By Keith Terceira
On March 1 1940, the great Henry “Hammering Hank” Armstrong was preparing to face the middleweight title claimant Philippine Champion Ceferino Garcia at the Gilmore Stadium in LA. For Armstrong a victory would make him the first fighter to win titles in four weight divisions at a time when there was only eight.. Having already defeated Garcia in New York (November 1938) in a welterweight title defense , Armstrong was confident he would prevail. Already he was distinguished as the first fighter to win titles in three.
Around the country though writers had already began to whisper that the fight was going to be a draw
Writer Eddie Brietz wrote on February 26th 1940 in his Sports Roundup column,
“A little bird says; Don't be to completely flabbergasted if Henry Armstrong and Ceferino Garcia come up with a draw on the coast Friday night”
Henry McLemore also picked the fight to be a draw well in advance and wrote after the fight on March 2
“I hit the Armstrong - Garcia fight for the middleweight championship of the world right on the nose. I said well in advance it would end in a ten round draw. It did. But I am not bragging, even though I am a man who does not make the correct selection often, I called it a draw but Armstrong won it.”
This bout was to have taken place on February 22nd but was postponed due to an infection in Garcia’s knee. The week prior to the fight saw the odds maker 4-5 odds and your choice of fighter to 6-5 in favor of Garcia due to concern that Armstrong was growing stale from the postponement.
Garcia was recognized by both New York and California as Middleweight Champion but for this fight California only is backing the bout for the title. New York would not because it maintained only 15 round bouts can be sanctioned for titles.
The 1938 match up between these two champions was a brutal contest in which Garcia suffered cuts over both eyes and the bridge of his nose and Armstrong though victorious in his 147 pound defense suffered a closed left eye from landed right hooks. Though it went the 15 round distance Armstrong was easily the winner having battered Garcia so severely in the 10th that Garcia staggered to a neutral corner after the round. In the eleventh the fight was nearly stopped by the doctor because of the amount of blood Garcia was losing. Back battled the Philippine great and he launched a bolo in the twelfth that completely closed Armstrong eye and staggered the champ. On went this battle with Armstrong fighting in close head on Garcia’s shoulder winging punches until the last round.
In all Armstrong was hurt 3 times in the fight and Garcia amazed many by absorbing a ridiculous amount of punishment. Garcia’s “bolo” hurt Armstrong but didn’t pack enough to cause the champion pause in his fight plan. The second fight promised no new plan of action only a brutal repeat of the first with Armstrong’s skill and volume of punches winning out. Garcia needed to find a way to keep Henry outside so he could land the bolo more often to retain the belt.
Armstrong entered the ring at the heaviest of his career at 142 pounds while Garcia’s weight was 153 ½
The crowd was on the small side for this fight at 20,000 and the gate which was expected at one point to make records at over $120,000 fell far short at 65-75 grand.
Armstrong comes out eager and sets for stage for a long night of infighting by sticking his head in Garcia’s chest and working a two handed campaign on the inside. Garcia made Hank pay for the plan by landing a series of left - right uppercuts… Armstrong is warned for butting and both land vicious body blows to end the round with Garcia landing the hardest punches in the round. Round one is scored for Ceferino by many.
Armstrong lands two big left hooks but Garcia drives him back momentarily with a two handed barrage. Armstrong backs Garcia to the corner and flails away again landing two huge left hooks.. Garcia’s corner screams to maneuver to the center of the ring but Armstrong keeps him pinned in the turnbuckles. A big left hand opens up a cut over Garcia’s right eye and the champion returns to his corner at the end of the round with blood freely flowing.. Armstrong wins round.
Hammering Hank is setting a blistering pace at one point landing ten punches to Garcia’s one. The crowd is going wild as it smells blood during the exchange that reopens the cut over the right eye. Garcia steps back and lands a bolo that spun Armstrong to the ropes but Henry recoils with both guns blazing, driving Garcia to the corner once again to end the round. Armstrong wins round.
Armstrong’s left eye is beginning to swell as the round starts, and Garcia helps the matter with a big right in the first flurry. Head to head they stand banging away like lumberjacks attacking a old oak, the battle pitching back and forth.. Again Armstrong is warned of butting… Another left hook sends blood flying from Garcia’s eye, Hank is grunting with every punch as he drives Ceferino to the corner again and the barrage has the champs face covered in red from the hammering.
Armstrong wins round
Armstrong rushes out and begins throwing punches well before he is in range and few land Garcia begins to box on the outside where he is strongest. A mean left to the face followed by a right to the body by Garcia was the first effective combination of the round and Ceferino tries to circle the center of the ring with Armstrong attached to him like a bad cold. The pace slow for a minute then they are back toe to toe like a windmill churning.. Armstrong lands a few down under and the round ends with Armstrong’s eye swollen the size of a golf ball. Garcia’s round.
Between rounds the corner cuts Armstrong’s eye to relieve the swelling.. The exchanges continue in the center of the ring with no one taking the upper hand until Garcia lands a big left hook to the body.. The flurries reopen the bleeding in Ceferino’s eye and Armstrong begins to hold his elbows high blocking many of the blows coming at him and protecting his eye which is swelling again.. Armstrong lands three big left hooks and covers from a series of uppercuts to his chest and chin. Round is even at the end.
Armstrong’s eye is nearly closed again at the beginning of the round and Garcia is now pushing Armstrong with one hand and landing a sharp punch with the other , this works a few times until Henry begins to hold his elbows in tighter Garcia is getting more confidence and is landing better, one right uppercut bobs Armstrong’s head.. Armstrong comes back with a tattooing of Garcia’s body , Garcia lands a couple of rights as he head hunts and receives a sharp left hook in return that gets the blood flowing again. The round ends with them both fighting on the ropes…Round even.
They begin the round toe to toe again and Armstrong is missing as many as he is landing. The crowd begins to boo as Armstrong is landing with Elbows and head more than with his fists this round Garcia is landing from the outside and twice with big uppercuts but Armstrong is relentless stuck like a leech to Garcia’s left shoulder and chest Armstrong lands with both hands to Garcia’s chin driving him to the ropes once again. The referee ignores the fouls and the fight moves forward with Armstrong banging away until Ceferino has a flurry of his own that halts Hank in his tracks at the end of the round. Round to Armstrong.
Armstrong is a one eyed fighter but that one eye is focused on being the aggressor in every round and as soon as they come together Hank begins to drive Garcia back. Armstrong has Garcia’s back on the ropes in every round and Garcia is fighting to take control but can’t.. Garcia’s best punch of the round is a bolo that starts at the floor and grazes Armstrong’s chin.. Armstrong retaliates with a blistering pace and drive a left right to the chin followed by two big body shots , Garcia comes back with one right to the body. Armstrong has Garcia on the ropes again head on his chest and left and rights blazing as the round ends. Round to Hammering Hank.
Referee Blake calls for the fighters to shake hands but they charge instead , Garcia lands a right and gets rewarded with a steady drumming of head and body shots by Armstrong which puts Garcia on the ropes once again.. The crowd is roaring as Armstrong works like a piston driving Garcia to the ropes and landing often. Garcia lands two rights but Armstrong shakes them off unnoticed .. Armstrong lands both lefts and right to the face of Ceferino and keeps throwing punches a few seconds after the bell ends the fight…
A hush descends over the crowd , this fight was more of a mauling affair instead of a boxing match as the pace is quick and dirty on both sides with Armstrong warned of butting and low blows and Garcia warned of kidney shots during round four.
Parnussus, Garcia’s manager states after the fight;
“You need a baseball bat and a knife to fight that guy Armstrong”
Armstrong effectively nullified Garcia’s famous Bolo punch throughout the fight by keeping it at close range and was the aggressor the entire fight. Some newspaper reporters give Armstrong as many as 7 of the ten rounds and over 90 percent give the fight to Armstrong by a wide margin…
“In California the decision is entirely up to the referee, Blake, former manager of Fidel La Barba and recognized as one of the country’s most dependable third men, never officially announced his decision. He left the ring immediately after the tenth round bell and sent back his message to Garcia and Armstrong alike” Wrote Henry MClemore.
The announcement of a draw is done so quietly that many ringside reporters don’t even know the decision until much later and many in the crowd don‘t know until the following morning. Armstrong is denied his fourth weight class title though he is the obvious winner. One reporter writes that the gate was so disappointing that both camp decided before the fight to bring a rematch back to New York where the money would be better… That third fight was to never happen.. The great “Hammering Hank” is to be denied by money, politics, and fate.
Keith Terceira is the North American Chairman for the UBC and its new Ratings Chairman, Mid -South Rep for the RBF, and co-host of TalkinBoxing with Billy C. He can be reached at [email protected]