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Welcome back to a new episode of The Fight City Podcast, hosted by Alden Chodash who this week is joined by boxing historian and site contributor Patrick Connor. Forgive the somber mood, but words of both regret and homage are in order as Alden and Patrick reflect on the death of an all-time great fighter and arguably the best southpaw ever, Pernell Whitaker, whose life was tragically cut short in a car accident this past Sunday. There’s also some discussion of the Top Rank card featuring Shakur Stevenson that Alden attended in Newark this past weekend, as well as a look ahead to the big Manny Pacquiao vs Keith Thurman show. Plus, exclusive interviews with Ronald “Winky” Wright, Andre Ward, and Tim Bradley as they give their picks for the “PacMan” vs “One Time” showdown. Check it out:
“It took years for Whitaker’s genius to be fully grasped by fans and pundits alike, and just when it seemed he’d found a groove in retirement — training, on the lookout for young fighters to mentor — the boxing world lost him. “Sweet Pea” Whitaker, the four-division champion, was struck by a car and killed in Virginia Beach, Virginia on Sunday night. … Winning fights isn’t easy. Becoming a multiple-division champion is harder still, never mind rising above all other fighters around. But to do those things with little punching power and a decidedly unaesthetic boxing style requires something truly special. Whitaker did this for more than a decade.” From “Pernell Whitaker: Gone Too Soon” by Patrick Connor
There was a time — or so I’ve been told — when top contenders, instead of waiting to see if they could cash in and get a title shot, instead regularly faced each other to, you know, determine who was actually worthy of getting a title shot. It’s no secret boxing’s become diluted thanks to the plethora of sanctioning bodies, promotional cold wars, and network allegiances, not to mention Floyd Mayweather’s career model, which relied on maddening Machiavellian opponent selection. Once in a while, though, a compelling legit-contender vs legit-contender scrap gets made. And Dillian Whyte vs Oscar Rivas is that kind of fight.
For Rivas, a Columbian who bases his pro career in Montreal, Whyte represents a significant step-up in competition following his breakthrough final round stoppage of former title challenger and perennial contender Bryant Jennings, a victory that finally propelled Rivas into the discussion of which new faces in the heavyweight division were worthy of a chance at one of the title-holders. The Quebec boxing cognoscenti had been beating this drum for a while, but Rivas — partly due to injuries and partly due to matchmaking issues — simply didn’t have the record to back it up. The Jennings win helped and made a bunch of journalists up here look smart, but in the grand scheme of things it was a small step forward.
The build-up for Whyte vs Rivas betrays the fact that the vast majority of media outside of Quebec have either seen Rivas fight once or not at all. Rivas is genuinely respected heading into this fight, but it’s the kind of passing praise given to someone with a good win, deep amateur background, and undefeated record. Few, if any, pundits will pick Rivas to defeat Whyte, who, after all, is a battle-proven top contender with a vastly superior pro résumé. He’s also been a “mandatory” contender for one or more title belts for almost as long as Rivas’s best buddy Eleider Alvarez was for former WBC light heavyweight kingpin Adonis Stevenson.
Rivas finishes Jennings in round twelve.
Between now and Saturday and during the broadcast, this is what you’ll hear about Rivas, ad nauseam: Rivas is dangerous, can punch a little, has a superior amateur pedigree to Whyte, is coming off a career-best win, and that he’s short and physically disadvantaged against every single elite heavyweight. (You’ll also hear about how Whyte is currently the most shafted contender in boxing, and while this is correct, the extent to which you’ll hear it might make the “mute” button come in handy.) All of these facts about Rivas are true, but the physical disadvantages are overblown when it comes to speculating about the biggest hurdle Rivas must overcome against Whyte.
This brings us back to Eleider Alvarez. Oscar Rivas is eerily similar to his Olympic teammate — and that’s both a blessing and curse. Both are exceptionally skilled technical fighters who comport themselves in the ring as true professionals. Unfortunately, both — whether through poor work-rate or overthinking their offence — seem to hold back and leave spectators with the sense there’s something special lurking in them that never gets completely deployed, though Alvarez satisfied that perception when he unleashed his power on Sergey Kovalev a year ago.
Whyte rumbles with Chisora.
Indeed, Oscar Rivas’ greatest challenge against Whyte may well be overcoming that puzzling passivity. We saw this against Jennings when Rivas failed to capitalize on a lackadaisically paced fight and allowed Jennings to pocket too many close rounds. And while his final round thumping of Jennings was impressive, it basically took trainer Marc Ramsay doing potentially irreparable damage to his vocal cords to finally light the fire under Rivas’ ass that should have been there all along. If Rivas boxes Whyte the same way he did Jennings, he could find himself way behind and again in need of a last second knockout. He’s shown he has the stamina to potentially pull that off, but Whyte is a different level of power and durability than Jennings.
That said, there are certain things Rivas can carry over from the Jennings win. He’s extremely adept at keeping his boulder-like upper body compact with a high guard, and he’ll need that kind of defensive responsibility against Whyte. Rivas did well to walk Jennings down for important stretches, and he’ll want to spend significant time on his front foot against Whyte. The Columbian can also throw effective straight shots, and he’ll have to sustain that kind of technical discipline to muster his own offence while staying in position to to parry and block Whyte’s return fire, especially that vaunted left hook. Simply put, Rivas, from a strictly boxing standpoint, has the tools to win this fight.
Rivas has a tendency to not let his hands go.
But my goodness, Rivas needs to let his hands go more. That’s his single biggest key to victory: throw punches. Rivas doesn’t just beat Dillian Whyte based on his boxing ability and natural talent; he’s good, but certainly not that good. Rivas’ only path to victory here is if he wants it more than Whyte and is willing to do whatever it takes to win and that will likely involve trading leather with a strong, powerful warrior who isn’t at all afraid to go toe-to-toe on the inside. Rivas can’t afford to let his punch output get stymied or to get bogged down in the futile quest to think the perfect punch into existence.
No doubt many of “Kaboom’s” fans, both in Colombia and Montreal, are drawing positives from the Jennings win, and rightfully so, but that final-round explosion remains a small sample size compared to what was accomplished in the previous thirty-three minutes of fighting. It’s not that Rivas performed poorly up until bludgeoning Jennings, far from it. But it’s the fact that the genuine urgency he showed seemed to come out of nowhere, which potentially means it was an aberration. We saw Eleider Alvarez crash back to reality against Sergey Kovalev in their rematch; will the same thing happen to Rivas to against Whyte? That’s the key question.
The winner will be in line for a chance at a world title.
Rivas appears to have had a sensational camp and looks ripped and ready. He also has one of the best corners in the world, and Marc Ramsay is one of those trainers who seems to understand what’s needed at every juncture of a fight and isn’t afraid to ruthlessly demand that it be done. The thinking here is that something just might click on Saturday in London and if that’s the case, a more active and aggressive Rivas isn’t a long-shot underdog, far from it. But any sign of hesitation or complacency means Rivas will likely find himself in the position where he’ll need to replicate the Jennings knockout, and no one can count on lightning striking twice.
Needless to say, given his age and career trajectory, the stakes are massive for Rivas. If he plods his way to a lopsided defeat, he’ll stumble into a fringe contender scrapheap that would make a climb back to prominence tortuous given his injury history. An early knockout loss would obviously be a disaster. However, those two outcomes feel unlikely. Rivas is riding high right now. He’s seen what happened to Alvarez and the kind of crash that can follow a career-best win. He’s still the underdog, on the road, and expected to lose. But at the same time, it’s the perfect scenario for him to seize the moment in even more emphatic fashion and shock the boxing world. Saturday can’t come soon enough. — Zachary Alapi
Eddie Hearn breaks down Whyte vs Rivas | WBC situation, Allen vs Price & full card - YouTube
I direct these remarks, without anger or malice, to fellow contributor James Simpson, whose column “Don’t Sleep On Keith Thurman,” was published on this fine website last month. And I want you to know, James, that I am not sleeping at all when it comes to the boxer who calls himself “One Time.” In fact, not only am I wide awake, but I have a few things to say about him and the assertions you put forth.
In your piece you express the opinion that Keith Thurman is “the best pure boxer on the planet at 147.” Now that is quite a statement. To which I say, “Where, my friend, are the receipts?” Because it’s easy to express an opinion, but to be the best, you have to beat the best. Not with boasts and trash talk, but in the crucible of the proverbial squared circle.
Is Thurman the “best” at anything right now?
Let’s get the record straight: as of right now, Terence Crawford and Errol Spence Jr. are at the top of the welterweight division; some may have “The Truth” number one, while others, like me, prefer “Bud.” But there is no doubt that they rank above Keith. And a fact you cannot deny, James, is that many fans and pundits are right now picking a 40-year-old Manny Pacquiao to beat Thurman this Saturday night. In other words, forget being “the best pure boxer on the planet at 147.” Keith Thurman needs to defeat “The Pacman,” and do so impressively, just to stay relevant in a red-hot welterweight division.
But even if he does, given the fact that Thurman recently announced that he has no interest in ever facing Crawford, a message he sent along with a cheap-shot insult, he now appears to be disqualifying himself from ever being “the best” at 147. And this is based not on mere opinions, but on what Thurman himself has publicly stated!
Spence and Crawford: who doesn’t rank these two above Thurman?
James, boxing is a “what have you done for me lately” business in which, as the old adage goes, you are only as good as your last fight. Making Crawford and Spence my number one and number two, something many informed boxing observers agree with, is based on the fighters’ records and performances. It’s fine for you to believe, and even to say, that Keith Thurman is the “best pure boxer on the planet at 147,” but let’s face facts: your man “One Time” has had a grand total of two fights in two-and-a-half years! And I hate to break it to you, but he looked far from “the best pure boxer” in either his split decision win over Garcia, or in his near-disastrous comeback fight with Josesito Lopez.
Prior to the Lopez bout, Thurman bragged he was going to “make a statement” and “remind everyone … why I’m one of the baddest men on the planet.” But I’m afraid not much of statement was made at all that night. My colleague Alden Chodash did a fine report on that bout in which he posited that the old boxing adage “you are only as good as your last fight” is as true today as it ever was. And by that standard Thurman is barely top ten at 147 and certainly not championship caliber. Lopez almost knocked him out when Keith made the rookie mistake of squaring up to his opponent, leaving himself open to a big shot. Yes, he took that punch and lived to tell the tale, but only after he held on for dear life to survive the rest of the round.
Josesito Lopez gave Thurman all kinds of trouble.
James, you glossed over this in your article, simply calling the Lopez debacle “a competitive fight,” with no mention of how close Keith came to defeat. Add in the fact that the judges’ scores were all over the place, and no one with a straight face can say that Thurman’s performance was that of “the best pure boxer” in the welterweight division.
So here we are, a few days from Thurman’s third fight in over two years (two years, four months and 17 days to be exact) with a fellow aging but game campaigner, Manny Pacquiao. And I would counsel you, Mr. Simpson, and your boy Mr. “One Time,” to not “sleep on” the Pac Man. Yes, Pac is past his prime, but he had more than enough to put a sound ass-whipping on Adrian Broner, who can hold his own with pretty much any of the welterweight contenders. My best guess is Thurman will have no easy time with Manny and could be sorely tested in the later rounds. In the Broner fight, Pac was moving forward, aggressively, nearly the whole fight, while Keith was running for his life against Josesito Lopez.
Thurman scrapes past Danny Garcia in March of 2017.
So let’s get real, James. Keith Thurman is a boxer who is struggling to remain relevant. He isn’t going to fight Errol Spence anytime soon since they’re in the same stable, and, by his own admission, he isn’t going to rumble with Terence Crawford, my choice for the truly top man at welterweight. So no matter what happens this Saturday against the Filipino legend, Keith Thurman is not “the best at 147.” Because the simple truth is you can’t shit-talk your way into being “the best.” Thurman is way behind Crawford and Spence and, judging by his public statements, he knows it too.
Because when you do a lot of trash talk and name-calling, and then say you “have no interest” in facing someone, like it or not, you reveal something about yourself. “Want me to be your matchmaker?” Keith asked in an attempt to needle “Bud” Crawford. And that tells me deep down inside Thurman is afraid to fight Crawford. Back in the day, that kind of thing was called “whistling past the graveyard.” I don’t believe in ghosts, but if I see one, lawdy, lawdy, I think I’m going to piss my pants! That’s the Keith Thurman of today.
Will Pacquiao capitalize on Thurman’s late round stamina issues?
How else to interpret his about-face when it comes to Terence Crawford? Thurman has gone from “We can make that fight in 2020; it’s dumb to have three champions” to “I have no interest” in facing Terence Crawford. So anointing Mr. “One Time” as “the best at 147,” Mr. Simpson, contradicts Thurman’s own expressed limitations about himself. Because the best fighters fight the best, plain and simple.
James, most of us live in a reality-based environment. And in your column, you advise people not to “sleep on” Keith Thurman. I most certainly am not. But I am calling your favourite welterweight for what he really is. Based on his lack of activity, his most recent performance, and his own public statements. That’s called reality-based, “woke,” informed opinion, James. Which leads me to believe that the only ones who are in fact guilty of “sleeping” on Thurman are the dreamers who think he can ever be “the best.”
It hasn’t exactly been a terrible year, but it’s been far from a great one, when it comes to meaningful, top-level match-ups and big attractions in boxing. And so hardcore fight fans must be forgiven for being a bit star-struck for Pacquiao vs Thurman, a match-up that, on paper, is a showdown between two fighters who can barely claim to be in the top five in their division and whose most vigorous days are no doubt behind them.
Manny Pacquiao is forty; Keith Thurman is coming off serious injuries and hasn’t looked truly impressive for at least three or four years. But no matter: these are two legit big names and in today’s version of pugilism we don’t see big names throw down all that often. And there’s definitely a solid case for this being an intriguing match-up in terms of ring styles and the different weapons each man brings to the fight. Further, the implications of the bout are potentially quite significant as it should lead to even more intriguing matches in the not too distant future. So without further ado, here are The Fight City Picks for Pacquiao vs Thurman. Check ’em out:
Much of what we know about Manny Pacquiao’s ability in recent years has been laid bare, even if only in a few fights. We know he’s older, his legs are giving him issues, and he’s considerably more gun-shy than he was in his prime. But there is a false narrative that Keith Thurman is one of the best welterweights around. “One Time” has assumed a throne without really having to earn it. His two big wins came against fighters who, between them, have one big win at welterweight. Even if he is a very talented fighter, his claim to the throne is hollow.
Thurman defeats Guerrero in 2015: a hollow claim?
That being said, this would be as good a time as any for Thurman to pick Pacquiao off. But stylistically there are a few issues here for “One Time.” Though explosive at times, Thurman is inconsistent with his output and fades down the stretch. He also tends to not move his head, and to hold his right hand low. And we’ve seen him hurt by fighters who don’t punch like even this version of Pacquiao. Additionally, Thurman consistently flounders about when rocked. Against Pacquiao, the hope for Thurman is to wrest control of the pace and range in the early going and get his feet moving, befuddling Manny and keeping him off-balance. But I doubt he’ll be able to keep that up for very long. And I suspect Pacquiao will be able to catch up just enough later in the fight to hurt Thurman and win the rounds required take a (possibly controversial) verdict. Pacquiao by decision. —Patrick Connor
During a recent interview, Manny Pacquiao said that Thurman reminds him of Ricky Hatton. Here’s why this is a poor stylistic comparison: Thurman won’t go after Pacquiao, who is sneaky good on the counter, as recklessly as Hatton. In fact, I reckon he will treat Pacquiao with respect and box off the back foot. Furthermore, I’m of the opinion that Pacquiao’s opposition has flattered him lately and that Thurman represents his best opponent since he fought Floyd Mayweather Jr. almost five years ago. Keith looked rusty against Josesito Lopez, but I think a better prepared, more motivated “One Time” uses the ring, frustrates Pacquiao with his jab and check left hook (the latter will be especially effective as the Filipino southpaw feints with his right to tee up his straight left), and wins a clear decision. —Lee Wylie
Did Broner “flatter” Pacquiao?
Manny Pacquiao has been in decline for some time, and while he’s still a good fighter, his recent success has been a bit of a mirage. Outworking Adrien Broner and beating up the shell of Lucas Matthysse doesn’t mean the Pacman can defeat a top talent like Keith Thurman. If this bout was against the version of Pac that demolished Miguel Cotto, then Thurman would be in trouble. But it’s 2019. Thurman is younger, stronger, much larger, and has the footwork to force the smaller man to give chase and walk into counters. I struggle to think of a way Pacquiao can consistently close the gap and win exchanges. Although he may have a few moments, this will be the night that Pacquiao looks truly old. Thurman by wide decision, ten rounds to two. –Hunter Breckenridge
Pacquiao vs Thurman is a fight that looks more intriguing on paper than it will be in the ring. In their respective primes, Pacquiao and Thurman were explosive fighters who may have paired nicely but with Pacquiao past 40 and Thurman more than two years out from facing a top-level welterweight, we may be looking at a very tactical fight that features plenty of holding and missed punches. Pacquiao will likely be the aggressor, while Thurman will attempt to move and counter punch, occasionally opening up with a combination when he feels the senator is vulnerable. But the Filipino is too experienced and savvy to give Keith too many open looks, and the fight will evolve into a tactical chess match. Thurman’s hunger will lead him to a close victory on the scorecards, but not one that actually elevates him in the red-hot welterweight division. —Alden Chodash
“One Time” may need to be sharper than he was against Josesito.
Keith Thurman’s recent performances, combined with injuries and inactivity, don’t exactly inspire confidence. And although he possesses undeniable talent, he can be hurt, and he doesn’t appear to carry the same pop and explosiveness as he once did. There’s an aura of fragility surrounding Thurman that doesn’t bode well against the somewhat resurgent Manny Pacquiao, who thanks to a combination of experience, boxing ability, and unorthodox style, should be able to pull off a decision victory. Expect a cagey start with Pacquiao pulling away in the second half of the fight by outworking and outfighting his younger opponent, leading to a clear unanimous decision win. —Zachary Alapi
Keith Thurman’s last outing was far from impressive, but in my opinion he’s the welterweight champion with the most impressive résumé. I fancy Thurman to win as he’s fresher and also carries the physical advantages going into the fight, but if he shows up as he did against Josesito Lopez, it’s going to be a long night. —Craig Scott
Pacquiao will outsmart and out-speed Thurman and win a decision. He’s still got it at forty years-old. He’s in the church, remains disciplined, and takes care of his body. Look at Pacquiao’s last fight: he was like a machine, very busy, very effective. Thurman is good, but I wasn’t impressed at all with his performance against Joselito Lopez, not at all. Pacquiao is going to take it. —Howard Grant, trainer at Grant Brothers Boxing Gym
Speed kills. Obviously, the term is an exaggeration when it comes to the ring, but Pacquiao still has enough nitro in the tank to make it a long night for Thurman. Something seemed to have happened to “One Time” after he took that gut shot from Collazo a few years back. He’s still an excellent fighter, but the promise of yesteryear appears unfulfilled. Thurman won, albeit by a sliver, in a terrific fight with Shawn Porter, but his lack of interest in facing Errol Spence Jr is telling. Can Thurman pull it off on the 20th? Sure. Will he? I don’t think so. Experience at the highest levels of the game, and a mistakenly written-off skill set, should carry the day for the Filipino icon. Pacquiao by split decision. —Sean Crose
Two or three years ago, I would have picked the younger and fresher Thurman to beat a forty-year-old Pacquiao. But Thurman’s inactivity coupled with his hard-fought comeback victory over Josesito Lopez have left me unconvinced. He was too easy to hit and took far too many punches in the second half of that fight. Meanwhile, the Pacman showed enough in his wins over Matthysse and Broner to prove that he still has the speed, energy, and ring nous to outfight most welterweights, including the recent version of Keith Thurman. Pacquiao on points. —Matt O’Brien
If Collazo could hurt Keith, might Pacquiao?
Although it is questionable that Pacquiao is still contesting at the highest level of the sport, he has more than enough to score a decision win against Thurman. In his return fight against Josesito Lopez, Thurman often stood and took flurries of punches, and when unable to hop on his bicycle to flee, “One Time” would sit on the ropes and take more abuse. Pacquiao is a considerable step up in competition compared to Lopez, so unless Thurman begins to look like his former self, Pacman will batter his way to a decision. —Jeffrey Fuss
Manny is a legend and definitely still has skills, and Thurman’s a very good fighter, so it’s not as if Pacquiao is just looking to cash a check here. But I suspect that “One Time” is going to be better than he showed in his comeback fight against Josesito López and that Pacquiao might be just a notch slower due to age. Thurman is a much better opponent than Broner and Matthysse, so in a match-up that’s pretty even, I’ll pick youth to prevail. Thurman will successfully use his size advantage to keep Pacquiao at a distance for a good chunk of the fight and pile up points. Thurman by close decision. —Joshua Isard
Thurman has been ridiculing Pac as a “bunny rabbit.” If he’s deluded himself into underestimating Pac, he’s making a huge mistake. Pac might be too much, too soon for the man who in his last fight was nearly knocked out by Josesito Lopez. Bob Arum says Thurman can’t fight anymore. And there was a time Freddy Roach wouldn’t let his aging fighter get anywhere near someone of Thurman’s caliber, but now Freddy “sees what Bob Arum saw.” And so I say: Don’t sleep on the PacMan! If everything is on the up and up in Vegas, Pac very well could win on the cards and he might even knockout Mr. “One Time.” —Ralph M. Semien
Thurman has skills but his career has been totally undermined by the Al Haymon philosophy which says boxers should do what they want while almost always playing it safe. I think he’s gotten soft and I think he’s got precious little love for the ring. He’s going to be too defensive as he looks to play it safe and avoid Manny’s power, and then his stamina problems are going to resurface. Meanwhile I think Pacquiao is a man on a mission. He motivates himself because he’s fighting for more than money or fame and this gives him a significant mental edge. I see Pacquiao dominating in the late going as Keith tires and the decision going to the Filipino legend. — Robert Portis
I think Keith will implement enough movement and defensive tactics to frustrate the Filipino legend, while stepping in on occasion to land big power shots that will push Pacquiao back. Manny’s footwork will be a crucial factor as he tries to use angles and counter, but I don’t see a particularly fast-paced or high volume fight happening. I see Thurman landing enough big shots, while evading most of the Pac Man’s forays, to impress the judges and win on points. Thurman by split decision. –James Simpson
Will we see this familiar sight again?
No matter how hard I try, I can’t see a 40-year-old Pacquiao pulling this off. Thurman is younger, bigger, stronger and an exceptional fighter in his own right, swift and dynamic with plenty of tactical acumen. Prime Pacquiao could conceivably combat those attributes, but he is not the fireball of old. I see a competitive contest for a few rounds before Thurman accelerates down the stretch, landing eye-catching counters on an advancing Pac and staying largely elusive. Thurman by clearcut, unanimous decision. — Ronnie McCluskey
Sports picks are little more than guess work but it’s fun to try and predict winners and losers, even though countless unforeseen elements can always determine the outcome. But typically, in a truly big fight, there is no single major factor that renders all others inconsequential; for Pacquiao vs Thurman, that is unfortunately the case. Manny Pacquiao is 40-years-old. Say what you want about Keith Thurman, but he is not Jeff Horn or Jessie Vargas, and he certainly isn’t a washed-up Lucas Matthysse, or a mentally weak pretender like Adrien Broner. No one will be happier than me if I’m wrong and we get to see the always-game Filipino score a remarkable victory over the rarely-game “One Time,” but I certainly wouldn’t bet on it. I would be more apt to put my money on Thurman looking sharper than he did against Josesito Lopez. And even if he doesn’t, all other things equal, youth beats age in boxing, and I suspect that’s what we’ll see on Saturday. Thurman by decision. — Michael Carbert
When the United States Olympic Boxing Team sauntered away with a staggering nine gold medals in 1984, Pernell Whitaker was actually lost in the shuffle.
First came an amateur prodigy out of New York named Mark Breland who stole the vast majority of the press from everyone else on the team, but then there were also bigger guys like Evander Holyfield and Henry Tillman who scored more knockouts. Where did a throwback defensive wizard even fit in?
Whitaker on his way to winning Olympic gold in 1984.
“I’ve been getting more appreciated since retirement,” Whitaker told an interviewer in 2018. “I get more acknowledgement now than I did when I was fighting.”
It took years for Whitaker’s genius to be fully grasped by fans and pundits alike, and just when it seemed he’d found a groove in retirement — training, on the lookout for young fighters to mentor — the boxing world lost him.
“Sweet Pea” Whitaker, the four-division champion, was struck by a car and killed in Virginia Beach, Virginia on Sunday night. He was only 55.
Sadly Whitaker knew about falling short, despite tabbing only four losses in 46 professional bouts. The first one, in his first crack at a major world title, left a painful sting. And it wasn’t the broken left hand he’d fought with for half the night. He had outclassed WBC lightweight champion Jose Luis Ramirez, but the judges’ scorecards said different.
A despondent Whitaker said after the fight, “You can’t get a better win. I beat him with one hand.”
Most news outlets called the decision a blatant robbery and after the fight Whitaker’s manager Lou Duva went nuclear, accusing late WBC president Jose Sulaiman of fight fixing. “Sulaiman is a goddamned thief!” he screamed into the television cameras. Indeed it seemed the power structure, looking for an all-Mexico lightweight unification between WBA champion Julio Cesar Chavez and Ramirez, had acted accordingly.
After defeating Greg Haugen for the IBF title and then avenging the putrid Ramirez decision by dominating the Mexican in a rematch, Whitaker wouldn’t be defeated until Oscar De La Hoya ran off with a dodgy verdict in their close 1997 fight. But it was a draw in 1993 that almost turned Pernell away from the sport entirely.
Whitaker bested Chavez in 1993 but the judges scored it a draw.
Julio Cesar Chavez brought nearly ninety victories and no defeats into the ring against Whitaker in San Antonio, but not a ton else. Whitaker smothered most of the incoming, landed the most jarring punches of the fight, and even out-fought Chavez at times, but was still denied a win by the judges.
El Paso Times writer Bill Knight watched the bout among several hundred stunned and silent Chavez supporters at the El Paso civic center. And, said Knight, it was Whitaker, landing some ninety more punches on Chavez, who won over most of those in attendance. “Sweet Pea” had a way of doing that.
The wonkiness of the Ramirez and Chavez outcomes epitomize much of what is still wrong with boxing twenty-five years later and the Chavez fight in particular is often called one of the worst decisions of all-time. They were both memorably bad: the week after the Chavez bout, the cover of Sports Illustrated showed Pernell landing a jab on Julio with the word “Robbed!” in big, bold letters.
After the fight “The Lion of Culiacán” told Whitaker, “You have a lot of courage. We’ll make a lot of money in the rematch.”
But Chavez, who shortly thereafter suffered his first career loss to Frankie Randall, knew what awaited in a rematch. Whitaker made almost everyone look bad, and no fighter wants to look bad if they can help it. The lucrative rematch never came. But Whitaker didn’t mind. Not outwardly, at least. The draw meant he still walked away with his belt and he managed to view the entire ordeal as a net positive. “Controversy always sells,” he said. “It was worth being on the cover of Sports Illustrated.”
Besides, the next time Whitaker donned SI’s cover, in 1994, it read, “The Best: Welterweight King Pernell Whitaker, Pound for Pound the Finest Fighter in the World.”
For most of the 90s, Whitaker was clearly ‘The Best.’
Ultimately the De La Hoya fight proved to be Whitaker’s final strong showing, and the Norfolk, Virginia native struggled with drug addiction in his final years as a professional fighter. A 1997 win over Andrey Pestryaev was ruled a no contest and a 1998 fight against Ghanaian boxer-puncher Ike Quartey was canceled entirely; both due to Whitaker testing positive for cocaine.
Things got even messier from there. In 2001 Whitaker was arrested for bringing cocaine to traffic court, and the following year he caught a charge for possession of cocaine, violating his probation. His final bout, against Carlos Bojorquez in 2001, saw Whitaker bow out with a broken clavicle after four rounds. But the International Boxing Hall of Fame rightly recognized Whitaker’s accomplishments and inducted him in 2007.
Making De La Hoya look bad in 1997.
Winning fights isn’t easy. Becoming a multiple-division champion is harder still, never mind rising above all other fighters around. But to do those things with little punching power and a decidedly unaesthetic boxing style requires something truly special. Whitaker did this for more than a decade.
Despite his being taken from us far too early, his journey seemed to come full circle: from world amateur champion at 132 pounds as a teen, to fallen lightweight great, to actively seeking out kids who need help. Maybe Pernell saw something of himself in those kids, or maybe he just sought to give back to the community that finally started treating him how he deserved. But that circle is now broken before it could ever see a truly fitting conclusion.
Much of being a boxing fan is simply preparing one’s self for when cherished fighters fall. Boxers, perhaps the most human of us all, are guaranteed to fail. If not in the ring, then away from it or, with near certainty, after it. Few things compare to the highs and lows of riding the fight rails. And prematurely losing one of the greatest fighters of a generation is a deep low.
Pernell Whitaker knew a thing or two about being robbed. And now boxing is robbed of him. — Patrick Connor
As all admirers of Lee Wylie are no doubt aware, he is an aficionado of the finer points of boxing technique, the often overlooked subtleties and arcane methods of advanced ringcraft. Thus it should surprise no one that he is an enthusiast of the prizefighter they call “El Intocable,” the chain-smoking defensive genius from Argentina who dazzled fans with his extraordinary reflexes, clever tactics, and ability to control the ring.
After an astonishing amateur career that saw him lose only five times in 122 bouts, Locche turned pro in 1958. He would go on to win Argentine and South American championships at lightweight before moving up to 140 pounds. He won the world title in 1968 and boasts victories over such elite talents as Joe Brown, Eddie Perkins, Carlos Hernandez, and Antonio Cervantes, and he drew with both Ismael Laguna and the great Carlos Ortiz.
In Wylie’s newest creation, he focuses on Locche’s awesome title-winning performance against Takeshi Fuji in December of 1968. Locche was the underdog, but to everyone’s surprise the match wasn’t even close; showing remarkable skill and audacity, “El Intocable” controlled the ring, dominated the champion and annexed the world title.
Locche schools Fuji.
In his new video Wylie shows how Locche achieved this great win and the specific tactics which, in Wylie’s view, make the Argentinian a true boxing “genius,” a brilliant defensive maestro whose ring proficiency, when he was in his prime, was perhaps second only to that of Willie Pep. Check it out:
In a night of New Jersey homecomings, Newark native and 2016 Olympic silver medalist Shakur Stevenson made quick work of late replacement Alberto Guevara, scoring a knockout in round three. It was clear that Guevara, who took the fight on short notice after Franklin Manzanilla and Hairon Socarras both pulled out, did not appear physically nor mentally primed to compete, as he backpedaled aimlessly for much of the match.
An easy night’s work for Shakur.
Stevenson scored a pair of knockdowns in round two and appeared on his way to an easy stoppage in the third before a shot below the belt gave Guevara a few minutes to gather his bearings. But it wasn’t enough, as Shakur pounced on Guevara when action resumed and dropped him for the third time, this time for the full count.
“Top Rank gotta give me better competition,” said Stevenson following the blowout and he implored Arum to match him against the best. “I want the IBF and the WBO [Warrington and Valdez]. I would love to go to England to fight Josh Warrington!” We’ll have to wait and see if manager Andre Ward and promoter Bob Arum take the necessary steps to fulfill the young contender’s wishes before the year is up.
“Top Rank gotta give me better competition” said Stevenson after the fight.
In the co-main, Chicago bantamweight Joshua Greer Jr. won a hard-fought majority decision over slick Russian contender Nikolai Potapov. Greer took the fight to Potapov, but the Russian used a stiff jab and good footwork to set up solid combinations and counter punches. Greer landed effectively to the body, but Potapov took over in the middle rounds, really controlling Greer from range. Greer came back to hurt Potapov to the body in round ten and he punctuated his performance with a strong final round to secure the win on two of the judges’ cards; the third saw it a draw. The Fight City scored it for Potapov by two points.
Greer improves to 21-1-1 (12 KOs) with the win, and earns the NABO bantamweight title and a number two spot in the IBF rankings. The crowd did not enjoy the action however, even while the two fought at a high level throughout in a close and competitive affair.
A sustained body attack helped Greer secure the decision victory.
“The booing didn’t bother me,” said Greer. “I know I won the fight. Every time I hit him to the body, I hurt him. I didn’t get the knockout, but I got the win. Next time out, you’ll see the pillow again.” Greer was forced to go the distance for the first time since April of 2017, snapping his seven fight stoppage streak.
Potapov’s team was not satisfied with the outcome. “We feel we got robbed, as do boxing fans,” said Potapov’s promoter Dmitry Salita. “ESPN and the media had Nikolai winning. We are going to appeal the decision. ESPN is a great platform for the sport of boxing. We are grateful for the opportunity … [but] Nikolai won the fight!”
Vargas was in complete control against Lopez.
Bronx prospect Josue Vargas looked impressive in scoring a seventh round stoppage of a game Manuel Lopez. Vargas outboxed Lopez for much of the fight, but began to hurt his durable opponent in the latter stages as he began to add the uppercut to his arsenal. Lopez was ready to go late in round seven and Vargas poured it on with a series of unanswered punches that prompted referee Sparkle Lee to intervene. Vargas improves to 14-1 (9 KOs) with the win, his only loss via disqualification early in his career.
Making his pro debut in front of a ecstatic New Jersey fan base, 17-year-old high school senior Vito Mielnicki scored a brilliant first round knockout over Tamarcus Smith. Mielnicki scored with a left hook that knocked Smith out cold, leaving him flat on his face. Mielnicki was granted an exemption by New Jersey to turn professional before the age of eighteen and showed fans exactly why he earned the privilege. Once a standout amateur, Mielnicki might be an exciting prospect to keep an eye on and appears to be a shoe-in for prom king at West Essex High School.
Mielnicki showcased both power and finesse.
In his first outing since his nearly two year layoff due to injury, Julian “Hammer Hands” Rodriguez scored a sensational first round knockout over Hevinson Herrera. Rodriguez came out poised, and used a beautiful left hook-straight right combination to floor the Columbian veteran. Rodriguez improved to 17-0 (11 KOs) with the win, and hopes to make headway in the 140 pound division in the near future.
Following the fight, Rodriguez played to his local following. “That’s what [the fans] like about me. When they come here, they see a show.”
Rodriguez scored a quick KO to commence his comeback.
Unbeaten New Jersey southpaw John Bauza looked impressive in out-boxing a rugged but outclassed Angel Sarinana, scoring a unanimous shutout after eight rounds. Bauza, who is trained by Robert Garcia, didn’t showcase much power as he appeared to land everything but the kitchen sink on Sarinana without much effect, but nonetheless showcased impressive combinations and defensive ability throughout. With the win, Bauza improves to 13-0 (5 KOs).
Bauza consistently held his distance and controlled the fight from range.
Popular Indian 168 pounder Vijender Singh dominated Michael Snider, forcing the referee to step in after Singh scored a series of unanswered punches in round four. Singh looked sluggish in his first fight back after a 19 month layoff, but nonetheless faced little in return from Snider. With the win, Singh improves to 11-0 (8 KOs), and it remains to be seen if the Indian prospect will add to his massive social media following (3.8M Twitter followers) with his first appearance in the US and on ESPN.
“It was excellent getting back in the ring after a long time off,” said Singh. “It’s great to be in here in the USA and to get the win.”
Adorno opened the event in style.
And in the opening fight of the night, unbeaten lightweight prospect Joseph Adorno made quick work of Adriano Ramirez, scoring a knockout at 1:12 of round two. Adorno decked Ramirez twice in the second round, both times with the left hook, and referee Sparkle Lee waved off the contest following the second knockdown. Adorno improves to 13-0 (11 KOs) with the win. — Alden Chodash
Prior to Micky Ward vs Emanuel Augustus, Fight of the Year laurels were typically reserved for higher profile battles than those headlining ESPN’s “Friday Night Fights.” Performing for a twenty-sixth time on ESPN, 35-year-old, 46-fight veteran “Irish” Micky Ward neared the tail-end of a wildly entertaining career as he and Augustus (then Emanuel Burton) boasted a combined record of 60-27-4, making the match a fitting headliner in that it promised to be a fun, though perhaps less-than-significant, clash. But then again, sometimes a fight is so intense and dramatic that the excitement quotient alone translates to genuine significance. Such was the case for Ward vs Augustus.
After all, records rarely tell the full story, especially in the case of these two game battlers, who gave boxing much more than mere entertainment on this date back in 2001. While it had taken the Lowell, Massachusetts-based Irishman more than a decade to make a name for himself, Ward had convinced many with his startling liver shot KO of Alfonso Sanchez. Since then, Micky had pushed a young Zab Judah to the brink in what Zab later called his toughest fight, before scoring impressive knockouts against Shea Neary and Steve Quinonez, establishing himself as the kind of entertaining battler fans love to root for.
Few thought Ward could defeat Alfonso Sanchez but he stopped him in six.
Meanwhile, if Emanuel didn’t have a great deal to show on paper for his 24-17-4 run as a pro, he too knew how to entertain. A victim of neglectful management and poor matchmaking, Burton had been thrown in with the wolves during the nascent phases of his development and often made to take fights on extremely short notice. It wasn’t until he faced Floyd Mayweather Jr. that Augustus made a name for himself, drawing blood from “Pretty Boy” before ultimately coming up short in a war that Floyd would later call the toughest fight of his career.
Floyd called the battle with Augustus his toughest hour.
Ward and Burton met in Hampton Beach, New Hampshire in a match-up that promised plenty of fireworks between two men with nothing to lose and everything to gain. And to further increase the chances of something action-packed erupting, the referee selected was none other than Steve Smoger, who had a solid reputation for taking a hands-off approach and letting pugilists freely mix it up.
Almost immediately, Ward brought the fight to Augustus: driving him to the corner and setting himself to unload a fearsome attack in an opening round that set the stage for what would be an unforgettable struggle. Augustus started the second in the center of the ring, landing the cleaner punches on Micky before Ward once again pinned his man against the ropes, smothering him with mean-spirited firepower. If Augustus was landing effectively off the ropes, he was also clearly fighting Micky’s fight, and despite how much fun Augustus looked to be having with his characteristic smiles and showboating, it didn’t appear Ward’s patented left hook to the liver was much of a laughing matter.
Ward and Augustus mix it up.
Emanuel started to get into a rhythm in the third, dancing and bouncing around Micky in what appeared to be a mildly successful attempt to get into Ward’s head. But Micky continued to do what he did best, and in the fourth it appeared the naturally more elusive Augustus was perfectly content to engage in a back-and-forth slugfest that was truly beautiful to behold.
“Anybody watching this fight at home, in between rounds call your friends up,” said ESPN commentator Teddy Atlas. “You’re seeing something that you don’t see too often.”
The zeal displayed in the seemingly perpetual exchanges just spoke for the level of professionalism and competitive nature of both warriors, who were generating some staggering CompuBox stats in the process. Throwing and landing at a combined average of 210 and 74 punches per round, the war showed no signs of abating in round five where Augustus appeared to hurt Micky with a series of shots thrown with his back to the ropes.
Atlas was in awe of what he was watching.
While Ward rebounded in the sixth, Augustus absolutely teed off in the seventh, even giving Micky a taste of his own medicine with a left hook to the body that stopped “Irish” dead in his tracks. Ward fired back in the eighth, but Augustus looked like the fresher of the two as they fiercely exchanged down the stretch, neither giving an inch in close quarters.
But near the end of round nine, and just when the fight appeared to be slipping out of reach for Ward, the pride of Lowell, Mass. landed his money shot, a vicious left hook to the liver. Augustus, who had walked through scores of hellacious blows to this point, was finally driven to his knees. Ever the warrior, he beat Smoger’s count, and then, rather than try to survive for the remainder of the round, went right back at Micky, engaging in a dramatic if ill-advised slugfest against an emboldened Irishman who smelled blood.
Ward’s body punching made the difference late.
Going into round ten, Ward had thrown over a thousand punches, but if he had fired off more shots, Augustus had still landed 358 blows. The two had put up the numbers for a fast-paced twelve round war, and there was still one more stanza to go; naturally, they both emptied their gas tanks in a riveting conclusion to an amazing donnybrook, with a merciless barrage of leather from both sides. With thirty seconds to go, Micky stepped back after taking a right upstairs and a left to the body and Augustus came after him. He scored with a powerful one-two but Ward fired back with a big left. They kept trading as the crowd roared and the final ten seconds were a wild scene. And as the bell rang, Smoger didn’t so much separate the two men as embrace them, clearly in awe of what he had just witnessed.
“Fight of the year!” screamed Atlas. And with Ward throwing 175 punches to Augustus’s 129 in that final round, it was hard to argue that Atlas was doing anything more than stating the obvious, as both had pitched a herculean effort through thirty minutes of carnage. And if the final decision for Ward was well-earned, unfortunately the official score cards did not reflect the true nature of the contest, one of them in Micky’s favour by an absurd eight point margin. Make no mistake, both men had performed to their utmost abilities in a highly competitive clash.
The victory over Burton paved the way for Ward’s great trilogy with Gatti.
A sixteen year veteran by the time he beat Augustus, it was hard to imagine Ward having much left on his odometer at this stage. But sure enough, a year later he commenced his “Fight of the Year”-laden trilogy with Arturo Gatti, giving fans thirty rounds of thrilling combat. After that he finally sailed off into the sunset, ending his career with a stretch of amazing battles and, fortunately for him, some well-deserved big paydays.
As for Augustus, his tough luck continued to follow him until he finally hung them up for good in 2011. Retiring with one of the most deceiving records ever known to the sport of boxing at 38-34-6, Emanuel Augustus is just another example of why not to judge a book by its cover, especially inside the squared circle. — Alden Chodash
Micky Ward vs Emanuel Augustus [Full Fight] - YouTube
To say that boxing is not as popular as it once was is to utter an obvious truth and in the discussions that then ensue there are no shortage of usual suspects for why this is so. Boxing will always survive, despite the various problems plaguing it, regardless of the different controversies, the countless bad decisions, the failed drug tests, or the absurdity of having several different world “champions” for each weight class in this crazy sport that has fans shaking their heads in bewilderment as often as it leaves us thrilled and inspired.
But perhaps the chief culprit for pugilism’s retreat from the mainstream, from it occupying, as it clearly once did, a central position in the larger culture, is the simple fact that there is less of it. Live fight cards of import are exceedingly rare outside of boxing’s capital cities, and few pay-per-view events — what we once called superfights — are attractive enough to capture the attention or the dollars of mainstream sports fans.
Part of the larger culture: the first Ali vs Frazier superfight was bigger than sports.
Meanwhile, most telling is the fact that now, more often than not, the most attractive duels just aren’t happening. In order to stay relevant, boxing needs big fights, matches of genuine significance, to occur on a regular basis. After all, intriguing clashes that create excitement are the reason boxing exists in the first place. But there appear now to be too many obstacles, too many barriers, blocking superfights from happening. Of course, this isn’t exactly new; such hurdles have always been part of the fight game. So let’s take a look back at how the obstacles which prevent the best from fighting the best have evolved over time.
1. Legality: Before anything else, what got in the way of a good ol’ blockbuster prizefight back in the day was the pesky obstacle of the law. And even now boxing endures the claim of criminality, as countries such as Norway and Sweden have only recently made pugilism legal, while it remains banned in places like Iceland and Saudi Arabia. More to the point, during the 1800’s, and despite widespread interest, it was a criminal activity in much of the United States, though those barriers began to lift, largely on a state-by-state basis, by the turn of the last century.
In the past illegal prizefights took place in the middle of fields or forests.
Thus many historic fights were staged in obscure locations to evade police detection, including John L. Sullivan vs Paddy Ryan or Jack McAullife vs Harry Gilmore, which were fought outdoors and in a blacksmith shop, respectively. However, many potential classics were deterred by the fear of the authorities intervening, including the first fight between “Gentleman” Jim Corbett and Joe Choyinski, which had to be postponed due to police interference. But once legal restrictions began to subside in the early 20th century, other barriers emerged.
2. Racism: As pugilism gained more legitimacy, so too did the best black boxers of the time and the obstacle of the so-called “color line” derailed numerous excellent match-ups. Those impacted include the great Peter Jackson, Sam Langford, Harry Wills, Sam McVea, and Joe Jeanette, all of whom fell short of getting a title shot due to the color of their skin. Highly popular white heavyweight champion Jack Dempsey reportedly considered facing both Wills and Langford, but serious efforts to make such matches happen never got very far, in large part because white America had been so traumatized by the reign of Jack Johnson.
The great Sam Langford (left) battles the great Harry Wills in one of their 17 tilts.
While the far more placid Joe Louis, boxing’s second black heavyweight king, helped subside to some degree the otherwise widespread racist sentiments which reached a crescendo during Johnson’s incumbency, racial inequality in matchmaking persisted. If the age of the “Great White Hope” had passed (for now), a supreme warrior like Archie Moore still had to wait until he had no fewer than 160 bouts on his record and was 36-years-old before he finally got his first championship fight.
Sadly, numerous top talents were barred from competing for world titles because they happened to be black, including such brilliant ringmen as Charley Burley, Holman Williams, and Eddie Booker, just to name a few. The members of the famed “Murderers Row” instead had to battle each other over and over again, with Holman and the brilliant “Cocoa Kid” facing each other an amazing thirteen times.
Holman Williams and Cocoa Kid.
While racial preclusion became less of an issue in the latter half of the 20th century, racial exploitation created mega-fights out of match-ups that otherwise wouldn’t have been major events, the classic example being the 1982 heavyweight superfight which featured world champion Larry Holmes and Caucasian contender Gerry Cooney.
“I fight three black guys and don’t make the money,” pointed out Holmes at the time. “But I fight one white guy and make all the money.”
While Cooney was a legit contender, he was hardly battle-tested or deserving of a title shot, his only truly significant victory being a quick blowout over an inactive, 37-year-old Ken Norton. And yet he found himself leap-frogging over the best contenders in the world to get a shot at Holmes, while other legit title threats like Greg Page or Pinklon Thomas represented high risk, low reward propositions because they lacked Cooney’s pale complexion.
Cooney battles Holmes:
But if the racist dynamics of the 1970’s and 80’s have, to some degree at least, faded into the background, another stumbling block of that time has only gotten worse and remains arguably more difficult to overcome due to its organizational underpinnings.
3. Sanctioning Organizations: Before all hell broke loose with “regular,” “interim,” “super,” and now, laughably, “franchise” champions, there was the National Boxing Association, who sanctioned their first official title match in 1921 between Jack Dempsey and Georges Carpentier. While the NBA was, compared to today, a rather benign enterprise, their transformation into the World Boxing Association in 1962 gave rise to one of boxing’s most controversial organizations. A year later the World Boxing Council formed in Mexico City in 1963, followed by the International Boxing Federation in 1983, and finally the World Boxing Organization in 1988.
The first NBA title fight: Dempsey vs Carpentier.
In addition to all the controversy, corruption, sanctioning fees, and phony mandatory contenders, sanctioning bodies also play an active role in making big fights even more difficult to make. Of course, boxers who have the economic value of a Saul “Canelo” Alvarez can do without a belt, as he famously vacated the WBC middleweight title in 2015 rather than make a fight with Gennady Golovkin, but who else has that luxury?
The unfortunate truth is that without a belt to their name, top fighters, no matter how talented, often have little to no negotiating power to make the matches the fans want to see. Take Brian Castano, for example. After engaging in a terrific back-and-forth draw with Erislandy Lara in March, an immediate rematch was derailed by the WBA’s inexplicable insistence that Castano face a “regular” title mandatory challenger in Michel Soro, a French contender Castano previously defeated in 2017. The point here is not to denigrate Soro, but to highlight that if it were not for the WBA, we likely wouldn’t have to wait for a Castano vs Lara rematch, which is clearly the more attractive — not to mention logical — next fight for both men.
Lara and Castano should be fighting again, but the WBA says ‘no way.’
The power of enforcing mandatory defenses would be more widely accepted if the mandatory challengers themselves deserved to be considered “mandatory,” which is often not the case. Recently, the WBA somehow found a way to declare Fres Oquendo, a former fringe contender who has been inactive since 2014, as their WBA “regular” heavyweight title mandatory challenger. In other words, the WBA are content to have Oquendo stand in the way of far more deserving, not to mention active, fighters. This is nothing short of lunacy.
But if the absurd decisions of such farcical organizations get in the way of the big fights we all really want to see, so too do the machinations of other operations with their own vested interests.
4. The Promoters & Broadcasters: With the demise of HBO Boxing, we are left with three principle venues to access live fights: ESPN, DAZN, and PBC/Showtime. And while each network originally appeared to be a bargain to many fans due to the broad access they offer, top level fighters such as Terence Crawford and Canelo Alvarez have each committed to fight on ESPN and DAZN, respectively, for the foreseeable trajectory of their careers.
For better or for worse, Canelo is married to DAZN.
Extensive network deals are nothing new, but the boxing has already been frustrated enough by dueling networks and their cold wars and with prime attractions like Lennox Lewis vs Mike Tyson and Floyd Mayweather vs Manny Pacquiao being delayed for years. And unlike the recent era dominated by the HBO vs Showtime rivalry, the playing field has expanded such that there are at least three major networks whose interests will conflict with the collaborations we need to make serious fights happen.
So now getting the promoters to play nice is only one piece of a very complex puzzle. Where rival promoters have shared a common television ground in the past, now the biggest promotional entities have each carved out their niche in specific networks, and even casual fight fans now associate Matchroom with DAZN, Top Rank with ESPN, and Haymon (albeit not technically a promoter) with the slew of PBC networks (ie., Fox Sports 1, Showtime).
Arum and Haymon: Even if they could work together, would it be enough?
As we saw following Terence Crawford’s victory over Amir Khan, promoters can blame other promoters all they want for the fights not being made, but at the end of the day, that time could be better spent at the negotiating table, hammering away the details to make the truly big fights happen. Unfortunately, the negotiating table now contains as many barriers to entry as ever, and posturing on social media has become a way for the power brokers to give fans a false sense of transparency while downplaying how complicated such deals really are.
But whether they believe it or not, it is the fan, not to mention the sport at large, that ultimately loses. It has become easy to brand fighters behind a lucrative network deal, or an alphabet title belt, or victories over weak competition, but these don’t create a healthy sport, let alone a lasting legacy. Unless we find ways to tear down the brick walls dividing the different vested interests, too much talent and potential could be lost to a dispiriting era of politics and grand-standing. Indeed, undeniably, much has already been lost. Here’s hoping that trend can be reversed, if boxing is to ever again capture, and keep, center stage in the sports world. — Alden Chodash
Continuing our infrequent rankings of the all-time greatest boxers in each of the original eight weight classes, we offer our third installment in the series. We started with the middleweights, then the bantamweights, and now it’s time for the light heavyweights, a division with definitely more than one strong candidate for the top position. Please note, for simplicity’s sake we rank boxers in one division only, otherwise both Bob Fitzsimmons and Harry Greb, who figure prominently on our roster of the all-time greatest at 160, would surely have an impact on this list as well.
Charles downs Moore.
For many years the light heavyweights were viewed as the cruiserweights are by some today, a troupe of pugilists destined to eventually add some extra poundage so they might mix it up with the truly big men. Certainly the 175 pound class was never thought to be one of the so-called “glamour” divisions, this view reinforced by the failure of so many light heavyweight champions to scale the lofty peak of the heavyweights and claim it as their own. But over the decades it has boasted its share of legendary battlers, even if most of the very best at 175 never actually owned the division’s world title. Without further ado, our list of the greatest light heavyweights in boxing history:
12. John Henry Lewis: World champion with a career mark of 99-11-5, Lewis boasts wins over Bob Olin, Tiger Jack Fox, James Braddock and Maxie Rosenbloom.
John Henry Lewis
11. Harold Johnson: An excellent technician with a solid punch, Johnson scored victories over Archie Moore, Jimmy Bivins, Doug Jones, Eddie Machen and Ezzard Charles.
Johnson battles Eddie Cotton.
10. Jimmy Bivins: Scored wins over a long list of great 175 pounders including Ezzard Charles, Archie Moore, Joey Maxim and Lloyd Marshall, as well as some elite heavyweights.
9. Tommy Gibbons: A clever boxer who knew all the tricks, Gibbons bested a wealth of great talent including Harry Greb, Kid Norfolk, Billy Miske, Georges Carpentier, and Battling Levinsky. Battled Jack Dempsey in 1923 in the famous fight that bankrupted the town of Shelby, Montana.
8. Bob Foster:One of the most powerful of light heavyweights with knockouts over Dick Tiger, Mike Quarry, Chris Finnegan and Vicente Rondon. Recorded 14 world title defenses.
Foster stands over an unconscious Dick Tiger.
7. Billy Conn:When he was at the top of his game, few could match Conn for ring smarts. Defeated Young Corbett III, Fred Apostoli, Gus Lesnevich, Fritzie Zivic, Bob Pastor and Lee Savold. In one of the greatest of all heavyweight fights, came very close to dethroning a prime Joe Louis.
Conn (right) battles Louis.
6. Michael Spinks: Not only did Spinks become the first light heavyweight champion to win the heavyweight crown when he defeated Larry Holmes in 1985, he also excelled in a particularly strong 175 pound division, beating the likes of Eddie Mustafa Muhammad, Yaqui Lopez, Dwight Muhammad Qawi, Marvin Johnson and Eddie Davis.
Spinks (right) defeating Qawi in 1983.
5. Tommy Loughran: Unquestionably one of the most cerebral of ring technicians, “The Philly Phantom” defeated a long list of excellent fighters including Harry Greb, Mickey Walker, Young Stribling, Jeff Smith, Arturo Godoy, King Levinsky and Georges Carpentier.
4. Gene Tunney: “The Fighting Marine” never won the world crown, but that didn’t stop him from establishing himself as the best light heavyweight in the world while scoring wins over fellow greats Tommy Gibbons, Harry Greb, Jeff Smith and Georges Carpentier, before moving up to heavyweight to defeat the legendary Jack Dempsey.
3. Archie Moore: No one questions the greatness of “The Old Mongoose,” only where his name should be slotted on a list like this. With the most knockouts in boxing history and wins over Holman Williams, Jimmy Bivins, Lloyd Marshall, Bobo Olson, Eddie Cotton, Joey Maxim and Harold Johnson, Moore is forever an all-time great.
A young Archie Moore.
2. Sam Langford: “The Boston Terror” may have fewer all-time great light heavyweights on his record, but for much of his legendary career he fought as a light heavy, his weight in the vicinity of 175 pounds. The roster of great fighters Langford bested is amazingly long, despite the fact so many avoided him. The astonishing list of names includes Sam McVea, Philadelphia Jack O’Brien, Harry Wills, Joe Gans, Kid Norfolk, Jack Blackburn, Gunboat Smith, Big Bill Tate, Stanley Ketchel, and Joe Jeannette.
The immortal Langford.
1. Ezzard Charles: Competing at the same time as fellow great Archie Moore, Charles’ wins over Charles Burley, Joey Maxim, Lloyd Marshall, Gus Lesnevich and Jimmy Bivins are just part of why he tops this list. The other part is the fact he holds three wins over “The Old Mongoose” himself, which established “The Cincinnati Cobra” as the finest of his time at 175 before he went on to assault the heavyweights, defeat both Joe Louis and Jersey Joe Walcott, and then give Rocky Marciano the toughest battles of his career.
‘TBE’ of the light heavies.
Honorable Mentions: Jack Delaney, Roy Jones Jr., Maxie Rosenbloom, Georges Carpentier, Joey Maxim, Battling Levinsky, Eddie Mustafa Muhammad, Kid McCoy, Joe Choynski, Virgil Hill, Tiger Jack Fox, Marvin Johnson, Jack Dillon, Kid Norfolk, Matthew Saad Muhammad, Lloyd Marshall, Victor Galindez, Philadelphia Jack O’Brien.