Boxing is back ! Friday night’s Queensberry Promotions show broadcast live on BT Sport was a resounding success. The strictest hygiene measures, social distancing and, to cap it all off some great performances and fights.
Top of the bill saw Brad Foster 13-0-2 (5 KO’s) gain a Lonsdale belt outright in defence of his British and Commonwealth super-bantamweight titles. In a highly competitive fight he defeated fellow-Midlander James Beech Jnr 12-1 (2 KO’s) by unanimous decision.
The cards of 116-113, 117-111 and 117-111 only told half the story as Foster had to come through some difficult moments, rallying late in the fight to eventually secure victory. Foster admitted in the post fight interview that he’d been below par and only really got started from the 7th round onwards but his class eventually prevailed as Beech troubled by an early cut over his left eye and receiving some sickening body shots faded in the championship rounds (10 through 12).
The card also saw good performances from rising super-welterweight Hamzah Sheeraz 11-0 (7KO’s) who outgunned Scottish southpaw Paul Kean 12-2 (1 KO) over six rounds and promising heavyweight David Adeleye 2-0 (2 KO’s) who bombed out Matt Gordon 2-3-1 (0) inside two rounds.
The evening started anti-climatically with Portsmouth’s Mark Chamberlain 6-0 (4 KO’s) registering a first round stoppage of Stu Greener. Whilst a resounding victory for Chamberlain it primarily served the purpose of welcoming British boxing back since the enforced lockdown on 17th March. It introduced a new world of referees with face masks, chief seconds being heard yelling at their charges with no crowd in attendance and perspex screens separating British Boxing Board of Control officials from the usual ringside huddle and festivities. But, as a starter for the many live shows planned over the next two months it was the perfect re-introduction.
Congratulations go to the efforts of Frank Warren’s Queensberry Promotions team, the Board of Control officials, medics and BT Sport for making this happen. Not forgetting the fortitude and dedication of the boxers involved who served up the perfect re-entry of our sport to something like a ‘new normal’.
And so, after 100 plus days of lockdown and no domestic shows since mid-March the boxing business hits the road again on Friday (10th) at the BT Sport studios in Stratford, east London.
Hall of Fame promoter Frank Warren through his Queensberry Promotions is the first to get back in the saddle and kick start the recovery of the domestic boxing business. This will be followed hot on its heels with a series of Matchroom Boxing shows from their HQ in the gardens of the Hearn residence in Essex.
Over the last quarter gyms have closed, save supporting their local communities by setting up food banks, delivering medical supplies and offering temporary accommodation for the needy. Fighters have retired due to the impact on their earning capacity and ability to support their families, and those still active, have taken to training in parks or at home. For the boxing business it really has been a time of famine, reflection and worry about the times ahead.
Inevitably the show on Friday will be behind closed doors. However it will be ably covered by BT Sport and will perform CPR on the heart of the boxing business – live shows.
So what can we expect ?
Brad Foster 12-0-2 (5KO’s) will be main event as he defends the British and Commonwealth super-bantamweight (8st 10lb) titles against James Beech Jr. 12-0 (2KO’s). In this time of recovery and rekindling interest in the sport this is as competitive a match than can be hoped for. In the short term fans will expect any return of the sport to result in competitive contests, at the very least. This match fits the bill.
The support card is also interesting featuring Hamzah Sheeraz 10-0 (6KO’s) defending his WBO European super-welterweight (11st) crown against Scotland’s Paul Kean 12-1 (1KO), plus prospects Mark Chamberlain and David Adeleye featuring.
Daniel Dubois’ Ukrainian sparring partner Dorin Krasmaru will also make his BT Sport debut in a heavyweight contest. There should be some fireworks on the night to re-ignite the sport from it’s prolonged slumber. All eyes within the various promotional companies will be watching intently on the methods used and success of the evening.
Will we ever see an undisputed world heavyweight champion ? Does it really matter ?
Last week WBC world heavyweight champion Tyson Fury took to social media to announce a deal had been reached for a two fight series with WBA/IBF/WBO heavyweight champ Anthony Joshua. Should it happen it will likely break all box office records in the sport to date. A unification of the heavyweight championship, certainly in the eyes of the paying public would result. It would be the first time since Lennox Lewis reign in the early millennium that the heavyweight champion was universally accepted. But, despite hyperbole and best intentions, is it really going to happen ?
First, there is the current COVID-19 pandemic and the uncertainty surrounding a resumption of the sport. Time and the diminishing sands are crucial to a fighter’s wellbeing and legacy. It is hoped and claimed that this could happen in 2021, but do we really know if any degree of normality will be back and hold through until then ? Hopefully ‘Yes’ and both combatants are the right end of their 30’s and relatively young for heavyweights. So, tick the timing off as a positive.
Next, do the sanctioning bodies really want to see it ? History and logic would say ‘No’. The ‘alphabet boys’ WBC, WBA, IBF and WBO all exist through the sanctioning fees that fighters and promoters pay for the ‘prestige’ of challenging for one of their titles. Why would they really want one champion, when at best they would fight twice a year and only get sanctioning fees for two bouts, albeit then split between four different organisations. Surely it makes more business sense just to have their own ‘champion’ and market them as the legitimate title holder. Boxing history has compounded fighters to make mandatory defences against their number one contender, regardless of skills, credibility and logic.
Only last week the WBO President Paco Valcarcel on hearing news of the deal being struck said but first Joshua would have to make his mandatory defence against their #1 contender Oleksandr Usyk. The sanctioning bodies might outwardly convey a desire for a unified champion but in reality this is lip service. It’s basically not in their interest. Consider this a cross against unification happening.
Then, linked to the above there is the minefield that awaits both Fury and Joshua before they are in a position to eyeball each other across the ring. Again the alphabet boys drive this but these are the facts; unless the combatants camps can get their respective contractural obligations to take ‘step aside’ money, which collectively could exceed £50M, then Fury has to navigate a third Deontay Wilder fight and Joshua has to defeat IBF #1 contender Kubrat Pulev, and according to the WBO President then beat Usyk. And what of Dillian Whyte’s long awaited WBC mandatory rights to fight for the title ? He too has a legitimate and overdue right to fight Fury or Wilder. This in itself extends any eventual unification to the second half of 2021 (minimum).
This on face value is a cross against any unification fight happening, certainly if you look over boxing history. Heavyweights are an unpredictable breed. One punch from the best laid plans disappearing into the ether – ask Lennox Lewis for one.
Then we have the logistics involved in putting on two fights of this magnitude. Credit to messrs Hearn, Arum and Warren for promoting the desire and dream to have an undisputed heavyweight champion and them being the only ones with the wherewithal and experience to make it happen, but in the current climate where is it going to be, when and for how much ? All unknown entities at press time and the social and morale implications of finding a host will be heavily scrutinised before the deal is done.
So, to my final question … does it really matter ? Yes it does, to the casual sports fan, the average punter in the street and for the continued integrity of the sport. They should know when asked “who is the heavyweight champion of the world ?”. In an ideal world the response would be emphatic, not, “well actually there are two, (or even three)”. It does the sport a continued disservice to not have a universally recognised champion for the last twenty odd years.
But in reality all sports are confusing to a degree. In tennis you have a Wimbledon champion, a French Open champion etc. True you have a world #1 but each Slam has its respective champions. In lesser ‘sports’ like darts confusion reigns. What is important is that Fury and Joshua do meet, as soon as possible and ideally with no further losses on their records (noted that Fury is undefeated). If all the straps are up for grabs all the better, but don’t let that get in the way of these two guys meeting. The public will ultimately decide who the best man is based on results. If a title or two has to be given up on the journey so be it. Make the fight happen when the world returns to a sense of normality. Over to you messrs Warren, Arum and Hearn.
Hello readers, you will note that the regular Monday LunchBox has been temporarily retitled the ‘LockDown’ given the unfamiliar and difficult times we continue to find ourselves in.
We are all largely aware of the impact of COVID-19 on our daily lives, those sadly affected directly by losses in their families, and of far lesser importance the impact on the sporting calendar. The current situation can have a major impact and in extreme cases devastating effect on the mental health and wellbeing across all sectors of society. Boxers and the boxing fraternity are not spared in this regard.
Today is the start of Mental Health Awareness weekin the UK and it is with some irony that the Mental Health minute shared with the country this morning at 11am over television, radio and other media outlets was opened by IBF, WBA and WBO world heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua. He was later followed by Katherine, Duchess of Cambridge and other notable spokespeople.
The irony is that in a sport for which one of the objectives is to seperate ones senses from the ability to continue to compete, either by physical contact or mental degradation, that it should be a boxer who opened this minute of consideration. This shows the power of boxing to capture the hearts and minds of the general public, and in doing so, develop individuals who represent all that is good in sport. For the want of re-stating a much overused cliché – the ability to create ‘role models’. Anthony Joshua is considered this by a lot of the sporting population, who across the gyms and training centres of the country they look to follow, support and maybe one day emulate.
Mental health, for obvious reasons has always been an issue in boxing. WBC world heavyweight champion’s Frank Bruno and Tyson Fury have literally ‘moved mountains’ in recent years in raising awareness and public consciousness on the issue via the platform of being elite professional boxers and from their own painful experiences. Check out any of their autobiographies which focus considerably on their personal challenges outside the ring.
In boxing, setting aside the clear challenge and results of physical combat, both at a repetitive and prolonged level, there are the well documented cases and impacts of the highs and lows of the sport. Boxing can take a fighter from poverty and relative obscurity to the highest of highs in any sport. A highly successful boxer can earn millions, meet kings, queens and presidents and receive the adulation of nations. However, the higher the rise, inevitably the bigger the potential to fall. Boxing is littered with elite fighters who subsequently fell on hard times. Californian Bobby Chacon, three weight world champion Wilfredo Gomez to name but two.
But; for every Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard, Roberto Duran and Lennox Lewis there are thousands who forever ply their trade earning small purses in small halls and never attain the heights. It is highly likely that these are the ones who are suffering most in the current pandemic. The journeyman fighter who’s sole earning potential is a fight a month in a small hall, the kid who’s just come off the streets and in an attempt to find life focus has found the refuge of the local gym, the ex-boxer who’s now struggling to make ends meet. These are the people in our sport who we should be thinking about. Registered charities such as Ringside Rest and Care exist not just by choice, but by necessity. And, in these difficult times need our support.
Then, there are those on the periphery of the sport – in the so called service industry – the promotional teams, those that go up and down the country setting up rings, supporting press conferences and media events , selling tickets. The impact on the sport is considerable and in these difficult times are suffering. The open ended termination of social distancing and lack of a definite timetable could be potentially irreversible for many in the business.
So; in this time of uncertainty just look around you and support those who may be in need; maybe just a call or text or a bit of face time. Mental health is now a recognised modern disease challenging all in society, and potentially increased by the temporary loss of a high profile sport to all those participants and observers. Let us consider that early this week as a starter.
In recent weeks the focus has rightly been on the ‘Four Kings’ of Sugar Ray Leonard, Marvelous Marvin Hagler, Thomas Hearns and Roberto Duran and the fortieth anniversary of their intertwined bouts which dominated the 1980’s.
However, at the beginning of the decade four boxing legends from the Hispanic community were operating in the lighter weight divisions – three of which would go onto capture multi-divisional ‘world’ titles, and the fourth would be ranked one of the greatest featherweights of all time.
The esteemed quartet were Alexis Arguello, Wilfredo Gomez, Wilfred Benitez and Salvador Sanchez.
The cover of The Ring magazine of October 1982 and rankings within would recognise the impact these fighters were having on the Latino scene and at world level. Three being organisational ‘world champions and two recognised by The Ring as the divisional king.
Centre stage was the Nicaraguan Arguello – ‘El Flaco Explosivo’ The Explosive Thin Man – who was attempting to capture a fourth world title at light-welterweight (140lbs/10 stone) having won titles from feather (126lbs) through to lightweight (135lbs). Arguello would go onto narrowly fail against Aaron Pryor in two title attempts, the first fight in the Orange Bowl, Miami on 12 Nov 1982 being recognised as one of the greatest fights of all time. Arguello would finish with a record of 82-8 (65 KO’s) and enter the International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota.
Wilfredo ‘Bazooka’ Gomez from San Juan, Puerto Rico followed a stellar amateur career competing at the Munich Olympics at 15 by gaining world titles at super-bantamweight (122lbs/8st 10lbs) to super-featherweight (130lbs/9st 4lbs). In his homeland he was and remains a boxing and cultural icon.
Back in 1982 he had made 17 successful defences in the super-bantamweight division, all by knockout. A divisional record. He made a single manned assault on Mexican boxing heritage and the Mexico-Puerto Rican rivalry by beating legends like Carlos Zarate before moving up to featherweight for a first time and failing in a bid at Salvador Sanchez’ WBC world title. His first loss. It would take him some years to recover but he eventually added the two heavier titles. Gomez’ career record would read 44-3-1 (42 KO’s).
Wilfred ‘El Radar’ Benitez, also Puerto Rican but born and raised in New York, was the heavier of the fighters campaigning and winning world titles up to light-middleweight (154lbs/11st). He won his first world title at light-welterweight at age 17 (which remains a world record) from Colombian great Antonio Cervantes and would go onto beat Roberto Duran and lose narrowly to Sugar Ray Leonard in marquee fights. Benitez would finish on 53-8-1 (31 KO’s).
Finishing the quartet was featherweight great and Mexican icon Salvador ‘Chava’ Sanchez. He would compile a record of 44-1-1 (32 KO’s) making nine successful defences of his title, two against future hall of famers Azumah Nelson and Wilfredo Gomez. The historic fight against Gomez on 21 Aug 1981 would see the Puerto Rican enter the ring with a 32-0-1 (32 KO) record, including 14 world title fights. Sanchez would dominate throughout scoring an 8th round stoppage victory.
Tragedy would strike in August 1982 when Sanchez life was cruelly taken in a car crash at the tender age of 23. The October 1982 edition of The Ring would mark this sad occasion with a eulogy by Jose Torres. In the mode of James Dean this tragedy would further add to the legend of his accomplishments. Arguello’s life was also sadly cut short at 57 in 2009. Gomez and Benitez survive in difficult health but collectively define a golden Hispanic era.
Five fights that sum up the period of the ‘Four Hombres’ can be viewed on YouTube. Check out Gomez v Zarate, Sanchez v Gomez, Sanchez v Nelson, Pryor v Arguello I, and Benitez v Leonard.
The sport of boxing has been blessed with great fighters from almost all continents of the world, from Manny Pacquiao (Asia) to Jeff Fenech (Australasia) and onto Azumah Nelson (Africa). Great fighters, but also national icons of that continents sporting history.
However, no continent has provided more great champions than the Americas. Arguably not the USA, but in the south of that land mass – Latin America. From Mexico through central America to the Caribbean islands of Cuba and Puerto Rico and down to the boxing hotbeds of Panama, Colombia and Argentina.
The monikers of ‘Manos De Piedra’ (Hands of Stone), ‘El Flaco Explosivo’ (The Explosive Thin Man) and ‘El Gran Campeon’ (The Great Champion) resonate out from the Latin third of the continents. Messrs Roberto Duran, Alexis Arguello and Julio Cesar Chavez are the epitome of national pride and Latino machismo.
From the pioneers of Kid Chocolate and Panama Al Brown in the 1920’s & 30’s, through Manuel Ortiz and Kid Gavilan in the 40’s & 50’s, to Pascual Perez and Jose Napoles into the 1960’s and beyond, the Hispanic two-thirds of the America’s has been bountiful with multiple champions and many multi-weight world champions – Arguello x3, Duran x4, Chavez x3, Wilfred Benitez x3, Juan Manuel Marquez x4, Erik Morales x4, Marco Antonio Barrera x3.
There have been legendary fights between these champions, sometimes resulting in trilogies – Barrera v Morales in the early millennium being the pick of the bunch – Barrera winning the series 2-1 in epic fights. Add to that Israel Vazquez v Rafael Marquez from 2007-2010 resulting in a fourth fight and final 2-2 log.
There have been the famous rivalries between countries, most notably Mexico v Puerto Rico, and the fights that epitomised that rivalry – Carlos Zarate v Wilfredo Gomez, Lupe Pintor v Gomez and Salvador Sanchez v Gomez in the 1980’s being classic examples. Into the 90’s there was the Michael Carbajal v Humberto Gonzalez rivalry at light flyweight (108lbs), their first fight being the pick of the crop.
A number of these Latin legends have been involved in the greatest fights of all time – Sugar Ray Leonard v Roberto Duran 1, Aaron Pryor v Alexis Arguello 1 the prime examples.
Many Latin boxers have been Ring Magazine fighter of the year:
Jose Napoles – 1969
Carlos Monzon – 1972
Carlos Zarate – 1977
Salvador Sanchez – 1981
Julio Cesar Chavez – 1991
Felix Trinidad – 2000
Sergio Martinez – 2010
Juan Manuel Marquez – 2012
A number dominated their divisions through a decade – Duran (lightweight), Monzon (middleweight), Zarate (bantamweight), Lopez (strawweight) and Pedroza (featherweight).
Some featured in milestone fights that marked a ‘passing of the torch’ to a younger hero – Jose Napoles v John H Stracey and Eusebio Pedroza v Barry McGuigan being examples closest to home.
Then, there are the lesser known champions who live on for their ferocity, one punch power, bravery or pure class – Lupe Pintor, Ruben Olivares, Diego Corrales, Ricardo ‘Finito’ Lopez, and national icons like Roman ‘Chocolatito’ Gonzalez and Edwin Valero, from Nicaragua and Venezuela respectively.
Not forgetting the American/Mexican’s or Mexican/American’s, however you wish to put it. The Oscar De La Hoya’s, Bobby Chacon’s, and Michael Carbajal’s to name but a few. Even the recent heavyweight champion of the world Andy Ruiz reclaimed his Mexican heritage when becoming champion.
One common theme throughout this ledger is with the exception of Andy Ruiz and 1920’s Argentine Luis Firpo almost all these boxers have campaigned and enjoyed success in the lighter weight classes. Predominantly from strawweight (105lbs) to lightweight (135lbs), exceptionally up to middleweight (160lbs).
All these supreme boxers do though share a common language and fistic heritage, mainly with few exceptions, a rise from poverty to the higher echelons of the sport. All despite being individually unique, have illustrated that Latino machismo when under fire and have considerably enhanced the sport over the decades on the world stage. Viva boxeo latino ! Long may boxing in the Hispanic world flourish and may the roll call of legends continue into the future.
Many of these legends can be viewed on YouTube to get a true appreciation of their significant contribution to boxing history.
Boxing is a sport that is dominated by bar room talking points; comparisons between great fighters and the best and worst of eras. Are we in a boom now ? or, is the current crop just the best of a bad bunch ? Fight fans and the media regularly look back; sometimes through rose tinted glasses, sometimes waxing lyrical about the present generation, and sometimes, not really making a fair comparison.
We are though blessed with a sport that due to the general lack of tweaking with the original Marquis of Queensberry Rules and the fundamentals of the sport being largely unchanged (i.e. one on one gloved combat in a square, roped ring) allows us to make these personnel and era comparisons with some degree of confidence. Generally, after much debate the conclusions finally drawn are a function of personal preference or someone’s relevant generation but with some statistical back up or justification.
The golden era of the sport is said to be the 1930’s through to the 1950’s, certainly by the quality and depth of fighters that emerged from the great American depression of the 1920’s and the ending of the Second World War. But, there have been equally brilliant divisional eras like the heavyweights of the ’70’s and the Four Kings of the middleweight division in the ’80’s. These epochs can legitimately compare favourably to any era of the sport.
My guides on this have always been the depth and range of brilliant boxing literature available to compare the boxers and eras, but my ‘go to’ reference has been The Ring magazine – ‘The Bible of Boxing’ and world authority since 1922.
Over nearly a century The Ring has equally gone through ‘boom and bust’ with different ownerships and vogues, potential liquidation and now thriving in the digital era. Hopefully the additional threat of the COVID-19 outbreak still allows “the Bible” to prevail, and similarly our own Boxing News which remains the oldest world publication (predating The Ring by thirteen years) and the British authority on the domestic and world scene.
To this end, an occasional entry in The Undisputed’s LunchBox slot will be a look back at The Ring magazine’s pound-for-pound rankings (i.e. the boxers voted best in the world regardless of weight classification by The Ring panel of experts).
Let’s first take a look at the top ten in March 1990, some thirty years ago…
1. Julio Cesar Chavez, 2. Pernell Whitaker, 3. Michael Nunn, 4. Antonio Esparragoza, 5. Meldrick Taylor, 6. Buster Douglas, 7. Mike Tyson, 8. Azumah Nelson, 9. Raul Perez, 10. Virgil Hill.
So, what does this tell us about the current crop ? A number of the boxers in the rankings of 12th March 1990 have subsequently entered the International Boxing Hall of Fame (IBHOF) in Canastota, upstate New York. Arguably the pick of the crop was Julio Cesar Chavez, who at the time of being ‘pound for pound’ king had a 67-0 win-loss record. He eventually finished on 107-6-2 (88 KO’s).
Compare that to the current ‘king’ – Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez on 53-1-2 (36 KO’s). On his current trajectory Alvarez will make a claim to be the greatest Mexican fighter of all time – but whether he will overtake Chavez’ popularity and accomplishments is debateable. Chavez back in 1990 was the standout ‘pound for pound’ king, with Pernell Whitaker some way behind on fights and accomplishment. However, Whitaker did in all intents and purposes win the hotly disputed draw when they finally met. Alvarez by contrast has a loss on his record and is widely regarded as losing the first fight to Gennadiy Golovkin. The numbers two, three and four in the log of 21st March 2020 – Lomachenko, Inoue and Crawford are a lot closer to Alvarez than anyone challenging Chavez in 1990.
So, does this make the present era have greater depth at the top ? It does on face value with four fighters vying for the pound for pound title. You would though have to look deeper into the respective divisions to establish this.
What is noticeable from the two logs is the greater globalisation of boxing now. The top ten of 1990 had six USA fighters, a number of them products of the legacy of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics – Pernell Whitaker, Meldrick Taylor and Virgil Hill, plus Mike Tyson who lost in the box-offs for those Games. There were three Hispanic fighters which would be the norm of the time, and one African in Azumah Nelson – a future member of the IBHOF and the greatest fighter to come from the African continent.
The rankings of March 2020 are largely a legacy of the post-1990 breakup of the Soviet Union. In Vasiliy Lomachenko, Oleksandr Usyk, Gennadiy Golovkin and Artur Beterbiev, you have two Ukrainians, a Kazak and a Russian. All with a small number of professional fights but a lengthy and elite amateur pedigree, with substantial Olympic hardware to show. This impact has taken almost thirty years to trickle through to the elite professional level, but the amateur pedigree of these boxers allied to their pro record stands with anyone’s accomplishments in the 1990 top ten.
These are joined by a Japanese in Naoya Inoue and Fillipino in Manny ‘PacMan’ Pacquiao, giving the 2020 listing greater global credibility and reach.
A notable omission from the current pound for pound list is a heavyweight champion. Despite the current ‘golden era’ of the heavyweights neither Tyson Fury, Deontay Wilder or Anthony Joshua can break the top ten. This may show the current strength of the other divisions, or certainly that they contain elite fighters. The rankings of 1990 include a recently defeated Mike Tyson and his conqueror James ‘Buster’ Douglas, largely by virtue of that victory. It may be that the current heavyweight division is stronger but The Ring magazine thinks there are other strengths in boxing right now.
Ironically the one heavyweight to feature in the current pound for pound list is Oleksandr Usyk, purely on this basis of his accomplishments in the lighter cruiserweight division. Currently he remains an untested ‘blown up’ cruiserweight.
One boxer worthy of inclusion in the current pound for pound list is Manny Pacquiao at number ten. He is a ‘world champion’ at eight different weights from fly to welterweight and lock-in for the Hall of Fame. This in a way shows the quality in the current log compared to that in 1990. The number ten of the time Virgil Hill was an elite light heavyweight, Olympic silver medallist and undefeated 27-0, but that pales into insignificance with PacMan’s 62-7-2 (39 KO’s) record and accomplishments.
Perhaps this steers us towards the final conclusion on comparing these two lists: that the low ranking of Pacquiao and coupled with the omission of Fury, Wilder and Joshua et al, adding in boxers on the fringe of the list like Josh Taylor, Roman ‘Chocolotito’ Gonzalez, Callum Smith and Wanheng Menayothin at strawweight with a 54-0 win-loss record, shows that boxing in 2020 is in a fairly healthy state when comparing to March 1990.
Look out here for further editions of this feature.
Tonight in Las Vegas, Nevada it is the thirty-third anniversary of ‘The SuperFight’ between ‘Marvelous’ Marvin Hagler and ‘Sugar’ Ray Leonard.
The encounter marked my entry into covering big time boxing as a young freelancer and also the zenith of what George Kimball on the cover of his definitive 2008 bestseller Four Kings rightly referred to as the “Last great era of boxing”.
Over the course of the 1980’s the Kings of Hagler, Leonard, Thomas Hearns and Roberto Duran would share nine fights that defined the sport of boxing and that decade in particular.
In 1986, as a recent graduate I worked for eight months as a council cleansing operative (aka dustman) in the coastal town of Poole in England, finishing off as a clerical assistant at the University of Cambridge to raise the finances to support a trip in March 1987 bound for ‘The Superfight’. For any boxing mad fan or correspondent of the time it was a must-go venture. With a very close friend of mine we flew, bussed, hitchhiked and walked our way to Vegas to experience all of fight-week in the company of legends like Angelo Dundee, Gil Clancy, Mike Tyson, Thomas Hearns and anyone in boxing worth their salt.
‘The Superfight’ was a confrontation and event that had taken years to ‘marinade’. Leonard had twice in high profile announcements retired from the sport and stated the fight would never happen. Hagler, the undisputed middleweight champion had proceeded to dominate his division through twelve defences and at 32 years old had almost given up on the fight ever happening. However, by late 1986 the planets were finally aligning and the fight might be on.
Hagler was coming off a close shave against John ‘The Beast’ Mugabi in the March of ’86 and looked like he was coming to the end of his reign, due mainly to lack of motivation but also his advancing years. Leonard, sitting ringside on the night, saw the dimming of the flame and clear evidence that if he were to seize his opportunity it had to be soon, else Hagler might retire.
So, some months later Bob Arum with his Top Rank organisation, Mike Trainer – Leonard’s representative, and with multi-millions of dollars at stake a deal was struck with the then mecca of boxing Caesars Palace to put the event on. It was estimated the event would be worth in excess of $300M for the local economy with $7.9M for the live gate. Mind blowing figures at the time.
On that balmy April night there was an electricity in Sin City, the 15,400 outdoor car park arena and strip beyond has rarely been repeated since, certainly not for middleweights. The whole of the state of Nevada was blacked out from showing the fight other than special pay per view showings in casinos, a habit of a bygone era, and Vegas was a mass of boxing humanity, high rollers and Hollywood A-listers.
The weigh-in on the morning of the fight took place in Caesars Palace Sports Pavilion before a raucous capacity crowd and in a frenzy of anticipation. Leonard with his ships captain hat and Hagler with his baseball cap emblazoned with the word ‘War’. Leonard coming in at 158lbs and Hagler scaling half a pound heavier, both well within the 160 divisional limit.
My friend and I each bagged a ticket with hours to go on the back of social networking (way before the term was invented), ‘moody’ press experience and our English accents. We were ecstatic.
On Monday night (5am UK time) ‘Marvelous’ Marvin entered the ring with a 62-2-2 (52 KO’s) record, a champion for over six years, having not lost a fight in eleven and, the recognised pound-for-pound king. Also, chasing the dream of Carlos Monzon’s fourteen successful defences of the title. ‘Sugar’ Ray on the other hand was 33-1-0 (24 KO’s), had not fought for just short of three years and, had a history of eye problems.
Although never being considered a mismatch due to Leonard’s elite pedigree and skillset the odds makers and almost all so called experts predicted a Hagler victory. Some emphatically.
But; what boxing history had shown thirteen years earlier in the jungle of Kinshasa, Zaire was that legendary fighters ‘find a way’. This, although argued strongly by some expert observers to this day, Hagler notwithstanding, was what happened on the night. Leonard found his way in a virtuoso performance to withstand Marvin’s early pressure and pick, poke and dance his way to victory, standing his ground when needed, to land the occasional bolo punch and mainly bamboozal the advancing Hagler through the twelve round distance.
The ageing champion had sacrificed in pre-fight negotiations the traditional fifteen round distance (his right) to his disadvantage, preferring to take the bigger purse, and with so playing into Leonard’s inactivity hands and reducing the fight to twelve rounds.
On fight night, he then chose to abandon his legendary and hugely successful southpaw stance and chase the retreating Leonard, never registering enough pressure or success to take the decision. His claims that Leonard ran all night, at the time, and even now remain wide of the mark.
Sugar Ray proved, as The Ring would pronounce how sweet he still was and took the split decision 115-113, 113-115, 110-118, a full eight rounds on the last card. There were no knockdowns but the drama was immense after a riveting opening round which many pre-fight thought Leonard wouldn’t hear the finishing bell, Sugar Ray then put round after round in the bank to the whoops and hollers of the majority in attendance. To this writer there was only really one winner on the night….Ray Charles Leonard. That, despite rooting for and clearly picking Hagler (the blue collar fighter) pre-fight.
When all was said and done ‘The Superfight’ that took five plus years to happen was a blockbuster in all sense of the world. It sent Marvelous Marvin bitterly into retirement, relaunched ‘Sugar’ Ray and most importantly left us with a memorable event that sits comfortable in the annals of the sport. There were really no losers on that famous night.
It was bookended by eight other fights between the Four Kings and is recently celebrated in a fine Ring magazine publication to commemorate this period. This is a must read and can be ordered online at the following link: https://esolutionsmnec.ecenergy.com/eCatalog/RING
To supplement this, further articles will appear in The Undisputed over the coming months on this golden period.
It is with great sadness that we learned last week of the passing of legendary Gleason’s Gym trainer Bob Jackson, aged 82.
Bob was a man with utmost integrity and experience who mentored and trained many world title contenders and other fighters to come out of the world famous stateside Brooklyn, NY gym.
He was one of those unsung heroes of the sport who knew boxing and knew fighters. Bob worked for thirty plus years in the notorious New York state maximum security prison Sing Sing and at night trained fighters. He honed the rough diamonds and abundant raw material of the New York metropolitan area, and potentially saved many from a lifetime of being under his sterner command at the said correctional facility.
During his New York State Hall of Fame training career Bob would drive miles across the USA transporting and mentoring young amateurs to shows. One such champion was Britain’s Adrian Dodson who served his formative boxing years in the New York metropolis.
Adrian remembered fondly how Bob shared journeys and passed on his life experience and advice to this young impressionable fighter. “He taught me so much, about life and being the person I am”.
With Bob in his corner Adrian won the New York Golden Gloves in 1989, along with it the Sugar Ray Robinson boxer of the tournament, and on representative teams won various metropolitan games in the hot melting pot of competition that was the Empire state. Adrian would compete at two Olympic Games (1988 & ’92) and when he turned professional it was Bob who he turned to in his corner again.
Adrian recalls “I remember many things Bob passed on….he would say in that New York drawl….” – “Don’t carry any bum in dere dat don’t belong…you run ’em over”. He knew his fighters and he knew how to motivate them.
In a lengthy career Jackson would also train and work the corners of former WBA world bantamweight champion Junior ‘Poison’ Jones and perennial heavyweight contender Oleg Maskaev. He even had a stint teaching the ropes to Robert DeNiro in his preparations for playing Jake LaMotta in Academy award winning film Raging Bull.
Bob is also attributed to founding white-collar boxing in New York state, spending evenings teaching the Wall Street yuppies the fundamentals of the Sweet Science and launching competitions across the metropolitan area. This would later become a global phenomena.
On the Gleason’s website last week there was a fitting tribute by owner Bruce Silverglade – “Bob was a New York State Hall of Fame trainer who was part of the fabric of Gleason’s. He will be dearly missed by me and many, many other people”.
Back in 2017 premier and oldest British fight publication Boxing News produced a special edition magazine titled ‘100 Greatest British Boxers’. Being the professionals they are, the staff of the paper deliberated long and hard over their election of the top hundred and then opened it up to wider scrutiny and challenge.
Spoiler alert – for the purpose of this article I have to reveal the top ten at that time read :-
10 – Randy Turpin, 9) Jim Driscoll, 8) Joe Calzaghe, 7) Freddie Welsh, 6) Bob Fitzsimmons, 5) Jack ‘Kid’ Berg, 4) Ted ‘Kid’ Lewis, 3) Benny Lynch, 2) Lennox Lewis and 1) Jimmy Wilde.
Yes; the winner was ‘The Mighty Atom’, a legendary Welsh flyweight who campaigned in the early decades of the twentieth century and compiled a professional record of 132-6-1 (99 KO’s). In doing so, winning British, European and World flyweight titles and finishing in 1921 as a bantamweight with a 75% knockout win percentage in the toughest of eras.
Wilde was in fact rated in an earlier Boxing News publication as the eighth greatest boxer of all time, across any division and era. Only being topped by the likes of Ali, Robinson, Louis, Leonard and Duran. Some accolade.
The Boxing News top ten of British boxers was dominated by boxers from a bygone era with only Calzaghe and Lewis being the modern day exceptions.
Of equal interest was the remaining ninety boxers in the log and how fighters from each era were scored and ranked. How did the modern day ‘greats’ Hamed, Benn, Hatton and Bruno fare ? You will have to purchase the special edition to find this out.
The reasoning for mention of this now is that special edition is but a mere three years old, yet, there are boxers recently retired or currently active who should force their way into the next top hundred, whenever BN choose to review – but where ?
A quick review of British boxers and fistic accomplishment since 2017 shows we now have two of our greatest heavyweights in Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua, certainly since Lennox Lewis made the runner up position. Both are two-time and multiple world champions in the division and should crack the top ten. Certainly Fury who remains undefeated and deposed two champions who reigned beyond ten defences. Where they finally settle in the pantheon of British boxers will be determined by their career ending record, or at the time BN review.
In addition, we have a former Ring magazine fighter of the year in Carl Frampton (something only achieved by two other British fighters in Hatton and Fury) and arguably the highest honour in the sport. Add in two recent winners of the World Boxing Super Series – Muhammad Ali Trophy, – a three-fight elite unification tournament to determine the best in the division – in Callum Smith and Josh Taylor, both still undefeated.
Then throw into the mix double ‘world’ champion Amir Khan and former IBF welterweight champ Kell Brook who won his title spectacularly overseas against a champion in Shawn Porter whose stock has risen since that defeat.
All of these are still active so their final position will still be work in progress. What is certain is all will crack the top hundred, when the experts at Boxing News choose to update their ultimate guide to the best British boxers.
Maybe the most interesting and outstanding question is should ‘The Gypsy King’ remain undefeated, or Anthony Joshua win (if and when they meet) will it be enough to top Lennox Lewis achievements ? Or, indeed replace ‘The Mighty Atom’ further down the track. Once we recover from the present troubles and some semblance of normal service resumes it will be fascinating to see where these modern day British boxers ultimately end up in the historical roll of honour.