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Articles of 2005

Why History Had To Wait For Holmes and Lewis

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I recently finished my list of the twenty greatest heavyweights in boxing history, something I'd been working on for almost two months. One of the best things about boxing is the passion it stimulates among those who really love and follow the sport. No doubt there have been many intense arguments and debates involving family members and friends as to who would win between Fighter-A and Fighter-B or who should rank higher on the all-time list. Personally, I love when someone makes a case during one of those debates that challenges my opinion, citing an angle I may have overlooked.

That being said, I have one major pet peeve when it comes to determining the historical rank of fighters, and like all other opinions I hold, I'm more than firm. One of my strongest beliefs is that it's impossible to accurately rate a fighter historically until we've seen a majority of their career, or it can be said with certainty that their best days are behind them. Never has that been more evident to me than when I was evaluating the heavyweight fighters I was considering for my top-twenty list.

The biggest mistake any boxing historian or fan can make is trying to evaluate a fighter's place in history while he's in the midst of his career or immediately after he registered his biggest win or suffered a major defeat. It goes without saying that Roy Jones wasn't as good as he looked in his rematch with Montell Griffin, nor was he as bad as he looked against Glen Johnson in his last fight. Think of the different fighters and where they'd rank historically if they never fought again after a big win or disappointing defeat.

The boxing “What Ifs” are endless. What if the Stock Market hadn't crashed in 1929, forcing retired lightweight champ Benny Leonard to return to the ring because he lost all of his money? How many titles could the late Salvador Sanchez have won if he had not died in a car accident at age 23? Muhammad Ali scored his biggest career victories during the 1970s, after his draft conviction was over turned by the United States Supreme Court. What if Ali lost the appeal and never fought again after 1967? Would he still be considered The Greatest, or at least one of them?

After arguing with myself for just under two months, my list was complete. The final edition of my top-twenty didn't turn out the way I had anticipated. I was totally shocked by where I slotted two fighters: Larry Holmes and Lennox Lewis. I followed Holmes throughout his entire career. During his title reign from 1978-1985, I was among those who constantly questioned his opposition. After many of Holmes' title defenses, I thought the result was more a case of his opponent losing than him winning.

I remember coming out of the Pittsburgh Civic Arena the night Holmes fought Renaldo Snipes. In that fight Holmes was seconds away from being counted out in the seventh round, courtesy of a big Snipes right hand. If someone would have told me that 24 years later I would anguish for weeks trying not to rank Holmes among the top five heavyweights of all time, I would have said they were out of their mind.

I must confess I called more than a few boxing junkies who I routinely converse with, asking them to talk me out of ranking Holmes number four. Some of their arguments were compelling, but not quite enough to change my mind. Based on career accomplishment, skill and how I think he would fare against the rest of the field at his best, I ranked Larry Holmes number four on my list, which no doubt some will consider too high.

Lennox Lewis was another fighter I slotted higher than I would have thought. Just as I'm sure many will think I have Holmes too high at number 4, many will think having Lewis at 11 is too low. And that's a fair point, since I had Evander Holyfield (who was 0-1-1 against Lewis) ranked above him at ten.

I ranked Holyfield above Lewis because their rematch was very close on my card, favoring Lewis 7-5 in rounds, which means one round turned the fight. When they fought in March and November of 1999, Holyfield was years removed from his best fighting days, only capable of fighting in spurts, and it was still very close. The level of competition they fought was basically a wash, and the best name fighter they both defeated was Mike Tyson. Holyfield fought Tyson in 1996 and 1997. Lewis fought him in 2002. Bottom line, Holyfield's best wins out rank Lewis' in my opinion, although I submit it's very close.

My chief rationale for ranking Holyfield over Lewis was that Holyfield had the better chin. The ability to take a punch plays a bigger role in determining how far a fighter can go in the heavyweight division, more so than in any other division; and, in fact, it's not even close. The list of great heavyweight champions who didn't possess an outstanding/great chin is very short, so short that only one name is on it: Lewis. Holyfield was never knocked out in his prime. Lewis was stopped twice during his career by one-punch knockouts. That was more than enough to justify why I ranked Holyfield over Lewis.

I don't take issue with those who would put Lewis above Holyfield. In the ring he beat him twice and held the title longer without losing it and having to regain it. The point is, an overwhelming case can be made to support Lewis among the top-ten greatest heavyweight champs in history. But had I been asked in 1993 or 1994 if I thought Lennox Lewis would be remembered as an all-time great when his career was over, I would have said definitely not.

Seeing him struggle with a faded Frank Bruno before knocking him out with a lottery punch was one thing, but I thought seeing him get knocked out by Oliver McCall in two rounds with one right hand a year late sealed his fate. On top of that, Lewis, hurt badly, was being held up by referee Octavio Meyran when the fight ended.

It’s what Lewis did after losing to McCall in 1994 that justifies his greatness. Lewis regained the title in 1997. From 1997 through 2003, Lewis defended his title against the best in the division, only suffering one defeat. In April of 2001 Lewis lost the title when he was knocked out by Hasim Rahman in the fifth round. Seven months later, Lewis reclaimed the title by knocking out Rahman in the fourth round. On February 6, 2004, Lewis retired, joining Jim Jeffries, Gene Tunney and Rocky Marciano as the only fighters to retire as heavyweight champion.

During their respective reigns as heavyweight champion, I didn't think Larry Homes or Lennox Lewis would be regarded as one of the top-ten heavyweight champions in history. I was wrong, and that's why fighters cannot be fairly judged in the eyes of history until their best days are behind them.

The mistake I made with Larry Holmes is easy to see in hindsight. I didn't know that after he was almost knocked out by Snipes he'd go on to make nine more successful title defenses. Who knew in November 1981 that Holmes would make more successful title defenses (20) than any other heavyweight champion in history with the exception of Joe Louis? Who knew that when he retired he'd rank third (behind Louis and Ali) in the number of heavyweight title bouts won (21)? Not me. And that number should really be 22. In his rematch with Michael Spinks, Holmes lost a split decision. That verdict for Spinks ranks as one of the biggest robberies in heavyweight title fight history.

In the case of Lennox Lewis, he was stopped by McCall in his third defense a little over a year after winning the title. It was impossible to foresee that Lewis would reclaim the crown and rack up a 12-1-1 in his next 14 championsip bouts through 2003, a record which shold really be be 13-1. The draw came in his first fight with Evander Holyfield, which he clearly won and ranks alongside Holmes-Spinks II as one of the worst decisions in a heavyweight title fight. When Lewis' career was complete, he ranked fourth (15) in number of heavyweight title bouts won, behind only Joe Louis, Muhammad Ali and Larry Holmes.

I have asserted for years that a fighter's place in history cannot fairly or accurately be evaluated until his best days are behind him. Once his best days have come and gone, only then do we know the magnitude of his accomplishments.

Since compiling my list of the twenty greatest heavyweights in boxing history, my position that a fighter must be at or approaching the end of his career before deciding his rightful place in history is stronger then ever. And just for the record, Larry Holmes and Lennox Lewis are two of the top dozen greatest heavyweights in boxing history. That's something I wouldn't have said on a dare about Holmes in 1981 or Lewis in 1993.

Articles of 2005

In Boxing News: Floyd Mayweather An All-Time Great, Valuev & More

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A Shot of Boxing on the Last Day of the Year

The Guardian reports that talks have already taken place between Nicolay Valuev‘s co-promoters – Don King and Wilfried Sauerland – and Danny Williams‘ promoter Frank Warren for Nicolay Valuev to face Danny Williams. I’d suggest Danny Williams needs to worry about Matt Skelton (who Williams is reportedly scheduled to fight in February) before he entertains notions of facing the Beast From The East.

The Mirror in the UK looks forward to a big year in boxing for 2006. The Mirror considers what the future might bring for Joe Calzaghe, Amir Khan and Ricky Hatton, among others.

The Parksville Qualicum News has an interesting column on the travails of former Canadian Super Middleweight title holder Mark Woolnough. Woolnough’s career turned controversial – as widely reported in the Canadian press – at the beginning of this year when Woolnough and four other men were charged with manslaughter and assault after a fight outside a Parksville nightclub. The case returns to court next month. It’s an interesting read, as Woolnough is still looking to the future with hope.

Our own Marc Lichtenfeld provides plenty of food for thought with his Top Ten Wish List for boxing in the New Year. There’s plenty of good stuff here, but what really jumped out for me is Lichtenfeld’s opinion that a win over Zab Judah could have Floyd Mayweather knocking on the door of all-time great status. Seems to me this might be jumping the gun a little. Or is Marc right? Will it soon be time to call Floyd Mayweather Jr. an all-time great?

(More Boxing News Links at TheSweetScience.com)

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Articles of 2005

ShoBox Friday Night Fights

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Hot bantamweight prospect Raul “The Cobra” Martinez heads back to Chicago next Friday night as he is featured in the co-main event of SHOBOX “THE NEW GENERATION,” an action packed evening of professional boxing presented by Dominic Pesoli’s 8 Count Productions,’ HOME OF THE BEST IN CHICAGO BOXING, Kathy Duva’s Main Events Inc., along with Miller Lite and TCF Bank.

The two-time national amateur champion sporting a perfect 12-0 record with 9 knockouts, six of which have come in the first round,  will take on Colombian Andres “Andy Boy” Ledesma, 13-1 (8 KOs) in a scheduled eight round bout.

Speaking after a training session at his home gym in Georgetown, Texas, Martinez said, “I’m truly looking forward to returning to Chicago. The fans were terrific in September, they were very supportive from the start of the fight,” an internationally televised first round knockout of Miguel Martinez on September 16th at the Aragon Ballroom.

Regarding his upcoming fight with Ledesma, “The Cobra” said, “I haven’t seen him fight, although I understand he’s fought at higher weights and will be naturally bigger than me. I’ve had great training for this fight and feel very confident. I really haven’t left the gym in months, just taking off Sunday’s and even then I get my running in. My thinking is that fights are won in the gym and complete preparation is the key.”

When asked about his being mentioned by Dan Rafael, ESPN’s boxing writer as one of the top prospect’s in the boxing world the 23-year-old San Antonio native said, ‘It’s a great compliment, but I still have much work to do. I want to be a champion for Main Events like Fernando Vargas and Arturo Gatti. But like Fernando said while he was in town, ‘be patient, work hard and your time will come.’”

Finishing the conversation, Martinez said, “I’m looking forward to starting out this year with a bang. I might have a couple less fights than the seven I had in 2005, but I’m looking to stepping up the competition, move up to ten-rounders and climb in the rankings.”

Headlining the evening is a ten-round welterweight showdown between boxing’s hottest prospect, unbeaten Joel Julio of Monteria, Columbia, and Ugandan native Roberto “The Doctor” Kamya. Julio, turning 21 years old the day before the fight, is 25-0 with 22 knockouts, twelve of which have come in the first two rounds. Kamya, now fighting out of West Palm Beach, Florida is 15-5 with four knockouts.

Tickets, starting at $30, are on sale in advance by calling 312-226-5800. Cicero Stadium is located at 1909 S. Laramie, at the corner of 19th and Laramie, just ten minutes south of the Eisenhower Expressway and ten minutes north of the Stevenson Expressway. Doors for this evening will open at 6pm with the first bell at 7pm.

The full bout lineup for the evening is:

Joel Julio vs. Roberto Kamya, ten rounds, welterweights

Raul Martinez vs. Andres Ledesma, eight rounds, bantamweights

Miguel Hernandez vs. Butch Hajicek, eight rounds, middleweights

David Pareja vs. Derek Andrews, eight rounds, light heavyweights

Mike Gonzales vs. Tony Kinney, four rounds, lightweights

Omar Reyes vs. Luis Navarro, five rounds, featherweights

Reynaldo Reyes vs. Ricardo Swift, four rounds, middleweights

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Articles of 2005

Pick ‘Em: Plenty of Big Upcoming Fights in ’06

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Here’s the early call on many top matches scheduled for the first half of 2006: Happy New Year!

As the new calendar dawns, there are already a considerable amount of premium bouts on the horizon. Things don’t look to be bogged down by undetermined championships next year. In many cases the scheduled face-offs involve the best fighters in the division, or at least close enough for general bragging rights. If anybody else with proper qualifications signs up to force the issue, all the better.

It can be argued that some pairings could have taken place within a more optimal timeframe, or that some headliners carry distracting baggage, but there are certainly enough heavy hitters on deck. That nobody can deny.

It doesn’t matter whether one considers the proverbial glass half empty or half full; there’s still the same amount of juice in the vessel. It’s nice to know that even with a high number of cancellations, there will still be plenty of important contenders on tap.

With elite fighters in weight divisions from top to bottom on the agenda, it’s an equivalent to what fans in more mainstream sports expect in a consistent championship format.

Baseball fans can almost always count on a World Series. Some hoops fanatics say too much attention to playoffs distracts unmotivated NBA teams during their regular season. In college, they project Sweet Sixteens. Football fans know there’s always a Super Bowl ahead to raise advertising dollars and test the USA’s halftime morals.

So too, there is method in boxing’s current madness.

The midnight crystal ball hasn’t even been unveiled in Times Square and there are already a number of potential thrillers scheduled. Most feature contrasting personalities that almost guarantee going along for the ride will be worthwhile. Any subsequent drops will probably be cheered.

Don King jumps right out of the auld lang gate with a January 7th Showtime card featuring Zab Judah against Carlos Baldomir and Jean-Marc Mormeck in a cruiserweight unification against O’Neil Bell.

It will be the upset of the year, bar none, if Baldomir can tip the applecart before Judah gets to his scheduled super-showdown with Floyd Mayweather Jr. Meanwhile, Mormeck is emerging and should keep on rolling against Bell, who can expose him if he’s not for real.

The proverbial Big Bang starts with a January 21st rematch of one of the finest fights of ‘05, when Erik Morales goes against Manny Pacquaio for the second time on HBO pay per view. The fact that Morales was upset by Zahir Raheem after beating Pacquaio was no real loss in box-office luster. Artful Raheem will get a spot on the undercard and hope his patience is rewarded.

Everyone figures Morales and Pacquaio will pick up where they left off. Like the first time, the rematch is a pick’em contest. Management distractions and glove restrictions cited as Pacquaio’s previous problems won’t matter this time. The two are very evenly matched and their styles will make for another whapathon. It could come down to corners, where Freddie Roach gets the edge since Morales will have a new trainer for the first time since replacing his father after the Raheem lesson.

February features four of the game’s most enduring attractions, in a pair of crucial matchups.

First up, Showtime presents the Jose Luis Castillo – Diego Corrales tiebreaker from El Paso on Feb 4th. This is another pick ‘em pair, barring any sideshow. In boxing that disclaimer may be a stretch, since the sideshow is part of the act and the charm.

As far as action inside the strands goes, every round these guys have fought has been great. There’s no reason to think that pattern won’t continue. Regarding the result, Castillo keeps the pressure on as he did in the second fight, but he’ll walk into trouble from a more reserved Corrales. We still don’t know which coin to flip.

February also holds a better late than never affair between two perennial favorites as Shane Mosley collides with Fernando Vargas on the 25th.  This fight could lead to a winning ticket in the Golden Boy sweepstakes for a fall bonanza against Oscar De La Hoya.

Vargas has been in tougher recently, based on comparable strength of opposition stats, but he’s seen little action. What weight they enter the ring at may have a lot to do with the result. If Vargas has to struggle at the scale, Mosley might have the battle in the bag after round nine.

It’s hard to imagine Mosley getting stopped early, but Vargas doesn’t have to hurt him, he just has to knock him down three times. With natural size, he may be able to do just that, but Mosley would have to box uncharacteristically flat.

Unless Mosley decides to heed the crowd, the most likely scenario is that Shane plays it safe, picks a few shots, and stays away enough to capture a comfortable, dull decision. An unbowed Vargas maintains his fan base but not his bettors.

March both comes in and goes out as a lion.

On March 4th Joe Calzaghe welcomes Jeff Lacy to Manchester UK for what may be the biggest blowout of the headlining bunch. Calzaghe gets the chance to prove his considerable home-based reputation once and for all, but if Lacy creams him as we expect, that glossy record will be severely tarnished.

All Calzaghe has to do is make a respectable stand, but that’s no small task against the rising Lacy. A motivated Calzaghe, songs of England ringing in his ears, could pull a big surprise if he can exploit Lacy’s relatively limited technical development, but that’s a longshot indeed.

It looks like Lacy can get by on power alone. He could soon emerge as a pound-for-pound leader. Old Joe’s hometown advantage will last about two left hooks.

March 11th has the Ides of history to beware for at least one old lion, with farewell (we’ll see) fireworks featuring Roy Jones Jr. against Bernard Hopkins. Less than two years ago they were considered untouchable all time greats. Now between them they’ve lost five in a row.

This goodbye fight is contracted at light heavyweight, for what seems like an oldies night. Hopkins is the senior at age 41 to Jones’s 37, but Roy seems more the grandpa figure, last seen hanging on against Antonio Tarver. Youth, as it were here, will prevail.

This bout was signed quickly as each principal, usually sticklers for favorable contract clauses, agreed to parity in a demonstration of businessman first and fighter second. They may both expect easy marks. How much the boys have left by the time they get down to business remains to be seen. The history books will show this as a climactic career bout between Hall of Famers.

At 175 pounds, Hopkins may be in for rude awakening. Jones may have been more thoroughly outfought recently, but he was rumbling with bigger, tougher men than Jermain Taylor or Howard Eastman. Respectable as he is, Taylor still falls short of the level of Tarver, at least for now. The difference is still fifteen pounds less pop.

It will be quite a feat if Hopkins can stay in the fight, even at Jones’s advanced age. Our stars point to Jones winning in overwhelming fashion.

On March 18th, James Toney meets Hasim Rahman in another pairing of seasoned war-horses.

Toney and Rahman already had their introductions, when they brawled in Mexico during a WBC gathering to bestow Rahman’s new belt. Between formalities, Toney got married, which could bring up the old questions about carnal training.

Let’s hope when they meet in the ring, they restore some of the fire missing from the heavyweights in ‘05.  Toney might have an edge in recent form, but Rahman shows fine tuning he previously lacked. The winner might get newly “crowned’ Nicolai Valuev, an easy payday outside Germany.

Rahman could be the heavyweight that finally makes Toney look like a blown up middleweight. But anything less than a top effort will probably lead to embarrassing night for the Rock and give Toney solid claim to being the true heavyweight champ.

This might not be the most artful fight of the new season, but it could well be the most grueling, and the closest. He who’s faced the better big boys gets the nod. Advantage Rahman.

March 25 features Marco Antonio Barrera, probably the strongest overall claimant to 130 pound honors. The likely opponent is said to be always tough Jesus Chavez.

Chavez seemed rejuvenated when he met Leavander Johnson, but Johnson’s tragic death may have taken some of the steam out of thoughtful Chavez, said to have received Johnson’s family blessing to continue in Leavander’s name. That could mean a lot of inspiration. Either way, if he does meet Chavez, who hung tough with one arm against Erik Morales, Barrera won’t get any slack. The Fates say Chavez, whose wife recently served in Iraq, is a live, live underdog.

Another clash to be King of the Hill finds Floyd Mayweather Jr, arguably the game’s finest practitioner, bumping heads with Zab Judah, one of very few boxers who rivals Mayweather in speed, skills, and brashness.

Their hoedown, scheduled for April 8th, is one of the top pound-for-pound pairings in recent years. Judah will need a career best performance to have a chance of victory. That’s not to say he can’t pull it off, but currently Mayweather is in a different galaxy in terms of punching power. Slow-motion replays may be the only way to follow the flying fists once these two whirlwinds unload.

Mayweather should be around a 4-1 favorite. Judah is good enough to make taking the odds an attractive proposition, since that’s probably as good of odds as one is likely to see on Floyd for a while. Mayweather will stop Judah in his tracks.

The first half of next year is set to conclude with the star power of Oscar De La Hoya, probably against noteworthy foil Ricardo Mayorga on May 6. There could be some snags before a contract is finalized, but if it comes off count on Mayorga for promotional sound bite nastiness. One of the questions is whether or not he’ll be able to get under Oscar’s skin, and it might actually be entertaining to see the classy, model perfect De La Hoya show he’s human and freak out against the Nicaraguan maniac.

Mayorga may have burnt his best bridges already. De La Hoya has not only the boxing skill to negate Mayorga’s offense, but enough power to end it early. If Mayorga rushes in and causes a cut, De La Hoya might get ruffled enough to duck into defense and Mayorga could get a decision that goes to the cards after six rounds or so. It will be wild for as long as it lasts.

Pro boxing, like many sports, had its share of problems during 2005, but there were also many positives. Most notably, as usual, was superior and inspiring action inside the strands. Unless there’s a mass freeze-up at the top, early 2006 figures to see decisive interaction among many well-known fighters.

If even fifty per cent of the aforementioned pairings come to fruition, it’s a strong likelihood the upcoming year has at least one very positive half. Arturo Gatti, Miguel Cotto, Antonio Margarito, Brian Viloria, and Shannon Briggs, to name a few, are also on deck. No matter how you chose to look at or measure mass qualities, there’s still just as much good to be seen.

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