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Remembering Roy Harris, the Boxer from Cut and Shoot Who Fought Floyd Patterson

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Former world heavyweight title challenger Roy Harris passed away last week at the age of 90. This coming Friday, August 18, marks the sixty-fifth anniversary of the fight between Harris and the incumbent champion, Floyd Patterson, one of the quirkiest promotions in the history of fistiana.

Patterson vs Harris was a great triumph for the vendors of hucksterism. It was plain to anyone with a discerning eye that Roy Harris had no business in the same ring with Floyd Patterson — when the match was terminated, Patterson was ahead by 20 points (!) on one of the scorecards – but the promotion yet turned a handsome profit.

Roy Harris hailed from Cut and Shoot, a hamlet in southeast Texas on the edge of the Big Thicket. That imbued him with a ready-made hook. A publicist could concoct a heady brew from that place name alone and Roy “Cut and Shoot” Harris was fermented into a backwoods hillbilly in the mold of the comic book character L’il Abner. There was a fly in the ointment, however. Harris was an elementary school teacher with a college degree, but this fact seldom crept into stories about him as it animated the spoilsports. (The sports editor of an Indiana paper opined that Harris would have a better chance of overcoming Patterson “if he were, say, an unemployed artichoke picker who never finished the eighth grade.”)

As part of the pre-fight hoopla, Harris appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated. Shirtless and barefoot, holding an old hunting rifle, he is flanked by his hound dogs. Back in those days, getting one’s face on the cover of Sports Illustrated, which sold for 25 cents on newsstands (remember newsstands?), was the crème-de-la-crème of pre-fight hype.

The accompanying story by Joe David Brown was full of fanciful fluff. It was actually true that Roy Harris practiced his craft in his backyard in a makeshift ring with barbed wire on one side and an occasional feral pig wandering about, but one must take with a grain of salt the assertion that whenever he ran out of sparring partners, his brothers would go out and shanghai barflys from local honky-tonks.

To be certain, the legend of Roy “Cut and Shoot” Harris was growing before he made the cover of S.I. As an amateur, he often fought barefoot. His father, Henry Harris – Big Henry to the locals – worked his corner wearing a coonskin hat.

Big Henry was no slouch when things got feisty. According to author Brown, he once ax-handled 16 people to the hospital during a disagreement at a local dance hall. Talking to a UPI reporter, one of Roy Harris’s brothers asserted that his uncle Bob, Big Henry’s sibling, once cut off a fellow’s head with a pocket knife. “In self-defense, of course,” he added, lest anyone get the wrong idea.

Down in southeast Texas, one didn’t mess with the Harris clan, but Roy Harris’s press clippings were of no use to him when he locked horns with Floyd Patterson on a Monday evening on a balmy 1958 night in Los Angeles. He had a moment of glory in the second round when he caught Patterson off-balance and scored a flash knockdown, but otherwise it was all Patterson who knocked Harris to the canvas in the seventh round and twice in the eighth and once more in the 12th before Harris’s cornermen insisted that Roy call it a night. At the finish, Floyd was unmarked and Roy was a bloody mess.

The “10-point-must” system was then fairly new in California and there was no consensus as to how to score a lopsided round. Referee Mushy Callahan scored round seven 10-6 and round eight 10-5.  His scorecard favoring Patterson heading into the aborted rounds was the widest, but not by much. The judges had it 117-98 and 116-102.

The fight drew an announced crowd of 21,680 including many out-of-towners wearing 10-gallon hats. Perhaps another 200,000 witnessed the mismatch on a big screen. Patterson vs Harris was beamed to 151 closed-circuit outlets in 133 cities in the United States and Canada including eight locations in Texas. The tub-thumpers did their job well. Everyone made money.

In defense of Roy Harris, although he lacked a big punch, he could fight more than a little. His breakout year came in 1957 when he advanced his record to 22-0 with narrow decisions over Bob Baker and Willie Pastrano and a one-sided decision over journeyman Willi Besmanoff. Roy Harris was only a cruiserweight by today’s standards and Baker, a rugged campaigner from Pittsburgh, out-weighed him by 26 pounds.

His win over Willie Pastrano would take on a brighter tint when Pastrano wrested the light heavyweight title from Harold Johnson (a gift decision, but that’s a story for another day). The Harris-Pastrano fight had a rematch clause that stipulated that if Pastrano lost, Harris was obligated to fight him again within 60 days in Miami Beach where Pastrano, an Angelo Dundee disciple, then hung his hat. The rematch was postponed twice before dying on the vine. Harris had never fought outside Texas before meeting Floyd Patterson.

Whatever his limitations, Harris had a bottomless well of courage as he showed when he stayed 12 rounds with Patterson and again when he accepted a match with petrifying Sonny Liston who blasted him out in the opening round.

In retirement, Roy Harris quit school teaching after earning a law degree from the University of Arkansas. He sold real estate on the side and reportedly cashed in big as Cut and Shoot and neighboring, oil-rich Conroe grew in leaps and bounds. In 1966, he was elected County Clerk and served for 28 years. For someone painted as a backwoods hillbilly, he had quite a life.

Harris passed away peacefully on Aug. 8. A widower for the last 15 years of his life, he is survived by six children, nine grandchildren, and one great-grandchild. We here at TSS send our condolences to his loved ones.

Note: Joe David Brown’s Sports Illustrated cover story on Roy Harris is a real hoot. For some unfathomable reason, it was expunged from the Sports Illustrated vault. Brown, who passed away at age 60 at his home in rural Georgia, is best known for his novel “Addie Pray” which was fashioned into the 1973 blockbuster “Paper Moon,” a comedy starring Ryan O’Neal and his real-life daughter Tatum O’Neal, an Oscar winner at the age of 10.

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Skavynskyi and Bustillos Win on a MarvNation Card in Long Beach

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Skavynskyi and Bustillos Win on a MarvNation Card in Long Beach

LONG BEACH, Ca.-A cool autumn night saw welterweights and minimumweights share main events for a MarvNation fight card on Saturday.

Ukraine’s Eduard Skavynskyi (15-0, 7 KOs) experienced a tangled mess against the awkward Alejandro Frias (14-10-2) but won by decision after eight rounds in a welterweight contest at the indoor furnace called the Thunder Studios.

It was hot in there for the more than 600 people inside.

Skavynskyi probably never fought someone like Mexico’s Frias whose style was the opposite of the Ukrainian’s fundamentally sound one-two style. But round after round the rough edges became more familiar.

Neither fighter was ever damaged but all three judges saw Skavynskyi the winner by unanimous decision 79-73 on all three cards. The Ukrainian fighter trains in Ventura.

Bustillo Wins Rematch

Applerose2

In the female main event Las Vegas’ Yadira Bustillos (8-1) stepped into a rematch with Karen Lindenmuth (5-2) and immediately proved the lessons learned from their first encounter.

Bustillos connected solidly with an overhand right and staggered Lindenmuth but never came close to putting the pressure fighter down. Still, Bustillos kept turning the hard rushing Lindenmuth and snapping her head with overhand rights and check left hooks.

Lindenmuth usually overwhelms most opponents with a smothering attack that causes panic. But not against Bustillos who seemed quite comfortable all eight rounds in slipping blows and countering back.

After eight rounds all three judges scored the contest for Bustillos 78-74 and 80-72 twice. Body shots were especially effective for the Las Vegas fighter in the fifth round. Bustillos competes in the same division as IBF/WBO title-holder Yokasta Valle.

Other Bouts

In a middleweight clash, undefeated Victorville’s Andrew Buchanan (3-0-1) used effective combination punching to defeat Mexico’s Fredy Vargas (2-1-1) after six rounds. Two judges scored it 59-55 and a third 60-54 for Buchanan. No knockdowns were scored.

A super lightweight match saw Sergio Aldana win his pro debut by decision after four rounds versus Gerardo Fuentes (2-9-1).

Photos credit: Al Applerose

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Tedious Fights and a Controversial Draw Smudge the Matchroom Boxing Card in Orlando

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Matchroom Boxing was at the sprawling Royale Caribe Resort Hotel in Orlando, Florida tonight with a card that aired on DAZN. The main event was a ho-hum affair between super lightweights Richardson Hitchins and Jose Zepeda.

SoCal’s Zepeda has been in some wars in the past, notably his savage tussle with Ivan Baranchyk, but tonight he brought little to the table and was outclassed by the lanky Hitchins who won all 12 rounds on two of the cards and 11 rounds on the other.  There were no knockdowns, but Zepeda suffered a cut on his forehead in round seven that was deemed to be the product of an accidental head butt and another clash in round ten forced a respite in the action although Hitchins suffered no apparent damage.

It was the sort of fight where each round was pretty much a carbon of the round preceding it. Brooklyn’s Hitchins, who improved to 17-0 (7), was content to pepper Zepeda with his jab, and the 34-year-old SoCal southpaw, who brought a 37-3 record, was never able to penetrate his defense and land anything meaningful.

Hitchins signed with Floyd Mayweather Jr’s promotional outfit coming out of the amateur ranks and his style is reminiscent in ways of his former mentor. Like Mayweather, he loses very few rounds. In his precious engagement, he pitched a shutout over previously undefeated John Bauza.

Co-Feature

In the co-feature, Conor Benn returned to the ring after an absence of 17 months and won a unanimous decision over Mexico’s Rodolfo Orozco. It wasn’t a bad showing by Benn who showed decent boxing skills, but more was expected of him after his name had been bandied about so often in the media. Two of the judges had it 99-91 and the other 96-94.

Benn (22-0, 14 KOs) was a late addition to the card although one suspects that promoter Eddie Hearn purposely kept him under wraps until the week of the fight so as not to deflect the spotlight from the other matches on his show. Benn lost a lucrative date with Chris Eubank Jr when he was suspended by the BBBofC when evidence of a banned substance was found in his system and it’s understood that Hearn has designs on re-igniting the match-up with an eye on a date in December. For tonight’s fight, Benn carried a career-high 153 ½ pounds. Mexico’s Orozco, who was making his first appearance in a U.S. ring, declined to 32-4-3.

Other Bouts of Note

The welterweight title fight between WBA/WBC title-holder Jessica McCaskill (15-3-1) and WBO title-holder Sandy Ryan (6-1-1) ended in a draw and the ladies’ retain their respective titles. Ryan worked the body effectively and the general feeling was that she got a raw deal, a sentiment shared by the crowd which booed the decision. There was a switch of favorites in the betting with the late money seemingly all on the Englishwoman who at age 30 was the younger boxer by nine years.

The judges had it 96-94 Ryan, 96-95, and a vilified 97-93 for Chicago’s McCaskill.

In the opener of the main DAZN stream, Houston middleweight Austin “Ammo” Williams, 27, improved to 15-0 (10) with a 10-round unanimous decision over 39-year-old Toronto veteran Steve Rolls (22-3). All three judges had it 97-93. Rolls has been stopped only once, that by Gennady Golovkin.

Photo credit: Ed Mulholland / Matchroom Boxing

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Zhilei Zhang KOs Joe Joyce; Calls Out Tyson Fury

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Joe Joyce activated his rematch clause after being stopped in the sixth frame by Zhilei Zhang in their first meeting. In hindsight, he may wish that he hadn’t. Tonight at London’s Wembley Stadium, Zhang stopped him again and far more conclusively than in their first encounter.

In the first meeting, Zhang, a southpaw, found a steady home for his stiff left jab. Targeting Joyce’s right eye, he eventually damaged the optic to where the ring doctor wouldn’t let Joyce continue. At the end, the fight was close on the cards and Joyce was confident that he would have pulled away if not for the issue with his eye.

In the rematch tonight, Zhang (26-1-1, 21 KOs) closed the curtain with his right hand. A thunderous right hook on the heels of a straight left pitched Joyce to the canvas where he landed face first. He appeared to beat the count by a whisker, but was seriously dazed and referee Steve Gray properly waived it off. The official time was 3:07 of round three.

Zhang, who lived up to his nickname, “Big Bang,” was credited with landing 29 power punches compared with only six for Joyce (15-2) who came in 25 pounds heavier than in their first meeting while still looking properly conditioned. One would be inclined to say that age finally caught with the “Juggernaut” who turned 38 since their last encounter, but Zhang, 40, is actually the older man. In his post-fight interview in the ring, the New Jersey resident, a two-time Olympian for China, when asked who he wanted to fight next, turned to the audience and said, “Do you want to see me shut Tyson Fury up?”

He meant it as a rhetorical question.

Semi-Windup

Light heavyweight Anthony Yarde was matched soft against late sub Jorge Silva, a 40-year-old Portuguese journeyman, and barely broke a sweat while scoring a second-round stoppage. Yarde backed Silva against a corner post and put him on the deck with a short right hand. Silva’s body language indicated that he had no interest in continuing and the referee accommodated him. The official time was 2:07 of round two.

A 30-year-old Londoner, Yarde (24-3, 23 KOs) was making his first start since being stopped in eight rounds by Artur Beterbiev in a bout that Yarde was winning on two of the scorecards. Silva, a late replacement for 19-3-1 Ricky Summers, falls to 22-9.

Also

Former leading super middleweight contender Zach Parker (23-1, 17 KOs) returned to the ring in a “shake-off-the-rust” fight against 40-year-old Frenchman Khalid Graidia and performed as expected. Graidia’s corner pulled him out after seven one-sided rounds.

In his previous fight, Parker was matched against John Ryder who he was favored to beat. The carrot for the winner was a lucrative date with Canelo Alvarez. Unfortunately for Parker, he suffered a broken hand and was unable to continue after four frames. Tonight, he carried 174 pounds, a hint that he plans to compete as a light heavyweight going forward. Indeed, he has expressed an interest in fighting Anthony Yarde. Graidia declined to 10-13-4.

The Zhang-Joyce and Yarde-Silva fights were live-streamed in the U.S. on ESPN+.

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