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Archie Moore, who waited for 16 years to become the light heavyweight champ, remains boxing's most fervent disciple


Some of the places Archie Moore fought:

Quincy, Ill.; Keokuk, Iowa; Adelaide, Australia Tasmania; Orange, N.J. North Adams, Mass. Toledo; Tijuana, Mexico Montevideo, Uruguay Tucumàn, Argentina Flint, Mich.; Fresno, Calif.; Panama City; Spokane; Stuttgart, West Germany; Michigan City, Ind.; Manila; Odessa, Texas; Rio de Janeiro; Hollywood; Edmonton; Oakland; Tucson; London; and Nogales—either Arizona or Mexico.

Generally, the tract of land where Moore plied his trade was known as the Free World. The time, as he usually describes it, was In Them Days.

Boxing was a most curious precinct In Them Days. In other sports, racial lines were distinctly drawn, so that when Jackie Robinson or Marion Motley or Chuck Cooper or the first Negro this or the first Negro that first played here or there, it was carefully recorded. But in boxing, the lines were blurred. Generally speaking, blacks had more opportunity in the lower weight classes, where if one of them beat a little white boy it didn't seem so threatening to the pride of Greater Caucasia. In some places black fighters were welcomed on the bill only if they boxed one another. In other places minority fighters could work only if they agreed to lie down for the white hopes because that would sell more tickets to white fans and maybe help the local favorite toward a title go.

"Guys would propose to you in them days," Moore explains. "Mostly hints, trying to draw you out. But my auntie—God rest her soul, she only died a couple of months ago, age 97—had made me promise: 'Archie, take your rest, mind your trainer, and bring no disgrace to your family, like throwing fights.' "

Moore probably didn't need this counsel, because his father had left home when Archie was an infant, and Moore was sure he would meet up with the man someday, somewhere down the road, and he wanted to be able to look square into his father's eyes, with no shame. So Archie Moore never took a dive.

Anyway, there was no pattern to the way boxing treated its fighters. For example, whereas Joe Louis was born at about the same time as Moore (although most people think of them as a generation apart) and they both came out of the Midwest during the mid-'30s, the Brown Bomber was fighting in the Polo Grounds barely a year after he turned pro and fighting for the heavyweight champeenship of the world in another two. Moore waited for more than eight years to get to New York and another eight to get a title go.

Boxing has always been as capricious as it is corrupt, and In Them Days it wasn't just color that counted against a fighter. Moore never seemed to have the right connections; also, though he was too good and tended to knock fellows out, he was a counterpuncher who didn't take the fight to his opponent—or to the box office. His situation would have been worse only if he had been a southpaw. So he roamed the wilderness. Charley Johnston, his manager for many years, would call Moore up and tell him to go to such-and-such city or town. "It makes no difference who we get to fight Archie," Johnston said In Them Days. "All he wants to know is when and where. and he's there at the appointed time."

Other blacks, though lesser fighters, got their chances, even their title shots. But Moore had to keep moving through the sticks—"what we called tank towns in them days," he says. He developed what airlines would later call hubs. St. Louis was his first home ring. Then San Diego, then Baltimore. Moore fought on 21 cards in Baltimore alone. Then Toledo was a hub. "I liked that challenge, to come into another man's territory," Moore says, positively chortling. "Come in, beat him in his own hometown, run him out and then set up housekeeping myself. Heh, hen."

Moore's last hub was Buenos Aires. Argentine president Juan Peron loved him and wanted him to settle there. "Perón had been a light heavyweight in his youth," Moore explains. "He had the face and demeanor of an athlete."

Finally, in 1952, Moore got his title shot, against Joey Maxim, and B.A. and Toledo had to share him with the rest of the world. Nearly two decades in the wilderness, putting his nimble brain on the line. When Moore did get to be the light heavyweight champion, in "52, he was old, either 35 or 38. "Sometimes," Red Smith wrote, "he has seemed to be a play-actor and sometimes the pitchman in a tent show and sometimes a Hindu fakir and sometimes a circuit-riding evangelist and sometimes a bum." And Jim Murray wrote: "The man was a genuine American artifact, like the Liberty Bell, the Spirit of St. Louis, Franklin's kite, Fulton's Folly."

No man ever adored a woman so much as Moore did boxing. No one ever dedicated himself with such passion to a cause. No priest ever worshiped so powerfully. "Boxing is magnificent," Moore intones, closing his eyes in reverie. "It's beautiful to know. Oh, the price can be very dear. You've got to marry it. And so I did. Boxing was my lover. It was my lady."

Archie Moore was not the greatest boxer who ever lived, not pound for pound, not any which way. But he was the most devoted sweetheart the ring was ever lucky enough to embrace.

Now, before proceeding further, we must dispense with the subject of Archibald Lee Wright's age. Or: How old is Archie Moore? When did the Mongoose (called that because he moved with such quick, deft strikes) first draw a breath of life in this vale of tears?

Moore would be wounded if this issue were not dealt with sufficiently. Indeed, when young whippersnappers interview him he is lying in wait for them to inquire into the particulars of his nativity. In fact, the Mongoose gets a trifle irritated when he is nor grilled on the subject of his age.

"Well," he hums, twiddling his thumbs, "'now that you've complimented me on my health, I must assume that you are preparing to bring this interview to a climax by inquiring about my true age."


"No?!?" (How can this be?)

No, but why have you always been so inscrutable about your birth date?

"Ahhh." The Mongoose settles for that line of inquiry. Again, he closes his eyes and twiddles his thumbs in his lap. (When was the last time you actually saw anyone twiddle his thumbs?) The feline grin spreads over his face once more. "The less you tell people about you, the more interested they become," he declares, and it is all but possible to see his mischievous eyes dancing behind the shuttered lids.

He has never revealed his true age. He intimates that Dec. 13, 1916, in Collinsville, Ill., is the date he first played the world; others are of the opinion that it was Dec. 13, 1913, in Benoit, Miss. Prominent among the latter group is Archie's mother, Lorena, who is still alive, age 91. Years ago, when Moore was first apprised of his mother's contradiction of his own testimony, he considered the issue (probably closing his eyes and twiddling his thumbs) and replied: "I have decided that I must have been three years old when I was born." To further frustrate inquiries, when Moore ran for city councilman in San Diego and was obliged by law to report his birthplace and date, he responded by listing both the 1913 and 1916 dates, and both Mississippi and Illinois.

In any event, he was still the reigning world light heavyweight champion at 45 or 48 and had his last fight in either his 48th or 51st year. Better yet, Moore is probably the only person to have the expression "going on" as part of his listed age. For about two decades, whenever Moore was written about, the story read: "Archie Moore, 31 going on 35..." or "the light heavyweight champion, 40 going on 50..." or "the challenger, 38 going on 42, put down Marciano in the second round...." And so, today, he is 72 going on 76; either that or he is 75 going on 16.

He remains quite active, working on his memoirs (with Marilyn Doroux, a New Orleans writer), entitled The Last Autumn, and working with young people in Los Angeles. He runs his own organization, ABC (Any Boy Can) and, until the advent of the Bush Administration, when he was let go, commuted regularly from his home in San Diego to Los Angeles, where he served in the Department of Housing and Urban Development, laboring in the ghettos, preaching the gospel of boxing as a way of warding off the evil of drugs. He called himself, simply, Instructor Moore.

"Sometimes, it seems some of the best ones are the ones who end up on drugs," he says of the ABC boys. "They're the smart alecks, the ones who think they can be somebody. Fine, I tell them: You want to be somebody, first you got to do something. So I try to pass on the arts I know: self-control, self-reliance, self-defense. The smart alecks will go around corners, but if you can get them face-to-face, you can make them think."

Moore often took along a movie about his boxing career to show his students. "The boys see me up there fighting, and then they sneak a look over at me. You can see them saying to themselves: 'Is this really the same guy?' That knocks me out." His eyes crinkle and he chuckles, "Heh, heh, heh."

The boys would be even more surprised to learn that the youthful figure on the screen was often called Old Archie or the Old Mongoose. By hanging on to his form longer than his contemporaries, Moore paid that penalty. Besides, In Them Days age was much more limiting in sport. Athletes often quit in their 30's because they thought they were supposed to. It wasn't like today, when all sorts of athletes remain of world-class caliber for many years, and kids dare to become adult champions when they're still wet behind the ears. Moore was old when he was young, and now he is young when he is old.

Moore resides contentedly in San Diego with his fourth wife, Joan, and two of their six children. There Archie reads, ponders, listens to jazz and shoots pool. "I have never discussed my marriages," he says. "But when you're married to a career, as I was, your wife must be cognizant of that. My present wife, the former Joan Hardy, understood. I told her: 'Just be cool and let me work this out.' "

And did the incumbent Mrs. Moore understand your vocational passion?

"We have been happily married since 1956," he declares. In fact, since 1940 Moore has resided in the same quarters, a handsome, sprawling ranch house with cast-iron gates that has remained undisturbed while the city of San Diego has grown up around it. Once there was a bluff by the side of the house. Now there is a freeway. Within, though, there is refuge. The gypsy always had a haven to return to.

"Ahh," Moore said once, when someone asked what his wife thought of kissing him through the new beard he had just grown. "She's happy to go through the brush to get to the picnic." Now he favors only a mustache and a wisp of chin hair under the lip. Moore forever brings to mind a word that has, regrettably, faded from usage: bebop. That image is abetted by his snappy beret—purple, adorned with a number of souvenir pins—which he has chosen to wear on his bald pate on this day. (It matches his bright-purple argyle sweater.)

But then, Moore was always a man of sartorial splendor. For one weigh-in he arrived in homburg, blue chesterfield and midnight-blue tuxedo, while suavely carrying a silver-tipped cane. On the occasion of one press conference, he appeared in top hat, white tie and tails. He often affected a yachting cap, for the very sensible reason that "it lends the impression that you own a yacht," and for a long time he drove a red Thunder-bird, because, as he said, "I think a sport should have a sports car."

Moore is calmly discoursing on this and other issues, complete with closed eyes and twiddling thumbs, when suddenly the chair shoots back, the eyes open and Instructor Moore is on his feet, the balls of his feet. It is time, he has decided, to teach an innocent the sweet science of the left jab.

Moore is like Johnny Appleseed in this regard, going about the land, educating all manner of mankind in how to jab. But it is also as if Shakespeare had spent his leisure time showing novices how to construct compound sentences, or if Rembrandt had happily advised amateurs on the mixing of paints.

Patiently, Instructor Moore plants the tyro's feet and places his pupil's left arm out on the alert, knuckles just so. He pauses and faces the rookie and holds up his own hands, together, in a triangle, the thumbs joined at the base, the fingers forming the other two sides. It is, he explains, the geometry of how the body should be set when one boxes. "You're on the defensive, but you can be aggressive," he says as he rotates his student's knuckles back to the correct position, from whence they have wandered.

And now he places his hands back in the triangle, then opens them at the top—like a flower blossoming—the fingers slowly separating. "Ahh, but that is where the mystery is," he purrs, "and I cannot teach you that. That you must learn on your own."

And the eyes crinkle up, the face glows, and suddenly Instructor Moore is in motion; he is the Mongoose again—dancing about the room, a purple whirling dervish, jabbing, by the chair, by the desk, by the wastebasket, by the window. Bing, bing, bing. Pop, pop. Dance, dance. Bing, bing, bing. The jabs fire out—lightning. Seventy-five years old, going on. The Mongoose. Jab, jab, jab.

The mystery was always and only the boxing, and how he could love so deeply something that treated him so shabbily for so long, In Them Days. After 16½ years he got his chance at the light heavyweight crown, and he won it, and three years later, after he had conducted his own lengthy publicity campaign, he forced Rocky Marciano to take him on for the heavyweight championship.

"Ahab and Nemesis" A.J. Liebling called the fight. Moore knocked the Rock down in the second round, but Marciano wore the old man down, and after the eighth the referee wanted to call it. "Oh no," the Mongoose said, gasping. "I want to be counted out." The referee, unsure, leaned down closer to where Moore was crumpled on his stool. "I'm a champion too," Moore said.

So Moore went out, proudly, for the ninth, and Marciano pummeled him to the canvas. The Rock retired after that, age 32, unbeaten. The Mongoose, age 39 or 42, boxed for another decade, treating his lady to much more.

Perhaps wandering the highways and the byways In Them Days was easier for the young Archie, because he was on something of a quest. He had spent his early years with one eye cocked, thinking this man or that one, coming round the corner or down the alley, might be Tommy Wright. He was the father who had gone away when Archie was a baby.

Tommy Wright was, really, no man for a boy to long for. His only prowess was in his loins; he fathered a dozen children, maybe many more. But he was a good enough fellow, trapped in institutionalized bigotry only two generations removed from slavery. Even as a little boy, Archie seemed to realize that in some other time or place. Tommy Wright would have made a fine father. Of course, Moore always gave his fellow man the benefit of the doubt. Of the 100 or so boxers he fought, he hated none and only "disliked" Jimmy Bivins for a time, because Bivins hit him once when the Mongoose was already down on his knees in the first of their five fights.

Then, too, Moore had a good father substitute in his uncle, Cleveland Moore. His mother had given the young boy and his sister over to her brother Cleveland and his wife, Willie Pearl, to be raised in a proper family, but in a freak accident when Archie was about 12, his uncle was fatally injured. Cleveland, on his deathbed, called for the boy. "Put your hand in mine," he sighed.

"He had this big old paw," Moore says, "and it swallowed up my hand, and then he said, 'Promise me one thing.' And I said, 'Yes, Uncle Cleve.' " And then Archie starts to cry. That is, the 75-year-old Archie, 63 years later, starts to cry. Maybe the 12-year-old Archie did too. "Take care of your auntie for me, will you please?"

The little boy said he would. And he did, through all the days until she was laid in the ground last year.

But first, young Archie fell in with the wrong crowd, "a fresh bunch of punks," he says, and when he was caught swiping change from a streetcar, a draconian judge gave him three years in reform school. That was where he had his first real fight.

Moore was only 15 then, one of the youngest and smallest inmates. At meals absolute silence was required, so the boys developed a sign language. For example, holding up the little finger meant pass the sugar. In time, though, the sign also came to mean a homosexual endearment—the sugar bowl metamorphosing to sweet to sweetheart.

Before long, one of the older kids glanced over at young Archie, clucked and raised his little finger. "See, he was saying, Be my sweetheart," Moore explains. "So I went over to him. I weighed only 128 and had this baby face. There was such a hush. You could hear the silence. You know how it is when you can hear silence? And I hit him. One time. He fell back and his head hit the floor, and blood started trickling out of his ear. I thought I'd fractured his skull. I didn't, but...I never had no more trouble in that place."

So, too, did Moore come to understand that he packed a wallop. He would end up with 129 knockouts, more than any other boxer in history.

He preferred, however, to be stylish, a counterfighter, jabbing, choreographing—taking one step to the other fellow's two—looking for the moment when he could stick in a left hook or a right cross. Other fighters would come to the gym just to watch Moore work out. He often accepted a fight because, in effect, it provided him with an evening's sparring partner. Besides, it was fun. "I was a master. A master," he announces.

But this was not gate. This was not box office. In the theater, satire is what closes on Saturday night. In the ring artistry doesn't even make the undercard. When he was finally given a chance at the title, against Maxim—the champion fought for more than $100,000, whereas Moore settled for $800—he had to take out a $10,000 loan to pay expenses. Shut out of New York—"They were conditioned to busy guys and hitters"—and most of the other big-time sites, he took what the rest of the country and the world would offer.

His incredible memory fails him when it comes to the towns. The boxers and promoters and writers and friends are focused still, but the datelines blur. "Wherever you were, whatever city, there was little Harlems," Moore says. "There was lines a black man didn't cross in them days. You didn't have to know where they were drawn. When you crossed one inadvertently, you could be sure there would be someone there quick to advise you. Heh, heh. But you must understand, when you're a boxer, all the fear goes. After being in the ring, you can stand up anywhere."

And so he kept moving, usually winning, always honest. He was well into his 30's, going on, when he passed through St. Louis, and he heard that his father was in town and was planning to drop by an uncle's house. So Moore hurried over there, and sure enough, along came Tommy Wright ambling down the street, up to the door. Here came his father at last.

After all those years of thinking about that moment, Moore didn't know how to behave. So he turned up his coat collar and scowled, scaring the bejesus out of his father. "Are you Tommy Wright?" he snarled. His father acknowledged that he was. "You know the po-lice is looking for you?" His father gulped, and Moore grilled him about his children. Wright piped up, proudly, that one of his sons was Archie Moore, and Moore growled: "What's Tommy Wright doing with a son named Moore?"

Wright looked to retreat, and, finally, Moore relented and pulled down his collar and told him that he was his son. His father stared into the strange man's eyes, and looked frightened. Moore invited him into the house, and later took his father with him to California. He still wanted to be champion of the world, and he wondered what his father thought about that. After a time, though, Tommy Wright drifted away again.

In the late 1940s Moore tried to part company with his manager, Charley Johnston, and Johnston didn't like that, so he put pressure on promoters to boycott Moore. Archie couldn't even get on a card in his hubs. He was not only black, but also blackballed. "That's the way it was done in them days," he says.

Of course, the tradition of freezing out black challengers had been well established in the 19th century by John L. Sullivan, who refused to face black fighters. After the first black heavyweight champion, Jack Johnson, lost the title to Jess Willard, a white man, in 1915, the protocol became even more firmly fixed. "I never was in favor of mixed bouts," said Jack Kearns, Jack Dempsey's manager in the '20s. "Willard squelched the colored heavyweight division when he squelched Johnson in Cuba. Why resurrect it?"

Other black contenders got the message and did what they had to do to survive. Although the taboo broke down in the '30s with Joe Louis—and John Henry Lewis, Gorilla Jones and Henry Armstrong—promoters were still able to freeze out the less marketable black fighters, like Moore. After all, this was during the Depression, and whites were having a hard time finding work. "The white people were jumping out of windows," Moore recalls. "I don't remember any black people jumping. We were used to depression."

Yet, in spite of the obstacles, many of the old black pugs stayed with it. In all sports the brightest athletes tend to hang on. The smarter athletes perceive aspects that dimmer minds don't consider; the bright ones don't give up their sport until they have tested it, plumbed it and searched in all the dusty corners.

"You're always learning, always still intrigued by it," Moore says. "No matter how long you stay in boxing, the mystery continues to unfold. You never solve the mystery, but you never want to stop trying to."

Of course, aging in the ring is different than learning to throw junk after the high, hard one goes, or improving the short game after the drives stop traveling as far. Many fighters who stay the extra years end up walking into walls. "Yes, indeed, I prayed over it," Moore says. "But, you see, I wasn't getting hit—so it couldn't be a real concern, no matter how long I stayed in. Only three men ever really hit me: Marciano, Yvon Durelle and Leonard Morrow...well, and Bivins that time he caught me down on my knees. Heh, heh. But I made him pay for it."

The Mongoose leans back, in reverie again. "No, you treat boxing right, it'll tell you when it's time for you to leave. The mystery will speak to you. The first time I defended my title against Durelle"—and Moore closes his eyes—"ahhh." He smiles warmly.

The man is smiling at this memory? That bout in 1958 was a bloodbath. Durelle knocked him down four times before Moore came back to put the challenger out of his misery in the 11th. After the tide turned in the sixth round, Moore came back to his corner, and his manager chirped, "You're winning the fight."

Archie said: "What fight?"

What memories! "The first time he put me down, I hit my head first, then my feet. I was laying there, and I thought, 'Wow, this guy can hit.' They said Marciano was a house wrecker, and he was, but it took him a volley to get the job done. This guy: one punch."

The Mongoose leans forward in his chair and opens his eyes. "And as I was laying there, I felt something inside my mouth. And then I tasted blood. My blood. Durelle had torn me inside my mouth, and that had never happened before, and so I knew then that boxing, through Mr. Durelle, Monsieur Durelle, was advising me it was nearing the time for me to leave." Moore was 41 going on 45. "But I eased out, which was proper, I believe. You can't say to boxing: O.K., boom, I'm gone. You climb down by degrees. I knew I had to get out, but I got down easy, and then one day, when I was gone, nobody even knew I was gone." Poof.

The Mongoose chortles, then leans back, twiddling his thumbs.

By the time Moore retired from the ring, in 1965, he had become a movie actor, having played the character Mark Twain called Nigger Jim in the 1960 remake of Huckleberry Finn. The film was not a good one, though Moore came away with good reviews and collected a few other acting parts as a result.

He received some criticism for accepting the role, but he had read the book thoroughly and found both an affinity and an affection for Jim. Throughout his career there were references to the Mongoose as either an Othello or a Mephistopheles of the ring, but he professed to identity with Aesop, a slave who was more clever than his masters and told wonderful stories.

Moore enjoyed talking to sportswriters. He understood how much athletes and sportswriters needed each other, but he also genuinely liked the men who wrote about him. Then, too, Moore fancied himself something of a colleague, for he was a most prolific correspondent—especially in an age when letter writing was becoming a lost art. At the height of Moore's powers. Red Smith would devote entire columns to reprinting his letters, which arrived from the four corners of the earth, signed only by 'The Goatee" or "Der Mongoose."

The thespian and the literatus came together with the pugilist in one unforgettable tour de force at his camp before the Marciano fight, when Moore gathered some of the nation's elite sportswriters about him and began to read to them from The Book of Boxing. Of course, there is no such book in print. This did not dissuade Moore, who pantomimed it all—even down to wetting his fingers as he turned the imaginary pages of the imaginary volume.

"The book of boxing is like the book of life, and to profit by it, you must begin at the beginning," he proclaimed. And he turned from the introduction to the first chapter. The writers settled down. This was in the Berkshire Mountains of western Massachusetts, a green and gold day late in August, and the writers sat at Moore's feet and took notes as he read from a book that didn't exist.

He informed them that "escapology" had prolonged his time in the ring, and he told them a secret of how he lived. It was called "relaxism," and had been described to him by an old lady, who said: "When I sit, I sit all over."

Moore turned some more pages (no doubt looking for the good parts). There was the story of the aborigine, of Juan Perón, Lucky Thompson, Bandit Romero, Kid Chocolate (his idol), Sam Bruton, even Jimmy Bivins. Whatever might happen in the title fight against the Rock, Moore was at peace, because he had come to wear the light heavyweight crown by beating Maxim three years before, when he was 35 going on 39. He was mellow now, he was cool. He was a champion, and he had found his father. He turned to a new chapter and talked about jazz: "There is much about jazz that relates to boxing. The improvisation. The flow. The beauty of the notes. The tempo." The leaves rustled as a breeze drifted over the Berkshires.

Archie turned some pages and came to a poem his auntie, Willie Pearl, had recited to him so long ago. He recited it loud and clear. He didn't even have to look down at The Book of Boxing, for he knew it by heart, as he still does:

When a task is once begun
Never leave it until it is done.
If the labor is great or small,
Do it well or not at all.

Satisfied, Moore closed the volume and left it on his lap.

Now, more than 36 years later, Moore recites that poem again. You lived your life by that, didn't you? he is asked.

"No, I still plan to live by it," the Mongoose replies. "I am not done."

As it was written in another book, it is darkest just before dawn. Though Moore was boycotted during his dispute with Johnston, he finally got a fight in Toledo, a boxing backwater that not even managers cared about. That was 1949, and Archie earned $300 for knocking out the Alabama Kid in the fourth. But Toledo fell head over heels in love with the Mongoose. An old fellow named Cheerful Norman, who ran a pool hall there, became his trainer, and a Ford dealer in town assumed the task of getting Moore a title shot. Eventually, old Jack Kearns, who was of the opinion that black fighters had had their chance back in 1919, came out of the woodwork to become Moore's comanager.

And so in 1952, after 16½ years, 139 victories (94 by knockout), and now with a well-connected manager, Moore had the proper credentials to fight for a championship. That was the way it worked In Them Days.

In his corner, just before he was introduced as the challenger for the light heavyweight crown, Moore searched the crowd. He spotted them: an older black couple sitting together in the ringside seats. Moore had paid to have them brought to St. Louis for the fight. A police car had picked them up and, sirens blaring, had sped them to the St. Louis Arena.

The two people were Moore's parents. The ring announcer stepped out and the bell rang, but Moore kept staring down, because for the first time in his life, he was seeing his mother and father together. "Reconciliation was highly unlikely," he says. "I knew that. But I just wanted my father and my mother to see me win the title, together. I wanted to look down on them, next to each other, at that moment. And I did.

"So that was another victory for me that night too, wouldn't you say?"

Moore looked from his parents, ringside, toward Maxim, across the canvas, and then he moved toward the champion in the center of the ring.

After 15 rounds the announcer took the microphone and called for the ballots. It was a unanimous decision. As soon as the second card was read, Kearns grabbed the new champ and tried to hoist him into the air. Disdainfully, Moore backed away from the old man. "Turn me loose," he snapped. "Don't you do that, Jack. Just slip my robe on my shoulders. There's nothing to get excited about. I could've won this thing 12 years ago if I'd had the chance. This is nothing new to me. Just be cool."

Then he turned away from Kearns and looked back out into the crowd. He looked at his mother, and he looked at his father, the man who had deserted him when he was a baby. "What do you suppose he was thinking?" Moore says. "I've always wondered, what do you suppose my father was thinking at the moment when he was sitting by my mother and he saw that the son he left had become the champion of the world?"

The car eases down the rain-slicked streets of Los Angeles. The passenger in purple has been residing (between paydays) in Southern California for almost a half-century now, and even if he had more prizefights than Marciano, Ali, Frazier and Tyson combined, he is everywhere a gentleman of caution and discretion. "Watch it now," he says. "A lot of people out here don't know how to drive in the rain." And: "There's no need for these cars to go so fast." And: "Better put your blinker on now, so they can see."

His pickup truck is in a service station. "A little further here. Now, start to take your turn. Easy, easy." He is returning home to the former Joan Hardy, with whom he will spend his remaining 30 years, going on. Whatever disappointments there might have been in the past have faded by now.

"No," the Mongoose says, "in many ways I was glad that I had to wait for my chance. If I had won the title when I was 21, 22, I would've been called a flash in the pan, and maybe I would've felt I had nothing more to prove. But here I am, over 70 years old, and you're still writing about me.

"You see, I knew how to fight early. I learned that. More important is to learn what to fight for. I was fighting for my family, for my future; I was fighting for, generally, the black race, for men who had given up their lives. You got to know what you're fighting for. Then the fight is much easier."

Then it is only a mystery, and mysteries can be solved if you're willing to take the time.
























[See caption above.]