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The Greatness of Floyd Mayweather

Matt McGrain

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“Floyd Mayweather’s Ridiculous T-Shirt”; “Could Manny Pacquiao’s Lawsuit Affect MMA?”; “What’s the Point In Being the Greatest Fighter in the World if Everyone Think He’s D—–d?”

The above are all real headlines generating a starling-thick flurry of hits on the internet this morning in the wake of the most media-friendly fight in the history of the sport. No stone left unturned, no inanity unexplored. Just as the information age has made available to us, the boxing fan, thousands of hours of footage of fighters we may not otherwise have heard of and virtual stacks of newspaper reports guiding us through the narrow maze of boxing’s infancy, so we have to suffer with the rest of the world concerning the grimmest platitudes that can be generated in the English language. For me, it was time, at last, to turn my face from the latest news on Pacquiao’s shoulder or Mayweather’s gambling and look, instead, to history.

You can’t beat the here and now of a fight night, but when it is not only the case that the falcon cannot hear the falconer but that the circus elephants have escaped from the circus and trampled the falconer and his entire menagerie to death, history is always waiting for you, arms open, offering a bloody embrace. When I’m considering his place in history my discomfort concerning Mayweather’s repeated arrests for domestic violence matter not; they are banished, just as they are the moment his right foot alights upon the canvas. Here, the disaster that is his public persona is vanished and his genius comes to the fore.

And he is a genius.

In the early part of 2013 I attempted, for another website, to construct a pound-for-pound list that examined, in order of greatness, the 100 most pre-eminent pugilists in history. It was a difficult, even an absurd task, calling for a comparative analysis of everyone from the legendary figures of the 1880s to the vivid superstars of the modern era, but it ended a moderate success that met with an overwhelmingly positive reaction from the biggest readership that website had gathered. I was pleased with the result for all that I acknowledge that the list wasn’t perfect.

Although we were at that time published at rival websites, The Sweet Science’s Springs Toledo was kind enough to lend me his eye, and chief among his concerns was my insistence that I rank active fighters alongside those who had retired. I still believe I made the right choice but his concerns were well founded. The Fight of the Century between Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather was contested not just between the two best pound-for-pound fighters in the world – something so rare that the meeting between Roy Jones and James Toney from 1994 may be the only example of such a clash since Joe Louis blasted out Billy Conn in 1941 – but a meeting between the two highest ranking active fighters (barring the by now ramshackle Roy Jones) that appeared on my Top 100 Pound for Pound list. What is more, the meeting had a special significance for each man’s legacy. As I wrote at the time:

“Fans whinge endlessly about Floyd Mayweather “cherry picking” his opponents whilst the other camp gnashes their teeth about Manny Pacquiao “weight-draining” his opponents in a series of catchweight bouts, but these men have both fought some of the best fighters of their era. But they haven’t fought each other…[a]s it stands, they are ranked almost together, just as they were through much of the past decade, with Mayweather slightly higher, just as he was for much of that time. Both were ranked on Ring Magazine’s pound-for-pound list between 2003 and 2013, with Mayweather ranked higher for most of six years and Pacquiao ranking higher for most of four.”

The failure of boxing to deliver Mayweather-Pacquiao remained the single greatest failure in the history of fights. They were the two best fighters in the world, they shared a division and yet the fight wasn’t made until not one but both were past their best and the fight’s meaning was lost to the bandwidth of a hundred angst-filled forums.

From an historical perspective, however, the fight did have meaning. It provided a method for separating the twin heads of the pound-for-pound monster which has dominated this era. Mayweather and Pacquiao ranked in the low forties on my original list, at #47 and #48 respectively. This sounds low and at the time it felt low, but a quick look at the men in the surrounding spots should quell any doubts:

45 – Jimmy Bivins
46 – Ike Williams
47 – FLOYD MAYWEATHER
48 – Manny Pacquiao
49 – Tommy Ryan
50 – Jack Dillon

Directly behind Pacquiao is Tommy Ryan, one of the most dominant champions of the 1800s, a fighter who exhibited dominance at both welterweight and middleweight in a time long before either junior divisions or a sense of humanity had crept into the sport. Like Mayweather and Pacquiao, he was hamstrung in his ranking by his failure to meet the other colossus of his era, Barbados Joe Walcott, and like Mayweather, he was considered the absolute master of the science of his era. Below Ryan, Dillon, the original Giantkiller, a man feared from welterweight to heavyweight by some of the best pugilists of the early 1900s. Mayweather and Pacquiao perched, pre-retirement, above some truly great fighters.

Directly above them: Ike Williams and Jimmy Bivins. Williams and Bivins illustrate the problems in ranking Mayweather among the true Dons of the sport beautifully. Viewing my 100 in isolation, Mayweather’s only wins against fellow centurions came against Oscar De La Hoya and Juan Manuel Marquez. Mayweather’s impressive problem-solving performance against Oscar enhanced his standing by my eye, as did his total domination of Marquez in what may have been a literal punch-perfect performance. It must be noted, however that neither man was at his respective best for his contest with Mayweather, and more than that, that although each makes the 100, they are firmly ensconced in the bottom-half. Meanwhile Ike Williams holds a victory over a top 50 lock in Kid Gavilan, Jimmy Bivins holds victories over top 30 monster Charley Burley, the celestial Archie Moore, the Godlike Ezzard Charles. While these men had the appearance of being more inconsistent, their losses were more indicative of the trials associated with fighting eight times a year against high quality opposition than they were of any lack in quality.

Nevertheless, how to balance the losses of fighters with deluxe resumes against Mayweather’s unbeaten status gained versus inferior opposition becomes the trick.

Mayweather fans will bristle at that terminology, “inferior opposition”, but that is no reason to shy from the facts. Direct comparisons between the best work done by someone like Bivins will always leave Mayweather languishing just as any comparison of losses makes Mayweather seem untouchable. Neither comparison unlocks the truth about either man, but quality of opposition vanquished is the single most important aspect when it comes to my criteria. But just as the list creates its own gravity – how to rank Mayweather ahead of Thomas Hearns, when Hearns has defeated the #10, Roberto Duran? – so it is littered with special cases that escape that gravity, big bright shining stars that slingshot their way around the contorting black hole of the upper reaches and burst free. Mayweather became such an exception when he vanquished Pacquiao.

Of course, a win can only catapult a fighter so far. My list was valid as of March 1, 2013 and between that date and his match with Pacquiao, Mayweather went 4-0, defeating Roberto Guerrero, Saul Alvarez and Marcos Maidana. This haul saw him creep past Ike Williams and probably even Bivins as his longevity began to elongate and the wins over ranked foes racked up.

When the fight with Pacquiao was made, I thought it prudent to identify the absolute limitation for a ranking achievable by each man in the case that they won; for Mayweather I found that ranking him any higher than 19 would be impossible:

15 – Archie Moore
16 – Ray Leonard
17 – George Dixon
18 – Terry McGovern
19 – Packey McFarland
20 – Pernell Whitaker
21 – Tony Canzoneri
22 – Jimmy McLarnin
23 – Sandy Saddler
24 – Stanley Ketchel
25 – Charley Burley

The barrier to his scaling any higher was, to my eye, Terry McGovern. McGovern defeated, within the space of just a year, the bantam, feather and lightweight champion of the world, all by knockout, and each and every one of them was a world-class fighter. The bantamweight champion was an old-town tough Englishman named Pedlar Palmer, unbeaten; McGovern smashed him to pieces in just a round. The featherweight champion was the immortal George Dixon, ranked here at #17. He was slipping, yes, but he had never been stopped – McGovern laid him low in eight. Frank Erne was the much bigger lightweight champion and perhaps the best lightweight to have boxed before the heyday of Joe Gans, a fighter he had defeated in twelve rounds just weeks before his contest with McGovern: McGovern battered him as though he were a rank amateur. Even if he had knocked out Pacquiao in one, I could see no way past McGovern for Mayweather.

But wait – a moment ago we were talking about Mayweather creeping past some of the wonderful boxers ensconced in the forties, now, somehow, he is enmeshed with the low twenties, all because he bested a past-prime former-flyweight with a bad shoulder who had already be knocked out by his closest rival, Juan Manuel Marquez. How is this justified?

It is justified by Mayweather’s resolution of question that would dog him always without his having some sort of showdown with Pacquiao. Yes, the great Filipino was past prime, but having defeated his generational rival, however unsatisfactorily, Mayweather forever separated himself from that rival, something remaining undefeated without having taken this ultimate risk – again, from the generational perspective, which does not interest itself in the relative status of each man – would never have done. Mayweather is now, beyond all hope of contradiction, the greatest fighter of his generation in addition to his being a fighter that has never been beaten. Men who can legitimately lay an unfettered claim to be the best pound-for-pound of their time are extremely rare. Of the men who can legitimately make such a claim, there is only one of them who can also lay claim to having remained undefeated and that man is Floyd Mayweather Jnr.

Of course, arguments abound that Mayweather is the pound-for-pound king of one of the weakest eras in boxing. I dispute this, but must concede that the current pound-for-pound list isn’t enormously impressive. But it is also true that Mayweather has sat astride it for years and the list of names that has peered across the vast chasm that separates him from the mortals at work in the gym is enormously impressive. Aside from the great Pacquiao himself, Mayweather has ranked clearly above the great Bernard Hopkins, Marco Antonio Barrera, Andre Ward, three-weight world champion and heir apparent Roman Gonzalez and the undefeated Joe Calzaghe. Pacquiao aside, who wrestled the pound-for pound crown from his rival upon and immediately after his 2008 “retirement”, Mayweather has stood a distance removed from them all.

As a counterbalance, it should be stated that his competition although excellent is not as dizzying as that of previous pound-for-pound kings and that his weight-jumping exploits, although impressive, haven’t seen him at a serious size disadvantage since his 2007 decision over Oscar De La Hoya. It is true that Canelo Alvarez looked the bigger man at light-middle, but it is also true that since his confrontation with Oscar De La Hoya and subsequent retirement, Mayweather has filled out to a legitimate welterweight and was never going to be truly out-monstered just 7lbs north of that weight division, even against the roomy Mexican.

So talk of the teens is premature. Total domination of a healthy, deadly Pacquiao might have bought him a birth in or around those slots, but I have not seen enough to rank him above the twin sons of Tony Canzoneri and Jimmy McLarnin. McLarnin arguably has the deepest resume in the sport between the death of Harry Greb and retirement of Ezzard Charles and Canzoneri was the smaller man who almost equalled that resume and went an astounding 1-1 with the larger McLarnin. Behind these two monsters, at #23, is Sandy Saddler. Saddler is an extremely difficult comparison. On the one hand he dominated a series with Willie Pep – to be clear, I consider this even more impressive than dominating a series with Floyd Mayweather – but on the other he was out-pointed by inferior pugilists. The difficult in the comparison tells me we are approaching the neighbourhood in which Mayweather will reside, but I can’t quite see him ahead of a looming nemesis to so great a fighter as Pep.

Can he be ranked ahead of #24, Stanley Ketchel?

Ketchel’s case is difficult. He was a force-of-nature, a furnace-bound warrior whose absurd brutality echoes down the century. He was a middleweight so terrible that he was at one time expected to rule as the heavyweight champion of the world, until a combination of the equally lunatic Billy Papke and the defeat of heavyweight king Tommy Burns by the invincible Jack Johnson combined to make that impossible. Ketchel’s loss to Papke is troubling. A borderline great as a middleweight, Papke beat Ketchel despite his having a similar style, something that surprises. Although Ketchel triumphed in their series and built himself an excellent and underrated middleweight resume before that gutsy, doomed tilt at Jack Johnson, he feels like a near miss who should have been wrestling with doppelganger Terry McGovern for a spot in the teens but who was prevented from doing so by a bullet in the back and an enthusiasm for opium. I can see an argument for Mayweather being ranked above Ketchel.

And it is my argument. Barely, barely, I think that Mayweather’s slick dance up the divisions, pound-for-pound certitude and undefeated status trumps Ketchel’s aborted whirlwind assault upon the middleweight, light-heavyweight and heavyweight divisions. Had he bested Sam Langford, avoided defeat against Billy Papke or lived to come again, it would be Ketchel, but none of those things happened, and so it’s Mayweather:

19 – Packey McFarland
20 – Pernell Whitaker
21 – Tony Canzoneri
22 – Jimmy McLarnin
23 – Sandy Saddler

24 – FLOYD MAYWEATHER

25 – Stanley Ketchel
26 – Charley Burley
27 – Holman Williams
28 – Billy Conn
29 – Gene Tunney

Below him now: Gene Tunney, a lock for the top five at light-heavyweight, former heavyweight champion of the world; Billy Conn, as brilliant an operator to ever have straddled the middleweight and light-heavyweight divisions; and the twin-towers of Charley Burley and Holman Wiliams, the true giants of the black murderer’s row of the 1940s, fighters so good that they terrified the management of fighters better than any that Mayweather has ever beaten.

Mayweather is ranked now in company that makes it reasonable to label his resume limited – it is less good than anyone who resides in his range, and even with the addition of the shopworn Pacquiao, probably compares unfavourably to some fighters ranked in the thirties. It is the wave of Mayweather’s status that carries him so far as the shore of the top twenty, a barrier he is unlikely to traverse without the great risk of pronounced longevity or some final and absurd assault on the middleweight division. This latter option is the preferred, I suspect, specifically because of the problematic presence of Miguel Cotto upon the middleweight throne. Of course, we all know that Golovkin is the best middleweight in the world but it is a fact that by defeating Cotto Mayweather could scoop the lineal middleweight crown to go with his light-middleweight and welterweight honours becoming a triple-crown lineal king in three weights despite the fact that none of them represent his best poundage. This would make him an Emperor of ring history, almost regardless of the circumstances.

Looking at things the other way, should Mayweather suffer the loss of his treasured 0, a tumble seems likely. My guess is that he is unlikely to risk his most treasured bauble at such a late stage in his career and the fulfilment of his Showtime contract and a prompt retirement will follow – although the absurd phantom of money troubles sometime in Mayweather’s future may make a comeback necessary.

Should the fiscal future remain rosy and the middleweight division remain untroubled, #24 is where I suspect Mayweather may remain – at least for me. And as a final point, that’s an important one. I feel satisfied at the spots these men inhabit, but you, of course, may feel differently and for many placements there are likely very strong counter-arguments in your support. Those wishing to investigate further for specifics to disagree on may do so by clicking here.

Arguments concerning the final placing of Manny Pacquiao await the great man’s retirement.

@McGrainM

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Ramirez vs. Taylor Adds Luster to an Already Strong Boxing Slate in May

Arne K. Lang

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Boxing will heat up big-time in May. Canelo Alvarez will defend his WBC 168-pound title on May 8 against Billy Joe Saunders. Two weeks later, WBC/WBO 140-pound champion Jose Ramirez (26-0, 17 KOs) meets his IBF/WBA counterpart Josh Taylor (17-0, 13 KOs). Teofimo Lopez’s title defense against George Kambosos may transpire in May and now there’s talk that Manny Pacquiao will also return in May with Mikey Garcia in the opposite corner.

The Ramirez-Taylor fight was announced today (March 2). The match between the undefeated belt-holders, both former Olympians, will produce the fifth unified champion of the four-belt error. Middleweights Bernard Hopkins and Jermain Taylor, junior welterweight Terence Crawford, and cruiserweight Oleksandr Usyk are the only boxers to have held this distinction.

Ramirez vs. Taylor will be on ESPN. The fight appears headed to an MGM Grand property in Las Vegas. The T-Mobile Arena, the city’s largest indoor sports arena, is likely in the running. The arena houses the city’s professional hockey team, the Golden Knights, which played their first game in many moons with fans in attendance on Monday. Attendance was capped at 15 percent of capacity and the game was a “sellout” with all 2,605 available seats attracting occupants.

Josh Taylor, who made his pro debut in El Paso, of all places, will be making his second appearance in Las Vegas, assuming the fight transpires there. The Tartan Tornado appeared at the MGM Grand Garden on Jan. 28, 2017, on a card topped by the WBA featherweight title rematch between Carl Frampton and Leo Santa Cruz. Taylor and Frampton then shared the same trainer, Shane McGuigan.

In the words of Bob Arum, “Ramirez vs. Taylor is the best boxing has to offer, two elite fighters in the prime of their careers colliding in a legacy-defining matchup for the undisputed championship of the world. It’s a true 50-50 fight….”

In boxing, unlike other sports, anything under 2-to-1 is basically a “pick-’em” fight, so Arum isn’t far off the mark. For the record, however, the first betting lines to appear show the Scotsman the favorite in the 7-to-4 range, a price obviously based on the assumption that the fight will be held in Nevada, or at least anywhere other than Glasgow or Fresno.

Ramirez didn’t look sharp in his last outing when he scored a majority decision over Victor Postol at the MGM Bubble. Ramirez said he was burned-out after a long training camp – the fight was postponed twice – and said he thought the sterile atmosphere affected him; he was used to feeding off the energy of a crowd. Josh Taylor also had a tough time with Postol when they met in a 12-round bout at Glasgow on June 23, 2018 (the gritty Ukrainian is a tough nut to crack), but one would not have gleaned that from the scorecards which were soaked with hometown bias.

Josh Taylor’s last fight was at fan-less York Hall in London. The Scotch southpaw was entitled to a breather after his epic encounter with Regis Prograis and the IBF had just the ticket in mandatory challenger Apinun Khonsong. Taylor dismissed the overmatched Thai in the opening round with a body punch. This was Taylor’s first fight with new trainer Ben Davison.

The last time that Arum called an upcoming match a 50-50 fight, he was hyping the all-Mexican showdown between Miguel Berchelt and Oscar Valdez. That was no 50-50 fight, Berchelt was a solid favorite, but as it turned out, the pricemakers had underestimated the underdog who delivered the goods in a wildly entertaining skirmish.

On paper, Ramirez vs. Taylor will also be a very entertaining affair.

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From the Desert, Jack Dempsey

Matt McGrain

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Jack Dempsey, who has been matched by Jack Goodfriend to fight at the Hippodrome Monday, May 31 is expected to arrive from Reno within a day or two.  The match will be a ten round contest and preceded by a couple of good preliminaries. (The Goldfield News, May 22nd, 1915.)

In May of 1915 Jack Dempsey found himself trapped in Nevada and between purses. Fifty miles from his payday with no rail to ride, he walked out of the desert and into Goldfield, stuck the bewildered promoter for an advance and hired a sparring partner, knocked the sparring partner out and hired another.

Walking in ninety-five-degree weather can be dangerous for even an experienced athlete, but it seemed to agree with Jack. He had marched into Goldfield to meet a light-heavyweight named Johnny Sudenberg, a game but limited battler who had for the first time strung a decent run of wins together, all of them fought in the desert Dempsey travailed on foot. Dempsey had scored a series of knockout wins in Salt Lake City, enough that his name was known and interest in his proposed match with the local man stoked.

“Jack Dempsey, the husky Pueblo middleweight, who will meet Johnny Sudenberg at the Hippodrome next Monday night in a ten round bout arrived in camp this morning,” reported regional press. “Several local men have seen Dempsey in action…and all [are] united in the prediction that Johnny had better be ‘right’ when he crawls through the ropes.”

It speaks of boxing’s burgeoning’s status in the United States that there were two gymnasiums in Goldfield capable of staging training. Dempsey worked out at the Unity Club, little more than a middleweight, perhaps not least because of his fifty-mile travail through the desert earlier that week. He boxed a local footnote named Dick Trounce and he may also have boxed some rounds with the world class bantamweight Roy Moore.

Sudenberg, stung by assertions that it was Dempsey, not he, who was the puncher in the fight, bristled and demanded of himself a knockout while training down the street in the Northern Gymnasium.

There is a divergence now between Dempsey’s recollection of the fight and the newspaper reporting of the day. Before the fight, although he may have shared a ring with Jack Dempsey, not known for his tender attentions of even much smaller sparring partners, Roy Moore advised his sparring partner to steer clear. “Don’t slug with Sudenberg.  He’s awful strong. Stay away from him.”

Dempsey claims to have dismissed this advice, telling Roger Kahn, author of A Flame of Pure Fire, that the match was a brutal slugfest from the first. Local press though reported on a fight that was marked by cautious sparring early, and that after “feeling each other out” for two rounds that Dempsey dominated, it was Sudenberg who changed the pattern and “owing to the greater height and reach” Dempsey possessed, brought the fight to the inside. A fine battle resulted and one that saw Dempsey descend into total chaos for the first time, a feeling that would become as familiar to him as slipping on a pair of old shoes.

“I just kept swinging. Sometimes I think I saw a face in front of me, sometimes I didn’t. I kept swinging.”

Dempsey claimed he could remember nothing after the fifth.

A rematch was not immediately slated, but the failure of a potential Sudenberg opponent to deliver on a sidebet let Dempsey back in just days later. Dempsey moved a bit further north with the purses, his second battle with Sudenberg staged in Tonopah. Still years from the three-ringed circus his career would become, there was interest surrounding the young scrapper who trained for the fight in the town’s casino. Tonopah was a young but bustling setting, festooned with banks and lawyers and saloons as money poured in from Nevada’s second largest silver strike. By 1920 they had pulled $121m out of the ground and Dempsey was there to pull out his own piece.

“A great many were dissatisfied with the decision last Monday,” wrote the Tonopah Daily upon the fight’s announcement. “Dempsey gave Sudenberg the best fight he has had in this part of the country.”

Sudenberg, who seems to have been a prickly character, held the power in his relationship with Dempsey and so clearly backed himself to win a rematch. A fascinating aspect of the fight is their respective sizes. Dempsey was referred to as a middleweight in the earliest dispatches surrounding the fight, but in the ring made an impression upon ringsiders as the bigger man. Taller, rangier, it is possible he was already the heavier of the two or it may be that his trek through the surrounding desert left an early impression of litheness which slipped away as Dempsey, holding cash, boxed and ate his way to a size advantage during the build-up. The Goldfield News described him upon entering the ring for the rematch as looking “more like an overgrown schoolboy than a fighter” as he stepped on the canvas before noting wryly that he “proved otherwise.”

The fight quite literally drew from miles around, with “Goldfield well represented at ringside” and “eight to ten auto loads” appearing from nearby mines. Dempsey grabbed their attention early, a man you will recognise, coming out of his corner like a rocket and deploying what the Tonopah Daily Bonanza named “Dempsey’s mass attack,” presumably an early incarnation of the terrible beating he would inflict upon Jess Willard in Toledo with the world’s title at stake. Indeed, Sudenberg does appear to have visited the canvas in that first round, but Dempsey, over-eager, under-seasoned, missed with key punches following up his advantage and the canny Sudenberg survived a round of murderous intent.

Papers also report the use of straight punches by Dempsey, that he preferred range and looked to that superior range to dominate. Early Dempsey contests fascinate me in that they repeatedly throw up this story, of a fighter who at just 6’1 was able to dominate most of the desert’s pugs with height and reach. Here he plays the role that would later be played by Willard, Carl Morris and Fred Fulton, longer men trying to control the range while Dempsey tormented them with slips and punches.  Here it was Sudenberg who in the third and fourth seemed to do something of a job, getting inside and hitting to the belly while the two accused each other of low blows.

Dempsey is a victim of some criticism over his own use of low blows, alleged or otherwise, in huge fights with Tommy Gibbons and Jack Sharkey. It should be remembered always that he learned his trade in spots like Tonopah and Goldfield where local referees were not sympathetic to pleas for justice to be dispensed. Dempsey fought like a fistic savage because he was raised as one.

After just four rounds in Tonopah, he was tired, feeling the effects of a difficult month and a fast fight. “Dempsey takes punishment well and ducks cleverly,” noted The Bonanza, while The News saw Dempsey holding on a good deal more in the second half of the fight.

By round eight, Sudenberg began to show the effects of Dempsey’s right hand which he worked “like a sledgehammer” while Sudenberg “lands heavily on Dempsey’s digestive apparatus.” At the final bell the two worked one another mercilessly in search of the decision, but they were greeted by a draw.

Under a more modern ruleset I suspect that Dempsey would have received the nod. He crushed Sudenberg in the early part of the fight and more than matched him late, but with the referee acting as a single judge, draws in fights where a winner was not inarguably apparent were common.  Fighters expected it and pressmen expected it, which is perhaps why some of those in attendance saw the result as eminently reasonable. Dempsey clearly landed the better shots, but Sudenberg was rewarded for his gameness in “carrying the fight” a tenet of the era.

Dempsey had impressed though. “In Dempsey, who gives the promise of developing into a heavyweight,” stated The News, “there is room for a world of improvement, and with the experience he will gain during the next few years he should make a formidable opponent for any scrapper.”

Portentous words.

When Dempsey left Tonopah – history does not record whether he walked out – he was mere days from his twentieth birthday, an overgrown schoolboy appearing on the good end of draws against older, more experienced men, already determined to become heavyweight champion, already of the belief he would become one. History tells of a third fight between he and Sudenberg the following February, a more mature Dempsey thrashing a cowed Sudenberg in two rounds.

I spoke to Dempsey scholar and author of the outstanding In The Ring series, Adam Pollack. “Didn’t happen,” was his verdict.  “I am certain it didn’t take place.”

It is nice to have this one cleared up. Dempsey did not need to defeat Sudenberg to leave him behind. Dempsey, like any heavyweight champion has his obsessed fans – among them the men who developed a single thin thread concerning a third Sudenberg match and turned it into a truth that was reported in A Flame of Pure Fire and elsewhere – and obsessed haters, but there is no denying what he did. Irresistible and eternal, people will generate and propagate myths about Jack Dempsey for as long as there is fighting.

This story is about his beginnings – see the single-minded determination that saw him walk fifty miles through a desert? See the legendary fast start in the second fight? The mid-round sag that would lead Jack Johnson to label him a three-round fighter? His bending of the rules? Then again, what of his seeming determination to box against a smaller opponent? This was something he abandoned in time to avoid disaster against geniuses like Tommy Gibbons although it would not be enough to save his weary legs from Gene Tunney’s escape.

Dempsey’s matches with Sudenberg were his emergence from the desert in more ways than one.  They were where his pursuit in earnest of the world’s heavyweight title began. These were his first major steps outside of Salt Lake City where his ambitions were as penned as Sudenberg’s were in the desert; the defining series of an emergent Jack Dempsey.

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Jerry Forrest: When Heart Counts

Ted Sares

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While many Canelo fights end up in some fan’s memory bank, that probably won’t be the case given what occurred this past Saturday night in Miami. However, the show was salvaged by the entertaining heavyweight draw between China’s Zhilei “Big Bang” Zhang (22-0-1) and Jerry “Slugger” Forrest (26-4-1) on the undercard. This one had the fans up and roaring but for different reasons.

The 6’6” Zhang (with excellent amateur credentials) floored the American once in each of the first three rounds and the crowd sensed a stunning KO was on the way. But lo and behold, it didn’t come.

Then things began to change, subtle at first, as a determined Forrest survived the onslaught and began to fight back working well inside and landing shots both upstairs and to the body.

A Shift in Momentum

The momentum clearly changed in the fifth as Zhang used his body to lean on “Slugger” to tire him out, but in the process he didn’t mix and thereby lost rounds. Soon this strategy (albeit illegal) backfired and served to tire “Big Bang” more than Forrest and making matters worse for Zhang, he was deducted a point in the ninth by referee Frank Gentile for holding. (Given that he had been holding since the fifth round, the deduction was spot-on and could well have come earlier.)

Going into the last round, the fight seemed to be up for grabs and the fresher Forrest obliged as he landed crunching shots that had the fickle fans (are there any others?) now in is corner. He was actually chasing the gassed Chinese monster at the end and had the fight gone another minute, “Slugger” likely would have lived up to his moniker.

“For Jerry Forrest, this is a momentous result after a terrible start, and keeps him in the mix as a high-level gatekeeper, someone who will take on basically anyone and give it the effort. He’s a danger to prospects and mid-tier veterans alike,” wrote prominent boxing writer Scott Christ.

The scores were 95-93 Forrest and 93-93 twice for a majority draw. Zhang was lucky to keep his undefeated record intact.

Jerry Forrest showed a tremendous amount of heart. Hopefully, when folks look back at this card, Canelo’s blowout of Avni Yildirim won’t completely overshadow this entertaining heavyweight match.

(Note: Zhang was taken to a hospital for observation when his handlers noticed some concerning symptoms in the locker room after the fight. According to a published statement from Terry Lane of Lane Brothers Management, Zhang was found to be “suffering from anemia, high enzyme levels, and low-level renal failure, which may have been caused by severe dehydration. The good news is that all of his neurological signs are clear…Credit and respect to a game Jerry Forrest who battled back for a ten-round draw…Zhilei will be back.”)

Photo credit: Ed Mulholland / Matchroom

Ted Sares can be reached at tedsares@roadrunner.com

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