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It’s Been 35 Years Since Muhammad Ali Was Officially The Champ

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The date was Friday night, September 15, 1978. It was close to 11:00 PM and Howard Cosell was proclaiming on ABC television that Muhammad Ali, who moments earlier just won a unanimous decision over Leon Spinks in their rematch, had turned back the hands of time to capture the world heavyweight boxing championship for a record third time. Cosell communicated to the viewers that Ali regained his speed and physical brilliance for one night and dazzled the young Spinks who had just competed in his eighth pro bout.

As Muhammad often said during the 1970’s, Howard should stick to announcing football on Monday night because he didn’t know anything about boxing. Ali may have never uttered a more complete and accurate statement. Because Ali was far less physically superior in his rematch with Spinks than he was during their first bout in which he lost his undisputed title via a split decision. During their first fight and in spite of the fact that Muhammad was in terrible shape and barely trained for it because he didn’t fear Spinks, with only seven pro fights, was a challenge or a threat to beat him. In addition to that, Ali planned on Leon running out of steam by the seventh or eighth round, then he’d come on and smack the kid around and either stop him late or walk away with a clear cut decision win. Only Spinks never tired and Muhammad did.

During the first fight there were numerous occasions where Ali hurt Spinks and had him reeling a few times especially during the second half of the fight when he knew he was behind and had to stage a rally. There were some terrific exchanges over the last third of the fight when Ali was seeking to put Spinks away. He pushed him to the edge of the cliff a few times but every time Leon looked as if he’d had enough, he’d rally back and seize Ali’s momentum. Physically, Ali actually manhandled Spinks at times, but he dug himself too big of a hole and lacked the energy to climb out of it and salvage the fight.

The rematch seven months later was a dud of a fight. Ali, who was supposedly in great shape, went into the bout not even looking for a knockout or stoppage win. His strategy was stick a couple lefts in Leon’s face, if he felt he could sneak in the right hand, he’d let it go, then he was up and gone. If Spinks got too close and wanted to rumble inside, Ali grabbed him and shut him down until they were broken apart by the referee. This was the pattern for the duration of the fight. Ali landed maybe three or four memorable combinations and punches, whereas Leon was lucky to get through with anything clean or memorable.

Physically, Ali was even less imposing or willing in the rematch compared to what he was the first time they fought. That’s how much he eroded in just seven months at age 36, four months shy of turning 37. He never really hurt or shook Spinks once in 15 rounds. He just circled to the left and flicked his jab out in order to keep Leon away and off of him. When Spinks tried to be aggressive and assert himself, Ali held him and wouldn’t let him get off. It was not only a smart strategy on Ali’s part – it was the only one he could employ in order to win the fight. At that point of his title tenure his punch was gone and he couldn’t sustain fighting for an entire round. Sticking and moving, yes, but not fighting and exchanging. So he did what he had to do in what was a very pedestrian fight and made history on a night that any other top-10 contender probably would’ve decisioned him.

The point is, many don’t realize that Muhammad Ali was far less of a fighter the night he beat Leon Spinks in their rematch than what he was when he lost to him the first time they fought. It’s just that Muhammad was so resourceful and versatile that he could adjust to almost any style or fighter. In addition to that, he had a way of making it appear that he was fighting his ass off and killing his opponent when in reality not much was going on. And that was the story of Ali-Spinks II.

Since that night 35 years ago when Muhammad won his last bout as a pro, aside from Mike Tyson circa 1986-88, there hasn’t been one heavyweight champion who has captured the public’s interest or imagination. Larry Holmes followed Ali and turned out to be damn near as great of a fighter. But his personality or lack of it prevented the fans from ever really accepting him and he was also cursed by the fans for not being Ali. In addition to that Holmes lacked the great competitors and rivals that Ali thrived off of matching wits and skills against.

Mike Tyson followed Holmes and had an Ali like following. But his reign didn’t last very long and the purist questioned his character and toughness when he was challenged by an opponent who resisted him and fought back. Evander Holyfield followed Tyson. Evander was actually a better fighter and tougher than Tyson. He was also involved in several exciting and thrilling fights. However, because he wasn’t a life-taker like Tyson and wasn’t much of a personality, he never captured the public’s interest. The Lennox Lewis era followed Holyfied, but Lennox was overshadowed by Tyson and even Holyfield to a degree. It also didn’t help that Lennox was knocked out twice by one punch and didn’t get to fight either Tyson or Holyfield until they were in their late thirties and on the wrong side of the hill. But make no mistake about it, Lennox could fight. He could box and punch and he was very versatile. He also never met an opponent who he didn’t beat.

Currently we are in the midst of the Klitschko era. Vitali Klitschko had his finest hour the night he lost to Lennox lewis 10 years ago. Since then he’s gone undefeated. Wladimir Klitschko has been unbeaten for eight years and hasn’t been close to losing many rounds let alone a fight since he was stopped by Lamon Brewster in 2004. The Klitschkos are very big and strong and can both box and punch. The problem with them is through no fault of their own, it’s just that there’s no outstanding heavyweights around today who can test them in order to gauge how good they really are. They’ve cleaned out the division and there’s nothing left for them to prove. Vitali is 42 and Wladimir is 37, so even if they lost now it wouldn’t be a barometer as to how good they really were as fighters. Let’s just say that they’ve done what they were supposed to do – and that is thoroughly dominate a very shallow and forgettable heavyweight division.

That is a quick capsule as to what has happened in the heavyweight division since Muhammad Ali won his last title fight a little over 35 years ago. Oh, there is one difference in being heavyweight champion today compared to when Ali, Holmes, Tyson, Holyfield and Lewis were the champ and ruled the division……when they held the title it was the biggest and most prestigious prize in sports.

In 2013 that is no longer the case, and by a long-shot.

Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com

 

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2015 Fight of the Year – Francisco Vargas vs Takashi Miura

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The WBC World Super Featherweight title bout between Francisco Vargas and Takashi Miura came on one of the biggest boxing stages of 2015, as the bout served as the HBO pay-per-view’s co-main event on November 21st, in support of Miguel Cotto vs Saul Alvarez.

Miura entered the fight with a (29-2-2) record and he was making the fifth defense of his world title, while Vargas entered the fight with an undefeated mark of (22-0-1) in what was his first world title fight. Both men had a reputation for all-out fighting, with Miura especially earning high praise for his title defense in Mexico where he defeated Sergio Thompson in a fiercely contested battle.

The fight started out hotly contested, and the intensity never let up. Vargas seemed to win the first two rounds, but by the fourth round, Miura seemed to pull ahead, scoring a knock-down and fighting with a lot of confidence. After brawling the first four rounds, Miura appeared to settle into a more technical approach. Rounds 5 and 6 saw the pendulum swing back towards Vargas, as he withstood Miura’s rush to open the fifth round and the sixth round saw both men exchanging hard punches.

The big swinging continued, and though Vargas likely edged Miura in rounds 5 and 6, Vargas’ face was cut in at least two spots and Miura started to assert himself again in rounds 7 and 8. Miura was beginning to grow in confidence while it appeared that Vargas was beginning to slow down, and Miura appeared to hurt Vargas at the end of the 8th round.

Vargas turned the tide again at the start of the ninth round, scoring a knock down with an uppercut and a straight right hand that took Miura’s legs and sent him to the canvas. Purely on instinct, Miura got back up and continued to fight, but Vargas was landing frequently and with force. Referee Tony Weeks stepped in to stop the fight at the halfway point of round 9 as Miura was sustaining a barrage of punches.

Miura still had a minute and a half to survive if he was going to get out of the round, and it was clear that he was not going to stop fighting.

A back and forth battle of wills between two world championship level fighters, Takashi Miura versus “El Bandido” Vargas wins the 2015 Fight of the Year.

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Jan 9 in Germany – Feigenbutz and De Carolis To Settle Score

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This coming Saturday, January 9th, the stage is set at the Baden Arena in Offenburg, Germany for a re-match between Vincent Feigenbutz and Giovanni De Carolis. The highly anticipated re-match is set to air on SAT.1 in Germany, and Feigenbutz will once again be defending his GBU and interim WBA World titles at Super Middleweight.

The first meeting between the two was less than three months ago, on October 17th and that meeting saw Feigenbutz controversially edge De Carolis on the judge’s cards by scores of (115-113, 114-113 and 115-113). De Carolis scored a flash knock down in the opening round, and he appeared to outbox Feigenbutz in the early going, but the 20 year old German champion came on in the later rounds.

The first bout is described as one of the most crowd-pleasing bouts of the year in Germany, and De Carolis and many observers felt that the Italian had done enough to win.

De Carolis told German language website RAN.DE that he was more prepared for the re-match, and that due to the arrogance Feigenbutz displayed in the aftermath of the first fight, he was confident that he had won over some of the audience. Though De Carolis fell short of predicting victory, he promised a re-vamped strategy tailored to what he has learned about Feigenbutz, whom he termed immature and inexperienced.

The stage is set for Feigenbutz vs De Carolis 2, this Saturday January 9th in Offenburg, Germany. If you can get to the live event do it, if not you have SAT.1 in Germany airing the fights, and The Boxing Channel right back here for full results.

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2015 Knock Out of the Year – Saul Alvarez KO’s James Kirkland

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On May 9th of 2015, Saul “Canelo” Alvarez delivered a resonant knock-out of James Kirkland on HBO that wins the 2015 KO of the Year.

The knock-out itself came in the third round, after slightly more than two minutes of action. The end came when Alvarez delivered a single, big right hand that caught Kirkland on the jaw and left him flat on his back after spinning to the canvas.Alvarez was clearly the big star heading into the fight. The fight was telecast by HBO for free just one week after the controversial and disappointing Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao fight, and Alvarez was under pressure to deliver the type of finish that people were going to talk about. Kirkland was happy to oblige Alvarez, taking it right to Alvarez from the start. Kirkland’s aggression saw him appear to land blows that troubled the young Mexican in the early going. Alvarez played good defense, and he floored Kirkland in the first round, displaying his power and his technique in knocking down an aggressive opponent.

However, Kirkland kept coming at Alvarez and the fight entered the third round with both men working hard and the feeling that the fight would not go the distance. Kirkland continued to move forward, keeping “Canelo” against the ropes and scoring points with a barrage of punches while looking for an opening.

At around the two minute mark, Alvarez landed an uppercut that sent Kirkland to the canvas again. Kirkland got up, but it was clear that he did not have his legs under him. Kirkland was going to try to survive the round, but Alvarez had an opportunity to close out the fight. The question was would he take it?

Alvarez closed in on Kirkland, putting his opponent’s back to the ropes. Kirkland was hurt, but he was still dangerous, pawing with punches and loading up for one big shot.

But it was the big shot “Canelo” threw that ended the night. Kirkland never saw it coming, as he was loading up with a huge right hand of his own. The right Alvarez threw cracked Kirkland in the jaw, and his eyes went blank. His big right hand whizzed harmlessly over the head of a ducking Alvarez, providing the momentum for the spin that left Kirkland prone on the canvas.

Saul “Canelo” Alvarez went on to defeat Miguel Cotto in his second fight of 2015 and he is clearly one of boxing’s biggest stars heading into 2016. On May 9th Alvarez added another reel to his highlight film when he knocked out James Kirkland with the 2015 “Knock Out of the Year”.

Photo by naoki fukuda

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