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While Charley got 1942 off to a flying start beating everyone that was put in front of him, fighters that included the Hogue brothers 'Shorty' and 'Big Boy', the great Holman Williams and the heavyweight J.D. Turner, his promoter sent legitimate offers to the current champions. Title challenges to Freddie 'Red' Cochran at welterweight, Tony Zale at Middleweight all proved fruitless, since those titles were frozen for the duration of WW II. One proposed offer to Cochran was that Charley would fight for free, with his percentage going to the war fund, still no deal. Johnny Ray was offered $10,000 plus a percentage of the gate for Billy Conn, again no deal. Zale's management had other plans for their man, so again, no deal.
During this busy year Charley, (while weighing no more than 150 lbs.), was forced to battle the likes of Ezzard Charles, Lloyd Marshal, (L10), the Hogue brothers, (KO 10 and KO 6), Joe Sutka, (KO 4), Phil McQuillan, (KO1), and the aforementioned Jay Turner. All genuine middleweights, light-heavyweights and heavyweights. The giant Texan had a few months previous been the full 10 rounds with Billy Conn. However, on this occasion a weight advantage of a staggering 70 lbs. could not prevent him from being bust up and stopped cold by Burley inside of 6 rounds. The two fights with Ezzard Charles were held in a five-week period with a points win over Holman Williams six days before the second fight!
A chance meeting with Ray Robinson in the lobby of a hotel in New York, when Charley was in town to fight Phil McQuillan, (April 20, 1942) led to the two meeting on the same bill at the Minneapolis Armoury. Charley kayoed Sammy Wilson of Detroit in two rounds while Ray beat Dick Banner in the same number of rounds, (April 30th 1942). Watching from ringside the 'Sugar Man' told his manager, "I'm too pretty to fight Charley Burley".
Despite great efforts to make the match the two would never meet in the ring, although it nearly happened twice and dates were set. Robinson signed for a May 1946 fight, but raised the price to close to $25,000 when he wanted an out. Although he wanted to fight Robinson in the worst possible way Charley was never bitter about the way Sugar Ray avoided him because he knew that he was the better man and that he would have beaten Robinson. Though never boastful Charley Burley had the utmost confidence in his own ability and when he did lose he made no bones about it he could always tell the truth.
Following a points defeat by Lloyd Marshall, (who Charley rated as his toughest opponent), Charley was close to exhaustion. He had covered close to 19,000 miles on the road fighting 17 times with not a soft touch amongst them. Tommy O'Loughlin, who was now Charlie's manager, decided that a move to California, which boasted such greats as Jack Chase, Lloyd Marshall, Eddie Booker, Billy Smith, Archie Moore and Aaron Wade, would be beneficial to Burley's career. After defeating the likes of Harvey Massey, 'Tiger' Wade and Bobby Birch, Charley received a chance to fight for the California State Middleweight title which was held by Jack Chase, whom Charley had previously beaten over 10 rounds, (February 1943). Chase, who had never been stopped in 55 bouts, was kayoed in the 9th, (April 3rd 1944). Charley repeated this feat five months later, this time putting Chase away in the 12th. In between he won four other fights, three of which came via the short route. The man who stayed the distance in a losing effort was Archie Moore.
Charley took the Moore fight on very short notice. On the day of the fight he was at work in an aircraft factory in his (then) hometown of San Diego, (Charley had a burst eardrum and was considered un-fit for the military). He received news of the opportunity, finished his shift, got on a bus to Hollywood and bounced Archie off the canvas three times on the way to an emphatic points victory. A couple of Charlie's friends have stated that Charley didn't like '****y' fighters and that he allowed Moore, and another boastful fighter Billy Smith, to go the distance. The 'Old Mongoose' often cites Charley as the greatest fighter he ever fought, calling Burley "as slick as lard and twice as greasy." Very impressive when you consider the names on Moore's record.
Charley campaigned from 1943 through 1946 with only one loss, over 12 rounds to Holman Williams. That meeting between the two, (July 11th 1945), would be the last of seven meetings, with the final tally being three wins each with one no contest. Charley scored the only kayo of the series, winning in the 9th round in 1942. Other victims during this 26-fight period included, Joe Carter, (W10), Aaron 'Tiger' Wade, (W10), Charley Banks, (W10), Dave Clark, (KO1), the often-avoided Bert Lytel, (W10), and 'Oakland' Billy Smith, (W10, W10). Speaking of Smith, the only, near complete, film of a Charley Burley fight that exists is his second meeting with the light-heavyweight contender, (April 24th 1946).
From January 1940 up to August 1946 Charley Burley fought 60 times. He scored 31 stoppages, won 20 times over the distance, had 2 draws and 1 no-contest. The only fighter close to his own weight to beat him during this period was Holman Williams, (L15 L12). His other losses were to Charles, (twice), Jimmy Bivins, and Lloyd Marshall, and we all know how good they were, even without weight advantages of ten pounds and over!
Despite such good form, the big money and high profile fights against many of the top rated white fighters of the day still eluded Charley. Many years later Charley, who read the bible everyday, was quoted as saying, "I used to get down on my knees and pray for a title fight". Sadly, it was not to be, and while the so-called world champions played their games and did their deals and plenty of lesser fighters got their shot, Charley Burley went to work for the City of Pittsburgh as a garbage collector.
Eight fights in four years just weren't enough and the garbage truck eventually became his new career. After beating Pilar Bastidas in Peru in 1950 Charley travelled to Europe for a series of bouts that failed to materialize. On his return home Tommy O'Loughlin took him on the road to earn some extra cash. A 'barnstorming' tour of mid-west tank towns appearing as 'the masked marvel' almost led to him being lynched on one occasion.
By now Charley had had enough and concentrated on honest work to keep regular money coming in. He forgot about boxing and, for many years, boxing forgot about him. Only now, nearly 50 years after his retirement, has Charley Burley started to receive recognition. In 1983, he was elected to the Ring Hall of Fame. He was, at long last remembered and honoured by his peers and by the boxing public. Accolades that were, unfortunately, a little late as Charley Burley died in 1992, the year of his induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
The mystery that is Charley Burley's fighting career has often been explained away as 'not flashy or entertaining enough', 'too many changes in management', (Charley had at least five), or 'too good for his own good'. One could argue that there is definitely a ring of truth to that last statement, Charley had beaten some of the best around and feared no man. A good measure of his gameness and ability is the fact that he was a regular sparing partner of the Pittsburgh heavyweight Harry Bobo, a contender for Joe Louis's title. Many people in Pittsburgh felt that Bobo could give Joe Louis a good fight yet didn't think he could beat Burley in the ring. He had kayoed Elmer 'Violent' Ray and 'Jersey' Joe Walcott in sparring sessions and forced middleweight champion Marcel Cerdan out of the gym, (Charley was supposed to be Cerdan's first opponent in America!).
The real reason why Charley never became champion of the world may be simply that he was an honest man and an honest prizefighter. Many fighters with no flash or substance have fought for many titles over the years. Inept or un-connected management never stopped these guys. A kind and humble man Charley never trash-talked anyone and he most definitely knew his own. As with everything else it boils down to 'what is you price'. The truth is, these guys couldn't afford a class act like Charley Burley.
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