Georgie Small vs Lavern Roach (lost footage of boxing match; 1950)

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This article has been tagged as NSFL due to its disturbing subject matter.


Small lands a blow on the back of Roach's head, a few minutes prior to the two knockdowns.

Status: Lost

On 22nd February 1950, middleweight boxers Georgie Small and Raymond "Lavern" Roach competed at the St. Nicholas Arena in Manhattan. The encounter ended in tragedy, as following a loss by KO in the tenth round, Roach collapsed, later passing away from a subdural haemorrhage. The match was televised live by CBS, and became the first televised boxing match to end with a boxer's death.


Heading into the match, Roach was making a comeback into the ring.[1][2][3][4][5][6] Previously, he had served in the U.S. Marines, where his talent for boxing was already noted, leading him to become the team captain of its Cherry Point boxing team.[7][8][3][2] Additionally, he was deemed the greatest boxer produced in the Marines during the Second World War, receiving an accolade from boxer Gene Turney.[8][7] Following his time in the Marines, he turned to professional boxing in 1945, building up a 18-fight winning streak and even being declared the "Rookie of the Year" in 1947 by Ring Magazine.[1][7][2][3][6][5] However, an unsuccessful encounter against Marcel Cerdan on 16th January 1948 ended his winning streak, and was described as a brutal affair as the Frenchman battered the American with decisive blows.[2][4][1][3][5][6] A further two losses caused him to quit boxing for about 18 months to start a tyre repair and insurance business in his hometown of Plainview.[3][1][2][6]

He nevertheless returned in 1950, defeating Johnny Crosby, George LaRover, and Jimmy Taylor.[6][3][5][2][4] According to TIME, Roach insisted that the damage that Cerdan inflicted onto him was gone, and he was still in tip-top form.[1] His next match would be against Georgie Small on 22nd February 1950, the date of the Texan's 24th birthday.[6][3][2] Small had built a 38-6 fight record, his final match heading into the bout being a TKO victory against Vinnie Cidone on 11th November 1949.[9][2] By comparison, Roach was at 26-4.[2][6]

The Fight

The Roach-Small clash was scheduled for ten rounds.[2][1][3][4] Roach was deemed the 5-6 favourite heading in, with great expectations for his future should he become victorious.[10][3] According to West Texas Middleweight: The Story of Lavern Roach, a win would see Roach a favourite to take on one of the top middleweight stars of the era, including Rocky Graziano, Sugar Ray Robinson, and Jake La Motta, as well as working towards a potential title shot.[10][2] The encounter took place in front of only 1,832 in-attendance at the St. Nicholas Arena, as it occurred during winter weather.[5][10][2] Nevertheless, it did receive live coverage from the CBS Network, which attracted a few million viewers.[5][2][10]

Overall, various reports, including from The New York Times, indicate that Roach dominated the majority of rounds.[3][1][4][10][2] Had the match ended after all ten rounds had elapsed, it is likely Roach would have been declared the victor.[3][1][5][10][2] The New York Times noted referee Frank Fullam put Roach ahead in rounds with a score of 6-2-1, whereas judges Sam Rosenblatt and Dave Stewart both stated Roach was winning 6-3.[3][5] However, in the eighth round, a right hand blow from Small landed on Roach's jaw.[11][1][2][4] While Roach continued, he was not only staggered, but was heavily bleeding from his lips and mouth.[1][2][11] Despite this, he continued into the ninth round, with Small having to deal with a more-defensive opponent and blood seeping onto his gloves.[1][2][4] At the start of the final round, it appeared business as usual was occurring, forcing Small to launch a comeback to stand any chance of winning.[3][4][2][1][11] Suddenly, a right hook to the chin took Roach down to the mat and splattered blood onto his trunks.[3][4][11][10] While in a fatigued and compromised state, Roach made it to his feet at the count of nine.[1][3][4] The extent of Roach's injuries led to the Manhattan crowd demanding the match be stopped.[1][2] Roach was defeated when Small achieved another knockdown shortly after the first, this time convincing Fullam to end the match immediately out of concern for Roach's health at 1:57 into the tenth round.[3][1][2][4][11][10][6][9]

According to West Texas Middleweight: The Story of Lavern Roach, the match ended ten minutes earlier than expected.[10] Thus, CBS continued rolling footage showcasing the post-match events.[10][1][2] Roach at the time was helped back to his corner by two men, where he insisted to his handlers that he was OK and answering Fullam's questions.[1][10][2] Suddenly, the young boxer fell unconscious with an account from Bad Left Hook's Ted Sares indicating that blood was flowing across the ring.[2][1][3] His final words were "My luck is running out".[12][1] Roach was worked on for several minutes by doctors until he was taken via stretcher to St. Clare's Hospital.[5][2][3] Ultimately, he passed away 14 hours later from a ruptured pial emissary vein on the left side of his head which triggered a subdural haemorrhage, aged 24.[4][1][2][5][3][11] An autopsy indicated that while alleged nose pains Roach experienced had no linking to his death, his brutal loss to Cerdan two years prior may have contributed to it.[4][11][5][2][1] It led to a full investigation from The New York State Athletic Commission, but with Small facing no charges.[4][3] It was found that Roach's death was accidental, with him being cleared in six previous examinations prior to the bout.[4] Additionally, Fullam insisted that Roach was not in a dangerous condition following the first knockdown, stating he was still intending and able to fight Small.[4] Small himself claimed he did not realise Roach was in a precarious state.[4] Nevertheless, the investigation's findings led to reforms, including introducing extensive medical screenings, more concern placed over health effects caused from previous fights, and a softer ring mat.[12]

Roach's death led to mourning in Plainview, as aside from his Marine and boxing accomplishments, he was considered a highly popular, sporting, and clean-living individual.[7] At Plainview High School since 1950, a senior male student will be given the Lavern Roach Memorial Award, the biggest honour to a male graduate at the School, with the aim of increasing sportsmanship, clean-living, and acts of friendliness.[7][8] His name would also be honoured on Plainview's Walk of Fame in 2017.[7] Meanwhile, Small continued boxing, but found himself shunned by most top boxers who refused to face him.[13][9] He continued until 1955, although accounts indicate Small never truly overcame the guilt over the match's outcome.[13][9] Ten years following the bout, as part of True Magazine's '63 Boxing Annual, Small expressed "I wanted to be a fighter. All my whole life I wanted to be a fighter... And see what happened. I'm broke and sick. I got my wife broke. I ruined everything. I guess the only thing I ever did in my whole life was kill a friend."[13] The first boxing fatality of 1950, the match is also cited as the first televised instance of a boxing match ending with one of the competitors passing away.[14][2][1]


The fight was televised live by CBS as part of its CBS Wednesday Night.[2][5] According to Bad Left Hook, Don Dunphy may have provided commentary for the event.[2] Ultimately, no footage of the encounter is publicly available, with its chances of resurfacing slim due to the limited number of telerecordings made until videotape was perfected in the late-1950s.[15] A photo of the encounter was published in the 6th March 1950 issue of LIFE.[11]

See Also


  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 1.11 1.12 1.13 1.14 1.15 1.16 1.17 1.18 1.19 1.20 1.21 6th March 1950 issue of TIME summarising the career of Roach and the events leading to his death. Retrieved 30th Dec '22
  2. 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 2.11 2.12 2.13 2.14 2.15 2.16 2.17 2.18 2.19 2.20 2.21 2.22 2.23 2.24 2.25 2.26 2.27 2.28 2.29 Bad Left Hook containing Ted Sares' account of the bout and the CBS coverage. Retrieved 30th Dec '22
  3. 3.00 3.01 3.02 3.03 3.04 3.05 3.06 3.07 3.08 3.09 3.10 3.11 3.12 3.13 3.14 3.15 3.16 3.17 3.18 3.19 24th February 1950 issue of The New York Times reporting on an investigation being launched in the wake of Roach's death. Retrieved 30th Dec '22
  4. 4.00 4.01 4.02 4.03 4.04 4.05 4.06 4.07 4.08 4.09 4.10 4.11 4.12 4.13 4.14 4.15 4.16 25th February 1950 issue of The New York Times reporting on findings from the investigation. Retrieved 30th Dec '22
  5. 5.00 5.01 5.02 5.03 5.04 5.05 5.06 5.07 5.08 5.09 5.10 5.11 24th February 1950 issue of St. Petersburg Times reporting on Roach's death, as well as the in-ring attendance and CBS Network coverage. Retrieved 30th Dec '22
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 6.6 6.7 BoxRec detailing the fights of Lavern Roach. Retrieved 30th Dec '22
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 My Plainview detailing the life and career of Roach, including his time in the Marines. Retrieved 30th Dec '22
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 My Plainview summarising the Lavern Roach Award. Retrieved 30th Dec '22
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 BoxRec detailing Small's fights. Retrieved 30th Dec '22
  10. 10.00 10.01 10.02 10.03 10.04 10.05 10.06 10.07 10.08 10.09 10.10 West Texas Middleweight: The Story of Lavern Roach summarising the encounter, Roach's future should he have won, and the CBS broadcast (extract found in a Journal of Sport History review. Retrieved 30th Dec '22
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 11.4 11.5 11.6 11.7 6th March 1950 issue of LIFE summarising the match and providing a photo of it. Retrieved 30th Dec '22
  12. 12.0 12.1 Unbeaten detailing some of the changes made to improve boxing safety following Roach's death. Retrieved 30th Dec '22
  13. 13.0 13.1 13.2 Tragic Boxing Stories and Fallen Warriors detailing Small's career post-bout and his comments ten years later. Retrieved 30th Dec '22
  14. The Cambridge Companion to Boxing stating that the match featured the first televised ring death. Retrieved 30th Dec '22
  15. Web Archive article discussing how most early television is missing due to the lack of directly recording television. Retrieved 30th Dec '22