Once again I have teamed up with our hard working media man, Zombie Prophet to bring you some of the best knockouts from the 1950s. This is the concluding piece on the 1950s, the first part can be found here. If you enjoy it DO let us know so we can team up again and get to work on the 1960s!
Jake Lamotta versus Laurent Dauthuille – 1950
Almost all of my readers will have at least a passing familiarity with the legendary Jake Lamotta. Commonly known as the Bronx Bull, Lamotta’s incredible grit, durability and dramatic life formed the plot of one of the greatest sports movies of all time, Raging Bull. This bout was Lamotta’s second defence of his Middleweight crown against an opponent who had won a decision over him a year earlier. Trailing in the fifteenth round of a scheduled fifteen, Lamotta unleashed a powerful flurry and stopped the fight.
Though Lamotta was known for his grit and his somewhat porous defence he was a more than sound offensive fighter. Notice that from the moment that he has Dauthuille hurt he “works the angles” – jumping around the Frenchman and forcing him to constantly turn to catch up with Lamotta.
Rocky Marciano versus Joe Louis – 1951
Rocky Marciano was an ugly fighter – though his technical ability is often under-rated, no-one in their right mind is going to challenge you for observing that he wasn’t pretty to watch. For this reason Marciano didn’t get a huge amount of attention in his early career despite being an undefeated knockout artist. Marciano knocked out legitimate fighters such as Roland La Starza but it wasn’t until his match with Joe Louis that Marciano received the attention which he deserved. Louis was 37 years old an attempting to make a comeback due to problems with the tax man – despite his great age and no-one previously having re-captured the heavyweight title after losing it, Louis was still the favourite.
This match served as a spectacle in the same way that a pile up on a main road will – it was tough to watch but it was also hard to look away. Marciano’s power was on full form as he battered the technically superb but always flat footed Louis,. Marciano owned the shortest reach in heavyweight title history and though many would think that a disadvantage just take a look at how difficult Louis found it to tie up Rocky’s stumpy arms on the inside. You will notice that everything thing Marciano throws comes from his legs, rump and back and that he uses his signature low dip (with his head almost at Louis’ crotch height) before coming up with his punches.
Sonny Liston versus Cleveland Williams – 1959
While a completely different fighter to Marciano, Sonny Liston’s punching power was equally hypnotic and terrifying. Cleveland Williams – whom many will remember in his later years being schooled by Muhammad Ali after suffering nerve damage from a shooting – was at this time one of the most highly touted prospects in the world. Heavyweights of 6’3″ were not common in the fifties and Williams had punching power to match his stature.
In the third round Liston put Williams down twice for the knockout. While there isn’t a huge deal of technical nuance on display here you will notice the freakish stature of Liston. Liston owned an 84 inch reach on a 6ft frame – giving him a bizarre build to fight against. Notice when he flicks his jab it seems to cover half of the frame. Liston also owned to this day the largest fists in heavyweight history – 15 inches – a full inch bigger around than even Nikolai Valuev or Primo Carnera. With huge levers and enormous fists on the end of them, Liston couldn’t help but have incredible punch despite lacking good form.
Sugar Ray Robinson versus Gene Fullmer – 1957
For those of you who didn’t catch it, I have analysed this fight in great detail before. This is rated by many as the greatest punch of all time and it’s hard to argue against it. An immediate rematch following Fullmer’s defeat of Robinson four months earlier, this match marked Robinson’s attempt to win the middleweight title for a fourth time.
Throughout the first fight Fullmer had hurt Robinson with his powerful right hand, particularly to the body. Robinson trained specifically to draw Fullmer’s right to his body and attempted to lure Fullmer into a brawl. After leading with a looping right several times, Robinson had Fullmer ready to fire back. As he stepped in and faked the right, Fullmer began his own, but Robinson immediately reversed direction and landed the left hook inside of Fullmer’s right. Robinson not only knocked Fullmer out but it was the first time in Fullmer’s 40+ fight career that he had even been on the mat.
Sugar Ray Robinson versus Jake Lamotta – 1951
The so called St. Valentine’s Day Massacre – Robinson and Lamotta met for the sixth time with Robinson as the challenger for Lamotta’s middleweight crown. Of their previous five meetings, Robinson had won four and all of the fights had gone the distance.
On full display here is both the hand speed and dexterity of Robinson – whose punches came from every angle but still never looked rushed or wild – and the heart and grit of Jake Lamotta. Those of you who have seen Raging Bull will remember the famous scene from the film as Lamotta declares “you never got me down Ray” and it’s certainly true that Lamotta was still standing by the end of the fight. Standing stoppages have always been unpopular but a man with the heart and chin of Jake Lamotta will often do himself great damage if he is allowed to continue fighting.
Ray Robinson versus Rocky Graziano
Rocky Graziano ranks among the greatest knockout artists of all time and Ring Magazine rightly placed him at 23rd in their list of 100 greatest punchers. He met Robinson as a worthy challenger on a 3 year winning streak, and as a former champion. Sugar Ray Robinson showed his class, however, knocking Graziano out in 3 rounds.
Notice many of Robinson’s trademarks are on display even in this short clip: Robinson uses his safety lead – a jab while circling to the left with a pivot on the lead foot, then uses a classical side step off to the right when he is against the ropes. Finally Robinson hooks into the clinch, then breaks from the clinch with a double left hook to hurt Graziano. This double left hook is a feature common to all of Robinson’s fights and instead of throwing it to a different target he often simply threw it to the same target. Many opponents get into the habit of blocking “left, right, left, right” – by doubling up on the left Robinson caught Graziano in a poor position to block the second left and moved Graziano into his right hand. K. V. Gradapolov called this technique “the Lever Punch” and described how Peter Jackson used it exclusively to lever open a hole for the right hand.
Ingemar Johannson versus Floyd Patterson – 1956
In the 1950s and indeed for much of the twentieth century the heavyweight title was an American posession. Few Europeans got to challenge for it and those who did typically didn’t fare well. Ingemar Johannson was a Swede who fought with a power and ferocity in his professional career that can likely be attributed to his horrendous introduction on the world stage. In the finals of the 1952 olympics Johannson lost by disqualification for timidity and refusal to engage. Johannson assembled a record of 22 – 0 as a professional while the heavyweight champion, Floyd Patterson, was defending his title against men like Pete Rademacher – the only fighter to receive a title fight in his professional debut.
When the two fighters met Johannson dropped Patterson seven times en route to a TKO victory. Johannson’s right hand – dubbed “Ingo’s Bingo” had already achieved mythic status in his own time (Roberto Duran famously quipped that he had the right hand of Ingemar Johannson) and Floyd Patterson felt the brunt of it time and time again. Patterson had a reputation as having incredible hand speed and power, but lacked grit and was speculated to have a glass jaw. Johannson remarked after meeting Patterson at a press conference in the lead up to the fight that it was like shaking hands with a lace curtain.
Notice in the first knockdown that Johannson uses a classical 1 – 3 – 2. That is; he circles to his left with a jab (a safety lead) then once he has established a slight angle he slaps in a left hook against Patterson’s guard to hold Patterson in position. With Patterson directly in front of Johannson’s right shoulder it is easy for him to sneak through a jolting right straight. This slight angle is one of the best offensive methods to employ if hoping to land a straight right through the opponent’s guard.
Patterson was certainly not great at taking a punch – but it is interesting to note that every single time he was knocked down, he still got up and no-one can fault his heart. The two fighters met twice more and Paterson became the first man to reclaim the heavyweight title – knocking out Johansson with his gazelle punch.
Jack Slack breaks down over 70 striking tactics employed by 20 elite strikers including Sugar Ray Robinson in his ebook, Advanced Striking.
Look out for news on Jack Slack’s new kindle book, Elementary Striking which will teach the basic techniques and strategies of striking in detail.
Jack can be found on Twitter, Facebook and at his blog; Fights Gone By.
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