Davey Moore vs. Sugar Ramos

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Sugar Ramos 125 lbs beat Davey Moore 125 lbs by RTD in round 10 of 15

  • Date: 1963-03-21
  • Location: Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles, California, USA
  • Referee: George Latka
  • World Featherweight Championship (6th defense by Moore)

Moore lands a right against Ramos.
Moore goes through the ropes in round 10.

By Morton Sharnik | Sports Illustrated | April 1, 1963


Little Davey Moore sat on the edge of the rubbing table in his dressing room at Dodger Stadium. Except for a bloodshot left eye, his face was unmarked. It was hard to believe that he had just lost his world featherweight championship in a savage fight with Sugar Ramos, a Cuban expatriate. The fight had been scheduled for 15 rounds, but in the 10th Moore took such a pounding that his manager, Willie Ketchum, asked the referee to stop it after the bell rang for the end of the round.

Yet for all the battering Moore had taken, here he was, last Thursday night, talking and joking with reporters while Ketchum rubbed him down with a towel. "I'll take the rematch, you better believe it," Moore said. "Look, you guys know that when I'm right nothing gets to me. Not nothing. I was off. That's it plain and simple." He laughed and added, "Just like you writers, if you'd only admit it. Can't write a lick some days. Well, that was me tonight. I just wasn't up to my best."

The newsmen jotted down the quotes and left. The Moore-Ramos fight was only the second of three championship bouts on one card, and the final fight, between Roberto Cruz of the Philippines and Battling Torres of Mexico—for the so-called junior welterweight title—was ready to start. But no sooner had the reporters hurried out than Moore clasped both hands to the back of his head and cried out to Ketchum, "My head, Willie! My head! It hurts something awful!" With that, he collapsed into unconsciousness. Ketchum called for an ambulance, and Moore was taken to White Memorial Hospital in Los Angeles.

On Monday morning, 75 hours later, Davey Moore died—the second world champion to lose his life within a year. Last March Benny Paret died from the battering he got from Emile Griffith in their welterweight championship fight in Madison Square Garden. Ever since then, boxing has been under fire, particularly in California, where Governor Pat Brown called for abolition of the sport after Heavyweight Alejandro Lavorante was knocked into a coma last September. Still unconscious, Lavorante slumbers in a hospital only a few miles from Moore's deathbed.

As might have been expected, Governor Brown was quick to issue a statement on the Moore affair. Before the press and TV cameras he again demanded the abolition of boxing, which he termed a "barbaric spectacle," and said he would seek to have the voters ban it. To do this he must persuade the state legislature to put his proposal on the ballot as a constitutional amendment. The earliest this can be done is next year.

Sol Silverman, a San Francisco attorney named by the governor to investigate boxing, publicly disagreed. Instead of abolishing the sport, Silverman suggested that the State Athletic Commission adopt new safety measures. "Professional boxing," he said, "has a chance by cleaning itself up to take a part in the President's physical fitness program."

However, there were many echoes of Governor Brown's demand. Senator Kefauver planned to reintroduce his bill for federal regulation. In Paris a headline read DAVEY MOORE LATEST VICTIM OF FIGHT MOB. The semiofficial Vatican newspaper, L'Osservatore Romano, condemned boxing as "morally illicit," and on the next day Pope John himself denounced fistfighting as "contrary to natural principles."

By a ghoulish quirk, Emile Griffith, the fighter who started the uproar last year by battering Paret, was on the same championship card as Moore. He and Luis Rodriguez, another Cuban expatriate, met in the first fight for the welterweight title. There was a fine crowd of more than 26,000 on hand, most of them Cuban or Mexican fanàticos, who had come with castanets, maracas, bongo drums and horns to urge the Latin fighters to victory. The Rodriguez-Griffith fight was close. When Rodriguez got the decision the fanàticos whooped it up.

The Davey Moore-Sugar Ramos fight aroused the fanàticos to an even higher pitch. Moore had been an outstanding champion, and he was favored 2 to 1. But Ramos, only 21 years old, came into the ring with a remarkable record: 40 victories, one draw, 30 knockouts in 41 fights. Four years ago, in Havana, a preliminary fighter named Tigre Blanco died after Ramos knocked him out.

The Moore fight was a fierce but cleanly fought battle. As the fury and punishment mounted round after round, Ramos and Moore seemed joined in 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. Moore started fast, and in the second round he caught Ramos with chopping combinations that left Sugar stunned and wobbly. Each time he was hurt, his partisans would chant, "Ra-MOS, Ra-MOS, Ra-MOS," and Sugar would respond with a rally. In the third Ramos changed his tactics. Instead of moving into the body, he stayed outside and started knocking Moore off balance with a vicious, twisting left jab. In the fifth the jab sent Moore reeling across the ring. A shove sent him down, but the referee, George Latka, rightly ruled it a slip. Moore arose and belted Ramos with a right. The Cuban countered with five straight jabs and a right cross that sent Moore's mouthpiece flying and cracked it in several places. Moore kept using it even though it cut his mouth and forced him to swallow blood. In the corner Ketchum had another mouthpiece. It wouldn't fit over Moore's loosened teeth.

In the eighth Moore's right hammered Ramos' eye to a slit, but Ramos kept belting Moore with the left. At the end of the ninth Ramos shook Moore with a strong right. When the bell rang for the 10th Moore charged from his corner and struck Ramos with two solid rights. Ramos fought back and Moore went into a clinch. The fanàticos yelled, "Arriba! arriba!" and Ramos whipped five upper-cuts that sent Moore stumbling across the ring. A quick tattoo of snapping jabs, followed by a right hand, dropped him to the canvas on the seat of his pants. He landed with such force that the back of his head bounced off the lowest strand of the ring ropes. Moore got to his feet at the count of three. Referee Latka dusted off Moore's gloves and sent him back in at the end of the mandatory eight count.

"Moore's eyes looked O.K.," Latka said later, "although the thought ran through my mind that Davey was taking some hard blows. His arms were moving and his reflexes still seemed to be all right. He appeared to be very, very weary, but his eyes were real clear, real sharp, real alert." But, curiously, Latka added that he "had been worried about Moore's legs from the start. Frankly, I've never seen him flounder so much with his footwork. He didn't move like he did in the past. He was tangled up all the time. From the first round on his legs weren't working right. He didn't move like he usually does."

Flounder Moore did as the fight resumed. He stumbled around the ring defenseless while Ramos landed at will. Finally a right smashed Moore through the ropes, draping him over the middle strand, his back to the ring. Even Ramos apparently had had enough; he just stood to the side watching. "I grabbed Ramos by the hand," Latka said, "and was going to give Moore a mandatory eight count even though he wasn't down. But then the bell rang, and I grabbed Moore and pulled him up. I put down my score for the round, and I was about to go over and look at Moore when Willie [Ketchum] came up and said he wanted it stopped. I had determined that if Moore hadn't come around in 30 seconds I was going to stop the fight."

Ramos, the new champion, and Moore, the battered ex-champion, posed for photographers, then walked to their dressing rooms. After talking to reporters, Ramos and Rodriguez, stablemates as well as countrymen, went to a Latin restaurant on Wilshire Boulevard to rejoice in their championships. Ironically, hanging among the pictures of boxers in the window were the championship gloves of the late Benny Paret. Not until morning did Ramos learn of Moore's collapse.

For the better part of three days, until his condition began to deteriorate in the early hours of Monday morning, Moore remained unconscious but alive in the hospital. From the first, however, there was little room for medical doubt—only hope—as to Moore's eventual fate. "In his case, I am very pessimistic," said Dr. Kenneth H. Abbott, one of three brain specialists attending Moore. "My personal feeling is that it is much less than a 50-50 chance." According to Dr. Abbott and Drs. Phillip J. Vogel and Cyril B. Courville, the other specialists, Moore had a bruise on his brain stem. Specifically, it was a swelling about an inch in diameter. The doctors said that the swelling was caused by a fall rather than a punch, and after looking at a video tape of the fight, they concluded that Moore probably suffered the injury when the back of his head struck the ring rope—which has a steel cable core—after the knockdown in the 10th. "This hitting the rope was the only thing that would have given him enough of a jolt to do it," Dr. Courville said. "The jabs earlier probably set the stage." Dr. Vogel said, "I think that explains it pretty well. At least hitting the rope was the coup de gr√¢ce. Of course, he got hit in the chin after that happened, and this could have been a contributing factor, too."

The doctors did not consider surgery because, unlike either Paret or Lavorante, Moore had no hemorrhage or clot. They had no choice but to wait—hoping that the swelling might subside. It never did.

The California commission, perhaps the most capable in the country, has already started an investigation. And based on past performance, the commission's report can be expected to be straightforward and unsparing in its criticisms. Moore's death is a terrible thing, but in this case the public interest can best be served by scientific inquiry, not by the hasty pronouncements of the governor. [1]

Ramos celebrates his victory with Luis Rodriguez (left) and trainer Angelo Dundee.
Moore in his dressing room after the fight, shortly before he collapsed.

Boxer's death inspired change in the fight game
Kevin Modesti | San Francisco Chronicle | July 27, 2001

Los Angeles -- FOUR DECADES after his death left a bloody mark on the otherwise gleaming image of Dodger Stadium, Davey Moore's name means different things to different people.

To Bob Dylan fans, it's a song lyric. To the anti-boxing crowd, it's a rallying cry that inspired abolition demands and prompted safety-rule changes. To old-time fight fans, it's a bittersweet memory of a good man and popular champion lost to an unimaginable fate.

So when Roy Jones Jr. defends his light heavyweight title tomorrow at Staples Center -- it's a reminder that this sport has a way of leaving behind unwanted memories.

"(It) has never been done before! Three world championships in our city!" Los Angeles City Councilman Nate Holden crowed Wednesday at a news conference to promote this week's Staples Center card headed by Jones vs. Julio Gonzalez.

But, in fact, it has been done in Los Angeles at least once: On Thursday, March 21, 1963, 1-year-old Dodger Stadium played host to title bouts matching featherweight champion Moore against undefeated No. 1 contender Ultiminio "Sugar" Ramos, welterweight champ Emile Griffith against No. 1 contender Luis Rodriguez, and welterweights Battling Torres and Roberto Cruz for the vacant title.

Scheduled for March 16, the card was postponed after wind-blown rain turned the ring set atop the pitcher's mound into a giant sponge.

The 5-foot-2 1/2 Moore, at 29 and in the fourth year of his title reign, was having trouble getting down to the featherweights' 126-pound limit.

Nobody involved could claim ignorance of the dangers involved. Griffith carried the stigma of having killed Benny Paret in a March 1962 match at Madison Square Garden. A boxer named Alejandro Lavorante lay dying in an L.A. hospital as the result of a September 1962 loss to Johnny Riggins at the Olympic Auditorium as he tried to bounce back from knockouts by Cassius Clay and Archie Moore.

But nobody could imagine that happening to Davey Moore, the "Little Giant" from Springfield, Ohio. Though he no longer wore the aura of invincibility, having lost six times in 62 pro fights, he had the aura of indestructibility.

The "tripleheader," hailed by writers of the day as the most ambitious boxing program ever presented in California, drew more than 26,000 fans paying $5 to $30.

Moore-Ramos went on between Griffith's 15-round loss to Rodriguez and Cruz's first-round knockout of Torres. Moore dominated the first two rounds of the scheduled 15.

"The fight had begun as a study in politeness," columnist Melvin Durslag wrote. "At the end of each of the early rounds, the boys did more than touch gloves in the sometimes friendly custom of the sport. They threw their arms around each other as if greeting an immigrant cousin.

"All the while, a savage war was developing."

Ramos, a 21-year-old Cuban living in Mexico City, took control to the delight of the largely Latino crowd.

In the 10th, Ramos' left hooks sent Moore into the ropes. A series of Ramos lefts and rights drove Moore toward the center-field side of the ring, where a left hook knocked him onto the seat of his shorts, his head twanging against the lowest of the three ropes. Moore got up as referee George Latka counted "three," and that rope wouldn't be given another thought for days.

The bell ended the 10th as Ramos' right hand left Moore slumped over the middle rope. Latka was marking his scorecard when Moore manager Willie Ketchum signaled that his man couldn't go on.

Nothing appeared to be wrong with Moore, especially in the estimation of Moore. He walked to the dressing room and talked for 40 minutes. "Sure, I want to fight him (Ramos) again," he said, a bloodshot left eye his only apparent damage. "And I'll get the title back."

The reporters had left when, as friend and sparring partner Ronnie Wilson described it later, Moore put his hands to his head and said, "Oh, my head aches." He slumped into unconsciousness.

His wife, Geraldine, who never attended his fights, arrived at White Memorial Hospital after midnight to hear that Davey had a bruise and swelling at the base of the brain and that surgery would do no good.

Moore never regained consciousness and died March 25. "It is God's will," Geraldine said after being awakened with the news. Then she fainted. Their five children were at home in Ohio.

Neurologists determined the injury could not have been caused by a punch. Viewing a videotape of the fight, they focused on Moore's fall against the bottom rope late in the 10th round. In what a doctor called a "million-to-one" accident, the rope had struck Moore like an expert karate blow.

California Gov. Pat Brown asked the legislature to ban "this so-called sport." The Vatican newspaper condemned boxing as "morally illicit." Dylan's 1964 song, "Who Killed Davey Moore?" skewered all of boxing -- from "the referee" to "the boxing writer" -- for trying to avoid blame.

Moore's death changed boxing only slightly. California officials ordered ring ropes padded, a fourth rope added and the bottom rope loosened in an attempt to prevent similar damage from a fighter striking his head, said Johnny Flores Jr., whose L.A.-based MasterBuilt Boxing Ropes and Equipment built the Staples Center ring.

In many small ways like that, boxing has been made safer over the years. Men continue to die in the ring but not as often as four decades ago. [2]

"Who Killed Davey Moore?"
By Bob Dylan

Who killed Davey Moore
Why an’ what’s the reason for?

“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
It’s too bad he had to go
But there was a pressure on me too, you know
It wasn’t me that made him fall
No, you can’t blame me at all”

Who killed Davey Moore
Why an’ what’s the reason for?

“Not us,” says the angry crowd
Whose screams filled the arena loud
“It’s too bad he died that night
But we just like to see a fight
We didn’t mean for him t’ meet his death
We just meant to see some sweat
There ain’t nothing wrong in that
It wasn’t us that made him fall
No, you can’t blame us at all”

Who killed Davey Moore
Why an’ what’s the reason for?

“Not me,” says his manager
Puffing on a big cigar
“It’s hard to say, it’s hard to tell
I always thought that he was well
It’s too bad for his wife an’ kids he’s dead
But if he was sick, he should’ve said
It wasn’t me that made him fall
No, you can’t blame me at all”

Who killed Davey Moore
Why an’ what’s the reason for?

“Not me,” says the gambling man
With his ticket stub still in his hand
“It wasn’t me that knocked him down
My hands never touched him none
I didn’t commit no ugly sin
Anyway, I put money on him to win
It wasn’t me that made him fall
No, you can’t blame me at all”

Who killed Davey Moore
Why an’ what’s the reason for?

“Not me,” says the boxing writer
Pounding print on his old typewriter
Sayin’, “Boxing ain’t to blame
There’s just as much danger in a football game”
Sayin’, “Fistfighting is here to stay
It’s just the old American way
It wasn’t me that made him fall
No, you can’t blame me at all”

Who killed Davey Moore
Why an’ what’s the reason for?

“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”

Who killed Davey Moore
Why an’ what’s the reason for?

Copyright © 1964, 1965 by Warner Bros. Inc.; renewed 1992, 1993 by Special Rider Music