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Co-Pugilistic Pride of Costa Rica, Bryan Vasquez, Seeks Title Friday

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Not a boxing hot-bed, Costa Rica.

Actually, sort of an under-appreciated region, I’d say.

How often do us lunkheads mistake it for Puerto Rico, does it get called an island, are people unable to locate it on a map?

Well, the map thing will get a tiny tick better should the top (male) fighter from CR, Bryan Vasquez, impress on Friday night, and get the better of Dominican power-puncher Javier Fortuna, in Brooklyn, and on SPIKE….

The 34-1 (18 KOs) Vasquez, a 27-year-old hitter who is married to the 14-1-1 professional Hannah Gabriel, the WBO super welter champ, had a game-faced attached Tuesday and Wednesday, as he counted down to his Friday tangle, on a card promoted by Lou DiBella, with Joe DeGuardia.

Makes sense, the stakes are XL at Barclays Center…The WBA’s super feather crown is up for grabs, so a win Friday means bigger fights, bigger paydays, and a boost for Costa Rica’s standing in the global scene. Vasquez impressed me mightily with his stoppage win over Sergio Thompson in Mexico on Dec. 20, with his relaxed, smart boxing. The kid has skills, and an innate sense of how to fight. We saw that when he got the nod over 26-0-1 Jose Felix Jr in April 2014, when defused and confounded a bomb-maker, a guy who being groomed to zoom past Vasquez on the ranking ladder. That blemish on his resume, that’s no shameful mark, considering he took on Takashi Uchiyama, in Japan, on new Year’s Eve 2012. Vasquez got stopped in the eighth in that tangle.

I chatted in depth a bit with Vasquez as he wrapped his hands Wednesday, at the famed and fabled Gleason’s Gym, in DUMBO, Brooklyn.

First off, does he see himself as the underdog against Fortuna (27-0-1 with 20 KOs), who is handled by Sampson Lewkowicz and signed to Al Haymon. Through interpreter Mario Vega, Vasquez said, “Fortuna is undefeated because he hasn’t fought me! The fighters that he’s been against are nothing like me! I know he’s tough, but I have everything to counter-act that.”

And about Costa Rica, tell us about CR in terms of boxing…

“There’s not many fighters from Costa Rica, but we have a really good gym, with some partners, and it’s a learning process…and one of my goals is to make it better (for others coming after me).” He gave a shoutout to his wife, Hanna Gabriels, as a superior pugilist from CR, smartly…

“She is WBO champion, and I will be champion too, Friday.”

I touched base with his trainer, the Panamanian Rigoberto Garibaldi, a tutor who won bronze at the world amateur championships in Cuba, in 1974. He’s worked with Guillermo Jones, Rosendo Alvarez, and Ricardo Mayorga. “Bryan is extremely talented, he is an artist, not a boxer,” the trainer said. “He is very smart and he follows my instructions in the corner. What are his weaknesses? Right now, none. Fortuna is a good fighter in general. But his weakness is, he starts strong then peters out. He starts out good but after awhile he drops his rhythm. Brian is more skilled than him. On Friday, Costa Rica will have the new super featherweight champion of the world.”

Vasquez-Fortuna was supposed to unfold May 23, but the scrap got kicked to May 29, and elevated to SPIKE co-feature, because Paul Malignaggi’s fight versus Danny O’Connor was scratched because Paulie got cut in sparring. No worries, said Vasquez, it gave him more time to get in even better shape. “I’m desperate for Friday to come, so I can become a champion! What will happen Friday, at Barclays? It’s going to be a great night, I’m going to steal the show, it’s going to be the best fight of the night. I know I have to be well prepared, and if it’s God’s will, I will be champion on Friday night.”

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Remembering Dr. Ferdie Pacheco as he Remembered Muhammad Ali

Thomas Hauser

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A TSS CLASSIC FROM THE THOMAS HAUSER ARCHIVE (2017) — Ferdie Pacheco, who died on November 16, was a doctor, author, artist, and television commentator. He’s best known for having been Muhammad Ali’s personal physician and cornerman from 1960 through 1977.

My own relationship with Pacheco began in 1989. I was researching the book that would eventually become Muhammad Ali: His Life and Times and had compiled a list of two hundred people I wanted to interview. Ferdie was among them.

During the course of my research, I encountered many people who had written or were contemplating writing about Ali. Some of them refused to talk with me about Ali, saying that we were competitors and they didn’t want me to steal their thunder. Others were extraordinarily generous with their time and knowledge. Ferdie fit into the latter category. Even though he’d written one Ali book and was planning another, he sat with me for hours.

In the years that followed, Ferdie remained one of my “go-to” guys when I wrote about Ali. Rather than interpret what he told me, I’ll let him speak for himself.

ON CASSIUS CLAY’S FORMATIVE YEARS IN MIAMI:

“Cassius was something in those days. He began training in Miami with Angelo Dundee. And Angelo put him in a den of iniquity called the Mary Elizabeth Hotel because Angelo is one of the most innocent men in the world and it was a cheap hotel. This place was full of pimps, thieves, and drug dealers. And here’s Cassius, who comes from a good home, and all of a sudden he’s involved with this circus of street people. At first, the hustlers thought he was just another guy to take to the cleaners, another guy to steal from, another guy to sell dope to, another guy to fix up with a girl. He had this incredible innocence about him, and usually that kind of person gets eaten alive in the ghetto. But then the hustlers all fell in love with him, like everybody does, and they started to feel protective of him. If someone tried to sell him a girl, the others would say, ‘Leave him alone; he’s not into that.’ If a guy came around, saying, ‘Have a drink,’ it was, ‘Shut up; he’s in training.’ But that’s the story of Ali’s life. He’s always been like a little kid, climbing out onto tree limbs, sawing them off behind him, and coming out okay.”

“When Ali was young, he was the best physical specimen I’ve ever seen. If God sat down to create the perfect body for a fighter, anatomically and physiologically, he’d have created Ali. Every test I did on him was a fine line of perfect. His blood pressure and pulse were like a snake. His speed and reflexes were unbelievable. His face was rounded, with no sharp edges to cut. And on top of that, his skin was tough. He could summon up enormous spurts of energy and recover quickly without the exhaustion that most fighters feel afterward. His peripheral vision was incredible. Up until the layoff, it was like a fraudulent representation to say I was Ali’s doctor. I was his doctor in case something happened, but it never did. Being Ali’s doctor meant I showed up at the gym once in a while and came to the fights.”

ON CLAY-LISTON I:

“Things in the dressing room got pretty bizarre. The only people who were supposed to be there were Cassius, Angelo, Rahaman (Clay’s brother), Bundini, myself, and Luis Sarria (Clay’s masseur). A few more came and went, but basically we were alone. Then Cassius assigned Rahaman to watch his water bottle. The bottle was taped shut. No one went near it. But every time Rahaman took his eyes off it, Cassius would take the tape off, empty it out, refill it, and tape it closed again. He did that three or four times because he was worried that someone would try to drug him. And he was particularly suspicious of Angelo, because Angelo was Italian. In his mind, he’d begun to associate Angelo with the gangsters around Liston. Remember, the Muslims—and it was clear by then that Cassius was a Muslim—had never been in boxing before. All they had to go by were Hollywood movies where the mob fixed everything, and Liston was with the mob. It was crazy, but that’s what Cassius thought.”

“All those bullshit boxing stories people write; pretty soon, everyone starts believing them. Angelo cut the gloves in the first Cooper fight. Bullshit. Sit him down, and he’ll tell you that the gloves were already split. He just helped them along a little. Angelo loosened the ropes for the Foreman fight in Zaire. Bullshit again. Angelo and Bobby Goodman tried to tighten the ropes right until the opening bell. Most of it’s nonsense. But one thing that truly belongs in the legend category was what went on between the fourth and fifth rounds of the Liston fight. Cassius couldn’t see. He was ready to quit. And it had nothing to do with lack of courage, because this was a kid who’d been fighting since he was twelve years old. He’d been poked and banged and busted and clobbered many times. He’d made his accommodation by then with the normal pains and blows of boxing. But this was something beyond what he’d experienced. I could see it. His eyes were aflame. And Angelo was spectacular. What he did between rounds was the best example I can give you of a cornerman seizing a situation and making it right. That moment belonged to Angelo. If Cassius had been with a corner of amateurs, there would never have been any Muhammad Ali.”

“Just going out for the fifth round was an incredibly brave thing to do. Liston was considered as destructive as Mike Tyson before Tyson got beat. And Cassius was absolutely brilliant then. The things he did, staying out of range, reaching out with his left hand, touching Liston when he got close to break Sonny’s concentration. It was an amazing, astonishing, breathtaking performance. Here’s a fighter who’s supposed to be Godzilla, who will reign for maybe a thousand years. Nobody can stand up to him in the ring. Cassius can’t see, and still Liston couldn’t do anything with him. What can I say? Beethoven wrote some of his greatest symphonies when he was deaf. Why couldn’t Cassius Clay fight when he was blind?”

ON ALI’S RETURN FROM EXILE:

“In the early days, he fought as though he had a glass jaw and was afraid to get hit. He had the hyper reflexes of a frightened man. He was so fast that you had the feeling, ‘This guy is scared to death; he can’t be that fast normally.’ Well, he wasn’t scared. He was fast beyond belief and smart. Then he went into exile. And when he came back, he couldn’t move like lightning anymore. Everyone wondered, ‘What happens now when he gets hit?’ That’s when we learned something else about him. That sissy-looking, soft-looking, beautiful-looking child-man was one of the toughest guys who ever lived.”

“The legs are the first thing to go in a fighter. And when Ali went into exile, he lost his legs. Before that, he’d been so fast, you couldn’t catch him so he’d never taken punches. He’d been knocked down by Henry Cooper and Sonny Banks. But the truth is, he rarely got hit and he’d never taken a beating. Then, after the layoff, his legs weren’t like they’d been before. And when he lost his legs, he lost his first line of defense. That was when he discovered something which was both very good and very bad. Very bad in that it led to the physical damage he suffered later in his career; very good in that it eventually got him back the championship. He discovered he could take a punch. Before the layoff, he wouldn’t let anyone touch him in the gym. Workouts consisted of Ali running and saying, ‘This guy can’t hit me.’ But afterward, when he couldn’t run that way anymore, he found he could dog it. He could run for a round and rest for a round, and let himself get punched against the ropes while he thought he was toughening his body. I can’t tell you how many times I told him and anyone else who’d listen, ‘Hey, when you let guys pound on your kidneys, it’s not doing the kidneys any good.’ The kidneys aren’t the best fighter in the world. They’re just kidneys. After a while, they’ll fall apart.’ And of course, taking shots to the head didn’t do much good either.”

ON ALI-FRAZIER I:

“In round fifteen, Ali was tired. He was hurt, just trying to get through the last round. And Frazier hit him flush on the jaw with the hardest left hook he’d ever thrown. Ali went down, and it looked like he was out cold. I didn’t think he could possibly get up. And not only did he get up; he was up almost as fast as he went down. It was incredible. Not only could he take a punch; that night, he was the most courageous fighter I’ve ever seen. He was going to get up if he was dead. If Frazier had killed him, he’d have gotten up.”

“Some fighters can’t handle defeat. They fly so high when they’re on top that a loss brings them irrevocably crashing down. What was interesting to me after the loss to Frazier was we’d seen this undefeatable guy. Now how was he going to handle defeat? Was he going to be a cry-baby? Was he going to be crushed? Well, what we found out was, this guy takes defeat like he takes victory. All he said was, ‘I’ll beat him next time.’”

ON ALI-NORTON I:

“The jaw was broken in the second round. Ali could move the bone with his tongue and I felt the separation with my fingertips at the end of the second round. That’s when winning took priority over proper medical care. It’s sick. All of us – and I have to include myself in this – were consumed by the idea of winning that fight. When the bell rang, I was no longer a doctor; I was a second. My whole thing was to keep Ali fighting. As a doctor, I should have said, ‘Stop the fight.’ There’s no disgrace in having a broken jaw. It goes down as a TKO; in six months you have a rematch and life goes on. But at that point in Ali’s career, he couldn’t afford a loss. And with Ali, there was always politics involved. We didn’t fight in a sterile atmosphere. We didn’t fight in a room closed off from the rest of the world. Everything had to do with Muslims and Vietnam and civil rights. If Ali lost, it was more than a fight. So you didn’t just have a white guy say, ‘Stop the fight.’ Especially if Ali didn’t want it stopped. And when we told Ali his jaw was probably broken, he said, ‘I don’t want it stopped.’ He’s an incredibly gritty son-of-a-bitch. The pain must have been awful. He couldn’t fight his fight because he had to protect his jaw. And still, he fought the whole twelve rounds. God Almighty, was that guy tough. Sometimes people didn’t realize it because of his soft generous ways. But underneath all that beauty, there was an ugly Teamsters Union trucker at work.”

ON ZAIRE:

“What Ali did in the ring that night was truly inspired. The layoff had taken away his first set of gifts, so in Zaire he developed another. The man had the greatest chin in the history of the heavyweight division. He could think creatively and clearly with bombs flying around him. And he showed it all when it mattered most that night with the most amazing performance I’ve ever seen. Somehow, early in the fight, Ali figured out that the way to beat George Foreman was to let Foreman hit him. Now that’s some game plan. Watching that fight, seeing Ali take punch after punch and knowing that, with his strength and courage, he wouldn’t go down, a person could have been forgiven for thinking that sooner or later the referee would be forced to step in to save his life. But Ali took everything Foreman could offer. And at that most crucial moment in his career, instead of losing, which was what most people thought would happen, he knocked George out and embarked on another long wondrous championship ride.”

ON ALI-FRAZIER III:

“You have to understand the premise behind that fight. The first fight was life and death, and Frazier won. Second fight; Ali figures him out, no problem, relatively easy victory for Ali. Then Ali beats Foreman and Frazier’s sun sets. And I don’t care what anyone says now; all of us thought that Joe Frazier was shot. We all thought that this was going to be an easy fight. Ali comes out, dances around, and knocks him out in eight or nine rounds. That’s what we figured. And you know what happened in that fight. Ali took a beating like you’d never believe anyone could take. When he said afterward that it was the closest thing he’d ever known to death – let me tell you something; if dying is that hard, I’d hate to see it coming. But Frazier took the same beating. And in the fourteenth round, Ali just about took his head off. I was cringing. The heat was awesome. Both men were dehydrated. The place was like a time-bomb. I thought we were close to a fatality. It was a terrible moment. And then Joe Frazier’s corner stopped it.”

“It all progresses in a fighter’s life. The legs go; his reflexes aren’t what they used to be; he cuts more easily; the injuries accelerate. Ali at age twenty-three could have absorbed Frazier in Manila and shaken it off. But age thirty-three was another story. If I had to pick a spot to tell him, ‘You’ve got all your marbles but don’t go on anymore,’ no question, it would have been after Manila. That’s when it really started to fall apart. He began to take beatings, not just in fights but in the gym. Even sparring, he’d do the rope-a-dope because he couldn’t avoid punches the way he did when he was young. And I don’t care how good you are at rope-a-doping. If you block ninety-five punches out of a hundred, the other five are getting in.”

ON ALI-SHAVERS:

The Shavers fight was the final straw for me. After that fight, Dr. Nardiello, who was with the New York State Athletic Commission, gave me a laboratory report that showed Ali’s kidneys were falling apart. Instead of filtering out blood and turning it to urine, pure blood was going through. That was bad news for the kidneys. And since everything in the body is interconnected, we were talking about the disintegration of Ali’s health. So I went back to my office in Miami, sat down, and wrote Ali a letter saying his kidneys were falling apart. I attached a copy of Nardiello’s report and mailed three extra copies, return receipt requested. One to Herbert, one to Angelo, and one to Veronica, who at the time was Ali’s wife. I didn’t get an answer from any of them; not one response. That’s when I decided enough was enough. Whether or not they wanted me, I didn’t want to be part of what was going on anymore. By then, they were talking about ‘only easy fights.’ But there was no such thing as an easy fight anymore.”

ON ALI-HOLMES

“Just because a man can pass a physical examination doesn’t mean he should be fighting in a prize ring. That shouldn’t be a hard concept to grasp. Most trainers can tell you better than any neurologist in the world when a fighter is shot. You watch your fighter’s career from the time he’s a young man. You watch him develop into a champion. You watch him get great. Then all of a sudden, he doesn’t have it anymore. Give him a neurological examination at that point and you’ll find nothing wrong. Sugar Ray Robinson could pass every exam in the world at age forty-four, but he wasn’t Sugar Ray Robinson anymore. It doesn’t change, whether it’s Ali, Joe Louis. Anybody in the gym can see it before the doctors can because the doctors, good doctors, are judging these fighters by the standards of ordinary people and the demands of ordinary jobs. And you can’t do that because these are professional fighters.

AND IN SUMMARY:

“I look back at it all and consider myself a very lucky guy.”

Thomas Hauser’s email address is thomashauserwriter@gmail.com. His most recent book – A Dangerous Journey: Another Year Inside Boxing – was published by the University of Arkansas Press. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored Hauser with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism. He will be inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame with the Class of 2020.

Editor’s Note: This article first appeared on these pages on Nov. 16, 2017, under the title “Dr. Ferdie Pacheco: December 8, 1927 – November 16, 2017.” Reprinted with permission.

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What’s Your Favorite Boxing Match? Rigby-Ayers Tops My List

Ted Sares

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Many count Castillo vs. Corrales (2005) as their favorite. Fans of an earlier generation were partial to Graziano vs. Zale (1947), Pep vs. Saddler (1949), DeMarco vs. Basilio (1955), and Durelle vs. Moore (1958). The “War” between Hagler and Hearns (1985) rightfully tops many lists. When Hearns came out fast at the opening bell only to be met by a bald-headed monster, it was spine-tingling electricity at its best; it was anticipative mayhem.

Jorge Castro–John David Jackson (1994) was high drama. Morales-Barrera (2000) and Vazquez-Marquez (2008) showcased Mexican fighters who combined technique with a brawler’s proclivity and that amounted to an atomic cocktail. Mancini vs. Frias was short but furious.

Bobby Chacon’s 1982 battle with Rafael Limon, the most compelling and memorable of their four fights, was a classic and Chacon’s battle the next year with Cornelius Boza-Edwards was legendary. The first Gatti vs. Ward is at the top end of many memory banks and, of course, Ali’s bouts with Frazier and with Foreman are up there along with the frenzy of Pryor vs. Arguello (1982).

Lyle and Foreman exchanged bombs and knockdowns in 1976. Then in 1992, Michael Moorer and Bert Cooper did the same. These two brawls could easily be someone’s favorite. However, the Nardico-Norkus eight knockdown Pier Six in 1954 was quintessentially old school and it is on many leaderboards. Under the radar Muriqi vs. Ahmad (2002) was new school but could be any school for its back-and-forth mayhem.

The Tommy Morrison vs. Joe Hipp slugfest in Reno in 1992 was “bone crunching.” Morrison‘s jaw and both of his hands were broken, but Joe lost via a 9th round comeback stoppage by the “Duke.” Not to be outdone, Hipp suffered a complete shattering of his cheekbones.

Bruce Curry and Monroe Brooks put on their own version of “To Live and Die in LA” in 1978 at the Olympic Auditorium. For those who witnessed the fifth round of the incredible Somsak Sithchatchawal vs. Mahyar “Little Tyson” Monshipour savagery in 2006, Brooks-Curry was like that for almost nine full rounds. Neither man died in L.A.; they both lived on, but in different ways.

Thus, it seems that every serious fan, aficionado, or writer has that One favorite fight, the one that is indelible and is locked into the memory like concrete. Here are several on my list:

Lee Roy “Solid Gold” Murphy vs. Chisanda Mutti (1985)

One of the most unique happenings in a boxing match occurred in Monte Carlo in 1985 when Chicagoan Lee Roy “Solid Gold” Murphy (the IBF cruiserweight titleholder) and rugged Zambian Chisanda Mutti simultaneously scored brutal knockdowns in the waning moments of the fight. A badly hurt Murphy barely beat referee Larry Hazzard’s count while Mutti remained down and was counted out. The crowd was up and roaring in disbelief. Mutti had to be helped from the ring.

This was no Rocky movie; this was real and unforgettable and it came after an 11th round that had to be seen to be believed. In fact, the entire fight involved seesaw exchanges that were of the career-ending type.

Carl Thompson vs. Ezra Sellers (2001)

“Thompson looks to be hurt by every shot he takes, but then again so does Sellers.”—Spencer Oliver

High up on my list is Carl “The Cat” Thompson vs. the late Ezra Sellers, a classic match in 2001 (with the somewhat recalcitrant but prime Steve Smoger refereeing) that involved at least six official knockdowns; Thompson hit the deck four times, Sellers twice. This was no boxing match but rather a no-holds-barred fight between two very exciting punchers.

Going into the third round, both men had been staggered and dropped hard; both were on the verge of being put to sleep. Finally, Sellers became the Sandman when he KOd The Cat in the fourth round with a crunching counter right hook, ending a winning streak that started after Thompson lost to Johnny Nelson in 1999. Thompson had been knocked down many times, but he always got up. This time he was separated from his senses and sent to Feline Dreamland. He finally rose from the canvas to the applause of the stunned and worried crowd.

My Number One: Michael Ayers vs. Wayne Rigby (July 1, 2000)

“Squinting at features even more battered than his own, Michael Ayers could tell from the look of resignation in Wayne Rigby’s eyes that his opponent was finished. The fire which raged fiercely for 10 rounds had been doused. Then, with Rigby helpless and American referee Arthur Mercante Jr. hesitating, came a moment unique in boxing.” — Mike Lewis, The Telegraph

…a credit to the sport f—– nearly brought me to tears i would’ve emptied my pockets and thrown it in the ring. — poster named Tony Stephenson

It was a shining example of the old fight game at its noble best. — Mike Casey

This bout, which occurred at the Bowler’s Arena in Manchester, UK, had all the ingredients for a classic Brit dust-up and it didn’t disappoint. And like Mutti-Murphy, it also involved unique happenings. The participants were late-substitute Wayne Rigby (17-5) from Manchester and Michael “Shaka” Ayers (28-3-1) from London. “Shaka” was the IBO lightweight titleholder.

On paper, Ayers, a stylist, looked to be the strong favorite. In fact, the accomplished Ayers had stopped the highly rated Colin Dunn in 1996. But the Mancunian challenger Rigby came to fight.

In the early going Rigby started fast showing surprisingly fast hand speed and a punishing right uppercut that he landed repeatedly. Things heated up in the third round as both men exchanged bruising shots, but Rigby was dictating the action to this point.

In the 4th round, Ayers fought back using a variety of punches behind a good jab and tightened things up. Then, in the 6th, “Shaka” put the lad from Manchester down with a beautiful straight right, but he failed to close matters.

Rigby came storming back in the 7th as both men engaged in mutual savagery, but Ayers managed to get in two crunching blows just before the bell that probably won the round for him. Rigby was fortunate the bell rang.

Again, showing great recuperative powers in the 8th round, Rigby drilled Shaka with every punch in the book and finally landed two hammering left hooks that sent the Londoner to the canvas like he had been hit with a Bobby’s sap. Somehow, someway, the tough champion, who was in danger of being stopped for the first time in his long career, got up and signaled to Rigby at the bell that he had indeed been rocked. Mutual respect and uncommon sportsmanship was now in play. What else was in play was that Ayers was at risk of losing to a man, albeit a former British champion, who had taken the fight on short notice.

Ayers also showed his ability to recuperate as he came out fast in the 9th, but the round was Rigby’s as he forced the action with straight rights, hooks and uppercuts to the rousing approval of his hometown fans. However, he expended valuable energy in the process. Both men continued to engage in malefic violence. Ayer’s mouth was bleeding and Rigby’s eyes were badly bruised.

The first half of the tenth round was even as both combatants continued to engage in what had become a closet classic. Ayers then began to use effective stinging right crosses and right leads. He took control with 1:26 left and accelerated his assault until the gallant Rigby found himself with an empty tank.

Then it Happened!

With only 29 seconds left, Ayers signaled to Mercante that the fight should be stopped, but for some inexplicable reason Mercante was not responsive. Ayers then pummeled his helpless and badly bloodied opponent until both men signaled that enough was enough, touched gloves, and headed back to their corners. This occurred with just 14 seconds left.

It was a rare moment of poignancy that made those who witnessed it feel chills run down their spines.

Mercante finally put his arms around Rigby to officially halt the fight, but the two noble warriors had already taken away that important responsibility from him. In fact, Mercante’s potentially dangerous hesitation could well have resulted in Rigby taking career-altering punishment.

As Mike Lewis writes, “Dropping their hands, Ayers and Rigby decided there and then that this memorable bruising battle was over. They touched gloves, nodded at one another and headed back to their respective corners. [It was] an extraordinary finish to an extraordinary contest. Hardened Manchester ringsiders had never seen anything like it.

“Barry Hearn, my manager, said it was eerie,” recalled the then 36-year-old Londoner Ayers of his remarkable victory which went into the books as a TKO. “It was almost as though Wayne and myself had communicated through telepathy. Somehow he got it across to me that he’d taken enough and I stopped.”

But the very best quote came from Jerry Storey, Ayers’ Irish trainer, when he said, “Those two guys showed boxing still had a soul.”

Like most, I keep my own list of favorite fights. This one is at the top.

What’s yours?

Ted Sares can be reached at tedsares@roadrunner.com

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The Case for Marlon Starling: Why “Moochie” Belongs in Canastota

Jeffrey Freeman

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The Case for Marlon Starling: Why “Moochie” Belongs in Canastota

A TSS CLASSIC — It’s hard for the typical fight fan to understand exactly what the current criteria are for induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Boxing, unlike baseball or professional football, does not rely on a cold and calculated interpretation of statistics to determine eligibility and induction. It’s much more complicated than that. Or far more simple, depending on how you look at it. In our sport, the observer has real power. Greatness is in the eye of the individual beholder. What he or she sees, thinks, and does — matters.

Don’t believe me? Consider any split or majority decision.

According to their website, the mission of the IBHOF (located in upstate Canastota, New York since 1989) is, among other things, to “chronicle the achievements of those who excelled” in boxing. A closer look at the site reveals more about their procedures: “Members of the Boxing Writers Association of America and an international panel of boxing historians cast votes. Voters from Japan, England, Canada, Mexico, South Africa, Germany, Puerto Rico and the United States are among those who participate in the election process.”

I’ve been to the IBHOF many times and the Brophys, Director Ed and historian nephew Jeff, do a great job along with their loyal President Don Ackerman. In recent years, however, the Hall, and some of its young new voters in particular, have come under fire for their selection of some less than unanimous choices such as Arturo Gatti, “Boom Boom” Mancini, and Riddick Bowe. Critics and dissenters point to their losses and other perceived shortcomings while those who voted for them must surely have had their focus on the achievements and fame of those they ultimately helped to enshrine.

Personally, I’d have voted for two of three but that’s just me.

Enter Marlon “Magic Man” Starling, the former undisputed welterweight champion of the world from Hartford, Connecticut. Starling retired from boxing in 1990, a year after the establishment of boxing’s first true hall of fame. In those twenty-five plus years, Starling’s name has yet to appear on the ballot for IBHOF voters to either vote for or not. Before discussing Starling’s qualifications, let me make one thing clear about the balloting process. It’s a closed one. What that means is that a small group of IBHOF insiders figuratively pick names from a hat and then put those choices on the official ballot for the public consideration of their various international voters. Arturo Gatti, for example, could not have been voted for and voted in had his name not been selected by this panel in the first place. The identity and decision making process of this internal group remains a mystery to most outsiders.

They hold the 24K gold key to induction.

Why then would they want to put Starling’s name on the ballot? Well, for starters, theirs is a hall of fame, not a hall of feints. Starling was actually a master of both. When Starling plied his craft in the competitive cauldron of the 1980s, he frequently appeared on network television in primetime. It was there that mainstream fight fans got to know “Moochie” and his “Starling Stomp” signature move. In televised battles against Donald “Cobra” Curry, Jose “The Threat” Baret, and Johnny “Bump City” Bumphus among so many others, Starling made an unforgettable impression on a generation of fans who still remember him today and must wonder why he’s not in the hall if lesser skilled pugilists are. The IBHOF’s inclusion of Gatti could be seen just as controversially as the exclusion of Starling.

Compiling a career record of 45-6-1 (27), Starling made his pro debut in 1979 after an inauspicious amateur career where he lost in Lowell, Mass to Robbie Sims of all people. As a professional prizefighter inspired by the late great Muhammad Ali, Starling had a defensive peek-a-boo style that made him very difficult to hit, let alone beat. Not unlike Ali, Starling also possessed the gift of gab.

The young welterweight ran his record to 25-0 before his first loss, a twelve round split decision to Donald Curry in 1982. To this day, Starling disputes that subjective defeat just as he disputes his lack of inclusion in the hall of fame where he is regularly a guest of honor during annual induction weekends. “The Hall of Fame is special. I think Marlon Starling does belong in there,” says Starling about Starling. Even more ironically, “Cobra” Curry is also still waiting for a call from the hall that might never come. Curry’s qualifications include having been the single best pound-for-pound boxer on the planet for a short period of time, but that’s a debate for another day. (Editor’s Note: Since this story was written, Curry received the call, entering the Canastota shrine with the class of 2019.)

From 1983 to 1986, Starling stayed busy in search of a big money superfight against the likes of Sugar Ray Leonard or Tommy Hearns. Neither match-up was meant to be for “Moochie” who had to settle for televised bouts against contenders Kevin Howard, Floyd Mayweather Sr., and Simon Brown, all of whom Starling defeated by decision. “I have the respect of the Big Four. That’s what matters to me,” says Starling of Leonard, Hearns, Marvelous Marvin Hagler, and Roberto Duran. “Whenever I see those guys, I get their respect.”

A February 1984 rematch against a prime Donald Curry ended in the disappointment of another decision loss for Starling. It was in 1987 however that Starling began to make the most of the opportunities coming his way. A televised shot at the WBA welterweight championship against legendary amateur Mark Breland was all that stood between Starling and the world welterweight title. Following a virtuoso performance from Starling that highlighted the vast difference between a seasoned pro and a professionally inexperienced amateur, Breland collapsed in the eleventh round and just like that Starling was champion of the “whole wide world” as he proudly told Alex Wallau on ABC after the win.

In actuality, Starling was not yet the man who beat the man because of somebody out there named Lloyd Honeyghan. It was Honeyghan who upset Donald Curry for the world welterweight championship in 1986 and before Starling could move to unify or win universal recognition by beating Honeyghan, he’d have to go through the politics of a rematch “draw” with Breland (one judge scored the fight for Starling as did most fans and media) and a strange (again televised) knockout loss-turned-no contest (NC) against Tomas Molinares in 1988. Starling was knocked absolutely senseless from a punch that clearly landed after the bell to end the fifth round. Though it was later ruled a no contest and the result nullified, Starling lost his WBA championship and his momentum. Worse, he was made to look like a fool by HBO’s Larry Merchant during the unforgettably uncomfortable post-fight interview where Starling claimed that not only wasn’t he knocked out, he was never even knocked down.

It looked like the end was near for Marlon Starling.

But like a Phoenix rising from the ashes, Starling’s best days were still ahead of him. Less than a year after the Molinares debacle, Starling received a shot at Lloyd Honeyghan.  Because Honeyghan had so thoroughly thrashed Curry to win the WBC welterweight title, few observers expected “Moochie” to emerge victorious, particularly after his brutal “knockout” by Molinares. Boxing the fight of his life, Starling totally dominated and embarrassed Honeyghan, stopping the puffy “Ragamuffin Man” in nine rounds to lay claim to the undisputed world welterweight championship. By fighting and defeating the very best in the world, Starling had achieved his career goal of becoming the best welterweight in the world, the true welterweight champion of the “whole wide world.”

After reaching his professional peak with the thumping of Honeyghan, Starling defended the championship once before an ill-fated, economically driven, move to middleweight where he came up short against defending 160-pound world champion Michael Nunn, losing by majority decision. One judge scored it a perfectly even draw, 114-114 while two others had Nunn winning by wide scores.

In his final bout, Starling returned to welterweight where he dropped the 147-pound world title to Maurice Blocker by a majority decision before retiring in 1990, never to return, forever young in the eyes of those who saw him box under the bright lights of commercial network exposure. Again, another judge saw it all even in what was a very close fight in the ring and on the final scorecards.

So, does Marlon Starling belong in the International Boxing Hall of Fame? I’d say he does. I asked Starling himself and he answered me with a question. “How can Riddick Bowe be in the Hall of Fame if Marlon Starling isn’t?” he said in his uniquely rhetorical third-person fashion. Still, that’s not the path to Canastota, even if by all accounts Starling should at least be on the ballot by now.

You see, boxing is, like most everything else where so much money and power is involved, very political. Being outspoken, like Starling is and always has been, can hurt you in this game. Rightly or wrongly, it can prevent you from getting where you want to go. As a fight writer, I have experienced it personally and I have seen it applied to some brave souls who make their living in this, the cruelest sport.

Marlon Starling was a master defensive fighter. He won the legitimate world championship of the welterweight division, putting himself on a straight line that can trace its lineage all the way back to Sugar Ray Robinson, the best to ever lace up a pair of gloves. Starling was a TV star during the glory days of Wide World of Sports and Saturday afternoon boxing for the masses. Starling overcame strange and controversial defeats to persevere where few expected he could or would. Starling’s outgoing and accessible personality endeared him to fans and it’s good to see that nothing has changed.

Starling, who will turn 62 (not 61 as widely reported) on Aug. 29, 2020, is still sharp as a tack because boxing is about hitting and not getting hit. Starling still communicates with his many fans and makes himself available at boxing events for them to meet and greet him. In the end, Starling made his mark of excellence on the sport he chose to compete in and he did so in a way that made an indelible impression on all those who saw him fight.

Hope to see you in Canastota someday, Champ.

This is a slightly modified version of a story that ran on these pages on Aug. 29, 2016. Jeffrey Freeman covers boxing in New England for The Sweet Science.

Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel 

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