Charley Burley: Great Fighter No One Knows
(This is another excerpt of my upcoming book, “Boxing in the Shadow” and details the career of Charlie Burley one of boxing great fighters.)
A friend of mine mentioned to me that when discussing the great fighters, no lists would be complete without mentioning Charley Burley. Ring Sports editor Rusty Rubin told me that in his opinion, Burley was the greatest fighter never to have fought for a world title.
Legendary trainer Eddie Futch declared that Charley Burley the greatest all round fighter he ever witnessed and considering that Futch’s career in boxing span eight decades, that is high compliment. While campaigning as welterweight or middleweight, Burley was denied his shot at glory and today is a forgotten fighter except by hardcore fans.
Burley established himself as contender early in his career when he defeated Billy Soose, a future middleweight champion and he also split two fights with Fritzie Zivic, a future welterweight champion. These fights with Zivic showed that his victory over Soose was no fluke. In 1942, Burley lost two decisions to the future heavyweight champion Ezzard Charles in a five-week period but he managed to squeeze in a knockout victory over Holman Williams. Today, a fighter fights one fight in three months, it is consider a heavy load and yet, Burley fought three fights in less than six weeks against top notch candidates! In 1944, he decisioned the future light heavyweight champion Archie Moore.
Burley fought in a golden period of the welterweight and middleweight divisions when fighters like Tony Zale, Rocky Graziano, Jake LaMotta and Sugar Ray Robinson strode atop of these divisions. A Pittsburgh native, Burley was excellent fighter who could easily be mention in the same breath as these other great fighters but like many great black fighters, he is now lost in history black hole. With no championship belt, Burley might as well not exist.
Archie Moore considered his rival one of boxing’s greats along with long time trainer such as Ray Arcel and Eddie Futch. Burley’s trainer Hiawatha Grey, who lineage went back to the days of Jack Johnson and Stanley Ketchel, considered his protégé one of boxing great fighters, if not greatest. In the decade of the 40’s, Burley was ranked in the top 10 in both the welterweight and middleweight and yet there was no title shot. He won 83 fights and knocked out 50 fighters and yet no championship bouts. Born in 1917, his father was a black coal miner from Virginia and his mother was a white Irish woman. When Burley’s father died in 1925, Burley moved to Pittsburgh and in 1929, he took up boxing. Boxing became a passion even over baseball, another sport that he excelled. (The Homestead Grays, one of Negro baseball league great teams, offered him a contract.)