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The 50 Greatest Welterweights of All-Time Part Five: 10-1

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 by Matt McGrain

It's the end.

I can't say I'm sorry.  Separating this mix of animals and geniuses was almost as difficult as ordering and researching the cracking fighters that make the lower reaches of this list, and those who barely missed out.  The top ten is supposed to be a bit of a gimmee once the groundwork has been done in the earlier parts, but the mere ordering kept me awake at night.  This was the best I could do with the information I've processed over the past few months.  Give me another few months and we'll make a start on the monsters at lightweight – possible competition for the ultra-stacked middleweight division.

For now, listen.

This, is how I have them:

 

#10 –  Ted “Kid” Lewis (192-32-14; Newspaper Decisions 40-14-10)

 

Originally, I ranked Ted “Kid” Lewis below Tommy Ryan. Then I crunched the numbers. Lewis engaged in twenty-seven world championship fights at the weight. He lost nine of these – but for the most part, these were to the deadly Jack Britton, a fighter he had the atrocious luck to share an era with and with whom he fought the most incredible series in boxing history. They met nineteen times, and although Britton got the best of this astonishing series, the very fact that they were deemed good enough to be matched so often over a period of just six years, and almost exclusively for the welterweight championship of the world, speaks volumes.

Lewis was perhaps the ultimate marauder at the weight and certainly he has only Joe Walcott and Mickey Walker for company; a jackal of a fighter who placed his opponents under relentless pressure with a view to breaking, outworking or stopping them. Aggressive to a fault, perpetual motion was a philosophy he embraced as completely as anyone since the heyday of Harry Greb.  Lewis fought eighteen times in 1918, twelve times in 1919, eleven times in 1920, winning an overwhelming majority of these contests. In his peak year of 1917, he was generally held to have received the nod in four consecutive no-decisions against Britton. A two-time welterweight champion of the world, he achieved this feat despite sharing an era with a great fighter who was also his stylistic kryptonite. Taken in tandem with what is perhaps the most impressive longevity of any swarmer, at any weight, fifteen victories in title fights and a consistently impressive level of  welterweight opposition, a spot just inside the top-ten is his due.

Other Top Fifty Welterweights Defeated: Mike Glover (#37), Jack Britton (3).

#09 – Floyd Mayweather (49-0)

 

Floyd Mayweather is a divisive figure, to put it lightly. For his legion of devoted fans, he is nothing less than the greatest fighter in history and, presumably, the greatest welterweight, too.  For those that seek to undermine him — due, in many cases, to personal disdain for one of boxing’s more unpleasant characters — he belongs nowhere near the top ten welterweights in history. This being the case, I’ve endeavored to stay away, as far as it is possible in this entry, from opinion.  I’ll deal in fact.

Floyd Mayweather defeated more ranked welterweight contenders than Thomas Hearns (rankings by Ring/TBRB). He defeated more top five contenders than almost anyone outside the top ten, aside from the likes of Jackie Fields – but Fields also lost to a handful of welterweights.  Mayweather was unbeaten.

Mayweather defeated more welterweight lineal champions than Barney Ross. Working by the scorecards of the judges he was, for the most part, in non-competitive fights at the weight. He made a past-prime Manny Pacquiao, his #1 contender at the weight, look like a journeyman. He defeated more #1 ranked fighters (champions or top rated contenders) than all but the most storied of fighters. He boxed only three unranked men at the weight, two of whom were soft touches (Sharmba Mitchell, his first fight at the weight, and Andre Berto) and Ricky Hatton, the light-welterweight champion of the world and universally recognized pound-for-pounder, who he knocked out. 

He was one of the few men to become a two-time lineal world-welterweight champion and the only man who ever did it without losing a fight, coming out of retirement to do what Barbados Joe Walcott and Benny Leonard both failed to do. During his welterweight career, moments of true danger were extremely rare; he was run close just once, in the first fight with Marcos Rene Maidana, a narrow victory he rendered wide in the rematch. 

What Mayweather didn’t do was beat everyone who was available. He probably should have taken on Antonio Margarito, and Paul Williams was ranked very near the top when he was active in the division. That said, fighters who beat everyone available are close to non-existent. But if it pleases, you can zip on down to the entry on Henry Armstrong to read about a worse offender. 

Nor did Mayweather show either great longevity (at the weight) or have the opportunity to beat another great welterweight, outside of Manny Pacquiao, who he had a chance to meet in his prime and failed to do so (for whatever reason). This is why Mayweather is not #1, nor anywhere near it. The top ten is well within his range however, which I make somewhere between fourteen and eight.

Outside of the ring he was an arrogant, loudmouthed, woman-beating bully bereft of class.  Inside the ring he was a genius.

Other Top Fifty Welterweights Defeated: Shane Mosley (#29), Manny Pacquiao (#22).

#08 – Tommy Hearns (61-5-1)

 

I have often wondered if any fighter, ever, at any weight, was blessed with such a combination of speed, power and laser-guided accuracy as Thomas Hearns. I think one could construct an argument that yes, Ray Robinson outmatches him in a combined sense over these three key departments – but who else, really, matched the lightning speed with which Hearns lashed out a one-two, the frightening effect those punches had on even the hardest of men, and the terrifying regularity with which he dropped the second punch in a combination on the same spot as the discombobulating first? What else but a combination of extraordinary and raw attributes could have carried Hearns all the way from welterweight to cruiserweight? What else could have made him the most feared puncher in a division that contained Pipino Cuevas, who he met in 1980 having scored twenty-six knockouts in twenty-eight fights, most of them early? 

Whatever the detail, Hearns was never more terrifying than when laying out Cuevas, who had not been stopped since his professional debut nearly ten years earlier. Hearns stalked the belt-holder relentlessly and hurt him with every right hand he landed. Cuevas was reduced to feinting, covering up on the ropes and, humiliatingly, running away from his vastly superior opponent.  This meeting between Cuevas, one of the best welterweights of his era, and Hearns, a comparative novice, was non-competitive. Taking a huge step-up in class, Hearns looked like he had been boxing at title-level for years. 

This was not the case, but he had been meeting ranked contenders for some time, taking on Commonwealth champion Clyde Gray in just his fifteenth fight. Gray was a perfect opponent for the green Hearns, game but limited, and the prospect exposed the veteran’s limitations in the tenth and final round, in part because Gray, to his credit, stopped running and went for the knockout.

Between Gray and Cuevas, Hearns beat the resistance out of former belt-holder Angel Espada so casually and one-sidedly that it felt more like sparring than a title-eliminator. This is also the fight in which Tommy’s jab matured; quick, unerringly pointed and bone-rattling, it was a punch that defined and decided the contest – although it was yet another horrible series of right hands, including a digging uppercut to the mid-riff, that sent Espada to the canvas three times before the end of the fourth.

After Cuevas, Tommy’s key contests were against Luis Primera with whom he tested his footwork and even his punch-resistance against an outclassed opponent but one who refused to be cowed and lasted six rounds, and against Randy Shields. Shields had gone a gutsy fifteen with Cuevas eighteen months earlier but here he found a new kind of bravery to extend Hearns to twelve, whereupon he was rescued due to cuts above both eyes. This was a rough fight and a fight in which Hearns, finally, had his engine tested, had his generalship tested, but questions remained: could a really good fighter take advantage of these less stellar attributes?

No. A good fighter, no, never. A good fighter would get his face kicked in by Tommy Hearns, always. But a great fighter – a great fighter might find a way. Ray Leonard found a way in 1981 when these two finally collided, with barely five-minutes remaining in a fight in which Hearns led on all cards. This result gives me pause. Hearns, like Ted Kid Lewis who is ranked at #10, has a high spot without having actually been the finest welterweight of his generation. How high is too high for a generational number two?

The answer is #2 – a slot occupied by Archie Moore on the corresponding list at light-heavyweight despite his having been defeated three times by the #1, Ezzard Charles. So for Hearns, and for Lewis, a high ranking is possible. Hearns probably hits his roof here – but how, really, to rank him behind Floyd Mayweather who seems so utterly, utterly chanceless against him had they, instead of Leonard, shared an era?

Other Top Fifty Welterweights Defeated: Pipino Cuevas (#35)

#07 – Kid Gavilan (108-30-5)

 

Kid Gavilan was probably impossible to out-brawl at 147lbs. He had a collection of attributes that flat-out negated that style. Active, poised, a brilliant general and a terror on the inside, he had a granite jaw and an unsurpassed engine that enabled him to out-work and out-think just about anyone who came to him. He had to be outboxed; in his stunning prime in 1951, 1952 and 1953, during which he reigned as the world’s 147lb champion, no welterweight of any style was able to defeat him.

Unlike Mayweather and Hearns, Gavilan had and matched the competition to prove his irrevocable greatness and my sense is that for this reason we find, at #7, new heights of achievement within the welterweight ranks. Gavilan’s run against a murderer’s row of top five-ranked talent began before his true prime however, when he matched Tommy Bell in 1948. Bell had dropped Sugar Ray Robinson for a count two years earlier and although Sugar Ray had rocked back off the canvas to take a fifteen round decision, Bell was credited with providing Robinson with tough opposition. Despite the fact he had started to slip, Bell had ambitions of matching Robinson once more but it was the underdog Gavilan who emerged with the victory.  So it was he who got not one, but two stabs at Robinson, fending off the wonderful Ike Williams on two occasions in between receiving two invaluable lessons in boxing from Sugar. 

In the wake of these, and other hard lessons, his prime began, probably with a split-decision victory over Billy Graham in late 1950. This was revenge for Gavilan, who lost a controversial split against Graham earlier in the year. The two met four times; Gavilan won the series 3-1 but there was no definitive victor in any of their contests until their fourth and final fight when Gavilan boxed Graham to a standstill. The following year, 1951, Gavilan had hoisted the title Robinson had left behind him when he departed for middleweight and in addition to Graham, repelled Bobby Dykes, Gil Turner, number five contender Chuck Davey (in what passes for a soft-touch for Gavilan, but also a fighter he utterly destroyed), Johnny Bratton and Carmen Basilio before the wear and tear began to show. 

Basilio accounted for some of that wear and tear; their fight was a fascinating surge and ebb of flow. A truly great general, Gavilan forced Basilio to wait whether he was taking tiny shuffling steps, waiting, circling, or a mixture of the three. He chose when and how Basilio would fight him, whether he was winning the fifteenth almost entirely with his left hand, or hashing it out up close with one of the division’s best infighters. As good on the inside as the outside and truly exceptional at controlling which of those distances the fight would be fought at, Gavilan is a fine herald for the coming of the greatest welterweights of all time.

Other Top Fifty Welterweights Defeated: Billy Graham (#31), Carmen Basilio (#21).

#06 – Henry Armstrong (151-21-9)

 

Henry Armstrong was a monstrous welterweight and a natural 135 pounder. This makes for a confusing title reign.

It's confusing in three parts. First, Armstrong made a habit of fighting lightweights in welterweight title defenses. He contested the 147lb title against Baby Arizmendi in a 1939 defense that was thrilling, bloody but staged against a fighter who weighed 135.5lbs. Davey Day weighed 136lbs. Lew Feldman, 134. There are other examples. One can only imagine the reaction should Floyd Mayweather or Manny Pacquiao have taken a welterweight title or strap and then defended it against a series of 135lb men. 

Armstrong himself was often barely above the lightweight limit but that is not the point. The point is, Armstrong wasn't exposed to the true rigors of the welterweight division in these contests. So yes, Armstrong staged a lot of defences, and he was a busy champion, but a handful of these contests were fought against fighters who, frankly, were not welterweights. He was also given to boxing title-matches with fighters who were not qualified to be in such contests. Howard Scott had lost six in six when he got the call. Phil Furr had lost three of his last four.  There were quality defences, but a lot of chaff.

Finally, Armstrong's management – stress that, not Armstrong, his management – didn't seem keen on taking on some of the tougher challenges available. Charley Burley was repeatedly told that Armstrong was to depart for lightweight and so a title fight was not possible, only to box match after match at the weight. Cocoa Kid was, perhaps, deserving of a shot and no shot materialized. The tiny Joe Gnouly, 3-4 in his last seven, did get a title fight, however.

All of this said, Armstrong's destruction of Barney Ross was terrifying. He mangled Ross when he took the championship in 1938. He defeated #1 contender Ceferino Garcia in his first, thrilling title defense, a war fought toe-to-toe. And perhaps that is the point. Armstrong, like Mickey Walker before him, did not make any great concession in style when he met these bigger men. He did what he always did, swarmed all over them trying to dominate and out-land them.  It was a frightening strategy but he made it work throughout one of the busiest title reigns in history. More, he continued battering contenders even after he lost his championship to Zivic, even beating his usurper in a third non-title fight. This is incredible longevity for such a busy fighter employing such an aggressive, killing style.

But I stand by a ranking that may be considered a little lower than expected. It is impossible to imagine a top ten without him, but given the wonderful quality of fighter that lies above, I can't quite squeeze him into the top five.

Other Top Fifty Welterweights Defeated: Fritzie Zivic (#30), Barney Ross (#15),

#05 – Emile Griffith (85-24-2)

 

In just his sixteenth fight, Emile Griffith met the legendary Friday Night Fights veteran Gaspar Ortega. It was an astonishing move but one that Griffith’s trainer and right hand, Gil Clancy, seemed relaxed about. Griffith won a split decision; he rewarded Ortega's efforts with a second fight, a year later by which time Griffith was the welterweight champion of the world. The beating he administered his old foe was brutal and one-sided, Griffith’s left hook a terrifying specter throughout.

Jorge Jose Fernandez, another veteran of enormous experience and also dangerous punching ability, met Griffith early too; Fernandez was unlucky to drop a split so Griffith immediately rematched him and turned matador, slipping, ducking, moving and punching his way to a decision. Fernandez received the same questionable reward for that first tough fight that Ortega did, Griffith winning a weird rematch by ninth round TKO after landing a low blow. 

He was a kindly, humble soul and Clancy described his frustration at watching Griffith hold back if he liked his opponent or felt sorry for him. But properly motivated, he was a machine; a lethal combination of strength, maul, beautiful accuracy and a total grasp of the technical aspects of the sport, for all that he adapted them for awkward, practical purposes. Griffith may be the most difficult fighter on this list to actually fight.

“Any title I have I don’t believe in putting it on the shelf,” Griffith would say. “I believe in letting the other guy have a crack at it.” When people label Griffith inconsistent, it is worth keeping this quote in mind. 

Griffith met Luis Manuel Rodriguez four times, Benny Paret three times, Jorge Jose Fernandez three times, Ralph Dupas twice, Gaspar Ortega twice, Eddie Pace, Jose Stable, Brian Curvis and the terrifying puncher Florentino Fernandez. Of course he lost a few.  But in welterweight title fights he is 10-3; of the losses, there was the brave past-prime effort against the great Jose Napoles (had he won that, Griffith would be ranked #2), a questionable decision loss to Benny Paret, avenged, and finally a dropped decision to all time-great head-to-head monster Rodriguez, which he also avenged – and because that decision was questioned, he fought and beat him again. He was a three-time lineal champion not because of inconsistency but because he fought the best and with the single exception of Jose Napoles, he beat the best.

Other Top Fifty Welterweights Defeated: Benny Paret (#47), Luis Manuel Rodriguez (#18),

#04 – Jose Napoles (81-7)

 

Jose Napoles was run out of Cuba by Fidel Castro’s ban on professional sports. Mexico welcomed him with open arms and as is so often the case, the massed banditry of Mexican opposition hued a fighter made of stone. Napoles emerged from twin-educations in the boxing hotbeds of Cuba and Mexico tough, schooled and savvy to the point of brilliance. He was also ready to box for the welterweight championship, then in the hands of the brilliant Curtis Cokes.

Few welterweights were blessed with a left hand better than Cokes, but Napoles was such a man; even this, however, couldn't entirely explain the outcome of their April 1969 contest. Cokes won not a round on my card and the judges found only one or two for him, before he quit on his stool at the end of the thirteenth, the finish line in sight. It was possibly the most consummate title-winning effort in history, at any weight; it may also have been the definitive boxing clinic ever performed. Napoles was effortless in his excellence, doubling up the jab even when he missed, hitting something with the second, an arm, a glove, making him difficult to counter. He added a right and when Cokes was forced to let him inside despite a reach advantage of two inches, a diet of double-handed uppercuts his reward. Meanwhile the Cokes left seemed to vanish in thin air as he threw it, Napoles countering him so hard and often that he became afraid to punch. A rematch a few months later saw Cokes quit at the end of the tenth, his face bloody and his right eye swollen almost shut by that hideous, persistent left. He described the same “inability to get going” against Napoles that you sometimes hear from opponents of Floyd Mayweather and Bernard Hopkins. Napoles was able to place the same hex on world-class opposition, but he did it whilst boxing much, much more aggressively.

Having taken the title from a near-great welterweight, Napoles staged his first defense against a true great from the last generation, Emile Griffith. Griffith was past-prime and returning to the welterweight division having swapped the 160lb title back and forth with Nino Benvenuti, but he still had victories over the monstrous Dick Tiger, among others, in his immediate future, making Jose's total dominance of him all the more astonishing. It was not a close fight; it was another wide decision victory for Napoles, who even sent the granite-jawed Griffith to the deck with a neat counter in the third.

A stoppage of the highly ranked Ernie Lopez (who he also beat in a rematch) followed before Jose's single weakness was exposed by Billy Backus; Napoles had a propensity to cut, often exaggerated, but impossible to ignore. He was stopped in the fourth, won a rematch, and then staged an astonishing eleven defenses in a row, before John Stracey stopped him on a cut in 1975 to take his title. Napoles then called it a day.

Had he not suffered that cut against Backus, it is likely that Napoles would have managed sixteen consecutive victories in title fights, boxed generally against a high level of opposition. In Hedgemon Lewis, Ernie Lopez, Emile Griffith, Adolph Pruitt, Roger Menetrey, Billy Backus, Cyde Gray and Curtis Cokes he dispatched a wonderful collection of competition ranked in the division's top five, to say nothing of men such as Horacio Saldano and Armando Muniz, who were ranked in the bottom half of the top ten. Even carrying such a disadvantage as vulnerable skin, he is likely one of three or four best welterweights ever to have taken to the ring and his legacy is such that a spot outside the top five would seem unreasonable.

Other Top Fifty Welterweights Defeated: Curtis Cokes (#17), Emile Griffith (#5).

#03 – Jack Britton (103-29-20; 137-28-22)

 

Of the men to make the top ten, Jack Britton is the only one of whom I have seen no footage. I'm sad about that.  Britton was likely one of the greatest defensive fighters in history.

Having fought in around 350 contest (that we know of) and having been stopped only once (in an early fight), his chin is confirmed both as granite and hard to reach; having knocked out only one in ten of his recorded opponents, he was also almost entirely without power. Think, for a moment, of the level of skill necessary to become the single greatest welterweight of your generation despite boxing to a schedule that would have pricked Harry Greb's ears over the course of no fewer than four decades and doing it all without a power punch and you begin to understand the absolute wonder that was Britton. 

I once wrote that it is impossible to provide even a cursory explanation of Britton's career on the internet and that if ever a fighter needed a really good book, it is him. In truth, even surmising his drawn out series with Ted “Kid” Lewis, his mortal enemy and a man he repeatedly fought in contesting the welterweight championship, is impossible. The details of these contests, so numerous and closely contested are too numerous to account here, so, in summary: he won. He won numerically but he also staged an almost impossible moral and literal victory. Champions boxing in the teens of the last century could make a vanquished opponent wait as long as they liked for a rematch with usually the market determining if a defeated foe was in line for another crack. Britton, who claimed the title after his defeat of Mike Glover, had been beaten by Lewis for the title. The fledgling American Boxing Association was flexing its newfound muscle, however, and Britton found himself back in the ring with his mortal enemy, this time boxing a draw. He then defeated Lewis in a six-round non-title fight earning him, in the early part of 1919, a re-match for the title.

But there was a complication. Lewis, in keeping with his era, met Britton in a No Decision bout, a bout where no scorecards were rendered and no judges were present, outside of the newspapermen who would often declare a winner in print in their paper's next edition. The only way for the title to pass on to the challenger was for him to knock the champion out. Given Lewis's iron mandible and Britton's lack of power this seemed impossible.

So Britton did the impossible. He stopped Lewis in the ninth round of a scheduled ten, fighting with uncommon spite, dropping Lewis repeatedly before ripping the title from him. He never lost to Lewis again, running away with their series in repeated defeats of his nemesis.

There is so much more to Britton than Lewis but Lewis did define him. Winning the greatest series in boxing history, despite the hyena hounding him for his title, scrapes him past Napoles and into the top three. 

Other Top Fifty Welterweights Defeated: Mike Glover (#37), Ted “Kid” Lewis (#10).

#02 – Ray Leonard (36-3-1)

 

Making himself great in a mere blink of Jack Britton's eye, Leonard required just forty fights to make himself even greater than that welterweight legend and very nearly the greatest of them all.  Sure, he was flashy, anointed, arguably blessed with an arrogance equalled only by his physical gifts and led a private life every bit as objectionable as that of Floyd Mayweather (with a healthy cocaine habit tossed in for good measure), but Leonard isn't a pre-eminent boxer due to his fame or his infamy. Leonard was a true fistic great.

He began battering ranked contenders in 1978 at just 13-0, taking on one Floyd Mayweather Sr. and stopping him in ten. This is a mature performance for such a green fighter, Leonard giving up his wonderful jab in favor of mid-range two-handed aggressive fighting, the right move against a non-puncher with brittle hands. Randy Shields went next, losing a ten round decision in a surprisingly dirty fight which even saw the referee replaced after he was cut while trying to separate the fighters during an exchange. When he stopped the excellent John Gant in eight in the first month of 1979, he had defeated three ranked men in little over four months. This is important; compared to most of the men on this list, Leonard hardly boxed a career – what is significant is that he defeated more ranked contenders than most of them. Leonard didn't hang around and his rush through the division, once it began, was a destructive one. Pete Ranzany, stopped in four; Andy Price crushed in one; Davey Green and Bruce Finch, too, were butchered without offering much in the way of resistance. Common-garden contenders just weren't able to extend Leonard – he was too good.

But the three results that really make Leonard an all-time great welterweight were posted against the other three all-time great fighters he met at the poundage. Wilfred Benitez, the Puerto-Rican defensive genius and welterweight champion of the world was up first; Leonard boxed brilliantly and within himself, out-waiting and out-jabbing his brilliant foe from the outside, opening up and hurting him frequently between the third and the fifteenth, when he dropped, then stopped Benitez on his feet with mere seconds of the fight remaining. This busy, rather brutal fifteenth confirmed his engine and his ring generalship, which always appeared solid but now seemed supernatural.

 That would be called into question by the next great he met in the ring as he seemed determined to fight the savage Roberto Duran toe-to-toe. Duran taught Leonard his last great lesson; he took it to heart and completely bamboozled his much more experienced opponent with a fleet-footed box-moving style in the rematch. Last up was Thomas Hearns; Hearns, as described above was a quick-handed power-punching master-boxer; Leonard was out-boxed, found a new gear and totaled the suddenly giraffe-like Hearns in the fourteenth round.

Leonard once described himself as a dancer who could punch; I like that, but I'd probably term him a puncher that could dance. He obliterated Hearns in the dying minutes of a fight he was losing, the only welterweight ever to turn the trick. He was also the only welterweight ever to stop Benitez, and, technically, Duran, who was also only stopped at higher weights.

He can almost be called the most well-rounded and dangerous 147lb man in history.

Almost.

Other Top Fifty Welterweights Defeated: Wilfed Benitez (#34), Roberto Duran (#20), Tommy Hearns (#8).

 

#01 – Sugar Ray Robinson (173-19-6)

If Ray Leonard rocketed through the welterweight division and to the title, Sugar Ray Robinson was forced to take a different approach. Denied a title shot by champions Red Cochrane and Marty Servo, Robinson instead set up a slaughterhouse on the champion's lawn and performed summary executions of ranked men while the curtains feverishly twitched.

His career as an executioner got off to a rocky start in a close one with Fritzie Zivic; at least one ringsider thought the veteran deserved a draw with the tall, lightning-fisted prospect. So Robinson re-matched him. Impressed with Fritzie's impressive ability “to make a man butt open his own eye,” Robinson was careful in the clinches and worked hard to the body. Physically brilliant he was learning the fistic arts at great pace; a fighter who had fought him close in October of 1941 didn't make it out of the tenth in January of 1942.

Maxie Berger was in the process of transitioning from contender to gatekeeper when Robinson slaughtered him that February in two; he became the first man to stop the #10 welterweight in the world when he was matched with Norman Rubio in March; he nearly beheaded Tony Motisi, also ranked, when he caught him with a perfect left-hook in the first round of their August meeting. More testing opponents followed in the shape of Izzy Jannazzo, Jackie Wilson and Ralph Zanelli but in truth, only Wilson extended him. Jannazzo didn't win a round and Zannelli, though game and aggressive, did not receive more than three of the ten rounds on any card seen by this writer.

Then, Henry Armstrong.

Much has been written about Armstrong's meeting with Robinson. For the most part, the notion is that Armstrong was busted, a shadow of his former self. Certainly, he was past his prime but he had several good victories over stiff competition ahead of him (after a brief retirement). More, he had defeated the excellent Willie Joyce and the great Sammy Angott earlier the same year; Armstrong was no longer his lethal self but he was still a highly ranked welterweight contender capable of beating fine fighters. Robinson, according to some sources, did not lose a single minute of a single round to Henry Armstrong.  It was a shut-out.

Victories over ranked men Jimmy McDaniels and Sammy Angott (who fought his way to contendership after Armstrong defeated him) followed. All this, before he even came to the title.  No champion would give Robinson the shot but when Servo vacated the title, there was no logic that could keep Sugar from the championship ring that would start a new and glittering lineage.  More than one contender declined to meet Robinson for his coronation such was his withering reputation, but former victim Tommy Bell stepped up. To his credit, he turned that coronation into a hard night's work, but Robinson scrambled from the canvas after a 7-count suffered in the early part of the fight to win a wide decision. Five defenses followed, including one against the great Kid Gavilan who Robinson outpointed twice. 

Over the years Robinson has become the de-facto #1 at welterweight which has perhaps obscured the wonderful work he did in the division before he became the champion. If something is not in doubt the temptation is not to look at the detail.

The detail is overwhelmingly in his favor. Ray Robinson is clearly the greatest of the welterweights; unbeaten in a division stuffed with excellent fighters, he departed it to run amok among the middleweights. One imagines the terrorized victims of his rampage at 147lbs were not sad to see the back of him. 

His equal has never since walked the earth.

 

Other Top Fifty Welterweights Defeated: Fritzie Zivic (#30), Kid Gavilan (#7), Henry Armstrong (#6).

 

 

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The Ali-Shavers Fight and the Ever-Present Open Scoring Debate

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Saturday, Sept. 29, marks the 41st anniversary of Muhammad Ali’s last successful title defense. The 35-year-old Ali defended his WBA and WBC belts against Earnie Shavers, a devastating puncher, but otherwise limited, in Madison Square Garden. Those tuning in to the Thursday night fight on NBC, an estimated 70 million, were able to track the round-by-round scoring. And therein lies an interesting tale.

A bit of background. Technically, the first instance of open scoring, at least as it pertained to television, was to have been implemented by Ted Nathanson, producer for NBC Sports, which televised the May 11, 1977, heavyweight bout pitting Ken Norton against Duane Bobick in Madison Square Garden. Although on-site spectators would not have been privy to round-by-round scoring, the TV audience would have had such access. The grand experiment proved dead on arrival, however, when Norton needed only 58 seconds of the first round to blast out Bobick.

Nathanson was nothing if not determined, however, and he successfully lobbied for the same format to be used for the Ali-Shavers fight. As was the case for Norton-Bobick, spectators in the arena would not have the same access to the round-by-round scoring as would NBC viewers. The New York State Athletic Commission, then headed by former heavyweight champion Floyd Patterson, signed off on the arrangement with NBC with some hesitation.

John F.X. Condon, vice president of Garden Boxing, said he originally had planned to show the round-by-round scoring on the huge overhead screen to the 14,613 on-site spectators, but he decided against it. “We didn’t think it was wise,” Condon concluded. “Personally, I think it also detracts from the pleasure of watching at home. Fight fans like to get involved. They like the uncertainty of waiting for the final decision.”

Even more adamant in his opposition to open scoring, in any form, was legendary Garden matchmaker Teddy Brenner, who said he would do everything in his power to ensure that the NBC experiment would be a one-and-done, at least if he had anything to say about it. “I am against it,” Brenner stressed. “We at the Garden plan to do something about it.”

Unlike Norton-Bobick, Ali-Shavers would go the 15-round distance, with scoring on a round basis instead of the 10-point-must system now in place. Ali won by 9-5-1 on the card submitted by referee Johnny LoBianco and by 9-6 on the cards turned in by judges Tony Castellano and Eva Shain, the latter of who made history as the first woman ever to work a big-time fight. It was Ali’s 19th victorious title defense.

Garden officials were embarrassed, however, when a question of fairness was raised. The NBC telecast was shown in Ali’s dressing room, and a runner was assigned to keep Ali trainer Angelo Dundee informed of the judges’ evolving scores. The Shavers dressing room did not have similar access, which led his manager, Frank Luca, to complain of preferential treatment being granted to Ali. He said the NYSAC even attempted to obligate the fighters to use 10-ounce gloves instead of eight-ouncers, a change which was not approved but would have been detrimental to the harder-hitting challenger.

When informed of a playing field seemingly tilted to favor Ali, Patterson said the NYSAC never again would consent to open scoring at any venue in the state, be it for on-site spectators or just TV. “That will be stopped,” Patterson said. “I understand Angelo Dundee had someone running back to get him information and the other corner didn’t. That’s not fair. It could influence a fight, affect gambling in the arena with cheaters. It was not a success and it will never happen again.”

Shavers, who went into the Ali fight with a 54-5-1 record that included 52 wins inside the distance, said he might have fought differently – yeah, right – had he been apprised of the round-by-round scoring. “My corner told me I was ahead,” he lamented. “I didn’t go for the knockout. I would have put more pressure on him, taken more chances.”

Promoter Don King pushed for open scoring on May 5, 1994, at a Las Vegas press conference to hype the pay-per-view card two nights later at the MGM Grand headlined by WBC super lightweight champion Frankie Randall’s rematch with Julio Cesar Chavez, whom he had controversially outpointed nearly four months earlier.

“Progress can’t be stopped,” King said with his trademark bluster and hyperventilation. “It’s time for a change. Bring boxing out of the dark and into the light. People who go to football and basketball games know what the score is at all times. Why should boxing be the only sport where judges pass little scraps of paper back and forth and nobody else knows who’s winning until the end?”

King said he had been “excoriated and vilified” for having promoted two bouts during the previous eight months that ended in questionable decisions, and that open scoring could eliminate or reduce the problem.

“If anything controversial happens, people will be calling for (WBC president) Jose Sulaiman and me to be ridden out of town on a rail,” King continued. “One little controversy and these four great (rematches, the others being Simon Brown vs. Terry Norris, Gerald McClellan vs. Julian Jackson and Azumah Nelson vs. Jesse James Leija) suddenly become secondary. I don’t want that to happen.”

His Hairness indisputably was on target in noting that the two referenced bouts, in which Pernell Whitaker retained his WBC welterweight title on a majority draw against Chavez on Sept. 10, 1993, and Randall nipped Chavez on a split decision in large part because JCC had been docked two penalty points by referee Richard Steele, were controversial. Most ringside observers had Whitaker winning eight to 10 of the 12 rounds in San Antonio, Texas, and were it not for the two penalty points Chavez would have won a split decision instead of losing by the same margin.

Although King advocated for open scoring to be instituted immediately, he had to know that the wheels of change do not move that swiftly in Nevada or any other jurisdiction. But Marc Ratner, the executive director of the Nevada State Athletic Commission, while expressing his own doubts as to the usefulness of open scoring, said such a proposal at least merited further scrutiny.

“For this particular card, there will be no open scoring,” Ratner said. “But we’re not ostriches. We don’t have our heads in the sand. This is an issue that should be studied.”

Studied and almost certainly likely to be rejected, as it later was by the NSAC, for reasons that to Ratner were even more glaringly obvious than those offered by King for the other course of action.

“What if two fighters accidentally butt heads in the fourth round and one of them suffers a cut?” hypothesized Ratner. “If the bleeding fighter is ahead on the scorecards, his corner might be tempted not to close the cut, thereby prompting the bout’s premature conclusion and a decision victory.”

An even more compelling reason to forever squash the notion of full-blown open scoring holds that a fighter, if he knows he is sufficiently ahead entering the late rounds to be uncatchable on the scorecards, would get on his bicycle and pedal around the ring to eliminate or at least reduce the risk of being knocked out. Such a safety-first approach would drain whatever measure of hope still existed for the losing fighter banking on a puncher’s-chance turnaround.

We haven’t heard the last of the open scoring debate. The subject came up again in the aftermath of the Golovkin-Alvarez rematch, a tightly contested bout which Alvarez won by majority decision, much to the displeasure of Golovkin and his supporters. But for now, fight fans must continue to live with the occasional scorecard that defies credulity. And while too much controversy is never a good thing, some of it helps sell the sport and keeps interest high up to and even beyond the final bell. The alternative is the elimination of uncertainty, and with it the magic that sometimes is produced when two fighters believe success hinges on giving maximum effort to the very last punch.

Bernard Fernandez is the retired boxing writer for the Philadelphia Daily News. He is a five-term former president of the Boxing Writers Association of America, an inductee into the Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Atlantic City Boxing Halls of Fame and the recipient of the Nat Fleischer Award for Excellence in Boxing Journalism and the Barney Nagler Award for Long and Meritorious Service to Boxing.

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George Groves and Callum Smith Finally Meet in the WBSS Capstone

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The 168-pound tournament of the inaugural World Boxing Super Series, an 8-man invitational, kicked off on Sept. 16 of last year with a match between Callum Smith and Erik Skoglund at Liverpool, England. Tournaments of this nature in boxing almost never play out as planned and this tourney was no exception. But on Friday we will finally crown a winner when Smith meets George Groves at Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, of all places. At stake will be the coveted Muhammad Ali Trophy and the bundle of cash that comes with it and Groves’ WBA “super” world super middleweight title.

Despite the odd location, this is a domestic affair. Groves, the top seed, and Smith, the #2 seed, are both Englishmen. And if the fight were on British soil, it would have certainly drawn well. In the UK, Groves is enormously popular. His second fight with Carl Froch attracted a crowd of 80,000 at Wembley Stadium, a British post-war record eventually broken by Joshua-Klitschko.

Groves (28-3, 20 KOs) suffered his lone defeats at the hands of Froch, who defeated him twice, and Badou Jack, and there’s no shame there. Carl Froch, in the minds of many, has a plaque waiting for him at the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Jack, a title-holder in two weight classes, is currently ranked #1 as a light heavyweight by the WBA and WBC.

Although both fights with Froch ended inside the distance, both were nip-and-tuck until Froch closed the curtain. Badou Jack defeated Groves by split decision in Las Vegas.

Groves has a high boxing IQ as he demonstrated on Feb 17 in Manchester where he scored a 12-round unanimous decision over Chris Eubank Jr. Groves, observed ringside reporter Gareth Davies, “was just a step too far, too strong and ultimately too technical and experienced in the championship rounds.” Eubank’s father and trainer Chris Eubank Sr. saluted Groves for fighting the perfect fight.

The victory was bittersweet as Groves dislocated his left shoulder in the final round. It required surgery, pushing back the finale until this Friday, a full two months after the conclusion of the other WBSS tourney, for cruiserweights, the finale of which was also pushed back from the originally scheduled date. For a time the promoters seriously considered bumping Eubank into the finals in place of the incapacitated Groves but eventually thought better of it. (Eubank will appear on the undercard in a stay-busy fight against Ireland’s J.J. McDonagh.)

Callum Smith (24-0, 18 KOs) is the youngest of four fighting brothers, each of whom captured one or more regional titles. In the family, the relationship between talent and birth order is inverse, which is to say that Paul Smith, the oldest of the foursome, wasn’t as good as his younger brother Stephen and Stephen wasn’t as good as younger brother Liam.

Liam “Beefy” Smith accomplished what his two older brothers could not, winning a world title. He won the WBO 154-pound diadem in his twenty-second fight and successfully defended the belt twice before it was sheared from him by Canelo Alvarez who knocked him out in the ninth round.

If Callum Smith wins on Friday, he will be recognized by hardcore fans as a more legitimate champion than was the case with his brother Liam. That’s because Callum, who stands six-foot-three (none of his brothers is taller than 5’11”), was touted from the very onset of his career as the most gifted of the fighting Smith brothers. He solidified that opinion in November of 2015 when he knocked out Liverpool rival Rocky Fielding in the opening round. Fielding went on to win the “regular” version of the WBA 168-pound title and that remains the only blemish on his record.

In recent bouts, however, Smith hasn’t looked that sharp. His last two opponents, the aforementioned Skoglund and Neiky Holzken, lasted the full 12 rounds. The obscure Holzken, a converted kickboxer from the Netherlands, was a late sub for Juergen Braehmer who was forced to bow out of the tournament with an illness.

George Groves was a slight underdog to Eubank. On Friday, the odds favor him, but only slightly. At last look it was 13/10 which portends a very close fight. Groves has the edge in experience and in ring savvy and has fought tougher opposition, but Smith will have a three-and-a-half inch height advantage and is judged to be the harder puncher.

Fight fans in the U.S. can access the fight on the new DAZN app. Keep in mind that Saudi Arabia is seven hours ahead of New York and other precincts in the Eastern Time Zone and adjust accordingly.

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Three Punch Combo: A Bouquet for “ShoBox” and More

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THREE PUNCH COMBO — We are embarking into a new age in boxing. There are new television contracts and digital platforms available that are making the sport more visible than ever before to the masses. But with all these new deals and platforms, it is important not to forget some of the consistent programming that has been around for some time. There is no better example of this than the ShoBox series on Showtime.

ShoBox, more formally ShoBox: The New Generation, began with a simple premise of matching young prospects in with tough opposition. To get their fighters on this series, promoters would have to find credible opponents who could potentially test and maybe even upset their prized prospect. This premise has led to consistently competitive and entertaining fights in the more than 200 broadcasts since the inception of the series in 2001.

This past Friday, we saw just how this premise works once again. There was a four fight card that featured competitive fights on paper in all the matches. However, in two of those matches there did seem to be clear favorites though each of the respective fighters was being matched with their toughest foe to date.

James Wilkins and Misael Lopez opened the telecast in a 130-pound contest. Wilkins was featured in a documentary that aired on Showtime just prior to the card and was expected to make a smashing television debut. He was a knockout artist and the thought was that he would put on a show to open the telecast. But instead, Wilkins got a boxing lesson from Lopez who was busier from the outside and managed to mostly avoid the power of Wilkins throughout the contest in winning an eight round unanimous decision.

The main event featured Jon Fernandez facing O’Shaquie Foster in another 130-pound contest. Fernandez had been getting a lot of buzz and many in the sport considered the Spaniard a future star. This was supposed to be a test for Fernandez as Foster (pictured on the right) represented a step up in class, but nonetheless many expected Fernandez to pass the test with flying colors. Instead, the power punching Fernandez was clearly out-boxed by Foster for ten rounds in an entertaining fight.

These two fights showed once again that when young fighters are matched tough we often get better than expected fights that can sometimes deliver surprises. This coming Friday, the series returns with highly touted lightweight prospect Devin Haney (19-0, 13 KO’s) in the main event taking on former world title challenger Juan Carlos Burgos (33-2-2, 21 KO’s). This is a fight in which Haney is favored but one in which he is facing the toughest challenge of his young career. At the very least, this should be a test for the highly touted 19-year-old Haney and I am certain we get a compelling fight.

ShoBox is boxing’s most consistent series and one that just continues to provide fight fans with high caliber, competitive fights.

10 Percent or 10 Pounds – How To Combat Fighters Who Blow Up In Weight

It is time to address the issue of fighters gaining an absurd amount of weight following the weigh-in. There is a reason why we have weight classes in boxing. If one fighter enters the ring weighing significantly more than his opponent, it gives the bigger fighter a big advantage. This can make for not only non-competitive fights but potentially dangerous situations. I have a simple solution that I think can combat this problem.

In past articles, I have touched on the issue of fighters who miss the contracted weight. My argument has always been to implement a system with stiff financial penalties. So in a similar aspect, I think stiff financial penalties can combat the continued problem of fighters blowing up in weight after the official weigh-in.

What I propose is second day weigh-ins where fighters would not be permitted to put on more than ten pounds or 10 percent (whichever is more) of the contracted weight limit. If they are over, the fight still goes on but the fighter who misses the second day weight limit pays a substantial fine. This simple adjunct can be easily administered by the various state commissions in the United States (or any other commissions worldwide).

Here is an example:  Let’s say we have a fight contracted at 130 pounds and each fighter weighs in at 129 pounds. The second day limit would be 10 percent of 130 pounds which was the contracted weight. So each fighter could come in at a maximum of 143 pounds. Now let’s say one fighter comes in at 146 pounds. The penalty I propose would be 20 percent of that fighter’s purse per pound over the weight. And this money goes directly to their opponent. Under this example, the fighter over weight would lose 60 percent of his purse.

Zero Shouldn’t Mean That Much

We are in an era, largely due to The Floyd Mayweather Jr. Factor, where fighters are often overly protected to keep that precious zero in the loss column. But to do so, they are frequently matched with soft opposition and learn little from dismantling their overmatched foes. There is little to no growth in their career during this period and though the record may get glossy, the development of the fighter may be stunted.

Setbacks can humble fighters and make them see what needs to be done so as not to experience that feeling again. They become better overall fighters and put themselves in a better long term position in their career.

This past weekend, we saw two once promising prospects bounce back with career defining wins after suffering an early unexpected defeat. They are both now in prime position to have their respective careers blossom which may not have otherwise been the case.

Earlier I mentioned O’Shaquie Foster’s upset win against Jon Fernandez. Three years ago, Foster was a highly touted prospect. He had a good amateur background and was blessed athletically with dynamic speed. After building up an 8-0 record against less than formidable opposition, he lost in a dreadful performance to Samuel Teah. Another loss would follow several months later to Rolando Chinea. But Foster clearly learned from his mistakes in these fights and bounced back, layering his natural athletic ability with much improved skills in frankly outclassing Fernandez. Foster’s losses made him take a step back and re-evaluate what needed to be done inside the ring. He is now in prime position to become a contender in the 130-pound weight division.

Luke Campbell was a 2012 Olympic Gold Medalist and considered a can’t-miss future star in boxing. But in his 13th pro fight, in a rather shocking development, he was put on the canvas and lost a split decision to veteran Yvan Mendy. Another loss followed two years later against Jorge Linares but Campbell performed well while losing a split decision and flashed signs of improvement from the Mendy setback.

The rematch with Mendy for Campbell took place this past weekend and Campbell did what many expected him to do in their first encounter. He boxed effectively from the outside and mixed in precision combination punching to easily avenge the defeat. It was a dynamic performance by Campbell and put him in line for a big fight at lightweight.

Luke Campbell is a vastly different fighter from the one who lost to Mendy three years earlier and appears primed to potentially live up to the once high expectations. He is in a better spot today in his career due to what he learned from that first loss to Mendy.

Photo credit: Dave Mandel / SHOWTIME

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