Dec. 10, 1958 — Archie Moore KO 11 Yvon Durelle I, Forum
Not only was Moore-Durelle I the greatest fight ever staged in Montreal, it arguably was the best light heavyweight title bout ever waged.
Although "The Old Mongoose" was three days shy of his 42nd birthday, he had held the world title for nearly six years and registered six defenses. As much as he loved being light heavyweight champion – after all, he waited 16 years to get his first title shot – he wanted to be heavyweight champion even more. But it wasn't to be as Rocky Marciano and Floyd Patterson did to him what he had done to so many previous opponents: Knock him out.
Since the Patterson loss, which Moore called the low point of his boxing career, he had gone 14-0-1 with seven knockouts including a seventh round KO of Tony Anthony in his last title defense 14 months earlier. The odds makers deemed Moore a solid 4-to-1 favorite to keep the belt against Durelle, the Canadian and Commonwealth light heavyweight champion.
Durelle's rugged ring style mirrored that of his profession – commercial fisherman. Long hours of hauling lobster traps from the cold waters of New Brunswick created a strong, sturdy physique and an enviable level of persistence. At one point he lost eight of 12 fights, including four by KO and one by disqualification. But Durelle eventually righted the ship and slowly crafted a successful career.
He broke into the world rankings with an off-the-floor 10-round decision over Angelo Defendis and gained even more notice by overcoming a fourth round knockdown to earn a draw against Anthony. He won 11 of his next 12 fights (with the only loss being a KO by 7 to Anthony) and carried a four-fight win streak into his fight with Moore.
The conventional wisdom at the time indicated Durelle's best chance to score the upset was getting to Moore early. But no one could have guessed how close Durelle came to proving them right.
Durelle's lightning bolt came a little more than a minute into the fight when an electrifying right hand scrambled Moore's synapses and collapsed his legs. As the referee, former heavyweight champion Jack Sharkey, issued the count it looked as if the title was about to change hands .
“I had fought a lot of great punchers and I could always handle them pretty well, but this guy – oh boy, he hit me harder than I'd ever been hit in my life,” Moore told THE RING in 1997.
Amazingly, the old man regained his feet before Sharkey's fatal 10. But now he had another problem: How was he going to survive the next two minutes?
He almost didn't. A series of punches dropped Moore a second time and another right hand moments later scored a third knockdown. Under today's rules Durelle would have been crowned the new champion but in 1958 the three-knockdown rule was waived in championship fights. Moore's body may have been in crisis but luckily for him his fertile boxing mind remained intact enough for him to survive the rest of the round.
One round down, but 14 long rounds to go.
Mindful of Moore's resourcefulness, immense punching power and off-the-charts ring intelligence, Durelle chose to approach the Mongoose respectfully in rounds two and three, a choice many believed unwise, including Moore.
Just when it appeared Moore had regained his footing, he lost it again in round five thanks to another right hand that hit the bull's eye. As he arose this time Moore appeared to be more in control of his senses and just as he had in round one he used his wiles to navigate out of trouble.
The knockdowns staked Durelle to a solid lead but the effort required to create it began to take a toll on the challenger. The seeds of Moore's incredible comeback were planted in round six and began to germinate in the seventh when a well timed right decked Durelle for the first time in the fight. With momentum now solidly in Moore's corner, the champion patiently but productively applied the techniques acquired over the past 22 years.
By the ninth Durelle's early spark was a faded memory and it took everything he had to remain upright under Moore's machine-like efficiency. Moore's deceptively quick hands consistently sliced through Durelle's guard in round 10, which saw Durelle go down for the second time after taking a devastatingly accurate left uppercut-right cross-left uppercut combination in the round's final moments.
Durelle recovered enough to come out for the 11th but the momentum Moore had built was far too much for the challenger to handle, much less reverse. A stinging lead right to the jaw led to a hook that left Durelle in a heap along the ropes. Durelle arose at nine but a final right to the jaw dropped the challenger at ring center, where he would stay for Sharkey's eighth – and last – count of the night.
Moore's extraordinary comeback was historic on three levels. First, according to most sources, the Durelle KO was Moore's 126th, which allowed him to unseat Young Stribling as boxing's all-time knockout king. And second, Moore-Durelle I was one of the first fights televised coast-to-coast in the U.S.
Finally, although it didn't win THE RING's Fight of the Year award (that went to Sugar Ray Robinson-Carmen Basilio II), it became Moore's defining moment and a deserved point of pride. Durelle's stirring challenge made him a cult hero to Canadians and a celebrated “party of the second part” for historians worldwide.
The pair met again in August 1959 but Moore's three-round KO win lacked the spark of the original. Then again, few fights ever could hope to approach the magic generated by Moore-Durelle I, much less match it.
Will Pascal-Bute find its way on a future list? Time will tell, but to do so it will have to exceed its already lofty expectations.
Photo / Tom Hogan-Hoganphotos / Golden Boy
Lee Groves is a boxing writer and historian based in Friendly, W.Va. He is a full member of the BWAA, from which he has won 10 writing awards, including seven in the last three years. He has been an elector for the International Boxing Hall of Fame since 2001 and is also a writer, researcher and punch-counter for CompuBox, Inc. He is the author of “Tales From the Vault: A Celebration of 100 Boxing Closet Classics. To order, please visit Amazon.com or e-mail the author at firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange for autographed copies.