Ezzard Charles was an accomplished boxer and one of the most underrated heavyweight champions of all time. Born on July 7, 1921, in Lawrenceville, Georgia, Ezzard was the eldest of three siblings. His parents, Laura and Joe Calhoun, separated soon after his birth, and he was raised by his mother in Cincinnati, Ohio, where he spent most of his childhood.
Growing up, Charles was a tall and lanky kid, often teased by his peers for his gawky appearance. To build his confidence and build up his body, he began training in martial arts and eventually found his way to boxing at the age of 15. Charles showed natural talent and quickly made a name for himself in the local amateur circuit. By the time he turned 18, he had already amassed a record of 42-0, claiming several Golden Gloves titles along the way.
In 1940, Charles turned pro and started his journey to the top of the boxing world. His first few years as a pro were impressive, to say the least. He racked up an impressive win-loss record and was quickly establishing himself as a formidable opponent in the ring. However, it wasn't until 1946 when he finally got his chance to fight for a world title.
In 1946, he was matched up with the legendary Joe Louis, who was considered unbeatable at the time. The fight was anticipated to be an easy win for Louis, but Charles had other plans. He put on a masterclass boxing display, outscoring and outsmarting the champ over 15 rounds to become the new heavyweight champion of the world.
Charles became the sixth African American boxer to hold the heavyweight championship, and his victory was considered a significant milestone in the broader civil rights movement. However, while most fighters would have relished the limelight and enjoyed their newfound status, Charles was a different breed. He was never one to seek attention or bask in the glory of his victories. Instead, he remained grounded, humble, and reserved, always focused on improving his craft and becoming the best boxer he could be.
Over the next few years, Charles defended his title multiple times, taking on some of the top boxers of the time, including Jersey Joe Walcott and Joe Louis in rematches. However, his time at the top was short-lived. In 1949, Charles lost his title to Walcott, failing to regain it in a rematch a year later. The loss was a significant setback for Charles, but he didn't allow it to deter him from his goal of becoming one of the best boxers of all time.
In the years that followed, Charles fought in several high-profile bouts, often against much larger opponents who outweighed him by 20 or 30 pounds. He also fought as a light heavyweight and cruiserweight, but his performances in the ring remained consistent regardless of weight class. He was known for his excellent footwork, lightning-fast hands, and technical proficiency, making him a formidable foe for any opponent.
One of Charles's most remarkable feats was his ability to fight until the twilight of his career, remaining competitive into his late 30s and early 40s when most boxers would have long since hung up their gloves. He remained a top contender for over a decade, retiring at the age of 38 with a record of 93 wins, 25 losses, and one draw.
After retiring from boxing, Charles initially struggled to find his footing in the real world. He tried his hand at several different ventures, including running a nightclub, but nothing seemed to stick. Eventually, he returned to the sport he loved, coaching aspiring boxers and working as a boxing analyst for several networks.
Charles passed away on May 28, 1975, at the age of 53. His contributions to the sport of boxing and the civil rights movement cannot be overstated. He was an inspiration to many and proved that despite the odds, anyone could achieve greatness with hard work, determination, and a steadfast commitment to their craft.
Ezzard Charles's Legacy
Ezzard Charles's legacy extends far beyond his accomplishments inside the ring. He was a groundbreaking athlete who did things differently from many of his peers during his time. For starters, he wasn't interested in the flamboyant, over-the-top persona that many boxers adopted, particularly during the 1940s and 1950s. While many of his contemporaries sought the spotlight, Charles shunned it, preferring to stay out of the public eye and let his ring performances speak for themselves.
Another way in which Charles was revolutionary was his adeptness at boxing in different weight classes. While it's not uncommon today for boxers to move up or down in weight, it was almost unheard of during Charles's time. He fought as a light heavyweight, cruiserweight, and heavyweight, always approaching the different weight classes with the same technical proficiency and speed.
Charles was also one of the first black boxers to hold the heavyweight championship, a feat that came with great social adulation from African Americans and derision from whites.