ON MARCH 21, 1963, two boxers entered Dodger Stadium to fight for the featherweight championship of the world.
Davey Moore, the champ, had held the title for four years. Many considered him to be the best pound-for-pound boxer in the sport. Approaching 30, he was planning to fight for a couple more years, long enough to earn serious money. Then he was going to retire and enjoy his wife’s delicious cooking without having to worry about making weight.
Ultiminio “Sugar” Ramos was the challenger. He was young, just 21. He was in exile from his family and his homeland after Fidel Castro took power and banned professional boxing in Cuba. He was doing the only thing he knew how to do to make a living: fight with his fists.
Moore was knocked down in the 10th round. The back of his neck snapped against the ropes when he fell. He never recovered and died 75 hours later. He left behind a young wife and five children.
It was an accident. It was a tragedy. It became a political issue.
Governor Edmund “Pat” Brown called for the abolition of boxing, as did Los Angeles Times columnist Jim Murray. A similar entreaty came from Pope John XXIII.
Bob Dylan wrote a protest song that excoriated everyone in boxing — including the fans and the media — for Moore’s death.* At the song’s center is a wrenching, unanswerable question:
Who killed Davey Moore?
Why and what’s the reason for?
A year passed, then two. Those who had usurped the moment — the politicians and the pontiffs, the sportswriters and the songwriters — were consumed by other matters. The assassination of President John F. Kennedy, the March on Washington, Vietnam.
The two people most affected by Davey Moore’s death had to get on with their lives. Moore’s widow, Geraldine, took a job and raised five children as a single mom.
Sugar Ramos, the new champion, kept fighting.
Fifty years have passed. The memory of Davey Moore lingers like a whisper.
He was a pint-sized stub of a man. He stood 5-foot-3 and weighed 125 pounds when he was in fighting trim. With his horseshoe mustache and a broad chest that tapered to a 27-inch waist, he looked like a miniature lumberjack.
David Moore was born in Lexington, Kentucky. He grew up in Springfield, Ohio, after his father, a minister, took a job as a pastor nearby. He was the youngest of nine children and the troublemaker of the bunch. “If my parents had known some of the things I did,” he told a reporter, “I don’t think I’d have lived to tell it now.”
He loved football, but he wasn’t big enough for that. He also grew up at a time when, according to Malcolm X, “Every Negro boy old enough to walk around wanted to be the next Brown Bomber [a.k.a. heavyweight champ Joe Louis].”
Moore quit school to concentrate on boxing. He lied about his age — he was 14, not 16 — to enter amateur tourneys and the Golden Gloves.
At age 16, he met his future wife, Geraldine. She was an only child, also originally from Kentucky, the daughter of a steelworker. “David and a group of his friends used to play street football by the house during the summer,” she said. “They woul...read more