Familiar Ground & Broken Ground (diary entry)

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Wednesday morning’s “Learn from the Fight” lesson went back to the Light Heavyweight ranks where Archie Moore remained busy since we last saw him and also to the bantamweights for a true moment in boxing history with Mario D’Agata.

Archie Moore versus Yolande Pompey Undisputed World Light-Heavyweight Championship 05.06.1956

Yolande James Michael Sonney Caius Pompey was born on 22nd April 1929 in Princes Town, the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago. His father was French artist and his mother was a native to Trinidad. His father died when Pompey was just six and his mother passed away when he was 10. The young boy was put into an orphanage for three years and, upon leaving school, began working first for an electrician and then in a surveyor’s office. He was a keen sportsman, especially the two popular sports of cricket and football. Boxing was a later interest, but it became very clear soon that it was his calling. He won the national amateur title in 1948 before turning pro the following year. Within 18 months of becoming a professional, he had won the light-heavyweight championship of Trinidad and the British West Indies. With a record of 6 wins and two draws, he travelled to fight in the UK for the first time in 1951. He sailed over on the same ship as fellow countryman, Ansell Adams and Rolly Blyce. The three would excel in the UK, becoming known as the “The Trinidad Terrors”.

1956-archie-moore-yolande-pompey_1_703952b7cf85e2c1e62ee0ae156abedaPompey won 11 straight victories from his first fight at The Stadium, Liverpool in ’51 to May ’52 at the Royal Albert Hall, Kensington. Amongst his opponents had been the great Dave Sands. He then drew with Jimmy Slade before winning again for six times in a row, including a rematch with Slade. He lost for the first time in his career against the notoriously cagey Bobby Dawson who he would knock out in their rematch after taking his second loss, this time to Moses Ward. Between these fights, his victories included one over the highly ranked Yvon Durrelle. He then avenged his loss to Ward before challenging Archie Moore for the undisputed world light-heavyweight championship.

A contemporary assessment of Pompey’s style from Gibert Rogin two years after this fight: “He does not show to advantage against pressers or bobbers and weavers but is an accomplished adversary against the straight-up-and-down fighter. Pompey fights in the orthodox English style, left elbow tucked well in, always ready to use a straight right. His most damaging punch is a right hook, although he is no particular threat as a banger. According to one British observer, Pompey “is really one of the gamest kids in the game—and one of its real toffs.”

After Moore lost to Marciano, he took a four-month break from boxing. He returned to fight as a heavyweight in February, maintaining his top contender position for ’56. He won eight of these matches; five of these were stoppages at this division. Despite being known as a wise investor and running other businesses outside of his boxing, Moore was experiencing financial problems and needed to fight regularly. First of all, Moore hadn’t anticipated his $240,000 purse from the Marciano fight would be held for a year as the television revenue was calculated. He would eventually receive $270,000 from the fight and together with the $89,000 he received from the earlier Olson fight. However, he was beset with various other expenses, including alimony to his ex-wife and blackmail money he was paying to a woman who claimed to have photographic evidence of prostitutes Moore had relations with when he was touring with a band in Cleveland in 1954. The events are told in someone blushing detail in Moore’s 1960 autobiography. Since this particular woman had introduced him to several “dates” at his apartment and secretly snapped photographs she threatened to use during the build up to his Olson fight. Moore had been paying her increasing amounts each time she had called and the entire thing would eventually culminate in the unnamed woman unsuccessfully attempt to bring charges against Moore that were dismissed. Apparently said woman would end up in prison after being involved in another unrelated case.

Although reluctant to drop down to his familiar division, he was promised $65,000, and flew to England to tip the scales at 175 lbs to Pompey’s 171 lbs. Moore’s record at the time of the fight was 157-20-8 and Pompey’s was 31-2-3.  Pompey had earned the number two Ring magazine ranking for this weight division. The fight took place at the Haringey Arena, Haringey, London.

At the press conference for the fight Moore told Pompey that he needed to learn patience. After all, he’d had to wait an extraordinary long time to get the title and Pompey could afford to wait a little longer too.

Round 1 – Pompey took to the outside picking shots. Moore adopted a Philly shell position and tagged his opponent with lead hooks and jabs. Pompey did well to push Moore out of the centre position, even sending him towards the ropes but Moore defence was as strong as ever and he landed the most punches in this round.

Round 2 – Moore continued to show a lot of upper-body mobility and rolled off Pompey’s shots whilst dabbing with his lead. At one point the referee stopped the fighters and spoke with Moore about something. The fight seemed to liven up a bit more after this point. Moore attacked and defended well. Pompey’s body hooks bounced off the champion’s elbows and his long shots missed completely.

Round 3 – Pompey pressed the fight more now and Moore took the back-foot for most of this round. The challenger had trouble getting around the champion’s tightly guard body or catching his weaving head. Meanwhile Moore picked his counter straights. Pompey moved Moore around the ring and eventually got through with a sharp right. Moore moved into his cross-arm guard and deflected much of the follow up punishment, pushing into Pompey. He then began to come out with left and right hooks, pressing Pompey to be more defensive now.

Round 4 – Moore took the initiative early on this round. As they circled the centre of the ring, the champion threw a tight overhand right. Pompey fought back and he appeared to gather momentum at one point, pushing Moore onto the groups. However, the Old Mongoose fought back and turned his opponent onto the ropes, dropping heavy shots as he went. Pompey was on the run now, back peddling at first trying to use his jab but quickly cornered by a Moore onslaught. The challenger displayed some excellent upper body evasiveness as the champion threw in a series of combinations. Realising that this wasn’t the time to finish the job, Moore went back to his cross-arm shell and leant on his younger opponent who tried to land shovel hooks.

Round 5 – Beginning at long range, Moore worked his jab and deflected Pompey’s leads with his shoulder roll. The fight didn’t make it to close range as Moore closed down Pompey’s attempted rushes. At long range the challenger seemed impatient whilst the champion more composed.

Round 6 – Pompey appeared to be on the attack again, trying to land something on Moore who stuck to his cross-arm guard, his rolling and slipping whilst rationing his sharp jabs.

Round 7 – Pompey was most active in this round. He pushed the fight and worked around Moore throwing a great volume of punches. Moore took a backseat and defended from the centre of the ring for the most part. The champion on rarely used his jab, which was now being well defended by Pompey who was gaining confidence with his one-twos and circling footwork.

Round 8 – The challenger sought to continue the momentum from the previous round. He was as active but this time Moore began throwing in left hooks and left uppercuts to swat away his opponent. The round finished with more in-fighting. Apparently Pompey was now ahead on points.

Round 9 – Moore was now more on his game, adopting more of the aggression he had shown in rounds 3 and 4. He began throwing lead hooks again and coming off his shoulder rolls with his trademark cross. This is the round where he opened up a cut above Pompey’s left eye.

Round 10 – Between rounds, Pompey’s face looked very swollen. Moore advanced early and began bringing in his right. He stuck Pompey with a jab who circled round and threw his own left. It was deflected off Moore’s left shoulder and coupled with a long right hook that clipped the challenger’s chin sending him to the mat for the first time. Pompey took an 8-count on his knee. Moore moved in tightly using jabs, left hooks and straight rights as he pressed the advantage on his opponent. He caught him with two more long, swatting right hooks, probably evidence that Pompey’s vision from his left eye was severely impaired and Pompey was down again. Again he took the eight-count on the knee. Once he was up Moore pursued him around the ring and it was clear Pompey was in trouble. The champion pressed with a variety of punches coming in from different angles. The challenger used his footwork and tried to weave out of the way but Moore cornered him on the ropes and felled him for a third time. It appeared that Pompey almost went down voluntarily this time to catch a breather. However, it did help and this time Moore’s continuous attack and Pompey’s lack of defence forced the referee to intercede.

Archie Moore retained his world light-heavyweight title for the fifth time by technical knockout.

The Associated Press reported: “Moore let Pompey do most of the work in the early rounds and the Trinidad fighter was ahead on points at the end of the eighth. Then came the ninth and Moore pounded Pompey with crushing rights and left hooks. Blood spurted from a deep cut over Pompey’s left eye. In the 10th, Moore went in for the kill. He sent Pompey down for counts of eight, nine and eight before Referee Jack Hart stopped the slaughter.”

Journalists asked Pompey why he had fought so defensively and out of character during this bout. Many years later he said he didn’t want to give an excuse but told Boxing News he had slipped when getting out of his bath and injured his side.

Yolande Pompey would never get another shot at the world title. However, he would go on to beat two greats in the form of German champion George Hercht in 1957 (1956’s Ring magazine no.1 light-heavyweight contender). He also defeated the Commonwealth Middleweight champion and future two-divisional world champion Dick Tiger in 1958 as well as knock Randy Turpin out. He retired from boxing at age 29 after being hospitalised by Scottish champion Chic Calderwood in 1959. Pompey worked as a chauffeur for the High Commissioner of Trinidad in London and died of cancer aged just 49 in 1979.

Archie Moore immediately returned to the heavyweight ranks. Denied a rematch with Marciano who had announced his retirement in April, the undisputed world heavyweight championship was vacant for the first time since Joe Louis’s initial retirement. Moore got back on the heavyweight trail.

Mario D’Agata versus Robert Cohen NYAC and Ring World Bantamweight Championship 29.06.1956

Screen Shot 2022-07-12 at 18.49.26Mario D’Agata was born on 29th May 1926 in Arezzo, Tuscany, Italy to Sicilian parents. He was one of seven children and one of three that were prelingually deaf. From an early age he resorted to fighting in response to being bullied for his disability. His family moved from Tuscany to Rome in hope they could cure their afflicted children. Prior to his 18th birthday his most likely career appeared to either be in wood carver, ceramic decorator or draftsman. However, all of this changed when he turned 18 and saw a poster for boxing on a gym door. Mesmerised by the artistic movement of the fighters, he watched a local fight and became determined to learn the sport. He began his amateur career aged 20 in 1946 – it was delayed due to World War 2 – and won 90 of his 110 bouts. However, the Italian Boxing Federation (FPI) refused him a licence for years due to the argument that he could not hear the bell. In the end a petition of thousands backed by the Christian Democrat deputy Amintore Fanfani, then president of the country’s Council of Ministers for six periods, between 1954 and 1987, convinced the FPI.

Mario D’Agata proved to be a competent swarmer winning his first 10 fights before losing in his second 10-r0under. His 24th fight saw him win the Italian bantamweight title from the 1948 Olympic silver medallist, Giovanni Zuddas. He would successfully defend it twice and find the road to the championship very troublesome due to Italy suffering from a difficult post-war period as well as there being few intercontinental trips. He lost his 30th fight to a one Robert Cohen by unanimous decision, which was roundly booed at their venue in Tunisia. After winning three straight victories in Italy he competed in Melbourne Australia, defeating Australian Bobby Sinn and the world-rated American, Billy Peacock. Not eight days after his return  on 12th February 1955 D’Agata became embroiled in a business dispute in his family’s co-owned laundry. Their partner, Giovanni Petitto, became heated over an argument over the purchase of washing machines that had put the company two million lire in the red. Petitto pulled a revolver and opened fire on the family. He missed and D’Agata was able to disarm him. Not be dissuaded from his murderous fury, Petitto, a 59 year-old Sicilian from the old country, rushed to the backroom where he returned with a rifle and this time hit his marks. D’Agata was hit in the chest and his mother, Rosa, was also wounded when she jumped in front of him. He was admitted to Santa Maria hospital where the pellets were removed from his lung. He was told that he would take three months to heal and his boxing days were over. Against all odds he was back in the ring on 25th May, knocking out the Frenchman Arthur Emboule in the eighth round.  He then tallied up 13 straight victories before winning the European Boxing Union Bantamweight Championship from Andre Valignat. This was another vital milestone for most European fighters and put him the contender position. D’Agata then won three more fights before he met Cohen again and this time the world title was on the line.

Robert Cohen was born in Bône (now Annaba), a port city in French Algeria, on 15th November 1930, to Hispanic Jewish parents. Although his family suffered under the Vichy French regime, they survived the holocaust. Cohen’s older brother, Leon became a professional boxer and became his inspiration. His father was opposed to his younger son taking up the profession and Robert would frequently have to escape through a window to watch his brother’s fighter. He embarked on an amateur career and won the Algerian title but twice failed to win the French Amateur Championships in the finals. However, he caught the attention of manager Charles Raymond and so began his professional career in 1951. Cohen won his first six fights before losing to Robert Meunier. He wouldn’t know defeat again until his 41st fight. Since then he had picked up the French championship, the European Boxing Union Championship and lifting the undisputed world bantamweight championship from Chamroen Songkitrat in a particularly bloody contest in Bangkok, Thailand in 1954 in front a crowd of 60,000 that included the king and queen of the country. He would be stripped of the National Boxing Association’s version of the belt when he failed to defend it within 90 days against their contender, Raul “Raton” Macias. Macias would win the now vacant version of the title but few other boxing associations recognised him. Cohen remained the lineal/Ring champion and the NYAC recognised champion. He was then involved in a car accident that left him with a broken jaw and other injuries that would shorten his boxing career. After winning a non-title bout against Roy Ankrah and drawing against Willie Toweel (third draw on Cohen’s record) in a title bout where Toweel had been knocked down three times in the second and once in the tenth round, he took on the French featherweight champion Cherif Hamia. Hamia stopped him in the tenth round. Cohen’s next fight would be a defence of his bantamweight title as he faced D’Agata.

The fight took place at The Olympic Stadium in Rome, Italy. This would be the first time a boxing match would be held for a world title in post-war Italy. The last time a world title bout had been held there was in 1933 when Primo Carnera had successfully defended his world heavyweight crown against Paulino Uzcudun at the Piazza di Siena. Up to this point Carnera had been one of only four native-born Italians to have been given a shot at world title and the only one who had been successful. The other three contenders had been the middleweights Oddone Piazza and Tiberio Mitri, and the rooster-weight, Domenico Bernasconi. Cohen said of the challenge, “I know him well. He is a good boy and a good boxer. But I’ve already beaten him and I don’t see why I shouldn’t beat him now that my title will be at stake.”

D’Agata arrived to a crowd of adoring fans at the Termini station in Rome and he was accompanied by his wife of six months, Luana Bacci. Luana was deaf like Mario.

The fight was only shown in highlights, which is a shame given its historical significance. From the beginning the fighters’ individual styles were evident. Cohen was an outboxer, content to circle and pick his shots. D’Agata was the swarmer, rather predictably another Italian boxer in the ’50s called “Little Marciano”. The fight became very to-and-fro in nature with Cohen stepping on the gas after back peddling to send D’Agata bouncing off the ropes. However, D’Agata began swarming again moving into clinches to pull off body shots. Cohen, keeping quite a sharp bladed stance for the most part was not the clean and clinical fighter he first seemed. As D’Agata moved in he maneuvered around, throwing rabbit punches and kidney shots at every available opportunity.  Although most of the headshots seemed to be coming from Cohen it was he suffered a cut above his left eyebrow in round two. D’Agata kept pressing the attack and, for the most part now, was on the front foot. Cohen needed to keep out of the clinches as the challenger’s strategy became very evident and the champion wasn’t doing a great job of matching the rapid body punching. He used his bladed stance to angle off but every attack he launched seemed to be intercepted by D’Agata’s intensive swarms. Although it was unclear which round we were watching, due to the little footage available, the pace of the action seemed to be fast and relentless. Finally, in the sixth round, Cohen suffered what any victim of a successful body shot campaign experiences: he became very tired. In a “blink-and-you-will-miss-it” moment, the champion threw a straight right and impaled himself on what looked like a short right to the head and then spleen or solar plexus shot. Despite bouncing back up, Cohen immediately decided to take the knee and waited for the referee to count 8. The sly move did the trick in buying him time and the bell rang as the two men approached one another. However, the referee would stop the fight when visiting Cohen’s corner due the state of the gash over his left eye ruling it a TKO for the seventh despite the champion not leaving the stool for this particular round.

Cohen retired for three years, returning to defeat Peter Lock on points in a bout held in Zambia. However, the bout had just exposed the many injuries he had suffered over years of particularly brutal contests in the bantamweight division as well as his 1955 car accident. He gave up boxing and briefly worked for his father-in-laws textile company in Brazzaville the Republic of the Congo. Unhappy with working for the business he briefly opened his own boxing gym. However, as political unrest continued in this post-French colonial country in the 1960s, many of Cohen’s best boxers left to live and compete in Europe. By the 1980s, Cohen was back into textile manufacturing. In 2012 Michel Rosenzweig wrote a biography on his life and there were plans to make a movie. Robert Cohen died on 2nd March 2022 aged 91.

Rome and Italy celebrated D’Agata’s victory. Around 100 torches were lit upon the announcement of D’Agata’s win and he was hailed a national hero. The new world bantamweight champion had made history by not only being the second native Italian to win a world championship and in the first championship to have been held in Italy since 1933, but the only prelingually deaf boxer to hold a world title to date.

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