given no hope of a return after such a loss.

Morrow’s eye and cheekbone weren’t the only injuries in the bout. Foxworth had scheduled to fight Harold Guss after the Leonard Morrow bout but the heaviest blow in his short career came in the medical room of the Illinois Athletic commission. Chief medical examiner Dr. John J. Drammis’ examination revealed that Foxworth had suffered a detached retina. John Wright, Foxworth’s manager, tried to say Foxworth’s vision was impaired because of something he had eaten, but the commission wasn’t buying it and Foxworth admitted while being questioned that his vision wasn’t right since his fight with Leonard Morrow. Foxworth’s career as a boxer was over.

An old rival

After nearly seven months out of the ring, Morrow was back in action. He was faced off against John Donnelly who he had previously beaten before. Morrow would stop Donnelly in eight rounds in their ten-round fight but he carried a lot of ring rust and his performance was poor. Morrow missed a lot of his punches and his timing was way off from his long absence from the ring.

On April 5, 1949, in the Olympic Auditorium, Morrow was matched with Watson Jones. Morrow dominated Jones in every round using his lightning-quick left hand. After Morrow won the first seven rounds he pummeled Jones without an answer until referee Billy Kershner stopped the bout in the eighth round.

Morrow was still taking the full speed ahead approach to his career and after the Jones fight, he was scheduled to face Oakland Billy Smith who he had planned on fighting earlier in his career. Morrow and Smith had a feud going back to when Morrow first started his career. Morrow was a sparring partner for Smith and instead of being awed by Smith’s reputation for his one-punch power, he unloaded on the veteran and treated him like any other opponent. The sessions gained in intensity and so did their rivalry. After one of their last sparring sessions Smith snarled, “Gimme a crack at that fresh kid, he needs a lesson or two.” Morrow wasn’t too impressed with the veteran either, retorting, “I’d like to fight that Smith man. He isn’t so much.”

This was one reason why Morrow wanted to match with Smith until he lost to Bert Lytell. Smith was flashy and had a mean streak. Bert Lytell saw it first hand when they faced off. Smith was suspended by the Cincinnati Boxing Commission when he headbutted and fouled Bert Lytell and spit in his face during their bout. Morrow didn’t care much for Smith’s disposition and he didn’t think Smith could whip him either. They were signed to fight at the Auditorium in Oakland, California on May 4, 1949. The betting was about even going for the fight but after Alan Ward had seen the beating that Morrow had taken from Bob Foxworth, he didn’t seem to think the kid was going to be the same and picked Smith to win.

Talk on Bash Boulevard seemed to have it an even shot for either man but most didn’t see it going the distance no matter who won. Morrow and Smith, of course, picked themselves to win by knockout. Morrow’s state title wasn’t on the line for his bout with Smith but promoter Ray Carlen still expected a gate between $7,000 and $10,000.

Smith worked out at Harry Fine’s gym in Oakland at 1:30 in the afternoon. He got in several sessions with Bob Dunlap, a local heavyweight until Dunlap suffered a cut under one of his eyes. Smith also used John L. Davis for his speed drills, a local lightweight. Morrow was training for Smith at Christy Lewis’ in Oakland but had to change to Billy Newman’s in San Francisco because he had trouble getting sparring partners in Oakland. Morrow was having his workouts at Newman’s at 1 o’clock in the afternoon. Even though both men were having trouble getting sparring partners at first, they eventually got in the sessions they needed and both appeared to be in top condition on the night of the fight. Even with both men in great shape and a personal feud between the two heavy-hitters, the ten-round main event didn’t hit the mark that Ray Carlen had hoped but the fight did bring in a $5,159 gate.

With the dislike for one another, there was no doubt in the fans minds that this was going to be an all-action fight—both men were going to leave their running shoes at home. In the first round, Morrow took an early lead with stinging left jabs that landed at will, followed by rapid right-hand smashes altering from Smith’s face and midsection. Second round, Morrow had Smith hurt early with blistering punches as he went on a merciless assault. Just before the bell sounded to end the 2nd, both fighters started to trade punches and continued to throw after the bell. It was all referee Frankie Brown could do to break them up.

Morrow’s face was bloodied from a cut over his right eye and a cut over his nose when he started the 3rd round. Morrow hurt Smith early with a left hook and followed it with a straight right hand that staggered him. Midway through the round Morrow landed with a fast left and followed up with a right hand that Smith never saw. It dropped Smith for a nine-count. When Smith arose, he was still feeling the effects of the blows and he went into a quick retreat while Morrow chased him into a corner. Morrow started letting his hands go like two jackhammers to the battered Smith without any return until referee Frankie Brown stopped the fight with only twenty-nine seconds remaining in the round. Once again Morrow showed the signs of a champion and he wasn’t going to sit still after this win, he wanted to keep pushing forward.

On July 5, 1949, at the Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles, Morrow was matched with a heavyweight veteran Jimmy Bivins in the main event. Bivins had been the duration light-heavyweight champion as well as the duration heavyweight champion, and been in the ring with about every top-notch fighter in the light-heavyweight and heavyweight divisions. Bivins at this time had made seven ring appearances in California before facing Morrow, and against such men as Watson Jones two times, Turkey Thompson, Bobby Zander, Johhny Hayes, Oakland Billy Smith, and Pat Valentino. Bivins won all seven of those bouts but going into his fight with Morrow he would be a 10-8 underdog.

When the bell sounded for the first round Bivins fought mechanically, as Carl Whorton described it. While showing a stiff left hook he only made subtle movements and moved just enough to evade the shots of Morrow. Bivins didn’t seem to want to waste any energy or use any unnecessary movements. In the clinches, Bivins had his younger rival tied up like a knotted shoe lace.

In the third round, Morrow started to unload a two-fisted barrage of punches that had the veteran backing away. However, Bivins was never in danger and his crafty ring tactics and calculated boxing put him back in the mix of things but Morrow still seemed to take the round. Bivins remained fighting in the same wily, yet mechanical way while tying Morrow up in the clinches. This continued until later in the eighth round when Morrow got an opening and proceeded to let loose a quick attack to Bivins’ head until the gong sounded. According to the Los Angeles Times, it was clear to see that Bivins was winded going into the last two rounds and Morrow took advantage. For the last two rounds it mostly Morrow dancing swiftly while firing away with his piston-like jab. Bivins was constantly trying to tie Morrow up with sloppy bear hugs while the younger man let his punches go. Just before the bell sounded to end the fight, Morrow let both of his hands smash into Bivins to end the fight.

A disappointing crowd of 2,588 paid $4,837 at the gate for the fight.

Carl Whorton of the LA Times thought Bivins won by one point. Referee Frankie Van had it very close and scored it to Morrow by one point. Judges Mushy Callahan and Tommy Herman had Morrow by 6 points. Jack Gallagher from the Tribune later said the fight between Bivins and Morrow was one that could have gone either way. Many who sat ringside seemed to think that Bivins had too much of an early lead and deserved the win.

After the fight with Bivins, Morrow picked up a win over the rugged Johnny Flynn about three weeks later. He was then matched with ring veteran Arturo Godoy who had been in the ring with Joe Louis twice, lasting the distance in the first fight with the champ and giving him trouble. The second fight Louis battered Godoy and cut him to shreds, stopping him for the first time in his career. Morrow would go on to get a TKO stoppage over Godoy, giving him his second stoppage loss. However, the TKO on the record books is a bit deceiving, Godoy was stopped by the referee in their lackluster ten-round bout for excessive clinching, Morrow tried to fight but Godoy wasn’t interested.


The end of the trail

After his fight with Arturo Godoy, Morrow was matched with Jimmy Bivins on September 21, 1949, at the Oakland Auditorium. Bivins had wanted a rematch after what he told the Oakland Tribune was a hometown decision in his first meeting with Morrow. Alan Ward from the Tribune spoke highly of Morrow after beating Bivins saying, “It wouldn’t surprise me a bit if one year from now, two years at the most, Leonard Morrow is heavyweight champion of the world. And I’m not the victim of sunstroke, either.”

Bivins had his own idea and told his trainer, Johnny Papke, that if he lost to Morrow again he would shine his shoes every day for a year. Bivins wasn’t going to take the kid lightly and was going to make sure the judges couldn’t vote against him this time.

At the opening bell, it seemed that Bivins was going out to take a commanding lead like he had in the first fight but he wasn’t fighting mechanically this time. Morrow looked sluggish and not like his normal self. He was usually light on his feet with tremendous hand speed. He was fighting as if he had weights tied to him. He caught right crosses from Bivins that were landing cleanly. The first three rounds were won by Bivins but not by a big margin. Bivins fought in flurries but landed when he wanted to.

In the fourth and fifth rounds, Morrow took the rounds with his fast left jab that had caused problems for so many others before. The fourth round was the real thriller with both men throwing with bad intentions and mixing it up while the round was ending, and even after the bell. Bivins appeared tired afterward but it didn’t show in the 6th round when Bivins came on strong, landing a beautiful right cross that traveled a mere 6 inches and staggered Morrow. Bivins slowed down in the 7th but Morrow couldn’t seem to take advantage or land anything to back Bivins off.

For the last three rounds, the fight pattern remained the same with Bivins landing short, hard, right crosses and on several occasions, it looked like Morrow was going to hit the deck but Bivins never followed up fast enough to send him down. At the end of the 9th round, it was obvious Morrow needed a KO to win but he showed no signs of being able to land it or hurt Bivins. The knockout blow never came and Bivins won without a dispute.

The gate only produced $3,049 and it was a hard loss to take for Morrow who had been told that if he won he could be expecting bigger paydays with some of the top names.

Morrow once again had been built back up and torn back down, but this time it was a little harder for him to rebuild. Morrow was going to be matched with Oakland Billy Smith in a rematch on Nov 30, 1949, by Jimmy Murray but Morrow wasn’t interested. Allen Moore, one of Leonard’s managers, got Murray on the phone and told him the fight was off. Murray, who figured the fight was going to be a great draw, wasn’t happy—he cussed and complained to Moore until he hung up. Morrow didn’t take the loss from Bivins well and had ballooned up to 205 lbs. and was in no shape for a fight, either mentally or physically. Morrow now had the local promoters mad at him, as well as some of the local fans. Alan Ward who had boasted so heavily about Morrow in the past, including just hours before Morrow lost to Bivins, was now turning on him. Morrow got himself back down to fighting trim but he wasn’t getting the support that he once had. Just like that, everyone was ready to turn on him.

To make things worse, Morrow would once again turn down another offer but with a different motivation this time around. Joe Louis boxed a 10-round no-decision contest against Al Hooseman on December 19, 1949, at the Oakland Auditorium. The show was staged by the American Legion Post No. 5 for the benefit of the Veterans Christmas fund, wearing 10 oz. gloves. Prices were set at $5 for ringside seats and gallery seats set at $1.75. Leonard Morrow was originally matched to fight Louis in the exhibition but instead headed for Toledo, Ohio for a fight with Archie Moore. The California Boxing Commission through the N.B.A. sent a request to the Toledo Boxing Commission to stop the fight between Archie Moore and Leonard Morrow for not going through with the fight in California. Toledo didn’t fall under the jurisdiction of the N.B.A. but they had worked together in the past. The Toledo Commission ruled that the evidence sent in the telegram to stop the fight wasn’t sufficient enough.

Morrow and Archie Moore were scheduled for a rematch on December 13, 1949, at the Sports Arena in Toledo, Ohio. After taking the loss to Bivins so badly, this was not a good matchup for the California Kid. With no tune-up fights, Morrow went into the ring with a focused and motivated Moore who was looking for revenge. Moore had twenty fights since his loss to Morrow, winning all but three, with two of the three losses coming by disqualification. Moore went after Morrow in Toledo and in tenth round the finishing blow was delivered. Morrow fell and struck his head on the edge of the ring. Morrow wouldn’t regain consciousness until he arrived at St. Vincent’s hospital. Morrow was advised to take at least three months off before returning to the ring. Morrow wouldn’t return to the ring until June 4, 1951, when he stopped Ralph KO Hooker in three rounds.

He would work with Gene Fullmer and Rex Layne. He helped prepare the latter for many of his bouts, including his fight with Ezzard Charles; Marv Jensen said, “Morrow is Charles in every thing but name.”

Morrow would continue fighting on and even get a stoppage win over Abel Fernandez when a punch hit him in the throat. After the throat punch, Fernandez decided to hang up his gloves before he or someone else got seriously hurt. He would then take up the acting career that he had always wanted to.

After Morrow stopped fighting he would go on to be a referee for some local fights in California, as well as a boxing judge for some local bouts. Morrow would then go on to open a barber shop in Oakland where he could be seen with the same warm smile that he had in his fighting days and no matter what was there to tear him down…. he would always be ready to rebuild again like the walls of his old school.

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