Roy “Cut N Shoot” Harris
The Heavyweight Boxer who put Cut N' Shoot on the Map.
It is nearly unfathomable to think about life in our nation without professional sports. It has become an indelible part of our cultural fabric--the one thing that unites us all.
Regardless of the month on the calendar, you can find a sport to cheer for--the medium of television acting as the factor that ties it all together. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, you can turn to television for sports--finding, if not a game or a rebroadcast of a game at 3AM, a sports news or talk show. Quite simply, sports have become an American obsession.
That wasn't the case 50 years ago, when most big time professional ball clubs played along the Eastern Seaboard or, as was slowly becoming the case at the time, the West Coast. Sure, semi-pro baseball clubs dotted the fruited plain during this era--but Joltin' Joe DiMaggio would never hit one out of the ballpark in Houston in those earlier days, for there was no ballpark, and nearly another decade would pass before the inception of the Colt .45's, a short-lived forerunner to what would become our lovable, perpetually losing Astros, when Houston introduced itself to professional sports by building the Astrodome.
But back in the 1950's, in those days before television brought sports into our homes on a daily basis, before every major city had at least one major league team--be it baseball, football, basketball, or even hockey--the one sport that was accessible to all Americans was the pugilistic art of boxing.
In no other big-time sport was there more action for folks in small towns in the 1950's, as boxing was everywhere--and names like Floyd Patterson and Sonny Liston reigned supreme.
It was during those days that the small Montgomery County town of Cut N' Shoot, a shady little hamlet a few short miles east of Conroe, on State Highway 105, was brought into the spotlight of professional sports by a man who took his shot at becoming the boxing heavyweight champion of the world.
Roy Harris was born 70 years ago in Cut N' Shoot, into a "fighting family" of four boys and four girls. In those post-Depression years, nearly every kid in the tiny town very much had a hands-on interest in the centuries-old sport of boxing. Back in those days, all the kids were scrappers--even the girls!
Before the days of X Box and the Internet, and kids would actually go outside and play, Roy can tell stories of how the whole neighborhood would play games and roughhouse. He can even tell you who was athletic and fast and who was not.
Cut 'N Shoot's boxing team was the pride of Montgomery County in those days, each year making their mark in the Golden Gloves Championships held in Houston. Roy and brother Toab took up the sport together--before they even had a pair of gloves between them!
The boys got their first set of gloves in a trade for wild ducks. "We had never even heard of any type of other gear, just gloves." recalls Roy Harris of his childhood days-in-training.
Harris soon began working his way up the ranks of fighters around Texas, turning pro in April 1955, at age 22. In just a few short months, Roy "Cut N' Shoot" Harris captured the Texas State heavyweight title with a hard fought 12-round decision over a boxer named Buddy Turman.
Harris spent the next three and a half years in the boxing ring, fighting an average of six fights a year, winning all 22 of his fights, defeating six of boxing's top ranking fighters of the day, finally earning a chance at the ultimate prize: a shot at heavyweight champion Floyd Patterson, who, at age 21, in an era long before those brief glory days of Mike Tyson, became the youngest boxer to ever become champ by knocking out fellow old-schooler Archie Moore.
Roy Harris met Floyd Patterson in Los Angeles on August 18, 1958, in a venue called Wrigley Field, more famous these days as the Windy City home of 2003's biggest National League surprise, the Chicago Cubs.
The fight was one of the most high profile sporting events of the year, as sports writers from newspapers across the country headed west to cover the event, following Floyd Patterson around as he trained in Oceanside, CA, while just as many journalists were curious about Harris, who set up camp in Arrowhead Springs and made the cover of Sports Illustrated the week of the fight. "They ran out of the first printing and had to print some more," recalls Harris, who was characterized by SI as "friendly [and] affable...with an outgoing personality".
Public interest in the fight even spawned a hit record for Harris--a little country ditty saluting his hometown, a song called "Cut N' Shoot". "We spent an entire day making the one song," recalls Don Fraser, the promoter of the fight who went on to become a boxing legend in the Golden State. "Roy had to redo it dozens and dozens of times. The record finally got made but only after the producer wound up having to edit the best bits and pieces from each take.'’
But Roy "Cut N' Shoot" Harris didn't go to Los Angeles to join the Hit Parade; Roy Harris wanted to be heavyweight champion of the world.
In 1958, Elvis was inducted into the United States Army, gasoline was 20 cents a gallon, and the Dodgers had just moved from Brooklyn to Los Angeles, but all eyes out West in the late summer of that year were on the first heavyweight championship fight to take place in L.A. in 20 years--when Joe Louis knocked out Jack Roper.
History has judged the fight as being dominated by Patterson, although Harris was credited with a knockdown that had the champion of the world seeing little cartoon birdies in the second round. "I was waiting for it," Harris says of the moment that he got the drop on Patterson. "He sidestepped and ducked his left jab. I hit him with a right uppercut that raised him up off the floor.”
Although Harris received credit for a knockdown, the move was disputed, as some spectators felt Patterson slipped on the canvas--or was even pushed. "I swung a left hook, but he had stepped in too far and I hit him with my forearm instead of my fist. He went back down.
He got up and stumbled and I started after him, but I let him get away. I should've gotten him right then," say Harris, 45 years later.
Despite getting in those good moves early, throughout the fight, Roy "Cut N' Shoot" Harris took a licking--especially in the late rounds, when Floyd Patterson threw thunder at the Texas boy, hammering him with a round of knockdowns that left a gaping cut over his eyes--a wound ultimately in need of 14 stitches. "He hit me and knocked me down," says Harris of his most famous battle. "I had to get back up.”
Harris' father and trainer kept the fighter out of the ring for Round 13, so after 12 completed rounds, the judges gave out consistent scores--117-98, 116-102, 117-97--and determined that Floyd Patterson would hold on to his championship belt. For Roy Harris, it was his first professional loss. The Patterson fight was also Harris' first bout in nearly 10 months, after a hitch in the U.S. Army, which "put me out of circulation the year before I fought Patterson".
After losing to the heavyweight champion, Harris made a quick rebound, winning his next seven fights before bad luck knocked him to the mat in 1960: "Cut N' Shoot" Harris lost to Sonny Liston in a first-round TKO during a controversial match in Houston in April of that year, a match in which Harris has said that he was cheated; then he lost to Bob Cleroux during a July fight in Montreal; finally, Henry Cooper defeated the Texas heavyweight in a 10-round decision in London the following September. That was three losses in a row in three different countries in just six months.
The last straw came in May 1961, when Harris was KO'ed in the second round of a re-match with Bob Cleroux. Harris retired to his old hometown of Cut N' Shoot, which renamed their post office after the local boy made good. Harris got a law degree and a real estate license, serving as Montgomery County Clerk for 28 years.
Harris was honored in Los Angeles in July, when he was invited to be a special guest at the Lennox Lewis/Vitali Klitschko match at the Staples Center. "I'm sure Floyd Patterson would have [attended] if he was able. After all, he's the one that won the fight." Patterson reportedly suffers these days from dementia.
Harris was honored closer to home this week, as his presence was requested at the Texas Arts Venue in Downtown Conroe by singer and songwriter Tom Russell--writer of such modern country radio classics like "Navaho Rug" and "Outbound Plane"--a Los Angeles native who performed on October 7 as part of TAV's monthly First Tuesday Storytellers music series with Andrew Hardin.
Russell is also a devoted fan of "Cut N' Shoot" Harris. "I have a picture of us together," Tom Russell said proudly before that night's show.
Harris didn't know of Russell's music before the night started, he but enjoyed the show that Russell and Hardin put on for him and his wife Jean, and the other folks who were lucky enough to attend. After the show, Harris commented, “It sure is a joy to watch people who are great at what they do.” I'm sure that the rest of the audience thought the same thing.
Russell was at his best in front of the crowd at the small Texas Arts Venue--taking the time to throw jabs back and forth with members of the audience between songs. The audience shouted out requests and the duo played for over two hours. Hardin, who is rated one of the best acoustic guitar players in the world, showed how he gained the reputation.
Russell spent his time before and after the show talking to Harris and the rest of the crowd. He posed for pictures with Roy and Jean, and Russell claimed that he was glad he got the chance to meet and talk to Harris. It seemed only fair, since it was the only request in his contract to play at the Venue.
Despite the fact that Roy "Cut N' Shoot" Harris lost his shot at the heavyweight title, he's had a great life--married 47 years to wife Jean, and is a proud papa, a father of six children and grandfather of nine.
But there are days when Harris just can't help thinking about the moment in the sun--that famous fight with Floyd Patterson. Says Harris: "I think I should have whipped him.”