Recently I put up a quick video on social media about Charley Burley. Now Burley was the first person I featured in my book Forgotten Legends of the Ring, Burley is often cited as the greatest boxer never to win a world title, not because he wasn’t good enough but because he was also the most avoided fighter of his time and maybe even all time. The greatest boxer of all time Sugar Ray Robinson was even rumoured to have avoided fighting Burley having sat ringside at one of his fights, commenting that he was too pretty to fight Burley.
Burley was so avoided, that the welterweight had to move up to middleweight and then even faced heavyweights, just to stay active. Burley would also become the leading member of the infamous Black Murderer’s Row fighters, a group of boxers who were so avoided that they had to create an almost exclusive club fighting each other.
There is very little footage of Burley, there is the one fight with Oakland Billy Smith which shows Burley taking on his bigger opponent and really putting on a boxing masterclass. Now in todays age you are not really going to be fighting someone so much bigger, Burley was a middleweight and in Smith, he was essentially taking on a light heavyweight, but there are plenty of tips we can take from Burley on how to handle a bigger opponent.
The first tactic we see Burley use is the feint. The feint is great for stalling your opponent and getting them to commit to a punch, giving you vital split seconds to make your next move, Burley was considered one of the greatest at using the feint and we see it in the fight, using the jab to feint low and instead coming over the top with the overhand right. The overhand right is a shot we see Burley utilise a number of times and combined with his use of the up jab it makes it very difficult for a taller fighter to pick up, going under(the up jab) followed by going over(the overhand right) goes out of the taller fighters eye line when faced with a shorter fighter so it is a great ploy to use.
You can also see Burley constantly poking the jab at Smith, keeping the jab in his face combined with his feints, this helps Burley judge the distance and prevent his bigger opponent from simply ploughing forward piling on the pressure. When Smith does get close to Burley, Burley does one of two things, he will either punch and then clinch his opponent, forcing a break up and not allowing his bigger opponent to throw heavy shots inside or try to wear him down with his size, or Burley will spin off the uses or pivot out because the last place you want to be against someone bigger than you is on the ropes where they can really plant their feet and let their shots go.
Lastly Burley uses the inside slip and jab. This is a great way to close the gap against someone taller than you. A taller fighter can simply fight on the outside, flicking his jab out to keep you away from him but Burley gets round this by slipping inside the jab and throwing either the up jab or the screw jab right up the middle, another fighter who was very successful in using a similar method was the heavyweight Mike Tyson who often found himself the shorter of the fighters inside the ring, Tyson like Burley would try to get closer to his opponent by slipping those shots, especially the jab, to the inside where he could then look to unload his bombs in close quarters and throw those under and over punches like Burley would.
Burley may only have footage of one fight available, but it really shows how good he was and how to fight someone bigger than you. Here’s a ‘did you know’ to end the email, if you have ever heard of the 2016 movie Fences which starred Denzel Washington, the lead character played by Denzel Washington named Troy Maxson is actually based on Charley Burley. In the movie Maxson is a talented baseball player who never made it to the big leagues of Major League Baseball and becomes a waste collector, in reality Burley was also a talented baseball player who never received his title shot in boxing and retired to become a waste collector in Pittsburgh, USA. The movie is also set in Pittsburgh in the 1950’s, Burley grew up in Pittsburgh and retired from the sport in the 1950’s.