Fight to the Death: Who Killed Davey Moore?




Fight to the Death: Who Killed Davey Moore? by David Davis

On the life and legacy of a champion boxer

March 21st, 2013 reset - +

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.

¤

The Little Giant
 

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 would ask for a drink of cold water, and I would bring out a pitcher of water and cups. He took a liking to me, and I took a liking to him. I thought he was a cute little fellow. He sort of caught my eye.”

They married in 1952, the same year Moore won the national AAU bantamweight title and powered his way onto the US Olympic team. He was part of an impressive squad that won five gold medals in Helsinki, including Floyd Patterson (then a middleweight) and heavyweight Ed Sanders (who defeated a fast-retreating Ingemar Johansson).

Moore did not medal in Helsinki, losing a decision to South Korea’s Joon Ha Kang. He returned to Springfield with few job prospects. He and Geraldine were expecting their first child. He took temporary construction work before turning pro in 1953. He was 19.

Professional boxing was a vibrant cultural force in the mid-1950s. Literary heavyweights — Hemingway, Liebling, Schulberg, Heinz — regularly wrote about the sweet science. Stanley Kubrick was learning his craft by shooting photo spreads about boxers for Look magazine. The sport was popular TV fare — even in prime time. It didn’t hurt that the heavyweight champ was white, an Italian American, a real-life Rocky (Marciano).

Moore began notching victories on the Midwest fistic circuit, in Chicago, Dayton, Cincinnati, Detroit. He was dubbed “The Springfield Rifle” because he “hits like a .30-06 bullet,” one sportswriter quipped.

“He could really punch,” promoter Don Chargin said. “He had a great right hand and a terrific left hook. One of the things that set him apart was that he had a good jab. He would fight taller guys and out-jab them.”

Moore was also discovering that his size and skin color were disadvantages. The big bucks went to the big guys — the welterweights, the middleweights, the heavyweights — not the shrimps. And, with a passionate fan base that had promoters salivating on their stogies, Latino boxers were fast becoming the most lucrative drawing cards in the lighter-weight divisions.

Moore signed with veteran manager Willie Ketchum to handle the business side of his career. Ketchum was nicknamed “The Undertaker,” reportedly for supplying the fresh cadavers used in Joe Louis’ “bum-of-the-month” campaign. More importantly, with close ties to gangster Frankie Carbo, Ketchum had the connections to steer Moore to a title shot.

“Willie always had a shadow,” said Eddie Foy III, who assisted in Moore’s corner. “He wasn’t a rabbi. He knew his job and he knew it well.” (Foy was also a prominent Hollywood casting director. His grandfather was a vaudeville star; the family act was called “Eddie Foy and the Seven Little Foys.”)

The Midwest was left behind as Moore faced off against hometown heroes in Panama, Cuba, Florida, and Texas. His job was to wear the black robe, as it were, against the legions of Latinos.

The hub of this market was on the West Coast, in bullfighting rings and dance halls that stretched from Mexico City to El Monte, from Baja to San Bernardino. The heartbeat of the scene pulsed inside the Olympic Auditorium, a concrete slab that anchored a seedy street just south of downtown Los Angeles and drew weekly crowds of fanáticos.

The man known as “The Greek,” George Parnassus, handled the matchmaking duties, while the red-haired doyenne of the Olympic, Aileen Eaton, charmed sportswriters and schmoozed mobsters. “George was well connected with the Mexican boxing managers,” promoter Chargin said. “Aileen Eaton was a brilliant woman when it came to marketing. They were a good team.”

Moore made his Olympic Auditorium debut in January of 1958 with a TKO victory over Mexico’s Victor Manuel Quijano. He built a reputation as a “Mexican killer,” defeating opponents named Valdez, Salas, Delgado, Moreno, Camacho, García, and Corona, all the while dodging bottles, firecrackers, rocks, and flaming newspapers.

“I don’t have no rooters,” he told one reporter. “I’d like to have someone out there say, ‘Come on, Davey!’ I’d like to hear a word or two of encouragement from the crowd. But they don’t come out to cheer for poor old Davey.”

Once, after beating Kid Anahuac in Tijuana, a live snake was thrown at him. When asked whether it was poisonous, he replied: “I never stopped to examine him.”

“Davey had a degree in street,” Eddie Foy III said. “He knew how to handle himself.”

Moore often worked out at Gilman Hot Springs, in the sleepy town of San Jacinto, along the old route to Palm Springs. Under the watchful glare of trainer Teddy Bentham, he sweated off the pounds he gained from Geraldine’s home cooking. There was nothing to do but run, spar, read the Bible, and play horseshoes.

In March of 1959, Moore got his title shot at the Olympic Auditorium. Ironically, his opponent was not from Mexico, but from Nigeria: Hogan “Kid” Bassey, who won the featherweight crown vacated by the legendary Sandy Saddler.

Moore’s tonsils were infected, and he had a fever. He twice fell to the canvas after swinging and missing with punches. In the sixth round, he unleashed a barrage that staggered Bassey. He pounded away until Bassey was blinded by his own blood and the fight halted.

At 26, Davey Moore was champion of the world. He returned to Springfield, to Geraldine and the kids, with a gaudy championship belt.

He whipped Bassey in the mandatory rematch at the Olympic. He fought 23 times over the next four years, with stops in England, France, Spain, Japan, and a triumphant return to Helsinki, site of his disappointment at the 1952 Olympics.

He kept busy, he said, for the money. His purses were modest: he earned a $25,000 guarantee when he beat Danny Valdez at the Olympic in 1961, which he had to split with Ketchum and Bentham and then pay taxes on.

“You gotta make that bread while you can,” Moore told the Los Angeles Times. “Man, boxing is a business. I’m in it to make money.”

He bought a trophy home in Columbus large enough for a heavyweight. He and Geraldine now had five children: Denise, Ricardo, David, Lynise, and Davia. “My husband loved boxing,” Geraldine said. “That was his livelihood. He didn’t like being away from the family, but he made a nice living for us. We had pretty much all that we wanted.”

¤

Sugar Man
 

The way Ultiminio “Sugar” Ramos tells it, his name is a misnomer. He was supposed to be the last — or “Ultiminio” — of his parents’ 11 children. But he adds, with a wink, his parents couldn’t help themselves and produced another after him.

Born just days before the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Ramos grew up in poverty in the city of Matanzas. He cut sugar cane and quit school after the fourth grade to shine shoes for pesos. He read comic books — “mostly for the pictures,” he said — because he was semiliterate.

Fighting was family business: his father boxed, as did one brother. “I decided to go into boxing following my father’s advice,” he said through an interpreter. “He always told me I had to be someone in life and in boxing.”

Like many Cuban kids, Ramos admired the exploits of Gerardo González, better known as Kid Gavilán. A rugged, slick stylist who wore a pompadour and white shoes inside the ring, Gavilán was known for his “bolo” punch — a bit of deception that scored points and made his opponent look foolish.

“When I was a kid, me and my friends all wanted to be like Kid Gavilán,” he said. “My style was similar to his.”

Ramos started boxing at age 12. He claimed to have never lost in the amateur ranks, including one time when he had to ride a horse to reach the other side of the island.

He lied about his age to turn pro, at 15, in 1957. Fighting almost exclusively in Havana, Ramos reeled off 26 consecutive victories before encountering an intractable opponent: Fidel Castro. Although he allowed amateur boxing and Cubans continued to compete in the Olympics, El Jefe banned professional boxing soon after consolidating power.

Ramos was forced to decide: family, homeland, and Communism, or professional boxing? His last fight in Havana took place on December 30, 1960. He joined an exodus of other established fighters, including Jóse Nápoles and Luis Rodríguez, and left behind his parents and siblings, a girlfriend, and two children.

He moved to Mexico City and placed his career in the hands of trainer Kid Rapidez and manager Carlos “Cuco” Conde, a well-known radio announcer from Havana. Miami-based trainer Angelo Dundee was hired to help with the American market.

Ramos’ first fight on US soil took place in Los Angeles in 1962, when he defeated Eddie Garcia at the Olympic Auditorium. The locals were impressed. “He’s the same kind of sugar as Sugar Ray Robinson,” said trainer Howie Steindler, who operated the Main Street Gym, Los Angeles’s premiere sparring site. “Ramos is the best I’ve had in the gym since I’ve been here.”

He was 21, with a sparkling smile and skin the color of café de leche. He wore a pencil-thin mustache, like a Hollywood troubadour. He loved listening to Afro-Cuban music and playing the bongos. Reporters began beating the publicity drum: Ramos was ready to challenge for Davey Moore’s title. 

Ramos was eager for the fight to happen. There was only one subject he refused to talk about. “Let’s keep politics out of it,” he told Times columnist Sid Ziff. “I’m a fighter. I’ll answer anything you want about my boxing career.”

In the United States, as in Cuba, separating boxing from politics was impossible. Sen. Estes Kefauver (D-Tennessee) was holding well-publicized hearings about the Mob’s influence in the ring and pushing for legislation to regulate the sport with a federal commission.

Safety, too, was in the headlines. In 1962, Benny Paret faced Emile Griffith at Madison Square Garden for the welterweight title. Paret allegedly called Griffith “maricón” (or “faggot”) at the weigh-in. Apocryphal or not, the fight turned into a slaughter as Griffith hammered Paret senseless.

“[Paret] sank slowly to the floor,” wrote Norman Mailer in Esquire:

He went down more slowly than any fighter had ever gone down, he went down like a large ship which turns on end and slides second by second into its grave. As he went down, the sound of Griffith’s punches echoed in the mind like a heavy ax in the distance chopping into a wet log.

Paret lingered in a coma, then died. The Kid was 25. 

Less than six months later, Alejandro Lavorante faced Johnny Riggins at the Olympic Auditorium. Lavorante was a game but overmatched heavyweight from Argentina. He had lost his previous two bouts, to veteran Archie Moore and to future champ Cassius Clay, at the Los Angeles Sports Arena. (“Lavorante will fall in five,” Clay predicted, and he was accurate.)

After Lavorante was again knocked out, he collapsed and fell into a coma. 

Critics used the incidents to indict the sport. “Boxing should have to go back to the barges,” wrote Jim Murray wrote in the Times. “Its calloused indifference to its own, its disdain for the simple dignity of a human being has earned it no other consideration. No civilized society can put its stamp of approval on it in its present form.”

Moore and Ramos did not need sports columnists to lecture them about the dangers in boxing. Moore’s teammate on the Olympic team, “Big Ed” Sanders, succumbed to injuries after being knocked out in 1954. 

Back when he was fighting in Cuba, in the 12th fight of his career, Ramos knocked out an opponent named José Blanco. Four hours later, Blanco died from a brain hemorrhage.

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The Fight 
 

The Moore–Ramos match-up was considered a bonanza. Promoters John Horn and former champ Joe Louis agreed to stage the fight at the Los Angeles Sports Arena, with Moore reportedly getting $70,000, but that deal fell through. Then, the fight was rumored to be going to Miami. 

Finally, Parnassus and Eaton devised a unique promotion: a triple-header of championship bouts, matching Moore versus Ramos, Emile Griffith against Luis Rodríguez for the welterweight crown, and Roberto Cruz against Raymundo “Battling” Torres for the junior welterweight title. The date was set for March 16, 1963, “come rain or come moon-shine.”

The anticipated crowd was too big for the Olympic Auditorium. Eaton made a deal to stage the fights at Walter O’Malley’s gleaming baseball palace, Dodger Stadium. It would be the first card held at Los Angeles’s newest sports venue, with the ring positioned atop the pitcher’s mound. Parnassus and Eaton predicted a gate of over $300,000, along with a national TV audience. Tickets were priced at $5–$30.

Davey Moore dispatched Gil Cadilli in a tune-up in February, then retreated to a cabin in San Jacinto with trainer Bentham. His share of the purse was a reported $40,000.

Sugar Ramos worked out at the Alexandria Hotel in downtown Los Angeles. After watching him get repeatedly tagged by right hands, Moore’s best weapon, newspaper pundits installed the champ as the 2–1 favorite.

Moore sounded confident. “I’m gonna win,” he told the Los Angeles Herald Examiner’s Morton Moss. “But I’m not Cassius Clay. I won’t pick the round. I’ll take any round.” 

Geraldine left the kids in her mother-in-law’s care and flew to Los Angeles. “David wanted me to come out,” she said. “He knew that I didn’t want to see him fight, but he wanted me there for the festivities after the fight. It didn’t work out that way.”

During the week, caravans of cars came from Mexico to cheer for Ramos, Rodríguez, and Torres. Times columnist Jim Murray predicted a traffic jam “complicated by the presence of 10,000 Mexican nationals in vintage buses and muffler-less Mercuries cornering around the parking lot on two wheels with clutches in and brakes out.”

The day scheduled for the fight, a major storm lashed the region with rain and chilling winds. Just 15 minutes before the first fight, officials canceled the card.

Parnassus and Eaton tallied their losses — primarily, the $70,000 television fee from ABC — and rescheduled for March 21.

Moore stayed at Eddie Foy’s home in Benedict Canyon. “Davey wouldn’t talk to anybody two, three days before a fight,” Foy said. “He was pensive, real quiet. He read the Bible.”

Moore and Ramos weighed in at the Alexandria Hotel the morning of the fight. Both were at 125 and one-quarter pounds. Ramos had a three-inch reach advantage.

A crowd of 26,142 fanáticos descended upon Chavez Ravine. Moore used the office of Dodgers manager Walter Alston to change into his togs: dark trunks with a wide white stripe along each side and around his waist. Walking to the ring, he wore a maroon-and-gold robe with a golden “K,” representing Keifer Junior High School in Springfield.

Ramos donned dark trunks, trimmed with red suede, emblazoned with a horseshoe and the name of his hometown, Matanzas. Jimmy Lennon, the ring announcer, introduced the fighters with his trademark velvety cadence.

Moore began briskly, stunning Ramos with double right hands. Ramos countered using his reach. His left jabs hurt Moore and kept him off-balance.

They showed mutual respect, what one observer described as “a brotherhood of courage. When the bell sounded for the end of a round, they stopped their assaults as if frozen, then patted one another admiringly before heading to their corners.”

As the crowd chanted “Arriba! Arriba!” Ramos’s jab began to dictate the pace. He cracked Moore’s mouthpiece in the fifth round and sent it flying. Bleeding inside his mouth, Moore was swallowing blood.

The champ rallied, his brisk counterattacks finding openings. Ramos’s left eye closed to a slit, the skin beginning to turn Dodger blue.

Ramos maintained a slight edge after nine rounds. He took control in the 10th, pelting Moore with unanswered blows that sent the champ reeling to the canvas. As he fell, the back of his neck struck the lowest of the three strands of steel cable around the ring.

He got to his feet. Ramos kept attacking. As the bell rang, Moore’s head and upper torso were bent awkwardly through the ropes.

Moore managed to walk to his corner. Moments later, Ketchum told referee George Latka that Moore was through.

Sugar Ramos was the new featherweight champion. He exulted in his corner with Kid Rapidez, Cuco Conde, and Angelo Dundee. They were joined by Luis Rodríguez, who had avenged Benny Paret by dethroning Emile Griffith in the first bout.

“The Latins have gone happy,” broadcaster Steve Ellis said.

Moore stayed in the ring to do a TV interview. A white towel covered his head. His body slumped across the ropes for support. “It just wasn’t my night,” he said in a jabbering speech. “I can fight much better. I think I can knock him out. I just couldn’t get myself together.”

He returned to his dressing room and spoke to several reporters. “Just like you writers, if only you’d admit it, can’t write a lick some days,” he told Sports Illustrated’s Morton Sharnik. “Well, that was me tonight. I just wasn’t up to my best.”

Moore sat on the rubdown table in his trunks. His mouth was cut up, but his face was unmarked. His eyes were slightly unfocused. The words came softly and slowly.

Suddenly, Moore slumped over. “He said, ‘I’m going out, man. I gotta go to sleep,’” Foy said. “I looked at Willie and said, ‘Get a doctor.’”

“My head, Willie!” Moore cried. “My head. It hurts something awful.”

Ketchum, Bentham, and Foy comforted Moore. He fell unconscious. He was taken to White Memorial Hospital, a few miles from where Alejandro Lavorante lay in a coma.

Geraldine Moore was staying nearby at a friend’s house. She was expecting a phone call from her husband. Instead, she was told that he was in grave condition.

She hurried to the hospital. “I was standing there, but he didn’t know I was there,” she said. “They had him packed in ice. To see your husband lying there like that, that’s a sight I won’t ever forget.”

¤

Post Mortem
 

For 72 hours, the headlines on the front page of the Los Angeles Herald Examiner newspaper detailed Davey Moore’s deteriorating condition:

FIGHTER NEAR DEATH
MOORE IN COMA, LOSES RING TITLE BY KO 

FIGHTER LAYS DYING
DAVEY MOORE IN COMA
LIFE IN “HANDS OF GOD” 

DAVEY’S GREATEST FIGHT 

DAVEY IS DEAD

DEATH OF A FIGHTER
THE FREAK THAT KILLED DAVEY

Within days, doctors who examined tapes of the broadcast determined that Moore’s brain stem was irreparably injured when the back of his neck snapped against the ropes in the 10th round. Other damage to his brain was noted in the official autopsy report.

The outrage began. Governor Edmund “Pat” Brown called for the “complete abolition of this barbaric spectacle” and proposed a statewide referendum on the sport. He urged California voters “to vote professional boxing out of this state in 1964.”

From Vatican City, a scathing editorial in the L’Osservatore Romano newspaper decried the disregard for human life: “Here is another crime committed in the name of the boxing idol; another moral taint on our civilized usages which do not agree to dutiful prohibitions and prefer to serve the childish myths of certain largely instinctive and often unconsciously savage crowds.”

Jim Murray, who had used his column to hype the event, reversed course. “Better to lose readers than lives,” he wrote. “Right is right and boxing isn’t.”

In New York City, Bob Dylan was busy recording The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. It was his second album and, with such songs as “Blowin’ In the Wind,” “Masters of War,” “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall,” and “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right,” he would soon become, in the vernacular, “the voice of a generation.”

Dylan quickly wrote “Who Killed Davey Moore?” He may well have been influenced by one of his contemporaries, folksinger Gil Turner, who had recorded a song entitled “Benny ‘Kid’ Paret,” about the Cuban fighter’s death.

The "answers" to the question "Who Killed Davey Moore?" are a series of disavowals, disguised as verses, beginning with the referee:

“Not I,” says the referee,
“Don’t point your finger at me.
I could’ve stopped it in the eighth
An’ maybe kept him from his fate,
But the crowd would’ve booed, I’m sure,
At not gettin’ their money’s worth.

Next to deny responsibility are the crowd, the manager, the gamblers, the press. Until, finally, Dylan concludes the song with Sugar Ramos:

“Not me,” says the man whose fists
Laid him low in a cloud of mist,
Who came here from Cuba’s door
Where boxing ain’t allowed no more.
“I hit him, yes, it’s true,
But that’s what I am paid to do.
Don’t say ‘murder,’ don’t say ‘kill.’
It was destiny, it was God’s will.”

Dylan performed “Who Killed Davey Moore?” intermittently in 1963–64, including on Studs Terkel’s radio show in Chicago. In February of 1964, Dylan came to Southern California for several gigs. On the same day that he appeared on The Steve Allen Show, he sang “Who Killed Davey Moore?” at a concert in the gym on the campus of UC Riverside.

On Halloween Night in 1964, when Dylan performed at New York’s Philharmonic Hall, he seemed to be distancing himself from the song. According to biographer Sean Wilentz, he announced: “This is a song about a boxer. It’s got nothing to do with boxing; it’s just a song about a boxer really, and, uh, it’s not even having to do with a boxer, really. It’s got nothing to do with nothing. But I fit these words together, that’s all.”

Songwriter Phil Ochs also weighed in. His tune, entitled “Davey Moore,” was traditional folk fare as, at first, Ochs celebrated Moore:

It was out to California young Davey Moore did go,
to meet with Sugar Ramos and trade him blow for blow
He left his home in Springfield, his wife and children five;
the spring was fast approaching, it was good to be alive.

Then came the solemn chorus:

Hang his gloves upon the wall, shine his trophies bright clear,
another man will fall before we dry our tears
For the fighters must destroy as the poets must sing,
as the hungry crowd must gather for the blood upon the ring.

But neither song was heard widely on the radio in 1963–64, and the outrage over Davey Moore’s death, however palpable, did not coalesce into a national movement. The proposal to outlaw boxing never made it onto the ballot in California. Reforms were minimal; officials added a fourth rope around the ring, and better padded those ropes, in the hope of avoiding injury.

Boxing will never escape the specter of death and brain damage. One such incidence occurred at the Olympic Auditorium in 1980, when Welsh boxer Johnny Owen died after losing to bantamweight champ Lupe Pintor. It was one of the last major bouts at the venerable arena. Today, the building houses a Korean-American church. To this day Dodger Stadium has never hosted another fight card.

But in its brutal honesty and wretched beauty, the fight game survived to find a unique niche, even enjoying several renaissances, led by the voluble Muhammad Ali, who attracted a salon of literary luminaries (Mailer, Baraka, Plimpton, and Talese, among others), and extending to George Foreman, Roberto Durán, Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvin Hagler, Oscar De La Hoya, Manny Pacquiao, and Floyd Mayweather.

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Life, Interrupted
 

Sugar Ramos resumed boxing four months after Davey Moore’s death. He won six in a row before losing the featherweight title to Vicente Saldivar in 1964. He never regained the championship.

He announced his retirement several times, only to return. His final bout came at The Forum in Inglewood in 1972. Later, Ramos was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

Ramos was alternately haunted and irked by the memory of Davey Moore. It was the highlight of his career, and it was the worst experience of his life.

“Why did he have to die?” he asked a reporter once. “It was my night, my glory. I won fair and square. […] Then he dies and nobody remembers that Ramos fought a good fight and won. They only remember Davey Moore died. Some even say I killed him. I work hard and beat him. I am not a killer.”

Another time he said, “I have thought about Davey Moore till I cannot think about it anymore. For my first fight [afterwards], I was unable to strike the other man hard. Now I hit as hard as I can.”

Today, at age 71, he has found acceptance. “Moore landed in a very bad way,” he said. “What happened to him could have happened to me. That’s the way it was. It hurt me. It was something very hard. But as a professional boxer, I had to go on and overcome the situation.”

The words come in a raspy, twangy Spanish. He is dressed elegantly, in a suit and a tie. He boasts that he is “a sharp-dressed man.”

He lives in Mexico City, his adopted home, and has four kids. He proudly delights in becoming a grandfather for the first time. His life, he says, is “muy tranquilo, muy tranquilo.”

Two months ago, Ramos returned to Cuba. It was his first time back in more than 50 years. He went to Matanzas and visited with relatives who had stayed, including two children. He was welcomed with affection, he said, but he “felt like some kind of stranger because it had been such a long time.”

When asked whether he regretted leaving Cuba, he quotes a saying he learned from his father: “There isn’t another country like Cuba.”

Ramos and Geraldine Moore met only once: at White Memorial Hospital in Los Angeles as Davey Moore lay dying.

Lo siento,” Ramos said repeatedly, tears squeezing through puffy, blackened eyes. “I’m sorry.”

Geraldine absolved him. “You are the lucky one,” she told him. “It was God’s act.”

She flew home with her husband’s body. Over 10,000 people paid their respects at the funeral home, including the entire student body of Keifer Junior High School.

Moore’s manager, Willie Ketchum, told reporters that he had helped the fighter amass a considerable fortune, with investments in a fitness center and an annuity. Geraldine soon discovered the reality: there were few assets.

“Willie did not have anything set up for us,” Geraldine said. “After the fight, Willie and Teddy [Bentham] got their money. What was left wasn’t a whole lot.”

She had to sell the big house and move to a smaller place. Governor Jim Rhodes, a Springfield native, promised help. Within weeks Geraldine found work in Columbus as a notary clerk for the state of Ohio.

Geraldine’s parents and Davey’s family pitched in to help her with the kids. “Being sad about it wasn’t going to bring my husband back,” she said. “I was fortunate to have a wonderful support group. They were solid rocks.”

Boxing became a memory. Much of the memorabilia from Moore’s career — photos, trophies, equipment — was lost when a fire destroyed a cultural center in Springfield.

She remarried in the early 1970s, but the marriage was short lived. She kept her job for more than three decades before retiring in 1995. She moved back to Springfield to care for her aging father.

Geraldine is now 77. Family remains at the vital center of her life: she has nine grandchildren, 21 great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandson. “The Moore family survived and is doing okay,” she said.

Recently, she watched footage from the fight at Dodger Stadium. It was the first time that she had ever seen it. “It was sad,” she said. “When it came to the last round, I kind of closed my eyes.”

Not long ago, Springfield officials hired noted sculptor Mike Major to create a series of statues depicting distinguished citizens from the city. Six have been erected; the economic downturn prevented the completion of a statue of Davey Moore.

Until now, that is. Geraldine and the family have been assured that funding is in place to finish the statue this year. A bronzed figure of Davey Moore, the Little Giant, will soon stand eight feet high atop a peaceful knoll that marks the entrance to Springfield.

“It’s going to be at a beautiful location,” she said. “When they put the statue up, when they stand it up, you can’t help but see him from everywhere.”

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Notes:

* There had been few socially conscious songs about sports. Most of these could be classified as celebratory, like “Duke Kahanamoku,” by lap-steel master Sol Hoopii, about the Hawaiian surfing-swimming pioneer, and “Did You See Jackie Robinson Hit That Ball?” about the Brooklyn Dodgers star. The exception was Joe Louis, who inspired nearly 50 songs, according to author David Margolick, including one recorded by the Count Basie Orchestra, with Paul Robeson on vocals and lyrics by Richard Wright. 

Bob Dylan did not release “Who Killed Davey Moore?” as a single or on a studio album. A live performance of the song is available via Dylan’s The Bootleg Series. Sports Illustrated recently ranked “Who Killed Davey Moore?” as the best sports song of all time. Of course, Dylan later wrote a song about boxer Rubin “Hurricane” Carter. According to Los Angeles magazine, Dylan likes to train in a boxing gym he owns in Santa Monica.

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The author wishes to thank Tito Gonzalez, for his interpretation assistance with Sugar Ramos, as well as Mauricio Sulaiman, secretary general with the World Boxing Council, for arranging the interview at the WBC offices in Mexico City. Thanks also to John Hall, Don Fraser, Bruce Bebb, Terry Cannon, Albert Kilchesty, and Mark Cirino.

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