“Cut and Shoot” Roy Harris: Small town Fighter to Heavyweight Championship Bout! Interview By Ken Hissner, Doghouse Boxing (March 9, 2011) Doghouse Boxing - Tweet
Who ever heard of the town of Cut and Shoot, TX, population 1,300 (today, maybe 300 then), before their hometown hero Roy Harris fought for the heavyweight title in August of 1958? There were more people in attendance, 21, 680, at the fight than the population of Cut and Shoot. Harris put his town on the map!
It took over 3 years and 22 fights for Harris to earn the title bout against former Olympic Gold medalist and then world heavyweight champion Floyd Patterson. “I had between 400-500 amateur fights starting at the age of 12. I won the regional’s 6 times, the state’s 4 times and the nationals once” said Harris
You can’t say he didn’t pay his dues when he finally turned professional at 21. “I made $75.00 for my first fight against Tommie Smith in April of 1954,” said Harris. It was at the Sam Houston Coliseum, in Houston, TX. Harris open the card under 4 ten rounder’s. His trainer was Bill Gore who would train lightweight champion Joe Brown and be inducted into the IBHF in 2008. His manager was Lou Viscusi.
Harris won 10 fights in 7 months when he won a split decision over Buddy Turman, 11-1, for the vacant USA Texas State heavyweight title, in Tyler. “It was a good fight. Buddy would eventually become a world traveler,” said Harris. Turman fought in 7 different countries including losing back to back 10 round decisions to Archie Moore in Texas and then the Philippines.
In his fourteenth fight Harris defeated Alvin Williams, 49-13-6, in 1956. “That was a rough fight,” said Harris. Several fights later he defeated the first man to defeat Turman in Oscar Pharo, 27-4. This gave him the chance to fight a top ten contender in Charley Norkus, 26-13, whom he defeated in October of 1956 to earn a rating.
Norkus had defeated Cesar Brion, 43-9 of Argentina, unbeaten ex-pro footballer Charlie Powell, top contender Roland LaStarza, 53-5 and lost to former champion Ezzard Charles, 83-12-1, all in his last 4 fights. Harris deserved to be in the ratings after that win.
Harris started 1957 off on a good note defeating Claude Chapman, 25-4-1, who had defeated the Cuban Julio Mederos and the following month former contender Joey Rowan, 28-12-1, whom this writer knew personally. “He had a good personality,” said Harris. This was the year he would ready himself for the following year’s title bout. He would fight one contender after another.
After Rowan, Harris took on big Bob Baker, 47-9-1, who had almost 30 pounds on him. He had Harris down in the fourth round. Harris won a majority decision. “He was one dangerous fighter,” said Harris. Baker had wins over Cuban Nino Valdez, Rex Layne (3x), Jimmy Slade, Coley Wallace and Joe Baski, all contenders at one time or another. Wallace was the only man to defeat Rocky Marciano in the amateurs.
Willie Pastrano brought in a 20-1-1 record in his last 22 fights and a 40-4-5 overall record in June. Harris took the decision. Pastrano would later drop down in weight and win the WBC/WBA light heavyweight championship. “He was one of the best,” said Harris.
In October Harris defeated the German Willi Besmanoff, 37-9-7, over 10 rounds in Houston. This would be the fight that put him in line to fight Patterson who last fought in August in an unusual contest coming off the canvas to stop the 1956 Olympic Gold medalist Pete Rademacher who was making his debut. It would be a year before Patterson met Harris who went 10 months without a fight.
Harris joined the Army. “It put me out of circulation a year before I fought Patterson,” said Harris. He also cut a record called “Cut ‘N Shoot, TX”. Maybe there were too many distractions but it was an accomplishment anyway you look at it for Harris. “My biggest mistake was going on a high protein diet (baked potato) before the fight. I had no strength by fight time,” said Harris.
Patterson was 33-1 and Harris 23-0 when they finally met. Patterson’s only loss was to former light heavyweight champion Joey Maxim. This would be his third title defense. Harris trained at the Arrow Springs Hotel which was near San Bernadino, CA. Actor Anthony Quinn was one of the visitors who would later play in “the Harder they Fall” with a cameo by Cassius Clay aka Muhammad Ali.
Harris dropped Patterson in the second round. “I swung a left hook and ended up hitting him with my forearm and he went down,” said Harris. Patterson had a way of ducking low and jumping in with his left hook. That is why Ali called him “the rabbit”. Either way it was an official knockdown and Harris didn’t capitalize on it.
The rest of the fight Patterson who was 10 pounds lighter proved to me too fast scoring knockdowns in the seventh, twice in the eighth and once in the twelfth. During the fight Harris received a bad cut over his eyes. He was game until the final round when he wasn’t allowed out for the thirteenth.
Harris would fight thirteen more times including a no-contest over the next 3 years. His first fight back was not an easy one as he took on Donnie Fleeman, 25-2, and had scaled over 200 for the first and last time. Fleeman had just stopped former world champion Ezzard Charles in his previous fight. This was a defense of Harris’ USA Texas State title with Fleeman being from Midlothian, TX. Harris won almost every round to retain his title. This was at the end of 1958. The following June Patterson would lose his title to Ingemar Johansson.
Trying to stay in the ratings Harris wanted to keep busy and took a small fight with John Hunt that ended in a “no contest” in 5 rounds. Fleeman asked for a rematch and like they say “watch what you ask for”. Once again Harris would all but shut him out. “Fleeman said I wish you would let me hit you just once,” said Harris.
Next up was the former football player Charlie Powell who was now 20-3-2. Harris won every round. Jamaican and former British Empire champion Joe Bygraves, 38-14-1, was brought in for Harris won the decision. An interesting opponent was next in Argentina’s Alejandro Lavorante, 4-0, who hadn’t fought over 6 rounds. Harris won all but a round or two. In Lavorante’s fourteenth fight he stopped contender Zora Folley.
“I was supposed to fight Ezzard Charles and even had the posters up. He pulled out 6 days before the fight,” said Harris. He would decision Henry Hall, 58-25-7, over 7 rounds being cut short due to screening of the Sonny Liston-Cleveland Williams fight. It would be Hall’s last fight. “My toughest opponent and most dangerous was when I sparred with Cleveland Williams,” said Harris.
A little over a month later after Liston stopped Williams for the second time he would meet Harris. Liston, 28-1, and Harris met in April of 1960 in Houston. “I wasn’t able to warm-up,” said Harris. In the first round a looping left hook knocked Harris to the canvas and under the bottom strand. Harris landed some jabs and though he said “I rattled him with a good right”, watching www.youtube.com I never saw one land.
In a clinch Liston threw Harris to the canvas and another time pushed him down. It didn’t seem like either was considered a knockdown by the referee. A lead right dropped Harris and the referee stopped it at 2:35 of the first round. www.boxrec.com claims there were 3 knockdowns but I only saw 2. To this point the only fight out of TX was with Patterson. In all reality this was the end of Harris competing for another title shot. Harris decided to go to Montreal to fight Bob Cleroux, 20-1-1, 3 months after the Liston fight. To this point the only loss Cleroux had was in NY to Buddy Turman with a win over Willi Besmanoff his biggest win. Harris was stopped in 5. “I wasn’t in shape,” said Harris.
Just 2 months later Harris went to London to fight Henry Cooper, 20-7-1, the British and Empire champion. “I busted him up but found out as long as he was still standing and breathing at the end he would get the decision and he did,” said Harris.
It would be 5 months before Harris fought again and he was back in Houston defeating Dave Rent, 13-5, who was disqualified in 5 rounds. Cleroux was brought into Houston for a rematch. Harris was the lightest in 4 years at 191. He was knocked down 3 times in the fourth round and carried to his corner where the fight was halted. This would be the end of the career for Harris with a 30-5 record with 9 knockouts. He was 27. He ended his career in the same stadium he made his debut.
Harris’ nephew Trey Harris fought from 1993 to 2001 before retiring with a 14-0 record with 6 knockouts. His father Henry trained him and 1976 Olympian Chuck Walker for part of his career. Today Trey is the manager and Henry the trainer for unbeaten super middleweight Alfonso Lopez, who is 21-0 with 16 knockouts.
“I had an interesting career. I remember talking with Ali for 2 hours at the Jack Johnson monument in Galveston, TX. My brother Henry boxed Ali in the Chicago Golden Gloves,” said Harris. In 1972 Harris would receive his law degree and got a real estate license. “I believe I’m the only boxer who retired and got a law degree. I served as a Montgomery County Clerk for 28 years,” said Harris.
“Cut and Shoot” Roy Harris from the small town of his same nickname of 1300 people or less who started boxing at the age of 12 having 400-500 fights in the amateurs lived his dream some 9 years after first putting on the gloves. Before over 21,000 people he had the world champion Floyd Patterson on the canvas in the second round! It doesn’t get much better than that!