There is no question that boxing cannot be separated from history at large. Whether it’s Joe Louis carrying the veritable fate of the entire U.S. on his shoulders entering his 1938 rematch against Max Schmeling or the various innovations boxing helped to push forward in its early years, pugilism and the fates of laws, nations and even ethnic populations are often intertwined. But not always; boxing is its own independent machine at times.
In this list, we explore what pugilism was taking place on days that could be described as pivotal in the history of the last 100 or so years — or about how long boxing has been widely covered in reasonable detail. In these cases the boxing had little to do with the history, but they demonstrate how the sport has carried on while clocks appeared to stop in other facets of life.
Aug. 1, 1981: MTV makes its debut; Eusebio Pedroza defends his belt… again
A couple of hours after The Buggles lyrically and literally killed the radio star by owning the first music video played on MTV, Panamanian featherweight Eusebio Pedroza sentenced Venezuelan contender Carlos Piñango to a torturous demise. Piñango became Pedroza’s 12th defense of the WBA featherweight belt by way of slow bleed, ending in round 7 with a flurry punctuated by a left hook downstairs. Shortly thereafter Pedroza was elected to Panama’s Legislative Assembly as a hero in his motherland, thousands of miles away from MTV’s New York base. Pedroza didn’t quite have MTV-level influence, though; that was reserved for fellow Panamanian Roberto Duran.
July 16, 1945: U.S. Army conducts Trinity nuclear test, Bill McDowell ends Fritzie Zivic’s career
At about 5:30 a.m. local time, the United States Army detonated the first nuclear weapon at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. The test would ultimately save the U.S. from continuing to fight a longer, potentially costly World War II, while simultaneously staining the environment and expanding the power of humankind well past what was ever thought possible. Fritzie Zivic’s career was caught in the fallout hours later, as he dropped a points decision to Bill McDowell in Louisiana. The loss itself wasn’t particularly significant, and not that unlike other losses he incurred while on one of his more frigid streaks. But from this point forward, Zivic would sport a 9-17-3 record. The 200+ fight veteran was all but finished.
April 7, 2001: Mars Odyssey launched, Marco Antonio Barrera’s second career also launched
Through a solid century or more of science fiction, a particular fascination with Mars has shone through in countless narratives. In the scientific sense, recent speculation centers around whether or not Mars, named for the Roman god of war, has or recently had water on its surface. That was precisely what the Mars Odyssey spacecraft was sent to find out. In Las Vegas later that day, 3-to-1 odds spelled doubt as to whether or not already-worn veteran Marco Antonio Barrera’s career held water — at least in terms of believing he could defeat “Prince” Naseem Hamed. Ever the flamboyant host, Hamed made Barrera wait almost 15 minutes while he paraded into the joint, only to be completely bamboozled by the crafty Mexican over 12 rounds. An illegal face-first slam into the corner by Barrera added insult to injury in the final round. While Barrera’s career was, for all intents and purposes, halted in the late 2000s following this rejuvenation, Odyssey continues to transmit.
Feb. 11, 1990: Nelson Mandela freed, black fighters headline in South African capital
Revolutionary South African politician Nelson Mandela had already spent over 20 years in prison before being moved to Victor Verster Prison in 1988. A symbol of South African apartheid for decades, Mandela was revered and sometimes very controversial figure until his 2013 death. Interestingly, in the capital of Johannesburg the same day Mandela was released from prison, a white South African heavyweight named Francois Botha, who would later challenge for the heavyweight title, made his professional debut. Even more intriguing is that Botha’s pro debut opened a card headlined by two popular black South Africans: Nika Khumalo and Samson Mahlangu.
Oct. 13, 1903: Boston Americans win first World Series, Joe Walcott triumphs across town
Baseball saw a few unsuccessful attempts at staging a sort of championship series prior to the first “modern” World Series taking place in 1903. That inaugural year, the Boston Americans upset the Pittsburgh Pirates in eight games to become the first official World Series winners at Huntington Avenue Baseball Grounds in Boston, Mass. Literally across town, in the Criterion Athletic Club, the “Barbados Demon” Joe Walcott avenged two prior defeats by earning a lively 15 round points verdict over Kid Carter. Said the Boston Herald, “Carter stood outside and smashed punches into Walcott’s stomach all through the contest that no other fighter of the weight could have stood up under, and intermixed a few to the head, which made even the redoubtable Joe wince. …Walcott did, however, put Carter down for the count twice in the first round, and it was this, with his showing in the next few, that won for him the battle.” Over the next few years, Walcott would begin to more clearly decline, and the Herald would call this win his “crowning glory.”
Sept. 1, 1939: Germany invades Poland, Archie Moore scores his 40th win
While there existed various precursors to the full-blown global intervention that became World War II, the German invasion of Poland following the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact is considered the match in the tinder box, as it drove the U.K. and France to declare war on Germany. Blood had not yet been spilled on the other side of the Atlantic, however, so Archie Moore took his ledger to 34-3-2 (26 KO) and 1 no contest with a 10 round points win over Jack Coggins, who accounted for the no contest. In their first bout the referee declared a wash and asked that both fighters’ purses be withheld. The rematch, which along with the first fight was held at the Coliseum Athletic Club, was fought in the relative comfort of your average San Diego late summer weather, with the San Diego Union reporting, “Moore managed to damage Coggins’ left eye and damage him about the body. In the sixth he cut the ex-sailor’s lip so badly that a doctor was called into the ring to examine it before the fight continued.”
Oct. 29, 1929: Wall Street Crash becomes known as “Black Tuesday,” “Toy Bulldog” keeps his prize
Following a brush with a complete market crash in March of 1929, and after the London Stock Exchange took a hit in September, the inherent weakness and instability of American markets in the late 1920s came to a head on what is now known as “Black Tuesday” — the day $14 billion all but disappeared. Across the country from Wall Street, at Wrigley Field in Los Angeles, Mickey Walker defended his middleweight title against Nebraskan contender Ace Hudkins once more. The first bout featured a close split decision verdict, but Walker left no doubt as to who deserved it this time, reportedly leaving the ring without a mark after having battered Hudkins all about.
May 25, 1977: Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope premiers, “Sugar” Ray Seales does Anchorage
Not many could have predicted that a hokey science fiction/fantasy flick like Star Wars would grow to become the cultural juggernaut it now is. The series spawned immortal characters and various themed toys and other accoutrements. But in a galaxy far, far away — Anchorage, Alaska — Ray Seales scored a KO win in four rounds over Tony Gardner. Seales, a 1972 Olympic gold medalist, had his first of two bouts at the Anchorage Sports Arena, a Quonset hut structure that occasionally hosted events that required more seats than your average high school gym. The newest “Sugar” was supposed to have been the next big thing, but after a handful of losses to fighters a level above him, perhaps Anchorage seemed as good a place to do business as any other. Better than Alderaan, in any event.
Dec. 14, 1967: DNA created in a laboratory, first title bout between two Japanese fighters contested
At Stanford University, researchers Dr. Arthur Kornberg, Mehran Goulian and Dr. Robert L. Sinsheimer brought decades of knowledge regarding molecular biology to an important milestone when announcing that they had manufactured a bacterial virus by manipulating DNA. An ocean away, Hiroshi Kobayashi won the junior lightweight title by KO in 12 rounds over Yoshiaki Numata — the first time two Japanese combatants would fight for a world title. It had only been 15 years since Yoshio Shirai became the first Japanese champion, but the bout spurred on more serious interest in Japanese boxing, and that interest is still very much alive. Bringing things full circle, DNA research led to interest in nanotechnology, of which Japan remains at the forefront.
March 12, 1957: Dr. Seuss publishes “The Cat in the Hat,” Harold Johnson takes Satterfield trilogy
Theodor Seuss Geisel is the most famous and mother-approved former political cartoonist in the history of children’s books. Numerous children have read Dr. Seuss books, and in over 20 languages, with “The Cat in the Hat” being one of the more famous of his works. On the same day Seuss’ flagship book was published, inactive light heavyweight great Harold Johnson took on puncher Bob Satterfield for the third time, earning a points decision over 10 rounds. In round number four, something went BUMP! Johnson’s right paw put Bob down with a thump. He sat and he sat until count number nine, and a few rounds past that he was doing just fine. Both Harold Johnson and Bob Satterfield delivered their share of thrills and more, but unlike Seuss, neither have been consistently credited for much over the years.
Boxing and history feed off one another, directly or not. Often one is the driving force behind the other, but at other times boxing operates in the background, creating its own history as the rest of the world’s story unfolds.
Originally featured on Queensberry-Rules.com