Davey Moore is a fighter worth remembering   

Updated: March 4, 2008, 11:46 PM ET

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On the Web site findagrave.com, earning a spot in the FAMOUS GRAVE section is about as difficult as locating a surgical scar at the Playboy Mansion.

Among the so-called "famous" people with gravesite listings are Sydney Mark Taper (the famed benefactor of the Mark Taper Forum at the Los Angeles Music Center), George Albert Smith (the famed eighth president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints), Samuel C. Johnson (the famed richest man in Wisconsin) and Steve Ihnat (the famed actor who appeared in both "Madigan" and "Fuzz").

Truth be told, I could pass tomorrow and -- on the basis of having once interviewed Benny Agbayani -- probably score a cyber-plot among the "famously dead."

Yet considering the thousands upon thousands of deceased "celebrities" populating findagrave.com, one name that did not make the cut that baffles me.

Where in the world is Davey Moore?

You remember Moore, right? No, not Jo-Jo Moore, the former major league outfielder who batted .391 in the 1937 World Series. No, not A. Harry Moore, New Jersey's 39th governor. No, not Lester Moore, the Wells Fargo agent. No, not even the other Davey Moore, the mid-20th-century featherweight who died after a fight (and inspired a Bob Dylan song).

Davey Moore, the former WBA world junior middleweight champion who, 20 years ago this June, was killed while being run over by his own car.

As a die-hard boxing fan who grew up enraptured by the Hagler-Leonard-Hearns era of pugilistic greatness, I'd like to think that Moore is remembered for flying to Japan in 1982 and stopping Tadashi Mihara to capture the title after a mere nine professional fights. That he is remembered for defending his crown with a decisive win over former world champion Ayub Kalule. That he is remembered for June 16, 1983, when he lost his belt to Roberto Duran in a bloody massacre at Madison Square Garden that landed on the cover of Sports Illustrated and gave millions of viewers an appreciation of Moore's remarkable toughness.

I'd like to think Davey Moore is remembered as one of the better fighters of my lifetime; a guy with heart and a thunderous right hook and an 18-5 lifetime record.

Alas, I am a realist. Davey Moore is not remembered at all.

A shame, this is.

Unlike most pugilists, who are groomed and groomed and groomed until -- long down the line -- a title opportunity presents itself, Moore was handed his first championship bout at age 22, after a mere eight professional fights. "In hindsight, it was a mistake to rush him and not develop his skills," said John Persol, Moore's former trainer.

"Look at all the greats -- Sugar Ray Robinson, Archie Moore -- and they were veterans before they were given that opportunity. You need to learn to be a champion."

On Feb. 2, 1982, however, Moore battered undefeated Mihara in Tokyo. The title "world champion" was the fruition of a dream for Moore, an intelligent, contemplative Bronx native who went from running with a local gang called the Savage Skulls to attending community college.

Yet the title also seemed to change him. Once respectful and understated, Moore suddenly started talking large swaths of trash. Though just a pup in the ring, he already rated himself with the greats of the sport, and after three relatively easy title defenses viewed the faceoff with Duran as he would a casual stroll through Central Park.

"I don't think it will be all that tough a fight," he said in the buildup to the main event. "[Duran] passed his peak a long time ago, and I'm still getting close to reaching mine." From a purely logic-driven standpoint, Moore's assessment made sense. At 32, Duran looked to be a shell of his former self. Less than three years earlier, he had suffered the ultimate humiliation with his famous "no mas" setback to Leonard, and in the ensuing years, he had dropped uninspiring decisions to Wilfred Benitez (understandable) and Kirkland Laing (inexplicable). He was a 5-2 underdog.

"Roberto Duran is over the hill, but he still has his name, and beating him will take me to the big-money fights," Moore continued. "Duran was a great lightweight, a good welterweight and a mediocre junior middleweight. [But] he's a lot older now and he's not as strong."

Uh, oops.

Duran mauled Moore -- absolutely, positively mauled him. By the time the fight was stopped midway through the eighth, Moore's shoulders sagged like 500-pound sandbags and his face -- handsomely chiseled in day-to-day life -- had taken the shape and texture of a rotted tomato. Where there wasn't blood, there were bruises. Where there weren't bruises, there was blood. Wrote William Nack in his brilliant Sports Illustrated cover piece: "At ringside, Moore's mother and girlfriend had fainted, slumping in their seats, and now there were cries to stop the bloodbath. But the referee, Ernesto Magana of Mexico … kept looking at Moore's closed eye, as if waiting for it to fall out before he would stop the fight. Leave it to the WBA to hire a turkey to run a cockfight. That is what it had become, and Duran had all the talons.

"'Finish him off now,' Duran's trainer, Nestor Quinones, told him before the eighth. It took Duran two minutes and two seconds to convince [Moore's trainer] to throw a blood-splattered white towel of surrender into the ring."

Often, losing is the best thing for a cocky athlete. It reminds him of fallibility, of mortality. For Moore, it was a disaster. Gone was the confidence that made him a five-time New York Golden Gloves titleholder. Gone was the zest for stepping back into the ring. "He quit fighting for a while after that," said Persol, who joined Moore after the Duran loss. "I still remember Bob Arum asking me to work with Davey. I said, 'Are you kidding me? He won't go near a gym after that beating.'" Although Moore fought 10 more times, including an impressive second-round TKO of Benitez, he was a dented can of baked beans. One of the youngest champions in boxing history was losing to Louis Acaries, to Buster Drayton, to John David Jackson.

"I'm not sure whether he was damaged by the beating Duran gave him or just the psychological impact of no longer being champion," said Howard Finger, his former adviser. "But Davey was never the same."

Moore's final fight took place on April 30, 1988, when he knocked out journeyman Gary Coates in front of a small crowd on Staten Island.

"I still think he could have come back," Persol said. "The talent remained."

Five weeks later, while home in Holmdel, N.J., Moore was killed when his four-wheel drive vehicle somehow began rolling down the driveway.

Caught off guard, he turned, stretched out his arms and attempted to stop the momentum with his bare hands.

Instead, the automobile ran over Moore, mercilessly dragging his body beneath its belly. When paramedics arrived, they found the former champion pinned down and lifeless. The official cause of death was asphyxiation induced by a compressed chest. He left behind a wife and two young children.

"The last time I saw Davey was the day before he died," Persol said.

"I said 'Davey, make sure to do your roadwork because we might be fighting soon. Later, I got the call. I couldn't breathe."

Moore does not go down as one of the 100 greatest fighters of all time. Truth be told, he's probably not one of the 1,000 greatest fighters of all time. But for one glorious stretch in 1982-83, he was arguably the world's top light middleweight boxer.

At the least, that merits a spot alongside Richard Tighe Harris (the famed co-founder of Juneau, Alaska).

At the least.

Jeff Pearlman is a former Sports Illustrated senior writer and the author of "Love Me, Hate Me: Barry Bonds and the Making of an Antihero," now available in paperback. You can reach him at anngold22@gmail.com.


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