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Heart of a Mongoose
By Jason Petock (March 24, 2004) 
Archie Moore
He was a brave, valiant soul. A warrior of pure heart and even purer commitment. In the course of 29 years he stepped in-between the ropes, past the adoring and indifferent fans, a total of 228 times, just 4 shy of Fritzie Zivic at 232. It has been said that he was the last ring craftsman of his time, and that there is yet to come another for some while to match his ring prowess.

Archibald Lee Moore’s career came to light when he was 15 years old. Interestingly enough, it was his race that made him choose his profession. He theorized that boxing was the only was he could see an African American rise above his condition in those days, one often of poverty and desperation. His birth name was actually Archie Lee Wright, but after he moved to St. Louis with his uncle Cleveland and aunt Willie Moore, he adopted the name out of convenience.

One day he sat with his aunt and pondered his future. “I had thought about what I could do, and I told my auntie I wanted to fight,” he was quoted as saying. “I had to fight. For a black man starting a career, that was the only way. It was the only way.” These words would resonate through Archie’s career and serve as a mantra for the man’s rise to prominence.

Moore was a skinny youth, so he had to come up with innovative exercises to build up his body for his newfound career. He seemed to put more thought and effort into his training than any other fighter before him. One of his exercises was walking downstairs, or around the block once or twice numerous times daily – on his hands. He also developed his arms and shoulders by doing chin ups. It was reported that once he did 255 chin ups in one instance. He stated once in recollection, “The idea was to take myself out of Archie and put me into the image. I tried to visualize what I would do to Archie if I were the fellow in the mirror. I wanted to anticipate the reaction to my moves. I learned boxing from the beginning to end and from the end to beginning.” It was his tireless persistence and innovative nature that developed him into the fighter that he was.

The “Mongoose” participated in many early “bootleg fights” during his career. One of the earliest was with Bill Simms at Poplar Bluff, in 1935. He KO’d him in 2 rounds. He was a fast learner, and fought in Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Illinois, while picking up a little “scratch” on the side as an amateur. During those times fighters essentially learned their craft the hard way. They came up fast or didn’t come up at all. There was no room for error, and victory was more of a means of survival than glory.

Archie’s first pro bout was against Murray Allen in 1936 at Quincy, Illinois. he won a decision and earned his first broken right hand in the process. Moore earned $3.00, which happened to be $2.00 less than the cost of a boxing license. Moore recalled in an interview, “The commission was very generous. When they told me that I’d have to take out the license, they agreed to waive the other $2.00. I didn’t fight in that state again until 1951. By then, I guess the license had expired.”

He won 13 fights in a row after that, all by KO, lost his next 3 by decisions, and won his 17th bout by a decision. The first of his recorded KO’s was over Kneibert Davidson. In 1937, he fought 12 times and won the Middleweight Championships of Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma. All his 12 victories were by KO.

Archie Moore went to California in 1938, always traveling and looking for victories, and always finding what he was looking for. He faced many prominent Middleweights of that era. Guys like Swede Berglund, Eddie Booker and Harold Romero. For many years he moved around a great deal earning little recognition. He fought in Australia and Tasmania, winning 4 of his 7 fights there by KO, the other 3 by decision. The constant traveling and staying busy is mirror to Jack Dempsey’s life. Another common bond both men had was their manager, Jack “Doc” Kearns. Kearns got the title of “Doc” from Dempsey, he was never a doctor.

The “Mongoose” cut through all comers in 1941 with Kearns by his side, and finally achieved notoriety, becoming the 5th ranked in his division. March of that year he collapsed in San Diego from a perforated ulcer. After 2 operations he returned to the ring in 1942, and won his first 5 fights by KO. But it wasn’t for another 11 years and 54 KO’s later that he got to fight Joey Maxim for the Lightweight Championship on December 17, 1952, 4 days after his birthday. After that he won 13 fights, 2 rematches with Maxim, and had just begun to earn the decent money he had toiled so long for. At a routine physical prior to the scheduled Frankie Daniels bout, it was discovered that there was something wrong with Archie’s heart. The fight was off and was supposed to be a precursor for Moore vs. Nino Valdes, the No. 2 ranked Heavyweight at the time.

It was thought that Moore would never fight again. All bet’s were off it seemed. His doctors didn’t see much promise in his condition, and it was the first time in his career that he actually appeared defeated.

Doc Kearns and Moore decided to try Ford Hospital in Detroit, for a second opinion, even if the horizon appeared hopeless. Kearns was determined to see his fallen warrior rise from the ashes of tragedy, and Archie’s will was so great that nothing would stand in his way of victory, not even a bum ticker. It was assessed that Archie had an irregular heart beat that was correctable. They put him on bed rest and began feeding him medication every 2 hours for 4 days straight. On the 5th day they gave him an electrocardiogram and his heartbeat was normal again. Archie Moore had beaten the odds once more and lived to fight another day.

Rocky Marciano fought Archie Moore at Yankee Stadium, which was Marciano’s final bout. Marciano once told Moore, “When you had me down in the second round there, Archie, it was too close!” Moore replied graciously as always and said, “Rocky, it’s like I’ve always said – it was a pleasure to fight you.” He was a gentleman and a hero to the end and there has yet come a fighter to possess his ring generalship, craftiness, power or skill.

The man had the heart of a mongoose and carved his notch out of the annuls of boxing greatness and into our hearts as fans. This article is for him.
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