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Thursday, May 19, 2022

Ray Miller's Left Hook

"If you fight a good left hooker, sooner or later he will knock you on your deletion. He will get the left out where you can't see it, and in it comes like a brick," Ernest Hemingway once theorized.

Ray Miller wasn't a good left hooker; he threw a great left hook. In virtually every writeup about him, the devastation wrought by that particular punch merited mention. His best version of the left hook was as a counter from the outside.

"You have the greatest left hook in boxing history," the great retired featherweight champion Abe Attell once told Miller. "The greatest... if it hits anybody."

"When I hit a guy with a left hook," Miller acknowledged, "if he didn't go down, he did some funny things on his feet."


Ray Miller was born on October 5, 1905 on the Westside of Chicago not far from where Barney Ross and Jackie Fields would grow up. It was a tough Jewish section of the city at the time. Born lefthanded, Miller fought in an orthodox stance. "First time I got in the ring, the other guy stuck out his left hand," Miller explained. "So I shouldn't look like a rube, I stuck out my left hand." It proved to be a fateful choice. Perhaps Miller's left hand wouldn't have been so powerful had it been his backhand.

Ray certainly put in the work, but he was somewhat of a pugilistic natural. His wife Mary recalled a story about his early years in the sport to the Sun Sentinel. "As a youngster in Chicago, he once walked into a gym where one of the trainers talked him into boxing a few rounds for a few dollars. After doing that a few times, the gym manager gave him $10 and told him not to come back 'You just knocked out our champion,' they told him."

The exact date of Ray Miller's professional debut is lost to history, but it likely took place late in the summer of '22. He began as a bantamweight and showed good promise. He mostly fought in Chicago and around the state of Iowa. During his boxing career, Miller was also shoe salesman and cartoonist in order to earn extra dough.


By 1924, he had moved up to featherweight and had improved by "leaps and bounds in a year's time," according to former bantamweight champion Harry Forbes and Eddie McGoorty, another ex-fighter who once held a portion of the middleweight crown. In an article for the Chicago Daily Tribune, Walter Eckersall compared Miller to Joe Burman, a British-born bantamweight who held the world title for two days when the previous champion allegedly faked a shoulder injury and Burman was awarded the belt before losing it two days later.

On August 24, 1924 in Aurora, Illinois, Miller stopped Minnesota's Dandy Dillon in the second round, reportedly with a right. Dillon "was knocked colder than a newly-risen spring," according to the Los Angeles Times.

Miller had a busy 1925 in the ring, including a draw against Chick Suggs and Babe Herman. On June 12, 1926, Ray beat Mike Dundee, who was described as Miller's old boxing coach. In a battle of the left hands, Dundee was the aggressor, but Miller's "left was more accurate and more deadly in its effect," according to James Dawson of the New York Times. Miller's ability to counter Dundee's aggression led to a ten-round victory on points in Coney Island.

After dropping a decision in Montreal to Kid Roy, Miller fought Billy Petrolle. In the opening round, Miller connected with a left hook and added some left uppercuts. He was knocked down in the second but soon scored with two left hooks to get back into the fight. Miller landed left hooks to the body and jaw in the ninth. At the end of ten rounds in Coney Island, the bout was declared a draw.

Ahead of a January 20, 1927 fight in Chicago against Eddie Shea, Miller was described as "a double of Charley White, the local lightweight who used to knock over opponents with short left hooks." In an exciting fight with no lulls, Miller scored a knockdown against Shea in the first round. As Shea pressed forward, Miller countered well at range. Left hooks hurt Shea in the seventh, and Miller then went for the knockout, but to no avail. Shea was tough, but Ray won the decision in a ten-rounder.

The rest of 1927 and the first half of 1928 featured a few setbacks. He was away from the ring for ten month in '27 due to an injury and dropped a rematch with his old coach, Mike Dundee, at the end of the year.


Sid Terris possessed a pair of the fastest hands in the history of boxing and his feet were just as quick. A 5' 10" lightweight, he had all the physical gifts to vault him to legendary status. On July 6, 1928 in Coney Island, New York, Terris moved and jabbed for two minutes when Miller caught him on the ropes and landed a hard right. A left hook to the chin soon followed and Terris, who outweighed Miller by six and a half pounds, plummeted to the canvas for the count.

The destruction was so thorough that Frank Wallace, in a special to The Washington Post, wrote, "Sid Terris is through as a fighter. He crumbled before the first rushing attack Miller put on." Terris continued fighting until 1931, but he was never the same.

Miller's best win came on November 30, 1928 against Jimmy McLarnin. Miller was 2-2 following the win over Terris, which included a decision loss to King Tut of Minnesota. Ray couldn't figure out Tut's bob-and-weave style. Miller settled on the left uppercut, which helped him take the third round. In the tenth, Miller hurt Tut with the same punch, but it wasn't enough. In a loss, Miller had again given up six and half pounds.

Outweighed by five and half pounds against McLarnin, Miller controlled the first three rounds. McLarnin got back into the fight in the next two, but a left hook in the sixth turned the fight back to Miller. McLarnin then took an absolute beating as his blood splattered all over the ringside observers. The seventh amounted to a "murderous assault." Before the bell rang to begin the eighth, McLarnin's corner mercifully threw in the towel. It was deemed the "biggest upset in years." It would turn out to be the only time in McLarnin's storied career he would ever be stopped. In his later years, the legend loved talking about his old fights, but finding his comments on the Miller bout turned out to be a fruitless challenge.

Miller next fought Tommy Grogan. On January 11, 1929 at Olympia Stadium in Detroit, Michigan- the same venue as his bout against McLarnin- Grogan smacked Miller silly, scoring five knockdowns in the span of 25 seconds in the second round. When the bell finally rang, Miller walked to the wrong corner. But in the fourth, Miller amazingly flattened Grogan with a left hook to punctuate one of the most stunning comebacks in boxing history. Miller even helped Grogan up and walked him back to his corner.

After a decision victory over Grogan in the rematch a few weeks later, Miller faced McLarnin in another highly-anticipated rematch. Jack Farrell described, "The biggest crowd paying the biggest gate of the professional boxing season saw the worst fight of the year at Madison Square Garden." Farrell said, "The Chicagoan [ran] away like a frightened rabbit." It was a disappointing decision loss.

On May 5, Miller won an unpopular decision in a rematch against Billy Petrolle. Miller backed up Petrolle with left hooks in the fifth and landed a left hook on the chin to score a knockdown in the eighth, but the fans at Olympia Stadium booed when Ray was announced the winner.

The disputed decision necessitated another rematch. Their third fight took place a month later, again at Olympia Stadium. This time Petrolle stayed inside Miller's left rendering the hook ineffective. Petrolle won convincingly. With a record of 1-1-1 against Miller, Petrolle would later call Ray "the hardest hitter" he ever faced. He ranked Miller as the fourth best opponent of his career, just behind Barney Ross and ahead of McLarnin.


"Just a few months ago, Miller was hogging all the limelight in the lightweight class. He climaxed a sensational string of victories by knocking out Jimmy McLarnin," wrote light heavyweight champion and master boxer Tommy Loughran. Speaking of Miller, Loughran continued, "He looked like the biggest shot and the best drawing card among the smaller men. Then, all of a sudden, he wasn't up there any more."

On August 12, 1929- three days before Loughran's article ran- Ray dropped what should have been a tune-up fight for him against Bruce Flowers. After breaking Miller's nose in the fourth, Flowers was "easily superior" and won in "unmistakably convincing fashion."

Miller had lost three in a row by the time he faced the "Alpha Assassin" Johnny Canzoneri on April 1, 1930 in Allentown, Pennsylvania. Ray earned a much-needed win with a first round KO in 50 seconds thanks to a series of left hooks punctuated by a right cross.

Ray put together a streak of six out of seven against good fighters, but then he dropped three out of four including a loss to Justo Suarez. Miller next rode a nine-fight win streak in which he knocked out Jimmy McNamara and Solly Ritz in the first round. That led to stiffer competition.

Against tougher foes, Miller dropped five out of his next six. He floored Sammy Fuller with a left hook in the first round of their fight on February 26, 1932 at Madison Square Garden. But a right cross put Miller down in the fourth, and the decision went to Fuller. On May 13, 1932 at Olympia Stadium in Detroit, Miller crunched a left hook on Wesley Ramey's jaw in the fourth round that scored a knockdown. But for the rest fight, Ramey thoroughly outboxed Miller.


The left hook proved something of fool's gold for Miller. It carried him far, to world class level, in fact. But perhaps its power hindered his progress in other areas of his game. He could be outboxed and his poor record in rematches suggests his style could be figured out.

On August 26, 1932, Miller fought a fellow Jew from Chicago. Barney Ross had yet to become a three division world champion when the two met at Sparta Stadium in their hometown. Ross connected with a left hook that sent Miller down in the opening round. As he had many times before, including during the five knockdowns against Tommy Grogan, Miller shot up before the referee could count. He never learned to stay down for a few seconds and clear his head.

Miller began to land on Ross in the fourth and nearly knocked him out with a right cross in the fifth. How things would have been different if he had! But Ross came back a round later and wobbled Miller. Ray landed his signature punch in the seventh, but it strayed low and he was warned for the infraction. Ultimately, Ross was awarded the decision.

Miller was to fight lightweight champion Tony Canzoneri in an over-the-limit bout in October, but a nose injury forced him to pull out, and his old nemesis Billy Petrolle got the fight. Miller later won on New Year's Day and retired. He never received a title shot.

Joe Gould, the manager of heavyweight champion James J. Braddock, pulled Miller out of retirement halfway through 1935. "Outside of champion Barney Ross," Gould declared, "there's very little talent in the welter ranks right now, and a knockout puncher like Ray should have easy pickins [sic]." Miller was 29 years old. He fought twice more, and that was it.

Miller remained close to the sport and  refereed fights until the mid-1950s. He didn't even start his most famous match in the ring. "Sugar" Ray Robinson was outboxing light heavyweight champion Joey Maxim on a scorching June day at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx in 1952 when referee Ruby Goldstein fainted from heat exhaustion in the tenth round. Miller became the first known person to replace a referee mid-fight. Robinson succumbed to the heat himself after the thirteenth round and later said, "I lasted longer than the referee and no one was hitting him!"

Ray worked in the liquor business after he retired from boxing. He died of lung cancer on March 31, 1987. He was strong until the end.

After his passing, his wife reminisced, "Two weeks ago, his power. If you saw his hand, you would know. Just a powerful, powerful hand."

"Braddock's Pilot Resurrects Ray Miller, Forecasts Title." The Washington Post. July 16, 1935, Pg. 19.
Breit, Harev. "Talk with Mr. Hemingway" New York Times. Sept. 17, 1950. Pg. 14.
"Dandy Dillon Cooled in Aurora Battle." Los Angeles Times. Aug. 22, 1924. Pg. 9.
Dawson, James. P. "Terris Conquers Petrolle at Coney." New York Times. June 12, 1926. Pg. 9.
Dunkley, Charles W. "Ray Miller, Rank Outsider, Sinks Coast Boy in Seventh." Chicago Daily Tribune. Dec 1, 1928. Pg. 29.
Eckersall, Walter. "Miller Outpunches Shea in 10 Rounds." Chicago Daily Tribune. Jan 21, 1927. pg. 21.
Eckersall, Walter. "Ray Miller is Comer, Boxing Experts Say." Chicago Daily Tribune. Aug. 17, 1924. Pg. A5.
Farrell, Jack. "21,000 Fans See Miller Lose to Jimmy McLarnin." Chicago Daily Tribune. Mar. 23, 1929. Pg. 23.
"Flowers Beats Ray Miller In Easy Fashion." Philadelphia Tribune. Aug. 15, 1929. Pg. 10
Loughran, Tommy. "Fistic Fates are Peculiar, Says Loughran." The Atlanta Constitution. Aug 15 1929. Pg. 19.
"Miller Beats Petrolle; Fans Boo Decision." Chicago Daily Tribune. May 2, 1929. Pg. 23.
"Petrolle in Draw With Ray Miller." New York Times. July 3, 1926. Pg. 10.
"Petrolle, Retiring With $200,000, Asserts Battalino Greatest Foe, McLarnin Overrated." The Washington Post. Jan 26, 1934. Pg 14.
"Petrolle to Oppose Canzoneri; Miller Hurt." The Washington Post. Oct 4, 1932. Pg. 11.
"Ray Miller was Longtime Boxer, Referee." Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale), April 2, 1987. 6B.
"Ross Floors Miller; Wins Decision." Chicago Daily Tribune. Aug 27, 1932. Pg. 13
Silver, Mike. Stars of the Ring. 2020.
Wallace, Frank. "Terris Loses in Round by Knockout." The Washington Post. July 6, 1928.
"Wesley Ramey Gives Ray Miller Boxing Lesson" Chicago Daily Tribune. 14 May 1932: 21

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