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Born in Lawrenceville, Georgia, in 1921, Ezzard Charles grew up to become a heavyweight boxing champion. Charles moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, to live with his grandmother and great-grandmother at the age of 9. There he boxed successfully as an amateur in both the welterweight and middleweight divisions. His professional career began in 1940, two years before he graduated from high school.
Many of Ezzard Charles’s first 38 professional matches were won by knockouts. In 1944-45, his boxing career took a back seat as he served in the military. When he returned from the service, he boxed in the light heavyweight division.
Charles never weighed more than 200 pounds (91 kg). He fought many famous middleweight and light heavyweights, including Archie Moore, Ken Overlin, Charley Burley, Joey Maxim and Teddy Yarosz. In 1948, Charles knocked out Sam Baroudi in the tenth round of a match. Baroudi later died of injuries sustained in the match. Many believe that Charles became more cautious after that battle.
Nicknamed the “Cincinnati Cobra,” his ascent to the heavyweight championship began with his win in a 15-round match against Jersey Joe Walcott in 1949. Ezzard Charles defeated Walcott to win the National Boxing Association Championship. In 1950 Charles defeated Joe Louis to win the world heavyweight championship, which he held until 1951 when Walcott defeated Charles in a re-match.
Ezzard Charles’s most memorable bouts include two with Rocky Marciano, both occurring in 1954. In the first battle, Charles lost a fifteen round match by points. In the re-match, Marciano was declared the winner even though the match was almost ended in the 8th round due to Marciano’s split nose. This particular match was named “Fight of the Year.”
Considered one of the top boxers of the 1940s and 50s, Ezzard Charles won 96 of 122 bouts. He won 59 of those matches by knockout. Charles was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, in 1966. He died in 1975 in Chicago.
Cincinnati recognized Ezzard Charles by renaming the street on which he lived when he won the world heavyweight title after him. Charles was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990. He is recognized in many historical texts as an influential person, including 100 who made a Difference: Greater Cincinnatians Who Made a Mark on the 20th Century and Profiles in Black History.
Frequently Asked Questions
Who was Ezzard Charles and why is he significant in boxing history?
Ezzard Charles was a professional boxer from the United States, widely recognized for his technical skills and sportsmanship. Born on July 7, 1921, in Lawrenceville, Georgia, he became the World Heavyweight Champion after defeating Jersey Joe Walcott in 1949. Charles is significant in boxing history for his reign as champion from 1949 to 1951 and for his exceptional boxing abilities, which earned him the nickname "The Cincinnati Cobra." Despite his prowess, he is often overshadowed by contemporaries like Joe Louis and Rocky Marciano. According to the International Boxing Hall of Fame, to which he was inducted in 1990, Charles fought against many Hall of Famers and left an indelible mark on the sport.
What were some of Ezzard Charles's most notable fights and achievements?
Ezzard Charles's most notable achievements include winning the vacant National Boxing Association (NBA) and World Heavyweight titles in 1949. He successfully defended his title numerous times, with significant fights including two victories over Jersey Joe Walcott and a win against former champion Joe Louis. Charles's bout with Marciano in 1954, although a loss, was lauded for its intensity. According to BoxRec, Charles had a professional record of 95 wins, 25 losses, and 1 draw, with 52 wins by knockout, showcasing his prolific career.
How did Ezzard Charles contribute to the sport of boxing outside of his fights?
Outside of his fights, Ezzard Charles contributed to boxing through his embodiment of sportsmanship and his technical approach to the sport, which influenced future generations of boxers. His dedication to the craft, including his defensive skills and strategic fighting style, set a standard for boxers who sought to be technicians as well as powerful punchers. After retiring, Charles also served as a mentor and coach, sharing his knowledge with younger fighters and helping to develop their skills.
What challenges did Ezzard Charles face during his boxing career?
During his boxing career, Ezzard Charles faced several challenges, including the difficulty of gaining recognition in an era dominated by heavyweight legends. Despite his talent, he often fought in the shadow of Joe Louis and later, Rocky Marciano. Charles also faced health issues; he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), which ultimately led to his premature death at age 53. Additionally, like many African American athletes of his time, Charles had to navigate the racial prejudices and barriers of the segregated United States.
How is Ezzard Charles remembered today in the boxing community and beyond?
Ezzard Charles is remembered today as one of the greats in the boxing community, respected for his skill, heart, and the dignity with which he conducted himself inside and outside the ring. His legacy is preserved through his induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame and the World Boxing Hall of Fame, ensuring that his contributions to the sport are not forgotten. Beyond boxing, Charles's life story serves as an inspiration for perseverance and excellence in the face of adversity.