Hayes Edward "Big Ed" Sanders - 1952 Olympic heavyweight boxing gold - El Camino College Compton Center
Hayes Edward "Big Ed" Sanders (1930-1954) won the gold medal in heavyweight boxing at the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki, Finland. At the age of 22, he became the first African American Olympic heavyweight champion and returned to the United States as a national hero. His Olympic championship bout with Sweden's Ingemar Johansson became boxing lore when Johansson was disqualified by the referee during the second round for "failure to fight."
Sanders was born March 24, 1930, and grew up in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles. He attended Jordan High School in Los Angeles, and played on the football and basketball teams. After high school, he enrolled at the former Compton College, now the El Camino College Compton Center, during the 1949-1950 school year> He played football under then head coach Ken Carpenter and joined the newly formed boxing team. Within two years, he twice won the National Junior College Boxing Championship in the heavyweight division.
He attended Idaho State College, now Idaho State University, on a boxing/football scholarship after attracting the attention of the boxing coach Dubby Holt and football coach Babe Caccia. Sanders participated in track and field.
In 1951, Sanders enlisted in the Navy and was stationed at the Naval Training Center in San Diego. He continued his boxing career as a member of the U.S. Navy Boxing Team.
After winning the 1952 Golden Gloves tournament in San Diego by beating the defending champion, Sanders entered the Golden Gloves tournament in Los Angeles, and was described as "the finest heavyweight prospect to come down the pike since Joe Louis jumped from the Golden Gloves to world-wide fame." Sanders won again in Los Angeles, and continued on to Chicago for the national Golden Gloves Tournament of Champions.
Sanders also won the title in Chicago, as well as the Joe Louis Sportsmanship Trophy, and then went on a month-long tour of Europe with the other Golden Gloves weight class champions. On the European tour, he defeated the heavyweight champions of Ireland, Germany, France and Italy.
In June 1952, Sanders won a spot on the U.S. Olympic boxing team, and was named captain of the team that also included future world champion Floyd Patterson. In his first Olympic fight in Helsinki, Finland, Sanders won with a first-round knockout of Hans Jost of Switzerland. In his second fight, Sanders defeated Giacomo Di Segni of Italy with a third-round knockout. He reached the championship fight after knocking out Andries Nieman of South Africa in the second round. Sanders then defeated Sweden's Ingemar Johansson to win the Olympic gold medal in the heavyweight championship.
Sanders made his professional boxing debut on March 8, 1954, beating Sonny Nichols on a technical knockout in the first round at Boston Garden. He won his second professional fight by knocking out Billy Booker in the first round. He won his third fight by knocking out Henry Anderson in the second round. Sanders winning streak was finally stopped by Willie Wilson when he lost a five-round decision. Sanders then went on to beat Jack Flood, who was disqualified for refusing to answer the bell in the fourth round. Sanders later avenged his loss to Wilson by beating him in an eight-round decision. This was followed by a match up against Burt Whitehurst, which Sanders won in a 10-round draw. Later that same year, he won a unanimous 10-round decision in a rematch against Whitehurst.
In all, Sanders fought eight professional fights in less than eight months, with six wins, one loss and one draw, and three knockouts.
On Dec. 11, 1954, Sanders challenged Willie James for the New England heavyweight title in a 12-round fight at Boston Garden. At the time, James had a record of 17 wins (12 by knockout), six losses and one draw. Although James was the defending champion, Sanders was the favorite.
James appeared to be leading in the early rounds, landing a heavy barrage of punches, but Sanders rallied in the later rounds. Twenty-five seconds into the 11th round, James caught Sanders with a hard left hook, then a right cross to the head. Sanders fell on his right side, then rolled over onto his stomach, unconscious.
Sanders died at age 24 on Dec. 14, 1954, from a blood clot on the brain, which had resulted from the brutal knockout loss three days prior against Willie James. An autopsy revealed that Sanders had previously suffered two brain hemorrhages in his earlier fights with Whitehurst. Sanders complained of headaches after the fights, but his injuries went untreated.
In addition to his wife, Mary, and then 17-month-old son Russell, Sanders was survived by his parents; two brothers, Donald and Stan; and a sister, Margaret.
In May 2012, Hayes “Big Ed” Sanders, was inducted posthumously into the El Camino College Compton Center Tartar Athletic Hall of Fame.
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