May 2. This Date in Boxing History: "Doc" and the "Mongoose" Jazz Up Las Vegas
On May 2, 1955, Las Vegas, Nevada, played host to a 15-round fight audaciously billed as a world heavyweight title fight. It was no such thing, but it was a fight of major importance -- the first of this description in the infant Boxing Capitol of the World.
The principals were Archie Moore, the light heavyweight king, and Nino Valdes (aka Gerardo Valdez), a heavyweight from Cuba who had advanced to the top of The Ring ratings on the strength of an 11-fight winning streak. The promoter was Moore's crafty manager, the incorrigibly disingenuous Jack "Doc" Kearns.
The victor was virtually assured of a genuine title fight opposite Rocky Marciano. The back story -- how the fight landed here, of all places -- is interesting.
In 1955, the Las Vegas valley contained about 50,000 permanent residents. The skyline was changing, but the culture was still primarily that of a western frontier town. The old-timers kept horses and were partial to the sport of rodeo.
By all appearances, this was a poor destination for a big fight, but Kearns was desperate after Moore was barred from fighting in California after a routine exam by a California Commission doctor turned up evidence of a heart condition. For various reasons, Doc was disinclined to venture too far from San Diego, Archie Moore's adopted hometown.
The revelation was troubling. In Las Vegas, the sports editor of the leading paper implored the authorities to pull the plug, postulating that Moore might suffer a fatal stroke in the heat of battle with bad repercussions for tourism. But Kearns plowed forward and brought the bout to fruition.
Staged in the early evening at the baseball park before a crowd well short of the announced attendance (10,800), the promotion was Mickey Mouse in many details. Kearns hand-picked the referee, anointed him the sole arbiter, and selected obscure lounge comic Al Schenk to serve as the ring announcer when Schenk volunteered to work for free. He should have been paid by the word. Although there was no TV, every city official insisted on being recognized.
What wasn't Mickey Mouse was Moore's effort. Fighting a man who was four inches taller, perhaps 15 pounds heavier, and at least eight years younger, the Old Mongoose delivered a performance resonant of a chess master.
During the early rounds, Moore repeatedly pinned Valdes against the ropes where he would be squinting directly into the sun. During the middle rounds he slowed the pace to conserve his energy while methodically pawing at the lump that had formed over Valdes's left eye. In the homestretch, Valdes was half-blind and ancient Archie was the busier man. Referee Jimmy "Cinderella Man" Braddock scored the bout 8-5-2.
Doc Kearns lost a bundle but had the last laugh. The Moore-Marciano fight at Yankee Stadium provided both with the largest paydays of their careers.
Archie lost that match (TKO 9), but he aged like fine wine. Years later, the Old Mongoose taught George Foreman a thing or two about foiling Father Time. Ah, but that's a story for another day.
Re: May 2. This Date in Boxing History: "Doc" and the "Mongoose" Jazz Up Las Vegas
It is also worth noting that on this day 20 years ago a crazed fan came from out the crowd during a changeover and stabbed Monica Seles in the back forever altering the history of women's tennis. He was then beaten by members of Riddick Bowe's entourage with giant cell phones.