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Dreamland Ring Wars: Rocky Marciano vs. Joe Louis: A Peak-for-Peak Analysis

Springs Toledo

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After Rocky Marciano bludgeoned his way to the heavyweight throne in 1952, trainer Charley Goldman reportedly claimed him as his second heavyweight champion. Twelve years earlier, Arturo Godoy used a low-crouching, crowding style that Goldman had taught him to embarrass Joe Louis for fifteen rounds. Godoy lost a split decision, though one judge gave him all but five rounds and many agreed that a new champion should have been crowned that night. “The way he fights he was too hard to hit,” Louis explained. “I could’ve hurt my hands hitting the top of his head.”

“It was my worst fight,” he added.

The rematch was different. Seconds after the opening bell, Godoy rushed into range and Louis planted his feet and fired uppercuts. He positioned his hands inside of the grabbing gloves to find the middle, landing hard shots that sap the spirit. By the seventh round, Godoy could only stumble forward, blinded by his own blood, and Louis knew exactly what to do. He stepped backward and pivoted around with perfect uppercuts and short hooks to bring an artful end to an erstwhile annoyance.

“That was the worst beating I ever gave a man,” he said afterward. The copy editors had a field day coming up with headlines: “Louis, Back in Business as Murder, Inc” said one. “Beating of Godoy Resembled a Bull Fight” said another, more to the point.

CROWD CONTROL

In 1940, while the Louis camp was busy repelling and reanalyzing the odd style of Godoy, sixteen-year-old Rocco Marchegiano was playing baseball at the James Edgar Playground in Brockton, Massachusetts. He was a catcher who batted clean-up. Seven years later, he walked into Stillman’s Gym in Manhattan and clobbered a professional in the second round as Goldman and Godoy watched. Goldman took a look at his tree trunk legs and taught him the same low-crouching, crowding style he had taught Godoy.

By the time Marciano faced a comebacking Louis in 1951, his curious pose would thwack nostalgic to the ex-champion. Louis was thirty-seven and sporting a bald spot that said it all. He was diminished in every category save one—his physical strength, and yet Marciano, despite being outweighed by twenty-five pounds, bulled him to the ropes as easily as Godoy had. Louis was in trouble from the opening bell. He no longer had the timing and reflexes of his youth but with two decades of experience behind him, he could detect patterns and adjust accordingly. In the third round, he began stepping back after punching and Marciano’s fearsome “Suzie Q” became a whistling wind. When he saw Marciano’s habit of slipping to the outside of jabs, he turned his jab over into a hook to meet the predictable slip. Despite these adjustments and despite the fact that he won two of the first five rounds, Louis showed signs of breaking down early.

The fourth round is a snapshot of the quandary that was Marciano. Louis may have won the round on all three judges’ scorecards but the film shows him constantly forced backward and on the defensive. He’s not dictating the pace, he’s not in control; he’s not even the puncher. He’s fighting like a man trying to hold off a crowd—valiant and doomed. At one point he tries to shove Marciano back, but Marciano’s legs are spread and he doesn’t move. And that’s the story: Marciano’s attack was as psychological as it was inexorable. Old Joe survives until the eighth round, when he is unceremoniously knocked through the ropes and lay frozen in time; his head hanging over the ring apron, his right foot dangling daintily on the bottom rope. All at once, cameras explode, the fight is called, and hands appear from everywhere to help the fallen hero.

When great, aging fighters crash down, the world seems to stop. It is they themselves who break the silence; and they tend to say the same thing. “I saw the right coming,” said Louis in the dressing room, “but I couldn’t do anything about it.”

A peaking version of Louis (circa 1939-1941) would have done something about it. He would have fired more counter shots and combinations while managing to avoid most of the overhands that Marciano was slinging throughout the first half of the Fifties. The quandary, though, would remain. Trainer Jack Blackburn, who died in 1942, made critical adjustments for the Godoy rematch in 1940; however, it’s a stretch to assume these adjustments would have been successful against Marciano. Godoy weakened by the seventh round. Marciano wouldn’t weaken. Unlikely to ever lose a test of wills, he seemed to get stronger as fights wore on and opponents wore out. Louis would have been faster and with Blackburn in his corner, better informed, and yet a good handicapper would set odds against him anyway.

ZOOMING IN

As technically proficient as he was at every range, Louis would not be the dominant force in close. Marciano had a way of leaning into his opponent like some fabled strong man pushing a boulder over a cliff, or a fighter over a hill. He’d use his arms as barriers to prevent escape and lock his gloves inside the crook of the arm to stop offense —all the while pushing, pushing forward. Louis did not and would not try to outmuscle Marciano; the trainer who built him insisted on economy of motion and cautioned against wasting energy. This explains why Louis can be seen with his back on the ropes punching with discipline or spinning out against Godoy; he was a machine programmed for a strict, one-track purpose. He does not wrestle. Against Marciano, he would allow himself to be moved backward to the ropes and squared up, which would make him a wider target and compromise his offense. It’s a dangerous concession.

Louis’s best chance would be to command center-ring while taking full steps backwards. He’d have to rely on his balance to make those steps launching pads for counters, and those counters should be horizontal instead of vertical. In other words, uppercuts, though lethal when thrown by such a puncher, are not advisable here. They tend to leave a rather large window unshuttered and Marciano knew how to put a rock through it: he anticipated them and was ever-ready to counter over the top. Louis’s willingness to open up on Godoy to “bring him up” from his crouch would be riskier against Marciano, who was at his best in exchanges —particularly when the chin he was aiming for was something less than his own. However, Marciano was less prepared for short left hooks. With his head low and his right hand positioned more to the front of his chin, he had trouble seeing and blocking them as he pushed forward. Louis would want to pivot off the hook to his left to get outside of the looping right, set up his own straight right, and work in a circle.

Zeroing-in on Marciano is easier said than done. Besides presenting a low target and burrowing under stand-up fighters and their line of fire, he was given an array of subtle skills that could only have come from one of boxing’s true masterminds. He was taught to anticipate the return after punching and move his head automatically and accordingly to get into position to counter the counter shot. He learned to ride incoming jabs by shifting his weight backward onto his right leg and then spring in with a counter that felt like a kitchen sink. Awkward, short-armed, and prone to throw wildly from too far away, Goldman taught him to shift his weight forward with the momentum of a missed shot and then follow up with something harder from somewhere closer. This is better than mere balance-recovery because Marciano’s missed shots—his mistakes—could conceivably double the impact of what was coming next.

Goldman reminded everyone that Marciano hit considerably harder than Godoy. “The great thing about this kid is he’s got leverage,” he told A.J. Liebling. “He takes a good punch and he’s got the equalizers.” Joe Rein watched Marciano spar at Stillman’s. “To see him punch,” he told Sports Illustrated, “it was like he was lobbing paving stones.” Indeed, that deep weave wasn’t simply to get under an opponent’s offense; it powered-up his own enough to send much larger men reeling backward. It’s a critical point. Before the opponent could recover either his wits or his balance, Marciano would be at his chest grinding away and throwing right hooks to the flank and left uppercuts to the sternum. Few men anywhere near his weight would have the strength to resist his low-centered power thrusts and fewer still would have the speed of foot to step back out of range, counter, and then spin off before he pinned them on the ropes.

Joe Louis isn’t among them. He was not stronger than Marciano and his mobility was efficient, deliberate—and not fast enough. He was a thinking fighter who worked off the jab and tried to blast through the back of an opponent’s head. It made for a compelling spectacle when he was stalking opponents and closing the distance on his own terms, but Marciano would concede nothing. Marciano was too stingy a fighter to allow either room to punch or time to mull things over. “It is very hard to think,” cutman Freddie Brown quipped, “when you are getting your brains knocked out.”

Boxing historians and fans watch clips of Louis’s knockouts, compelling spectacles all, and are rightfully astonished. Many are astonished enough to deny an odds-busting truth of boxing: Styles make fights. To be sure, Louis had the ability to handle almost any style. He could be counted on to overcome modern giants, flatten punchers, and, contrary to popular myth, search out and destroy mobile boxers. “If he runs, will you chase him?” Louis was asked before his rematch with Billy Conn. His classic response (“He can run, but he can’t hide”) isn’t just a good cutline, it rings with truth. Louis had trouble with one style in particular and he knew it: “I had a bad weakness I kept hid throughout my career. I didn’t like to be crowded, and Marciano always crowded his opponents. That’s why I say I could never have beaten him.” For a man who said Muhammad Ali would have been just another “bum of the month,” this admission reveals much.

Peak-for-peak, Rocky Marciano should be favored to defeat Joe Louis by late round stoppage.

X FACTORS

Boxing is a party often crashed by unforeseen circumstances. There are several that could skew or even reverse the result of this match, including the following:

1) The timing of the bout. After his first clash with Godoy, it was plain to everyone that Louis was unsure of just how to penetrate or cope with the unfamiliar style in front of him. “We found out this one got to be handled different,” Blackburn admitted. “We know now.” Marciano’s attack only appeared to be similar to Godoy’s; it was far more debilitating and allowed no learning curve. If a prime Louis fights Marciano and isn’t sharp, he loses badly. If he fights him at any point on or before the night he first faced Godoy, his chance of winning would be further diminished.

2) The referee. If the referee finds Marciano’s inside maneuvering and mauling tactics distasteful enough to break them up, then Louis will have a distinct advantage. Marciano needs the inside to grind Louis down. Although the belief here is that he’d be landing heavily on the way in, he would do most of the damage once he was there. He would be outpunched from the other ranges.

3) Cuts. A friend from Brockton named Charlie Petti remembered the winter of 1950-51 when the temperature in the city dropped to ten below zero for days. Marciano ran his eight miles faithfully anyway, and said “the cold air toughens my skin and I won’t cut so easy.” Louis’s corkscrew bombs made a red mess of Godoy’s face. If Louis manages to do the same to Marciano, there is a considerable risk that the fight would be stopped despite the preventative efforts of the fanatical fighter and the quick-fix coagulants of his cut man.

4) A perfect shot, followed by a series. Marciano’s fabled endurance, chin, and conditioning are true assets, but Louis was arguably the greatest finisher in heavyweight history. If Marciano makes enough mistakes to get himself badly hurt, no intangible is certain to save him.

____________________

Matt McGrain, a boxing historian and analyst of the first order, provided a welcome impetus for this analysis with a gentleman’s challenge. References include “’Godoy Just a Clown’, Says Joe” by Art Carter in The Afro American, 2/17/40; “Remembering the Champ,” by Charlie Petti, 1970; “Weill Almost Missed Out Entirely on His Meal Ticket —Marciano” by Evans Kirkby, Milwaukee Journal, 8/25/68; AP 10/27/51; Charley Goldman and Freddie Brown quotes as told to Liebling in his essay, “Charles II,” in The Sweet Science.

Special thanks to Cameron Burns, the talent behind the graphic opening this essay. He can be reached at cameronburns13@gmail.com.

Springs Toledo can be reached at scalinatella@hotmail.com.

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U.K. Boxing Update: Gorman, Bowen, Edwards, Quigley, and More

Arne K. Lang

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For the second time in the last three months, Great Britain’s top promoters Eddie Hearn and Frank Warren went head-to-head with dueling fight cards in England. When this last happened, back on Dec. 22, Warren had the stronger card from top to bottom, but Hearn’s show had the more compelling main event, namely the rematch between Dillian Whyte and Dereck Chisora. Today the roles were somewhat reversed. Hearn’s show had the stronger undercard, but the fighter attracting the most eyeballs, undefeated heavyweight Nathan Gorman, is promoted by Warren.

Leicester / Queensberry (Frank Warren) Promotion

In a predictably desultory affair, Nathan Gorman (16-0, 11 KOs) outpointed Kevin Johnson (34-13-1). This being a 10-rounder, the referee was the sole arbiter and he gave every round to Gorman, a distant cousin of Tyson Fury.

Kevin Johnson, a pro since 2003, took Vitali Klitschko the distance in 2009 and Tyson Fury the distance in 2012 and more recently went the full route with Daniel Dubois and Filip Hrogivic, but he won scarcely a round in those fights and in recent years has degenerated from a journeyman into a trial horse. He came into the fight 20 pounds heavier than in his last start 13 weeks ago and fought to survive, allowing Gorman to initiate what action there was.

Frank Warren can’t be blamed for promoting this snoozer. Johnson was a late replacement for Fabio Maldonado, a Brazilian who, although something of a mystery, was expected to provide Gorman with a sterner test. But Maldonado reneged after getting a better offer and will now fight Oleksandr Teslenko in Toronto next week.

The 22-year-old Gorman, who carried 253 pounds on his six-foot-three frame, is very light on his feet and some expect him to out-box his harder punching countryman Daniel Dubois when they eventually meet.

In the featured bout, Sam Bowen, a Leicestershire man, retained his British 130-pound title with a ninth round stoppage of Scotland’s Jordan McCorry. Bowen improved to 15-0 with his 10th stoppage.

London / Copper Box / Matchroom (Eddie Hearn) Promotion

In the main event of Hearn’s card, baby-faced Charlie Edwards (pictured on the left) put on a clinic in the first defense of the WBC world flyweight title he won with an upset of Cristofer Rosales. Edwards (15-1, 6 KOs) won every round over determined but outclassed Angel Moreno (19-3-2), a 35-year-old Spaniard and former sparring partner. Edwards scored a flash knockdown with a counter right hand in round six. All three judges had it 120-107.

Irish middleweight Jason Quigley, who signed with Golden Boy coming out of the amateur ranks and had fought exclusively in the United States, improved to 16-0 (12) with a second round stoppage of Mathias Eklund (10-2-2). Eklund was on his feet, but the ref thought it wise to keep the overmatched Finn from taking more punishment after Quigley blistered him with a series of unanswered punches. Quigley’s dream fight would be a match in Ireland with stablemate Canelo Alvarez.

Joshua Buatsi, an emerging star in the light heavyweight division, chopped down Liam Conroy to win the vacant BBBofC 175-pound title. Buatsi had taken out his last three opponents in the opening round but Conroy, who came into the match riding a nine-fight winning streak, lasted into the third. Buatsi, a Londoner born in Ghana and a bronze medalist at the Rio Olympics, improved to 10-0 (8). Conroy, who was on the deck twice, fell to 16-4-1.

Conroy’s promoter Eddie Hearn confirms that Buatsi’s next fight is likely to take place at Madison Square Garden on June 1 underneath Joshua-Miller.

In a cruiserweight fight with British and Commonwealth titles at stake, Lawrence Okolie improved to 12-0 (9) with a fourth round stoppage of Wadi Camacho (21-8). Okolie knocked Camacho to his knees with a hard combination and finished him off with a big right hand.

The most inexperienced British boxer to ever compete in the Olympics, the rangy six-foot-five Okolie has sparred with Anthony Joshua and Tyson Fury and will almost assuredly compete as a heavyweight when he grows into his body.

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Meet Tom Schwarz, Tyson Fury’s Next Opponent

Arne K. Lang

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Fury vs Schwarz

Someone can’t keep a secret.

Top Rank honcho Bob Arum said he would not reveal Tyson Fury’s next opponent until tomorrow (Saturday, March 23) when he would “unseal the envelope” during the ESPN telecast of his show from the Orange County Fairgrounds in Costa Mesa, CA. But, as the saying goes, the cat is out of the bag. Multiple sources, including ESPN’s Dan Rafael, are reporting that Fury will fight Tom Schwarz in Las Vegas on June 15, likely at the MGM Grand although other Las Vegas venues are in the running.

The reaction has been overwhelmingly negative. By choosing Schwarz over a rematch with Deontay Wilder, Tyson Fury’s reputation in the court of public opinion has taken a big tumble. “Tyson Fury fight with bum Tom Schwarz makes mockery of Gypsy King’s big claims and is bad news for fans,” reads the headline in the online edition of the infamous (but widely read) London Sun. “It’s yet another blow for boxing fans; the paying public is being shortchanged due to a current TV bidding war,” reads the article by the un-bylined author.

Bob Arum and his comrades at ESPN are facing a lot of damage control. We’ll give them a booster shot by saying that Tom Schwarz, a 24-year-old German who customarily carries 240 pounds on a six-foot-five-and-a-half frame, isn’t too shabby.

Here’s the negatives; let’s get them out of the way.

Although undefeated in 24 fights with 16 knockouts, Schwarz has defeated no one of note. The folks at BoxRec are so unimpressed with his strength of schedule that they rate him 41st among heavyweights which, for reference purposes, is 35 slots below Anthony Joshua’s next opponent Jarrell Miller and 31 places below Deontay Wilder’s next opponent, Dominic Breazeale.

Schwarz has had the home field advantage in most of his fights. He’s fought only twice outside Germany and he didn’t venture very far. Six of his fights, including his match with Kristijan Krstacic earlier this month, were in Magdeburg, his hometown.

But there are some plusses that a PR man can seize upon. Although records in professional boxing are notoriously deceiving, it seems relevant that Schwarz’s last six opponents are a combined 84-5-1. He hasn’t fought a real tomato can since October of 2014 when he met Tomas Mrazek, a fellow whose current record shows only 10 wins in 86 fights.

Schwarz’s fight with Krstacic can be found on YouTube. One can’t learn much from it as Krystacic, a 38-year-old Croatian, was outweighed by 31 pounds, but one could see that Schwarz has good fundamentals. He landed some good body shots in the opening round and then clubbed his man into submission in the next stanza, scoring three knockdowns.

German heavyweights, in the main, have performed poorly on American soil although it’s worth noting that many ringsiders thought Axel Schulz deserved the nod when he fought George Foreman at the MGM Grand in April of 1995. Foreman won a majority decision and then relinquished his IBF belt rather than give Schulz a rematch.

If Tom Schwarz is looking for inspiration, he should summon the 1936 ghost of Max Schmeling who was a big underdog when he knocked out the seemingly indestructible Joe Louis. That was a non-title fight, by the way, as will be true of Schwarz’s fight with Tyson Fury unless one of the four major sanctioning bodies creates a hole for it by declaring their title vacant. And as for that possibility, don’t bet against it.

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A Night of Upsets on the Golden Boy Card in Hollywood

David A. Avila

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upsets

HOLLYWOOD-A night of upsets awaited those driving to Hollywood in the angry storm on Thursday night. No one survived unscathed in the film and music capital of the world.

Mercito Gesta (32-3-2) tasted defeat against Juan Antonio Rodriguez (30-7, 26 KOs) by technical knockout in their lightweight clash that was the main event at the Avalon Theater. The likeable Filipino southpaw was world ranked in the top position by one organization.

Few expected Rodriguez to battle Gesta on even terms, especially with his multiple losses, but those who had seen him perform before knew he could punch and knew he could take a punch.

It was a battle of chins and a battle between southpaws.

Rodriguez absorbed heavy blows from Gesta and at times seemed ready to surrender. But somehow he would return fire and the heavy blows continued to rain from both lefthanders.

Gesta had the speed advantage but was unable to use it effectively. For eight rounds the two blasted each other with impunity but never reckless.

Finally, in the ninth round, as Gesta decided to hit and move, Rodriguez timed one of the blows coming in and delivered an overhand left cross that staggered the former world title challenger. Rodriguez immediately sensed the moment was ripe and unloaded strategic blows on Gesta who was out-punched 20 to 2 in the last 15 seconds. Referee Zachary Young stopped the fight at 2:55 of the ninth round.

A shaky Gesta walked back to his corner.

“He was there all the time so I went to the body,” said Rodriguez. “He just stopped punching.”

The classy Gesta was generous even in defeat.

“It was a good fight,” said Gesta who is trained by Freddie Roach. “The guy was tough. He fought hard. No excuses from me…I’m a fighter, and I love challenges.”

Undefeated Welterweights

Las Vegas fighter Blair Cobb (10-0-1, 6 KOs) won the battle of undefeated welterweights by unanimous decision after eight bloody rounds with local hero Ferdinand Kerobyan (11-1, 6 KOs). The win gave Cobb (pictured) the Junior NABA title.

Kerobyan, a North Hollywood native, brought hundreds of fans to the historic Avalon Theater and cheers went up when he first arrived to the boxing ring.

Cobb, who fights out of Las Vegas but is originally from Philadelphia, arrived with his small contingent including former world champion Clarence “Bones” Adams in his corner and used his reach and speed to deliver some heavy blows early in the fight. During one of the exchanges in the first round a gash emerged above the right eye of Kerobyan. From that point on it was an uphill battle for the Armenian-American fighter. But he never quit.

After eight back and forth rounds the judges scored the fight 77-75 twice and 79-73 for Cobb.

“I give him a lot of credit for hanging in there. He was very tough, but I showed I was the superior fighter,” said Cobb. “He was a phenomenal fighter. I expected the fight to be easy.”

Featherweights

A featherweight clash between Manuel “Tito” Avila (23-1-1) and Mexico’s Jose Gonzalez (23-7-1) ended in a split draw after eight rounds of clinching. It was Northern California’s Avila’s second fight since losing to Jojo Diaz last year in Las Vegas. The bullish rushes by Gonzalez especially with his head seemed to bother Avila. After eight rounds all three judges saw it differently 77-75 for Avila, 77-75 for Gonzalez and 76-76 a split draw.

Other Bouts

You can never tell by someone’s physique who’s going to win. Muscular heavyweight James “The Beast” Wilson (7-0-1, 6 KOs) met blown up doughboy Miguel Cubos (13-20-1, 10 KOs) in what looked to be a mismatch. Even to Wilson it must have seem like easy pickings, but when he unloaded his barrage of heavy blows and could not land a damaging blow in the first round it became apparent the flabby Mexican foe from San Luis Potosi could apparently box. And he did it very well.

Wilson was determined to get the knockout especially after Cubos began taunting him with raised arms after landing his own blows. But it became apparent it was not going to happen and Wilson’s corner must have warned him not to blow his gas tank. From the third round on it was a strategic battle of wits and big blows that missed. And each time Cubos would raise his both arms a la Manny Pacquiao. The crowd cheered every time.

After six back and forth rounds of action from the two physically different heavyweights the judges scored it a majority draw with tallies of 58-56 for Wilson and two others 57-57 even.

Super lightweight David Mijares (7-0, 3 KOs) won by unanimous decision over Puerto Rico’s Antonio Sanchez (6-6-2, 3 KOs) after six rounds. Mijares was the more technically adept fighter and used his southpaw stance effectively against Sanchez. The Puerto Rican fighter had his moments especially with the right cross down the pipe. Neither fighter was ever hurt and Mijares won by scores 60-54 three times.

Oscar Acevedo (5-0) defeated tough Daniel Bastien (6-6-2) by decision after four rounds in a lightweight contest. Acevedo used his jabs and sharp combinations to keep the always aggressive Bastien from over running him. Both traded evenly especially in the last two rounds with Acevedo losing ground to Bastien. But not enough to convince the judges. The scores were 40-38, and 39-37 twice for Acevedo.

In a fight featuring a huge height disparity Chicago’s Chris Ousley (10-0, 9 KOs) took care of business against the much smaller Jorge Munguia(13-15, 5 KOs) in the first round by knockout in a super middleweight match. The first stiff jab by Ousley rocked Munguia who tried to hide behind a peek-a-boo defense to no avail. Ousley tore that defense apart with ease. A three-punch combination capped by a right uppercut sent the Honduran fighter to one knee. He beat the count but was battered by Ousley until referee Zachary Young ended it at 1:54 of the first round.

Photo credit: Alonzo Coston

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