Charley Burley – often referred to as the greatest fighter never to have won a championship or fight for a world title, labelled too good for his own good and that was why. The accolades are many, Legendary trainer Eddie Futch, who helped plot Muhammad Ali’s downfall in Joe Frazier’s corner for the fight of the century, whose career spanned eight decades said Charley Burley was the greatest all round fighter he ever witnessed. ‘People ask me … give me the best fighter you ever saw. It would be Charley Burley. Charley Burley was an exception. Charley Burley is a legend in boxing but the public doesn’t know him because he never got the press.’ Another all time great trainer Ray Arcel once said ‘get me Anyone but Burley’
Sugar Ray Robinson, boxing’s greatest was alleged to have said ‘I’m too pretty to fight Charley Burley’. Robinson doubled his price demand to fight Burley, virtually ensuring the fight would never happen.
The chance meeting with Ray Robinson occured in the lobby of a hotel in New York, when Burley was in town to fight Phil McQuillan, (April 20, 1942) led to the two meeting on the same bill at the Minneapolis Armoury. Burley knocked out Sammy Wilson of Detroit in two rounds while Sugar Ray beat Dick Banner in the same number of rounds, (April 30th 1942). Watching from ringside Robinson told his manager, ‘I’m too pretty to fight Charley Burley’.
Archie Moore, considered one of the best in history and a light heavyweight champion lost to Burley, knocked down 4 times and commented on his opponent ‘Burley gave me a boxing lesson, he kept his punches coming at you like a riveting gun beats a tattoo on a rivet’ Moore also declared Burley as the best he had ever fought ‘He was the best fighter I ever fought, and the best fighter I ever saw. as slick as lard and twice as greasy’ Moores respect for Burley went on ‘If anyone was the perfect fighter it was Burley. When I fought Burley, I was no greenhorn. I’d had nearly 80 fights at the time. Burley was already a legend. He could feint you crazy with his eyes, shoulders, head, even his pectoral muscles. If you threw a punch at Charley Burley, you had better hit him; if you didn’t he would counter your head off. Hitting Burley with a solid punch was near impossible.’ Considering Moore went on to fight(and lose) to Muhammad Ali, that is huge compliment.
One of the most avoided fighters in history, he was avoided by big names such as Henry Armstrong, Tony Zale, Jake LaMotta, Rocky Graziano, Sugar Ray Robinson, and Billy Conn, so he was forced to fight out of his weight class’ Yet he KO’d opponents from welterweight to heavyweight between 1936 and 1950. It was impossible to look good against him. Burley beat three world champions in three different weight categories. Burley often fought opponents several divisions higher and almost 70lbs heavier!(As he did when beating in 6 rounds the 6’4 heavyweight JD Turner) Yet he was still never knocked out in nearly 100 fights, competing at welterweight and middleweight.
Burley was so avoided that he was part of the infamous Black Murderers Row – a group of middleweight boxing contenders in the USA competing in the 1940’s and 50’s who were so feared they had to have their own tournament amongst themselves. The nine boxers in the group faced each other a total of 61 times, none of them would compete for a title despite being at the top of the rankings for many years, and Charley Burley was considered by most as the best of the murderers row boxers.
Why didn’t Burley ever get a title shot? Many have given differing reasons, he had no connections(especially not with the Mob who had a strong foothold in Boxing in the USA at the time) he was a quiet and deeply religous man and he was not the most exciting of boxers to watch, a defensive genius and counter puncher, he did not throw many punches, preferring to throw fewer but more accurate punches, rarely in combination(despite this, he was listed as no.86 in the all time list of greatest punchers) and he was constantly changing managers, never one to blow his own trumpet, in a business world which Boxing can be, his lack of charisma outside the ring and just being a good honest man worked against him.
Eventually Burley would lose interest. By 1950 instead of appearing in front of thousands of fans in packed out attendances as he was accustomed to, he was fighting in Pittsburgh in small ballrooms in front of hundreds. He had his last ring outing in, of all places, the Peruvian capital of Lima in July 1950. He retired at just 32 yrs of age, having won 17 of his last 18 bouts, demonstrating he still had talent in bundles but giving up on the sport of Boxing not content with waiting even longer to get a shot at the world title. He ended up leaving to work in home city’s garbage collection department.
He ended his career with 83 wins against 12 losses with 2 draws and 1 no contest. Some might see 12 losses and wonder how can he be such a great with double digit losses on his record? But you have to remember, he was often fighting people much bigger than himself in order to stay active having been avoided by so many, we’ve seen recent headlines of Khan moving up in weight to fight Alvarez and Brook moving up to fight Golovkin, now imagine them doing that regularly and you have Charley Burley!(except Burley would often win) He died in October of 1992 aged 75, Burley was elected to the Boxing Hall of Fame in 1983 and the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1992.
There is very little footage of Charley Burley available, but we get to see the Boxing mastermind at play here in this youtube video aptly titled ‘Analyzing Genius’