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Greatest Knockouts of the 1950s: Part 1 - Bloody Elbow
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Many of my regular readers will recall my constant referencing of the "Golden Age of Boxing" and wonder just how good a sport could have been thirty, forty or even fifty years ago. There were no readily available performance enhancing drugs, cardiovascular training methods were archaic, and strength and conditioning didn't exist. Boxing unlike every other sport in the world, has not gone forward in leaps and bounds technically since 50 years ago. In fact it's interesting to note that Floyd Mayweather, considered one of the best fighters pound for pound and the best defensive fighter on the planet, is called a "throw back" due to his old school fighting style that confounds today's square on, combination spamming fighter.
From the 1890s to the 1960s boxing was the world's favourite sporting event and almost every healthy young man strapped on the gloves at some point. Whether it be the gentleman's clubs of London who wagered on and negotiated the bouts, or the young men with no saleable skills aside from their punch, boxing was practised and speculated by a huge portion of society. Due to the huge pool of fighters and the regularity with which they fought, defensive genius came to be of paramount importance. Watch a fighter such as Archie Moore who fought 219 recorded professional fights, then watch a man such as Ricky Hatton and you'll notice that a man who fights a couple of times a year until the age of 30 never has to correct the errors in his dangerous, self sacrificing style. When you fight as often Archie Moore or his contemporaries did, safety and career longevity become of great importance. Consequently there were a great many knockout artists, counter punchers and defensive geniuses around in the 1950s who deserve the attention of the combat sports student today.
Today I have teamed up with our fantastic media man, Zombie Prophet, to examine and comment on some of the high quality gifs he has assembled from the 1950s boxing archives. This is part one of a two part series on the 1950s and if it goes well we hope to do other decades as well so do let us know what you think!
Archie Moore versus Yvon Durelle - 1959
Our first knockout comes courtesy of the aforementioned Archie Moore. Affectionately nicknamed "The Old Mongoose" in his time, Moore became the world light heavyweight champion in 1952 at the age of 36, and ruled until 1962 when he abandoned the title. Moore had met the Canadian, Yvon Durelle in 1958 and had been floored 4 times in the opening rounds before coming back to knock Durelle out in the tenth round, showing the heart of a true champion. In 1959 at age 43, Moore defended his title again in a hotly anticipated rematch against "The Fighting Fisherman".
This is the last of four knockdowns and demonstrates Moore's wiliness in action. Almost every other fighter would be swarming on Durelle and swinging at his head - instead Moore performs an inside slip, towards Durelle's powerful right hand (a signature of Moore) and delivers a ripping left uppercut to the Canadian's body. They pivot around and Moore dispatches his winded foe with a few good punches to the head to put him on his knees for the count.
Floyd Patterson versus Archie Moore - 1956
When Rocky Marciano retired as the undefeated heavyweight champion of the world it was decided that Patterson and Moore were the most deserving contenders. In a true match of experience versus youth as Patterson was just 21 years of age. Patterson was the charge of Cus D'amato who many of you will remember was Mike Tyson's adoptive father and trainer, and as such fought with what the newspapers dubbed a "peek-a-boo" style.
Many great classical style boxers - those who enjoy using the right hand to parry jabs in order to economize on footwork - have proven susceptible to a leaping left hook behind their right hand which is often forward of their chin and ready to parry jabs. Joe Louis was dropped by numerous opponents who shouldn't have given him any trouble with surprise left hooks, and here Archie Moore meets Floyd Patterson's money punch. Patterson's left hook from the deep crouch has been called the "Kangaroo Punch" or more commonly "The Gazelle Punch" and despite the similarities in training that he and Mike Tyson underwent, Tyson's leaping left hook never really captured the distance or grace of Patterson's. Patterson finishes the fight with the hand speed that he was known for. Before the emergence of Cassius Clay (later Muhammad Ali), Patterson was considered the fastest punching heavyweight ever and he certainly carried a power that Ali never rivalled.
Floyd Patterson versus Pete Rademacher - 1957
Pete Rademacher is an interesting case as he is the only man in boxing history to be given a title fight in his professional debut. A sterling amateur record and an olympic gold medal did support Rademacher's case for a title shot, and he certainly backed it up when he dropped Patterson several times in the opening rounds. Patterson rallied soon after however and put Rademacher down for the count in the sixth round.
Though Patterson was known for his left hook he was also a powerful right handed puncher and it was this tool that he used to fell Rademacher. Notice that Patterson clips Rademacher twice with right hooks as he is exiting the pocket. In fact the first right hand is thrown as Rademacher is pushing Patterson away.
Jersey Joe Walcott versus Ezzard Charles - 1951
You've probably all read my gushings over this punch and Jersey Joe before, but this is one of the finest fight finishers I have seen to this day and I don't anticipate there being many better before I'm gone. Jersey Joe Walcott is possibly the savviest fighter in boxing; impoverished for much of his career, feeding a family by working menial jobs and still having time to floor men like Joe Louis and Rocky Marciano in his evenings, Walcott is an inspirational figure and a hypnotic fighter. Ezzard Charles is perhaps the greatest light heavyweight of all time and fought many of the greatest fighters of his era and in fact ever - Walcott, Louis, Marciano.
This bout was finished with a beautiful inside slip past Charles' excellent and dangerous jab, followed by a lead uppercut / hook hybrid that caught Charles at the perfect angle as he dipped into this. The best thing about this punch? Ezzard Charles did everything right - his right hand is up, his lead shoulder is high and he doesn't telegraph the jab at all. The inside slip is fairly offbeat and the inside slip to lead uppercut counter is especially rare because it is a difficult slip followed by an awkward, short punch. The fact that Walcott did this so nonchalantly against one of the greatest technical boxers who ever lived and who had already bested Walcott twice is a credit to how bizarre Walcott's style was. I break down this counter in detail in my book, Advanced Striking.
Rocky Marciano versus Jersey Joe Walcott - 1952
You knew this one would make the list and thanks to Zombie Prophet it appears in the the top notch quality that it deserves. I could watch this gif all day. Rocky Marciano received his title fight after grafting away through the heavyweight division and being forced to knock out his childhood hero, Joe Louis to gain the attention that his ugly, attrition style had not granted him. Walcott had won the title from Ezzard Charles with the knockout listed above and this was his second defence after a rematch with Charles.
Though Walcott beat Marciano from pillar to post for twelve rounds he finally let the Brockton Blockbuster catch up with him in the thirteenth round. Here is just one of many examples in Walcott's career of his unorthodox style playing against him - where he confounded orthodox boxing greats such as Joe Louis and Ezzard Charles, he often struggled against brawlers and big hitters. Throughout the fight Walcott had been deliberately fighting with his back to the ropes - a terrible idea against Marciano who excelled against the ropes. In the thirteenth round Rocky Marciano finally beat Joe Walcott to the punch and demonstrated concisely why trading along the ropes is a terrible idea; the man on the ropes can never get as much power in his strikes as the man who is trapping him there and lacks the freedom of movement to evade them.
For those of you who haven't seen the entire fight, it's definitely worth watching this highlight to see what Walcott had been doing on the ropes throughout the bout.
Rocky Marciano versus Jersey Joe Walcott II - 1953
Due to the dominance Walcott showed through the first fight and the one punch nature of the finish, an immediate rematch was made between the two men. This time Marciano was not forced to show any of his trademark grit as he demonstrated what happens when a fighter with one punch power follows an effective gameplan with discipline. Here Marciano fakes the jab to make Walcott dip with the counter jab, and instead catches Walcott leaning with a hard left hook. While Walcott looked as though he could have continued, he was counted out and never competed again.
Willie Pep versus Lulu Perez - 1954
Even the great ones make mistakes and here is one of the extremely rare examples of Willie Pep getting caught clean. Willie Pep was known as Will o' the Wisp for good reason, he was one of the most evasive boxers of all time. Excluding a TKO loss to the relatively unknown Tommy Collins, the only fighter to make Pep look anything less than superhuman in his defence was the great rough house puncher, Sandy Saddler.
Lulu Perez was nothing too special in terms of boxing skill or even punching power - he was certainly nothing on Sandy Saddler - but this clip amply indicates how circling into a punch can very quickly ruin a fighter's night. Pep goes to perform his signature side step to the left (which was his main offensive technique, circling left until the opponent chased him then circling back the other way with a left straight in a southpaw stance) but instead walks into a jab which stifles him and hides the powerful right that follows. Perez's lack of hesitation in the face of Pep's overconfidence in his usual tricks to slow down the pace of a fight was truly the defining moment of this fight. It's worth noting that some analysts claim that Pep took a dive in this fight but I think it's pretty clear to see that he was genuinely hurt.
Kid Gavilan versus Chuck Davey - 1953
Gavilan was a fantastic, flamboyant Cuban boxer and his appearance here is rather an out of character performance. Gavilan never showed much power in his bouts but against Davey he was able to drop his opponent four times en route to a stoppage. You will notice Gavilan's flurries against Davey often contain the hook / uppercut hybrid for which he was known; the bolo punch.
Here is Gavilan talking about the bolo punch:
Rocky Marciano versus Ezzard Charles - 1954
Another great example of Marciano's heart, this fight was almost stopped due to his face being so badly disfigured and cut by Charles' punches. Running short on time Marciano continued doing what he did best; piling on the pressure and continuing to punch. There isn't a great deal of beautiful offence to watch in this clip, in fact Charles' defence looks pretty damn sharp, but Marciano follows Charles through everything he does. Notice that Rocky misses two wide swings which Charles ducks under then catches Charles coming up from his duck with a short, clubbing right. Notice that Marciano actually walks to his right as he forces his power into the missed left hook, then is forced to pivot back for his right straight. One of the elements of Rocky Marciano's game that few great boxers were ready for is that when he missed punches he didn't return to his stance for fear of a counter, he simply kept throwing.
Notice as Rocky swarms on Charles looking for the finish that he uses his head on Charles' sternum and frees his hands every time Charles tries to tie him up. For all his lack of technical polish everywhere else, Rocky Marciano was a hard man to keep tied up. Marciano even skips to an angle as his back is pushed against the ropes by Charles.
I hope you've enjoyed our brief delve into pugilistic antiquity - stay tuned for part 2. Don't forget to comment on and share this article so that we can do more big gif pieces!
Greatest Knockouts of the 1950s: Part 2 - Bloody Elbow
Jake Lamotta versus Laurent Dauthuille - 1950
Almost all of my readers will have at least a passing familiarity with the legendary Jake Lamotta. Commonly known as the Bronx Bull, Lamotta's incredible grit, durability and dramatic life formed the plot of one of the greatest sports movies of all time, Raging Bull. This bout was Lamotta's second defence of his Middleweight crown against an opponent who had won a decision over him a year earlier. Trailing in the fifteenth round of a scheduled fifteen, Lamotta unleashed a powerful flurry and stopped the fight.
Though Lamotta was known for his grit and his somewhat porous defence he was a more than sound offensive fighter. Notice that from the moment that he has Dauthuille hurt he "works the angles" - jumping around the Frenchman and forcing him to constantly turn to catch up with Lamotta.
Rocky Marciano versus Joe Louis - 1951
Rocky Marciano was an ugly fighter - though his technical ability is often under-rated, no-one in their right mind is going to challenge you for observing that he wasn't pretty to watch. For this reason Marciano didn't get a huge amount of attention in his early career despite being an undefeated knockout artist. Marciano knocked out legitimate fighters such as Roland La Starza but it wasn't until his match with Joe Louis that Marciano received the attention which he deserved. Louis was 37 years old an attempting to make a comeback due to problems with the tax man - despite his great age and no-one previously having re-captured the heavyweight title after losing it, Louis was still the favourite.
This match served as a spectacle in the same way that a pile up on a main road will - it was tough to watch but it was also hard to look away. Marciano's power was on full form as he battered the technically superb but always flat footed Louis,. Marciano owned the shortest reach in heavyweight title history and though many would think that a disadvantage just take a look at how difficult Louis found it to tie up Rocky's stumpy arms on the inside. You will notice that everything thing Marciano throws comes from his legs, rump and back and that he uses his signature low dip (with his head almost at Louis' crotch height) before coming up with his punches.
Sonny Liston versus Cleveland Williams - 1959
While a completely different fighter to Marciano, Sonny Liston's punching power was equally hypnotic and terrifying. Cleveland Williams - whom many will remember in his later years being schooled by Muhammad Ali after suffering nerve damage from a shooting - was at this time one of the most highly touted prospects in the world. Heavyweights of 6'3" were not common in the fifties and Williams had punching power to match his stature.
In the third round Liston put Williams down twice for the knockout. While there isn't a huge deal of technical nuance on display here you will notice the freakish stature of Liston. Liston owned an 84 inch reach on a 6ft frame - giving him a bizarre build to fight against. Notice when he flicks his jab it seems to cover half of the frame. Liston also owned to this day the largest fists in heavyweight history - 15 inches - a full inch bigger around than even Nikolai Valuev or Primo Carnera. With huge levers and enormous fists on the end of them, Liston couldn't help but have incredible punch despite lacking good form.
Sugar Ray Robinson versus Gene Fullmer - 1957
For those of you who didn't catch it, I have analysed this fight in great detail before. This is rated by many as the greatest punch of all time and it's hard to argue against it. An immediate rematch following Fullmer's defeat of Robinson four months earlier, this match marked Robinson's attempt to win the middleweight title for a fourth time.
Throughout the first fight Fullmer had hurt Robinson with his powerful right hand, particularly to the body. Robinson trained specifically to draw Fullmer's right to his body and attempted to lure Fullmer into a brawl. After leading with a looping right several times, Robinson had Fullmer ready to fire back. As he stepped in and faked the right, Fullmer began his own, but Robinson immediately reversed direction and landed the left hook inside of Fullmer's right. Robinson not only knocked Fullmer out but it was the first time in Fullmer's 40+ fight career that he had even been on the mat.
Sugar Ray Robinson versus Jake Lamotta - 1951
The so called St. Valentine's Day Massacre - Robinson and Lamotta met for the sixth time with Robinson as the challenger for Lamotta's middleweight crown. Of their previous five meetings, Robinson had won four and all of the fights had gone the distance.
On full display here is both the hand speed and dexterity of Robinson - whose punches came from every angle but still never looked rushed or wild - and the heart and grit of Jake Lamotta. Those of you who have seen Raging Bull will remember the famous scene from the film as Lamotta declares "you never got me down Ray" and it's certainly true that Lamotta was still standing by the end of the fight. Standing stoppages have always been unpopular but a man with the heart and chin of Jake Lamotta will often do himself great damage if he is allowed to continue fighting.
Ray Robinson versus Rocky Graziano
Rocky Graziano ranks among the greatest knockout artists of all time and Ring Magazine rightly placed him at 23rd in their list of 100 greatest punchers. He met Robinson as a worthy challenger on a 3 year winning streak, and as a former champion. Sugar Ray Robinson showed his class, however, knocking Graziano out in 3 rounds.
Notice many of Robinson's trademarks are on display even in this short clip: Robinson uses his safety lead - a jab while circling to the left with a pivot on the lead foot, then uses a classical side step off to the right when he is against the ropes. Finally Robinson hooks into the clinch, then breaks from the clinch with a double left hook to hurt Graziano. This double left hook is a feature common to all of Robinson's fights and instead of throwing it to a different target he often simply threw it to the same target. Many opponents get into the habit of blocking "left, right, left, right" - by doubling up on the left Robinson caught Graziano in a poor position to block the second left and moved Graziano into his right hand. K. V. Gradapolov called this technique "the Lever Punch" and described how Peter Jackson used it exclusively to lever open a hole for the right hand.
Ingemar Johannson versus Floyd Patterson - 1956
In the 1950s and indeed for much of the twentieth century the heavyweight title was an American posession. Few Europeans got to challenge for it and those who did typically didn't fare well. Ingemar Johannson was a Swede who fought with a power and ferocity in his professional career that can likely be attributed to his horrendous introduction on the world stage. In the finals of the 1952 olympics Johannson lost by disqualification for timidity and refusal to engage. Johannson assembled a record of 22 - 0 as a professional while the heavyweight champion, Floyd Patterson, was defending his title against men like Pete Rademacher - the only fighter to receive a title fight in his professional debut.
When the two fighters met Johannson dropped Patterson seven times en route to a TKO victory. Johannson's right hand - dubbed "Ingo's Bingo" had already achieved mythic status in his own time (Roberto Duran famously quipped that he had the right hand of Ingemar Johannson) and Floyd Patterson felt the brunt of it time and time again. Patterson had a reputation as having incredible hand speed and power, but lacked grit and was speculated to have a glass jaw. Johannson remarked after meeting Patterson at a press conference in the lead up to the fight that it was like shaking hands with a lace curtain.
Notice in the first knockdown that Johannson uses a classical 1 - 3 - 2. That is; he circles to his left with a jab (a safety lead) then once he has established a slight angle he slaps in a left hook against Patterson's guard to hold Patterson in position. With Patterson directly in front of Johannson's right shoulder it is easy for him to sneak through a jolting right straight. This slight angle is one of the best offensive methods to employ if hoping to land a straight right through the opponent's guard.
Patterson was certainly not great at taking a punch - but it is interesting to note that every single time he was knocked down, he still got up and no-one can fault his heart. The two fighters met twice more and Paterson became the first man to reclaim the heavyweight title - knocking out Johansson with his gazelle punch.
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