Ezzard Mack Charles was an American professional boxer and World Heavyweight Champion from 1950 to 1951. Known as the “Cincinnati Cobra,” Charles was named the 11th greatest boxer of all time. He won several amateur championships, including two Golden Gloves crowns—welterweight (1938) and middleweight (1939)—before turning professional from 1940 to 1959. He won his first 15 fights, from March 1940 to May 1941, eight by KO or TKO. He retired with a record of 93 wins, 25 losses and 1 draw.
Born into poverty in Georgia on July 7, 1921, Ezzard Charles’ family moved to Cincinnati, Ohio when he was a youngster. Charles was almost a natural born fighter. As a teenager, Charles took up boxing and was undefeated as an amateur with a record of 42-0. Known as “The Cincinnati Cobra”, Charles fought many notable opponents in both the light heavyweight and heavyweight divisions, eventually winning a championship in the latter. Although he never won the Light Heavyweight title, The Ring has rated him as the greatest light heavyweight of all time.
Charles started his career as a featherweight in the amateurs, where he had a record of 42–0. In 1938, he won the Diamond Belt Middleweight Championship. He followed this up in 1939 by winning the Chicago Golden Gloves tournament of champions. He won the national AAU Middleweight Championship in 1939. He turned pro in 1940, knocking out Melody Johnson in the 4th round. Charles won all of his first 15 fights before being defeated by veteran Ken Overlin. Victories over future Hall of Famers Teddy Yarosz and the much avoided Charley Burley had started to solidify Charles as a top contender in the middleweight division. However, he served in the U.S. military during World War II and was unable to fight professionally in 1945.
He returned to boxing after the war as a light heavyweight, picking up many notable wins over leading light heavyweights, as well as heavyweight contenders Archie Moore, Jimmy Bivins, Lloyd Marshall and Elmer Ray. Shortly after his knock-out of Moore in their third and final meeting, tragedy struck. Charles fought a young contender named Sam Baroudi, knocking him out in Round 10. Baroudi died of the injuries he sustained in this bout. Charles was so devastated he almost gave up fighting.
When Charles was unable to secure a title shot at light heavyweight, he moved up to heavyweight. After knocking out Joe Baksi and Johnny Haynes, Charles won the vacant National Boxing Association World Heavyweight title when he outpointed Jersey Joe Walcott over 15 rounds on June 22, 1949. The following year, he outpointed his idol and former World Heavyweight Champion Joe Louis to become the recognized Lineal Champion. Successful defenses against Walcott, Lee Oma and Joey Maxim would follow.
In 1951, Charles fought Walcott a third time and lost the title by knockout in the seventh round. Charles lost a controversial decision in the fourth and final bout. If Charles had won this fight, he would have become the first man in history to regain the heavyweight championship.
Remaining a top contender with wins over Rex Layne, Tommy Harrison and Coley Wallace, Charles knocked out Bob Satterfield in an eliminator bout for the right to challenge Heavyweight Champion Rocky Marciano. His two stirring battles with Marciano are regarded as ring classics. In the first bout, held in June 1954, he valiantly took Rocky the distance, going down on points in a vintage heavyweight bout. Charles is the only man ever to last the full 15-round distance against Marciano. In their September rematch, a severely cut Marciano rallied to KO Charles in the 8th round, in a bout that was named The Ring magazine’s “Fight of the Year.”
Financial problems forced Charles to continue fighting, losing 13 of his final 23 fights (He held a record of 83 wins, 12 losses and 1 draws before financial problems became a factor in his career). He retired with a record of 93-25-1 (52 KOs).
Charles was also a respected double bass player who played with some of the jazz greats in the 1940s and 1950s at such notable places as Birdland (jazz composer George Russell wrote the famous tune “Ezz-Thetic” in his honor). He was very close with Rocky Marciano and a neighbor and friend of Muhammad Ali when they both lived on 85th Street in Chicago. Charles also starred in one motion picture: Mau Mau Drums, an independent (and unreleased) jungle-adventure film shot in and around Cincinnati in 1960 by filmmaker Earl Schwieterman.
Ezzard Charles, age 53, died on May 28, 1975 in Chicago from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, and was interred in the historic Burr Oak Cemetery, in Alsip, Illinois.
After his death, Cincinnati honored Charles by changing the name of Lincoln Park Drive to Ezzard Charles Drive, in 1976. This was the street of his residence during the height of his career.
Awards & Recognition
Named The Ring Fighter of the Year for 1949 and 1950.
Inducted into The Ring Boxing Hall of Fame in 1970.
Inducted into the World Boxing Hall of Fame in 1983
Inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990.
Named the greatest light heavyweight of all-time by The Ring in 1994 and 2002.
Named the 11th greatest heavyweight of all-time by The Ring in 1998.
Named the 13th best fighter of the last 80 years by The Ring in 2002.
Named the 11th greatest fighter of all time by the IBRO (International Boxing Research Organisation)in 2006.