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The 1960's Heavyweights

Having looked as the title holders in 1960 I thought I would complete the picture by looking at who was in the ratings or climbing and what the future held for them.

One name dominated the heavyweight division in 1960 and it was not Floyd Patterson. The shadow of Sonny Liston loomed over the whole division. He had beaten Mike DeJohn, Nino Valdes and Cleveland Williams to go to No 1 and in 1960 had stopped Williams again and defeated Roy Harris inside a round and beaten Zora Folley and Eddie Machen. There is no way that Patterson’s manager Cus D’Amato was going to volunteer to put Patterson in against Liston. He had a reasonable excuse in the he had no intention of letting the mob-run International Boxing Club, who were behind Liston, get control of the title.

Liston would have to mark time in 1961 before getting his chance and when he did face Patterson in 1962 he wiped out Patterson in 126 seconds and repeated the feat in 1963 taking just 130 seconds. It is difficult now to give anyone who was not around in those days any appreciation of just how terrifying a figure Liston was. There was an air of menace about him and his cold, flat-eyed stare had some opponents beaten before a punch was thrown. He was unbeatable-or so it seemed.

Lurking in the record books covering 1960 was a note of a couple of fights for a new kid called Cassius Clay. He had set the Rome Olympics alight with his fluid, extrovert style and won the gold medal in the 81kg (light heavyweight) division before turning pro. In his first pro fight in October 1960 he outpointed Tunney Hunsaker over six rounds. Hunsaker had lost his last six fights. In Clay’s only other fight in 1960 he stopped prelim fighter Herb Siler over six rounds. Clay weighed 192lbs for the Hunsaker fight and 193lbs for the Siler fight and Clay, or the “Louisville Lip” as he was already being called then, was probably the only one in the world to think he was the man who would bring down Liston.

It had taken Liston nine years and 36 fights to win the title but he lost the title to Clay in 1962 and lost again to him in 1963 and those two losses and the way he lost is both fights-a retirement due a shoulder injury and a confusing first round kayo-saw his reputation crash in flames. He won his next 14 fights, 13 by KO/TKO, some of which were promoted in Sweden by Ingemar Johansson, to keep himself in the ratings before being flattened by Leotis Martin in December 1969. He beat Chuck Wepner in June 1969 but was then inactive. In late December 1970 George Chuvalo signed to fight Liston but when Chuvalo signed Liston was already dead. He had died in his Las Vegas home only being found when his wife returned to their home on 5 January 1971 after a two-week trip. The Las Vegas police concluded Liston had died of a heroin overdose although the official cause was given as lung congestion and heart failure. A sad end for a fighter who at one time had been ranked as the third greatest heavyweight of all time.

Clay changed his name firstly to Cassius X and then to Muhammad Ali and went on to become one of the greatest heavyweights in boxing history and the best known sportsman in the world.
It was the misfortune of fighters such as Eddie Machen, Zora Foley and Ernie Terrell to be campaigning over a period that saw Liston and then Ali dominate the division. Machen was No 1 in the ratings until he suffered a shock first round kayo against Ingemar Johansson in 1958 and it was 1965 before he received a world title shot losing to Ernie Terrell for the vacant WBA title in 1965. Folley was close to a title fight a few times but did not get a shot until he was knocked out in seven rounds by Muhammad Ali in 1967 in Ali’s last fight before he lost his titles after refusing to be inducted in the US Army. It had taken Folley nine years and 85 fights to get a title shot. Terrell picked up the WBA version of the title after they stripped Ali. He was good enough to beat Folley, Bob Foster, Machen, George Chuvalo and Doug Jones but was outclassed by Ali in their unification fight in 1967.

Britain was actually well represented in the rankings in 1960 with Henry Cooper, Joe Erskine, Dick Richardson and Brain London all in the ratings at one time or another.

Cooper had put together a run that saw him beat Erskine twice, Richardson, London, Folley and Argentinian Alex Mitef. A second round loss to Folley in 1961 was a set-back but when his left hook put Ali on the floor in June 1963 although being stopped on cut his stock shot way up. He continued to beat his local rivals but stunk the place out in losing fights against Roger Rischer and Amos Johnson. He had his shot at Ali in 1966 but was stopped on cuts and a fourth round kayo by Floyd Patterson and later a points loss to Joe Bugner ended his career. London was knocked out by Ali in three rounds in his title shot but Erskine, the best boxer of the four, and Richardson, despite a first round kayo of Karl Mildenberger, never did get a shot at the title. Mildenberger, one of the best Germany heavyweights of all time, had lost only two of his fifty-four fights before being stopped in twelve rounds by Ali in a title defence in 1966. Canada had a couple of good heavyweights in George Chuvalo and Bob Cleroux and Texan Cleveland Williams one of the hardest punchers in the history of boxing also fell to Ali in 1969.

The NBA had stripped Archie Moore of the light heavyweight title in October 1960 and Harold Johnson was ranked No 1. He had challenged Moore for the title in 1954 and been ahead on two cards before being stopped in the fourteenth round. Johnson had only one low level fight in 1960 but in February 1961 won the vacant NABA title with a stoppage of Jesse Bowdry. He went on to make four defence with his win over Doug Jones in 1962 making him undisputed champion before losing the title on a split decision to Willie Pastrano in 1963. Johnson was a master technician but not the most entertaining fighter. For much of his 87 bout career he was forced to fight heavyweights to stay active. In bit of boxing trivia Jersey Joe Walcott beat both Harold and his father Phil on third round stoppages. In 1960 future champion Pastrano had been beaten by Scot Chic Calderwood and Jesse Bowdry. His form over the next two years was not very impressive but he went on to make defences against Gregorio Peralta and Terry Downes before losing the title to Jose Torres 1965 and retiring.

The light heavyweights were not a particularly strong division at the time. Scotland had great hopes for Chic Calderwood after he won his first twenty-nine fights but his form was erratic and when he landed a title shot in October 1966 was knocked out in two rounds by Jose Torres and died in a road accident in November 1966.

Torres was another of Cus D’Amato’s fighters. The Puerto Rican won a silver medal at the 1956 Olympics losing to Hungarian legend Laszlo Papp in the final. Torres used the same peek-a-boo style as Patterson and after beating Pastrano made three defences before losing his title to Nigerian Dick Tiger in 1966. After losing a split decision to Tiger in a return match Torres had only two more fights before retiring. He went on serve as chairman of the New York State Athletic Commission was president of the WBO and became a very successful writer. Germany had an outstanding light heavyweight in Gustav Scholz. Starting as a lightweight 1948 Scholz had worked his way through the divisions going 64-0-4 in his first 68 fights before losing in a middle weight fight to Charles Humez in 1958. He beat Humez in a return but in his only title shot lost on points to Harold Johnson in 1962 and retired in 1964 with an 88-2-6 record. Germany had high hopes for Erich Schoppner but he had an indifferent 1960 drawing with Germinal Ballarin and Mike Holt and when he lost to Giulio Rinaldi 1963 in a European title fight, the only defeat in his 40 bout career he retired without ever getting a title shot. Former Olympian Rinaldi had a great 1960 beating Sante Amonti, Leen Jansen, and Johnny Halafihi and in October Archie Moore was given a standing count in the last round of their non-title fight which Rinaldi won on points earning Ring Magazine’s “Progress of the Year award. That was his high point. Moore won a wide unanimous decision over Rinaldi in a title defence in 1961 and although Rinaldi produce a few more good wins he never reached world title shot level again. Mike Holt was South Africa’s best light heavyweight but he had an indifferent 1960 and the fell away badly as did Tongan Johnny Halafihi who had scored wins over Yolande Pompey and Rinaldi and drawn with Holt but he lost three big fights in 1960 and went downhill from there. Mauro Mina was on his way to establishing himself as the greatest Peruvian boxer of all time. He went 8-0-1 in 1960 including a win over Gregorio Peralta. Mina would go on to beat Eddie Cotton, Henry hank, and Bob Foster before losing to Peralta in a return fight in 1964. The only bout Mina lost in his last 45 contests. Peralta fought his way into contention with a win over Pastrano in 1963 but lost on a cut in a title challenge against Pastrano in 1964 then moved up to heavyweight to face fighters such as Oscar Bonavena and George Foreman.
If the light heavyweights lacked strength in depth the middleweight division was packed with a whole range of quality fighters.

About the Author

Born in Scotland, Eric Armit started working with Boxing News magazine in the UK in the late 1960’s initially doing records for their Boxing News Annual and compiling World, European and Commonwealth ratings for the magazine. He wrote his first feature article for Boxing News in 1973 and wrote a “World Scene” weekly column for the magazine from the late 1970’s until 2004. Armit wrote a monthly column for Boxing Digest in the USA and contributed pieces to magazines in Mexico, Italy, Australia, Spain, Argentina and other countries. Armit now writes a Weekly Report covering every major fight around the world and a bi-weekly Snips & Snipes column plus occasional general interest articles with these being taken up by boxing sites around the world. He was a member of the inaugural WBC Ratings Committee and a technical advisor to the EBU Ratings Committee and was consulted by John McCain’s research team when they were drafting the Ali Act. He is a Director and former Chairman of the Commonwealth Boxing Council. Last year (2019), Armit has been nominated to the International Boxing Hall of Fame to which he said, “Being on the list is an unbelievably huge honour.”

Click here to view a list of other articles written by Eric Armit.

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