Dr. Wilbert “Skeeter” McClure: 50 Year Olympic Gold Medal Anniversary! By Ken Hissner (Sept 7, 2010) Doghouse Boxing
The Olympic teams have always intrigued me. I was working on two of the 1960 team members, Percy Price, Jr., a career Marine, who had defeated a then Cassius Clay aka Muhammad Ali and Eddie Crook, a career US Army soldier. I was in contact with John Scully and he told me Wilbert “Skeeter” McClure was at an event he also attended. You may ask what in common do Price, Clay, Crook and McClure all have? They were all members of the 1960 Olympic team in Rome. Clay was a heavyweight and light heavyweight champion in two different national tournaments, so when he lost to Price it was decided he would go in the lower weight class. As it turned out, Clay, McClure and Crook all won gold medals.
For McClure it all started back in 1952 when he had his first amateur bout in his hometown of Toledo, Ohio. He would win many titles in amassing a 138-10 record. By 1958 he won his first major title winning the International Diamond Belt in Mexico City. In 1959 he won the National AAU and Pan American Games Gold Medals to be named the Outstanding Amateur Boxer in the US. By this time he had finished three years at the University of Toledo. If he chose to go to the Olympics he would not be allowed to earn money for tuition in his senior year. The school granted him free tuition considering all the publicity he had gotten them. In 1960 he repeated winning the AAU title defeating Crook in the semi-final with both fighters hitting the canvas. In the title match he defeated future world champion Jimmy Ellis. Even though Clay and Crook were defeated they would have Clay drop to the 178 pound division and Crook move up to 165. McClure would the go to the Olympics in the 156 division. McClure would tell you Crook was one of the toughest opponents he ever faced.
In the first round McClure defeated Francis Nyagweso of Uganda 5-0. He then beat Celedonio Lima of Argentina 3-2. Lima as a professional would box to a draw with future world champion Carlos Monzon and had a 19-3-6 record. In the semi-final McClure defeated Boris Lagutin of the Soviet Union 3-2. Lagutin would win the Gold medal in the 1964 Olympics. For the Gold Medal McClure defeated Carmelo Bossi of Italy 4-1. Bossi would later become the WBC/WBA light middleweight champion ending with a 40-8-3 record. McClure had hurt his right hand in the first round and still managed to win the Gold.
Pertaining to Clay/Ali, “we were co-captains of the Olympic team and roommates. He was just a nice kid and didn’t run his mouth off then. He loved meeting the people (Rome, Italy),” said McClure.
McClure would go back to the University of Toledo completing his final year graduating in June of 1961 with a Bachelors of Education in English and minors in Science and history. Along with his diploma he was inducted into the U.S. Army with a reporting date in September. Before entering the service he turned professional in July and won four bouts, two by knockout, that summer.
McClure was assigned to Fort Devens, Massachusetts. “When I came home from basic training in 1961 I had my fatigues and other US Army stuff on. I was in the driveway talking to my brother. My mother came out for a minute, looked at me and said, ‘Hello’. Then walked back into the house! I went in and asked her is that the way to greet your #1 son?” Either she didn’t recognize him or it was a look of familiarity. “She looked at me, screamed…SKEETER!!! We hugged for the longest time,” said McClure.
He was allowed to box while in the service so after over six months of inactivity he defeated Clarency Riley of Detroit who had over 50 fights to his credit. The next month he scored a couple of knockouts before getting permission to fight in Madison Square Garden. Detroit’s Ted Wright was in the main event. Little did McClure know 11 months from then he would be fighting Wright. McClure stopped Charley Glover, 14-9-1, of Cincinnati in the 2nd round on the Garden show.
McClure’s next opponent was tough Harold Richardson, 11-4, from Newark, back in the Garden. Again he won a 6 rounder. These two would be rematched some 4 years later. Next up about 6 weeks later would be Argentine champion Farid Salim, 36-2-3, who was 2-1 in the US having defeated Ted Wright, lost to Yama Bahama and defeated another contender Joey Giambra. This was quite a step up for the young McClure in just his 10th fight and jumping from 6 to 10 rounds. It was a co-feature to Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, who would meet McClure later in 1966. McClure took the decision over Salim.
Next for McClure the following month in his first bout in his hometown of Toledo would be Phoenix’s Tony Montano, 26-8-2, who had won 8 straight since losing to future champ Jose Torres. Once again McClure would take a 10 rounder. In less than a month he was back at the Garden with contender Gomeo Brennan, 52-6-5, of the Bahamas. He had a 22-1-1 record in his last 24 fights. McClure would win 7 out of 10 rounds in posting another win. Unfortunately McClure would be deployed to Germany for the remainder of his time with about a year to go. While there he had one bout scoring a knockout stopping Austrian Nic Maric in the 6th round.
McClure would get to come home to Toledo once in that time frame and fight Wright, 44-10-6, in Toledo. The odd thing was Wright would spend 2 years fighting in Europe some 13 times. He was 4-0-1 since losing in 15 rounds to former welterweight champion Emile Griffith in Vienna for what was billed as the World light middleweight title. He also fought in Italy and France. McClure won 8 out of 10 rounds from Wright for his 14th straight win. He would not fight again until he was discharged some 6 months later.
In October of 1963 McClure’s brain trust matched him in the Garden with the former welterweight champion Cuban Luis Rodriguez, 52-3, who had lost his title 4 months prior to this in a rematch with Emile Griffith. McClure was ranked 9th but Rodriguez was 10-0 against middleweights. Some of the welterweights he defeated were Benny “Kid” Paret, Virgil Akins and Curtis Cokes among the champions. Other contenders like Isaac Logart, Sugar Hart, Chico Vegar, Yama Bahama, Fredrico Thompson, Joey Giambra and Denny Moyer to name a few. Rodriguez was not over the hill and would end up 107-13 and be inducted into the Hall of Fame. McClure would have almost 10 pounds on Rodriguez who bounced around the ring like a rabbit. He was in the same stable as Cassius Clay aka Muhammad Ali, both trained by Angelo Dundee. McClure was knocked down in the 3rd round which cost him the fight on one judges card and a possible draw on another’s. He made a good showing and the fans received him warmly in what was his fifth appearance at the Garden.
The brain trust re-signed for a rematch just 2 months later in Miami, where Rodriguez lived. You have to shake your head and wonder why there? McClure was knocked down in the 6th round and lost 7-3 in rounds. This time McClure gave up 8 pounds to Rodgriguez. There was no doubt about the winner but not too many fighters with 15 fights would be taking on Rodriguez back to back. Rodriguez is one of my all time 3 top favorite fighters. You had to ask yourself “what were they thinking?”
In March of 1964 McClure stopped Detroit’s Tommy Payne, 14-4, who had a win over Tony Montano. The following month he won a hard fought split decision over Clarence Alford, 18-10-2, of Cleveland. One judge had it 8-2 McClure. Alford had been in with George Benton, Jesse Smith (2), Johnny Morris and Henry Hank. He had stopped Kent Green, 7-0, out of Chicago, who had defeated Cassius Clay in the amateurs. It looked like the brain trust seemed back on track until they signed to meet Puerto Rican born Jose Torres, 29-1-1 (22), in the Garden. Torres joined the US Army at 18 and won a silver medal in the 1956 Olympics.
Torres boxed over the 160 limit in 14 of his 31 fights including at 171 in his previous bout less than a month before. This was not the first meeting between these two. Torres won their prior fight in 1958 for the Intercity Golden Gloves championship in New York City. He went on to win the AAU title that year. Both boxers came in at 161. Torres won the decision and 10 months later destroyed light heavyweight champion Willie Pastrano in 10 rounds in one of the most brutal beatings I have witnessed. Torres trainer Cus D’Amato once tried to give McClure some pointers. “He was very interesting and a talented trainer. He wanted me to use the peek-a-boo style he gave to Floyd Patterson and Torres but I was a boxer,” said McClure. 1976 Olympian Chuck Walker had a similar experience after the Montreal games when approached by D’Amato and felt the same way about that style. Being a professional tap dancer he wasn’t going to stand still but use his feet. “Torres was one of the two toughtest opponents I ever faced,” said McClure.
Some feel it was a turning point in McClure’s career. Again he would defeat Alford just over a year since their split decision battle. This time they were in Toledo. After a knockout win he was put in with hard punching Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, 25-9 (18), who had 1st round knockouts over Emile Griffith and Florentino Fernandez who was the only person to beat Torres up until then. He also had wins over George Benton, Jimmy Ellis, Holly Mims, Salim and Brennan. He lost to Joey Giardello in 1964 in a world title bout. This bout took place in January of 1966 in Chicago with Carter winning a decision. The fight was close enough it called for a rematch 2 months later in Toledo where the two boxers would fight to a draw. This would be McClure last hurrah among the contenders.
After a return bout with Richardson in which McClure lost, he won 5 straight, 3 by knockout. It was August of 1967 when he met the California champ John Henry Smith, 26-9 (22), in Los Angeles and was dropped in the 2nd and again in 5th round for the count for the first time in his career. He would travel to London and lose a close fight to the Commonwealth champion Johnny Pritchett, 27-0-1. It would be 2 years before he would return to the ring scoring a 1st round knockout and in the same month lose in the 10th and final round due to a rib injury to Billy “Dynamite” Douglas, 11-4, in Detroit. It would be the final bout of McClure’s career ending with a 24-8-1 record with 12 knockouts.
Several years later McClure would return to college at Wayne State University and earn his doctorate in psychology. Today he has spoken to thousands as Dr. McClure is president of his own management training, consulting and executive coaching firm. He has also served as the boxing commissioner for the state of Massachusetts. “These kids today don’t know how to keep a jab from landing. There are people with no credentials calling themselves trainers,” said McClure.
He was recommended to help coach the 2004 Olympic team but politics once again reared its ugly head. Today he lives in Chestnut hill, Massachusetts, and is an adjunct professor at Bentley College. No other Olympic Gold medalist can boast of earning a PhD. Considering all the titles he won in the amateurs with the Gold medal being the final accomplishment some 50 years ago and having a PhD, I can say Wilbert “Skeeter” McClure is one of those rare men who one can say has both “brains and brawn”.
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