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THE TECHNICAL BREAKDOWN: Sugar Ray Robinson

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Sugar-Ray-Robinson-VS-Jake-LaMotta-The-Way-It-Was1Robinson wasn't above the odd kidney shot or “errant” launch, as he tossed against LaMotta, here. Of course, his mastery of kosher techniques, along with God-given attributes, are what make him arguably the top pound for pounder for the ages.

The general feeling among the boxing fraternity is that nobody's ever quite ascended to the same plateau of greatness, or was as virtuosic along the way, as Sugar Ray Robinson. There haven't been but a handful of athletes in any sport, whether it be in football, baseball, you name it, whose ability was deemed so extraordinarily good that comparisons to his/her peers seems like a pointless exercise; the man born Walker Smith Jr., the consensus greatest pound for pound boxer to have ever lived, is considered to have been one of those rare exceptions.

And yet, despite much having been written chronicling his life and times, I've found there to be a distinct lack of detail and, I believe, truth when it comes to describing the techniques that Robinson employed between the ropes.

“He could end a fight any time he chose to, with either hand!”

“He was perfection personified, utterly flawless”.

“Defensively, he was masterly”.

In terms of technical analysis on Sugar Ray Robinson, the above is about as in-depth as I've seen on him.

Needless to say, because Sugar Ray Robinson has attained almost God-like status as a fighter over the years, certain realities regarding his in ring tendencies seem to have been replaced by mythology; tap the name Sugar Ray Robinson into your search engine and watch the folklore regarding his style and technique unfold. There's no debating that Ray Robinson wasn't an exceptional fighter. He most certainly was. Any all-time pound for pound list that has Robinson's name outside of the top three, quite frankly, shouldn't be taken very seriously. Worst case scenario? Sugar Ray Robinson is, with his 175-19-6 {109} record, at the very least, the third greatest fighter who ever lived. What is open for debate, however, is the misconception that when it comes to how he actually operated in the ring as a fighter, Sugar Ray Robinson's genius is often attributed to his God-given talent, which, clearly wasn’t the case. I believe it does Ray Robinson a major disservice to put his success in the ring down to nothing else but things he was born into.

And so, rather than simply regurgitate what's already out there regarding Ray Robinson's life story and accomplishments, I'd like for this to be thought of as a kind of case study detailing what it was exactly that made him so formidable as a fighter. Robinson's accolades have been well documented elsewhere so basically, you're not going to find much else apart from Sugar Ray Robinson's fighting style and techniques mentioned here.
For the purpose of this article then, I’ve broken Robinson's attributes down into two categories: physical and technical. Both Robinson's physical and technical attributes aided one another perfectly, but I feel that it's important to mention them both separately, so that the reader has a clear understanding of just how important each were to Ray's dominance in the ring.

Physical

Height and reach:

One of the biggest misconceptions about Robinson is that he spent most of his career facing “larger” men. As I'm sure most of you reading this will be aware, Ray Robinson, who began his professional career as a lightweight before fighting mostly as a welterweight, eventually went on to compete at middleweight and even once at light heavyweight. I feel the area that is taken for granted the most when discussing Robinson's dominance in the ring as a welterweight is the size advantage he must have enjoyed over almost all of his opponents. At 5'11″ and with a 73″ reach –big for a welterweight, even by today’s standards- Ray Robinson must have possessed a size advantage over many of his lightweight and welterweight opponents not unlike that of Thomas Hearns. What's interesting when you see Ray on film is that he's nearly always the bigger man in the ring even though most of the footage that exists is of him fighting as a middleweight against perceived larger men.

Take a look at the size of Ray next to Bobo Olson, Rocky Graziano, Jake Lamotta, Randy Turpin and Gene Fullmer -all middleweights, all of them shorter than Ray. Even when Robinson fought for the light heavyweight crown against Joey Maxim, who at 6'1″ and with a 71″ reach, pretty much shared the same physical dimensions with Robinson. It's safe to say that even without any of his other attributes –of which I'll get to in a moment- Robinson's advantages in size and length would have always been tough to overcome for many of his welterweight opponents.

As I've already stated, the footage we have of Ray is mostly of him fighting as a middleweight, so one can only imagine how he would have matched up physically against other welterweights of his time. For a modern visual, I think the physical advantages that Robinson had over his opponents as a welterweight would have been similar to those owned by Nonito Donaire over his flyweight opponents; some of Donaire's victories over stellar opposition at flyweight rank among the most one sided and nonchalant that I've ever seen in a boxing ring. Donaire’s opponents have been rather negative lately, but you have to concede that he isn't nearly as dominant these days now he's facing men of a similar size.

Remember, apart from his one fight with Jake Lamotta, in which the Bronx Bull held a 16 pound weight advantage, Ray Robinson was undefeated before moving up to middleweight. His record at that time stood at 110-1-2. The two draws on Robinson’s record to Jose Basora and Henry Brimm were also against middleweights. Incidentally, Robinson knocked out Brimm inside the opening minute of the opening round in the rematch and he had also previously won a decision over Basora.

Size alone is a difficult obstacle to overcome in a boxing ring. Unless an opponent is quick enough and knows how to get inside on a taller opponent, then size will usually come out on top. I'd argue with anyone that it is in fact the Klitsckho brother’s advantages in size, not skill and technique that make them nigh on impossible to handle for their generally smaller heavyweight opponents. I believe that because Robinson was always so much bigger than most of his welter/middleweight opponents, some of his success, especially as a welterweight, can be attributed to his sheer size.

Strength:

If you take a look at Robinson's fight with Joey Maxim, you'll see him easily controlling the bigger man during the clinches. Even though Maxim had a 17 pound weight advantage over Robinson, he could never get the better of him on the inside once the distance was closed. During the fight, Robinson showed his strength by tying up Maxim's arms and in controlling his biceps. Eventually, the 104 degree heat got the better of Robinson on that day, but not before he showed that he could not only out-slick, but out-muscle a natural light heavyweight. Now, if you consider how Robinson was able to manoeuvre someone weighing 173 pounds around, it's no wonder he was able to do the same with many of his welterweight and middleweight opponents. At some time or another during their numerous fights, Robinson always managed to control the likes of Maxim, Fullmer, Basilio, Lamotta and Olson on the inside. Remember, Ray's objective in there was to separate himself from his opponent so that he could get off his rapid fire combinations. Inside fighting may not have been his forte, but similarly to Muhammad Ali, he clearly knew how to tie up and control a fighter at close quarters should they be successful in breeching his optimum fighting distance.

Speed:

Despite what legend will have you believe, Ray Robinson wasn't the owner of the quickest pair of hands ever. Going one step further, I'd state with confidence that from what I've seen on film, Ray Leonard, Meldrick Taylor, Terry Norris, Hector Camacho, Thomas Hearns, Roy Jones Jr., Floyd Mayweather Jr.and Manny Pacquiao all had/have faster hands. In fact, it's possible that even far bigger men like Muhammad Ali, Floyd Patterson and Mike Tyson may have had faster hands. However, if we're narrowing it down, between the period of 1940-1965, which was Robinson's entire professional career, then there weren't many fighters who competed around at that time period or who fought in or around the same weight division, with the exception of Kid Gavilan and Charley Burley, who could compare to Ray in the hand speed department. Which means, of course, Ray would have always held an advantage in hand speed over almost every opponent he ever faced.

Something else that must be accounted for when watching Ray in full flow is that he always tried to hurt his opponents with nearly every punch he threw. If you compare a combination thrown by Meldrick Taylor with one thrown by Ray Robinson, you'll see apples and oranges in terms of where their intentions lay. Yes, Meldrick's combinations were undoubtedly faster, but Ray's were more explosive with more emphasis placed on hurting a man as opposed to impressing some judge. When watching Ray, I feel he jeopardized some of his speed in favour of more spite and precision. One of the biggest differences between fighters these days and those of yesteryear is that winning a decision seemed to be the last thing on a fighter's mind back then. Nowadays, fighters seem all too happy to take turns in firing away blindly at arms and gloves, racking up points as they go. Back when Ray Robinson plied his trade, creating and exploiting openings was first and foremost on a fighter's agenda. Back then, fighters were far more focused on ending a fight within the distance.

It wasn't only Robinson's hands that were notably faster than many of his opponents. He also enjoyed a significant advantage in foot speed over most of them too. Most of the time, Ray fought off his back foot, behind the jab where his foot speed allowed him to maintain his preferred fighting distance. Again, there are fighters on film who appear to be quicker than Ray was in moving around the ring. In my view, Ray Leonard, Hector Camacho, Orlando Canizales, Roy Jones Jr. and Manny Pacquiao were all quicker than Robinson in getting to their positions. However, Robinson was a lot bigger than any of these men in correlation with his often smaller opposition. It's very unusual for a fighter to be so much taller and longer than his opponent while also having faster hands and feet than them as well. Thinking of fighters who've been so much bigger and so much faster than their opponents, only Muhammad Ali and a flyweight Nonito Donaire come to mind. The fact that Ray Robinson held advantages over his opponents in not only size, but in hand and foot speed too, goes a long way towards showing why he was so formidable as a welterweight and even as a middleweight.

Power:

For my money, Robinson's power has been slightly blown out of proportion over time. By that, I mean I'm pretty sure he wasn't capable of ending a fight anytime he chose to like most accounts would have you believe. Yes, Ray Robinson was a powerful puncher, but I don't think he packed the natural wallop that men like Julian Jackson or Thomas Hearns did, who often knocked men unconscious with even glancing blows. Robinson's knockouts came on the back of excellent technique and timing, as opposed to brute force.

No, Ray wasn't like George Foreman, who was a murderous puncher even though his punches seemed to lack true technique. Robinson's technique, particularly in his short hooks and uppercuts, was every bit as good as Joe Louis's from what I've seen of both men. Don't get me wrong here, I'm not suggesting that Robinson couldn't punch, because he clearly could. All I'm saying is that I believe Robinson's knockouts came about more from speed, precision, timing and technique as opposed to “his dynamite fists”. Ray was more like Archie Moore -the leading knockout artist in boxing history- who wasn't a huge puncher either as he relied more on strategy and skill to find openings and take advantage of his opponent’s mistakes. Conversely, Ernie Shavers is someone who I'd consider to have had a ridiculous amount of power behind his punches but with little in the way of true punching technique. Ray Robinson was most definitely a thoughtful puncher.

Chin:

I'll keep this short and sweet. Ray Robinson, even though he was dropped numerous times throughout his career, was never stopped in more than 200 fights. Yes, his overwhelming offense may have had plenty to do with that, but as he slowed as he got older, Ray became a lot more hittable and his chin had to serve him well. Along with his size and athleticism, Robinson’s punch resistance is probably the only other attribute that wasn’t manufactured and could be considered “God-given”.

Now that we've covered Ray Robinson's physical prowess, I think we can agree that by looking at the film that's available, Robinson's advantages in height and length combined with his tremendous hand and foot speed would’ve been a tough obstacle for any fighter from welterweight to middleweight to overcome. His strength on the inside, on show in the fights against the likes of Jake Lamotta, Joey Maxim and Carmen Basilio, shows that inside fighters wouldn't have been able to have their way with him could they have managed to close the distance and on the outside, with his speed, length and punching accuracy, anyone who lacked above average defense or who utilized good head movement would have found themselves walking onto Robinson's combinations for as long as they were able to stand.

Even without his technical expertise, which I'll be going over in a moment, Sugar Ray Robinson was an excellent fighter based on physicality alone; excellent hand and foot speed, great length, good strength, above average punching power and a world class chin.

Technical

Circling Behind the Jab, Robinson Style:

Ray Robinson's stance was very similar to that of Joe Louis, in that his head was slightly away from the centre line and off to his right, which made him tough to hit with a right hand. However, unlike Joe, who kept his right glove out in front of him in a parrying position to block against the left jab and his left elbow tucked in close so that his jab was coming from chest height, Robinson kept his right glove close to his chin and in position to catch any of his opponent's right or left handed attacks while his left hand, his jabbing hand, was almost down by his waist. You see, whereas Louis preferred to use feints and take small advancing steps in an attempt to lure his opponent into opening up, Robinson was more like Ali in that he preferred to circle counter clockwise behind his jab and into his often orthodox opponent's power hand, which seems counter intuitive, but it worked well for Ray because of his stance, which was designed to avoid getting hit by an orthodox fighter’s power hand. Strategically, there was a resemblance between what Robinson and Ali did with the jab. The biggest difference between the two, though, was that Ali seemed to rely exclusively on a jab, jab, right hand combination aimed at the head as he circled left, whereas Ray was very versatile with not only the punches he threw after the jab, but in the execution of the jab itself. If you look at the Jake Lamotta fight, you'll see Ray repeatedly back up while mixing up his jab to the head and body, sometimes with authority, other times as a set up shot, followed by just about every single punch in the book. On that night, against a crouching pressure fighter in Lamotta, Ray's uppercuts thrown from his waist –the same starting point for his jab- were almost indefensible. On other occasions, like against Carmen Basilio, you'll notice Ray back peddling diagonally behind his jab and onto Carmen's trailing hand. Once Carmen opens up in an attempt to land his over hand right, Robinson immediately steps forward and to Carmen’s right and throws his left hook inside of Basilio's wide right hand. Ray Robinson's jab was his bread and butter punch which he used to control his opponents or set up just about every other punch he threw.

If you go on YouTube and click on any one of Ray Robinson's fights, it doesn't matter which, you'll notice him; ~Circling left with his left shoulder slightly raised. ~His head away from the centre line and slightly off to the right. ~His front foot planted with his back foot slightly raised. ~His right glove open and by the left side of his chin. ~His left hand relatively low -this is the signature Ray Robinson stance. No matter how late it got in a fight, Robinson never lost sight of his shape or form and never stopped circling behind his jab. Robinson was very methodical and never strayed away from boxing’s most basic and cultivated punch, which he mastered.

Footwork:

Following on from circling behind the jab, Robinson's footwork was impeccable. The best example of Robinson's sublime movement on film can be found in his fight with Bobby Dykes. Throughout, you'll see Ray move in, slide out and circle his target, all the while staying perfectly balanced and in position to punch. One of the most famous sayings regarding Ray Robinson is “he could throw knockout blows going backwards”. Basically, this statement alludes to Ray's footwork being so good that despite him moving away so quickly, his feet never came together which meant he always remained well balanced, allowing him to generate good power off of his back foot. Ray Robinson's multi-dimensional footwork, despite its aesthetics, was purposeful in that he could hurt an opponent in pursuit or in retreat. It was also his first line of defense, of which I’ll get to shortly.

The Left Hook/combinations:

As you all know, there’s a certain Ray Robinson left hook that is now legendary. But what may surprise you, is that it isn't going to get a mention here. Well, not yet anyway. I think it fits in much better elsewhere in this article.

Robinson's go-to left hook was basically the one he threw in threes and fours. Robinson's ability to double and even triple up on his left hook is what made him so unpredictable on offense. If you look at the Luc Van Dam fight, you'll see Ray circling left while throwing two left hooks to the body followed by a third left hook upstairs. All three shots are thrown in quick succession and the final blow comes from a ridiculous angle, which made it very difficult to detect. Most fighters are trained to expect punches to be thrown in a chain sequence; for example, right, left, right, left. Because Ray doubled and even tripled up on his shots, which was pretty revolutionary for his time, many of his opponents couldn't anticipate what shot was coming next.

My all-time favourite Sugar Ray Robinson moment/knockout illustrates this technique perfectly. In the final sequence of the Rocky Graziano fight, you'll see Sugar Ray Robinson in a nutshell. First, Robinson is typically circling behind the jab, pivoting clockwise off his lead foot. Then, as Graziano attempts to land a straight left, Robinson circles out and away from the ropes. With Graziano's back now up against the ropes, Robinson moves in for the kill. Ray throws a hook and they fall into a clinch. As they break away, Ray lands a short uppercut, followed by two quick left hooks, followed by a right cross which results in Graziano's mouthpiece flying out of the ring along with his senses. When you first look at this knockout, you'll probably think it's all about the jolting right hand that Ray ends the fight with that's the focal point here. But when you look again, closely, you'll soon realize that it's the two left hooks prior to the right hand that are the real fight-ending blows. As Ray catches Rocky twice with the left, you'll see Rocky begin to adjust his guard slightly in anticipation of a third, leaving himself open for a right hand, which Robinson capitalized on. All of this takes place within the blink of an eye and it really is elite level stuff. That’s why it's my favourite knockout from possibly the greatest fighter who ever lived.

In my view, Sugar Ray Robinson is right up there with Joe Louis and Julio Cesar Chavez Sr. as the best combination puncher ever seen on film. The accuracy, variety and unpredictable patterns of Robinson's combinations are what made his punches so hard to defend against for his opponents. Again, looking at the Jake Lamotta fight, you'll see Lamotta in a state of confusion every time Ray moves in to attack. Ray’s combinations thrown at Lamotta over the course of those thirteen rounds were scintillating. He doubled and tripled up on hooks, uppercuts and straights which were always thrown in alternating patterns and in different rhythms. Robinson's punch variety was of the highest order. What also made Robinson’s combinations so effective was that every punch was thrown as a precursor to the next, as the knockout of Rocky Graziano illustrates so vividly.

Ring intelligence:

Now, the reason why Ray Robinson's left hook decapitation of Gene Fullmer wasn’t mentioned when I was describing his go-to left hook is because I believe it was lightning in a bottle. This wasn't the typical Ray Robinson left hook that he doubled up or tripled up on in almost every fight. No, this was something else. What I find more rewarding that the actual knockout blow in the Fullmer fight was the way he set it up. Hence, I've chosen to detail it under “Ring Intelligence” instead of under “The Left Hook”. Firstly, Gene Fullmer was a known puncher with the right hand and he had used it extensively against Robinson in their first fight. Robinson was aware of this so he set about drawing the right hand out in order to counter it. Backing up, Ray stepped in and landed a right hand to Fullmer's body. Robinson then repeated the action -back stepping, before dropping his level and stepping in with a right hand to the body. Because Fullmer thought Ray was going to repeat this a third time, he set himself to throw a right hand as Ray would be stepping in. Aware of Fullmer's intentions, Robinson faked right but instead twisted back across and connected with a picturesque left hook that knocked -the never before or since- Gene Fullmer out. For my liking, as was the case in the Rocky Graziano knockout, the actual knockout blow is only half the story here. The bigger picture is that of Robinson's ability to set a trap. Robinson's uncanny ability to think not one, but three moves ahead is what earned him what has been labelled the greatest knockout of all time.

Defense:

Going against the grain once more, I'd like to detail some of Robinson's better defensive traits by describing his two knockouts of Carl “Bobo” Olson. In both knockouts, which are on film, Olson gets himself into an exchange with Robinson. At first, it's easy to think that Robinson's speed in a shootout is what results in Olson being sprawled across the canvas on both occasions. However, I believe what lands Robinson his knockouts -apart from his accuracy- is his evasiveness while punching. As both men are firing at each other, contrast Robinson's head movement with that of Olson's. On both occasions, Robinson is almost rolling with his own punches as he's letting his hands go. His head never remains stationary as he's punching. Olson, on the other hand, is rooted to the spot. His head remains central and in the line of fire. Even if Robinson's eyes are closed as he's unloading, there's a good chance he's going to connect because Olson's head hasn't moved away from the centre line. Even when Ray Robinson was on the offensive, he always remained defensively responsible.

In terms of defending against his opponents when he wasn't on the offensive, Robinson really shouldn't be considered among the elite. Robinson was tagged often and was sent to the canvas numerous times during his career. Defensive masters like Willie Pep, Pernell Whitaker, Nicolino Locche, Wilfred Benitez, Roberto Duran, James Toney and Floyd Mayweather were/are far more proficient when it comes to making an opponent miss. As his legs began to erode later on in his career, Ray began falling back to the ropes where he would often defend himself by rolling with punches. At his best though, Ray's first line of defense was his footwork, which he used to establish distance between himself and his opponents through lateral and lineal movement. Although he was by far the better technician, Robinson’s elusiveness in the ring was more reminiscent to that of Roy Jones and Muhammad Ali, in that they seldom remained in the pocket, looking to slip and counter. When Robinson wasn’t attacking, he always utilized plenty of footwork to avoid being hit. It must be said though, because Robinson was always looking for the knockout, he was always going to get hit more often as he left more openings -a fighter is at his most vulnerable in the ring as he’s punching. This isn’t a knock on Robinson, but despite what some people may have been told, Ray Robinson was not a defensive savant. According to reports, Robinson struggled with the jab of both Tommy Bell and Kid Gavilan and as the film shows, Robinson also struggled with Randy Turpin’s jab in their first meeting and was hit regularly by Ralph Jones.

Infighting:

Similarly to Muhammad Ali, I don't think infighting was one of Ray Robinson's best assets. Sure, he was more rounded on the inside than Ali, but it was never his intentions to let the fight take place there. Robinson was at his best at mid/long range, keeping his opponent on the end of the jab before allowing them to walk onto power shots, or shortening up the distance allowing him to land his mid-range hooks. Although he preferred to avoid the inside, Ray was more than proficient once an opponent got inside on him. Like Ali, he knew how to control a fighter by clamping down on the back of their neck or by tying them up and controlling their biceps. Ray wasn’t the best as far as inside fighting goes. Fighters like Henry Armstrong, Roberto Duran, Joe Frazier, James Toney and Julio Cesar Chavez Sr were much more formidable at this range, both offensively and defensively. However, because Robinson knew how to prevent a fighter from getting inside on him, and could more than hold his own should anyone manage to smother him, he clearly wasn't the fish out of water that Amir Khan is once an infighter is successful in closing the distance on him.

Right hook to the kidney:

Illegal or not, this was one of Ray Robinson's signature shots. Even though he was once disqualified for using it against German fighter Gerhard Hecht, it was always a punch that featured in many of his fights. In fact, it can be seen in nearly every Ray Robinson fight that was ever captured on film. Firstly, this punch worked for Ray because of its unpredictability. The conventional punch that is usually thrown immediately after a jab is usually another jab or a right cross. What Ray would sometimes do, was shoot his jab high and then immediately drop low where he then threw wide his right hook. Ray threw his right hook to the side/kidney differently from most. As he stepped in and to the left with it, he turned it over more, ensuring his thumb was almost pointed to the floor and his right arm was arced away from his body, so that his weight was transferred on to his front foot. Notice in many of Robinson's fights how once an opponent bent at the waist and presented Ray with their back, he thought nothing of corkscrewing his unorthodox right hand around their sides and into their kidney. Again, this was a signature punch of Robinson that he used in nearly all of his fights.

Conclusion

For me, there was no magic involved. I believe objective reasons are behind Sugar Ray Robinson's genius in the ring. Strip away all of the myths and legends which surround him and you're left with a consummate boxer-puncher, who, during his prime as a welterweight and even during the twilight of his career as a middleweight, was taller than most, faster than most, hit harder than most, and had a better chin than almost anyone ever. He also learned on the job, facing seasoned pros like Fritzie Zivic, Marto Servo and Henry Armstrong very early in his career, before even being considered for a shot at the welterweight title against Tommy Bell -contrast Robinson’s learning curve with Saul Alvarez and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. Unlike them, Robinson was seasoned by the time he became champion.

No, Ray Robinson wasn't a perfect fighter, no fighter ever will be, but he was an extremely well rounded one. Sure, there’ve been faster, there’ve been harder hitters, there’ve been better counterpunchers and defenders who were tougher to find in the ring than Robinson, but I'm not sure that I've ever seen a fighter who could combine everything -offense/defense, speed, power, timing, rhythm, coordination- and put it all together the way Robinson did.

Even as an aging middleweight, Ray Robinson’s brilliance was obvious and he remains one of the very best fighters ever captured on film, he was past his prime. By using the footage that exists and trying to extrapolate from it, I think it’s safe to assume that Sugar Ray Robinson at welterweight must have been about as good as it gets.

Writer's Note: Thanks for taking the time to read such a long piece, readers. All the fights that have been mentioned in this article are available on YouTube and are of Ray Robinson fighting as middleweight only. Sadly, there's no clear footage of Ray Robinson performing during in his prime. The closest we've got to it is grainy footage of his fights with Tony Riccio, Charley Fusari, Sammy Agnott, Cliff Beckett and Bernard Docusen, which are also available on YouTube. Unfortunately, the quality of those fights is really poor.

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U.K. Boxing Montage: Conlan KOed; Wood Regains Title; Billam-Smith Upsets Okolie

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British fight fabs had plenty of options last night. Important events were staged in Manchester, in Bournemouth, and in Belfast, Northern Ireland. The locals were delighted in Manchester and Bournemouth, but fans in Belfast were left crestfallen when their hometown hero Michael Conlan, the former two-time Olympian, was on the wrong end of a vicious KO.

Conlan, who was 18-1 heading in, had a four-inch height advantage and three-inch reach advantage over Mexican spoiler Luis Alberto Lopez. The Irishman attracted late money and went to post a small favorite. But Lopez (28-2, 16 KOs) emerged victorious, successfully defending his IBF world featherweight title which he won in British soil over Josh Warrington.

Although Conlan had a rough patch in the second round, he was seemingly in a good position heading into round five when the Mexican invader brought a swift conclusion to the contest, discombobulating Conlan (pictured) with a right uppercut that prompted his trainer Adam Booth to throw in the towel. It was the second time that Conlan came up short in a bid for a world title. He challenged for the WBA version of this belt in March of last year, losing on a spectacular last round knockout to Leigh Wood in a fight that he was winning until the final 90 seconds.

Also…

In a scheduled 12-rounder for a WBC featherweight trinket, five-foot-three Liverpool buzzsaw Nick “Wrecking” Ball advanced to 18-0, (11 KOs) with a 12th-round stoppage of South Africa’s previously undefeated Ludumo Lamati (21-1-1, 11 KOs). Lamati’s corner tossed in the towel after Ball landed a series of hard punches in the final frame.

Lamati was on his feet when the bout was stopped but was in dire straits and was removed from the ring on a stretcher. There was no update on his condition as this story was going to press.

In a companion 12-rounder, Belfast’s Anthony “Apache” Cacace (21-1, 7 KOs) successfully defended his fringe 130-pound title with a wide decision over Damian Wrzesinski (26-3-2). The judges had 118-111, 117-111, and 116-112.

Wrzesinski, a 38-year-old Pole, fought with a brace on his right knee. This was the first fight for “Apache” in his hometown in eight years. The win may have set him up for a match with Welshman Joe Cordina, the IBF junior lightweight title-holder, or Shavkat Rakhimov who lost a close decision to Cordina in a bruising tiff last month.

Manchester

Mauricio Lara didn’t bring his “A” game to England. That became apparent at the weigh-in when he failed to make weight, losing his WBA world featherweight title on the scales. By rule, only Leigh Wood could win it or it would become vacant.

This was a rematch. Fourteen weeks ago, Lara went into Wood’s backyard in Nottingham and stopped him in the seventh round. Lara was behind on the cards when he felled Wood with a crunching left hook. Wood beat the count but his trainer Ben Davison tossed in the towel which struck many, especially Wood, as premature as less than 10 seconds remained in the round.

In a previous trip to England, Lara had broken hearts in Leeds, stopping native son Josh Warrington. The Mexican invader, younger than Leigh Wood by 10 years, was expected to win again, but Wood, 34, simply out-worked him. He knocked Lara down in the second round with an uppercut and methodically kept him at bay, winning by scores of 116-111 and 118-109 twice.

Co-Feature

In his first appearance since his controversial defeat to Josh Taylor in Glasgow in February of last year, Jack Catterall improved to 27-1 (15) with a wide decision over Irish-Australian southpaw Darragh Foley (22-5-1).

The Sportsman called the Catterall-Taylor fight, a split decision win for Taylor, the most controversial fight in British boxing history and Catterall became a more sympathetic figure when Taylor, after several postponements, reneged on his promise to give Catterall a rematch, opting instead for a date with Teofimo Lopez.

Although Foley was in action 10 weeks ago, scoring his signature win with a third-round stoppage of favored Robbie Davies Jr., and Catterall was making his first start in 15 months, this was a one-sided fray in Catterall’s favor. He had Foley on the canvas twice en route to winning by scores of 99-88, 98-89, and 97-90.

Eddie Hearn has expressed an interest in matching Catterall with Regis Prograis assuming that Prograis gets past Arnold Barboza on June 17.

Also

England’s Terri Harper (14-1-1), who jumped up three weight classes last year, successfully defended her WBA 154-pound diadem with a unanimous but unimpressive 10-round decision over perennial title challenger Ivana Habazin. The judges had it 98-92 and 99-93 twice.

Harper was slated to fight former pound-for-pound queen Cecilia Braekhus last Saturday in the co-feature to Taylor vs. Cameron in Dublin, but hat match fell out when Braekhus came down with a bad cold following the weight-in.

Harper is seeking a unification fight with countrywoman Natasha Jonas. Habazin, a 33-year-old Croat, fell to 21-5.

Bournemouth

In his fourth defense of his WBO world cruiserweight title, previously undefeated Lawrence Okolie was soundly defeated by former sparring partner Chris Billam.-Smith The match was contested in Billam-Smith’s  hometown before a raucous crowd at sold-out Vitality Stadium.

A 3/1 underdog, Billam-Smith, who was 17-1 heading in, proved clearly superior He knocked Okolie down in the fourth round and again in rounds 10 and 11 en route to winning by scores of 116-107, 115-108, and 112-112.

About that curious 112-112 card. It was turned in by U.S. judge  Benjamin Rodriguez who had been working the Illinois-Wisconsin circuit. On social media, his tally is being called the worst scorecard of all time.

Did Billam-Smith’s fans leave happy? The correspondent for British Boxing News called the event “a night of breathtaking boxing action that will never be forgotten.”

The six-foot-five Okolie may have made his last start as a cruiserweight. He aspires to fight Oleksandr Usyk.

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The Sweet Science Rankings: Week of May 22nd, 2023

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The Sweet Science Rankings: Week of May 22nd, 2023

Hiroto Kyoguchi departs 108lbs for 112lbs so there’s a reorganisation at the bottom of the 108lbs division.  Fellow Japanese Junto Nakatani’s breathtaking destruction of Andrew Maloney sees him rise to #6 at 115lbs with Maloney dropping to #10; Kosei Tanaki who was also out at the weekend climbs to #9.  Raymond Muratalla is the last mover this week, eliminating Jamaine Ortiz and debuting at #9 at 135lbs.  There are no further changes at lightweight where Lomachenko maintains his ranking at #3.

*Please note that when the fighter’s name appears with an asterisk it represents a movement in ranking from the previous week.

Pound-for-Pound

01 – Naoya Inoue

02 – Oleksandr Usyk

03 – Juan Francisco Estrada

04 – Dmitry Bivol

05 – Terence Crawford

06 – Errol Spence Jnr.

07 – Tyson Fury

08 – Saul Alvarez

09 – Artur Beterbiev

10 – Shakur Stevenson

 

105lbs

1            Knockout CP Freshmart (Thailand)

2            Petchmanee CP Freshmart (Thailand)

3            Melvin Jerusalem (Philippines)

4            Ginjiro Shigeoka (Japan)

5            Wanheng Menayothin (Thailand)

6            Daniel Valladares (Mexico)

7            Yudai Shigeoka (Japan)

8            Oscar Collazo (USA)

9            Masataka Taniguchi (Japan)

10          Rene Mark Cuarto (Philippines)

 

108lbs

1            Kenshiro Teraji (Japan)

2            Jonathan Gonzalez (Puerto Rico)

3            Masamichi Yabuki (Japan)

4            Hekkie Budler (South Africa)

5            Sivenathi Nontshinga (South Africa)

6            Elwin Soto (Mexico)

7            Daniel Matellon (Cuba)

8            Reggie Suganob (Philippines)

9            Shokichi Iwata (Japan)*

10          Esteban Bermudez (Mexico)*

 

112lbs

1            Sunny Edwards (England)

2            Artem Dalakian (Ukraine)

3            Julio Cesar Martinez (Mexico)

4            Angel Ayala Lardizabal (Mexico)

5            David Jimenez (Costa Rica)

6            Jesse Rodriguez (USA)

7            Ricardo Sandoval (USA)

8            Felix Alvarado (Nicaragua)

9            Seigo Yuri Akui (Japan)

10          Cristofer Rosales (Nicaragua)

 

115lbs

1            Juan Francisco Estrada (Mexico)

2            Roman Gonzalez (Nicaragua)

3            Jesse Rodriguez (USA)

4            Kazuto Ioka (Japan)

5            Joshua Franco (USA)

6            Junto Nakatani (Japan)*

7            Fernando Martinez (Argentina)

8            Srisaket Sor Rungvisai (Thailand)

9            Kosei Tanaka (Japan)*

10          Andrew Moloney (Australia)

 

118lbs

1            Emmanuel Rodriguez (Puerto Rico)

2            Jason Moloney (Australia)

3            Nonito Donaire (Philippines)

4            Vincent Astrolabio (Philippines)

5            Gary Antonio Russell (USA)

6            Takuma Inoue (Japan)

7            Alexandro Santiago (Mexico)

8           Ryosuke Nishida (Japan)

9            Keita Kurihara (Japan)

10          Paul Butler (England)

 

122lbs

1            Stephen Fulton (USA)

2            Marlo Tapales (Philippines)

3            Luis Nery (Mexico)

4            Murodjon Akhmadaliev (Uzbekistan)

5            Ra’eese Aleem (USA)

6            Azat Hovhannisyan (Armenia)

7            Kevin Gonzalez (Mexico)

8            Takuma Inoue (Japan)

9            John Riel Casimero (Philippines)

10          Fillipus Nghitumbwa (Namibia)

 

126lbs

1            Mauricio Lara (Mexico)

2           Brandon Figueroa (USA)

3            Rey Vargas (Mexico)

4            Luis Alberto Lopez (Mexico)

5            Mark Magsayo (Philippines)

6            Leigh Wood (England)

7            Josh Warrington (England)

8            Robeisy Ramirez (Cuba)

9            Reiya Abe (Japan)

10          Otabek Kholmatov (Uzbekistan)

 

130lbs

1            Joe Cordina (Wales)

2            Oscar Valdez (Mexico)

3            Hector Garcia (Dominican Republic)

4            O’Shaquie Foster (USA)

5            Shavkatdzhon Rakhimov (Tajikistan)

6            Roger Gutierrez (Venezuela)

7            Lamont Roach (USA)

8            Eduardo Ramirez (Mexico)

9            Kenichi Ogawa (Japan)

10          Robson Conceicao (Brazil)

 

135lbs

1            Devin Haney (USA)

2            Gervonta Davis (USA)

3            Vasily Lomachenko (Ukraine)

4            Isaac Cruz (Mexico)

5            William Zepeda Segura (Mexico)

6            Frank Martin (USA)

7            George Kambosos Jnr (Australia)

8            Shakur Stevenson (USA)

9            Raymond Muratalla (USA)*

10          Keyshawn Davis (USA)

 

140lbs

1            Josh Taylor (Scotland)

2            Regis Prograis (USA)

3            Jose Ramirez (USA)

4            Jose Zepeda (USA)

5            Jack Catterall (England)

6            Subriel Matias (Puerto Rico)

7            Arnold Barboza Jr. (USA)

8            Gary Antuanne Russell (USA)

9            Zhankosh Turarov (Kazakhstan)

10          Shohjahon Ergashev (Uzbekistan)

 

147lbs

1            Errol Spence (USA)

2            Terence Crawford (USA)

3            Yordenis Ugas (Cuba)

4            Vergil Ortiz Jr. (USA)

5            Jaron Ennis (USA)

6            Eimantas Stanionis (Lithuania)

7            David Avanesyan (Russia)

8            Cody Crowley (Canada)

9            Roiman Villa (Columbia)

10          Alexis Rocha (USA)

 

154lbs

1            Jermell Charlo (USA)

2           Tim Tszyu (Australia)

3            Brian Castano (Argentina)

4            Brian Mendoza (USA)

5            Liam Smith (England)

6            Jesus Alejandro Ramos (USA)

7            Sebastian Fundora (USA)

8            Michel Soro (Ivory Coast)

9            Erickson Lubin (USA)

10          Magomed Kurbanov (Russia)

 

160lbs

1            Gennady Golovkin (Kazakhstan)

2            Jaime Munguia (Mexico)

3            Carlos Adames (Dominican Republic)

4            Janibek Alimkhanuly (Kazakhstan)

5            Liam Smith (England)

6            Erislandy Lara (USA)

7            Sergiy Derevyanchenko (Ukraine)

8            Felix Cash (England)

9            Esquiva Falcao (Brazil)

10          Chris Eubank Jnr. (Poland)

 

168lbs

1            Canelo Alvarez (Mexico)

2            David Benavidez (USA)

3            Caleb Plant (USA)

4            Christian Mbilli (France)

5            David Morrell (Cuba)

6            John Ryder (England)

7            Pavel Silyagin (Russia)

8            Vladimir Shishkin (Russia)

9            Carlos Gongora (Ecuador)

10          Demetrius Andrade (USA)

 

175lbs

1            Dmitry Bivol (Russia)

2            Artur Beterbiev (Canada)

3            Joshua Buatsi (England)

4            Callum Smith (England)

5            Joe Smith Jr. (USA)

6            Gilberto Ramirez (Mexico)

7            Anthony Yarde (England)

8           Dan Azeez (England)

9            Craig Richards (England)

10          Michael Eifert (Germany)

 

200lbs

1            Jai Opetaia (Australia)

2            Mairis Breidis (Latvia)

3            Lawrence Okolie (England)

4            Richard Riakporhe (England)

5            Aleksei Papin (Russia)

6            Badou Jack (Sweden)

7            Chris Billam-Smith (England)

8            Arsen Goulamirian (France)

9            Yuniel Dorticos (Cuba)

10          Mateusz Masternak (Poland)

 

Unlimited

1            Tyson Fury (England)

2            Oleksandr Usyk (Ukraine)

3            Zhilei Zhang (China)

4            Deontay Wilder (USA)

5            Anthony Joshua (England)

6            Andy Ruiz (USA)

7            Filip Hrgovic (Croatia)

8            Joe Joyce (England)

9            Dillian Whyte (England)

10          Frank Sanchez (Cuba)

To comment on this story in the Fight Forum CLICK HERE

 

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‘How To Box’ by Joe Louis: Part 6 of a 6-Part Series – Putting It All Together

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‘How To Box’ by Joe Louis: Part 6 of a 6-Part Series – Putting It All Together

“You got to be a killer, otherwise I’m getting too old to waste time on you.”—Jack Blackburn

Much has been said concerning the Joe Louis duels with Max Schmeling. It was proof that Louis was vulnerable to right hands. It was proof that Louis wasn’t vulnerable to right hands. It was a victory for America over the Nazis. But Schmeling wasn’t a Nazi. It was boxing’s biggest fight. But it wasn’t about boxing. It was what made Louis a hero. But he was already a hero.

One of Abraham Lincoln’s most successful biographers, Roy Basler, wrote that “to know the truth of history is to realize its ultimate myth and its inevitable ambiguity.” Is there a more telling example of this truth in sports than Louis-Schmeling II? Sometimes the tale can obscure the truth. To put it another way: when was the last time you just wondered at it? Wondered at what Joe Louis did to Max Schmeling on a night when, admittedly, the world was on the brink of war and the African-American was on the road to reclaiming himself from the white power structure in the USA? When was the last time you ignored all those very important things and just marvelled at that fight, the recording of which reporter Henry McLemore called “the most faithful recording ever made of human savagery”?

I’m going to invite you here, please, to wonder at it again.

In one moment.

First, we must take a look at Joe’s best performance.

Buddy Baer

The bigger, less celebrated of the Baer brothers had his own rematch with Joe Louis at the beginning of 1942. The first fight had ended in the controversy of a DQ win for Louis and, as he always did when there was the merest hint of scepticism after a title fight, Joe arranged to meet the Giant Californian once again.

A huge man in any era, Buddy tipped the scales at 250 and scraped the ceiling at a little more than 6’6. As noted by the St.Petersburg Times, “a fellow of Baer’s size in good condition, and equipped with the usual quota of arms, legs and eyes must be conceded a chance in any bout, particularly if he has courage and a punch.”

Buddy had both in abundance, but he was not a natural fighter. “We have the feeling he would rather be out picking violets,” is how the Times chose to illustrate the point. While this is a bit much we all know what he means. Louis, who would famously be fighting for free that night in support of the Navy Relief Fund, was a natural gladiator. Buddy Baer was not.

If Max Schmeling is clearly the tougher of the two opponents and Louis wreaked similar havoc on each of them, what is it that makes this Joe’s greatest performance? Baer’s size? Might it be suggested that herein lies the key to arguing Louis the master of all modern super-heavies as he destroys one in this encounter? It’s a reasonable point, but no, it is not that. It was my own favourite line from How to Box by Joe Louis that brought me to this conclusion.

“There are two basic methods of attack,” the1948 manual tells us, “either by force or by skill. The attack by force is used only by the slugger who depends only upon hitting power. The attack by skill is used by the boxer who relies upon his cleverness in feinting, correct leading, drawing and in-fighting.”

This is a fine division, at once elegant and incomplete, of the boxer’s physical abilities versus his technical ability, his gifts as an athlete as weighed against his skill as a boxer. While Joe’s destruction of Schmeling is his most devastating display, he relies often in that short fight upon his natural gifts, his speed, his power. Joe fights ugly for short, vicious stretches against Baer, too, but not before he has demonstrated for us the height of his art.

Louis and his ghostwriter, Edward J. Mallory, describe the various feints Louis employed in his championship years and most interesting among them is the left jab to the body, the lie, and then the right uppercut to the head, the truth. It is a difficult move from a technical perspective, calling upon the weight to be transferred from the left foot to the right and for the fighter to move from long distance to the inside, downstairs to up, all without getting caught. Louis pulls this move off against a fresh Baer, twenty-five seconds into the fight.

Baer came out aggressively and Louis was momentarily crowded out of the fight, driven and harried back to his own corner first by Baer’s length, then his size. Buddy’s physical advantages overcame Joe’s technical superiority, for just a moment. They circle, and Louis takes a short step back, employing the draw, before throwing a nothing left hook. Louis notices that the challenger’s tactic upon being jabbed are to dip, then make a grab and try to tie the champion up on the inside, allowing him to use his size and weight to bear down on him. A fine plan for a big man, but in fact the fight is now lost.

A few seconds later Louis is shuffling back and away from Baer once more and as Baer moves forwards Louis throws another jab. Again, Baer dips and tries to crowd but Louis has no intention of landing the jab. Instead, he holsters his left, takes a step to the outside with his left foot and even as Baer draws himself into his shell and prepares his grab, Louis uncorks his right uppercut, slipping his weight across his body as a part of the natural movement of the punch, the absolute perfection of this skill. The punch is not a finisher but note Baer’s reaction when Louis jabs at him once more, moments later. Instead of trying to menace the champion with his size or a counter, he backs up directly; shy of the uppercut that the jab disguised last time around. This is the ultimate realisation of the feint—to imbue in the jab, a hammer blow at the best of times the virtual attributes of the uppercut. Baer has now to abandon his pre-fight plan for Joe’s most important punch, that jab.

Skill has determined that his superior size is now worthless.

Paraffin to the wound seconds later as Louis pulls the trick off once more, this time after following through on the jab. A right-handed uppercut to the jaw—the hardest punch to land from a technical perspective—turns the trick again and now Baer is hurt. Louis plants a left hook behind the glove just above the ear and then he is ready to unleash the combinations that made him famous.

People say Joe Louis has slow feet. There is something to this, although hopefully it has been explained in the proper context in Part 1—The Foundation of Skill. Even then, however, we discuss his speed relative to those opponents who run. Well footwork is not merely a byword for a foot race. I defy anyone who takes the time to pay close enough attention to the speed at which Louis adjusts his feet now as Baer retreats across the ring to name him slow.

Out of position for a left hook as Baer is going away slightly outside his right foot, Louis shimmies—there is no other word for it—a quick step forwards, channelling all his power through his left leg and hips. This allows him to land that deadly, rare, straight right and behind it, even though he each time has to shimmy and hop forwards, he lands a left hook and then that rolling right cross. With each punch he is covering ground and with each punch he touches down long enough to get the torque through his hips and crack home hard punches, knockout punches. Perhaps the most startling thing about this sequence is that if you press pause at the moment these blows are landing, they look as though Louis were punching from a stationary position. His balance is perfect, his rushing attack is in no way affecting the value of his punches, yet he takes literally no time to get set. He is a cobra packing a shotgun.

“Use the weight of the body in every punch,” (my italics) advises How to Box and it is a tenet Louis is married to. My expectation upon placing it under the microscope was that I would have to issue a warning similar to the one I described when analysing Joe’s straight right hand—that it bore sweet fruit when it worked but that it was to detail-specific to be really viable in the ring, and that countermeasures must be employed. To my astonishment I found that Louis threw power punches (if not always his jab) in this fashion without compromising his balance on offense. It is my suspicion that this is a unique skillset above 200 lbs. and that you would have to work to find fighters who can fight like this in even the smallest divisions.

Though the fight is only a minute old, referee Frank Fullam takes his first close look at Baer as he wobbles back to Joe’s short rope behind a left-right combination to the jaw and a right to the body that Louis lands after ducking into a clinch as Baer tried to throw his first punches in some seconds. Louis is made to miss in turn as Baer bores him back and away from the ropes, missing first with the right uppercut and then the left hook. These are the most difficult punches to remain composed behind, but Louis does so, remaining in punching position.

Head-to-head in a maul, Louis appears the loser as he slowly gives ground during an exchange of meaningless shots, but a split second later, he has moved out of the maul that Baer remains bowed solemnly into, and Louis begins the assault again. A bobbing top caught in two opposing tides—his, and the punches Joe is driving home—Baer’s size is now nothing less than a handicap in the face of the genius of Joe’s box-punching.

For the first knockdown Louis slips the non-existent jab he expects when he is on his way in, jabs to the stomach and bombs a right cross over his defence. Watch carefully and you will see Baer’s high guard rappelled right and down by the famous Louis follow-through before snapping back into place as Baer collapses in an enormous heap on the canvas, forty-pound weight advantage and all, the first time he has looked big since that first uppercut landed.

It’s hard to admire a man shooting fish in a barrel but take a moment to appreciate the blinds being drawn and the man Leroy Simerly (Herald-Journal) called “strictly a sixteen-inch gunner” in full flow.

Baer was magnanimous in defeat clutching Joe’s head in his oversized paws, almost comically huge next to the man labelled in newspapers the following morning as “the most destructive puncher the fight game has ever seen.”

Baer figured Louis to be champion for some time to come.

“Maybe my next child will be a son and I can raise him up to do the job.”

Three days later, Louis would pass his army physical. He would never reach the heights of the Buddy Baer fight again. It is a frightening thought, but it is possible that boxing never saw the very best of its greatest champion.

Max Schmeling

“Ain’t no sense foolin’ around like I did last time.”

Louis said more than once in the run up to the fight that he would end Max Schmeling in a single round. For the most part this was dismissed as hyperbole by a press which did not break ranks to predict anything earlier than a third-round knockout. Hyperbole was the furthest thing from the minds of Louis and Blackburn, however. This was a plan with its foundation built firmly upon the scientific reasoning that Schmeling had become so famous for.

When Joe Louis attended the welterweight title fight between Henry Armstrong and Barney Ross, it was not as a fan, although he was one, but as a disciple. It is possible that Armstrong was the only man in the history of the fight game capable of teaching Louis about controlled destructive violence in the ring, but the story goes that he did—and that along with handler Eddie Mead, he convinced Louis and Blackburn that a direct, rushing assault was the best strategy.

And the story had more than just a hint of truth to it. First Joe was seen at Henry’s training camp and then Henry was seen at Joe’s. Louis did not speak of it directly, but Blackburn was less equivocal:

“Last time Chappie fought just the way Schmeling wanted him to. This time it’ll be different. Chappie’s going to learn from Armstrong. He’s going to set a fast pace right from the start.”

Max Machon, trainer to Schmeling, did not see the danger, encouraging Louis to do just that:

“He would be as awkward as a school girl on her first pair of ice skates!”

Schmeling, meanwhile, wasn’t paying attention or had seen a bluff where there was none:

“I think in the first round we will just feel each other out.”

According to the World Telegram, “Schmeling will make no mistake in strategy. Louis doesn’t know what the word means.” This was the prevailing attitude at the time, but in fact a reversal of this equation was happening right under the noses of the dismissive newspapermen. Even those that sniffed out a possible tactical dimension to the Louis battle plan were disdainful of it. Perhaps they were right, and perhaps Blackburn and Mead were the masterminds behind the directness of the violence about to erupt in Yankee Stadium. But the fact is that Louis had been obsessively watching the first Schmeling fight, originally with a journalist (who could not believe that Blackburn had never shown it to the champion and had in fact discouraged him from seeing it), then with his trainer and finally alone.

Over and over again.

“I know how to fight Max now.”

Louis was to fight Schmeling in the opposite style, as far as How to Box is concerned, to the one he would use to destroy Buddy Baer. There, he fought by skill, here it was to be by force—speed, power.

Louis doesn’t stalk or attempt to draw a lead from Schmeling. At the first bell, he is after him straight away and when Schmeling tries to move, Joe moves with him, still in the small steps and still behind that ramrod jab but with more urgency than is normal. The hard jab and a closet left hook are landed before Max moves out of range, but the leaping left hook he uses to drive Max before him is a new flavor of Louis, especially against an unharmed world-class opponent. Louis had reportedly shadowboxed for forty to fifty minutes before emerging from his dressing room wearing two gowns to keep his body warm. Now he was making both Schmeling and Machon foolish in their pre-fight predictions. Not only was Louis wasting absolutely no time in feeling Schmeling out, but he also bore very little resemblance to a schoolgirl on ice skates. He looked more like coiled galvanized steel brought miraculously and terrifyingly to life.

Referee Arthur Donovan would later claim that this left hook caused Max’s face to swell and changed his pallor to a “faint bluish green.”

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The hook also carried him inside, but rather than moving for space Louis dug his heels in and pushed against Schmeling, denying him room, landing three hard uppercuts, pulling out and then stabbing back in with the one-two. When Schmeling puts his left glove over Joe’s right, cupping his own body protectively with his free arm, Louis reverted to his old habits, making room for himself as he punched, adjusting tactically to Schmeling’s increasingly desperate defensive manoeuvres.

After the German lands his only significant punch of the fight—a right hand as the champion moved away—Louis stalked a rattled Schmeling to the far rope and drew the inevitable pressure lead, before going to work with both hands to the midsection and switching upstairs. When Schmeling tries to hide up close after another one-two, Louis pushes him back and away, giving himself room for his aggressive rushes. Here, then, was the culmination of the tactical switch as he drove Schmeling back with the uppercut then invoked the most famous fistic assault between Dempsey and Tyson, hammering Schmeling back with both fists, the German catapulting away but seemingly caught in the Bomber’s horrifying gravity as he catches the rope for support with his right gloves and catapults himself right back into the kill zone. Louis is swarming all over him and Schmeling, now half turned away, is nothing more than a slab of meat and one that the champion goes to work upon in earnest, a butcher wielding two cleavers, finally landing perhaps his most famous punch, a right hand just above the kidney that fractured the transverse process of the third and fourth lumbar vertebrae, tearing the muscles surrounding it in the process. The scream that erupted from Schmeling was “half animal, half human” and according to David Margolick author of Beyond Glory: Max Schmeling and Joe Louis was so bloodcurdling that many patrons on that side of the ring reached for their hats as though compelled to retreat. If it occurred, this was a primal reaction but Louis, for me, was not giving the primal showing of legend.

“He is a jungle man,” wrote journalist Henry McLenmore. “As completely primitive as any savage out to destroy the thing he hates. He fought instinctively and not by any man-made pattern.”

This is not true. Louis had re-armed himself with some new tools for this fight and had shown a strategic surety the German came nowhere near matching—Schmeling was outthought for all that he was also slaughtered. When necessary, Louis switched between pure aggression and his drawing, counterpunching style with seamless ease and although he used his physical rather than his technical brilliance to master Schmeling, I would argue that “the hand of man” is more apparent in this performance than any other one of his fights.

“I thought in my mind, “How’s that Mr. Super-race? I was glad he was hurt,” said Louis in response to questions about his thoughts on the punch that had broken Schmeling’s back. Now he did cut loose, battering Max like he was a heavy bag and indeed from this point on the challenger put up about as much resistance. The final punch, when it came, had the same affect upon Schmeling’s face as a baseball bat would an apple, according to the Herald Tribune. The fight ended in confusion and uproar as first the towel, then Max Machon himself stormed the ring but Schmeling was as knocked out as any fighter had ever been. Louis had wiped the floor with him.

His reward, outside of the $400,000 he had just banked, was to be compared in the next few days in the press to every dangerous animal that walked the earth. Lions, tigers, bears, snakes, hawks and most of all panthers were what the champion was like and the racial climate in which he fought makes us look back and shake our heads at the casual racism. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and John F. Kennedy were all in America’s glittering future. But I do not think it was a matter of race—or not only of race.

It is a fact, however, that some of the pressmen that talked about Louis in these terms were black.

Louis himself, by virtue of his skill in the ring would take a hand in steering his race toward calmer waters.

It’s us.

We all look at Louis and see something primal because there is something primal within all of us. He speaks to it.

And that’s fine. Boxing needs its violence every bit as much as it needs its heroes. If this series of articles was about anything it was about stripping away that projection, that stardust, that lie and looking at the fighter underneath, because that is a beautiful thing that all too often is overlooked. Louis had one of the best jabs, one of the best skillsets, was one of the best counterpunchers, one of the best boxers at any weight, ever—and I hope I have shown that his supposed tactical rigidity and strategic naivety is something we have projected onto this “animal” this “killer” this “bomber,” too, for all that these were not his greatest strengths. He had help and Blackburn was an important part of arguably the greatest story our sport has ever known but as Joe Louis said, “Once that bell rings, you are on your own.

“It’s just you and the other guy.”

And I sure wouldn’t want to be the other guy.

For those of you who have taken the considerable time to read these articles on Joe Louis from the first word to the last—thank you.

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