Eddie Machen

Eddie Machen


San Francisco, CA– It was an early summer morning in 1972, Eddie Machen, once the #1 ranked heavyweight contender was found dead lying in the driveway of the apartment building he lived in on the 3300 block of Mission St. here in The City. Right next to the greasy spoon that still is the Nulite Kitchen, Eddie had been living here since his 1967 retirement brought about by his losing to unheralded Boone Kirkman.


After boxing, Eddie got a job with the Teamsters and worked odd jobs for local businesses. Among other things, Eddie drank a lot at the four bars and the bowling alley that were all within 200 feet of his front door.


Unlike a lot of older fighters, Machen who was born in Redding, CA, a city around 100 miles north of San Francisco, didn’t show any obvious signs (at least to me) from the residual effects of over 60 fights. Truth be told, then champion Floyd Patterson’s manager Cus D’Amato, kept Floyd away from Eddie, Zora Folley, and Sonny Liston. Sonny would get Patterson after Floyd, no longer able to face the public’s constant clamoring for him to face Sonny, that Floyd finally told Cus to make the fight. D’Amato’s reluctance to fight Machen and Foley was based on Cus’s belief that both Machen and Zora were too cute and would box circles around Floyd.


Liston would get his shot and drilled Patterson in the first round in consecutive fights. Machen did receive a WBA title shot, vacant seeing it was taken from Muhammad Ali and fragmented for the first time in the sport’s history, losing in March 1965 a UD 15 to the underrated Ernie Terrell.


But by this time, Eddie who had been fighting since 1955, was done! Losing to Liston and Foley in 1960 on points, that was probably Eddie’s peak. And then there was the fight two years earlier, while boxing writers were talking about the 24-0-1 Machen as the next champ, this was before he went to Sweden and was KO’d in one round by then 22-0 future champ Ingemar Johansson.


Coming off a Draw 12 with the aforementioned Foley for the #1 slot, who by the time he faced Ali in 1965, like Machen, was done! Either Bennie Ford or Babe Griffin, one of these guys, both of whom were the boxing hierarchy in San Francisco, made the decision to send Eddie to Sweden. Still, it was obvious that Ingo could punch and Eddie was advised. At 22-0 & 13 whacks, Ingo dropped Eddie thrice before it was called.


The best thing that happened to Eddie in his latter years was his UD 10 win over red-hot Jerry Quarry (17-0-3) in July 1966. From that point forward, Eddie won one fight over ham & egg type George Johnson. After that, Eddie got drilled by 12-0 Joe Frazier and fellow San Francisco fighter Henry Clark, and again his final bout with Boone Kirkham. Eddie retired in 1967 at the age of 35 with a pro log of 50-11-3, 29 KOs.


It happened in the wee hours of August 8, 1972, Machen, who had taught me the basics of boxing was found dead about 40 feet below his apartment door and balcony. There have always been two theories regarding his death. The first, Machen, who had some sleep walking incidents opened up his front door and fell to his death. The other has Eddie opening the door for somebody he knew, who then through him over the railing. Hall of Famer Don Chargin thinks it was murder. So do I as Eddie was doing some “piece” work for local bookies/loan sharks. Unless somebody were to confess to killing Machen, we’ll never know one way or the other.

Pedro Fernandez


  • Thanks Robert. Eddie was quite talented!

  • Excellent article. In my humble opinion Eddie Machen was one of the great heavyweights of all time, easily within the top 15. Machen’s loss to Liston in 1960 was a close one, at a time when Liston was at his best. That particular fight seemed to elevate both fighters, demonstrating Machen’s toughness and ability to take the fight to Liston and still manage to go the distance in a close fight, while proving that Liston wasn’t merely a brawler but a skilled boxer who knew how to use his jab and that Liston also possessed excellent stamina and was able to fight at full strength right to the end of a twelve rounder.

  • First, the author of the Machen article should never call himself a writer. Terrible journalism/grammar. I am a professional writer.

    There apparently was something chemically wrong with Machen the individual. He had the physical ability possibly to have won the title. But mentally/emotionally, something was lacking. Perhaps the raw hunger to succeed, regardless of obstacles. The antithesis of Marciano in that regard.

    In the Liston fight, Machen—while implementing a conventionally excellent defensive strategy—was offensively too inactive. He should have seized the moment and consistently opened up with flurries of punches…even if it meant taking the chance of perhaps getting caught by Liston. Had Machen combined offense with defense, he could have won the decision. Then, he and Patterson would have fought for the title while both men were at their best.

    As for the Johansson debacle (Sept. 14, 1958, Goteborg, Sweden), Machen should have been more alert. Not only a visitor, he was fighting a big, strong, undefeated opponent…with at least one significant KO victory: over British Empire champion Henry Cooper.

    Like a lot of athletes, not just boxers, Machen was very good…but not good enough, often particularly when it counted.

    What puzzled me was why a nice-looking, probably well-spoken, physically imposing man like Machen—who was well known, particularly on the West Coast, because of his boxing career—never tried to become a character actor, as did Ken Norton years later.

    Machen’s story, unfortunately, is sadly enigmatic.

  • Thanks, Don B.

  • Eddie Machen was my all time favorite professional boxer. He should be in the Boxing Hall of Fame. He appeared in many TV broadcasts at the beginning and apex of his career. He was a great boxer-puncher, could hit with either hand with power and was the best all around defensive fighter of his era. He also had a strong chin much better than Zora Folley’s. Of the few losses that he had, the one with Ingemar Johannson was an international disgrace. If you watch the film of the fight, you would see that Johannson was allowed to hit Machen with some hard vicious blows while the latter was on the canvas. In my opinion Johannson deserved to be disqualified for illegal blows thrown while a fighter is in a defenseless position. At the time, I was surprised that there wasn’t more international outrage over the ending of the fight. It certainly cost him his title shot, one that he really deserved at that time in his career. Machen should be remembered as one of the greatest fighters of his era, who was a consistent top 10 contender but never won the heavyweight title that he so richly deserved.

  • Eddie distinguished himself by being the only fighter ( save for Marty Marshall and Burt Whitehurst, who did it iover two fights ) to have gone 12 rounds with a still dangerous Sonny Liston, giving as good as he got. He had terrible luck. Two punches away from the heavyweight championship ( in his losses to Johannsen, Liston, Terrell, and Floyd Patterson ). Sad he never got a shot at Ali. May have been a tough fight for the champ, and I am sure that Angeleo Dundee was happy that he never had to make that fight.

  • Strange that Eddie and Sonny Liston ended up with similarly questionable deaths–not the overdose in Eddie’s case, but a possible hit after they got in too deep with muscle work for loan sharks, etc. Larry Holmes thought the same thing would happen to Tyson, but he seems to have escaped. (BTW, check out the hysterical explosion a few days ago, in Tyson’s Toronto interview with a smart-ass, opportunistic interviewer.)

  • Geoffrey Sadao Prenter

    Machen was one of the all-time best contenders. A master craftman with dangerous power. Defensively brilliant yet criticized for being “too cautious.” This doesn’t sound too unreasonable considering he faced such men as Cleveland Williams and Sonny Liston.

    He was a very complex man with some serious emotional/mental health issues. He got into trouble during his youth and did time in Preston and in the penitentiary. Later, he was hospitalized at Napa State Hospital. For a time, he lived in Berkeley, and according to neighbors, he was very friendly.

    You’re so fortunate, Pedro, to have had him as your boxing mentor. I’m very pleased that you acknoweldge him often. As you know, there are so many ex-fighters who end up under appreciated and forgotten.

  • Thanks for the note, Bob.

  • I knew Eddie Machen when I was a kid and he was an older bully in Redding.

    He may have been an OK fighter, but he had a bad reputation in Redding.

    I never saw him in person, but his reputation proceeded him, as he was the biggest name in the city at the time.

    My dad, who played professional football, spoke unkindly of him as well.

    Still he fought the best and sometimes surprised.

  • Eddie was class!

  • I met Eddie once at my great uncles funeral. It was right after he retired, and he was at the funeral home in Reno and was overseeing things. I was young but I believe he must have been on the payroll. I do know that my great uncle and him knew each other for many years. Who really knows what happened, but I believe that Eddie had a job after he quit boxing and then his boss died. It might have put him in a tailspin that never corrected it self. I do remember to this day that when I was introduced to him he was a very nice and gentle man. He carried himself with dignity.

  • Then matchmaker Don Chargin told me that he erred in putting Eddie in with Joe then. Eddie should have avoided Ingo’s right hand and the world as we know it might have differed as far as linear world heavyweight champs are concerned.

  • I am a big Joe Frazier fan, but a bigger Eddie Machen fan. I saw the 1966 fight between the two. Eddie was knocked unto the ring apron at the end of the first round. Even on his back, he still held his gloves up, as though he were upright.

    Eddie fought courageously into the ninth round. When cagey Eddie dropped his gloves, Joe Frazier when in for the kill. Eddie rocked him, but did not have enough power to put him away. Joe took no further chances and put Eddie away in the tenth. The rest is history.

    Eddie would have given Ali a run for his money during each man’s prime.

  • Pedro is at ringtalk@yahoo.com

  • Deirdre and Heide

    Dear Pedro,
    My twim sister and I were born in 1965. We have rcently become interested in the sport of boxing for personal reasons. How pleased we were to learn from your earlier posts that you actually met Machen. We don’t know how else to say this except to just ask you straight out. Can we talk to discuss details that you know about Machen? We have details of our own that you may find interesting. We have no doubt we should talk. Please respond. We look forward to hearing from you.
    Deirdre and Heide

  • I need to keep pointing out until it becomes common knowledge, I guess, that Machen injured his right hand in training before the Liston fight and he fought Sonny with one hand. Take a look at the film of the fight and make your own judgment on that. For me, this leaves it as an open question whether a fully healthy Machen could have beaten Sonny. I for one will not guess how that fight would have turned out.

    Also, Pedro, can you tell me how punchy Machen was when you knew him? I saw him try to skip rope in Seattle before the Kirkman fight and his reflexes were so shot he couldn’t do it. Also, I recall him mumbling his answers to reporters questions after that fight. Was that a temporary affliction because of being knocked out by Boone or was he by that point a permanent mumbler?

  • Though Machen had a couple of good fights afterward, in retrospect, that stunning first round KO to Johansson on Sept. 14, 1958, was the beginning of the end of Machen’s career as a true championship contender. He never was quite the same. I saw films of the Liston fight and the best that can be said for Machen in the bout was (1) Yes, he showed no fear/intimidation toward Sonny, (2)He looked defensively impressive by avoiding/slipping Sonny’s biggest punches…and tying him up, driving him to the ropes. Nobody, not even Clay, bottled Liston that way. But Machen did not do enough offensively to take the decision. At the very most, perhaps the bout could have been scored a draw. But certainly not a decision for Machen. Machen was, at times, very good. But, like many fighters, just not good enough to be champion. He lost every major fight he had. I interviewed Cus D’Amato about six months before he died. Cus said that he had verbally agreed to defend the title against Machen…if Eddie got by Johansson, then the unbeaten European heavyweight champion. Had that occurred, we would have seen Machen get his direct shot at the heavyweight title against Floyd Patterson. But, by getting bombed out by Johansson, Eddie blew it. I also saw films of the Frazier fight and, except for one left hook late in the bout, Machen was completely overwhelmed by Joe’s buzz-saw attack. Too bad Machen never considered the movies/tv as a second career. Many former prominent fighters successfully did so. Also, Machen, with his rugged good looks and fine physique, had the physical requirements for the screen. I never heard him speak, but chances are he spoke well enough.

  • Well, Cus was wrong, seeing as how Floyd went on to beat Machen in 64.

  • Knew Mr. Ford, the promoter. Had an office on Ellis St in SF?

  • Did you know Bennie Ford? He was married to my Aunt.

  • Thanks, Robert. I was at a party a few weeks ago and I walked across the st. and looked at the spot in which Eddie died.

  • Excellent article! In my book Machen ranks, at least, as the #14 all-time greatest heavyweight, and that probably understates his abilities. He really took the fight to an unbeatable Sonny Liston. Machen showed absolutely no fear, and came painfully close to beating him, keeping up the pressure and going on the attack right to the end of the 12th round.

    Even his loss, at age 34, to a 22 year old Joe Frazier was impressive. Machen nearly went the whole distance (being stopped in the last round), taking Frazier’s best from the beginning and still having enough left to fight back in the late rounds. Machen was a brilliant boxer, could take whatever anyone could dish out, and could hit hard and knock out many of the best heavyweights. He just never had the opportunity to fight for the title when he was in his prime. He was truly cheated in his fight with Ingmar, who was permitted to continue to punch Machen when he was down on the canvas. Otherwise, Machen would have got up and knocked Ingmar out. He truly deserved to be champion. One of the all-time greats.

  • Couldn’t help noticing no one responded to the gratuitous “Cus-might-a-been-gay” aside, which I’m sure many have heard before. Nice try, Pedro.

  • Pedro Fernandez

    Yeah, Sid was a piece of work!

  • Pedro, did you know Sid Flatery who managed Eddie Machen and also Bobo Olson

  • Eddie was such a fine fighter–“lightning fast and smooth as silk” was the way a Boxing Illustrated article described him. I recall he had a nervous breakdown and was said to be suicidal before making his big comeback, so there may be a third hypothesis to toss into the hopper. But still, it was good to see him remembered.

  • Pedro, you should write a book of short boxing stories Rope Burns by F.X. Toole…maybe youMll pen the next Million Dollar Baby!

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