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The Fifty Greatest Light-Heavyweights of All Time Part Two – 40-31

Matt McGrain

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Welcome to Part Two of the Greatest Light-Heavyweights of All Time, something of a generational sweep for the last decade with no fewer than four of the ten entrants for Part Two active in the last two years. With no truly dominant figure emerging among Glen Johnson, Bernard Hopkins, Chad Dawson, and Tarver it was inevitable that they would all rank in the same clutch; still, I was surprised to see them ranked in this ten rather than the last ten, or even outside the top fifty all-together.

Having done the groundwork for a similar project at middleweight I can advise that 160lbs has roughly double the depth of 175lbs, but there are reasons for this. Firstly, middleweight is much older and the years upon which light-heavyweight missed out were as rich as any period in fistic history. Even when the division was established fighters and promoters were generally suspicious of it and a fighter weighing 165lbs was far more likely to call himself a contender to the middleweight title than the light-heavyweight title. There was an unhealthy suspicion of anything different in boxing as 1899 became 1900 and the emerging 175lb division was no different.

Having said all that, light-heavyweight produced fewer truly elite boxers than middleweight or welterweight even after it had become enshrined as one of the “original eight”, a mistruth that is told and re-told by modern historians for the sake of convenience. But I personally am glad of a certain lack of depth outside the top twenty-five, it has given me a chance to include champions and contenders who perhaps did not box a career at the weight but were nevertheless extraordinary and deserving of praise.

Beginning with a fighter who quite happily admitted that he was not the best but “just the guy who fought the best.”

#40 – GLEN JOHNSON (54-20-2)

Fifty-four, twenty, and two.

And this isn’t some monstrous battler lurching out of the stacked 1920s division with the scalps of a dozen world-class opponents hanging from his bloodied belt, some hideous fistic bogeyman that enjoyed a murderous prime before suffering some terrible drop off in form and talent as his body betrayed him to drunkenness and women. No, this is a modern day road-warrior who racked up numerous losses at middleweight, super-middleweight, and at light-heavyweight, where our interests lie.

But the career of Glengoffe Johnson, out of Jamaica and in to almost every major boxing nation on earth, is more complex than any set of raw statistics could ever capture.

He stepped up to light-heavyweight in the summer of 2001, stopping Thomas Ulrich in six before meeting Las Vegas regular Derrick Harmon in the Hard Rock. The judges saw it a clear ten round decision in favour of Harmon; the crowd voiced displeasure after what I saw as a narrow win for Johnson. Next up was an ugly loss to former Roy Jones victim Julio Cesar Gonzalez in a razor thin decision that one judge managed to score 98-92. I had it a draw.

Johnson managed an actual draw in his very next fight, with the prospect Daniel Judah; the problem was, Johnson dominated Judah almost bell to bell, clearly losing only one round, the eighth. I scored it, ironically, 98-92. In November of 2011, Johnson travelled to the UK and met ranked tough Clinton Woods and fought a draw in a fight I scored him winner. He lost a rematch in 2006 in a fight that again, looked like a narrow but certain Johnson win. Johnson was twice beaten by Chad Dawson as the decade trundled to an end, but again, I thought he was hard done by in their first fight, a clear win for Johnson and a signal for the crowd, once again, to boo a Glen Johnson loss.

This makes appraising him extremely difficult. Between his arriving in the division in 2001 and the end of 2009, I have him losing just twice, to divisional bosses Antonio Tarver and Chad Dawson – according to paid judges he lost six. The job here is to strike a balance between my sense that Johnson’s career is the most tragic in modern boxing, the inevitable realisation of perhaps the most badly run professional sport in world, a perfect storm of bad luck and bad officiating – and what the men paid to be ringside saw. Fortunately, Johnson props himself up with excellent wins that the officials did manage to see, or, as was the case in his famous detonation of huge favourite Roy Jones Jnr., fights he denied them the right to judge.

Johnson launched himself at Roy Jones and threw punches at parts of his anatomy that Jones wasn’t aware he had. At the end of a particularly aggressive fifth, Orlando Cuellar told a bemused Johnson in his corner that “this is what it will take to win this fight!” Johnson looked like a man who had been told riches beyond his wildest dreams were at his finger-tips if only he could swallow a bull. But Johnson stayed the course. He took the snapping punishment Jones crackled into him and maintained a more tempered version of this attack for the rounds that followed, bulldozing Jones into unconsciousness in the ninth. Jones had already been defeated by Antonio Tarver, setting up a showdown between him and Johnson, a showdown Johnson won making him the premier light-heavyweight in the world.

It is enough, along with victories over ranked men Clinton Woods and Eric Harding to place him under consideration for a top fifty spot; the injustice that served him throughout a career fought on the road sees him ranked here at the bottom end of the second ten. Some may not care for this elevated ranking given the losses he suffered, but it is my contention that Johnson is inarguably a better and more significant fighter than his paper record allows.

#39 – GUS LESNEVICH (60-14-5)

Depending upon your point of view, Gus Lesnevich either committed perhaps the most shameful duck in the history of the light-heavyweight title or was a fighter whose legacy was compromised by the outbreak of World War Two. After being thrashed by Jimmy Bivins in a non-title match in 1942, manager Lew Diamond told press that there would be no chance of a rematch between Bivins and Lesnevich. Lesnevich disappeared into the war-time coastguard – his title frozen for the duration, he remained true to his manager’s word. What this adds up to is a title reign of around seven years – but one which encompassed a total of only five successful defences against only three different fighters.

Nevertheless there is much to admire about Lesnevich, not least an outstanding persistence and hearty directness that earned him status as a fan favourite. Thrashed by Billy Conn in his first title shot in November of 1939, Lesnevich was so popular that he was handed a second title shot in the summer of the following year. Beaten again, he nevertheless was able to win more than the four rounds generally reported in the first fight, and it can have been of little surprise when Lesnevich received a third title shot a year later, this time beating out Anton Christoforidis. After making two successful defences against the unranked Tami Mauriello (the first of them desperately close) and the beating at the hands of Jimmy Bivins, the service got Lesnevich and when he re-emerged in 1946 it was thought that he, like peers Billy Conn and Joe Louis, would have left his best behind him. This seemed confirmed when he was smashed out by Bruce Woodcock up at heavyweight, the only time in his career that Lesnevich heard the ten. But Lesnevich came again, and in fact was the Ring fighter of the year in 1947. His brutal stoppage of British rival Freddie Mills, as savage a knockout as can be seen on film, was likely the highlight of this second career; but it was Mills who would take the title from him in 1948 over fifteen after a torrid first round that left Lesnevich cut and hurt.

Other fine wins over contenders like Alabama Kid, Ambrose Palmer and Billy Fox help nurse a ranking earned in the main with elbow grease and hard work.

#38 – AL GAINER (77-23)

Al Gainer’s record against the best he faced makes awkward reading. He went 1-1-1 with Tiger Jack Fox; 1-2 with Lou Brouillard; 2-2-1 with Bob Olin, 1-1 with Al McCoy and 1-1 with George Courtney. Splitting a series with Tiger Jack Fox speaks for, not against him, but the Brouillard series is troubling. The Canadian was a middleweight really, and one that had failed on three occasions to best Marcel Thil. Nevertheless, he twice dominated Gainer and for all that Gainer defeated him “easily” in their middle encounter, Brouillard clearly deserved the victory in their series. Aspects of his confrontation with Olin were more debatable but still, Gainer failed to prove his superiority over Olin just as he did Brouillard. Sometimes Gainer’s failure to equalise these fights with what was perhaps the best left hook of the era seems curious, although such matters are abandoned forever to the realm of speculation.

That left hook did, in part, bring him wins over Olin, McCoy, Brouillard and Courtney and that shouldn’t be forgotten for all that his overall record against them feels somewhat underwhelming. He also pounded out a one-sided victory over Joe Knight and several other solid contenders of this era, from Clyde Chastain to Lou Scozza and Dave Shade. Often his displays were dominant, but he, in turn, was dominated by Tony Shucco. They met four times and Gainer failed to return a single victory.

It is this last that in the end leads me to reject Herb Goldman’s ranking of Al Gainer at #25. Gainer was special and names among the most outstanding fighters never to have earned the crown but a place in the top thirty must be beyond him based upon his actual track record.

On the other hand, he was ranked for an entire decade, the 1930s, mostly in the lower reaches of the Ring top ten, but present none-the-less. This, in keeping with a consistently high level of competition smuggles him in to the top forty – but no more for the once sparkling Al Gainer.

#37 – BERNARD HOPKINS (55-7-2)

As ridiculous as it seems now, the twin defeats of Bernard Hopkins by Jermain Taylor in 2005 was seen as something of a terminal for the great middleweight. If not quite finished, he had perhaps boarded the great train to nowhere, even if there was to be a quick stop at light-heavyweight for a beating at the hands of three to one favourite Antonio Tarver. As is so often the case in boxing, the unexpected occurred: Hopkins kicked the shit out of Tarver.

Tarver had had his problems in training, dropping forty pounds he had gained for a performance in a movie while Hopkins, of course, was moving up. It is this writer’s opinion that no practice in boxing hurts a fighter so much as weight-making, and here was yet another beautiful demonstration of that fact. No longer shackled by the manacles of 160lbs, Hopkins weighed in at a liberating 174lbs and re-hydrated to a luscious 182lbs. It was like putting fuel in. He threw almost one-hundred more punches than he had managed in the first Taylor fight and found Tarver with the old unerring accuracy. Inside, he was clearly the stronger man despite being both smaller and older while on the outside he took by far the more steps but his engine remained greased. Aged forty-one years of age, Bernard’s astonishing assault on the light-heavyweight division had begun.

Truly, these past eight years have had their peaks and valleys, but despite a winding road, Hopkins never stepped off the path that led to and through ranked men, except when he was thrashing the undisputed middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik, or losing a desperately close fight to pound-for-pounder Joe Calzaghe. It looks like that journey has finally come to an end with a dispiriting, damaging loss against the excellent Sergey Kovalev but I can’t imagine marching into a bookmaker and actually laying a bet against Hopkins scraping together a couple more wins against good opposition in this division in 2015 – and perhaps even gaining another spot on this list.

#36 – MICKEY WALKER (94-19-4; Newspaper Decisions 37-6-2)

The absurd Toy Bulldog, Mickey Walker, would have fought a truck piloted by a meth-fuelled werewolf if the money was right. He was crazy.

He slipped his way onto my top 100 at heavyweight, at #94 no less, and his heroics in that division are well documented. Less well respected are his achievements at light-heavyweight, which is a shame, because they are outstanding. Although he never held the title himself, he defeated not one, not two, but three legitimate light-heavyweight champions of the world. Mike McTigue went first in 1925, the reigning title-holder but willing to meet Walker only in a twelve-round no-decision bout, Walker in need of a knockout in order to lift the title. The Bulldog pounded out a twelve round newspaper decision but couldn’t put his man away; infuriatingly, Walker knocked McTigue, an underrated but carefully nursed champion, quite literally out to dry, hanging him over the second rope in a single round in 1927 – by which time he had been parted from the title.

After his overdue knockout of McTigue, Walker, absolutely no light-heavyweight at 5’7 and a great deal of history at welterweight and middleweight, bowled right into the wonderful Paul Berlenbach, who had lost his title to Jack Delaney just a year earlier. Barely over the middleweight limit, Walker gave away eleven pounds to Delaney who was a body-puncher and boxer of real repute – Walker won “every round” and gave his man “an unmerciful beating” according to The Montreal Gazette, even forcing the bigger man to the canvas with his indomitable left.

Last up was Maxie Rosenbloom. Rosenbloom, inevitably, won the championship match between the two but Walker dropped and bettered the champion in a non-title bout a few months later. It was the second time he had defeated a reigning light-heavyweight champion and he had done so an astonishing seven years apart.

Between, he had dropped a split-decision lost to the great Tommy Loughran and twice bested Leo Lomski. It wasn’t quite meant to be for Walker at light-heavyweight – but few fighters have bested more lineal champions than he.

#35 – CHAD DAWSON (32-4)

All but finished at thirty-two years of age Chad Dawson was obliterated in a single round by Adonis Stevenson in 2013, out-fought by Jean Pascal in 2010 and narrowly edged by Nathan Cleverly victim Tommy Karpency in ten rounds towards the end of 2014. The other hand is weighed heavily in his favour, however. Dawson holds two wins over Glen Johnson, two wins over Antonio Tarver and a win over Bernard Hopkins making him a proud holder of victories over every post-Jones pre-Kovalev light-heavyweight of genuine significance apart from Zsolt Erdei, whose history of avoiding name fighters is legendary. His supplementary wins, too, are superb. He handed 31-0 Tomasz Adamek his first loss; clambered off the canvas to defeat the era’s elite gatekeeper Eric Harding in a bloody, absorbing contest; and firmly outpointed the ranked Adrian Diaconu. I will be frank: I don’t personally care for Dawson as a fighter, in hype, style or fistic class, but leaving him out is impossible and given his thorough defeat of Bernard Hopkins and a resume that is likely superior to The Executioner’s, the disturbing nature of some of his losses can be ignored. He slips in here ahead of both Hopkins and Glen Johnson, despite my personal preference for both.

This, more than any other single factor probably indicates that Dawson has earned his ranking. The facts of the case outweigh my feelings.

#34 – JIMMY SLATTERY (111-13; Newspaper Decisions 3-0)

Welcome our first legitimate centurion, Jimmy Slattery, who stopped a total of forty-nine opponents and won sixty-two decisions.

A lot of this work was done at middleweight where Slattery served a long apprenticeship between 1921, when he turned professional, and 1925, when he began to probe the division above. These early advances bore surprisingly ripe fruit as Slattery netted wins over under-developed legends of the poundage, first Jack Delaney and then Maxie Rosenbloom both over the distance of six rounds – but Slattery’s domination of the blooming Rosenbloom continued into 1926 and 1927 by which time Rosenbloom was ranked at the top of the division. This domination ended, however, when Max came to the title. Always a better fighter with the legitimate championship at his waist, Rosenbloom consistently out-scrambled Slattery when it came to that prize.

Slattery held a strap but never a lineage. He inevitably lost to the wonderful Tommy Loughran, too, but was able to scrape past the superb Lou Scozza with the NYSAC title on the line.

He never really delivered on that astonishing early promise. Part of the problem was that he lived like boxed – on his toes but in search of trouble, a fighter that led the life of a rogue and so could never reach his potential as a boxer. Winning a series with Rosenbloom is impressive but it must be said that every top light-heavy of the era seems to have beaten Max at some point – my feeling is that despite an impressive haul of scalps at 175lbs, Slattery doesn’t quite belong up there with the very best.

#33 – JOEY MAXIM (82-29-4)

A grim persistence on the inside combined with a technical surety on the outside, an iron jaw and staid discipline saw Joey Maxim carve out one of boxing’s most underrated careers – but a huge and surprising amount of his best work was done at heavyweight. Maxim was tackling these bigger men as early as his first year and as we have seen, time spent above 180lbs or matching these bigger men at a lighter weight impacts the standing of light-heavyweights because they cease to box in light-heavyweight contests.

But Maxim was the champion of the world at light-heavyweight, coming to the title in 1951, ten long, hard years after he turned professional. He was never going to hold it long with Archie Moore lurking in the brutal shadows of the murderer’s row, but Maxim should be credited for tackling the universally ducked Moore in the first place – and for the work he did in the division before Moore reached him.

He took the title from Freddie Mills who reportedly lost three teeth and never boxed again as Maxim jabbed and hooked him into retirement. Not a puncher, his unerring consistency, accuracy and a persistence born of great durability and strength of character could nevertheless inflict severe suffering on all but the very best opponents. Certainly he had been too much for Gus Lesnevich, dominating him over fifteen rounds eight months earlier as he was for favourite Bob Murphy in his first title defence.

His third defence was far and away his most famous fight, Maxim defeating Sugar Ray Robinson in thirteen rounds as the middleweight champion of the world quit in appalling conditions, the heat in the ring said to be over one-hundred degrees Fahrenheit. Maxim never received credit for this win – Robinson weighed in as a middleweight, and the heat rather than Maxim was perceived as Robinson’s chief foe (Robinson himself naming the source of his defeat as God himself, perhaps demonstrating the kind of self-belief necessary to blaze a trail from lightweight all the way to light-heavyweight). This is perhaps a little unfair. As Maxim remarked, “did people think I had air conditioning in my corner?” It was a victory for durability and size but it was a victory none the less, for all that it is a difficult one to judge. I’ve treated it here as a successful defence against a dangerous but unranked opponent. Robinson was certainly that, taking the lion’s share of the rounds before he was pulled.

Then Moore came calling and Maxim’s time at the top was over. Maxim wasn’t so much out-classed by Moore as seemingly incapable of winning rounds, many of which were close but almost all of which seemed to be controlled by The Mongoose. Maxim fought Moore three times and at no time recorded a win.

Outside of those title fights, Maxim’s best wins at the weight were likely over Nate Bolden and the wonderful if inexperienced Floyd Patterson but Maxim spent so little time actually boxing against light-heavyweights at light-heavyweight that he must even so rank in the thirties, rather lower than I expected to see him. Any Maxim fans who are disappointed in this could do a lot worse than to track down my heavyweight list, where Maxim’s ranking is surprisingly high.

#32 – EDDIE MUSTAFA MUHAMMAD(50-8-1)

Eddie Mustafa Muhammad was dropped in the first round of his 1977 contest with Matthew Saad Muhammad but fought his way back to take a narrow, disputed decision on the scorecards. It was a battle of the greenhorns, and their friendship and shared religion would keep them from ever meeting in their respective primes, but both men carved out extraordinary careers independent of one-another. Eddie Mustafa would forever remain the poorer cousin in terms of legacy but he had his own great moments, not least in losing in his premature title shot against Victor Galindez later that same year. Eddie boxed with such patience, with such maturity that he belied his 22-2-1 record dropping a narrow decision against a wonderful world champion, first jabbing, then introducing the right hand, ending in a tactical stalk that fell just short of enough.

In the last round he showed a strange passivity however that was his greatest weakness. Against the colourful James Scott who forged a famous career from behind the bars of Rahway State Prison he boxed shamefully, holding and stalling his way to an inexplicable and wide decision loss. This postponed what had seemed an inevitable title shot for eighteen months, although when it came, against the deadly Marvin Johnson, he grabbed it with both hands, dominating and stopping the out-gunned champion. When he was on, Eddie was outstanding, but he could be placed under control both by counterpunchers and by maulers and when he was tempted, like so many light-heavyweight champions before and after him, by heavyweight riches, he perhaps gave way to his failings permanently. Beefing up to an absurd 200lbs, he followed a careful Renaldo Snipes around the ring for ten rounds dropping a decision over ten. When he had to drain his way back down to 175lbs to meet the brilliant Michael Spinks he left himself chanceless in what was his third title defence, fading down the stretch, a certain passivity beaten into his work by a Spinks who boxed rampantly in the second half of the fight.

“Not a natural fighter” is how old-timers probably would have diagnosed Eddie and although a little harsh, it might be about right. Certainly not fearful of absorbing punishment, he could be beaten or boxed into a kind of premature submission and that hurts his legacy and my appraisal of him head to head. But he had a superb body-attack is an under-appreciated counter-puncher and a good hitter. Even after the twin debacles versus Snipes and Spinks he remained a formidable fighter, his vicious, surreal knockout of the excellent Lottie Mwale probably the highlight. Certainly he belongs on this list, but a nagging sense that he failed to fulfil his potential remains.

#31 – ANTONIO TARVER (31-6)

Tarver’s elevated position here will be troubling to traditionalist readers but for those men (you never hear it from the fairer, more balanced sex) I have two words: Roy Jones.

Beating Roy Jones is like beating Archie Moore or Harold Johnson. Jones was incredible, a Phenom, a monster, a terrifying mix of power and speed who appeared, from middleweight to heavyweight, the complete superior of all he shared the ring with. The first man to lay him low was always going to establish himself in the annals of history and Tarver has done so.

The first fight was a close decision in favour of Jones, but Roy had been put through his paces, made to fight the fight of his career, Tarver allowing himself to be pushed gently form the box-seat in rounds three to five, Jones fighting to hold it in the eleventh and twelfth. A rematch was inevitable and it is one of the more famous nights in the modern history of the light-heavyweight division. Knocked brutally, unreservedly, spectacularly out by a Tarver left-hand, Roy sat glassy-eyed as Tarver celebrated so raucously that he appeared to inadvertently damage a camera and camera-man; that even Don King seemed reluctant to approach and ingratiate. Immediately, people set out to discredit Tarver – some even produced photographs that appeared to suggest that Tarver “had his eyes closed” when he threw the “lucky punch” that signalled time on one of the greatest ring careers fought entirely in colour, ignoring the beauty of the counter that Tarver unleashed while under fire. So Tarver beat Roy Jones again in a strange and distant fight in which Roy Jones hardly threw and Tarver quietly out-hustled him with economy, patience and an almost uncanny ability to rush the easily startled Jones with near perfect timing.

Tarver was a 6’2 defensively sound southpaw with good athletic ability, and a fine head for distance for all that he could sometimes throw himself off-balance with over-enthusiastic lurching punches, and probably is underestimated in terms of skillset and head-to-head appraisement. In addition to his domination of the series with Jones, Tarver’s most interesting performance may be his revenge TKO of Eric Harding. Harding and Tarver were both inexperienced when they first met in 2000 and went blow-for-blow up until the final third of the fight when Tarver, having suffered a broken jaw at the hands of his surprisingly aggressive opponent, went into survival mode. It was his bravest performance and in many ways I think it made him. By the time of their rematch in 2002 Tarver was a different kind of fighter, exhibiting all that patience and trickery he showed in his third contest with Jones; he took Harding out in five.

Excellent while dominating the veterans Reggie Johnson, Clinton Woods and Montell Griffin, superb in handing Glen Johnson what was arguably the first legitimate loss of Johnson’s light-heavyweight career, Tarver has built a good resume independent of Jones; but those are the wins that absolutely root him in the thirties. Is it possible he cashed in on the decline of Jones to earn his spot? Yes – but it’s always difficult to push a Ferrari off the cliff.

Click here for part One

Click here for part Three

Click here for part Four

Click here for part Five

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Three Punch Combo: Gvozdyk-Beterbiev Thoughts and More

Matt Andrzejewski

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Three Punch Combo — For hardcore fans, one of the most attractive fights of the year takes place on Friday when undefeated light heavyweight champions Oleksandr Gvozdyk (17-0, 14 KO’s) and Artur Beterbiev (14-0, 14 KO’s) battle in a title unification bout. This contest will headline an ESPN televised card from the Liacouras Center in Philadelphia, PA. Here are a few subtle things that could play a factor in how this fight plays out.

A Tactical Fight?

Twenty years ago, Oscar De La Hoya and Felix Trinidad met in a welterweight title unification fight. It was a super fight between two explosive punchers. Everyone expected fireworks, but as we all know, it turned into an all-out chess match for twelve rounds.

When two big punchers meet, sometimes we get fireworks and sometimes each fighter respects the other’s power so much that they both become somewhat tentative inside the ring.

Keep in mind we have seen in several Gvozdyk fights a somewhat cautious approach. He will take what is given and nothing more. As for Beterbiev, he has typically been a very aggressive fighter (more on that later) but has had his moments where caution has entered his mindset. Just take a look back at his 2017 fight with Enrico Koelling.

I know it is the unpopular opinion but we could certainly see a very tactical chess match between these two on Friday.

Beterbiev’s Defense and Chin

Beterbiev, as noted, is a very aggressive fighter. But with that aggression comes an almost complete lack of focus on the defensive side of the game.

So far, Beterbiev’s offense has been his best defense as many times his opponents have simply been too fearful of opening up. But at times the cracks have shown. Callum Johnson, for example, wasn’t afraid to throw in spots and when he did, his punches landed.

In that fight, we saw Beterbiev get hurt and dropped. Beterbiev showed a ton of heart to come back from that moment and later stop Johnson, but his chin is certainly a question mark. And Gvozdyk, aside from carrying one-punch power, is a very sharp and accurate puncher who has shown excellent finishing skills thus far in his career.

Gvozdyk’s Mindset

A little more than ten months ago, Gvozdyk wrested away the title from Adonis Stevenson. But on what was supposed to be the night where Gvozdyk’s dream came true, things almost turned tragic as Stevenson suffered a brain bleed that nearly took his life.

Gvozdyk has had one fight since against journeyman Doudou Ngumbu. Though Gvozdyk won easily, there was something about his performance that just didn’t feel right. Gvozdyk had a fighter in front of him who offered little resistance but seemingly didn’t want to fully step on the gas.

In order to compete with Beterbiev, we have to see the same Gvozdyk that we saw against Stevenson. But has Gvozdyk’s mindset permanently been altered by the events of that evening?

Under The Radar Fight

A pivotal crossroads bout in the welterweight division between Luis Collazo (39-7, 20 KO’s) and Kudratillo Abdukakhorov (16-0, 9 KO’s) is also on Friday’s ESPN broadcast. The winner will be in prime position for a title shot in 2020.

Collazo, a world welterweight titlist back in 2005, is in the midst of yet another career resurrection. After getting stopped by defending WBA welterweight champion Keith Thurman in 2015, Collazo has won three straight. And these wins were not against subpar opposition. Two were against up-and-coming young fighters in Sammy Vasquez and Bryant Perrella; the other against fringe contender Samuel Vargas.

At age 38, Collazo has proven he still has plenty in the tank and has clawed back up the rankings in the welterweight division. But to get one more shot at a title, Collazo must find a way to get past another young up-and-comer in Uzbekistan’s Abdukakhorov.

Abdukakhorov, 26, is coming off the biggest win of his pro career this past March when he won a 12-round unanimous decision over former 140-pound title challenger Keita Obara. That win boosted Abdukakhorov into the number one position in the IBF at welterweight and in line to one day be the mandatory challenger for current belt-holder Errol Spence Jr.

Stylistically, I love this matchup. Abdukakhorov is an aggressive boxer-puncher. He will look to press the attack and won’t be afraid to lead looking to land his best punch which is the overhand right. Collazo is a southpaw who is a natural counterpuncher. He will look to make Abdukakhorov’s aggression work against him and should find plenty of opportunities to do so.

I think we are going to get an action-packed, competitive fight. This should serve as an excellent appetizer to Gvozdyk-Beterbiev.

What’s Next For Dmitry Bivol?

This past Saturday, Dmitry Bivol (17-0, 11 KO’s) successfully defended his WBA light heavyweight title with a wide unanimous decision over Lenin Castillo (20-3-1, 15 KO’s). Though it wasn’t the most exciting performance, the win keeps Bivol in line for bigger opportunities down the road. So, what’s next for him?

Saturday’s title defense marked Bivol’s second consecutive appearance on the streaming service DAZN. DAZN needs future opponents for its two biggest stars in Canelo Alvarez and Gennady Golovkin. Clearly part of the reason for DAZN showing interest in Bivol is geared toward him potentially getting one or the other down the road.

Though Alvarez is fighting at light heavyweight in November, this appears to be a one-time appearance for the Mexican superstar in that division. He is likely headed back to middleweight or the 168-pound weight class. As for Golovkin, he has fought his entire 13-year career at middleweight. A move at some point soon to 168 would not be a surprise.

Bivol and his team have made it very clear that he can get down to 168. With DAZN’s two biggest stars hovering around that division, a move down to 168 seems likely.

The WBA champion at 168 is Callum Smith who is slated for a title defense in November against UK countryman John Ryder. Assuming Smith prevails, he would make a logical opponent for Bivol in the spring of 2020.

Smith-Bivol would be a big fight between two young undefeated fighters and the winner would then be in position for a mega fight later in 2020 against either Alvarez or Golovkin.

But what if Smith goes a different direction following the Ryder fight? If that is the case, Bivol may instead just look to dip his toes in the water at 168 with someone like Rocky Fielding.

Fielding is a tough, gritty competitor who is popular in the UK and has name recognition in the US based on his fight last December with Canelo. But as we saw in that fight, Fielding is very limited.

Fielding is just the type of opponent who could bring out the best in Bivol. A spectacular knockout would help erase some of Bivol’s recent lackluster performances. And this would, of course, make Bivol much more marketable for a future date with Alvarez or Golovkin.

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The First Coming of George Foreman: A Retrospective

Rick Assad

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This coming Oct. 30 is the 45th anniversary of the Ali-Foreman fight. Boxing has had its fair share of memorable fights across the decades, but few have been more talked about than “The Rumble in the Jungle.”

The 60,000 fans in attendance watching at the 20th of May Stadium in Kinshasa, Zaire and the record–setting one billion viewers taking it in around the globe, including 50 million who watched via pay-per-view on closed circuit television, will never forget what happened inside the ring.

Foreman, who was recognized as the world heavyweight champion by the World Boxing Association and World Boxing Council, the only sanctioning bodies that mattered, entered with a 40-0 record and 37 knockouts. Ali owned a 44-2 mark with 31 knockouts, but wasn’t the same fighter after being stripped of his titles and missing three-and-a-half years between 1967 and 1970 after refusing induction into the military based on his religious convictions.

Both stood 6-feet-3. Foreman weighed 220 pounds and Ali 216, but the latter was giving away seven years in age, 32 to 25.

The fight commenced with Ali on the offensive, but Foreman, a 4-to-1 betting favorite, rallied to close the gap by the end of the opening frame.

In the second round, Ali allowed “Big George” to bang away at his arms and body, using what he later described as the “rope-a-dope,” which helped tire Foreman out.

As the fight continued, Foreman’s once fierce arsenal was reduced to half its potency and in the eighth round Ali eventually found his range.

Ali now threw punches at will, and when Ali buzzed Foreman with a quick right and knocked him to the canvas, Zack Clayton, the referee, had seen enough.

Having lost for the first time as a professional, Foreman was bitter and even claimed that his trainer and manager, Dick Sadler, put something in his water just minutes before the opening bell.

“It’s not like the water beat me,” Foreman said in writer Jonathan Eig’s biography, “Ali.” “Muhammad beat me. With a straight right hand. Fastest right hand I’d ever been hit with in my life. That’s what beat me. But they put drugs in my water.”

In time, though, Foreman would mellow, saying, “Before that, I had nothing but revenge and hate on my mind, but from then on, it was clear. I’ll never be able to win that match, so I had to let it go. It just wasn’t my night.”

The Road to Zaire

Foreman’s sweet and outgoing personality wasn’t on display when he began his pro career shortly after winning a gold medal at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City.

To the contrary, Foreman was a mean and angry young man after spending his childhood in Houston’s tough Fifth Ward.

Growing up with six siblings and without much on the table to eat will create a crusty exterior.

Everyone needs an escape. Football was that for Foreman, who idolized Jim Brown, arguably the NFL’s greatest running back.

But it was boxing that saved him and helped turn his hardscrabble life around.

At 15, Foreman grew tired of high school and dropped out, joining the Job Corps.

This is where he was introduced to boxing and through hard work and dedication went on to earn a berth on the U.S. Olympic boxing team, going on to win a gold medal at the 1968 Summer Games.

This was a turbulent year. It was the year in which Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and New York Senator Robert F. Kennedy, a Presidential hopeful, were assassinated. Blacks were rioting in many American cities over grievances including police harassment, the Viet Nam War was raging half a world away and college students were protesting our involvement in that very unpopular war.

This was the ugly backdrop against which the 1968 Olympic Games were being contested.

Two black American track stars, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, were front and center in Mexico City after placing first and third respectively in the 200-meter dash. At the medal stand, Smith and Carlos raised their clenched fists wrapped in black gloves skyward while the National Anthem played, which triggered a chorus of boos from those inside the stadium.

Foreman waltzed through each round of the heavyweight tournament and took the gold medal by stopping Lithuania’s Jonas Cepulis, representing the Soviet Union, in the second round.

Foreman then pulled out a small American flag and walked around the ring, bowing to the crowd.

Many Americans fell in love with Foreman because of that simple gesture of waving the flag.

“I had a lot of flak,” said Foreman years later of the flag-waving incident. “In those days, nobody was applauded for being patriotic. The whole world was protesting something. But if I had to do it all again, I’d have waved two flags.”

Foreman’s professional career began in grand fashion in June 1969 at New York’s Madison Square Garden when he scored a third-round TKO over Don Waldhelm.

The next six fights concluded by knockout or TKO before Foreman triumphed over Peruvian trial horse Roberto Davila by unanimous decision at the Garden in October 1969.

Three more victories followed by knockout or TKO before Foreman registered a unanimous decision over journeyman Levi Forte in Miami Beach in December 1969.

With three more wins coming by knockout or TKO, Foreman was now 15-0.

In his next fight, Argentine veteran Gregorio Peralta extended him the 10-round distance, after which Foreman won 24 in a row inside the distance, including a 10th round TKO of Peralta in a rematch in May 1971 at the Oakland County Coliseum Arena where he grabbed his first championship belt, the North American Boxing Federation strap.

Ten victories followed including a second round TKO over undefeated Joe Frazier in Kingston, Jamaica, in January 1973, where he took away Frazier’s WBA and WBC world title belts.

Foreman then knocked out Jose Roman in the first round in Tokyo, Japan in September 1973 and followed that up with a second round TKO of Ken Norton in Caracas, Venezuela in March 1974. Then it was off to Zaire to meet Ali with the unified title at stake.

Post-Ali

In January 1976 Foreman returned to the ring after a 16-month absence and knocked out Ron Lyle in the fifth round at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas in The Ring magazine Fight of the Year. Four more wins by TKO would follow before losing a 12-round unanimous decision to Jimmy Young in March 1977 in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

In the dressing room after the fight, Foreman, suffering from heatstroke and exhaustion, said he had a near-death experience in which he claimed to have been in a hellish place of nothingness and despair. Foreman pleaded with God to save him.

Foreman said God told him to change his ways and at that moment he became a born-again Christian, dedicating his life to his Lord.

Foreman stopped fighting and became a streetcorner evangelist before opening his own church, the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ in Houston.

Foreman focused his attention on his family and congregation and opened a youth center in his name

He was only 28 years old when he turned his back on boxing and a decade would pass before he would re-enter the sport.

Second Coming

In November of 1994, twenty years after he lost to Ali, Foreman, now 45 years old, upset Michael Moorer with a 10th round knockout at the MGM Grand Garden Arena and became the oldest fighter ever to win a championship.

Regaining the title was a byproduct of Foreman’s desire to raise money for his congregation.

Today, Foreman is a bigger-than-life personality who draws people to him.

Young and old, black and white and everything in-between gravitate to the 70-year-old, two-time heavyweight champion like a magnet.

Boxing did indeed rescue George Foreman who concluded his Hall of Fame career with 76 wins, five losses and 68 knockouts.

old george

“If I hadn’t found boxing, I wouldn’t have been able to fulfill half of my dreams,” he said. “In fact, I didn’t know how to dream until I found boxing.”

Very few fighters rise through the ranks and claim a world championship title. To replicate this achievement after being off for a decade is truly incredible.

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Life After DOOMSDAY: Assessing the Career of “Superman” Stevenson

Jeffrey Freeman

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Life-After-Doomsday-Assessing-the-Career-of-Superman-Stevenson

On December 1, 2018, the five-year reign of Adonis “Superman” Stevenson came to a violent end in the eleventh round of a WBC light heavyweight title fight in Quebec City, Canada. The 41-year-old defending champion was battling to make the tenth defense of the world championship he’d won in 2013 with a shocking first round knockout of “Bad” Chad Dawson in Montreal.

Hammered into defeat so severely by new champion Oleksandr “The Nail” Gvozdyk, Stevenson was hospitalized where he spent six weeks in an induced coma to save his life.

To his haters on Twitter and beyond, this was welcomed as overdue karma—poetic justice. To everyone else, it was seen as a great fight up for grabs before Gvozdyk grabbed the victory.

Support from within the global boxing community for the wounded pugilist has been positive and encouraging. That same dynamic is happening again on social media for Errol “The Truth” Spence Jr., the welterweight champion injured in a car wreck last Thursday in Dallas, Texas.

Now in long-term recovery while healing from a boxing-related brain injury, the boxing life of Adonis “Superman” Stevenson is officially over. His career is a closed book. Let’s review it.

TRUTH AND JUSTICE

Born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti in 1977, Stevenson immigrated to Canada with his family in 1984. Writing last year for The Fight City online, author Ralph M. Semien illustrates what followed:

“By 14 he was out of control, spending time on the streets, and soon enough he was part of a violent gang and headed for disaster. Eventually he became involved in an organized sex-for-hire service in Montreal. Stevenson was arrested, tried, convicted and he served his jail time. When released from prison in 2001, he made a pact with himself to turn his back on the street gang lifestyle and everyone associated with it, that he would never again break the law.”

GRAPHIC NOVEL

Five years later in 2006 after a successful campaign in the amateurs where he boxed at middleweight for Canada and won a pair of national titles for his new country, Stevenson turned professional at super middleweight under the promotional guidance of Yvon Michel. His was your typical boxing story of overcoming a troubled past to carve out a brighter, better future.

He ran his record to 13-0 against gradually increasing competition before a 2010 setback TKO against so-called journeyman Darnell Boone. Buzzed late in the opening frame by a sneaky right uppercut and a hard left hook, Stevenson was easy pickins for Boone early in the second round.

A year later, Stevenson returned to the ring; winning six fights and a few minor super middleweight title belts. Most importantly during this transitional period in his career, Stevenson avenged his upset loss to Boone, punishing “Deezol” before knocking him out cold in the sixth.

“He definitely got better and earned his spot,” concedes Boone.

When an opportunity came to fight for the WBC light heavyweight title in 2013, Stevenson took full advantage, putting Chad Dawson down and out with a single, lethal left hook to the chin. The reign of Superman was up, up and away and boxing seemed to welcome its new action hero.

But not so fast, speeding bullet.

American fans and media never let Stevenson forget about his checkered past as a convicted street hustler. And if all that wasn’t enough, soon they were labeling him a “ducker” and a “cherry picker” for his apparent refusal to fight Sergey Kovalev and/or Eleider Alvarez.

Despite the constant negative press painting him as the bad guy, he was actually a very likeable man with a huge smile. Stevenson was also wildly popular in Canada and his title fights were entertaining events where more often than not, he left opponents twitching in a mangled heap.

Unsatisfied with Stevenson’s choice of title challengers, Oscar De La Hoya’s The Ring magazine in 2015 officially withdrew (stripped) its recognition of Stevenson as the “real” World Light Heavyweight Champion. To the Bible of Boxing, Stevenson was an unrepentant sinner.

By that point, Stevenson had made six defenses of his WBC light heavyweight title with wins against Tavoris Cloud, Tony Bellew, Andrzej Fonfara, Dmitry Sukhotskiy, Sakio Bika and Tommy Karpency. That super-fight with “Krusher” Kovalev never happened and it never will.

Who’d have won?

Does it even matter anymore?

I’ll give common opponent Darnell Boone the last word on it. “Kovalev. Because he’s the more sound boxer. Adonis did the same thing in every fight. Paw with the jab, paw with the jab, left.”

“He never really mixed it up,” insists Boone. “Kovalev is throwing combinations. He’s moving, punching off the angles. He knows exactly how to use his height and leverage with his punches. Kovalev keeps you on the outside, away from getting on the inside on him. He fights tall.”

That’s all true but was there more to Stevenson’s game than just predictable one-punch power with the left hand? Trained by Javon “Sugar” Hill, Stevenson was a KRONK fighter. He improved as he got older and deeper into his profession. His southpaw offense was almost always good enough to be his defense. Trading with him was suicidal. And as a body puncher, he was underrated.

In 2016, he knocked out Thomas Williams Jr. with a viciously quick left hook. In 2017, he rematched Fonfara and blew him away in two rounds. In 2018, before the Doomsday loss to Gvozdyk, there was a grueling, disputed draw with super middleweight Badou Jack.

I had Stevenson up by a point in a war that should’ve garnered more consideration for Fight of the Year honors. Unfortunately, the anti-climactic draw took some of the shine off a classic.

If only the Al Haymon-handled fighter had been more willing to mix it up with the big names, critics would probably be more kind to him today, especially if he’d beaten Kovalev, something that doesn’t exactly look like an impossibility when looking back at the proposed match-up.

Against Ward and Alvarez, Kovalev showed susceptibility to a determined attack, particularly to the body. In his penultimate fight against “The Ripper” Jack, Stevenson put the kind of hurt on Badou’s body late in the fight that may have been very difficult for Kovalev to overcome.

THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN

How should Stevenson be viewed in the light of light heavyweight history? Keep in mind that not everybody was so thrilled to get in the ring with him. Edwin “La Bomba” Rodriguez spoke for years of facing him “in the future” but in the end it was all just talk. After Rodriquez was knocked out by Williams Jr. in 2016, Williams Jr. was knocked out by Stevenson three months later.

Though he’ll never be rated as one of the all-time greats in the weight class, Stevenson should be recognized for what he actually was. Not just a champion, Stevenson was THE champion.

He beat the man who beat Bernard Hopkins. He was a one-punch power puncher, an action fighter, a defending world champion until he could defend that world championship no more.

Along the way, Stevenson picked up a Fighter of the Year award in 2013 while many of his knockouts were considered Knockout of the Year candidates. He was the WBC light heavyweight champion for sixty-six months, an unusually long time in today’s watered-down era of weight jumping and belt dumping. He retained his world title nine times, with only Bika, Fonfara, and Jack going the distance. Stevenson’s final record is 29-2-1 with 24 KO’s.

DOOMSDAY CLOCKED

And so with the Teddy Atlas trained Gvozdyk beating him senseless in the corner last December, boxing’s ultimate kryptonite (time) finally caught up to Superman Stevenson but not before the Haitian sensation made his improbable impact on the modern boxing landscape.

Stevenson Gvozdyk Wescott 770x513

Stevenson’s desire to become a boxing champion probably saved his life while his desire to remain a boxing champion nearly cost him his life. We don’t yet know the final butcher’s bill.

What we do know is that Stevenson has had to relearn how to walk and talk. That’s how unpredictable and ironic this sport is: a PBC fighter supposedly protected by Al Haymon was nearly killed by an undefeated Ukrainian clearly up to the challenge of fighting (and beating) him.

Last week Stevenson uploaded a video on Instagram. He’s seen in the gym, moving on his feet, wearing a pair of pink boxing gloves while lightly working over a heavy bag as fiance Simone God and their new daughter Adonia look on. “I love you,” posted God to her miraculous man.

To review: Stevenson Adonis escaped his dying homeland before it imploded. He then crash-landed in Canada where he was adopted by the Canadian people. He did the crime(s) then he did the time; paying whatever debt he owed to society for his transgressions. He won and lost his battles by the power of his own fists. As a human being, he is truly transformed.

“Superman” Stevenson is dead.

Long live Adonis Stevenson…

EDITOR’S NOTE: After receiving this story, yet another boxer suffered a serious head injury. Patrick Day, a 27-year-old junior middleweight from Freeport, New York, was knocked out by Charles Conwell in the tenth-round last night on the Usyk-Witherspoon undercard and is now fighting for his life in a Chicago area hospital where he has been placed in a medically induced coma. On behalf of the entire editorial staff at The Sweet Science, I’d like to offer our thoughts and prayers for Day’s full recovery.

Boxing Writer Jeffrey Freeman grew up in the City of Champions, Brockton, Massachusetts from 1973 to 1987, during the Marvelous career of Marvin Hagler. JFree then lived in Lowell, Mass during the best years of Irish Micky Ward’s illustrious career. A new member of the Boxing Writers Association of America and a Bernie Award Winner in the Category of Feature Under 1500 Words, Freeman covers boxing for The Sweet Science in New England.

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