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Forty-six Boxing Notables Wax Nostalgic in the Latest TSS Survey

Ted Sares

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TSS Survey

Welcome to the second TSS Quarterly Survey of 2019. Our survey question this time was “If you could have a ringside seat to any boxing event in history, which fight would you choose?” There were many duplicate picks but also some unexpected choices. Enjoy.

BONES ADAMS — trainer, former WBA world super bantamweight champion: Ali vs. Foreman. Ali at his best.

RUSS ANBER — elite trainer, cornerman, and owner of Rival Boxing Equipment: The first fight that popped into my mind was the June 22, 1938 rematch between Joe Louis and Max Schmeling. Considering the outcome of the first fight, coupled with the social and political implications which surrounded the rematch, I would dare say that it was the most important fight in the history of boxing. What I wouldn’t have given to be there!

MATT ANDRZEJEWSKI — TSS boxing writer: Harry Greb vs. Mickey Walker. They were two of the greatest ever fighting for the middleweight title. It was reportedly a classic give and take battle that featured plenty of sustained action as well as an incredible performance by Greb whom I consider to be the greatest fighter of all time.

DAVID AVILA — TSS West Coast Bureau Chief: I’d love to have been ringside for Jack Dempsey vs Gene Tunney and the long count in Chicago at a time when Al Capone ruled the city. That was a pretty emotional fight that people argued about for many decades. It was Jack Dempsey’s last fight and Gene Tunney fought only one more time.

TRACY CALLIS – eminent boxing historian: I’d love to be at ringside for the Tommy Ryan-Tommy West fight of March 4, 1901 in Louisville, Kentucky. It was the third time they had fought. This contest was not a boxing match as we know it, it was truly a fight. Blood, butting, other fouls, etc. Would love to be at ringside yes, but not too close for there was blood splattered everywhere. Ryan complained to the ref that West was butting. The ref told him to butt him back. They kept fighting.

STEVE CANTON — President of Florida Boxing Hall of Fame, author: The second Joe Louis vs. Max Schmeling bout because of its importance and significance during World War II. The utter destruction of Schmeling and redemption by Joe Louis was unbelievable and I could only imagine the feelings of those in attendance. It was one for the ages.

JILL DIAMOND — International Secretary, WBC With the golden anniversary of Ali/Frazier I coming up March 8th, 2021, if I went back in time, could I wish for any other ticket? History! Glamour! Champions!

CHARLIE DWYER — former professional referee and member of U.S. Marine Corps Boxing Hall of Fame: Ali-Frazier I. In my estimation, it was the biggest mega fight ever.

STEVE FARHOOD — Showtime announcer, former editor of The Ring magazine and 2017 IBHOF inductee: That’s an easy one: The Rumble in the Jungle. Incredibly significant. Unique. Dramatic. And since I covered only the last two fights of Ali’s career, both of which were losses, I would like to have seen him win!

RICK FARRIS — President and founder at West Coast Boxing Hall of Fame: I’d like to have sat ringside for the last Ike Williams-Beau Jack lightweight title bout. The one where Williams is battering the defenseless Beau Jack in the corner, then held Beau up by the throat and turning to the ref  said, “What do you want me to do, kill the man?”

BERNARD FERNANDEZ — TSS Mainstay and lifetime member of the BWAA: March 8, 1971, Madison Square Garden, Joe Frazier’s 15-round unanimous decision over Muhammad Ali in arguably the most-anticipated boxing match, and maybe even sport event, of all time. I was the young sports editor of a newspaper in south Louisiana  at the time, my days at ringside at major fights still a bit off in the future. But anyone who cared about boxing, and I did, wanted to be in the Garden in New York for this one.

If I am allowed two honorable mentions, I’d go with Roberto Duran UD15 Sugar Ray Leonard on June 20, 1980, in Montreal’s Olympic Stadium and Aaron Pryor TKO 14 Alexis Arguello on Nov. 12, 1982, in Miami’s Orange Bowl. But, really, there are a lot more I could mention.

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“You know, you’re in here with the God tonight” – Ali

“If you are God, you’re in the wrong place tonight – Frazier

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 JEFFREY FREEMAN (aka KO Digest) — TSS boxing writer: Hagler-Hearns, brief enough? Eight minutes. I’ve got my popcorn and I’m ready to rumble.

RANDY GORDON — former head of the New York State Athletic Commission, SiriusXM radio host, and author of Glove Affair, his recently released memoir: I’d absolutely have to be in Havana, Cuba, on April 5, 1915, for the Jack Johnson-Jess Willard heavyweight title fight. I have to see for myself if Johnson took a plunge in the Havana heat, or was really beaten by the far-less-talented Willard.

LEE GROVES — writer, author and the wizard of CompuBox: The first fight that came to mind was the rematch against Rocky Graziano and Tony Zale at Chicago Stadium on July 16, 1947. That’s because the fight has been described as among the most thrilling in the history of the sport, yet the only footage is grainy, brief and shot from the crowd. Was this fight everything that it was portrayed? Being there would settle that question for me.

HENRY HASCUP — boxing historian and President of the New Jersey Boxing Hall of Fame: Harry Greb when he beat Gene Tunney. There is no film that we know of where Greb is actually in a boxing match so I would love to see how he beat one of the All-time Greats!

CHUCK HASSON — noted boxing historian and co-author of Philadelphia’s Boxing Heritage: I can’t help it. I would like to relive the time my dad took me to Atlantic City for my 17th birthday present to watch my idol Joey Giardello win the middleweight title with his career masterpiece beating Dick Tiger for the middleweight championship. The euphoria I experienced that night I would like to relive one more time. Nothing since in boxing has given me the pleasure of that night.

JACK HIRSCH — former President and now lifetime member of the BWAA: The Jack Johnson-Jim Jeffries fight in Reno, Nevada, on July 4, 1910. It was arguably the most historical event in sports history. I would have been fascinated to see the attitudes of those at ringside.

KEVIN IOLE — Yahoo combat sports journalist: March 8, 1971, Ali-Frazier I. The biggest sporting event of my lifetime. Where else would I rather be?

MIGUEL ITURRATE — matchmaker, judge, promoter and TSS writer: The first Billy Papke fight with Stanley Ketchel in Milwaukee on June 4, 1908. The fight is well documented and there was a who’s who of athletes there, including Frank Gotch, the champion wrestler. Ketchel was defending his world middleweight title and the two would go on to fight three more times. But oh to be there for that first one….

STUART KIRSCHENBAUM — former head of the Michigan Boxing Commission: Joe Louis vs. Max Schmeling, June 22, 1938. Boxing transcended the sport that evening and was on the world stage for the most important social and political ramifications. During my term as Boxing Commissioner in Michigan little did I know that my own life would become intertwined with the Brown Bomber. From meeting him ringside and time spent with him at a victory party following Hilmer Kenty from the Kronk Gym becoming the first world champion from Detroit since Joe Louis.  Later on, I would become the personal guardian for Joe’s widow Martha till her death and burial next to Joe in Arlington Cemetery. Joe’s best childhood friend Freddie Guinyard gave me the glove that Joe had given him …the glove that knocked out Schmeling.  On Guinyard’s wishes, along with the Michigan Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, we donated that glove which proudly stands in a granite and plexiglass showcase in Detroit dubbed “The Glove That Floored Nazi Germany”. From Joe’s hand….to Max’s chin…to my home…to the City of Detroit…a proud journey indeed.

BRUCE KIELTY — matchmaker, historian: Ali vs Frazier #1. No explanation necessary.

JIM LAMPLEY — linchpin of the HBO Boxing announcing team for 31 years, 2015 IBHOF inductee: Louis vs Schmeling II. One of a tiny handful of famous sports events whose sociopolitical impacts rocked the world. First time ever a majority of white Americans rooted for a black man to beat a white man. Stands alone for me.

ARNE LANG — TSS editor-in-chief, author, historian: I missed the first fight between Diego Corrales and Jose Luis Castillo. It happened at a time when I was out of the boxing loop. Several of my friends were ringside and they all say it was the greatest fight they ever saw. I regret that I missed it.

JIMMY LANGE — former boxer and promoter: In a close call with Ali-Frazier 1, I would choose Louis vs Schmeling 2. It was one of the most significant events in sports history. A black man carried the U.S. on his shoulders to keep his title from the envoy of Hitler and Nazi Germany. Max was undeserving of such a villainous tag. After everything Joe Louis did for this country, the government turned on him and he died with much less dignity than he should have.

RON LIPTON — former fighter, retired police officer, pro referee and inductee into the New Jersey Boxing Hall of Fame: I’d pick the one I missed but wanted to see very much–the shootout with Charlie “Devil” Green and Frankie DePaula where Charlie stopped Frankie in two in M.S.G.  I’d also liked to have been at ringside for Jose “Chegui” Torres v Charlie “Devil” Green. I was sitting near Green when they came and got him to fill in for Jimmy Ralston. That was something to see when he floored Torres and they had to drag Jose back to the corner, he came out next round and stopped Charlie. I wish I had been closer to ringside which I usually always was.

ADEYINKA MAKINDE – UK barrister, author and contributor to the Cambridge Companion to Boxing: I’d liked to have been seated alongside Clark Gable and Douglas Fairbanks in Yankee Stadium for the return match in 1938 between the “Brown Bomber”, Joe Louis, and the “Black Uhlan”, Max Schmeling. A truly historic night given Louis’ clinical and brutal revenge in a heavyweight title bout, as well as the significance of defeating the (unwilling) Nazi poster boy of Aryan racial supremacy.

SCOOP MALINOWSKI – writer, architect of Biofile: I’d go back and see the fight that was the most important of my childhood-one I saw on closed circuit TV at Totowa Ice World. This fight took over my life at age 14 and it turned out exactly as I hoped and wished. June 20, 1980, Montreal, Duran over Leonard.. It was Duran’s highest moment. And if I could go into the Ted Sares Time Machine, second stop would be Duran vs. Moore at MSG. I’d like to have sat next to Mike Tyson up in the nosebleed seats. He told me he was doing “Duran Duran Duran” chants. Unbelievable atmosphere that night. Third trip…Dempsey vs. Willard. Love Dempsey in that fight, and my hat would fit right in at ringside.

DAVID MARTINEZ – historian: James J. Corbett vs. Peter Jackson, May 21, 1891, San Francisco, CA. This was a most exhausting fight of wills to the end.  After 61 grueling rounds, the referee called this historic heavyweight bout to a halt – the decision officially ruled a draw!

ROBERT MLADINICH– former  fighter, writer, author: Dempsey-Willard. Outdoors on the 4th of July with Dempsey, the Mike Tyson of his time, fighting a giant. Can’t imagine a more exciting event.

ERNESTO MORALES (aka GINO FEBUS) — former fighter, writer: Louis vs Schmeling rematch to capture the fight and all the atmosphere leading up to it; the crowd, the buzz, the anticipation, ring walk, introduction… ALL! I’ve wondered about the political environment at the time: pro American, anti-Hitler/Nazi, anti-Negro, the KKK..and the Battle for World Boxing Supremacy! Along with the fears that Max would take the heavyweight crown to Germany and the horrifying thought of it NEVER returning!! Remember, Max had already KO’d Joe and even made it look somewhat easy. America had plenty to lose, especially Black America! But Joe pounding Max as he clung to the ropes and his trip to the canvas must’ve been awesome, a sight to forever behold. Don’t believe there was a complaint in the Stadium that night because it ended so quickly, only cheers and sighs of relief!! Wish I could have been there.

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“Louis measures him. Right to the body. Left up to the jaw and Schmeling is down. The count is 5, 5, 6, 7, 8…The fight is over on a technical knockout. Max Schmeling is beaten in the first round!” –William Broadwater (AFRO)

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CHRIS MORRIS — former boxer, writer: Hearns v Leonard 1. That epic fight hooked me on the sport. Our guy lost that night, but Hearns had an impact on me. So much so, my first son is named Santana Hearns.

JOSEPH PASQUALE — boxing judge: I’d go back again to my ringside seat 1979 MSG, NYC. Duran/Palomino and Weaver/Holmes. MSG Boxing at its best!  Not a judge then, just a fan. Still a fan.

RUSSELL PELTZ – venerable boxing promotor and 2004 IBHOF inductee: Johnson vs. Jeffries.

ADAM POLLACK—author, publisher, and boxing official: Any John L. Sullivan fight in the early 1880s because there is no film of him fighting, so we can’t know for sure exactly what he looked like in action in his prime other than via written accounts.

FREDERICK ROMANO — author and former ESPN researcher: While being at Ali-Frazier I or Dempsey-Firpo would be a thrill, I would use this one wish from the boxing Jeanie to experience something we have never seen- something not on film. Sullivan-Corbett, Johnson-Langford,  Greb’s victory over Tunney or  Zale-Graziano I,  would make me very happy. This morning I am in the mood for Johnson-Langford.

DANA ROSENBLATT — former world middleweight champion, commentator, inspirational speaker: Rosenblatt vs Pazienza 2. Far and away my favorite fight of all time.

LEE SAMUELSTop Rank publicist emeritus and 2019 IBHOF Inductee: That’s easy. Hagler vs Hearns in one of the most all out explosive battles of our time – think about that one every day.

TED SARES — TSS boxing writer: Louis vs Schmeling 2 because of the intense social and political backdrop. Close second is Christy Martin vs. Deirdre Gogarty (March 16, 1996). Blood and guts undercard war that stole the show from Tyson-Bruno and put women back on the boxing map.

 TOM SCHRECK — boxing judge: Do I have to pick one? 1. Ali v Frazier I, the enormity of the event would have been something to experience. It transcended boxing. 2. Hagler v Leonard, Sugar Ray’s performance was genius 3. Tunney v Dempsey I, brawn v brains.

ICEMAN JOHN SCULLY — manager, trainer, commentator, writer, historian, former boxer: I’m always torn between the first Ali-Frazier fight and the first Leonard – Hearns fight. For me those are my two biggest and the ones I would revel in being able to attend.

PETER SILKOV – boxing writer: There are so many to choose from, but my feeling at the moment would be Ali vs Foreman. Ali’s greatest night and the most extraordinary fight for the heavyweight title ever!

MIKE SILVER — author, writer, historian: A ringside seat to the Sullivan vs. Corbett fight. Huge historic importance. A seismic event for boxing’s future. And who isn’t curious to see the great John L. actually fighting!

ALAN SWYER — filmmaker, writer, and producer of the acclaimed El Boxeo: I chose the match in which welterweight Carmen Basilio won a split-decision over middleweight champion Sugar Ray Robinson. Though Robinson was to my mind the greatest fighter of all time, he was not at that point in his career at his best. Nonetheless, the battle — the fight of the year in 1957 — was the quintessential demonstration of will, stamina, endurance, and above all courage from two noble warriors.

GARY “DIGITAL” WILLIAMS — the voice of “Boxing on the Beltway”: I‘d loved to have been ringside for Ali-Frazier 1 and to have witnessed all the hoopla and the cultural and social significance surrounding that bout. I was only seven years old when that bout took place.

BEAU WILLIFORD — former boxer, trainer and manager and the face of boxing in Louisiana: Joe Frazier v Jerry Quarry at Madison Square Garden!!!

PETER WOOD — writer, author, former fighter: The fight I would watch is a hideous spectacle–and not politically correct…It would be the battle-royal in which Tom Molineaux, a Virginian slave, fought other hapless slaves, in which to earn his freedom and ultimately a shot at the heavyweight title. (Editor’s note: What has been written about Tom Molineaux’s days in America — before he went off to England — lacks any sort of rigorous documentation and is perhaps best understood as folklore. The conventional wisdom regarding inter-plantation slave fights has also been challenged.)

BOB YALEN —  holder of numerous executive positions in the boxing broadcasting industry and currently President of MTK Global: There are so many to choose from with so many reasons…Corbett-Sullivan to see the birth of modern boxing, Dempsey-Willard to check Jack’s gloves, Tunney-Dempsey to time the long count, the list goes on…but I think I may choose the Willard-Johnson fight in Havana so I could finally put to rest what really happened at the end of the fight from my own perspective (and talk to everyone I could).

Observations: Like a boxing match, this one pitted the old vs the not-so-old. Ali vs. Frazier 1 and Louis vs. Schmeling 2 garnered the most mentions, but Dempsey, Tunney, Johnson and Sullivan also got their due, as did Hearns and Hagler. In the end, it came down to The Fight of the Century (1971) vs. the Louis -Schmeling rematch (1938).

One mild surprise was that only a few mentioned Harry Greb who has been hailed by far more than a few as being the best of the best. However, there is no live footage to back this up. Henry Hascup and Fred Romano mentioned Greb in this vein with both referring to Greb’s sole victory over Gene Tunney in 1922.

Ted Sares is a lifetime member of Ring 10, and a member of Ring 4 and its Boxing Hall of Fame. He also is an Auxiliary Member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA). He is an active power lifter and Strongman competitor in the Grand Master class and plans to compete in 2019.

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Three Punch Combo: An Early Look at Inoue-Donaire and Under the Radar Fights

Matt Andrzejewski

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Inoue vs Donaire

THREE PUNCH COMBO — This past Saturday, Naoya Inoue (18-0, 16 KO’s) punched his ticket to the bantamweight final in the World Boxing Super Series when he impressively knocked out Emmanuel Rodriguez in the second round of their scheduled 12-round fight. The win sets up a showdown with veteran Nonito Donaire (40-5, 26 KO’s) who punched his ticket to the final with an impressive knockout of Stephon Young last month.

As expected, Inoue has opened as a monstrous favorite in the betting markets. While this suggests a one-sided wipeout, I have some other thoughts.

Inoue is pound for pound one of, if not the, hardest puncher in the sport today and put that power on full display in his destruction of Rodriguez in the semi-finals. But having enormous power does not make him indestructible.

In watching that fight against Rodriguez, there were clearly flaws on display on the defensive side of Inoue’s game. For one, Inoue does not move his head at all and as such can be hit. Rodriguez landed several clean punches on Inoue in the first round. And Inoue frequently keeps his hands low looking to bait opponents into throwing to set up counter opportunities. It has worked so far but could be something he pays for down the road.

Donaire is a smart and skilled fighter and though he is 36, his last few fights have shown that he still has plenty left in the tank. Moreover, he possesses one thunderous left hook and has always been at his best when fighting below 122. He has all the capabilities to expose Inoue’s flaws and a left hook that can alter the course of a fight as we have seen him doing plenty of times in the past.

Unlike a lot of people, I do not consider Donaire to be another layup for Inoue. There is real danger in this fight for Inoue if he does not make changes to his game. Donaire has starched big punching rising stars before and I would not discount his chances to expose the significant defensive flaws in Inoue’s game.

 Under The Radar Fight

Boxing returns to ESPN on Saturday with a card from Kissimmee, FL headlined by 130- pound champion Masayuki Ito (25-1-1, 13 KO’s) who is making the second defense of his title against former US Olympian Jamel Herring (19-2, 10 KO’s). While I think this should be an excellent fight, the co-feature, which is flying deep under the radar, should be even better.

In this fight, former two division world champion Jose Pedraza (25-2, 12 KO’s) makes his return to the ring after losing his lightweight title to Vasiliy Lomachenko in December to face Antonio Lozada (40-2-1, 34 KO’s). Given their respective styles, this fight at the very least will provide plenty of sustained action.

Appropriately nicknamed “The Sniper,” Pedraza at his best is a precision puncher. A boxer-puncher by trade, he uses subtle movement inside the ring to create angles that are used to land sharp power shots on his opposition. He is also a very good inside fighter and will shift around on the inside to once again set up just the right angle to land his power shots with maximum efficiency. But despite being a good inside fighter, Pedraza has a tendency to stay in the pocket a bit too long which leaves him open to getting hit.

Lozada is best known for his upset TKO win against one-time blue-chip prospect Felix Verdejo in March of 2018. However, he failed to build momentum off that win and is coming off a lackluster split draw his last time out to 12-7-1 journeyman Hector Ruben Ambriz Suarez.

Lozada certainly does not have the technical proficiency of Pedraza. He is slow and plodding. But what he does bring to the table is relentless pressure combined with a high volume of punches. He will press forward, recklessly at times, winging punches consistently hoping to wear down his opposition through attrition.  As such, he tends to get hit a lot and can be involved in shootouts.

Cleary, Pedraza is the more skilled fighter, but given Lozada’s all-offensive mindset as well as Pedraza’s willingness to stay in the pocket, the leather is all but guaranteed to be flying from the opening bell. Neither are big punchers either so I suspect we see a fight that goes rounds providing many exciting exchanges and one that could certainly steal the show on Saturday.

Another Under The Radar Fight

Also on Saturday, Fox Sports 1 will televise a card from Biloxi, MS featuring a crossroads fight between former 154-pound champion Austin Trout (31-5, 17 KO’s) and former US Olympian Terrell Gausha (21-1, 10 KO’s). But it is another 154-pound fight on the undercard that is receiving almost no coverage that I want to highlight. It pits Chordale Booker (14-0, 7 KO’s) against Wale Omotoso (27-3, 21 KO’s).

Booker turned pro in 2016 after a successful amateur career and has kept up a fairly busy schedule. He is coming off a dominating 8-round unanimous decision over veteran Juan De Angel in January and now is taking a big jump up in his caliber of opposition in facing Omotoso.

Booker, a southpaw, likes to press forward behind a stinging right jab. He possesses elite level hand speed and likes to use that jab to set up quick power punching combinations. Booker is also an excellent counter puncher and possesses a very potent right hook coming from that southpaw stance. He will often hold his left low to bait his opponents into opening up to set up counter opportunities. However, he has also been clipped by his share of left hooks fighting in this manner and this is something he will need to tighten up against Omotoso. So just how will Booker respond to Omotoso’s pressure and heavy handed body attack? Depending on the answer, we will either see Booker step up to the next level or get exposed. And that’s what makes this fight so intriguing to me

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Serhii Bohachuk KOs Mexico’s Freddy Hernandez in Hollywood

David A. Avila

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in Hollywood

HOLLYWOOD, Calif.-Super welterweight prospect Serhii Bohachuk got his first taste of upper tier boxing from Mexico’s Freddy Hernandez and gave him his best Sunday punch to win by knockout.

Bohachuk (14-0, 14 KOs) showed the excited Hollywood crowd he’s more than ready for former world title challengers like Hernandez (34-11, 22 KOs) or maybe even the current contenders with an exuberant display of pressure fighting at the Avalon Theater.

The smiling Ukrainian fighter has been steadily attracting fans to the 360 Promotions fight cards.

Trained by Abel Sanchez, the lanky and pale Bohachuk – whose nickname “El Flaco” fits perfectly – always moved forward against Mexico City’s Hernandez who has made a reputation of being crafty despite the strength of competition. With Bohachuk constantly applying pressure the Mexican fighter used the first round to touch and feel his way around the Ukrainian bomber.

In the second round a sharp counter right floored Hernandez who quickly got up and resumed the contest. It looked like the end was near until Hernandez caught Bohachuk with a solid right cross. It was a warning shot well heeded by Bohachuk.

Both fighters exchanged vigorously in the third round with the Ukrainian fighter’s youth a definite advantage. Hernandez was able to display his fighting tools more effectively in the third round but could it be enough?

Bohachuk was clearly the heavier-handed fighter but was finding it difficult to connect solidly against the Mexican veteran. But in the fifth round Bohachuk lowered his gun sights and targeted the body with a left hook that dropped Hernandez.  The fight was stopped by referee Wayne Hedgepeth at 1:40 of the fifth round.

Other Bouts

A battle of super featherweights saw Rialto, California’s Adrian Corona (5-0) rally from behind to defeat Florida’s Canton Miller (3-3-1) by split decision after six rounds.

Corona had problems with Miller’s speed in the first two rounds and was unable to track the moving fighter’s direction. But in the third round Corona began to apply more aggressive measures against Miller and was especially effective with lead rights. The momentum changed quickly.

Miller switched from orthodox to southpaw and it served to pause Corona’s momentum, but he seldom scored with solid blows. Though Miller landed quick soft blows, Corona was landing with strong shots and convinced two of the three judges that he was the winner by 58-56 twice. A third judge saw Miller the victor by the same score 58-56.

“It’s not my job to judge the judges,” said Miller. “It’s my job to just fight.”

Corona was happy with the victory.

“I could have put the pressure on him a little more,” said Corona. “It was a very technical fight and he put on a great fight.”

Other Bouts

George Navarro (6-0-1, 2 KOs) knocked out Cesar Sustaita (3-5) with a perfect overhand right that disabled the senses and forced referee Raul Caiz Jr. to halt the fight at 1:37 of the first round.

“I worked hard to prepare for this fight,” said Navarro.

A super bantamweight clash saw Humberto Rubalcava (10-1, 7 KOs) knock out Daniel Constantino (3-3-2) and win by knockout after a flurry of a dozen blows went unanswered. Referee Angel Mendez stopped the battering at 1:39 of the first round.

Photo credit: Al Applerose

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Sugar Ray Leonard and Marvin Hagler Stood Tall in an Era of Epic Battles

Rick Assad

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Leonard & Hagler

It’s been said — and it applies to all sports, but especially boxing — that in order to be great, one has to face great competition.

During the 1980s, in what many consider boxing’s “Golden Age,” several epic battles were waged between Roberto Duran, Thomas Hearns, Marvin Hagler and Ray Leonard, which helped drive the sport’s appeal after Muhammad Ali’s retirement in 1981.

All four are enshrined in the International Boxing Hall of Fame, but Leonard and Hagler stood the tallest.

With each celebrating birthdays this month – Leonard turned 63 on Friday, May 17,   and Hagler turns 65 on Thursday, May 23 –  this seems like the perfect opportunity to reflect on their legendary careers.

Leonard, who would become a world champion in five weight classes, was a nonpareil ring craftsman who could box with absolute ease and also unload the heavy artillery.

Some said slick marketing after claiming the Gold Medal at the 1976 Montreal Olympics as a junior welterweight helped Leonard vault to fame. Sugar Ray had the look, personality and charm to attract a large fan base, but did he have what it takes to hold his own against the top welterweights?

The answer was yes, but it wasn’t until Leonard stopped Wilfred Benitez in the 15th round for the World Boxing Council and lineal welterweight title in November 1979 at Caesars Palace, that he would be given his due.

Entering the fight, Benitez had a 38-0-1 record and was a two-division world champion.

In the opening frame, Leonard drilled Benitez with a left hook after tossing a jab and a right cross.

Two rounds later, Leonard knocked Benitez on his backside with a rattling jab. “I wasn’t aware I was in a championship fight early because I hit him so easy,” said Leonard, who was named Fighter of the Year by The Ring magazine in 1979 and 1981, but then he adjusted to my style. It was like looking in a mirror.”

Leonard knocked Benitez down with a thunderous left in the 15th, but couldn’t put him away until the referee called it off with six seconds left.

“No one, I mean no one, can make me miss punches like that,” said Leonard of Benitez, who is also in the IBHOF.

In June 1980, Leonard, who went 36-3-1 with 25 knockouts, returned to the Canadian city where he first gained fame and faced the indestructible Duran, the former lightweight king, who came into the bout with a 71-1 record and was regarded as the best pound-for-pound boxer in the world.

The fight drew international attention and although Leonard lost, his showing removed any and all doubts about his greatness.

With 46,317 inside Olympic Stadium, Duran dictated the early pace by cutting off the ring and not allowing Leonard to extend his arms.

For four rounds, Duran didn’t give Leonard enough room to move and unload any significant blows.

Leonard finally came alive in the fifth and unleashed numerous combinations. The remainder of the fight saw Leonard score, but it was Duran who looked stronger and sharper.

William Nack, writing in Sports Illustrated described it thusly: “It was, from almost the opening salvo, a fight that belonged to Duran. The Panamanian seized the evening and gave it what shape and momentum it had. He took control, attacking and driving Leonard against the ropes, bulling him back, hitting him with lefts and rights to the body as he maneuvered the champion against the ropes from corner to corner. Always moving forward, he mauled and wrestled Leonard, scoring inside with hooks and rights.”

After 15 rounds, Duran won a very narrow but unanimous decision, handing Leonard his first setback after opening his pro career with 27 wins.

Angelo Dundee, Leonard’s trainer, had advised him to stick and move against Duran who wanted to brawl. But Duran was able to get inside Leonard’s head and Leonard, wanting to prove his toughness, did not follow Dundee’s advice.

Leonard realized his error and vowed not to make the same mistake if he met Duran again. And they did meet again, five months later, before a national television audience with 25,038 looking on at the New Orleans Superdome.

This time Leonard would fight his fight and not Duran’s. “The whole fight, I was moving, I was moving,” he said, “and voom! I snapped his head back with a jab. Voom! I snapped it back again. He tried to get me against the ropes, I’d pivot, spin off and pow! Come under with a punch.”

Late in a memorable seventh round, Leonard wound up his right hand as if to throw a bolo punch but instead tagged Duran’s face with a sharp jab.

Leonard then taunted him, sticking out his chin and daring Duran to hit it. The taunting continued as Leonard moved around the ring.

It was clear Leonard was ahead on all three scorecards, but it was still close, and Duran, though not hurt, seemed to lack real punching power and probably felt humiliated.

Toward the end of the eighth round, Duran turned his back to Leonard and uttered the now famous line “no mas” (no more).

It was over with 16 seconds left as Leonard regained the WBC and lineal welterweight belts.

Duran said he quit because of stomach cramps after overeating following the weigh-in. To which Leonard replied, “I made him quit…to make Roberto Duran quit was better than knocking him out.”

Leonard then agreed to meet Hearns in order to unify the welterweight title. They met on September 16, 1981, a sweltering night in Las Vegas, at an outdoor arena at Caesars Palace before 23,618. Hearns walked into the ring with a 32-0 mark and 30 knockouts, while Leonard had a 31-1 record with 22 knockouts.

In the early stages, Leonard stayed away and boxed while Hearns tried to find a hole in Leonard’s defense.

After five rounds, Leonard was trailing on the cards and had a swelling under his left eye. In the sixth, Leonard found his range and landed a left hook to the face and he was again the aggressor in the seventh.

Hearns decided to box and piled up points while Leonard wanted to unload the heavy guns.

Hearns dominated rounds nine through 12. But just before round 13, Dundee said to Leonard, “you’re blowing it, son! You’re blowing it!”

For the 13th, Leonard, who now had a badly swollen left eye, caught Hearns with a stunning right and then landed a clean combination as Hearns was on wobbly legs.

Hearns went through the ropes, but it wasn’t ruled a knockdown by referee Davey Pearl because it wasn’t a punch that sent him there.

Late in the same round, Hearns was decked after Leonard connected with multiple blows.

In round 14, with Hearns leading on all three cards but clearly out of gas, Leonard seized control with a sizzling overhand right and a combination that saw Pearl call a stop to the action.

A third round TKO over Bruce Finch in February 1982 with the WBA, WBC, and lineal welterweight titles on the table, was followed by a scheduled fight with Roger Stafford.

While in training, Leonard had problems with his vision. He was diagnosed with a detached retina which was repaired in May of that year.

In November 1982, at a charity event in Maryland, Leonard announced he was retiring from boxing.

Twenty-seven months passed before Leonard returned to the ring in May 1984, when he faced Kevin Howard in a non-title match.

In the fourth round, Leonard was knocked down for the first time in his career. He went on to win, TKOing Howard in the ninth, but then shocked everyone at the post-fight press conference by announcing he was calling it a career once again.

Leonard sat ringside for the Hagler-John Mugabi fight in Las Vegas in March 1986 and was surprised to see Mugabi actually outbox Hagler for much of the contest before succumbing in the 11th round.

Leonard had seen enough and announced two months later he was coming back and that his next opponent would be none other than the great Hagler who would be making the 13th defense of his middleweight title.

The fight was set for April 6, 1987 at Caesars Palace. Hagler opened a 4-to-1 favorite.

Leonard won the first two rounds on all three judges’ scorecards as Hagler, a natural left-hander, fought in an orthodox stance.

In the third round, Hagler switched to southpaw and fared much better, but Leonard remained in control with the help of superior hand and foot speed.

Leonard started to tire by the fifth as Hagler buckled his knees with an uppercut toward the close of the frame.

Hagler scored well in the sixth round, but Leonard also had effective moments.

Hagler did well in the seventh and eighth as he landed his jab while Leonard wasn’t able to counter.

The ninth round was the most exciting with Hagler stunning Leonard with a left cross and had him pinned in the corner.

Leonard was able to escape and though each looked sharp, Hagler’s punches were crisper and more resounding.

The 10th round wasn’t as dramatic, but Hagler took that stanza, while Leonard boxed sharply in the 11th.

In the fight’s final round, the 12th, Hagler landed a tremendous left hand that backed Leonard into the corner.

Leonard threw a flurry of punches and the round concluded with each fighter exchanging blows along the ropes.

The final CompuBox stats had Leonard landing 306 of 629 punches for 48.6 percent and Hagler connecting on 291 of 792 for 36.7 percent.

The fight was very close. Lou Filippo had it 115-113 for Hagler but was out-voted by Dave Moretti and Jose Guerra who had it for Leonard by scores of 115-113 and 118-110 respectively.

Hagler, who closed his career with a 62-3-2 mark and 52 knockouts, insisted he won the fight.

This was Hagler’s final time inside the ring and he would eventually move to Italy.

Prior to his famous battle with Sugar Ray, Hagler scored two of the biggest wins of his career, scoring a unanimous decision over Roberto Duran in November 1983 and stopping Thomas Hearns in the third round in April 1985. Both bouts were at Caesars Palace.

Here is Pat Putnam’s lead graph of the classic Hagler-Hearns fight as it appeared in Sports Illustrated: “There was a strong wind blowing through Las Vegas Monday night, but it could not sweep away the smell of raw violence as Marvelous Marvin Hagler and Thomas Hearns hammered at each other with a fury that spent itself only after Hearns had been saved by the protecting arms of referee Richard Steele. The fight in a ring set upon the tennis courts at Caesars Palace lasted only one second longer than eight minutes, but for those who saw it, the memory of its nonstop savagery will remain forever.”

After upsetting Hagler, Leonard waited 19 months before getting back in the ring. In November 1988, he defeated WBC light heavyweight title-holder Donny Lalonde via a ninth round TKO. The WBC also sanctioned this fight for their inaugural super middleweight title.

Leonard then faced Hearns in a rematch in June 1989 at Caesars Palace and though it was ruled a draw, many at ringside thought that Hearns, who knocked Leonard down twice, deserved the decision.

Six months later, at the Mirage in Las Vegas, Leonard met Roberto Duran in a rubber match. Leonard prevailed over Duran by unanimous decision.

There would be two more fights for Leonard before he retired from boxing for good. In February 1991 at Madison Square Garden he lost a unanimous decision to Terry Norris in a clash for the WBC junior middleweight crown.

Another retirement followed, but his career wouldn’t officially be over until March 1997 at Convention Hall in Atlantic City, New Jersey, when Leonard, now 40 years old, was stopped in the fifth round by Hector Camacho with a fringe middleweight title at stake.

These last two fights were aberrations compared to Leonard’s glory days when he was the undisputed ruler of the welterweight division.

Few who watched Sugar Ray Leonard and Marvelous Marvin Hagler at their peaks will ever forget what they brought into the ring. No, they didn’t do it alone, but it’s unlikely anyone better than these two titans will appear any time soon.

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