Connect with us

Featured Articles

SAD FINAL CHAPTER FOR A GREAT ACTION HERO

Published

on

Some call boxing the “the sweet science,” which conjures images of intricate strategies and balletic movements more reminiscent of a Nuryev or a Baryshnikov than of tough guys punching for pay. And make no mistake, there are fighters whose grace and fluidity of movement hinted at or even screamed that they were actual scientists of pugilism: Willie Pep, Miguel Canto and any number of other stylistic dandies weren’t exactly nerds, but they executed a more physical version of the Big Bang Theory. Imagine, if you can, Dr. Sheldon Cooper with nimble feet, quick reflexes and a snappy jab.

There are those, however, whose claim to fame owed more to indomitable will than to extraordinary skill, to power more than prettiness. The blunt-force trauma guys come forward relentlessly, taking punishment to dish out punishment, their most memorable bouts recalled as bloody wars of attrition that bespeak the beauty that can be found even in the fiercest, most primeval of boxing battles.

Former WBC light heavyweight champion Matthew Saad Muhammad was such an acclaimed warrior, wearing down opponents in two-way action classics that left a deep impression on anyone who saw him dig inside himself to find, time and again, some last ounce of courage which marked the difference between victory and defeat.

Now Saad Muhammad, 59, is gone, having succumbed to the debilitating effects of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. Saad passed away early Sunday morning in the Intensive Care Unit of Chestnut Hill Hospital, in his hometown of Philadelphia.

Funeral arrangements are pending.

“He had been battling the illiness for the last couple of years, but then he took a turn for the worse,” said a longtime friend and associate, Mustafa Ameen. “Those of us who knew him will miss him. He was a good man. Sure, he had his ups and downs – a lot of ups, and a lot of downs. But at least now he isn’t suffering any more. Hopefully, he’s in a better place, and I’d like to think that he is.”

Saad Muhammad was a first-ballot inductee into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1998, which tells the story of who and what he was more than his final won-lost record, which is a deceiving 49-16-3, with 35 knockouts. But, like many fighters who hang around too long, he was just 5-7-1 in his final 13 bouts, with four of his eight losses inside the distance coming during that span. He was by then a shell of his former greatness, and he knew it. But what’s a used-up fighter to do when he has made too many wrong choices, financial and otherwise, and has no way to earn a living but to keep putting himself in harm’s way?

“Toward the end I started losing my power,” Saad recalled in 1998, a few days before he was inducted into the IBHOF. “You can’t fight the way I did unless you got something to back it up. I couldn’t back it up any more. But you know what? I have no regrets. I was like Frank Sinatra. I did it my way.”

Well, maybe he did, at least professionally. As far as the rest of it … well, that’s another matter. Saad – abandoned as a child, homeless as a toddler and later as an adult, his $4 million fortune eroded to nothing by a profligate lifestyle and leeching entourage – surely would have done some things differently if life had afforded him a couple of discretionary do-overs.

“I was in a state of shock,” he said of the gut-wrenching decision he made in the summer of 2010 to walk into the RHD Ridge Center, Philadelphia’s largest homeless shelter. “I thought to myself, `Am I really going to go into this shelter?’ But I had to go somewhere. My money had run out. I was going hotel to hotel, bills piling up. I went into the shelter because I hoped it could help me make a change.”

It is hardly a unique situation, boxing history liberally dotted with sad stories of the rapid descent of good and even great fighters who treated their ring earnings as they were a permanently sustainable asset, like a backyard fruit tree that periodically renews its natural bounty.

By today’s exorbitant standards, Saad’s estimated $4 million fortune was more of a nice-sized molehill than a mountain. Floyd Mayweather Jr. has made 10 times that amount for a single bout. But it was significant swag for the 1970s and ’80s, and Saad admitted to living large – too large. He had a Rolls-Royce, a mink coat and a swarm of hangers-on he estimates at up to 60 people.

“I was putting my people up in hotels, buying them cars,” he said. “I would be nice to other people, help other people out, give to other people. Never once did I think, `Who’s going to take care of me when I’m broke?’ Stupid me.”

Perhaps Saad – his birth name was Maxwell Antonio Loach, although he didn’t rediscover that until he was an adult, and he won his 175-pound title when he was still known as Matthew Franklin, before his conversion to Islam – would have made more prudent choices had he not endured a childhood as harrowing as anything to be found in the pages of “Oliver Twist.” Even though boxing gave him a sense of purpose, he wandered through a lost-and-found life, seemingly a perpetual victim of circumstance.

Saad was introduced to hardship at an early age. Living with an aunt after his mother died, his childhood could have come out of a Charles Dickens novel. He was five years old, he said, the day his aunt told him to go out for a walk with an older brother, who was nearly eight.

“They just didn’t have enough money to take care of me, so they got rid of me,” Saad said. “I was so scared. Then a policeman found me at night and asked me my name. I said, `M-m-m-m-m.’ I was so scared. I was stuttering.”

The frightened child was taken to Catholic Social Services, where the nuns named him Matthew Franklin, after the saint and the thoroughfare (the Benjamin Franklin Parkway) where he had been abandoned.

“When people ask me to describe the greatest triumph of my career,” he said in 1998, “I tell them it was just surviving what I went through as a kid.”

Having been found, Matthew Franklin soon found ways to become lost again. He got into trouble early and often, some of the arguments ending in fistfights, a means of expression at which he proved to be quite adept. He was sent to reform school, where one of his teachers, whom he knew as “Mr. Carlos,” suggested he channel his pent-up rage into something useful, like boxing.

After compiling a 25-4 record as an amateur, Matt Franklin – his man-strength enhanced through work as a longshoreman before he turned pro in early 1974 – began his pro career in search of a signature style that fit both his temperament and gift for hitting hard. Following a 10-round unanimous-decision loss to Eddie Gregory (now Eddie Mustafa Muhammad) on March 11, 1977, Franklin decided that his most productive course of action was to ditch any notions of stick-and-move. He would stand and slug, and may he who came equipped with more concussive power and a higher threshold of pain have his hand raised at the end.

There have been more gifted fighters, to be sure, but by either of his professional names, Matthew Franklin or Matthew Saad Muhammad, the man would have to rank at or near the top of any list of crowd-pleasing favorites. He was at once an updated Jake La Motta and a precursor to Arturo Gatti. Anyone who purchased a ticket for one of Saad’s fights was sure to gets lots of bang for his buck. He won his 175-pound title on an eighth-round stoppage of Marvin Johnson on April 22, 1979, in Market Square Arena in Indianapolis, a virtual replay of his even-more-rousing 12th-round TKO victory over Johnson on July 26, 1977,” in Philly. But if the Johnson bouts represented Saad at his blood-and-guts best, there were other fights that rose to nearly that level, such as his 14th-round TKO of Yaqui Lopez and his fourth-round TKO of John Conteh in their second matchup.

“I was in a lot of wars,” Saad conceded in 1998. “People would see me get hit and not know how I could take the kind of shots that I took. Sometimes I don’t even know how I did it myself. It’s like God told me to get off that canvas and keep going.

“The (first) fight with Marvin Johnson had to be the fight of the century. It was like rock ’em, sock ’em robots all the way. Same thing with my fight with Yaqui Lopez and the second fight with John Conteh. It was fights like that that made me who I am.”

Lou Duva, the legendary manager and trainer who also was inducted into the IBHOF in 1998, said Saad’s constantly attacking, never-say-die approach would have made him a difficult opponent for anyone, including the best light heavyweight in the world at that time, Roy Jones Jr.

“Saad Muhammad was an outstanding fighter,” Duva said. “He’s the one guy who I think, if he were around today, could beat Jones. His style would just wear you down. It wore down a lot of good fighters, and I think it would wear Jones down.”

Told what Duva had said, Saad agreed with his assessment. “I think he’s right,” Saad said. “When I was at my best, I think I would have had a chance to beat any light heavyweight because of the way I fought. I got in trouble sometimes, but I always came right back at you.”

Not surprisingly, Saad sought to fill in the blank spaces in his life story with as much determination as he always exhibited inside the ropes. Who was he, really? Why had he been cast aside at such a young age? So he offered a $10,000 reward to anyone who could offer information as the identities of those who had deemed him expendable.

Perhaps also not surprisingly, stepping forward to put in a claim to the reward money were the aunt who had abandoned him and the older brother who had left alone on the street, crying and frightened.

It might be argued that Saad’s plunge from wealthy champion to destitution (at one point he was unemployed and owed $250,000 to the IRS in back taxes), while self-inflicted, was a desperate bid to buy a form of love to replace the family he didn’t have in his formative years, and didn’t want him even when he was around.  It is a reasonable theory, although he exacerbated that situation by botching his later attempts at being a reasonably good husband and father. He was married and divorced twice, and his relationship with his children has also at times been rocky.

Speaking of rocky, Saad was up for the role of Clubber Lang in “Rocky III,” but lost out to a scowling bouncer from Chicago named Lawrence Tero – you now know him as Mr. T – because his vanity would not allow him to shave his head (Saad’s version) or because he objected to the script calling for him to lose the climactic fight to star Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky Balboa character (Ameen’s version). So Saad was obliged to sit back and watch as Mr. T became an instantly recognizable figure on the big and little screens.

Nor did a proposed film of Saad’s seemingly Hollywood-friendly tale ever gain traction beyond the discussion stage. Polly Wilkinson, who was for a time Saad’s business manager, kept pitching his story to the studios, but it never found a buyer. Thus was Saad reduced to working as an itinerant roofer, a sometimes trainer of fighters, and ultimately as a homeless person.

“Anyone can fall down,” he said of his difficult decision to admit he had hit bottom. “The important thing is whether you can get back up. You have to make commitments and do the right thing.”

If that sounds like a line from a “Rocky” movie, well, so be it. It wouldn’t be the first time life has imitated art. Or is that the other way around?

Rest in peace, Saad. You fought like a man possessed every time you stepped inside the ring, and the guess here is that you left this earth the same way.

 

WATCH RELATED VIDEOS ON BOXINGCHANNEL.TV

Featured Articles

Results from Las Vegas where Rafael Espinoza Retained his WBO Title in Grand Style

Published

on

Results-from-Las-Vegas-where-Rafael-Espinoza-Reyained-his-WBO-Belt-in-Grand-Style

Top Rank made its first foray to the newest Las Vegas Strip resort, the Fontainebleu, tonight. Topping the bill was an all-Mexican featherweight title fight between Guadalajara’s Rafael Espinoza and Oaxaca’s Sergio Chirino. The lanky Espinoza, at six-foot-one the tallest featherweight world title-holder in history, was making the first defense of the title he won with a shocking upset of Robeisy Ramirez and tonight he looked sensational.

Espinoza, who advanced his record to 25-0 with his 21st KO, had his countryman on the canvas in the very first round, the result of a counter left uppercut. Chirino wasn’t badly hurt, but it quickly became apparent that he was out-gunned. In round three, Espinoza sent him to the canvas again with a four-punch combo climaxed by a short left to the liver, and Chirino would be down once again in the following round, hunched down from a series of punches that caught only air. At this juncture, referee Raul Caiz Jr wisely stepped in and stopped the fight. The official time was 2:45 of round four. Chirino, who came in riding a 13-fight winning streak, declined to 22-2.

Espinoza is expected to have a rematch with Ramirez, provided that Robeisy gets past his Mexican opponent later this month in a match that, on paper, looks like an easy win for the Cuban southpaw. In their first meeting, the unheralded Espinoza was a massive underdog. Based on his showing tonight, he looks no worse than “pick-‘em” in the sequel.

Co-Feature

In a 10-round junior lightweight fight, North Las Vegas native Andres Cortes scored a unanimous decision over former world title challenger Abraham Nova. The scores favored the local fighter by scores of 96-94 and 97-93 twice.

Cortes had the crowd in his corner, but the reaction when the verdict was announced was one of surprise. Nova, who was credited with throwing and landing more punches, was in better condition and seemingly had the best of it in the late rounds. It was the twenty-second win without a loss for Cortes. Nova (23-3), a class act,  was diplomatic in defeat.

Also

In a true crossroads fight (a “pink slip” fight in the words of ESPN commentator Mark Kriegel),Troy Isley, a former Olympian and stablemate of Terence Crawford, out-worked Javier Martinez to win a unanimous 10-round decision. The judges had it 96-92-and 97-91 twice.

The middleweights were well-acquainted, having split four fights at the amateur level. Isley, from Alexandria, VA, improved to 13-0 (5) Martinez, born in Milwaukee to immigrants from Mexico, was 10-0-1 heading in. Both fighters lost a point for low blows after repeated warnings from referee Tony Weeks.

Other Bouts of Note

In an 8-round bantamweight fight that turned zesty after a slow start, Floyd Mayweather Jr protégé Floyd “Cashflow” Diaz improved to 12-0 (3) with a unanimous decision over Tijuana’s Francisco Pedroza (18-12-2). The judges had it 78-73 across the board. Diaz was making his second start under the tutelage of Brian “Bomac” McIntyre. Pedroza lost a point in round six for hitting on the break.

Steven Navarro, a hot prospect from a prominent SoCal boxing family, won his second pro fight with a 6-round shutout over rugged but outclassed Juan Pablo Meza (7-4), a 33-year-old Chilean.

Photo credit: Mikey Williams / Top Rank

To comment on this story in the Fight Forum CLICK HERE

Continue Reading

Featured Articles

Will Eumir Marcial be the First Filipino Boxer to Win an Olympic Gold Medal?

Published

on

Will-Eumor-Marcial-be-the-First-Filipino-Boxer-to-win-an-Olympic-Gold-Medal?

Will Eumir Marcial be the First Filipino Boxer to Win an Olympic Gold Medal?

Over the years, some of the world’s best boxers have been Filipino. Long before Manny Pacquiao there was Pancho Villa (Francisco Villaruel Guilledo) who became a national hero at the age of twenty-one when he captured the world flyweight title with a one-sided beat-down of Jimmy Wilde in 1923, knocking the legendary Welshman into retirement. But one thing is missing from the Pinoy boxing catalog, an Olympic gold medal. There have been eight medalists in all, four silver and four bronze, but the coveted gold has proved elusive.

Eumir Marcial came close in Tokyo. He advanced to the semi-finals in the middleweight competition where he lost a razor-thin decision to his Ukrainian opponent. Two of the judges favored him, but that was one short of what was needed.

“It took a long time for me to get over it, but I came to accept that God had a different plan for me,” says Marcial who gets another crack at it next month. He survived the qualifying tournaments and is headed to Paris where he will carry the flag of the Philippines into the Games of the XXXIII Olympiad.

Eumir (you-meer) Marcial grew up in Zamboanga City in the southern region of the archipelago, a two-day trip to Manila by ferry. He was introduced to boxing by his father Eulalio Marcial who besides being a farmer and a jitney driver is also the head coach of the Zamboanga City (amateur) boxing team.

Eulalio’s son is a big wheel in his native habitat, one of the more urbanized areas of the Philippines. This past October, when Eumir returned to Zamboanga City with his silver medal from the Asian Games in China, a motorcade awaited him at the airport and he was whisked to City Hall where he was feted in a ceremony organized by civic leaders.

In Las Vegas, where he was been training for the Olympics, he’s anonymous. No one genuflects when he walks into the DLX Gym in the company of his attractive wife Princess. He’s just another face in the crowd and he wouldn’t have it any other way.

Marcial had one pro fight under his belt before the Tokyo Games. In December of 2020, he won a 4-round decision over a 3-1 opponent from Idaho on a card in Los Angeles. Not quite two months before that fight, while training at Freddie Roach’s gym, Marcial, who has two sisters, received the devastating news that his only brother Eliver had died in the Philippines of a sudden heart attack at age 39. Despite the age difference, the two were extremely close.

Marcial has had four more pro fights since then, advancing his record to 5-0 (3 KOs). In two of those fights, he had anxious moments.

In his second pro fight, he was knocked down three times in the first two frames, but gathered his wits about him and stopped his opponent in round four. In his next outing, a 6-rounder on the undercard of a Showtime PPV, he fought through a bad gash over his right eye, the result of an accidental head butt.

“I learned a lot from those fights,” says Marcial, “and they will make me a better Olympian than I was in 2021.”

Marcial spent nearly 10 years in the Philippines Air Force, but as somewhat of a civilian employee, spending little time around aircraft. He attracted a lot of attention after winning the AIBA world junior championship as a 15-year-old bantamweight in Kazakhstan in 2011. The Air Force seized on his growing fame to make him a recruiting specialist.

The word icon is over-used, but not when applied to Manny Pacquiao who overcame abject poverty to become an international superstar. “He was an inspiration to me,” says Marcial who references “PacMan” as Sir Manny or Senator Manny when he speaks about him.

The two would become well-acquainted. Pacquiao co-promoted Marcial’s last pro fight in Manila which was nationally televised in the Philippines and billed as a homecoming for Eumir who hadn’t fought in a Manila ring in five years. (He knocked out his Thai opponent in the fourth round.)

Marcial recalls some advice that Pacquiao gave him: “He said to me, ‘the higher you get, the more humble you should be.’”

Humbleness comes natural to the affable Marcial who is unstinting in his praise of those who have helped him along on his journey. “I would not have gotten through the qualifying tournament for the Paris games if not for my coach Kay Koroma,” he says.

Nowadays, whenever a Filipino boxer appears for a photo-op, Sean Gibbons is certain to be standing close by. Gibbons, who has homes in Las Vegas and the Philippines, has had an amazing ride since the days when he plied the Oklahoma and Midwest circuits, driving hundreds of miles each month to small shows in the sticks, transporting carloads of journeymen boxers with him. “[Sean Gibbons] helps us with accommodations, rental cars, whatever we need, and I am so grateful to him,” says Marcial of the man (pictured above on the left) who wears many hats but is perhaps best described as a facilitator.

Making matters more daunting for Marcial going forward, his weight class was eliminated when the governing body of the Olympics added a new weight category for women, subtracting one from the men. A middleweight (165-pound ceiling) in Tokyo, he will perform as a light heavyweight (176-pound ceiling) in Paris.

Eumir Marcial will return to the pro ranks regardless of what happens in France, but lassoing that elusive Olympic gold medal would likely bring him more joy than anything he may accomplish at the next level.

To comment on this story in the Fight Forum CLICK HERE

 

 

 

Continue Reading

Featured Articles

A Pearl from the Boxing Vault: Fritzie Zivic Will See You Now 

Published

on

A-Pearl-from-the-Boxing-Vault-Fritzie-Zivnic-Will-See-You-Now

“He was a great teacher,” said Billy Conn. “[Fighting Zivic] was like going to college for five years, just boxing him ten rounds…”

Fritzie Zivic never asked why. He never asked if his opponent hit hard, if his opponent deserved the shot, if the opponent would be tough. He just said “yes” and signed the contract. While [Jake] LaMotta, who somehow gained the reputation for fearlessness of which Zivic was more deserving, was asked about Charley Burley, he is supposed to have muttered “Why do I need Burley when I have Zivic?” Zivic, of course, stepped out of his weight class to lose an under-celebrated series with LaMotta, and was one of the few top white contenders to ever meet the avoided Burley.

Perhaps this fearlessness is the reason why Zivic may have fought a better array of boxers than any fighter in history. In addition to the multiple contests with LaMotta and Burley, he met Kid Azteca, Bob Montgomery, Beau Jack, Henry Armstrong, Freddie Cochrane, Lew Jenkins, Izzy Jannazzo, Phil Furr, Bummy Davis, Sammy Angott, Lou Ambers and Jimmy Leto, something very close to a “who’s who” of boxing’s golden age, and he met most of them more than once. He didn’t always win, but he always gave his all and for this the people and the promoters of his hometown of Pittsburgh and beyond loved him. Other fighters? Not so much.

“He’s the dirtiest fighter I ever met,” claimed Charley Burley after his disputed points loss in their first fight. “He thumbed me over and over again.”

“When you fight for a living,” Zivic would explain years later, “if you’re smart you fight with every trick you know. If I hadn’t known nine zillion of them I never could have won the welterweight title from Henry Armstrong.”

In the modern era, fighters can come to a title without even matching a top contender. Forty fights is a career. But in the 1940s, it was unusual to see a champion with so few fights, even a young one. Like other trades, to reach the top of the heap a fighter had to become a master craftsman, the tools at his disposal needed to be of the highest quality. To this end, fighters needed to be matched often or tough or both. But there were and are some fighters who can provide a special lesson to that prospect or contender, a boxing lesson that, win or lose, crystallizes the nature of the sport for the man in the opposite corner.

Fritzie Zivic was such a fighter. Unquestionably world class in his own right, Zivic was a quick learner who took his “zillion tricks” and applied them to roughhouse boxing that tested every corner of his opponent, technical, physical and mental. Anybody that beat him looked destined for the top, anyone that lost could still pick up more than a thing or two. Unquestionably teak-tough, a stinging if not prohibitive puncher, he could box inside or out and a tight defense and iron chin kept him to two legitimate stoppage losses in a 232-fight career. But unquestionably, Zivic’s greatest strength were his smarts, the tricks, traps and roughhouse tactics he absorbed like a sponge during his eighteen years in the ring.

In December of 1936, Zivic would teach some of these tricks to a wonder-kid tearing his way up the middleweight division, one Billy Conn. Zivic was not yet in his own absolute prime but he was twenty-three and listed as a veteran of some sixty-eight fights. Still a teenager, Conn would at least have had bulk to fall back on as a substitute for experience, weighing some seven pounds heavier on fight night at just under 157lbs.

Zivic started fast, attacking with both hands and Conn allowed him his way, trying to outbox and outpunch the smaller man in the pocket. This had become Billy’s habit, fighting, as he did, in a fan-friendly manner that had made him Pittsburgh’s favorite prospect. He had been in a desperately close series with resident local tough and brutal infighter “Honey Boy” Jones. According to some, Conn had been lucky to emerge from their third fight with a decision, his inability to adapt costing him dear in points and punches. Now Zivic fought in a style intent on taking advantage of the same flaws Jones had partially exposed, and Billy was paying for it in blood.

“Through two torrid rounds,” wrote Regis Welsh for The Pittsburgh Press, “Fritzie belted Conn to a fare-thee-well, but never quite touched the vital spot. At the end of the second…[Conn] was smeared with blood from a cut on his left cheek and a badly battered mouth.”

The press hadn’t yet been enlightened to Conn’s iron chin and it’s quite possible that Fritzie had found the “vital spot” over and again throughout the fight. As time would tell, even history’s mightiest puncher would struggle to get over on the near invulnerable Conn. However, at the beginning of the third Billy looked “tired, weary and worn out” and “in the fourth and fifth, Zivic, in a rushing charge, bore Conn to neutral ropes and belted him about the head and body until it seemed that the anticipated kayo was inevitable.”

It needs to be said though, that in spite of his fighting the wrong fight, Conn was doing his own good work, mainly to the body. Some reports credit Conn with turning the fight with a body punch as early as the third, but whilst the supposed fight of two halves (Zivic winning the first five, Conn coming back in the second half of the fight) did not occur, it’s unlikely that Conn’s hooks had the supposed affect this early. Only two judges scored the third for Conn, and all three gave Zivic the fourth. Conn wouldn’t win a round on all three judges’ scorecards until the sixth.

It was in the sixth round that Conn cracked, and went outside. In the seventh and eighth Conn “boxed beautifully…he danced, feinted, pranced and punched.”  Zivic, now out of his element as a bullying counterpuncher and destructive infighter struggled to get past Billy’s “piston-like” jab. Conn had been trained for this by defensive specialist Johnny Ray from the very beginning, but he had been unable to make the transition in the ring until Fritzie had forced it. As one would expect, Zivic now changed tactics too, gunning almost exclusively for the body, only hunting Conn with power punches, bringing him the eighth round on one card. In the tenth, they went at it toe-to-toe again. “The boys used everything but knives,” stated the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “A wild-eyed crowd looked on.” The final round was shared on the three official cards resulting in a split decision win for Conn (6-3-1, 5-4-1, 4-5-1).

“From a mile in the rear to a nose in front takes heart in a man or a horse,” wrote Welsh in The Press. “Particularly in a novice of Conn’s immature ring experience against a seasoned veteran of Zivic’s type.”

Zivic’s type indeed! Fritzie was hell on wheels for a young fighter, one that hadn’t seen a top class cutie, never mind a back-alley wizard. But Conn knew what that fight had been worth, and he knew he was the better for it.

“He was a great teacher. [Fighting Zivic] was like going to college for five years, just boxing him ten rounds…I learned a lot in that fight. He’s a tough fighter, but I believe I’m just as tough.”

It’s a double lesson for a relative novice like Conn. First, he remembers every foul, every slither out of sight of the referee, every feint that cost him a round, every dig inside on the break. But it also teaches him that he can take it, that he can get in there with world-class fighters who know more than him and beat them. The first lesson is priceless, but the second can be the key to a career. Over the next twelve months the young Conn, who had struggled so desperately with Honey Boy Jones only three months earlier, would defeat great champions and ring legends such as Teddy Yarosz, Young Corbett III and Vince Dundee before adding Fred Apostoli and Solly Krieger and annexing the world’s light heavyweight title in 1939.

In 1941 he would be matched with the great Joe Louis. It would be unfair to Conn’s great trainer Ray, and to Conn himself, to lay too much credit for Conn’s legendary performance at Zivic’s door, but Conn’s tactics against Louis—mixing careful, punch-picking infighting with beautiful movement and judge of distance on the outside—were basically a more perfect version of the tactics he used in rounds six, seven, eight and nine against Zivic.

As for the teacher, he was naturally disappointed and was keen on a rematch, but fate was to intervene. Zivic would contract pneumonia the following summer whilst training for a match with Vince Dundee.

Chet Smith, then editor of The Pittsburgh Press: “There didn’t seem to be a chance for him…so we collected all we knew about him, wrote it into a story and sent it to the composing room…There were two weeks when it was touch and go with Fritzie, and the hospital folk refused to give out a single cheerful bulletin. We knew of course when he finally came out of the hospital that his boxing days were ended.”

I guess Zivic would have snorted at that. However they build them out in Zivic’s ancestral Croatia, they build them tough because Zivic was not only far from ended as a boxer, he would get better. There were more lessons to give out. The greatest fighter that would ever draw breath, he needed a lesson.

“I learned more in these two fights with Zivic than in all my other fights put together!”

So said Ray Robinson after pulling off the extraordinary feat of stopping Zivic in January of 1942. But this was the second time Zivic, a rarity in that he never discriminated against opposition on the grounds of colour or quality, had met Robinson. The first had occurred when Zivic had already slipped past his absolute prime, in October of 1941.

“It might have been a draw. It was close,” wrote the correspondent for The Telegraph Herald, but Zivic, the heavier man for a change, looked unsurprised at the unanimous decision against him. In the middle rounds he had, to a degree, had his way with Robinson but Sugar’s explosive domination of the ninth had left him struggling and at no time had he solved the Robinson jab. He knew he was beaten. “[Robinson] took a unanimous decision with such a convincing demonstration of speed and power,” wrote United Press ringside reporter Jack Cuddy, “that he will be favored to win the title.”

Robinson was learning from Zivic the same thing Conn had, that he could master a man at the next level, a veteran, a bigger one at that. But he learned more specific and unpleasant lessons in this fight, too.

“He was about the smartest I ever fought,” Robinson would later say in conversation with writer WC Heinz.  “…he showed me how you can make a man butt open his own eye…he’d slip my lead, then he’d put his hand behind my neck and he’d bring my eye down on his head. Fritzie was smart.”

He also taught Ray that he could coast a little in those middle rounds, that at the highest level he didn’t need to put forth every ounce in every moment, that he could let the occasional round go as long as he was paying attention. The same pattern that Sugar used in his first fight with Zivic he would use in his sixth fight with LaMotta, for the middleweight title, contesting the early rounds, easing off in the middle, and finishing so strongly as to stop the unstoppable, lifting the title on a late TKO. He sharpened that tool for the first time against Zivic.

By now Zivic was almost past the stage of teaching fighters of Robinson’s calibre lessons, but he had one more to give in their second fight just three months later.

Firstly, Robinson showed the importance of a lesson learned, nullifying Zivic’s darker arts, like Conn he was a better fighter for his 10 rounds in the ring with Fritzie. He worked hard to the body in clinches he couldn’t contest with craft or strength (something else he would repeat against LaMotta in their title meeting) and he was careful to break clinches at any cost when Zivic looked to utilize those lethal butts. When his opponent tried holding and hitting on the referee’s blindside, instead of trading he would dance away. Robinson had learned that the man who owned the real estate would win the negotiation and Zivic was being outclassed as a result. Of the first six rounds he won perhaps the first. In the seventh though, Robinson momentarily forgot himself and Fritzie delivered his last lesson. As Robinson came in Zivic stepped back and cracked Robinson with a left hook. “It really hurt. I was coming in and it met me on the chin!” Robinson would say afterwards that it was the hardest punch he had ever been hit with, according to The Afro American.

In the middle of the ninth, Robinson dropped Zivic with a perfect mirror image of the punch he had been shown in the seventh, using the right hand to ditch the heavier man as he was on the way in. Up at nine, Zivic never recovered, and although he was likely stopped prematurely in the tenth, he had nothing left to teach, at least not to Sugar. At 28-0, Ray, like Billy before him, saw his 20 rounds with Zivic as nothing less than finishing school for one of the most storied careers in boxing. They are only two of the dozens of fighters that Fritzie took to school, but perhaps they are the gifts he helped in giving that we can be most grateful for.

For the purposes of this article we’ve taken a look at three Zivic losses. I hoped, by looking at his fights with Billy Conn and Sugar Ray, we might see the benefit of letting a top prospect meet a dangerous genius-thug like Fritzie, the self-proclaimed “second dirtiest fighter in history” (he reserved top spot for Harry Greb). But Zivic did lose those fights. Let it not be forgotten then that between losing to Conn and Robinson, Zivic lifted the world’s welterweight title, destroying with a mixture of aggression, uppercuts and that dirty bag of tricks for which he remains famous, one Henry Armstrong. Zivic finished Armstrong as title material, beating him for the championship of the world not once but twice.

A 4-1 underdog, Zivic had been magnanimous about his own chances going in to their opener.

“If I lose it won’t be the first fight I lost, and if I win it, it won’t be the first fight I won.”

But Zivic had learned his own brutal lessons across the years and would be merciless in bringing them to bear. Also, across the years, between his title win and these more enlightened times, Zivic’s achievement in beating Armstrong has been undermined. Armstrong was old. He was past his best. Zivic had to get dirty to do it. All of that may be true, but it needs to be remembered that Armstrong had gone undefeated in thirteen bouts prior to meeting Zivic and that all of these fights were in defence of his welterweight crown, outside of one, his celebrated tilt at a world middleweight title. It needs to be remembered that in the previous three months, Armstrong had knocked out world-class contenders Phil Furr and Lew Jenkins. It needs to be remembered that Armstrong had his own bag of tricks, and that referee Arthur Donovan’s famous refrain, “if you guys wanna fight like that it‘s okay with me” was prompted by an Armstrong foul and not a Zivic one.

Most of all it needs to be remembered that Zivic never asked why, he just signed the contract. Whichever way you want to look at it, they just don’t make them like that anymore.

To comment on this story in the Fight Forum CLICK HERE

 

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Ireland's-McKenna-Brothers-are-Poised-to-Make-Big-Waves-in-the-Squared-Circle
Featured Articles3 weeks ago

Ireland’s McKenna Brothers are Poised to Make Big Waves in the Squared Circle

Christian-Mbilli-has-the-Wow-Factor-Dismisses-Mark-Heffron-in-40-Seconds
Featured Articles4 weeks ago

Christian Mbilli has the Wow Factor: Dismisses Mark Heffron in 40 Seconds

The-Inoue-and-Serrano-Championship-Warches
Featured Articles2 weeks ago

The Inoue and Serrano Championship Watches

Boxinjg-Odds-and-Ends-A-Bountiful-June-and-a-Cult-Fighter-Returns-from-Prisonj
Featured Articles3 weeks ago

Boxing Odds and Ends: A Bountiful June and a Cult Fighter Returns from Prison

Big-Bang-KOs-the-Bronze-Bomber-in-the-Heavyweight-Finale-of-a-Splendid-Show-in-Saudi-Arabia
Featured Articles3 weeks ago

‘Big Bang’ KOs the Bronze Bomber in the Heavyweight Finale of a Splendid Card in Saudi Arabia

How-Soon-Before-We-Know-the-Fate-of-Ryan-Garcia-and-Will-the-Result-Stand?
Featured Articles4 weeks ago

How Soon Before We Know the Fate of Ryan Garcia and Will the Result Stand?

Gay-Talese-an-Icon-of-the-New-Journalism-Wrote-Extensively-About-Boxing
Featured Articles3 weeks ago

Gay Talese, an Icon of the ‘New Journalism,’ Wrote Extensively About Boxing

Ireland's-Callum-Walsh-KOs-Carlos-Ortiz-at-the-Chumash-Casino
Featured Articles2 weeks ago

Ireland’s Callum Walsh KOs Carlos Ortiz at the Chumash Casino

Okolie-Demolishes-Rozanski-to-Jump-Start-a-Busy-Boxing-Weekend
Featured Articles4 weeks ago

Okolie Demolishes Rozanski to Jump-Start a Busy Boxing Weekend

zhilei-Zhang-and-Deontay-Wilder-Meet-at-the-Final-Crossroads
Featured Articles4 weeks ago

Zhilei Zhang and Deontay Wilder Meet at the Final Crossroads

Avila-Perspective-Chap-285-Heavyweights-Clash-in-Saudi-Arabia-and-More
Featured Articles3 weeks ago

Avila Perspective, Chap. 285: Heavyweights Clash in Saudi Arabia and More

Sweet-Revenge-for-the-Cat-Catterall-Outpoints-Taylor-in-a-Fan-Friendly-Fight
Featured Articles4 weeks ago

Sweet Revenge for the ‘Cat’: Catterall Outpoints Taylor in a Fan-Friendly Fight

Boxing-at-the-Paris-Olympics-Looking-Ahead-and-Looking-Back
Featured Articles1 week ago

Boxing at the Paris Olympics: Looking Ahead and Looking Back

A-True-Tale-from-the-Boxing-Vault-When-the-Champion-Refused-to-Fight
Featured Articles5 days ago

A True Tale from the Boxing Vault: When the Champion Refused to Fight

Canastota-Chronicles-2024
Featured Articles2 weeks ago

Canastota Chronicles 2024

Boxing-Notes-and-Nuggets-from-Thomas-Hauser
Featured Articles2 weeks ago

Boxing Notes and Nuggets from Thomas Hauser

Resukts-from-Florida-Where-Blair-Cobbs-Proved-Superior-to-Adrien-Broner
Featured Articles2 weeks ago

Results from Florida Where Blair Cobbs Proved Superior to Adrien Broner

Results-from-the-MGM-Grand-where-Gervonta-Davis-Returned-with-a-Bang
Featured Articles6 days ago

Results from the MGM Grand where Gervonta Davis Returned with a Bang

Xander-Zayas-Wins-a-Lopsided-Decision-Over-Patrick-Teixeira
Featured Articles2 weeks ago

Xander Zayas Wins a Lopsided Decision over Patrick Teixeira

Notes-on-Saturday's-Boxing-Card-Featuring-the-Return-of-Gervonta-Tank-Davis
Featured Articles1 week ago

Notes on Saturday’s Boxing Action Topped by the Return of Gervonta ‘Tank’ Davis

Results-from-Las-Vegas-where-Rafael-Espinoza-Reyained-his-WBO-Belt-in-Grand-Style
Featured Articles35 mins ago

Results from Las Vegas where Rafael Espinoza Retained his WBO Title in Grand Style

Will-Eumor-Marcial-be-the-First-Filipino-Boxer-to-win-an-Olympic-Gold-Medal?
Featured Articles1 day ago

Will Eumir Marcial be the First Filipino Boxer to Win an Olympic Gold Medal?

A-Pearl-from-the-Boxing-Vault-Fritzie-Zivnic-Will-See-You-Now
Featured Articles2 days ago

A Pearl from the Boxing Vault: Fritzie Zivic Will See You Now 

Abraham-Nova-and-his-Mascot-are-Back-in-Action-on-Friday-Night
Featured Articles4 days ago

Abraham Nova and his Mascot are Back in Action on Friday Night

A-True-Tale-from-the-Boxing-Vault-When-the-Champion-Refused-to-Fight
Featured Articles5 days ago

A True Tale from the Boxing Vault: When the Champion Refused to Fight

Results-from-the-MGM-Grand-where-Gervonta-Davis-Returned-with-a-Bang
Featured Articles6 days ago

Results from the MGM Grand where Gervonta Davis Returned with a Bang

Billam-Smith-Avenges-Lone-Defeat-Retains-Cruiser-Belt-in-a-Messy-Fight
Featured Articles6 days ago

Billam-Smith Avenges Lone Defeat; Retains Cruiser Belt in a Messy Fight

Notes-on-Saturday's-Boxing-Card-Featuring-the-Return-of-Gervonta-Tank-Davis
Featured Articles1 week ago

Notes on Saturday’s Boxing Action Topped by the Return of Gervonta ‘Tank’ Davis

Boxing-at-the-Paris-Olympics-Looking-Ahead-and-Looking-Back
Featured Articles1 week ago

Boxing at the Paris Olympics: Looking Ahead and Looking Back

Arne's-Almanac-More-Chaos-for-Ryan-Garcia-and-a-Note-on-Don-King's-Impotent-'Whip'
Featured Articles2 weeks ago

Arne’s Almanac: More Chaos for Ryan Garcia and a Note on Don King’s Impotent ‘Whip’

Canastota-Chronicles-2024
Featured Articles2 weeks ago

Canastota Chronicles 2024

Boxing-Notes-and-Nuggets-from-Thomas-Hauser
Featured Articles2 weeks ago

Boxing Notes and Nuggets from Thomas Hauser

Xander-Zayas-Wins-a-Lopsided-Decision-Over-Patrick-Teixeira
Featured Articles2 weeks ago

Xander Zayas Wins a Lopsided Decision over Patrick Teixeira

Ireland's-Callum-Walsh-KOs-Carlos-Ortiz-at-the-Chumash-Casino
Featured Articles2 weeks ago

Ireland’s Callum Walsh KOs Carlos Ortiz at the Chumash Casino

Resukts-from-Florida-Where-Blair-Cobbs-Proved-Superior-to-Adrien-Broner
Featured Articles2 weeks ago

Results from Florida Where Blair Cobbs Proved Superior to Adrien Broner

The-Inoue-and-Serrano-Championship-Warches
Featured Articles2 weeks ago

The Inoue and Serrano Championship Watches

Avila-Prospectus-Chap-287-360-Promotions-Don-King-and-More-Action
Featured Articles2 weeks ago

Avila Perspective, Chap. 289: 360 Promotions, Don King and More Action

Boxinjg-Odds-and-Ends-A-Bountiful-June-and-a-Cult-Fighter-Returns-from-Prisonj
Featured Articles3 weeks ago

Boxing Odds and Ends: A Bountiful June and a Cult Fighter Returns from Prison

Big-Bang-KOs-the-Bronze-Bomber-in-the-Heavyweight-Finale-of-a-Splendid-Show-in-Saudi-Arabia
Featured Articles3 weeks ago

‘Big Bang’ KOs the Bronze Bomber in the Heavyweight Finale of a Splendid Card in Saudi Arabia

Avila-Perspective-Chap-285-Heavyweights-Clash-in-Saudi-Arabia-and-More
Featured Articles3 weeks ago

Avila Perspective, Chap. 285: Heavyweights Clash in Saudi Arabia and More

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

Trending

Advertisement