The Little Tiger’s ring mayhem made managers shy. When the calls got thin, Wade had that trouble familiar to most of us when we’re young and full of beans: he had trouble making rent. In the 1940 Census, he was living at 1004 McAllister Street in San Francisco’s Fillmore district. He had been a professional prize fighter for five years, but could only afford to rent a room in a shoe shiner’s house. He listed his occupation as “trainer,” his industry as “prize fighter,” and his income as “0.”
Late in 1940, another desperate middleweight disembarked at San Diego after a four-month tour of Australia. Wade ate his pork on a shoestring and scanned the San Francisco fog for more meat. Archie Moore preferred chicken, and he too was on the hunt.
Wade and Moore were living parallel lives. Both were born in the South in 1916 and were relocated to northern cities during the Great Migration when they were small children. Archie’s first professional fight, as far as he could recall with certainty, was against Murray Allen in a six-rounder at Quincy, Illinois in 1936 (“I received the amazing sum of $8 for that fight,” he said.) Wade’s first known professional fight was against the same opponent in the same place, in 1935. Had Moore heard Chuck Vickers bragging before fighting Wade that he had “never been beaten by a Negro” in 1939, he would have called him a liar; Moore had knocked him cold two years and a round earlier than Wade.
By 1943, Moore’s reputation for spoiling records was working against him. He was lured into wars with Murderers’ Row and was neck-deep in no time; though he held his own. He fought two draws against Eddie Booker, with two wins and a loss against Jack Chase. The loss to Chase on August 2 was a sore spot. Moore had no alibis, but Muller didn’t believe he needed any. “He is a fighter who seldom clinches,” he wrote. “He doesn’t maul and haul at close range. Instead he lets his punches go when he finds an opening and those blows carry force.” Moore, a proud man unpopular with fellow fighters because of his aristocratic airs, was hell-bent on redeeming himself. His motivation was further boosted by talk of an opportunity to appear on the undercard of the Sugar Ray Robinson-Henry Armstrong fight at Madison Square Garden. That was scheduled for August 27.
In the meantime, he planned to return to his winning ways on the 16th against “the little man with a big wallop.”
Muller didn’t like Wade’s chances against an elite-level middleweight, though he liked them a little more when he remembered that big fists do better in small rings. “The fellow with the old sockeroo prefers the smaller ring, a sixteen or an eighteen footer,” Muller wrote. “He doesn’t have to travel too far to catch his adversary.” The ring at National Hall, where Wade sent Ray Campo into resin-specked tranquility, was sixteen-feet square. The ring at the Coliseum Bowl, where R.J. Lewis never saw round two and where Harvey Massey was stopped twice, was also sixteen-feet square.
At just under six-feet tall, Moore had to drop his chin to his chest to look at Wade. He had a wingspan of 76 inches and hit like Babe Ruth, but he wasn’t the puncher in this match-up. He was something of a mobile boxer when he was in his twenties, and mobile boxers prefer big rings. Sugar Ray Leonard, for example, insisted on a twenty-foot ring when he faced Marvelous Marvin Hagler in 1987; and that’s just one reason why Moore’s greatness exceeds Leonard’s.
Moore would face Wade at Coliseum Bowl in a puncher’s ring.
He emerged from the dressing room in what he called a “bad frame of mind.” Despite the high praise by Eddie Muller, Moore’s confidence may have been shaken by the loss to Jack Chase. Alternatively, he may have been overconfident; after all, Chase tamed Wade only two months earlier. In fact, Chase did it with relative ease after being wobbled twice early. “We’ve seen Wade in a number of fights,” Muller wrote after Chase took a ten-round decision. “It’s doubtful if he took as many punches in any other fight as he did when Chase started to pour the leather.” Moore was almost certainly at ringside that night, watching carefully.
However Moore felt going in to fight Wade, he felt worse coming out. Muller’s surprisingly brief fight report reads like he lost his shirt betting on Moore:
Aaron “Little Tiger” Wade scored a stunning upset in Coliseum Bowl last night when he scored a decisive victory over Archie Moore of San Diego in the ten round main event. Wade won all the way. Moore was a 2 to 1 favorite. They are colored middleweights .
Moore had misread the situation. While it was true that Wade had lost two of his previous fifteen bouts, the names that beat him were on the roll call of Murderers’ Row. Worse still, after he “won all the way” against the fifth-rated middleweight in the world, no one seemed to notice. In the September 14 issue of The Ring, Moore was dropped from fifth to eighth in the ratings, presumably as a result of the upset; yet his conqueror is nowhere to be found in the top-ten. It’s puzzling. Had Moore fought again and won; or had Wade lost during the time between their bout and the next issue of The Ring, it would have explained the omission. But neither had.
I contacted boxing historian Alister Scott Ottesen to ask if the editors may have somehow missed the Wade-Moore bout. He sent along a fight report from the same September issue. He also mentioned that the ratings at the time seemed to emphasize a contender’s ‘body of work’ while discounting fluke losses. Given the accelerated rate of fighting during an era far more competitive than today, this would make some sense. To that point, the fight report does acknowledge that “Wade-Moore was an upset” and that Moore “did not perform at his best.” However, the report also acknowledged “the fact that Wade rates up there with the good ones,” which means that Wade’s victory was not considered a fluke —an upset, yes, though not a fluke.
A closer look at the issue raises another problem. Rated tenth since August 10 was a black fighter named Frankie Nelson. What had he done to earn that spot? Not much. He won two bouts in two days against never-weres with non-winning records.
In the end, The Ring’s omission of Wade looks like yet another example of the hard luck on Murderers’ Row.
Charley Burley’s hard luck is well-documented. Widely considered to be the greatest uncrowned champion since Sam Langford, Burley was just as broke as Wade and Moore.
“Fighting Charley Burley was almost inhuman,” Moore said years after they fought in April 1944. Knocked down three times when Burley slung rights off his jaw, Moore went down for a fourth time when Burley hit him with a jab that came up like a steam shovel from the hip. The Los Angeles Times reported that Moore, a master boxer, “was in sorry condition” at the finish. The left side of his face was disfigured and swollen and his pride was somewhere under the ring.
Burley was rated by The Ring as the number-one middleweight contender when he signed to fight the Little Tiger. Wade, no respecter of reputations or ratings, went at him with both fists. Burley was able to absorb what his serpentine style didn’t ride out or roll under, but Wade was forcing the action. Burley fought the first five rounds as he usually did, off the back foot. In round six, he sprang off that back foot and landed a surprise right to the chin that sagged Wade’s knees. Wade clinched to clear his head and Burley kept his distance over the remaining rounds to escape with a decision.
Alan Ward of the Oakland Tribune, Will Connolly of the San Francisco Chronicle, and most ringsidersthought Wade deserved the nod.
The next two matches followed the pattern established in the first, and Burley won those too. It seemed that once both punchers had gauged the other’s power, they decided against valor. The rematch, said The Bend Bulletin, was “dull” with many clinches and the Pittsburgh Press reported Burley-Wade III as “listless” with both keeping “a safe distance from each other at all times.”
In the summer of 1945, Burley was back in the East hoping for big money fights that would never materialize. The Pittsburgh Press tells history how bad he had it:“Every good middleweight around has been offered a fat purse to step into the ring with Burley,and each one in turn has nixed the proposition.” Among them was Sugar Ray Robinson. Burley was willing to fight him for nothing. “They can give him my purse too,” he said. Robinson, said the Press, “prefers to keep his reputation and let Burley and the local promoters keep the $20,000 they offered for the night’s work.”
Moore had the same high hopes as Burley and left San Diego for New York. “I figured that I could get in on some of that big money that was floating around,” he said. On his way, his car broke down in Bedford, Pennsylvania. When he found out it would cost $400 for repairs, he left it there and took a bus to the Big Apple. He borrowed $25 for expenses, took a room at the YMCA, and began training at Stillman’s Gym. His new manager got him fights, and, said Moore, “I was moving along pretty good, but pretty soon I found that I was up against the same old bugaboo.” In other words, he was looking too good. When Moore knocked out a 6’4 heavyweight in Boston, fight managers went fishing in their pockets for a ‘stay-away’ tag.
Thirty years after Wade, Moore, and Burley were forced to fight each other to make a living, Wade was back in San Francisco and sitting with Eddie Muller, who was still covering boxing for the Examiner. He told Muller about a phone call he had recently received at home. The caller didn’t give his name at first but sounded vaguely familiar.
“He asked if I was an old-time boxer,” Wade told Muller.
“I told him I was. He said, ‘Did you fight Eddie Booker?’ I said, no. ‘Did you fight a guy named Charley Burley?’ I told him I had. ‘How about Archie Moore?’ I told him I beat Moore.
“Then he asked, ‘Who was the better fighter, Burley or Moore?’ I said, ‘Why of course, Burley.’
“Then he laughed and said, ‘This is Archie Moore talking.’”
The photograph (Archie Moore, 1940s) appears courtesy of Boxrec.com. Information regarding Archie Moore found in Any Boy Can by Archie Moore, p. 207, 208-209, (on Burley, 187); Moore-Allen recalled in The Ring (September 1955), San Francisco Examiner 8/12/43, and “Archie Moore, The Master Technician” in The Ring 9/45; Information regarding Charley Burley found in San Francisco Examiner 3/4/43, 6/21/43, 7/16/43; Los Angeles Times, 4/22/44, Oakland Tribune, 3/4/43, Pittsburgh Press 8/17/45.
Special thanks to Alister Scott Ottesen.
Springs Toledo can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org .