Curtis Sheppard (tied for 191)
Brownsville, New York, USA
August 28, 1920 – May 10, 1984?
5’11” / 173-203lbs
52-33-0-2(33) from 9/24/1938 to 1/19/1949 (20y4m)
2-10-0-0(1) against the top ten
0-3-0-0(0) against linear champions
1-10-0-0(1) against hall-of-famers
no fights for the linear championship
Top ten opponents:
W-KO-1 Joey Maxim, W-UD-10 Gus Dorazio, L-KO-5 Lem Franklin, L-UD-10 Joey Maxim, L-UD-12, L-UD-12, L-UD-12 Lee Q Murray, L-UD-10 Melio Bettina, L-UD-10 Jimmy Bivins, L-KO-10 Joe Walcott, L-KO-9, L-UD-10 Rusty Payne
-3 total score (2 + -8 + 0 + 3)
Based on my own rules for this ranking, Curtis Sheppard is (arguably) somewhat underrated. He had several wins early in his career over fighters who would later (or previously) be ranked in the top 10, and he had a couple wins over top ten light heavyweights. His era was a deeper one for the heavyweight division, and there were a lot of very good fighters that didn’t quite make the top-ten cut.
Curtis Sheppard has a certain air of mystery about both his personal life, and his career. His long stints in prison, and his colorful (and violent) life outside of the ring add to this. There is some debate over his actual birthdate, and what I posted above is pulled from his Boxrec bio. However, he may have been born a year earlier. Even his death date has been disputed.
What is known is that Curtis Sheppard was an amateur standout in the 1930s, who transitioned into a slightly crude, but devastatingly powerful fighter. Lean and strong, he had a huge right hand that hurt and stopped several really good boxers.
He turned pro on September 24, 1938, knocking out Larry White in the opening round. He lost his second fight by 8 round decision, and his early professional career was a mixed bag, as he took time to learn his trade.
Like a lot of fighters from those days, he was thrown in with the wolves early on. He dropped a decision to Jersey Joe Walcott in his 10th fight, when Joe himself was still developing as a fighter. He lost on points to future contender Tony Musto in his 13th fight, and brought a 9-5 record into his 15th fight – against another future contender in Lee Q. Murray. Sheppard managed to drop the prospect in the 4th, but was then stopped in the 6th by the better-skilled Murray. A rematch three fights later gave Sheppard a narrow and somewhat disputed win over Lee Q. That was followed by a third fight – a much wider win for Curtis, where he dropped Murray 6 times in winning an easy decision. A frustrating light-heavyweight loss to the great Jimmy Bivins followed a month later.
Then, in September 1941, Sheppard got his first shot at a heavyweight contender, and was demolished in a one-sided beating against the significantly larger Lem Franklin. He came back in January 1942, and went 5-2 against journeymen and fringe contenders until facing future light heavyweight champ and frequent heavyweight contender Joey Maxim that July. Maxim outboxed the Hatchetman comfortably, dropping Sheppard’s record to 18-12-0-1(10). Hardly the stuff contenders are made of.
But Sheppard was still improving, and he still had enormous strength and power. A win over Mose Brown, a loss to Buddy Walker, and a No-Contest against Hubert Hood led to a March 1943 rematch against Maxim. This time, Sheppard didn’t let Maxim establish his quick jab, and he bombed the great fighter out in the 1st round – the only time a fighter was able to knock Maxim out. Joey got a rematch just three weeks later, though, and won a wide decision, while fighting cautiously.
The Hachetman continued his roller-coaster career, both winning and losing until he reached a turning point with a wide decision loss to light heavyweight Nate Bolden. From that point, Sheppard went on his greatest run, going 9-1 over the next 8 months… notable wins included an 11th round knockout over former contender Big Boy Brown, a decision over future contender Al Hart, a decision over then-contender Gus Dorazio, a narrow loss to Buddy Walker, followed up with a come-from-behind rematch knockout win over the same man.
Going into his June 1944 fight with Lee Q Murray (their 4th), Curtis held a top-ten ranking in the Ring (reaching number 3), with a 32-18-0-2(19) record. Murray upset his run, winning a competitive decision over his old rival. Sheppard lost his next fight, another competitive-but-clear points defeat, this time to Melio Bettina. He rebounded some, finishing the year with rematch wins over Big Boy Brown and Buddy Walker. But 1945 seemed to signal the end of his contender status, as he was stopped in 7 by Perk Daniels, outboxed thoroughly by Jimmy Bivins, then after 3 wins (including a do-over win against Daniels), he was knocked out in 10 by Jersey Joe Walcott – now a serious contender.
In January 1946, Sheppard put on a terrific fight against legendary light heavyweight Archie Moore. Curtis, who outweighed the Old Mongoose by 11 pounds, managed to drop the great fighter with right hands in the 2nd and 8th rounds, but was otherwise a one-trick pony, being handily outboxed and nearly stopped toward the end.
After the Moore rout, Sheppard faded from contention, beating up (and usually knocking out) journeymen, but losing to legitimate contenders. He lost two wide nods in a row to old rival Jimmy Bivins, was beaten up by Archie Moore in their second fight, knocked out former contender Al Hart in 4 rounds, then lost 2 more fights to Lee Q. Murray – the first an exciting brawl, the second much slower and one-sided. Sheppard ended up fighting Murray six times in his career, winning two.
After the final Murray fights, Sheppard would finish his career 1-3, dropping two against Rusty Payne. He fell into legal trouble after that, finding himself in prison for two long stretches. He apparently turned his life around during his second stretch in prison, and his post-fight career story is told in detail in two of the below links. It’s a fascinating tale from a former fellow inmate and one-time fighter Rocky Alkazoff.
I hope that readers take the time to go through it. Despite a less-than-stunning final record, Sheppard was an exciting fighter with big power and a big heart. He was frequently outsized, but often held his own against tough men in an underrated era for the division.