Monday, July 11, 2016

Ezzard Charles, and a Little Cincinnati History

Since moving to Cincinnati, I've always been amazed with the interesting street names and murals we have around town.  There's a street in my neighborhood called Mad Anthony, and a mural a few miles away for Camp Washington that features, among other things, George Washington in a dress.  

There's countless other examples of neat names and images like these, but one I noticed that has both a street name and a mural is Ezzard Charles, whom I had no knowledge of prior to moving to Cincinnati.  I found out he was a boxer, and that he had some cards to his name, so I decided to grab a few and tell his tale, which is both triumphant and tragic.  

(This is a postcard I grabbed off COMC)

I'll start with the triumphant.  Charles came out of Cincinnati, and was known as "The Cincinnati Cobra" for the way he fought in the ring.  He finished with a career record of 93-25-1, with 58 knockouts, and is perhaps best known for his two battles with Rocky Marciano in the 50's.  Their first match went the full 15 rounds and was decided on points, which was the only time a boxer ever brought Marciano to 15 rounds (Charles lost the match, but many think it could've gone either way).  In the rematch, Charles nearly ended things with a punch that broke Marciano's nose in half and wouldn't stop bleeding, but Charles was knocked out in the 8th, resulting in another Marciano win.  Regardless of the two losses, Charles earned a lot of respect from those matches, as well as his reigns as NBA Heavyweight Champion, World Heavyweight Champion, and wins against Joe Louis, Charley Burley, and Archie Moore.

(This is a sign off I-75 in Cincinnati)

As for the tragedy, Charles beat a man named Sam Baroudi in a fight in 1948, several years into his budding career, in 10 rounds.  Baroudi ended up dying as a result of the injuries that he suffered in the match, and Charles was so distraught that he almost gave up boxing.  He continued on, and obviously had some success with his titles and all, but many in the industry say he was never quite the same Cobra as before, as he lost a bit of his edge following the Baroudi bout.  Charles was still one of the best boxers of all time with that fight, so who's to tell what he could've been without the Baroudi fight in his mind.

(This is a regular trading card I grabbed off COMC)

Later in his carer, Charles faced financial struggles, and so he continued to fight to earn money even after he was out of his peak.  He lost 13 of his last 23 matches, as he was no longer the fighter he once was, and even later in life he ended up being diagnosed with Lou Gehrig's disease.  Disabled and without any funds, a fundraiser was held for Charles late in his life, where many of his former opponents came to talk about how great he had been, and Marciano called Charles the bravest man he ever fought.  In the end, Charles died in a nursing home in Chicago at the age of 53.

(This is a photo of his mural in downtown Cincinnati)

Charles' later days were marred with financial woes and sickness, but his legacy as a boxer is one that continued on long after his death.  He was elected to the Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990, and has since been named as one of the best boxers of all-time by multiple publications.  He was even named the #1 light-heavyweight boxer of all time by several sources, showing just how talented Charles truly was as a fighter.

I'm proud to have a few cards of the Cincinnati legend now in my collection, and I'm hopeful his legacy in the sport will never be forgotten.  I'm also hopeful that some day we'll find a way to combat the terrible disease that is ALS/Lou Gehrig's Disease.  RIP Ezzard Charles.

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