A new champion reigns in boxing's featherweight division, and, of all things, he is an American lad, which is quite a rarity in a division that now has only one other American, Paul Jorgensen, ranked in the National Boxing Association's top 10. The new champ is Davey Moore, called the Springfield Rifle because he hails from Springfield, Ohio and hits like a .30-06 bullet.
He pulled the trigger on Champion Hogan (Kid) Bassey, Nigeria's proud Member of the British Empire, in the sixth round of a bloody fight at Los Angeles' Olympic Auditorium. He was using a double-barreled big-game rifle at the time, a weapon that fired a left hook and a clubbing overhand right with such impact that after the bell a second or so later Bassey was too dazed to find his corner but wandered about the ring like a lost child. His corner, equally dazed, gave him no particular help.
Up to that time Bassey had been winning against a stage-frightened Moore, who had all but trembled with tension at the morning weighin and opened the fight with such awkward stiffness that he twice fell down, in the third and fifth rounds, from the force of his own missed punches. During those early rounds Bassey, a man of dour dignity, looked very much the champion.
Though the fight eventually was stopped, after the 13th round, because Bassey was blinded by his own blood and could no longer see his opponent, it was the sixth-round combination that won it. It gave Moore a world of confidence and it took most of the steam out of Bassey. He seemed, in fact, to be slightly groggy when he came out for the seventh.
This is not to suggest that Moore was a timid fighter at any stage of the bout but only that, for all that he wears a dashing mustache, he is a modest young man, a well-raised minister's son. The thought that he was to fight for the championship, it seemed at the weighin, stuffed his stomach with butterflies. He confessed to tension before the fight, and in those early rounds he seemed to relax only when he was hit hard. Then he raged back and in every such exchange forced Bassey to give ground.
He gained further confidence, after that sixth-round explosion, from the discovery that Bassey is one of the more profuse bleeders of our time. The champion was cut about the eyes and on the cheek, and blood streamed from his broad, flat nose. In the closing rounds the champion made a pathetic figure as he paused from time to time to dab at his eyes in a vain effort to see. Moore, following instructions of his corner, jabbed at the cuts at the start of each round and quickly undid the patchwork surgery of Bassey's corner mates. At the end of the ninth Bassey's manager, George Biddies, a former Liverpool pubkeeper, inquired solicitously if his charge wanted to "retire," which is British for quit.
Bassey refused. He is a gamester and a patriot. It had been his plan, in fact, to make his next defense of the title in Nigeria as part of a national celebration.
So Bassey came out for the next four rounds to take an impressive beating. He hung on through the 10th while Moore banged him with rights and lefts. His white trunks were smeared with red. In the 11th, after Moore had pummeled him with hooks and overhand rights, Bassey recovered enough to score with one good right. But Moore then moved in and began to punish his body with an exhausting tattoo.
Bassey could not find his corner again after the 12th, though it was a round in which his hitherto relentless opponent did very little. One guessed that Moore, now confident of victory, had decided to coast and thus pace himself through the first 15-round fight of his career. He did very little punching in the 13th, too, but very little was necessary. The blind Bassey was in impossible shape.
If it had not been a championship fight Referee Tommy Hart would have stopped it on his own authority. As it was he walked over to the Bassey corner and consulted with George Biddles. "Is he going to make it?" Hart asked. "He's had it," Biddles replied. Bassey made no protest. "I can't see," he complained.
It was a sensible ending, for after that 13th it was obvious that nothing could save him. There was postfight criticism that Biddles should have hired one of the top American cut men, like Whitey Bimstein, since Bassey has been stopped on cuts before. That might have been a wise precaution, but not even the magical surgery of a Bimstein could have repaired Bassey's lacerated face. The cuts were gouged deep, and one of them, above his right eye, flowed in the dressing room a half hour after the fight.
Thus ended the rather brief championship of Okon Bassey Asuquo who, as the Anglicized Hogan Bassey, had knocked out Cherif Hamia at Paris in June 1957 to pick up the title vacated by Sandy Saddler. Though he had fought five over-the-weight matches he had defended the title only once before, when he KO'd the Mexican challenger, Ricardo Moreno, in three rounds.
Davey Moore won his championship under the handicap of infected tonsils, and, according to his manager, Willie Ketchum, had endured a 101° fever on one of the closing days of his training. The tonsils, Ketchum said, must be removed before Moore takes on Bassey in a rematch, most likely at Los Angeles' new municipal sports arena in the fall.
Moore is one of the lesser-known champions, partly because there is so little featherweight action in the United States and partly because rival managers recognized his ability very early and refused to expose their fighters to his bullet punching. He took to the road, therefore, very like that other Moore, the venerable Archie, who spent his youth looking for fights in the world's outposts. Davey found opponents in the Canal Zone, in Cuba and, finally, at Tijuana, Mexico, where he encountered Kid Anahuac in the bull ring. It was then a revered Tijuana tradition that Kid Anahuac should not lose on home territory. But Moore brashly took a split decision, and outraged Mexicans showered the ring with missiles and set fire to the stands. They were quelled by cops, and last September Moore quelled Kid Anahuac once again, this time in Los Angeles. Then he polished off Ricardo Moreno with a one-round knockout, two rounds earlier than Bassey had been able to do it. That made it inevitable that Moore would meet Bassey. It was a sad night for the Nigerians.
Announcement that Floyd Patterson will fight Brian London for the heavyweight championship at Las Vegas late in April, before he defends the title against Ingemar Johansson at New York late in June, resulted in some of the nation's sports pages being printed in squid ink instead of the usual printer's ink. The same sports pages that once had reviled Patterson for not fighting often enough began to revile him for proposing to fight too often. Or something of the sort. Nothing was made very clear. In view of the fact that James D. Norris had recently sworn on Frankie Carbo's shield that the Patterson-Johansson fight would not come off, one might suspect that a press campaign had been launched to give Norris his dearest wish—that Cus D'Amato, manager of Patterson, be thwarted in all his endeavors.
Some facts may clear the air:
Brian London is a pure cinch to be ranked No. 4 in the April ratings of the National Boxing Association now that Nino Valdes has been knocked out of contention by the unranked Charlie Powell. London is now No. 5.
Patterson sorely needs a fight before he takes on a puncher as dangerous as the No. 1 challenger, Inge-mar Johansson.
London has stopped Norris' erstwhile No. 3 contender, the now forlorn Willie Pastrano.
London, for all his high ranking, has clear deficiencies, but he is at least as good as the preposterous fat man, Don Cockell, who once was foisted on San Francisco fans as a fit opponent for Rocky Marciano. Norris promoted that fiasco.
It is not altogether rare for a champion to take on a lesser opponent before meeting a No. 1 challenger. Sugar Ray Robinson, for instance, did it before he met Gene Fullmer for the first time, and Sugar Ray is now talking of taking on some tune-up, and unranked, nonentities before he fights Archie Moore in a Norris promotion.
OUTCLASSED IN EARLY rounds, when Champion Bassey seemed fully in charge, a nervous Challenger Moore suddenly cut loose in the sixth with a left-right combination to the head that had Bassey dazed and groping for his corner after the bell.
LACERATED Bassey (left) was cheered by Moore, who will meet him again this fall.