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Joey Maxim


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Joey Maxim was one of the greatest light heavyweights ever and also one of the best technicians also, smartest fighters who ever graced this glorious division. He was known for his fast hands and he took the last name Maxim due to his ability to rapidly throw a large number of left jabs. He stood at 6'1 and for that time was an exceptionally tall light heavyweight, he fought as a heavyweight also and challenged Ezzard Charles for the world title, losing on points. He was only stopped once in his 115 fights, by a stunning first round ko earlier on in his career. He also has the distinction of being the only man to stop Sugar Ray Robinson, even though that stoppage was due to exhaustion.


Born Giuseppe Antonio Berardinelli on 28 March 1922 in Cleveland, Ohio, he learned to box at a very young age. Following a succesful amateur career, where he won the Golden Gloves, he turned professional in 1941. He boxed fairly regularly at exhibitions during the war, while serving as a military police officer at the same time. He started fighting the best early, first taking on Jimmy Bivins in June 1942 and dropping a split decision and then had two back-to-back fights against Ezzard Charles in October and December, losing both on points. Though he was convincingly beaten, it was still a credit to his boxing iq that Charles was unable to knock him out. And then, that lone knockout loss: in March next year he fought Curtis Sheppard, a journeyman whom he had already decisioned once. He was moving along the ropes when he was hurt by a right to the jaw. He tried to grab and hold on, but was hit with three overhand rights and knocked out, after only 51 seconds. His manager Johnny Papke said afterwards "I told him all week he was carrying that left too low." He avenged the loss 3 weeks later when he soundly decisioned Sheppard, winning 9 rounds to 1. He also decisioned the experienced Nate Bolden but then lost to hot contender Lloyd Marshall. Marshall, a hard hitter, put him down twice but was unable to capitalize and score a knockout. His career looked like it was hitting a bad spell after he also lost to journeymen Johnny Flynn and John Thomas, but then in August 1946 he scored what was viewed as an upset victory over Jersey Joe Walcott. In the first two rounds he was taking some punishment to the body, but then he outboxed Walcott and made him look bad for the rest of the fight, winning by a decision after 10 rounds. It was later reported Walcott had injured his hand in the 2nd round. Maxim agreed to give Walcott a rematch, which, like their first fight, was fought above 175. Maxim came in at 181 pounds, Walcott 191. Walcott took advantage of this weight disparity and used it to bully Maxim, but most of his big punches were blocked or avoided by Maxim while he had some success on the offense against Walcott. In the end, the verdict was a controversial majority decision for Walcott. Their rubbermatch happened 23 June 1947 and was promoted by Frank Sinatra. It produced a gate of 52, 574 dollars and Walcott was guaranteed 35,000 while Maxim got 10,000. After 10 rounds of fighting, the verdict was again questionable one for Walcott, this time by split decision. Maxim's manager Jack Kearns asked for the decision to be reversed because Walcott was hitting Maxim on the hip, but to no avail. Sinatra himself expressed his dissatisfaction with the fight and the decision.


Joey rebounded by scoring a rare knockout in 5 against Clarence Jones in a heavyweight fight, which was even more surprising, as Jones weighed 16 pounds more. He also beat the Swedish heavyweight Olle Tandberg by SD10 at Madison Square Garden and also decisioned Tony Bosnich, who put him down once with a left hook. In May '48 he fought his heaviest opponent to date, Franciso de la Cruz, who weighed 238. Maxim himself weighed in at his heaviest yet at 189 and won by UD10. He had a very busy 1948, where he also avenged the loss to Jimmy Bivins by SD and also beat Bob Satterfield by UD10 in Chicago, Satterfield's hometown. Next year he again faced Ezzard Charles but again lost, this time by majority decision. In May he took on the former world champion Gus Lesnevich for the American title, also known as NBA. He won after 15 rounds by unanimous decision and so took his first title. He then avenged an earlier loss to Joe Kahut, after Kahut had to retire after 4 rounds due to a bad cut on his temple. And then, finally, came the big moment: he got a chance to win the world title against Englishman Freddie Mills. He went over the ocean to fight the most popular fighter in England, at Earls Court Empress Hall in Kensington, London, on 24 January 1950. Unexpectedly and against all odds, he won by a knockout in 10, after catching Mills with a left-right. He had worked him over with combinations before that. After the fight, it was found that three of Mills' teeth were embedded in his glove. Mills never fought again. It was a perfect way of becoming a world champion.


He didn't defend his world title for over a year, but first set sights on avenging the losses to Ezzard Charles and challenged for his world heavyweight title on 30 May '51. But like before, there was no victory against the Cincinnati Cobra, one of the greatest boxers ever and he lost by a wide unanimous decision. He then defended his world title for the first time on 22 August same year against Bob Murphy, who interestingly was a 5 to 1 favorite coming into the fight. However, Joey outclassed him and beat him by a wide unanimous decision in 15 rounds. But he still wasn't ready to give up the chase after Charles. The two squared off for the fifth and final time on 12 December, this time Charles' title wasn't on stake. It was a less dominant win for Charles this time, but still a win and with that, Maxim finally decided he couldn't defeat him and gave it up. But another legend was waiting around the corner. Sugar Ray Robinson, looking to win a world title at the third weight class, after conquering one at welterweight and middleweight, challenged him and the two faced off on 25 June 1952 at the Yankee Stadium. However, the extreme heat took its toll on both the referee and Robinson and though he did well in the fight, he started to gas while Maxim came on strong in the later rounds. Sugar Ray suddenly collapsed in the 13th round and had to be helped back to his corner, after which fight ended and Maxim officially won by TKO. Afterwards, Maxim said "I was way behind and I knew it. But I also knew I had him if I didn't run out of rounds."


Despite winning, the Robinson fight took a great toll on Maxim. He lost his world title 6 months later to another legend, Archie Moore, on points. He also lost the rematch and rubbermatch to Moore. It was obvious he wasn't the same man, although he managed to defeat the young Floyd Patterson in an 8-rounder, though it wasn't a popular verdict. He also had two fights against Eddie Machen and lost both by decision. He also lost to former world middleweight champ Bobo Olson by a SD10. He finally retired in 1958, after losing 6 fights in a row, aged 36. His record is 82(21)-29-4. He was inducted into the IBHOF in 1994. After his retirement he worked as a stand up comic, restaurateur and taxi driver. He also appeared as an extra in the 1999 boxing film Play it to the Bone. He died in West Palm Beach, Florida, 2 June 2001, after suffering a stroke.

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