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Archie Moore: A Champion Heart

Published: 12/9/2013
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Archie Moore 1955 (AP Photo)

In 1955, before one of the biggest fights of his career, boxer Archie Moore took to wearing a yachting cap in public. "It lends an impression that you own a yacht," he explained to reporters. While some might see that as evidence that Moore had taken one too many hits to his head, it was all part of a carefully orchestrated public relations campaign. In his professional life and in the ring, Moore was always planning, analyzing the situation, and picking just the right moment to strike. It worked. His career spanned four decades, including one of longest reigns as Light Heavyweight World Champion, at nearly 10 years, and the world record for the most knockouts, at 131.

In a sport built on self-promotion and over-the-top theatrics, Archie Moore was a maestro. Starting out during the Depression, Moore made a name for himself fighting in low-dollar –– or no-dollar –– undercard fights in small towns throughout the South and Midwest. He was a natural boxer with a reputation for out-thinking opponents who should have dominated him based on size and reach. Nicknaming himself "The Mongoose," Moore took pride in finding and exploiting the weaknesses in his opponents. His fame worked against him, however, when he started campaigning for a title bout against reigning champ Joey Maxim. Maxim's managers had no interest in risking his title against Moore, and ignored his challenge. Moore took his case directly to the people, sending out dozens of letters to sportswriters around the country, arguing for his right to a shot at the title. Like most of Moore's strategies, it worked. In 1952 Moore finally fought for the belt, beating Maxim in a 15-round decision.

Rocky Marciano delivers a hard right punch to Archie Moore's head in the fifth round of their title bout at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, New York City, Sept. 21, 1955. (AP Photo / Mathew Zimmermann)

Throughout his career, Moore always knew how to stay in the spotlight. He wore outlandish, custom-made silk robes to his fights and tuxedos to his weigh-ins. He would chew up his meat, then spit it out, claiming it was a trick he had learned from Australian aborigines. After a 1958 bout broadcast to 19 million listeners, he took to the mic to announce his support for the NAACP, the Freedom Riders, and the B'nai B'rith, and also made sizable cash donations to each. Everything he did gave fuel to sportswriters looking for good copy, and the limelight kept him relevant long after most fighters would have faded into retirement.

When Moore finally did retire, he turned his attention to training future fighters like George Foreman, and to philanthropy work. He also spent some time acting. His performance as the runaway slave Jim in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was regarded as better than the film itself. He appeared in numerous other films and televisions shows, including Batman and One Life to Live. But perhaps his most lasting legacy is the Any Boy Can foundation he started in 1957 –– now known as Any Body Can, devoted to helping underprivileged children learn "lessons about life, character and citizenship" through boxing and physical training. His goal was to provide at-risk children with the same hope for a better life that once inspired him to believe in himself. Archie passed away in 1998 after years of declining health. Today, his son Billy carries on the mission in Archie's name, ensuring that future generations will get their own chance to be champions.

Written by Seth Joseph. Find him on Google+.

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