1941-11-28 Tony Zale w pts 15 Georgie Abrams, Madison Square Garden, Manhattan, NYC, New York, USA - WORLD
1941-11-28 Tony Zale w pts 15 Georgie Abrams, Madison Square Garden, Manhattan, NYC, New York, USA - WORLD. Referee: Billy Cavanaugh. Seen as a fight to unify the title, the supposedly light-hitting Abrams (159) had the NBA champion down for ‘nine’ from a left hook to the jaw in the first round but was unable to keep him there. Once again, Zale (158¼) showed his powers of recovery when coming right back to battle Abrams all around the ring with savage body attacks, while the latter sent in solid lefts to the jaw. Although Zale was badly hurt again in the eighth he quickly recovered prior to the pair going toe to toe. The remaining sessions saw Abrams under fire from heavy rights under the heart, but he bravely made it to the final bell where the unanimous decision went against him. It might have been different for Abrams had he not suffered a severe injury to his right eye in the third, a bad haemorrhage of the cornea making it virtually impossible for him to pick punches up on that side.
When Zale was called up to serve in the US Navy, following an over-the-weight 12-round points defeat at the hands of the former light heavyweight champ, Billy Conn, on 13 February 1942, the title was frozen.
Later that year, two of his leading challengers, Charley Burley and Holman Williams, were matched for the unofficial ‘black’ title at the Victory Arena, New Orleans, Louisiana. On 14 August 1942, Burley scored a ninth-round stoppage win, while in a return on 16 October Williams outpointed his rival over 15 rounds at the Municipal Auditorium, New Orleans. The ‘black’ title then passed to the Cocoa Kid when he outscored Williams over 12 rounds at the Victory Arena on 15 January 1943, and that seems to be the last time it is mentioned.
Another leading black fighter, Joe Carter, topped The Ring magazine ratings in January 1945 before being beaten by Burley. Carter was one of several whose careers were severely hampered by the war. Other men who were included in the top five during the war years and were unable to make progress included Ossie Stewart, Ben Brown, Tony Martin and Vince Hawkins.
Apart from several Californian State title fights, which saw a succession of champions during the wartime period from Eddie Booker, Jack Chase, a future light heavyweight champion in Archie Moore, Chase (again), to Burley, no moves were made to hold a ‘duration’ tournament.
With Zale due to return to boxing at the beginning of 1946, the top five men in The Ring magazine ratings were Jake LaMotta, Williams, Burley, Rocky Graziano and Marcel Cerdan. Sometime in April 1946, and well on his way to knocking out six opponents in a warm-up period, Zale was matched to defend the title against the exciting fourth-ranked Graziano, the fight being made in the knowledge that it would be a sell-out. The wild, swinging Graziano, who had turned pro in March 1942, had won 43 (32 inside the distance) of 54 fights, drawing five and losing six. Having lost two in a row to Harold Green towards the end of 1944, Graziano began his rise to fame when knocking out Green to avenge those two defeats, as well as beating Billy Arnold, Solomon Stewart, Freddie Cochrane (twice), Al Bummy Davis, Sonny Horne and Marty Servo. Both Cochrane and Servo were reigning world welterweight champions at the time of their meetings with Graziano. Close on 40,000 fans were expected to brave the elements in order to witness a fight that promised to be a tear-up right from the opening bell.