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Sugar Ray Robinson is Still #1: Ranking the Middleweight Greats

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Ranking great fighters from different eras, when done seriously, is a daunting task. It’s easy to sit down and put together a shoot-from-the-hip list. But that doesn’t do justice to the fighters.

In recent years, I’ve sought to quantify ring greatness in a credible way. I’ve compiled lists of great champions who reigned at 135 and 147 pounds and matched them against each other in round-robin tournaments with the results of each fight being predicted by a panel of boxing industry experts.

This time, in advance of Gennady Golovkin’s next ring appearance, it’s modern 160-pound greats.

The middleweight champions chosen for the tournament, in alphabetical order, are Nino Benvenuti, Gennady Golovkin, Marvin Hagler, Bernard Hopkins, Roy Jones, Jake LaMotta, Carlos Monzon, Sugar Ray Robinson, and James Toney.

The list is limited to middleweights from the post World War II era. It does not include fighters like Stanley Ketchel, Harry Greb, and Mickey Walker because not enough film footage is available to properly evaluate them. Golovkin is the wild card in the tournament. His fans have complained that none of today’s elite fighters will fight him. This is his chance to be matched against the best.

The panelists were asked to assume for each hypothetical fight that both fighters were at the point in their respective careers when they were still able to make 160 pounds and were capable of duplicating their best 160-pound performance.

One can look to side issues such as same-day weigh-ins versus day-before weigh-ins. And there’s a difference between going twelve rounds as opposed to fifteen. But at the end of the day, either a fighter is very good, great, or the greatest.

Twenty-four experts participated in the rankings process. Listed alphabetically, the panelists are:

Trainers: Teddy Atlas, Pat Burns, and Don Turner

Media: Jerry Izenberg, Harold Lederman, Paulie Malignaggi, Larry Merchant, and Michael Rosenthal

Matchmakers: Eric Bottjer, Don Elbaum, Bobby Goodman, Brad Goodman, Ron Katz, Mike Marchionte, Chris Middendorf, Russell Peltz, and Bruce Trampler

Historians: Craig Hamilton, Don McRae, Bob Mee, Clay Moyle, Adam Pollack, Randy Roberts, and Mike Tyson

If each of the nine fighters listed above had fought the other eight, there would have been 36 fights. And there were 24 panelists. Thus, 864 fight predictions were entered into the data base. Fighters were awarded one point for each predicted win and a half-point for each predicted draw (too close to call). A perfect score would have been 192 points.

In two instances, an elector chose not to make a prediction on certain fights. One matchmaker said that he never saw Robinson, LaMotta, or Benvenuti fight and didn’t feel comfortable predicting outcomes for their matches. One historian felt the same way regarding Golovkin. A weighted average from the other electors was used to fill in the fights at issue in those two tournament grids.

In some instances, the fighters actually fought each other at middleweight. For example, Roy Jones conclusively decisioned Bernard Hopkins when they fought at 160 pounds. But Hopkins’s prime middleweight years came after that. Thus, two electors gave Bernard the nod over Roy at 160 pounds and two called their match-up a draw.

Sugar Ray Robinson was the clear choice for #1.

Two years ago, Robinson finished first in a similar 147-pound fantasy tournament with a projected record of 186 wins, 3 losses, and 7 draws. Now the experts have rated Robinson #1 at 160 pounds. Fourteen of the 24 electors predicted that he would win all eight of his tournament fights. But Robinson is considered beatable at middleweight, where his projected tournament record is 173 wins, 17 losses, and 2 draws.

Here, it should be noted that we’re talking about the Sugar Ray Robinson of 1951, who put a brutal beating on Jake LaMotta; not the Robinson who lost desire and saw his physical skills diminish as he got older.

Marvin Hagler, Roy Jones, and Carlos Monzon are grouped behind Robinson in that order.

“Picking against Robinson has become almost a sacrilege,” one matchmaker said. “But I think Hagler at his best beats him.”

Another Hagler backer noted, “I’ll go with Hagler over Robinson. But if Marvin comes out in an orthodox stance and gives away the first four rounds like he did against Sugar Ray Leonard, I’m changing my vote.”

Roy Jones finished close behind Hagler, eliciting kudos such as, “People forget how good Roy was when he was young . . . Jones was so athletically gifted at that time in his life – far beyond anything normal – that I can seen him beating any of these guys . . . Roy at middleweight was special with his amazing speed and power. He did things I never saw anyone else do. He could have stolen this tournament.”

Three of the electors thought that Jones would win all eight of his fights. One elector gave Hagler (who finished second to Robinson in the voting) a perfect 8-and-0 record.

Three voters predicted that Monzon (who finished fourth) would win all eight of his fights. “The downside to Monzon,” one matchmaker said, “is that he fought a lot of elite fighters, but he didn’t fight them at their peak.”

Jake LaMotta, Gennady Golovkin, and Bernard Hopkins were also closely grouped.

“To be fair to LaMotta,” one historian said, “he was slipping when he fought Robinson the last time, which was the only time they fought at middleweight. Was he as great as Robinson? No. But he beat Robinson once, and he was good enough to test him every time.”

Golovkin was 12-10-2 in head-to-head competition against Hopkins and edged Bernard out in the rankings by a half-point. A repeated theme with regard to Gennady was, “He’s good, but I don’t know how good because the best fighters in his weight range are avoidng him . . . We just don’t know about Golovkin. I’ve seen fighters who looked great be great. And I’ve seen fighters who looked great fall short . . . Golovkin is hittable, and these guys could hit. It’s one thing to knock out Daniel Geale after he punches you in the face. It’s very different if you’re punched in the face by Carlos Monzon.”

As for Hopkins; one trainer predicted that Bernard would beat Roy Jones at 160 pounds and fight Sugar Ray Robinson even. “Hopkins got better after he lost to Jones,” the trainer noted. “I think that Bernard at his best would have smothered Roy, roughed him up, and made Roy fight ugly.”

James Toney and Nino Benvenuti rounded out the field.

The final rankings and point totals are:

Sugar Ray Robinson 174 points

Marvin Hagler 134

Roy Jones 131

Carlos Monzon 126

Jake LaMotta 71.5

Gennady Golovkin 67.5

Bernard Hopkins 67

James Toney 54

Nino Benvenuti 39

Charts #1 and #2 contain underlying statistical data from the tournament.

Chart #1 shows that the matchmakers, trainers, media representatives, and historians all ranked Robinson in the #1 slot. There was a divergence of opinion after that.

Chart #2 shows how the panelists thought each fighter would fare against the other eight.

Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at thauser@rcn.com. His most recent book – Thomas Hauser on Boxing – was published by the University of Arkansas Press.

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Michael Dutchover Remains Undefeated in Ontario, Calif.

Transplanted Texan Michael Dutchover needed a little time to figure out Costa Rican Bergman Aguilar but when he did it was over quickly on Friday.

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Michael Dutchover

ONTARIO-Calif.-Transplanted Texan Michael Dutchover needed a little time to figure out Costa Rican Bergman Aguilar but when he did it was over quickly on Friday.

Lightweight prospect Dutchover (11-0, 8 KOs) knocked out southpaw Aguilera (14-4-1, 4 KOs) in the fifth round with a barrage of body blows that left the Costa Rican limp at the Doubletree Hotel.

For two rounds Aguilar used an awkward counter-punching style that had Dutchover a little tentative. But once he figured out that combination punching was the key, he opened up with barrages and floored Aguilar with body shots at the end of round four.

That signaled doom for Aguilar.

The fifth round saw Dutchover target the body with impunity as Aguilar tried holding, running and covering up with no success. Referee Wayne Hedgepeth signaled the fight over at 2:31 of the fifth round giving Dutchover the win by knockout.

In a bantamweight clash Santa Ana’s Mario Hernandez (7-0-1, 3 KOs) and Mexico City’s Ivan Gonzalez (4-1-2, 1 KO) fought to a majority draw after six back and forth rounds.

Hernandez targeted the body against the taller Gonzalez who relied on long range counters. Both found success but neither could prove superiority after six turbulent rounds.

After six rounds one judge saw it 58-56 for Gonzalez but the two other judges saw it 57-57 for a majority draw.

Other bouts

South Central L.A.’s Ruben Torres (7-0, 6 KOs) extended his undefeated streak with a knockout over Mexico’s Eder “El Koreano” Amaro (6-6, 2 KOs) in a lightweight fight. But it wasn’t easy.

Amaro switched from southpaw to orthodox and was matching Torres for two rounds until the taller local fighter began blasting away to the body and head with precision. Many in the crowd cheered “Koreano” in unison but it couldn’t help once Torres zeroed in.

At the end of the fourth round Amaro could not continue and the fight was stopped giving a knockout for Torres.

Richard Brewart Jr. (2-0) mowed through Edward Aceves (0-5) flooring him with body shots in the first round then overwhelming him in the second. After seven unanswered blows referee Eddie Hernandez stopped the fight at 1:32 of round two giving Rancho Cucamonga’s Brewart the win by knockout in the super welterweight bout.

Southpaw David Ortiz (1-0) won his pro debut by unanimous decision after four rounds in a welterweight match against San Diego’s Mario Angeles (2-11-2). Ortiz lives in Bloomington, Calif. and is trained by Henry Ramirez. No knockdowns were scored.

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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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