Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Ezzard Charles: The Cincinnati Cobra

By Peter Silkov

Ezzard Charles was one of the most talented boxers ever to win the World heavyweight crown, but also one of the most underrated.  Nicknamed ‘The Cincinnati Cobra’ Charles was a clever and fast boxer, with a deadly punch. Turning professional in 1940, after a sparkling amateur career, Charles started out as a middleweight, but steadily fought his way up to light heavyweight and then heavyweight. Ezzard started fighting top liners almost from the start, and his record reads like a whose-who of the most dangerous contenders of the 1940s; from middleweight to heavyweight, fighters such as Ken Overlin, Teddy Yarosz, Kid Tunero, Charley Burley, Jimmy Bivins, Lloyd Marshall, Archie Moore, Elmar Ray and Joey Maxim. In his prime, Charles only weighed about 7lbs over the 175-pound weight division, and in recent years, Charles has been recognised one of the greatest light-heavyweights of all time.

In early 1948, an incident happened that was to have a resounding impact upon Ezzard’s boxing career. On February 20, 1948, in Sam Baroudi was knocked out by Charles, and died of head injuries some time afterward. Although Charles continued to fight, he was never quite the same again, becoming a more cautious boxer, compared to the explosive boxer-puncher he had been previously.

On June 22, 1949, Charles out-pointed Jersey Joe Walcott to win the vacant World heavy weight championship, following Joe Louis retirement.  The revered Joe Louis was a hard act to follow, Ezzard Charles, despite his undoubted ability, was never really accepted as World heavyweight champion during his title reign, and his out- pointing of a come-backing Joe Louis in 1950, only served to make Charles even more unpopular amongst many boxing fans. Charles remained champion until 1951 and made eight successful defences, before losing the title to Jersey Joe Walcott, in his ninth defence, when he was surprisingly koed by Walcott in the 7th round. Ezzard tried to regain the World heavyweight title three times, losing to Walcott again on June 5, 1952 on points, and then losing two fights to Rocky Marciano on June 17 and September 17, 1954.  Ezzard became the only man to go 15 rounds with Marciano in their first fight and his courage against Rocky in this savage fight brought Charles more popularity than he had ever experienced previously during his career.
In his second fight with Marciano for the World heavyweight title, Charles cut Rocky’s nose so badly that the fight was on verge of being stopped in his favour, until Rocky rallied with one of his brutal assaults, and knocked Charles out in the 8th round.

After his epic fights with Marciano, Charles’ career hit a downturn as his form declined sharply almost overnight. Of the 23 fights Charles had from 1955, to his final retirement in 1959, he won just 10 and lost 13. 

Shortly after his retirement in 1959, Charles fell ill with Lou Gehrig’s disease and ailment that he would later say he started suffering from during the later years of his boxing career. Charles died in 1975.  His final record was 96(58koes)-25-1.  Although still largely overlooked today, Ezzard Charles is recognized by many boxing historians as an outstanding boxer and champion, who never got the respect due to him during his career.

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