There exist very few avenues a reasonable person could saunter down in arguing that the sport of boxing hasn’t infused itself into the fine spirits of history. In fact, the idea of boxing and the fates of laws, nations and ethnic populations being intertwined — sometimes violently, sometimes less so — has been pointed out on TQBR time and time again.
In this more specific 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 helped video lyrically and somewhat literally kill the radio star by being the first music video played on MTV, Panamanian featherweight Eusebio Pedroza was sentencing Venezuelan contender Carlos Piñango to a torturous demise. Piñango, who passed away in March of this year, 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. Thousands of miles away from MTV airwaves that scattered musical magnetism here and there, Pedroza was elected to Panama’s Legislative Assembly as a hero in his motherland. Of course, Pedroza didn’t quite have MTV-level influence. That was reserved for fellow Panamanian Roberto Duran.
July 16, 1945: U.S. Army conducts Trinity nuclear test; Bill McDowell gives Zivic’s career a shove off a cliff
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. A small consolation is that a fighter named Sparky Reynolds lost a decision in Pennsylvania the same day.
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, via its own instrumentation, or by relaying information collected by older twin rovers Spirit and Opportunity. In Las Vegas later that day, 3-to-1 odds spelled doubt as to whether or not already-veteran Marco Antonio Barrera’s career held water — at least in terms of believing he could be “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. A face 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 capital
South African revolutionary and politician Nelson Mandela had already spent over 20 years in prison before being moved to Victor Verster Prison in 1988. He was and has remained a symbol of South African apartheid for decades now. 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 came as an opener on 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 separate attempts at staging a championship series prior to the first “modern” World Series taking place in 1903, but the 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 was avenging 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 Boston Herald would call this win his “crowning glory.” Boston took more than a baseball title that evening, apparently.
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. The blood had not yet spilled across the Atlantic, and Archie Moore was clearing his good name and taking his ledger to 34-3-2 (26 KO) and 1 no contest with a 10 round points win over Jack Coggins, who accounted for his prior no contest. In the first bout, the referee had declared matters 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 county, at Wrigley Field in Los Angeles, Mickey Walker was defending 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. And meanwhile, just miles from where lack of serious regulation cost the U.S. a heap of money (but not for the first time), fighters like Herman Bernstein and Frankie Anselm were fighting for what was likely peanuts at armories around New York City.
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 that it is now. From truly beloved characters like Han Solo, to wretchedly hated characters like Jar Jar Binks to backpacks, lunch boxes, cartoons and probably sex toys. Scratch that, definitely sexy toys (link probably NSFW). But in a galaxy far, far away — Anchorage, Alaska — Ray Seales scored a KO win in four rounds over Tony Gardner. Luke had his teenage angst on Tatooine, and the 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 1972 Olympic gold medalist was supposed to have been a “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 the Satterfield trilogy
Theodor Seuss Geisel is probably 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, the fairly inactive light heavyweight great Harold Johnson took on puncher Bob Satterfield for the third time, earning a points decision in 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.
On many the most important historical days the globe can offer, the world stops. There wasn’t much boxing to speak of on Sept. 11, 2001, or the day John F. Kennedy was assassinated. But few days could completely stop boxing from carrying on in one way or another. Boxing refuses to vocalize any sort of death knell, even as it’s surrounded by death — like the days Hiroshima and Nagasaki were vaporized.
Boxing and history feed off one another, directly or not. Often one is the driving force behind the other, and at others… boxing operates in the background, creating its own history as the rest of the world’s story unfolds.