OCTOBER 2009 – NO. 36
Time v. Frank Moran, A Heavyweight Bout
A boxing legend's family preserves his legacy and lore
From 1908 through 1922, an Irish American by way of County Mayo and Pittsburgh fought in approximately 69 professional fights, running up a record of 39 wins (31 knockouts), 16 losses, and 14 no decisions (In those days a No decision/newspaper decision fight was one in which you had to knockout your opponent to win, there were no judges, although newspapers would often give an opinion as to who they felt won the decision). During this stretch, Frank Moran would defeat such notable fighters as "Black" Fitzsimmons, Ed "Thunderbolt" Smith, Tom Cowler, Al Palzer, Harry Wuest, Fred Storbeck, Jim Cameron, Dave Mills, Jim "the Roscommon Giant" Coffey, Homer Smith, "Bombardier" Billy Wells, and Joe Beckett. Some notable fighters Frank fought and went the distance with were Luther McCarty, Jack "the Hoosier Bearcat" Dillon, Carl Morris, Ed "Gunboat" Smith, and Jess "the Pottawatomie Giant" Willard.
But on June 27, 1914, Frank fought his toughest and most memorable fight. Frank challenged the great Jack Johnson at the Velodrome d'Hiver in Paris, France for the heavyweight title. Frank would receive $25,000 for his effort and Johnson would receive $40,000 for his. Frank brought along fellow middleweight boxer and American, Willie Lewis, as his sparring partner. In preparation for the big fight, Frank did all the usual sorts of conditioning a boxer does such as skip rope, run, push-ups, sit-ups, and spar. However, Frank did have an unusual jaw strengthening exercise in his regimen. Lewis would have Frank stand with his knees bent, arms at his side and he would proceed to punch Frank repeatedly in the jaw to "strengthen it up" for the big fight. Frank felt that he stood a good chance against the "Galveston Giant" as Johnson was now 35-years-old and Frank a seasoned and prime 27. Also, according to the press, Johnson had been enjoying Paris' nightlife as well as its cuisine. While Frank was training in France, cousins Patrick and Martin were engaged in some training of their own, cutting turf down at the bog. After a hard day's work down the bog, Patrick and Martin made their way to O'Grady's pub in Westport to indulge in a libation or two and to have the craic.
There was a great deal of talk about the upcoming fight and the town folk were rooting hard for Frank, after all he was Irish American and he had people in Mayo. As Martin was talking about his cousin's prospects in the upcoming bout, a loquacious police sergeant happened by and decided to throw his two cents into the conversation, "Now Martin, you know now yourself that that cousin of yours hasn't a chance against that ol' Johnson, he'll make shyte of him, I'd say he'll be lucky to go five rounds with your man." Martin proceeded to get up from his stool and (Martin was no small man himself, as he stood 6'2" and weighed about 195 pounds) gave the sergeant a cross look and he said, "Well Sergeant, it's like this, Frank has a better chance of beating Johnson than you have of beating me. Now, you might shut your mouth before I land you under the table." The Sergeant said his good-byes and quickly moved on.
The night of the fight arrived, Frank Moran versus Heavyweight champion Jack Johnson for the heavyweight crown. George Carpentier, a young promising French light heavyweight, would referee and judge the 20-round scheduled bout. The bout would be quite a rough and tumble, bloody affair with a lot of pushing, shoving, clinching, and fouling. On several occasions Johnson was warned for throwing low blows and heel punches. Despite his best efforts, Frank was unable to unleash and connect with the full force of "Mary Ann" and the spry old Johnson did his best to avoid falling for "Mary Ann." On the occasions that Frank did connect, the wily Johnson would hold and clinch Frank just long enough to keep him from unleashing another punch, often without warning from Carpentier. However, whenever Frank grabbed Johnson into a clinch Carpentier would quickly intercede and say, "Allez, Moran, Allez" or "Go, Moran, Go." As the bell sounded at the completion of the twentieth and final round the two boxers slowly walked back to their corners battered, bruised, and exhausted. A hush fell over the crowd as many in the arena felt that the title might be about to exchange hands. Frank Moran, an Irish American and "great white hope", might bring the title back to its rightful place and a great celebration would await him back in the states, but it was not to be. Carpentier walked to the middle of the ring, stepped up to the microphone and awarded the fight to the reigning champion, Jack Johnson. A chorus of boos echoed through the arena as many of Frank's countrymen were in attendance and felt that Frank had won the fight. According to Alexander Johnston, author of Ten- And Out!, Frank Moran should have been crowned the heavyweight champ, he writes, "Indeed, Moran did more than last; he gave Johnson the fight of his life. 'Mary Ann' was working to perfection that night. Moran landed it in every round, and in the tenth, twelfth, fifteenth, and later rounds it was jarring Johnson so that he hung on. The negro champion's marvelous defense saved him from losing his title and robbed 'Mary Ann' of enough of her power to stave off the knockout. However, Moran was the aggressor during the whole 20 rounds. He landed more blows and on a strict interpretation of the rules should have been given the decision." After the decision was announced the two fighters embraced and Frank congratulated Johnson on retaining his title. According to an article written by Frank, himself, for the Topical Times of London recounting his bout for the title, Johnson looked Frank in the eye and said, "Moran, no one in the world could have knocked you out tonight", Frank replied in kind and said, "Well Jack, no one has got a defense quite like yours." As luck would have it, neither Frank nor Johnson would be paid for their hard fought battle as a Chicago Brewer had secured a creditor's attachment on the purse as Johnson supposedly owed them a large sum of money. As luck would further have it, the following day after the fight, a young Bosnian-Serb would assassinate Archduke Franz-Ferdinand of Austria triggering a series of events that would begin the great war, World War I. The French government placed a moratorium on all civil debts and the promoter took full advantage of this with neither Frank nor Johnson ever receiving a cent.
Frank Moran was a proud Irish American who never forgot where he came from. My grandmother, Mary Keane (nee Moran), God rest her soul, often recounted how Frank would send a card every Christmas until his passing in 1967. She would often recount a comical story about the gloves. "After Martin's funeral, the priest came back to the house to give a blessing. Molly, Martin's widowed wife, put out the tea and thanked the good priest for all he had done. As the good Father readied to leave he said, 'Molly, you won't be having any use for those ol' gloves now that Martin is gone, will yeh? Sure, they'd make for a nice display for the gossers' down at the school.' Molly quickly replied, 'Father, outside of this island, those gloves were Martin's most prized possession and he left strict instructions that those gloves were never to leave this house. Martin would never rest in peace if I was to give those gloves away. Sure, he nearly took the heads off of Mary's gossers for jumping up at them. So those gloves will stay right above that mantle where Martin hung them. Now if you don't mind Father, I must go pray for Martin's poor departed soul.'" My grandmother would often laugh as she told this story about Frank's old boxing gloves.
This past year my parents and I had the privilege of meeting Frank Moran's two daughters, Cecilia and Patricia. They were both charming and engaging and we spoke at length about Frank's life and his accomplishments as well as about our family in County Mayo, Ireland. Today my uncle, Tom Keane, is the proud owner of Island Taggart, where Frank's father, Martin Moran, comes from; my uncle, Pat Keane, is the proud owner of the family farm in Knockglass; and I am the proud owner of Frank Moran's boxing gloves.
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