Boxing has been apart of the American sports scene since the 1700s by way of England. It started by infiltrating the larger port towns before eventually working its way into the lexicon of America. Now it showcases some of the most talented combat sports athletes in the world. We will embark on a 50 part saga exploring the best boxers representing the United States. Some states will have more athletes to choose from than others but the journey will be quite the ride. Let’s embark on the journey looking at an interesting fighter or bout from each state. Our 12th entry is the state of Idaho.
Check out the 11 states we have covered by clicking below:
Idaho is the 14th largest state by size but is ranked 39th in population. The 43rd state to join the Union, Idaho is very scarce in its sports history. There are no professional sports within the state. Due to this, we had to get creative to find a boxer to represent the state of Idaho. There is one man who comes to mind when you think about Idaho boxing. It’s the sad tale of Idaho State University’s Ed Sanders. Sanders was only 24 years old at the time of his passing but showed a lot of promise and potential to become a future world champion.
Early Life and Migration to Idaho
Ed Sanders was actually born in Los Angeles, California on March 24, 1930. He spent his high school days attending Jordan High School in Los Angeles where he excelled at football and track. Sanders was known as a quiet, intelligent student. The high school is one of a few high schools to have three separate Olympic gold medalists. Along with Sanders are Florence Griffith-Joyner and 400-meter hurdler Kevin Young. After completion of high school. Sanders attended Compton College, a public community college in Compton, California where he played football. In 1950 while still attending Compton College, Sanders attended the National Junior College Boxing Championships in Ogden, Utah. This is where he caught the eye of two men who would go on to change his life and the course of Idaho’s contribution to boxing.
Catching the Eyes of Two Idaho Sports Legends
With his amazing performance at the championships, Sanders caught the eye of Idaho State University (then Idaho State College) boxing coach Dubby Holt and football coach Babe Caccia. During the early 1950s, Idaho State University was known to have one of the best collegiate boxing programs in the nation. The program would go on to win two NCAA Boxing Championships during the 1950s. Holt was an instant fan of Sanders and offered him a boxing and football scholarship to the university. Sanders was an instant sensation, knocking out the Pacific Coast heavyweight champion. His amazing season continued by never dropping a bout in dual-meet competition.
From Idaho State Boxing to the U.S Navy Boxing Team
Sometime in 1951, Sanders was drafted to the U.S Army, forcing him to leave Idaho. Coach Holt had told Sanders, “Head to California to enlist in the Navy before the Army could get their hands on you.” Sanders heeded his coach’s advice and enrolled in the U.S Navy. Naturally, he became a member of the U.S Navy Boxing Team. The awards given out by the USNA Boxing Club started after Sanders’ time at the Academy. But you can be assured, Sanders would have racked up on hardware.
His biggest victory came against the then-heavyweight champion Kirby Seals, who Sanders defeated. Sanders would also go on to win the Golden Gloves tournament in San Diego, Los Angeles, and Chicago. The Chicago tournament was the “Tournament of Champions” where Sanders defeated Detroit native Herb Ellison. Ed Sanders would even travel to Berlin, Germany, and win the European Golden Gloves. It was now time for Sanders to turn his sights toward Helsinki, Finland for the 1952 Summer Olympic Games.
1952 Summer Olympic Gold
Competition For Final Spot
The competition was tough for the 1952 US heavyweight boxing team. Sanders competed in the Mid-West Regional, which was hosted in Omaha, Nebraska. Unfortunately for Sanders, he lost a bout to Lloyd Willis, an Army Corporal. Dispite the loss, Sanders was given one last shot to earn the final spot on the team at the US boxing quarter-finals in Kansas City, Missouri. As fate would have it, Sanders was matched up with Willis, but this time scored the first-round knockout with a broken left hand. One day later in the semi-finals, he defeated Bob Ranck by points. On that same day (June 18, 1952) Sanders secured his spot on the US Olympic boxing team with a second-round TKO of Jack Scheberies. Another winner at the Olympic qualifying finals on this date for the US team was a middleweight and future fellow gold medalist, Floyd Patterson.
Path to the Finals and USA Gold Success
21 boxers from 21 nations over 81kg (178.57lbs) were set to compete for one gold medal. In his first round of competition, Sanders knocked out Swiss boxer Hans Jost in the first round. Two days later in the third round of the tournament, Sanders secured another knockout, this time in the third round against Italian Giacomo Di Segni. One day later on August 1st, Sanders would at least secure a medal by earning his third knockout, against South African Andries Nieman, in the second round of action.
In a bizarre gold medal matchup, Sanders was tallied with facing the big Sweed, Ingemar Johansson. Johansson would go on to have a great professional career earning a record of 26-2. He is best known for his trilogy with Floyd Patterson in which Johansson won the first of their three bouts to claim the lineal heavyweight championship. Patterson was also a participant at these Olympics, taking the gold medal in the middleweight division. Johansson would eventually get disqualified in the second round for being “too passive.” Up to that point, Johansson had not known a single punch. The Olympic Committee even withheld Johansson’s silver medal for nearly 30 years, finally presenting him with the medal in 1982.
One Last Run at the Amateur Ranks
Being still enlisted in the U.S Military at the time, Ed Sanders was unable to turn pro. He continued his amateur career, re-entering the Golden Gloves tournament, this time in 1953. Entering the championship fight with a broken thumb, Sanders lost a closely contested battle. His opponent on the night was the future world heavyweight champion, Sonny Liston. Though Liston got the nod, many argued Sanders should have been awarded the victory.
Unfortunate Short-Lived Pro Career
Only one factor was delaying Sanders’ turn to the pro ranks, which was the US Navy. Regardless of how many times Sanders filed for discharge, it was always denied. The IBC was pushing hard to have Sanders in their ranks, bringing him to a Brooklyn Dodgers vs Atlanta Braves game along with attending the Rocky Marciano vs Ezzard Charles championship bout. Ed Sanders was eventually able to find a “loop hole” in the Navy’s system, acting as his own manager in February 1954. His debut came on March 08, 1954, against Sonny Nichols in the Boston Garden. 1954, Sanders’ lone season as a pro, was a busy one competing in nine bouts.
Running low on sparring partners, Sanders often trained and sparred with the USA New England Heavyweight champion, Willie James. The two competed for that title on December 11, 1954, in the Boston Garden. A few weeks prior to the bout, Sanders was complaining of headaches and shoulder pain. After what James called a “simple combo,” Ed Sanders hit the mat and immediately lost consciousness. Sanders would never regain consciousness, passing away three days later after doctors attempted surgery to relieve pressure off of his brain. James only competed in one more bout before retiring from competition.
I am a life-long MMA fan who has been a fan since UFC 1. I was born in Illinois but raised in South Louisiana, home of many great mixed martial artists. I started martial arts at the age of 4 and continued into my adult years where I served nearly 10 years in law enforcement. I feel my job is to convey the stories of the MMA fighters we enjoy to watch and share their stories with the world.
Follow me on Twitter @LAknockoutMMA