After they pulled away the green plastic tarp Saturday afternoon, you not only saw the stunning statue of former world featherweight champ Davey Moore, one of the area’s most famous athletes ever, but you witnessed the ongoing narrative of this now bronzed man — and this golden moment — playing out at the base of a the new fistic salute.
There, among the 150 or so people who had gathered for this long-awaited unveiling, stood Geraldine Moore and Ultiminio “Sugar” Ramos, each with an arm around the other.
They are the two people most affected by the 29-year-old Moore’s unexpected death in 1963.
Geraldine was his wife, the mother of his five kids. Ramos was in the ring with him in the ill-fated final fight when he suffered a freak injury and then, after losing the decision, fell into a coma in the dressing room and died four days later.
The two had an emotional first meeting 50 years ago in a Los Angeles hospital as Davey lay there dying and they had not seen each other since – until Friday night.
Ramos lives in Mexico City now and through the help of his friends — Luigi Meglioli and Joe Flores — had contacted Geraldine by phone to find out if now, a half-century later, he could pay his respects at Davey’s grave. She told him how, after a several-year wait to complete the project, Springfield was honoring him with the statue unveiling.
It took the 71-year-old Ramos 20-plus hours, three flights and a drive from Indianapolis to get to Springfield on Friday, where a semi-private meeting with the Moore family, the sculptor Mike Major, project administrator Mike Morris and a couple of others was set up.
“I guess we were all a little nervous before he got there,” Denise Moore, Davey oldest daughter, said.
Geraldine took care of that when she saw the small man with the straw fedora, blue sport coat and sunglasses standing in the parking lot: “I walked up and said, ‘Are you Sugar Ramos?’ He said he was. We hugged and went inside.”
Rick Moore said he’ll never forget that moment: “When they came in, he held Mom’s hand and she held his. It was beautiful … just beautiful.”
Morris set the tone for the evening: “He was a little subdued at first and I made sure he knew the family had no ill will and the community was welcoming him with open arms. His trip here was appreciated and he was loved.”
As things loosened up, the family asked questions and Ramos poured out some thoughts.
“I’m paraphrasing here, but he said every morning he wakes up and still thinks of Davey,” said Turner Foundation photographer Rod Hatfield. “Tears were rolling down his cheeks and then he put his face in his hands. It was a real sort of meeting of the souls. It was just utterly amazing.”
Major agreed: “The project was completed, the family and Sugar Ramos were together, there was a sense of peace and completion, the feeling that everything had come full circle.”
That fateful day
Before the over-sized statue was unveiled along South Limestone Street on Saturday, there was a real sense of anticipation in the crowd that included family, friends, community leaders and even a few guys from Davey’s fight crowd like 72-year-old former sparring partner Joe Straight.
Ramos showed up with a bouquet for Geraldine and Meglioli carried a pot of white lilies.
To understand the worldwide reach of Moore — who was our area’s only Olympic boxer, held the featherweight crown for four years and fought all over the globe — you need to hear from Meglioli, who now runs a ceramic tile company in Tijuana:
“I was just 18 years old living in Modena, Italy when Davey Moore knocked out the European champ (Olli Maki in Helsinki). I was a big Davey Moore fan then. To all of us in Europe, he looked like he was unbeatable.”
Moore was pretty much unbeatable, having won 59 of 66 bouts when he met Ramos in their nationally televised fight at Dodger Stadium in March 1963.
He was a 2-1 favorite against the handsome, 21-year-old Cuban exile, but Ramos took control in the 10th and a series on unanswered punches sent Davey to the canvas. When he fell his neck hit the bottom ring rope which was actually a steel cable covered with rubber. The impact damaged his brain stem.
He beat the count, but his corner stopped the fight between rounds, and after talking to the press in the dressing room Davey fell unconscious.
Saturday, thankfully, they didn’t show a replay of the final round as they had planned, but they did show the televised introductions and the first round. As they did, Ramos stood and watched intently, every so often biting on his thumb nail, still caught up in the emotion of the fight.
After Morris told the crowd about the final round, Ramos, using Flores as his interpreter, asked to tell them about the seventh.
That’s when Moore had mounted a major assault and all but closed Ramos’s eye.
“I was close to knocked out and tried to crawl back to my corner,” Ramos said. “I’m yelling, ‘I’m the champ…I’m the champ,’ and my corner said, ‘Shut up, you’re losing the fight.’ ”
Denise was in tears when the statue was unveiled: “I was just so honored. I was glad to be his daughter. Very glad.”
A small reception followed the event, but first Ramos wanted to go to Ferncliff Cemetery to pay his respects to Davey.
“Sugar just has a big heart,” Meglioli said. “He showed it back in L.A. at the hospital 50 years ago and you see it again today.”
Ramos walked out to Davey’s grave with Geraldine and placed the lilies behind the marker that simply says: “Featherweight champ of the world.”
“This has all just been wonderful,” Geraldine said.
Ramos kissed his fingertips and then bent down and pressed them to Davey’s marker. “This is like a whole new world to me now,” he said quietly.
As you watched, you thought of something Major had said at the ceremony: “This makes a permanent legacy for the Moore family. … Just think how many people will see this statue and ask to hear the story of Davey Moore.”
And when it is told, you will have to include this day as well.
It was, as Rick Moore said earlier “Beautiful … just beautiful.”