Thursday, June 23, 2011

Days Gone By: New York, Madison Square Garden, Joe Louis, Joey Archer and The Fighting Irish...And The Winner Is....


Yesterday in 1937 Joe Louis, pictured above, knocked out James J. Braddock in a boxing match in Chicago, Illinois. The bout lasted eight rounds and Louis, the Brown Bomber, was announced as the world heavyweight boxing champion. On the same date, exactly one year later, Louis knocked out Germany’s Max Schmeling in the first round, at Yankee Stadium. Joe Louis retained the world heavyweight boxing crown until he announced his retirement on March 1, 1949. That’s a total of 11 years, 8 months and 7 days ... and 30 matches to retain the title.

But this isn't a post about Joe Louis or boxing, something I know very little about. But it made me think about a relative of my family who was involved in the sport to some success back in the 60s.

Joey Archer was my mother's cousin. Born in New York City in 1938 he began his career in 1956 when he was 18 years of age. His brother Jimmy was his manager. Freddy Brown was his trainer. My mother was a few years older and was tasked with babysitting for them on occasion. By her account they were a' handful' but their wild behavior probably served them well in the ring. “Irish” Joey Archer began his career, and his quest for achieving boxing success by fighting mostly in New York and Texas venues where he was a winner in his first 30 fights. Notably he beat Don Fullmer by a decision. Fullmer was a highly ranked boxer. This win earned Joey a date against Puerto Rican contender Jose “Monon” Gonzalez, who handed him his first defeat in a close decision. In a rematch two months later, Joey came out on top in a decisive victory.

After that, "Irish" Joey had 15 consecutive wins against some of the Middleweight division’s top fighters, including England’s Mick Leahy, Denny Moyer, Argentina’s Farid Salim, Canada’s Blair Richardson, Holley Mims, Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, and his most impressive career win, against future Hall-of-Famer and three time World champion Dick Tiger.

The final win in the streak was against “Sugar” Ray Robinson in what would be the last fight of Robinson’s illustrious, Hall-of-Fame career. Having reached the top of the Middleweight division, Archer suffered an unexpected, close split decision loss to the ranked Don Fullmer.

Joey Arch fight Emile Griffith for the 
Middleweight Title
Nevertheless, Joey earned a title challenge against Virgin Islander and Middleweight champion Emile Griffith based on his impressive winning streak. The title fight took place in Madison Square Garden on a steamy and hot July night in 1966. I remember my father and uncle went as did many of my mother's cousins. By all accounts, the fight was hard fought and a close contest. After 15 rounds the ring announcer Johnny Addie announced the decision. “The winner, by MAJORITY decision, and still champion… Emile Griffith!!! Six months later, Archer would again fight Griffith for the Middleweight title, and would once again taste defeat in a very narrow, controversial decision. 

“Irish” Joey Archer announced his retirement from boxing after the disappointment of these close losses to Emile Griffith. He ended his career with a record of 45 victories (with 8 by KO) and only 4 defeats. Although never having captured a world title, Archer’s excellent boxing skills earned him induction into the “World Boxing Hall of Fame” in 2005. He is currently on the eligibility list of the “International Boxing Hall of Fame” making him eligible for induction into that prestigious organization.

It must have just been the times because our family, at least as far as I know, never produced another athlete with pugilistic skills. In fact, the men in our family are more apt to negotiate their way out of a confrontation than to engage in 'fisticuffs'. The women? Well, we've been known to resort to 'non-truth telling' to extricate ourselves from any possible altercation. The days of the Irish fighters are long gone but their style and spirit captured in these notes from a writer at the time of the fight:
"Joey's style—move, jab, think, defend— has always belonged to the Irish. Stand-up Irish fighters they called them in another time, and even now in certain musty old saloons in New York their yellow photographs hang high on the wall behind the long, stained bars. The legend is Archer's appeal, and from the crowd's standpoint it made his first fight and second fight with Griffith two of the most galvanic nights in recent Garden history. Archer, however, contends that his style is not appreciated by ring officials today, that it has cost him in two fights with Griffith. Perhaps, but Archer—12 pounds heavier and an inch taller—has never stepped out and handled Griffith, technically or physically."

And from Pete Hamill:
"In the years after [1950s middleweight contender] Joey Archer, there was no longer any need for Irish fighters to act out scenarios of courage, ambition, endurance and the ability to absorb pain in order to triumph. The long tale of the Irish-American, which began with such deprivation and turmoil in the 19th century, had become a different story. There was nothing to prove. We had our American president. We had our splendid novelists. Today, we have our company presidents and our chairmen of banks, our teachers and scholars. In that sense, we do have something to teach all those who came after us, including the new immigrants. In spite of everything, the Irish the Irish won all the late rounds." 


A more recent photo of Joey Archer.


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