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Graduation Night For Anthony Joshua?

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If you hail from the United Kingdom, you learn to suffer with your heavyweights.

Bob Fitzsimmons abandoned these shores so young that we can point to him, perhaps, as proof of the British heart and fighting stock even if we must admit that it was not our fighting culture that birthed him. Lennox Lewis was a great, great heavyweight and we clutched him to our collective bosom with a hunger that spoke of the hurt that lay between he and Fitzsimmons, and we still do – but his nationality is a complex issue, a fact betrayed by his accent, his dual British and Canadian nationality, the fact he boxed for the latter as an amateur and his persistent and understandable hailing of his Jamaican roots. Whatever we have to say to one another about the great Lewis now, it is a fact that we at no time counted him a hero in the same way that we did Frank Bruno, not while he was fighting.

Frank Bruno, big Frank, sometime pantomime dame and perennial contender, was a legitimate cross-over star in Britain. Beloved by all, he was brutalised into semi-consciousness while still standing by Lewis, “The Lion” preposterously interrupted in the middle of this ritual slaughter by referee Mickey Vann, who warned Lewis about heeling before letting him lose once more on a Bruno completely incapable of defending himself. Perhaps Vann, like the rest of us, had become used to the site of Frank being harpooned on the ropes by a venomous Pequod, having previously watched Tim Witherspoon, James Smith and most deadly of, Mike Tyson, brutalise him in a similar fashion. It would be hard, hard to call Bruno a failure, especially as he eventually raised a strap, if not the legitimate championship, but it is fair to say he did not do what we expected of him while we pretended to box his opponents in the school playground. Perhaps “glorious failure” is the best way to say it; a man who had the balls to try, try and try again despite his shortcomings.

In fact, by the time Bruno turned professional the glorious failure was the great tradition of the British heavyweight. Think of Welshman Tommy Farr and his spectacular effort versus Joe Louis, the only man to take the Bomber the distance in his first nine title fights. Beaten over the distance, Farr was lauded for his loss in Britain, just as Londoner Don Cockell was eighteen years later for his effort versus Rocky Marciano. Henry Cooper became the king of the glorious failures when he successfully dropped Muhammad Ali with a steaming left-hook before bursting all over him in a bloody geyser, his face torn to a mask of gore not once, but twice, by the man they call The Greatest. These men exceeded our low expectations against great champions.

Since Lewis, the exceeding of expectations is a distant and wondrous dream.

We were burned most badly by Audley Harrison. A six-foot-five Olympic gold-medal winning southpaw with an 86” reach and a line in patter which would have persuaded even the 1940s New York fight press of his credentials as a future world champion, Harrison first destroyed boxing in Britain on free-to-air TV by accepting millions from the publicly funded BBC and then proceeding to fight a series of what can only be described, politely, as total bums, before also undermining pay-per-view with a bizarre non-effort against David Haye on Sky Box Office. Harrison landed literally one punch in that fight. He was paid £1.5m.

Speaking of bizarre non-efforts, David Haye’s against Wladimir Klitschko was one of the more embarrassing of recent times. Haye could have just slinked off shamefaced after that fight, offering his physical and technical inferiority as an excuse for the most one-sided loss in HW boxing since Haye-Harrison a few months earlier, but instead he elected to stand on the post-fight press-conference table and display what can only be described as a mildly bruised pinky-toe – the real reason for the loss. Haye was a good fighter, but his confounding attempt at Klitschko failed even to reach the minimum standard of glorious failure during a world-title shot. In combination with Harrison’s mad antics it summarised a bleak time for British boxing.

Fortunately, a healing balm was warring its way through the British ranks in Liverpool: 6’8 scouser David Price weighed in at 250lbs and rescued us from Harrison with a first round knockout of that fraud in 2012. A confession: I never bought Harrison, but I bought Price. Massive like bridges are big, Price seemed to loom over the heavyweight division and this laid the scales across my eyes. When he was obliterated twice in back-to-back fights by evergreen veteran Tony Thompson, who stopped him first in two rounds and then in five, it came as quite a shock. When his promoter, Frank Maloney, later announced that he wanted to live as a woman and was to be referred to from then on as Kellie Maloney, I saw it as representative of the affect this final and most humiliating failure by a British heavyweight upon the British boxing establishment. It was enough to make me want to don a dress myself.

With all my hopes pegged upon Tyson Fury I at first refused to believe that Anthony Joshua would be anything other than the latest in a long line of disappointments.

I hope the reader will forgive the late arrival of Anthony Joshua into an article which purports to be about him, but I think a little context is warranted. Further to that, consider this: in no way is the competition matched by Anthony Joshua at this point better than the competition matched by David Price before he was destroyed by Tony Thompson. The creaking Russian Denis Bakhtov (38-9 going in) is his best opponent up until this point, although certainly he looked less than a world beater beating up poor old Danny Williams – another brave British heavyweight who was brutally annihilated in a tilt at a strap against Vitali Klitschko but who nevertheless likely falls into the “glorious failure” category for his one-armed efforts against Mark Potter, and the wonderful night he stopped Mike Tyson.

Bakhtov, at just 5’11, would have slipped neatly alongside the competition that allowed Price to deceive us so. 15-0 puncher Tom Dallas was 6’6 and had knocked out eleven of fifteen victims coming into his dust-up with Price but Price put him away in just two. When Price took on Sam Sexton, he knocked him out much more quickly than the only other man to stop him, Dereck Chisora who had beaten him in six and nine rounds. Chisora, a social cannonball more famous for his freakish February 2012 street-brawl with David Haye (“I will physically shoot you!”) than anything he actually did in the ring, is perhaps another brave British underachiever. A human non-sequitur, nothing Chisora says really makes sense, but he was all heart in the ring, taking his lumps from Vitali Klitschko and Tyson Fury alike. Mooted as a future opponent for Joshua, Chisora is more qualified than the man who is facing Britain’s latest heavyweight hope this Saturday night in London, Kevin Johnson; Chisora beat Johnson in twelve one-sided rounds early last year.

It was a steady, dull pressure that brought Chisora that win over “Kingpin”, as the American did what he did best: survive. Promoters of prospects and comebackers like him because he can’t punch (just fourteen stoppages in thirty-six fights, none of them in the world class) but he provides a good work-out in a distance fight (having never been stopped and the likes of Vitali Klitschko and Tyson Fury have both been successfully negotiated). A flicking, fast jab keeps opponents honest, a dipping, furtive head-movement, often in the direction of the inside where he seeks to smother his opponent’s best work, keeps him from the worst of the enemy’s violent attentions, a cute, mobile guard protects the most tender parts of his anatomy; but he doesn’t actually do much of anything. Sometimes he sends in a short right hand, and he can punch to the body well but in general he avoids risk. Technically sure single shots in nothing like the volume necessary to win rounds against competent opponents is the order of the day.

These shortcomings are the question mark in the title of this article; the body of the piece lies in Johnson’s ability to go the distance.

Joshua looks the part he is to play. Part Calvin Klein underwear model, part tombstone, the 6’6 245lb Joshua has a body carved from granite and has muscles in all the places that Johnson uses to store food. But those muscles burn fuel. They make demands upon Joshua’s intake of oxygen that in turns demands one of two other things: a great engine or an ability to control the pace. So far Joshua shows absolutely nothing of the latter; he is a seek and destroy missile, top tier ballistic offensive weaponry that looks more like it comes straight out of America’s cold war machine rather than a product of the British system.

Against the aforementioned Bakhtov he had only the most cursory of looks before he started dropping hurt. He comes square when he wants to kill something, alarming, but given his reach and speed, perhaps he will continue to get away with it; and oh, he is fast. If I take nothing else from watching him, I take that. His hand-speed is absurd for a man of his size and the speed with which the second punch joins a first is legitimately terrifying. He lands a very hard jab, and then before that message of pain is even absorbed by the opponent’s nervous system, a message of disaster joins it as the right-hand thunders in. Sometimes it’s to the chest – other times it’s to the top of the head. Bless poor Bakhtov, sometimes he eats it directly to the face, an experience that appears to me to be as shattering as any that can be enjoyed in a boxing ring. Obscenely, Joshua sometimes smiles as the opponent gives ground, the sound of the world, I’m sure, a distant echo to him.

Joshua is no choir boy, you see. There are dark strains. He talks openly of death. He was involved as a younger man in drug dealing. He sometimes smiles as he brutalises his opponents. He feints with his feet. This last speaks of artistry, not darkness, but it hints at real hope for fulfilment of what is still, at just 12-0, only potential.

Bakhtov went back to his corner at the end of the first, cut, swollen and in some deep cavern far away from the advice of his trainer. Joshua was on his feet bouncing, eight-pack rippling, before the bell for the second. Bakhtov finished the fight on his feet, but his final minute in the ring was disturbing to watch.

Jason Gavern and Konstantin Airich both managed three rounds against him but that’s as far as it has gone. In many ways, matching him with Johnson is as ambitious as matching Price with Thompson; Price did not have the naturalistic tendencies to deal with Thompson – Joshua clearly does, but does he have the stamina to do twelve?

The other question, of course, is for Johnson: does he fancy spending twelve rounds in the same ring with this animal; and if he does, can he do it?

In that sense, Joshua and his people are onto a win-win. If Johnson lasts the distance, their fighter has twelve rounds under his belt and a big tick in a very important box; if Joshua stops him, a feat beyond Vitali Klitschko, they know they have a legitimate destroyer on their hands. In that sense, yes, this can be seen as a graduation night for the twenty-five year old – as long as he doesn’t gas and fall down.

Of course, Johnson isn’t going to answer the other question, the one about whether our latest “future world champion” can get hit on the chin and keep his feet. That people who should know better are already naming him as such without having either of these questions answered is perhaps a little irresponsible but completely understandable, even if it is a little surprising given the lessons that should have been learned in the past decade. Joshua is not just special, he looks incredible; he looks like a fight-rat’s dream. Everything – everything a heavyweight should have, he has it. Apart from the most important things. Where those are concerned, sadly, we just don’t know yet – and we might get hurt in finding out.

But we British fight fans will chance it. After all, isn’t that what love is? Believing, with all your heart, in something that you just can’t know – until you do, by which point it is too late to get your hands up?

I’ll pick Joshua to stop Johnson in eight.

At which point we’ll know more.

But still not quite enough.

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

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

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

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

Also…

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

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

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

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

Manchester

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

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

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

Co-Feature

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

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

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

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

Also

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

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

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

Bournemouth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pound-for-Pound

01 – Naoya Inoue

02 – Oleksandr Usyk

03 – Juan Francisco Estrada

04 – Dmitry Bivol

05 – Terence Crawford

06 – Errol Spence Jnr.

07 – Tyson Fury

08 – Saul Alvarez

09 – Artur Beterbiev

10 – Shakur Stevenson

 

105lbs

1            Knockout CP Freshmart (Thailand)

2            Petchmanee CP Freshmart (Thailand)

3            Melvin Jerusalem (Philippines)

4            Ginjiro Shigeoka (Japan)

5            Wanheng Menayothin (Thailand)

6            Daniel Valladares (Mexico)

7            Yudai Shigeoka (Japan)

8            Oscar Collazo (USA)

9            Masataka Taniguchi (Japan)

10          Rene Mark Cuarto (Philippines)

 

108lbs

1            Kenshiro Teraji (Japan)

2            Jonathan Gonzalez (Puerto Rico)

3            Masamichi Yabuki (Japan)

4            Hekkie Budler (South Africa)

5            Sivenathi Nontshinga (South Africa)

6            Elwin Soto (Mexico)

7            Daniel Matellon (Cuba)

8            Reggie Suganob (Philippines)

9            Shokichi Iwata (Japan)*

10          Esteban Bermudez (Mexico)*

 

112lbs

1            Sunny Edwards (England)

2            Artem Dalakian (Ukraine)

3            Julio Cesar Martinez (Mexico)

4            Angel Ayala Lardizabal (Mexico)

5            David Jimenez (Costa Rica)

6            Jesse Rodriguez (USA)

7            Ricardo Sandoval (USA)

8            Felix Alvarado (Nicaragua)

9            Seigo Yuri Akui (Japan)

10          Cristofer Rosales (Nicaragua)

 

115lbs

1            Juan Francisco Estrada (Mexico)

2            Roman Gonzalez (Nicaragua)

3            Jesse Rodriguez (USA)

4            Kazuto Ioka (Japan)

5            Joshua Franco (USA)

6            Junto Nakatani (Japan)*

7            Fernando Martinez (Argentina)

8            Srisaket Sor Rungvisai (Thailand)

9            Kosei Tanaka (Japan)*

10          Andrew Moloney (Australia)

 

118lbs

1            Emmanuel Rodriguez (Puerto Rico)

2            Jason Moloney (Australia)

3            Nonito Donaire (Philippines)

4            Vincent Astrolabio (Philippines)

5            Gary Antonio Russell (USA)

6            Takuma Inoue (Japan)

7            Alexandro Santiago (Mexico)

8           Ryosuke Nishida (Japan)

9            Keita Kurihara (Japan)

10          Paul Butler (England)

 

122lbs

1            Stephen Fulton (USA)

2            Marlo Tapales (Philippines)

3            Luis Nery (Mexico)

4            Murodjon Akhmadaliev (Uzbekistan)

5            Ra’eese Aleem (USA)

6            Azat Hovhannisyan (Armenia)

7            Kevin Gonzalez (Mexico)

8            Takuma Inoue (Japan)

9            John Riel Casimero (Philippines)

10          Fillipus Nghitumbwa (Namibia)

 

126lbs

1            Mauricio Lara (Mexico)

2           Brandon Figueroa (USA)

3            Rey Vargas (Mexico)

4            Luis Alberto Lopez (Mexico)

5            Mark Magsayo (Philippines)

6            Leigh Wood (England)

7            Josh Warrington (England)

8            Robeisy Ramirez (Cuba)

9            Reiya Abe (Japan)

10          Otabek Kholmatov (Uzbekistan)

 

130lbs

1            Joe Cordina (Wales)

2            Oscar Valdez (Mexico)

3            Hector Garcia (Dominican Republic)

4            O’Shaquie Foster (USA)

5            Shavkatdzhon Rakhimov (Tajikistan)

6            Roger Gutierrez (Venezuela)

7            Lamont Roach (USA)

8            Eduardo Ramirez (Mexico)

9            Kenichi Ogawa (Japan)

10          Robson Conceicao (Brazil)

 

135lbs

1            Devin Haney (USA)

2            Gervonta Davis (USA)

3            Vasily Lomachenko (Ukraine)

4            Isaac Cruz (Mexico)

5            William Zepeda Segura (Mexico)

6            Frank Martin (USA)

7            George Kambosos Jnr (Australia)

8            Shakur Stevenson (USA)

9            Raymond Muratalla (USA)*

10          Keyshawn Davis (USA)

 

140lbs

1            Josh Taylor (Scotland)

2            Regis Prograis (USA)

3            Jose Ramirez (USA)

4            Jose Zepeda (USA)

5            Jack Catterall (England)

6            Subriel Matias (Puerto Rico)

7            Arnold Barboza Jr. (USA)

8            Gary Antuanne Russell (USA)

9            Zhankosh Turarov (Kazakhstan)

10          Shohjahon Ergashev (Uzbekistan)

 

147lbs

1            Errol Spence (USA)

2            Terence Crawford (USA)

3            Yordenis Ugas (Cuba)

4            Vergil Ortiz Jr. (USA)

5            Jaron Ennis (USA)

6            Eimantas Stanionis (Lithuania)

7            David Avanesyan (Russia)

8            Cody Crowley (Canada)

9            Roiman Villa (Columbia)

10          Alexis Rocha (USA)

 

154lbs

1            Jermell Charlo (USA)

2           Tim Tszyu (Australia)

3            Brian Castano (Argentina)

4            Brian Mendoza (USA)

5            Liam Smith (England)

6            Jesus Alejandro Ramos (USA)

7            Sebastian Fundora (USA)

8            Michel Soro (Ivory Coast)

9            Erickson Lubin (USA)

10          Magomed Kurbanov (Russia)

 

160lbs

1            Gennady Golovkin (Kazakhstan)

2            Jaime Munguia (Mexico)

3            Carlos Adames (Dominican Republic)

4            Janibek Alimkhanuly (Kazakhstan)

5            Liam Smith (England)

6            Erislandy Lara (USA)

7            Sergiy Derevyanchenko (Ukraine)

8            Felix Cash (England)

9            Esquiva Falcao (Brazil)

10          Chris Eubank Jnr. (Poland)

 

168lbs

1            Canelo Alvarez (Mexico)

2            David Benavidez (USA)

3            Caleb Plant (USA)

4            Christian Mbilli (France)

5            David Morrell (Cuba)

6            John Ryder (England)

7            Pavel Silyagin (Russia)

8            Vladimir Shishkin (Russia)

9            Carlos Gongora (Ecuador)

10          Demetrius Andrade (USA)

 

175lbs

1            Dmitry Bivol (Russia)

2            Artur Beterbiev (Canada)

3            Joshua Buatsi (England)

4            Callum Smith (England)

5            Joe Smith Jr. (USA)

6            Gilberto Ramirez (Mexico)

7            Anthony Yarde (England)

8           Dan Azeez (England)

9            Craig Richards (England)

10          Michael Eifert (Germany)

 

200lbs

1            Jai Opetaia (Australia)

2            Mairis Breidis (Latvia)

3            Lawrence Okolie (England)

4            Richard Riakporhe (England)

5            Aleksei Papin (Russia)

6            Badou Jack (Sweden)

7            Chris Billam-Smith (England)

8            Arsen Goulamirian (France)

9            Yuniel Dorticos (Cuba)

10          Mateusz Masternak (Poland)

 

Unlimited

1            Tyson Fury (England)

2            Oleksandr Usyk (Ukraine)

3            Zhilei Zhang (China)

4            Deontay Wilder (USA)

5            Anthony Joshua (England)

6            Andy Ruiz (USA)

7            Filip Hrgovic (Croatia)

8            Joe Joyce (England)

9            Dillian Whyte (England)

10          Frank Sanchez (Cuba)

To comment on this story in the Fight Forum CLICK HERE

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

In one moment.

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

Buddy Baer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Skill has determined that his superior size is now worthless.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Max Schmeling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Over and over again.

“I know how to fight Max now.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s us.

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

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

“It’s just you and the other guy.”

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

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

To comment on this story in the Fight Forum CLICK HERE

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