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The 50 Greatest Featherweights of all Time Part One: 50-41

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The Featherweights were a maddening project.

Part of the fun for me in undertaking this project, which has already seen me run through the greatest heavyweights, light-heavyweights, middleweights, welterweights and lightweights of all time has been a cross-comparison of the weight divisions which, for the most part, has been very revealing.  Not so with the featherweights.  Need currency, will travel, and featherweight, more than any other division, is awash with fighters who departed for big fights at lightweight or arrived looking for big fights from bantamweight.

Very few careers were begun and then finished within the division’s limits.

This makes for a fabulous mix, with pound-for-pound greats making visits in almost every installment.  It makes for excruciating comparative issues which have been difficult to resolve.  I hope I have resolved them and over the next five weeks, I would invite you to be the judge.

This is a featherweight list in the truest sense.  It is based upon the body of work performed by fighters within that weight range, almost exclusively.  It is not possible to identify a specific poundage because the limit in 1904 was different to that of 2004, but as a general rule, work done between the lower and upper weight range plus 2lbs has been the range under consideration.  So while we know Eder Jofre is one of the greatest fighters to have ever lived, here we are judging him only upon his brief stay at featherweight.

Who a fighter beat, and how, are the primary concerns then.  Secondary was an appraisal of a fighter’s status in his given era; was he the lineal champion, the #1 contender, and for how long?  Lastly, skillset as it appears on film (where possible) and head-to-head considerations are considered.  These are the least of the criteria because they are the most speculative.  Ranking a fighter on who he might beat is comforting and simple but it is also pure conjecture, whatever the source.  Ranked contenders dispatched, wins accrued, losses suffered, these stand as facts and although their interpretation is subjective by nature the foundations are firmer.  Your favourite fighter might look a killer on film, but so did a host of failed prospects; only minimal prizes are handed out here for what a fighter “might have done.”

Note, also, that in denoting a fight, the heavier man has the say.  A 134lb man fighting a 125lb man is a lightweight contest and was appraised as such.  Here, it is the turn of the featherweights.

I promise this will be the longest introduction of the series and I promise that most of the boring stuff is out of the way now.  But I do need this structure in order to make decisions about fighters separated by a single punch thrown a hundred years ago (and you need to understand them before you shout about your favorite featherweight being too low…).  With that out of the way, we can begin.

This is how I have them:

50 – Jose Legra (133-11-4)

Jose Legra, “The Pocket Muhammad Ali”, was born in Cuba in 1943 and turned professional there seventeen years later. Castro ascended as his fledgling career sprouted wings; Mexico welcomed him with blood-soaked arms.

Mexico represented, until recently, the best apprenticeship in boxing for a smaller fighter. There were dozens of featherweights, all desperate to entertain the pugilistic immigrants pouring out of Cuba, matters of national pride as well as personal ambition seeing to Legra’s early chin check. He emerged a fighter who knew how to win, as well as lose.

Legra made his home in Spain, fascinating in that he showed little interest in fighting in America. He boxed a single contest there upon his exile from Cuba, and traveling again to suffer defeat at the hands of Vicente Saldivar in 1969. He could be seen more often in Great Britain where he had perhaps his finest moment in 1968, smashing the excellent Howard Winstone to the canvas twice before stopping him on a cut. He then travelled to Mexico for what the Associated Press called “the most one-sided championship bout in history”, yo-yoing Clemente Sanchez repeatedly off the canvas before putting a stop to the farce and lifting the world’s featherweight title.

He lost it in his very next fight, a desperately close encounter with the legendary bantamweight Eder Jofre, who was coming out of retirement for a tilt at the featherweight crown. Beating the great Brazilian in Brazil in such circumstances was never going to be easy; worse was to come as he was knocked out in a round by Nicaraguan legend Alexis Arguello, in Nicaragua. At that point Legra hung them up, his career numbered among those of the greatest road-warriors.

49 – Jeff Fenech (29-3-1)

Jeff Fenech fought only a tiny handful of contests at featherweight – five by my count – but in those few contests he made his mark upon the division. Not the indelible mark he would make up at130lbs, nor the echo that rumbles back from the name Carlos Zarate, a part of the Fenech resume down at 122lbs, but a mark, nonetheless.

Fenech popped up at featherweight early in 1987, dominating Tony “Mad Dog” Miller with the Australian featherweight title on the line. Miller’s absurd toughness carried him through to a lopsided decision loss and Fenech dropped back down to 122lbs. He emerged again at 126lbs a year later, strapping on the alphabet title earned against Victor Callejas. Fenech looked free at the poundage, perhaps having been a little tight at super-banatamweight; Callejas, after all, was a serious man riding a serious winning streak barracked by a very serious punch.

Fenech destroyed him. The fight was not even competitive. Callejas was at sea in a storm of pressure fostered by a fighter who was stonger, faster, harder and who did not give his opponent a moment’s rest. Callejas tried everything; in the second he even landed a stiff head butt. Fenech shifted further inside and landed a harder one. But more than that, he was defensively superb, dipping his way in, ditching the deadly Callejas left-hook with head-movement and bumping him out of form with the shoulder. I think it was Jeff’s very best performance, and the end, when it came in the tenth, was a mercy.

Fenech stopped the over-matched Tyrone Downes in his first defense, returning to the higher level with excellent victories over George Navarro and Marcos Villasana before departing for the division above, unbeaten.

Fenech was the closest thing we have seen to a reincarnation of Sandy Saddler in the featherweight division, a monstrous proposition for any 126lb fighter. That said, he just didn’t tarry long enough in the division to nail down a higher ranking here and there is, perhaps, a case for leaving him out altogether – but head-to-head must have a place here. Simply put, Fenech would beat a lot of the fighters ranked above him.

48 – Earl Mastro (46-5-2; Newspaper Decisions 4-0)

Earl Mastro was a granite-jawed and clever boxer who, bereft of punch but not of heart, climbed to the top of the featherweight rankings in the late 1920s and early 1930s before running into the brutal Battling Battalino who kept him from championship honors.  Before that time Mastro earned himself a reputation as one of the era’s finest featherweights by out-boxing some of the finest boxers of that time.

He failed his first audition for greatness, losing out to the brilliant Fidel LaBarba over ten in 1928, but the following year he reversed the decision in a narrow decision that reads like a fight which could have turned either way. Their 1930 contest was closer still, a draw, but splitting a three fight series with LaBarba is certainly no shame and it made him.

Three more standout victories shepherd Mastro in ahead of the likes of Tommy Watson and Lee Rodak, the first of these coming over Eddie Shea in Chicago Stadium. Both hometown boys, the fight was big in the city but there was only ever one man in it, Mastro getting across the line in style by distance. This may have been his most important win, coming, as it did, only weeks after a loss by disqualification in a fight he was dominating against Billy Shaw. Mastro pushed on, besting the wonderful former bantamweight champion Bud Taylor at the second time of asking after their original fight was ruled a draw. The fight ended raucously with both men piling through the ropes, Mastro named the winner when Taylor failed to regain the ring; Mastro rematched him once more and took a decision over ten.

Throw in two victories over the top-ranked Kid Francis and it is clear that Mastro built himself a most excellent resume at the poundage. Sinus trouble, difficult to treat at the time and not an uncommon ailment in busy fighters, even ones as clever as he, saw him retired in his mid-twenties; this was a great shame, but in conjunction with his loss to Battalino it limits his standing here.

47 – Solly Smith (27-14-19; Newspaper Decisions 1-0)

I am aware that the paper record of Solly Smith will send the modernist screaming for the hills while tearing his hair out, and I have a degree of sympathy. This list isn’t really the place for fighters who have failed to win even fifty percent of their fights. But Smith makes the list based upon two things. First, there is the exquisite purple patch he boxed between 1895 and August of 1898 during which he went unbeaten, reigned as the featherweight champion of the world and bested one of the greatest fighting machines ever to step into the ring, at any weight, in a twenty round contest.

George Dixon was the reigning featherweight champion in 1897 and was as admired by his fistic peers as any fighter that would ever follow him. Ray Robinson, Muhammad Ali, Pernell Whitaker, name the man and he was no more respected than was George Dixon in the late 1890s. He was also a heavy favorite over Smith, and with good reason. He had lost just three contests in the previous ten years, one to the great Frank Erne, since avenged, one meaningless four-round contest (his third that month) and one early bout by disqualification. More, he had previously knocked Smith out back in 1893.

The San Francisco Call: “Instead of swinging wildly and recklessly, as he was wont to do in his early fighting days, Smith gauged his distance and timed his blows like a polished veteran.”

Feinting for the lead, Smith threw enough to remain the aggressor, crackling the champion’s body with punches while turning in an outstanding show of slipping the left and blocking the right as Dixon moved through his full repertoire of punches. In an era where fights that held the slightest appearance of closeness were often deemed draws, he did enough to lift the title.

Dave Sullivan took it from him the very next year and Smith’s post-title collapse was extraordinary. He won just one of his last sixteen fights. But in the years leading up to his greatest night he defeated the experienced “Omaha Kid”, Oscar Gardner, himself close to claiming a place on this list, former champion “Torpedo” Billy Murphy and the undefeated English champion Willie Smith. He also managed two title defenses before Sullivan got to him and the disastrous run-in to his career began.

Of the pioneer era champions he was second only to Dixon for my money, and is good for his spot despite all those losses and draws.

46 – Juan Manuel Marquez (56-7-1)

The wonderful Juan Manuel Marquez spent much of his career toiling in relative obscurity at and around featherweight, his style more cautious than the one he would master in the divisions above. Still, his premier boxing skills were as present then as they would always be and his more cautious style brought him a number of excellent wins at the poundage.

Ranking him any higher than he is seen here is made problematic by the loss of not one but two key fights at the weight. Way back in 1999 he had his first tilt at a strap against Freddie Norwood and dropped an inexplicably wide unanimous decision. I personally had a difficult, squabbling encounter a draw and see no issue with a card either way. Seven years later he travelled to Indonesia to take on hometown legend Chris John, another wide decision loss the result. Again, I scored this fight a draw in the light of two justifiable deductions to the Marquez score for low blows (I gave John 1,3,7,11 and 12), making, again, any ruling seem reasonable to me. The net result is two key featherweight contests going against the Mexican.

In the plus column is good longevity at the weight, which brought with it solid victories over ranked contenders such as Victor Polo, Derrick Gainer and Manuel Medina, enough to speak of a fine career; but Marquez was an unlucky featherweight. In addition to those two desperately close decision losses to John and Norwood, he boxed a wonderful draw with the great Manny Pacquiao, climbing off the canvas three times, a huge effort to obtain a result that can enhance his standing, but only marginally. Worse, he was ranked the WBO’s number one contender to Naseem Hamed for two whole years without getting “The Prince” into the ring. Things only needed to be a little different in order that he might rank considerably higher.

A word here for Manny Pacquiao, a name synonymous with that of Juan Manuel Marquez; he does not make the list. His 2-0-1 ledger at the weight just doesn’t provide enough depth for him to reach these heights.

45 – Percy Bassett (64-12-1)

Percy Bassett was the “interim” world featherweight champion back when that phrase actually meant something. During World War II any championships belonging to active servicemen were frozen for the duration of the conflict; an interim champion was named for that time in order that some semblance of business as usual could continue. The practice continued into peace time for a spell.

Bassett won that title in 1953 while the lethal Sandy Saddler served in the army, and he won it against a very legitimate opponent, #1 contender Ray Famechon. The two swapped withering body punches as a fully decked out Saddler looked on, but it was Bassett who found more room for his viciousness; his knockout of Famechon, for it was such despite the fact that Famechon was helped back to his corner at the end of the third, technically resulting in a corner retirement, was brutal.

Other key wins over Lulu Perez, who was stopped in eerily similar circumstances in the eleventh, and Charley Riley, who he struggled with but was able to master, sneak him in the back door of the top fifty.

44 – Kuniaki Shibata (47-6-3)

From the heavyweights through to the featherweights, one of the most difficult questions to present itself has been, “what do you do with a robbery?” If you see a fight where the official decision is indefensible, do you “over-rule” it for the purposes of the project? Or accept it as the decision on the ground under the rules of the day scored by people only feet away?

For me, there is no one answer, but I think most of all the extremity of the bad decision is the deciding factor. So for the purposes of this list, Kuniaki Shibata’s 1971 draw with Ernesto Marcel is treated as a loss. Shibata no more drew that fight than I’ve been to the moon. He was clearly out-pointed.

He did show a huge heart in that fight though, walking through fire to keep the rounds competitive if not close. This is typical of Shibata and typical of a lot of other excellent Japanese featherweights for whom he is the standard bearer. Though I can’t quite name him a lock for this list, he is a very strong contender based upon the fact that he is the man who unseated the great Vicente Saldivar

Saldivar was on his second run as featherweight king, having come out of retirement to rip the title back, and probably he was not the fighter he had been during his first run. But nor had he been defeated since a 1962 disqualification loss and he was favored to win his 1970 match up with Shibata. The Japanese didn’t open like an underdog, charging Saldivar back to a neutral corner and lashing out.

A cursory glance might reveal a pressure fighter looking to land bombs, but in fact Shibata was a nuanced fighter and a clever one. He trusted himself enough to get close to a fighter like Saldivar, slip and counter; he baited leads then attacked in counter-rushes. It was a fine fight plan and it just wore the veteran down. By the tenth, he was bleeding heavily from a cut over the eye, and by the twelfth he looked like every one of those ring miles was right on him. Perhaps his decision to quit rather than face Shibata in the thirteenth can be forgiven.

It’s a sensational featherweight victory and the only time in his career that Saldivar lost a title match. It’s very much the peg upon which Shibata hangs his place on this list, his wider resume bereft of high quality once the Marcel draw is stripped from him. That said, his first round stoppage of the highly ranked Raul Cruz is nice and is well worth tracking down online. Cruz was as knocked out as any fighter ever was.

43 – Sal Bartolo

Sal Barolo was the contender affected most terribly by the birth in September of 1922 of one Gugliermo Papaleo, aka Willie Pep. Bartolo was ranked for half of the decade that Pep dominated, the 1940s, before throwing in the towel and fleeing for lightweight. In all, he met the defensive genius on three occasions, twice with Willie’s pet title on the line.

But Bartolo’s brush with immortality took place in a first, non-title fight with his nemesis. “One of the stiffest tests of [Pep’s] brilliant career” according to the Associated Press, it saw the “pride of East Boston” match his aggression with the champion’s wonderful skill and fall just a hair short of victory. Cut and battered early, he identified a clever shift to the right as he closed as the incitement to a withering body attack which peaked in the sixth round. He forced Pep from those famous feet, for all that a push and a slip was the culprit rather than a punch.

Bartolo dropped a split decision but was rewarded with a title match. With the championship on the line Pep delivered his glittering best and won a lop-sided decision over a deeply frustrated Bartolo who barely landed a glove after the second.

Probably Willie thought he was rid of the man who had troubled him so in that first fight, but Bartolo now went on a scintillating run of form winning a stunning twenty-six fights in three years. He also managed to gather up a strap, lifting the NBA version of the title in a knockout over Spider Armstrong. Rare are the contenders so consistent as to be able to force a dominant champion into the ring three times, and rarer still were men of such quality as to force Pep into a trilogy of fights but Bartolo earned his last chance.

An unusually spiteful Pep broke Bartolo’s jaw in ninth; he battled on and into the twelfth when he was dropped for the count.

In addition to Armstrong, Bartolo defeated made men like Willie Roach, Maurice LaChance and most impressively of all Phil Terranova. He would have been the champion in many weaker eras.

42 – Eder Jofre (72-2-4)

Few men can claim to having actually mastered the art of pugilism. Eder Jofre, perhaps, is one such man.

He will be remembered as a bantamweight, principally, and that is as it should be but he made his mark too at 126lbs, a mark indelible in history for the fact that he lifted the lineal featherweight title of the world.

The leap between bantamweight and featherweight is perhaps not as difficult as that from featherweight to lightweight or lightweight to welterweight, but it is certainly no small matter. No small matter is his taking the title from one Jose Legra, then in his prime at thirty years old. Jofre was thirty-seven and it was expected that he would lose that fight.

He won it, sending Legra into a hell he often invited his opponent’s to visit, defined by a clinical body attack, despite suffering multiple cuts, despite being dropped by a winging right hand that flew through his chin at the end of the third.

Nor did he stop there. Jofre added the not inconsiderable scalp of all-time great featherweight Vicente Saldivar, who came out of retirement to meet him in a 1973 superfight. Jofre stopped him in four, proving himself the only old man on the block who could still cut it with the young bucks. He proved it one more time while marching into his forties against the thirty year old Octavio Gomez, who was on the downside but still ranked.

Throw in Shig Fukuyama and Jose Antonio Jiminez and you have what amounts to a nice little resume at featherweight; delightfully, Jofre went unbeaten at this poundage which further barracks his position, although it must be weighed against an apparent reluctance to meet some of the more outstanding challengers, Alfredo Marcano chief among them.

41 – Eloy Rojas (40-5-2)

Eloy Rojas was the legitimate, lineal featherweight champion of the world between 1993, when he impressively defeated Yong-Kyun Park in South Korea, and 1996 when he was stopped by Wilfredo Vazquez. Between, he made several impressive defenses including another duel with Park on Korean soil and against former 122lb champion Samarat Payakaroon.

Rojas was soundly beaten in his first torrid contest with Park so the rematch was the sweetest of victories. Rojas is to be admired for taking the rubber match and even more admired for finding a way to defeat his old foe once more in a raucous foul-filled battle that stressed the limitations of Park’s mauling style. Rojas found the footwork to grant him space in the early rounds and the accuracy and punch selection to pepper him with nasty uppercuts through the second half.

Rojas was one of three champions that spanned 1987 to 1996 and they all figure upon this list. Rojas ranks the lowest here, below Park despite edging that rubber. In part, this is because outside of Park, Rojas perhaps did the least, scoring that win over Payakaroon and defeating the capable Miguel Arroza, but otherwise treading water; also, of the three, Rojas managed the fewest lineal title defences and beat the fewest ranked contenders.

But he could easily have ranked at #40 or #39 based upon his victories over Park.   For a detailed accounting of the reasons for Park and Antonio Esparragoza ranking over him, join me for Part Two next week.

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Charr-Oquendo Scuttled When Charr Tests Positive; the Odious WBA Saves Face

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Manuel Charr

Manuel Charr and Fres Oquendo were scheduled to fight in Cologne, Germany, later this month (Sept. 29). Charr would be defending his WBA world heavyweight title, the “regular” version of it, not the “super” version which rests in the hands of Anthony Joshua.

The bout was quickly cancelled when it was revealed that Charr had tested positive for two banned anabolic steroids. The test was performed by VADA, the anti-doping agency identified with Las Vegas neurologist Dr. Margaret Goodman.

The 33-year-old Charr, born in Lebanon but a resident of Germany since the age of three, won the belt in his last start with a unanimous decision over 281-pound Russian behemoth Alexander Ustinov in Oberhausen, Germany. The title was vacant. Charr won the right to fight for it with a 10-round decision over Albanian slug Sefer Seferi. The victory over Ustinov elevated his record to 31-4. He has been stopped three times, by Vitali Klitschko, Alexander Povetkin, and Mairis Briedis.

If it wasn’t for bad luck, as the old saying goes, Fres Oquendo wouldn’t have any luck at all. For various reasons, his fights keep falling out. Before long he’ll be drawing social security. Well, not exactly, but he turned 45 in April and hasn’t fought in more than four years.

Oquendo has competed for this belt before. In his last ring appearance in July of 2014, he lost a majority decision to Russia’s Ruslan Chagaev in Grozny, Russia. As a concession for taking the fight on short notice, Team Oquendo negotiated a rematch clause in the contract, but a shoulder injury prevented Fres from activating it. When the injury healed, he had to go to court to compel Chagaev to fulfill his obligation. But then the Russian retired, muddling the water.

The WBA was legally bound to find Oquendo a title fight and in desperation turned to ancient Shannon Briggs. But the Oquendo-Briggs fight, scheduled for June 3 of last year in Hollywood, Florida, fell out when Briggs’ urine specimen showed an abnormally high level of testosterone.

Fres Oquendo was dogged by bad luck even before these recent developments. His professional record, 37-8, is somewhat misleading as six of his eight defeats were razor-thin including his 2003 setback to Chris Byrd and his 2006 setback to Evander Holyfield. However, Oquendo, something of a cutie, was never a crowd-pleaser and in none of his narrow defeats was there a public clamor for a rematch.

The cancellation of Charr-Oquendo cuts the World Boxing Association out of a sanctioning fee, but one would think that the WBA honchos are actually rather pleased by this turn of events. The fight, more precisely the WBA’s world title imprimatur, would have brought more unwanted publicity to the Panama-based organization.

ESPN’s Dan Rafael, who has the largest platform of any boxing writer, has been a persistent critic of the organization which once recognized 41 “champions” in 17 weight classes. In 2009, Rafael wrote, “(The WBA) has become such an absolute farce that even somebody like me, who follows boxing closely, sometimes has a hard time keeping track of all the nonsensical so-called world title belts the WBA has been doling out at an alarming rate. It almost reminds me of the ladies at Costco who hand out various samples on a busy Saturday afternoon.”

Rafael took note when WBA president Gilberto Mendoza promised to cull the herd by eliminating “regular” titles, and then became more caustic when Mendoza didn’t follow through. Recently, in one short, punchy diatribe, Rafael blistered the WBA as wretched, vile, and rancid.

Regardless of your opinion, it’s hard not to feel sorry for Fres Oquendo who keeps getting stranded at the altar. No, he’s not fun to watch and a man of his age shouldn’t be taking any more punches, but he has always been an honest workman and by all accounts he’s a very decent man. Born in Puerto Rico but raised in Chicago, Oquendo pitched right in when the island nation of his birth was ravaged by Hurricane Maria. He was personally responsible for relocating Puerto Rican boxing legend Wilfred Benitez and Benitez’s sister, his caregiver, to Chicago where their lives wouldn’t be as hard.

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Bob Arum Hails Terence Crawford (not Lomachenko) as Boxing’s Next Superstar

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Arum says Terence

Top Rank’s Bob Arum says Terence Crawford will become this generation’s Floyd Mayweather or Manny Pacquiao–elite boxers who became worldwide celebrity sensations. Arum, who promoted both Mayweather and Pacquiao on the way to their historic crossover statuses expects big things from the undefeated Crawford over the next few years.

“He’s the best fighter in the United States, and he’s so charismatic,” said Arum. “He comes from middle America, and In the next year or so, he will be huge.”

Arum’s assertion is noteworthy for two reasons. First, Arum is also the promoter for Vasyl Lomachenko. Lomachenko is ranked No. 1 pound-for-pound by The Ring, the Boxing Writers Association of America and the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board. More importantly, Lomachenko seems to have a groundswell of support behind him both in the media and among fight fans.

Lomachenko has also been heavily featured through Top Rank’s television partnership with ESPN. While Crawford has achieved more in his career than Lomachenko (at least in my eyes) and, as noted by Arum, is a homegrown American talent, Lomachenko seems to be considered the more marketable commodity to that network judging by the amount of promotional materials ESPN has pumped out about the fighter over the last year.

The other reason Arum’s claim about Crawford is interesting is the performance of Canelo Alvarez over the weekend in his majority decision rematch win over Gennady Golovkin. Besides Mayweather and Pacquiao, Alvarez is the clear PPV leader among all of boxing’s current commodities, and his status as boxing’s new money fighter should only grow stronger after the best win of his career.

Still, Crawford is one of the few very elite fighters in all of boxing. He’s ranked No. 2 pound-for-pound by The Ring, the Boxing Writers Association of America and the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board.

While Lomachenko and Alvarez are also candidates to become boxing’s next big thing, there’s no doubt Crawford is also one of the few boxers in the sport right now with the right things in place to become the next Mayweather or Pacquiao.

Omaha’s Crawford is in the midst of an historic run. When he stopped Jeff Horn in round 9 at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas in June, Crawford captured a world title in his third different weight class, welterweight. This after Crawford had already captured two lineal boxing championships, as well as multiple alphabet titles, in both the lightweight and junior welterweight divisions.

By any measure, Crawford is truly one of the best boxers in the sport. Not only does he look the part in the ring on fight night (something more and more writers seem to value most when voting for pound-for-pound lists), but the fighter has already accomplished so much in his career that it seems Arum is doing more than the fiduciary duty of promoting his fighter when he ascribes to Crawford such lofty praise.

Crawford, still just 30 years old, is already halfway to matching Mayweather and Pacquiao’s shared record of most lineal championships. Over the course of his career, Mayweather captured lineal championships at junior lightweight, lightweight, welterweight, and junior middleweight. Pacquiao won his as a flyweight, featherweight, junior lightweight, and junior welterweight.

In order for Crawford to grab lineal championship No. 3, most believe he’ll have to go through welterweight phenom Errol Spence. While promotional entanglements might keep this superfight on the shelf for a while, Arum said he had no problem pitting Crawford against Spence in what would be one of the best matchups in recent memory.

“Absolutely,” said Arum when asked about working with Al Haymon’s Premier Boxing Champions, who represents Spence, to make the fight. Could any response from him be more exciting? Crawford vs. Spence might be the next superfight in boxing. Both fighters are among the very elite, and unlike what ultimately happened with Mayweather vs. Pacquiao, who fought each other well past their peak years, both would be in the prime of their careers.

Winning that fight would certainly go a long way to making Arum’s vision of Crawford’s future come true. And who knows? Maybe Crawford really is the next Mayweather or Pacquiao. Heck, for all we know, he could even be on his way to doing something more.

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A Kaleidoscope of Boxers Guaranteed to Provide Action: Past and Present

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Marvelous Marvin

To set the tone for this article, one needs only to watch the way in which Thomas Hearns came out in the first round against Marvelous Marvin Hagler. He was ready to rock and roll as was his fearsome looking opponent. The ensuing unmitigated savagery was the quintessential illustration of full-tilt boogie.

For most boxing fans, the anticipation of an all-out action bout gets the chills running down spines faster than anything else. But not all, as some prefer a tactical or clinical fight that someone like Mikey Garcia can orchestrate and others –but not many—enjoy a defensive gem via a Willie Pep, Nicolino Locche, or Pernell Whitaker. A few love a genuine blood fest that a Gabe Rosado-type can provide, and who doesn’t like seeing something special as in Sugar Ray Leonard, Kostya Tszyu, Terence Crawford or Vasiliy Lomachenko?

Chill-or-be-chilled types like Bob Satterfield and Tommy Morrison were super exciting. In this connection—a certain cadre of warriors, past and present, would come out charging and stalking as soon as the bell rang. Many demonstrated a marked disdain for defense and used a non-stop, no let-up pressure that discouraged their opponents, especially in the late rounds. The anticipation from the crowd was palpable because it sensed some form of destruction was on its way. The cheering would start during the instructions and sometimes did not let up until the concussive end.

This cadre included Rocky Marciano, Tony Ayala, Vicious Victor Galindez, Jeff Fenech, Roberto Duran, and Julio Cesar Chavez (who sapped the spirit of his opponents by ripping away at their mid-section). Also, Carl “The Cat”  Thompson , chill-or-be-chilled Ricardo “Pajarito” Moreno (60-12-1 with 59 KOs),  Ron Lyle, the ultra-violent Edwin Valero, the appropriately nicknamed JulianMr KO” Letterlough, James “The Outlaw” Hughes and his mindboggling ability to snatch victory from certain defeat, Thai stalking monster Khaosai Galaxy (47-1),  the first version of George Foreman (pictured with the aforementioned Lyle), Ji-Hoon “Volcano” Kim, Ruslan  Provodnikov, Orlando “Siri” Salido, Marcos Maidana, Lenny Z, Alfredo “Perro” Angulo, Mike Alvarado, Brandon Rios, and Mickey Roman (the later four are still fighting but past their primes).

Others who presently incite the anticipation of something special include (but are not limited to) Naoya “Monster” Inoue (16-0), Errol “The Truth” Spence Jr (24-0), Srisaket Sor Rungvisai (46-4-1), Alex Saucedo (27-0), and, of course, Gennady “GGG” Golovkin (38-1-1) who now has become slightly more tactical like his nemesis, Canelo Alvarez (50-1-1).

These stand out as representative.

Past

A prime Mike Tyson—and the emphasis is on prime– was the epitome of a boxer who guaranteed action. One simply would not leave his or her seat when “Iron Mike” was doing his highlight reel thing, and his blowout of Michael Spinks punctuated his standing at the top of all-action type fighters, even if the action was usually non-mutual.

Joe Frazier came out smokin’ and would not let up until either he or his opponent were done. For the most part, decisions were not in Joe’s DNA and his left hook was as malicious as a hook can be. With Joe, you just sat back and enjoyed the action. Frazier, wrote boxing historian Tracy Callis,  “was a strong, ‘swarmer’ style boxer who applied great pressure on his opponent and dealt out tremendous punishment with a relentless attack of lefts and rights; His left hook was especially stiff and quick when delivered during his bob-and-weave perpetual attack; he fought three minutes per round and never seemed to tire.”

Carlos “Escopeta” (Shotgun) Monzon (87-3-9) was a powerful and rangy Argentinean killing machine, built like an iron rod. Some said he pushed his punches. Well if he did, he pushed 87 opponents to defeat. He also became only the second man to stop former three-time world champion Emile Griffith, turning the trick in the 14th round. Blessed with great and deceptive stamina and a solid chin, he seemingly was an irresistible force. He was unbeaten over the last 81 bouts of his career, a span of 13 years, and defended his title 14 times. “One would need to write a book in order to do justice to comparing a fighter of Carlos Monzon’s calibre to his fellow all-time greats,” wrote Mike Casey.

Arturo Gatti and Irish Micky Ward were the quintessential action fighters. One is gone amidst controversy, and hopefully the other will not pay a price for his many ring wars. With these two, just count up the Fights-of-the-Year and the rest is history. Suffice it to say that Gatti and Ward will be forever linked in boxing lore.

Until his fateful fight with Nigel Benn (another all-action fighter), Gerald McClellan was absolutely, positively, a stalking monster with dynamite in his gloves. It was ferocity and fury at its highest level and it was something to behold. Sadly, his fight with Benn left him permanently disabled; his story remains a dark stain on boxing. As Ian McNeilly notes, “one man’s finest hour was the end of another man’s life as he knew it.”

Michael “The Great” Katsidis’s all-action style made thrilling fights a lock. The Kat” was willing to take three to deliver one. It was blood and guts to the last drop. Whether he too exacted a heavy price for this style remains to be seen.

Lucia Rijker, AKA “The Dutch Destroyer,” lived up to her moniker and destroyed everyone in her path. Again, it wasn’t “if,” it was “when.”

Christy Martin (49-7-3) put female boxing on the map in the ‘90s and she did it by going undefeated in 36 straight encounters, running roughshod over her opponents as evidenced by her 25 wins by stoppage during this run. She also managed to steal the show from a Mike Tyson main event in 1996 during her memorable and bloody battle with Deirdre Gogarty.

Present

Deontay Wilder, aka “The Bronze Bomber,” has a record of 40-0.  With 39 wins coming by KO—many in spectacular fashion, The “Bomber” brings with him that same sense of anticipation that Tyson did. It’s not if; it’s when and “when” can occur at any time. But unlike Tyson, there is a vulnerability that Luis Ortiz exposed that makes the excitement index go even higher.

Dillian Whyte (24-1) has seldom been in a dull affair. His vulnerability combined with his mode of attack ensures thrilling action and the possibility of a stoppage at any time. Unlike Dereck “Del-Boy” Chisora, Whyte is consistently aggressive and dangerous.

Manny Pacquiao (60-7-2) has slowed down considerably but his recent stoppage win over Lucas Matthysse offers hope that he can still conjure up his exciting whirlwind style of fast in-an-out movements that allowed him to win multiple titles over several future Hall of Fame opponents between 2005 and 2011. A rematch with Floyd Mayweather Jr., if rumors are true, would allow Pac Man an opportunity to accomplish a number of extraordinary things including avenging a prior defeat and ruining Mayweather’s undefeated record. Time will tell.

Though he appears to have shot his wad, a prime Antonio Margarito was the classic stalk, stun, and kill fighter. Heck, he belonged on the Discovery Channel. His two blowouts of Kermit Cintron showed the “Tijuana Tornado” at his most brutal. His come-from-behind demolition of Miguel Cotto stands out for its drama and bloodletting—and subsequent speculative controversy.

David Lemieux (39-4) always brings the heat. His fights seldom end as scheduled. With KO power in both hands and a propensity to rehydrate by 20 pounds, he is the essence of danger and attendant excitement. “With the sheer power he carries, Lemieux will always have a shot at beating any middleweight, and he is almost always involved in good action fights,” says James Slater.

Amanda Serrano (35-1-1) is the only women’s boxer to win world titles in six divisions. The “Real Deal” is unique in that she has a high KO percentage (74 percent) which is rare for female boxers. Amanda is 120 seconds of guaranteed action for each round.

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While Iron Mike Tyson is THE MAN, Matthew Saad Muhammad also warrants special billing as he embodied what this article is all about. Steve Farhood summed up the essence of Saad Muhammad with an observation that would be appropriate for his tombstone: “Eddie Gregory (Mustafa Muhammad) has a better jab, Marvin Johnson wields more power, James Scott does more sit ups. But, Muhammad’s heart is the size of a turnbuckle, and it anchors his title reign.”

Who did I leave out? Whose name or names would you add to this list?

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