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The Fifty Greatest Middleweights of All Time Part Two: 40-31

Matt McGrain

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In the introduction to Part One I alluded to the astonishing depth of the middleweight division; that depth is illustrated by the array of talent in Part Two. It is not unusual to stumble across a fighter ranked in the thirties on a list like this that can meet with the very best that lie above on their own terms, but we meet now a swathe of them – head-to-head monsters that were swallowed up by the leviathan of modern weight categorisation abound, but are not alone. Sacred cows, too, are slaughtered on the rocks of superior resume – at least three of the men ranked herein can be seen in top tens elsewhere.

And the frightening thing is that the middleweights are only going to get greater.

#40 MIKE MCCALLUM (49-5-1)

Among the greatest light-middleweights of all time, Mike McCallum’s career up at middleweight remains a nearly – nearly lineal middleweight champion of the world, nearly the conqueror of James Toney. In the end, a draw and a majority loss in two fights that could have been scored any one of three ways was the final result of his pair with Toney at 160lbs and it dooms McCallum to the #40 spot where a single point on a single card of the drawn first fight between the two would have propelled him up the list; such are the tiny screws upon which boxing greatness are turned.

Still, McCallum probably overachieved given the limited amount of time he spent in the division. He boxed as few as seven times at 160lbs and won just four of those contests. Outside of those two razor thin failures against Toney, McCallum also went 1-1 with Sumbu Kalambay, making him 1-2-1 with men on this list, but what men. James Toney, a simmering poisonous stew of hostility and near-genius can be read about later in this installment; for details concerning his disastrous loss to Kalambay in their first fight see Part One – as to his vengeance, earned in a split decision three years later, it was a desperately close fight that illustrated McCallum’s exquisite ability for identifying and boxing to an opponent’s killzone while underlining his limitations at the weight. He just didn’t have the physicality to bully Kalambay out of there in the first half of the fight and Kalambay insidiously boxed his way back in and the contest became another desperately close one that could have gone either way.

Still, when allowed to dominate as he was against another superb technician, Michael Watson, he was lethal, remorseless in his heavy-bagging of the world-class Watson who McCallum broke in eleven. He couldn’t break a spirited and green Steve Collins though and he was run extremely close by a riffing, winging Herol Graham – and that, really, is the story of McCallum at middleweight. It is not enough to see him given a higher slot but the teak-tough, keen-eyed Bodysnatcher belongs.

#39 – GEORGIE ABRAMS (48-10-3)

Compact and aggressive, Georgie Abrams was credited by Sugar Ray Robinson of giving him one of the hardest fights of his career. “He knows how to make you throw a punch and miss it” Sugar complained as though he hadn’t met some of the most astonishing talent ever to take to a boxing ring. Never a champion, he clashed with an incredible line-up of former and future champions belonging to the 1930s and 1940s all while wearing the demeanour and physicality of a failed ice-cream vendor.

First up was a creaking Teddy Yarosz, who a relatively green Abrams out punched over ten rounds to a split decision while neutralising Teddy’s lethal left. Next was strap holder Lou Brouillard, followed quickly by future belt-holder Billy Soose, who went for a second time in 1940 after being dropped in the first by a sizzling right-hand. The conciseness of his work always surprises, perhaps due to the absurd raggedness of his personal appearance.

After the second Soose triumph, Abrams took a break from championship opposition but continued to take on royalty, matching the peerless Charley Burley – and holding him to a draw, a rally in the ninth and tenth rescuing him from a defeat that at one point seemed sure. Another desperately close fight followed against another uncrowned champion in Cocoa Kid, the difference between the two narrow enough to serve as a draw but Abrams took the split of the decision. He then defeated Soose once more in a one-sided contest that surely entitled him to a shot at Soose’s belt; in a story as old as boxing, Soose declined.

Abrams tended to lose to the best he faced – Marcel Cerdan, Ray Robinson and Tony Zale all got over on him in important fights – but he did enough damage against enough outstanding fighters that a spot in the top forty is justified.

#38 – MARCEL CERDAN (111-4)

It is impossible to persistently undermine popular thinking in writing without exercising critical thinking, but equally it is hard to persistently undermine accepted thinking without overworking in defence of the new idea. The new idea here is that Marcel Cerdan, while superb and to be ranked among the greatest middleweights in history, is not among the very greatest as is held by Boxing Scene (12), the IBRO (7) and Herb Goldman (5) among many others. I have him dragging his heels here in the thirties. Why?

First of all, Cerdan’s extraordinary paper record is a little deceptive when it comes to ranking him as a middleweight; when he first fought in a meaningful middleweight contest, he was already 88-2, having established himself in the war years first and foremost as a welterweight. The end of the war was a signal for the 5’8 Cerdan to step up to the 160lb division where he was indeed dominant over European competition in his native France before boarding a steamship to the United States. The competition that Cerdan bested in this time was not bad, but nor did any of the middleweights he bested emerge as top contenders or champions or make any mark upon middleweight history in their own right. It was not until he made it to America that Cerdan marked himself truly special – allowing that he had already established his excellence, professionalism and consistency – with a victory over the wonderful Holman Williams. Williams, a veteran of one-hundred and seventy contests, was clearly beginning to slip and had recently been beaten by Bert Lytell; of the sixteen fights that remained Williams, he would win just five.

Nevertheless, he was a significant scalp for a visiting fighter, as was that of Georgie Abrams.

Abrams was also past his prime and had only one more career win ahead of him but was still dangerous and Cerdan hit the trenches in order that he might best him. Both fighters emerged cut from a bruising encounter that seems to narrowly but clearly belonged to Cerdan; after which he set sail for Europe to pick up the European title from a fighter called Leon Fouquet, who is listed by Boxrec as 2-4-1 going in. After returning to America and hammering the solid Jean Walzack and then going back to Europe to go 1-1 with Cyrille Delannoit, Cerdan got his title shot at Tony Zale.

It would be Zale’s last ever fight and Cerdan was extraordinary in taking the title, his left hook in particular, a thing of beauty and a punch he would use to force “The Man of Steel” to the canvas win the eleventh round. Zale did not emerge from the twelfth.

Cerdan was the lineal middleweight champion but he completed no successful defences, injuring his shoulder swinging for Jake LaMotta in their celebrated contest and then killed in a plane crash before their re-match. This is tragic but it restricted the number of years Cerdan fought in the division to five; this is the same as the number of ranked opponents he defeated. Two losses in that time is a fantastic return but ranked just above Cerdan is Randy Turpin. Turpin, like Cerdan, staged but a single defence of the title but whereas Cerdan beat a faded Zale, Turpin beat one Sugar Ray Robinson; their relative placement is arguable, yes, but that is because it is close. Above him is Michael Nunn. Nunn staged four defences of the lineal title to Cerdan’s one (plus additional defences of his strap) and defeated just as many ranked fighters; I also think he looks better than Cerdan on film at his best, and should be favoured could the two ever meet. The latter is debatable; the former is not. Why then, would Cerdan be ranked above Nunn? What reason exists? Because he built a better paper record at welterweight? I submit that Cerdan, though special, did nothing to distinguish himself from Nunn and nothing to distinguish himself from the fighters ranked above Nunn. Clearly excellent, he no more belongs in the top twenty at the weight than any of these men and any argument to include him there is by definition unsubstantiated.

#37 – RANDY TURPIN (66-8-1)

There is a statue of Randy Turpin in his hometown. They love him there. That he died the darkest of deaths does not matter to the population of Warwick, England. He rose to do the impossible. He rose to defeat the great Sugar Ray Robinson.

Robinson took to the road after his defeat of Jake LaMotta for the world’s middleweight champion in early 1951 and defeated European contenders in Italy, Germany, Belgium, Switzerland and France accruing cash and glory as he travelled. In London, Turpin lay wait, and plotted.

He was an old-fashioned fighter. He stabbed with his jab, the old fencing jab that birthed the punch, springing in with his arm held stiff like a foil, but he was fast and accurate. On defence, he leaned back, even reared up in the face of assault, trying to ride punches while defending with his shoulders, his hands low, turning and turning with whatever fuselage came his way. But he embraced, also, modern tools in his mission to overcome the invincible Robinson, whose record stood at 128-1-2. Already an obsessional trainer who had worked on his physical strength both in the gym and in a job obtained specifically to strengthen him further as a builder’s labourer, Turpin now sat patiently as films of Robinson boxing were run for him over and over again in order that he might first absorb the man he had sworn to defeat. It worked. Robinson’s two-fisted attack to the body, deployed against stronger opponents while going away from them in clinches was euthanized simply by drawing Robinson close and cracking him to the back and side of the head with whipped in punches bereft of arrowhead but loaded with scree. Robinson’s sneak right hand to the body around the corner just before or just after clinches were smothered by his bobbing out of a squat and into straight-backed conformity just before or just after a clinch was made. To dominate at range, he employed a technique as old to him as combat itself.

“He didn’t need a lot of teaching,” said Ron Stefani, his first fistic trainer some years after Turpin’s death. “It just seemed to come naturally to him…he didn’t have to manoeuvre round for openings, and as soon as they were there, bang!”

Turpin banged Robinson repeatedly, and it was not long before one of the greatest fighters of them all looked nothing short of lost in the ring. It was not a close fight; Turpin dominated him inside and out.

Famously, he held the title for just sixty-four days before Robinson ripped it from him once more by explosive stoppage; Turpin never again approached the astonishing peak he reached that night in London against Robinson. Indeed, his wider resume is only respectable – ranked contenders like George Angelo and Charles Humez brutalised like Robinson was brutalised if not quite so spectacularly – but the other top men he met like Bobo Olson and Tiberio Mitri brushed him aside.

But what price a domination of Sugar Ray Robinson in 1951? High enough that he is guaranteed a spot on this list.

#36 – MICHAEL NUNN (58-4)

Michael Nunn was huge, fast, powerful and a southpaw, an absolutely terrifying mix of attributes that made him one of the most feared fighters on the planet in the late 1980s.

Nursed a little through his early years as a professional, decent wins over unranked fighters like Darnell Knox and Willie Harris seemed perhaps to have left him unprepared for his first ranked opponent, strap holder Frank Tate, a fighter who held two victories over Nunn in the amateurs and who was 23-0 as a professional. Watching the fight now, one can see what it was that Tate set out to do, namely nail down a flashy, elusive opponent with textbook boxing and patient pressure, but he was completely outclassed. Nunn had such speed and accuracy that he could find punches that Tate was not equipped to deal with, reaching all the way across himself with a trailing left to land a power-punch below Tate’s right elbow after blasting him with a more traditional southpaw jab. Meanwhile Tate’s own punches, for the most part, were lost to the wind as Nunn ditched them with a reaction’s based defence that left Tate clawing at the air. The left-hand Nunn used to fold Tate to the canvas at the end of the eighth looked almost incidental to the general sea of leather Nunn crashed down on Tate’s shore but it heralded the end in round nine among a tsunami of hooks that forced referee Mills Lane to intervene.

Nunn had taken his amateur style and fused it to the cornerstones of a professional fighter, throwing with bad intentions and boxing with a heart-fuelled determination to dominate his opponent. It was a heady combination and his victory over Tate heralded four years of fearsome middleweight tyranny that included a three year reign as the lineal middleweight champion. This most important of titles was sealed after his brutal retirement of the old warhorse Juan Domingo Roldan with the most astonishing knockout of 1989, his first round dispatch of Sumbu Kalambay.

Kalambay was supposed to be a step up for Nunn, a class apart from what had gone before. Nunn destroyed him with a single punch, and more impressive, a single punch of exactly the type that Kalambay excelled in throwing, a straight thrown against an opponent who had been manoeuvred directly across him. Kalambay victim Iran Barkley was up next, and he provided his usual level of stubborn resistance, even taking a draw on one of the official scorecards (and mine), Nunn winning by a narrow margin from an aggressive opponent. Uncertainty regarding Nunn’s fighting qualities, rampant before his destruction of Kalambay, re-emerged. These were deepened still further by a desperately close majority decision win over Marlon Starling, the wonderful welterweight champion. Nunn, bigger than most of his middleweight opposition, held an almost comical size advantage over Starling but the welterweight king repeatedly found his larger opponent with lead right-hands. Nunn reclaimed some ground overwhelming another former welterweight champion, Don Curry, in ten, but then a menacing and full-sized middleweight stepped out of the shadow and knocked him catastrophically out; with that the reign of James Toney began.

The end of Nunn’s reign signalled eternal speculation as to his great potential and why he didn’t fulfil it. The reason he didn’t fulfil it is simple: it wasn’t there. Nunn was no better and no worse than his record indicates. Just as the harsh realities of boxing dictate that it is Nunn who holds Sumbu Kalambay’s reigns in terms of his historical standing, so it is that Toney holds Nunn’s.

#35 ROY JONES JNR. (61-8)

I can only imagine the horror with which acolytes of Roy Jones greet his “lowly” position upon the list, and below so many men who never boxed in colour. For the sake of the Jonesites of this world (assuming any are still reading), a quick reminder of the criteria, described with more completeness in Part One.

Firstly, nothing that Jones accomplished outside the confines of middleweight plus a few pounds is considered here; his inherent superiority over James Toney was proven, yes, but that was in a fight that occurred in a different weight division, and in the meantime it must be considered that Toney achieved more at middleweight, as shall be seen. Achievements, who a fighter beat, how long he held the title should he have come to it, and how dominant he was over his era stand in excess of how good a fighter looks on film.

That said, prowess in the ring cannot be ignored, nor can skillsets, athletic excellence or the probable outcome of imagined meetings with the rest of the field. This is just as well for Roy and his many fans because, to be absolutely frank, Roy doesn’t belong on this list based upon what he did at middleweight. The reason he’s ranked here is specifically because he was so special.

Jones turned professional in 1989 at 160lbs and did not part with the division until 1994, by which time he had amassed a record of 25-0. Included in that record were three fights fought at super-middleweight leaving us twenty-three middleweight contests. Roy’s fifteenth fight was fought against a boxer named Lester Yardbrough, who carried with him to the ring a record of 12-16-1. It is fair to say that Jones was very heavily protected in the early part of his career – there was even speculation that his father and manager, who ruled Roy with an iron fist at that time, refused to extend his fighter and son the challenges he so clearly required.

In his sixteenth fight though, Roy met with the washed up, undersized Jorge Vaca, hardly world-beating opposition but a valid opponent for a young fighter. Jones disposed of him in a round. A few months later he met the hugely experienced Jorge Fernando Castro, unranked at middleweight but previously ranked at light-middle, and for the first time was extended the distance. Showing either good judgement or a surprising level of paranoia depending upon your point of view, his sense that Castro was trying to “lure him in” probably cost him the stoppage. He did stop his next three opponents in a total of thirteen rounds but still, none of them were ranked. His second to last opponent at the weight though, was ranked: one Bernard Hopkins.

But he was ranked in the bottom half of the middleweight top ten. Hopkins was a long way from prime, his style’s perfection reliant upon pacing, strategy, distance and angles, all learned attributes that Hopkins, who had never defeated a ranked contender and was still a year from being dropped twice on his way to a draw with Segundo Mercado, had yet to master. If Roy’s impressive, one-sided domination of Hopkins is the hook his legacy hangs on, he is grossly overrated at #35, not underrated.

Thankfully, it does not. There is room here for good legacy, which Jones has, married to exceptional talent. A justifiable argument could be made for ranking Michael Nunn ahead of him, but what of the feeling that he would probably bamboozle Nunn while playing him delightedly at his own game? Roy moved up to super-middleweight after Hopkins, but he came back down for a single defence of the strap he picked up against the man who would become The Executioner, and took out the ranked Thomas Tate in short order. Jones looked, in that fight, like he came from another planet. If he has a “middleweight prime” it lasted those two rounds Tate spent with him 1994. It’s special enough to see him ranked alongside fighters who defeated legitimate all-time great fighters in or around their primes. Those who consider him underrated would do well to remember this.

#34 – BILLY CONN (64-11-1)

History’s eye alights only momentarily upon fighters like Georgie Abrams but Billy Conn is among the most recognised fighters in boxing, a smiling Irishman who reigned as the world’s light-heavyweight champion and who came within minutes of taking the world’s heavyweight title from Joe Louis before instead suffering the most glorious defeat in the history of the sport. Still, I suspect that while Abram’s placement in the top forty at middleweight will breeze by unnoticed, Conn’s will raise a few eyebrows; it should not. Conn achieved great things long before he set foot in the light-heavyweight division.

He turned professional as a scrawny teenage lightweight but soon filled out into the middleweight division where he served a demanding apprenticeship across five fights with the absurdly tough Honey Boy Jones before dominating a creaking Ralph Chong and squeaking by the legendary, but physically overmatched, Fritzie Zivic. Zivic represented something of a graduation night for Conn and it is no coincidence that in the wake of that points victory he began his run against champions and greats of the middleweight division. Babe Risko, a strap holder just one year before, went first, but was outclassed by the young Conn over ten. Centurion Vince Dundee went next. On the comeback trail it was some three years since Dundee had held a belt, but Conn named this his hardest fight to that date. Nevertheless, he won it with points to spare and drew the admiration of both Dundee and the Pennsylvania crowd.

Things got harder for Conn in his very next fight as he met with ranked tough Oscar Rankins, who was coming off a win over the excellent Solly Krieger. He came very close to adding Billy to the resume when in the second round he caught him with a steaming right hand high on the jaw. Conn delivered himself to the canvas face-first and looked to all intents and purposes beaten. Up at nine, he was driven around the ring by a merciless Rankins body-attack; but he did not succumb. Depending upon which press reports you prefer, Conn came driving back with a matchless gameness to smuggle out a deserved split decision, or Rankins was jobbed after winning the necessary six out of ten rounds. My own guess is that this was a desperately close fight that could have gone either way but unsurprisingly went to the teenage Irish prospect over the solid African-American contender.

Conn forged ahead fighting two pairs with the much more experienced Teddy Yarosz and, as detailed elsewhere in this series, Young Corbett. Yarosz dominated Conn early in their first fight, but Conn, exalting audibly in his own conditioning between rounds, forced his way back into the contest with a left-hook in the fourth and a right-hand in the fifth, both of which troubled Yarosz; after six, the fight seemed even and as to what occurred next, each judge, newspaperman and fan present seemed to tell a different story. The outcome was once again a desperately narrow split in Conn’s favour. A rematch was a necessity but solved nothing; sportswriter Regis Welsh under the headline “It’s An Argument: Second Conn-Yarosz Just As Debatable As The First” suggested that Yarosz needed to gather more stamina in support of his style to prevent the disastrous fade he suffered in the second fight and that Conn, breaks or not, was forcing upon him, but also hinted that the decision was “off-colour”. Without the mitigation of film, it is not for me to overturn an official decision, but it can be said perhaps that Conn did not prove his definitive superiority to Yarosz – while accepting that Yarosz certainly did not prove his superiority to Conn.

Yarosz, the reader can rest assured, features nearer the summit than Conn. This is due simply to the fact that he spent many more years boxing in the weight-class while Conn, after a loss to Solly Krieger in his very next contest, departed for light-heavyweight.

Conn spread himself too thinly to make either the top thirty at middleweight or the top fifteen at light-heavyweight but rather straddles both division’s – and even heavyweight – making an indelible pound-for-pound mark upon history.

#33 – TONY ZALE (67-18-2)

Tony Zale was the man who wound the rope that unravelled when the great Micky Walker vacated the middleweight title. He held the lineal championship in an astounding seven calendar years, a feat worthy of inclusion inside the top ten at the weight, were it not for the fact that the war interrupted Zale’s prime. He did not defend his title in 1942, 1943, 1944 or 1945, preferring to take a crack at the wonderful Billy Conn up at light-heavyweight before turning his attention to the Japanese in the wake of Pearl Harbour. He served in the navy.

Before the war, Zale was a force to be reckoned with, losing just one fight at middleweight between May of 1939 and enlisting, against an inspired Billy Soose. Among his victims was strap holder Al Hostak, who dropped Zale in the first round but also went to drop all five of the closing rounds in a non-title fight. This made a title-fight inevitable, and when it came, Zale didn’t miss his chance, breaking a supposedly below-par Hostak down gradually, forcing the referee’s intervention in the thirteenth.

With typical dramatic flair Zale, a private and by all accounts understated man outside of the ring, may have rescued himself from a draw in the tenth and final round by dropping the superb Fred Apostoli to win their non-title meeting, his finest win. After quickly dispatching a now broken Hostak in another fight and meeting some unranked competition, Zale legitimised his reign and unified a middleweight title that had been fractured since the retirement of Micky Walker, against Georgie Abrams. Abrams dropped Zale early but was a decisive loser as Zale met him with a savage body-attack for which he remains famous; this may have been his single best performance.

It was post-war that he achieved immortality, boxing in a famous trilogy with Rocky Graziano. I suspect that if Zale were in his pre-war prime there would have been no trilogy and that perhaps even one fight would have been enough; that aside, he lost the middle of three, reclaiming his middleweight championship before having his title blasted from him by Marcel Cerdan.

Generally held in higher regard than his placement here, it should be noted that I’ve recounted Zale’s wins against ranked contenders in this short appraisal in its entirety. He was a special middleweight but one who in no way earned the occasional top ten slot awarded him by historians and fans based upon what he actually did in the ring.

#32 – JAMES TONEY (76-9-3)

I googled James Toney’s name tonight with a view to a final review of some details to appear for his entry and found, to my surprise – to my distress – that he had a fight scheduled for that very night. A long time ago Toney’s menace dropped away from him and he became nothing more than a parody of himself; a pretender to his own throne where he had once sat as the most intimidating force in a very good middleweight division and, when Tyson was incarcerated for rape, in all of boxing.

“I fight with anger,” he once told a reporter. “I look at my opponent, I see my dad, so I have to take him out of there. I have to kill him.”

Toney badmouthed Michael Nunn all the way through the build up to their 1991 title fight, putting his hands on Nunn at the weigh in and threatening to “kill his bones”. Nunn, for his part, vowed to “punish” Toney in the ring for his many transgressions. Toney scowled his way to the ring and Nunn did indeed set out to punish him, but here my version of events and those of the judges part slightly. For the judges, Nunn dominated the next ten rounds of action whereas the way I see it, Nunn dominated early and Toney closed the gap late. None of this matters though, because after assuring his corner after the tenth that “I got him”, Toney dropped Nunn with a savage, winging hook and followed up with a hoodlum barrage of punches that left Nunn stricken. The lineal reign of Michael Nunn was over and the lineal reign of James Toney had begun.

He managed six successful defences which is deeply impressive…but – Toney was lucky.

He twice met with the wonderful Mike McCallum in protection of his title and each time the fights, the first ruled a draw, the second a majority decision for Toney, were so desperately close that any one of three decisions could reasonably have been rendered. Against top contender Reggie Johnson, his first defence, Toney ran out a legitimate winner but he needed to win the twelfth to take the decision. He was an uninspiring champion.

An uninspiring champion who was the beneficiary of a gift against David Tiberi, who dominated him in his fourth defence, Toney could have relinquished his title on any one of four occasions but should have done so against Tiberi, who was such a huge outsider going in that it was impossible to get odds on their fight.

Slick, fearless, interesting in his style and consistently in extremely close rounds with good fighters, Toney’s career is a contradiction; he is a fighter who both under-achieved and over-achieved and a champion who both proved his greatness and underwhelmed.

#31 – LLOYD MARSHALL (70-25-4)

Whether appraising Lloyd Marshall pound-for-pound (where I ranked him #83 all-time) or light-heavyweight (where I ranked him at #17) or here, at middleweight, it is a challenging task. Emerging footage of Marshall has illustrated a true gunslinger, a riffmaster general of whatever division he was gracing, a fighter as exciting and excellent and as flat-out different as anything else that has been seen.

He was also superb, serpentine, lethal, sudden and deadly. Big at the weight, he struggled to make the 160lb limit and was inarguably among the best super-middleweights in history many years before the division was conceived; he defeated Ezzard Charles while weighing 165lbs, Holman Williams at the same weight, Anton Chistoforidis at 168lbs – it is a prestigious list and one too lengthy to enter into here.

Adhering strictly to our criteria, which limits middleweight contests to 164lbs and below, Marshall is more limited by his size – but he did more than enough to be included here in the top forty.

Take Jake LaMotta, the Bronx Bull; a great middleweight by anyone’s standards – Marshall crushed him, outclassed him, cut his cheek, his nose and even rocked the man with perhaps the greatest chin in boxing history in the fifth round. Along with fellow greats Fritzie Zivic and Sugar Ray Robinson he would be the only man to beat the bull in the five year period that arguably constituted his savage prime.

Charley Burley, the Don of the Murderer’s Row that terrorised the welterweight and middleweight division in the 1940s, too, couldn’t quite fathom Marshall’s astonishing style, although a hairline fracture to the hand probably didn’t help the Pittsburgher. Marshall emerged with the hairline decision.

Surging aggression, as well as unpredictability, was his friend, as when he met Billy Soose, a fighter with huge experience who still had his best years in front of him in 1938. Despite a damaged eye, Marshall boiled into the breach left by Overlin’s apparent fatigue to take a narrow decision.

Other ranked men he bamboozled included Joe Carter and Jack Chase, both of whom fell to this jazz-man slaughterer of champions, but in truth he probably did not belong at middleweight and this, in combination with numerous losses, often coming against key opponents, limits his ranking here, despite genuine domination of some truly great middles.

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 61: Puerto Rico vs Mexico and a Weekend Look-Ahead

David A. Avila

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Southern California loads up with multiple fight cards this weekend.

It’s Puerto Rico versus Mexico when Luis Feliciano (12-0, 8 KOs) meets Genaro Gamez (9-0, 6 KOs) in the main event at Fantasy Springs Casino on Thursday Aug. 22. It can be seen on RingTV.com and Facebook Watch via the Golden Boy Fight Night page.

“I know all about the rivalry,” said Feliciano who trains in South El Monte, Calif. “I’ve heard about it all my life.”

As long as I can remember, whenever you put standout Boricuas against standout Mexicans, it’s like adding gasoline to a fire. Just stand back. This year alone two Puerto Ricans with world titles were tripped up by Mexican challengers.

But the opposite can happen just as easily.

The first time I actually saw this heated rivalry in action was back in 1981 when Puerto Rican great Wilfredo “Bazooka” Gomez met Mexico’s equally great Salvador Sanchez in a featherweight duel in Las Vegas.

Gomez, at the time, was considered by many as the best fighter pound for pound. He walked into the Caesars Palace indoor arena with 32 consecutive knockouts in 32 wins. After fighting to a draw in his pro debut in Panama, he made sure that his fights did not end in a decision by brutally knocking out everyone in front of him.

Sanchez was the featherweight champion defending against Gomez who was moving up a weight division after cleaning out the super bantamweights. The Mexican fighter from the small farming town of Tianguistenco trained in Mexico City with several of the top fighters of his country. One of his teammates, Carlos Zarate, was wiped out by Gomez two years earlier by getting hit after the bell for a knockdown. He never recovered and it left ill feelings with Mexican fighters, including Sanchez.

The stage was set when they met on August 21, 1981, exactly 38 years ago today. Gomez walked in with a salsa band and Sanchez with a band of mariachis. Both bands dueled with each other. I laughed when I saw that.

Sanchez walked in as the underdog and the two warriors erupted at the opening bell. It was Sanchez who floored Gomez in the first round and looked like he would finish the Boricua. But Gomez got up and would not quit. Still, it didn’t look like the Puerto Rican champion would make it through the second round. He did and more.

Both fighters exchanged punishing blows, daring the other to take each other’s big shots. In one round they exchanged left hooks as if challenging the other to see whose punches were more powerful. Slowly the fight developed in Sanchez’s favor, and in the eighth round the Mexican fighter connected with a combination and down went Gomez. Though Sanchez would win by knockout that day and go on to gain more victories against three more fighters, he would die in a car crash almost a year later in Mexico.

Gomez would go on to knock out several Mexican fighters, including Juan Meza, Juan Antonio Lopez, Roberto Rubaldino and then the coup de grace, the epic knockout win over Lupe Pintor. Gomez would go on to win featherweight and super featherweight world titles. But his fight with Sanchez further ignited the future battles between Puerto Rico and Mexico.

Here we are 38 years later and the wars between fighters from these two countries are still captivating.

Puerto Rico vs Mexico

Feliciano, 26, ironically trains in the heart of Mexican style boxing and is trained by Ben Lira. Though he was raised in Milwaukee, he has spent the past two years in Southern California getting familiar with the pressure style that Mexican fighters impose on their opponents. He’s sparred and fought numerous times against all styles in California, New York and Puerto Rico.

“I feel I’m more than ready for this fight,” said Feliciano recently at the South El Monte boxing gym. “Gamez is a good fighter and that’s what I want to prove myself against, good fighters.”

Gamez, 24, began his pro career as a super featherweight but grew into the lightweight and now super lightweight division. Despite the changes in weight divisions, the San Diego-based prizefighter remains undefeated. He had a strong amateur career and, despite the varying weight divisions, Gamez (pictured with his promoter Oscar De La Hoya) has shown good boxing skills and a sharp boxing IQ.

Both fighters are undefeated and eager to move to the next level. On paper it’s a dead even fight. But you never know when Puerto Ricans fight Mexicans. It can end suddenly.

In a co-main event, Las Vegas-based Blair Cobbs (11-0-1, 7 KOs) meets undefeated Steve Villalobos (11-0-1, 9 KOs) of Mount Vernon, Washington in a 10-round welterweight clash.

Cobbs, a southpaw, has endured a virtual gamut of opposition and the Las Vegas-based fighter, originally from Philadelphia, has emerged unscathed. He signed with Golden Boy and continues to show improvement aside from natural toughness.

Others on the fight card are Mexico’s Raul Curiel (6-0) fighting Alphonso Black in a super welterweight match and lightweights Kevin Ventura (10-0) battling Brian Gallegos (6-1) in a six-round bout. Several other fights are planned.

Carlos Zarate, the great Mexican bantamweight world champion, will be a special guest at the fight card. Zarate, who had 63 knockouts in 66 wins, will also be available for photos and autographs at 6 p.m.

Doors open at 4:30 p.m. Tickets start at $25.

Costa Mesa

On Thursday, Aug. 22, a Roy Englebrecht Events boxing card at the OC Hangar in Costa Mesa, Calif. features several young prospects including a middleweight showdown between Malcolm McAllister (9-3) and Rowdy Legend Montgomery (5-2-1) in the main event.

Others on the boxing card include Sergio Gonzalez, Jorge Soto, Israel Mercado, Mike Fowler and several others.

Doors open at 7 p.m. For more information call (949) 760-3131.

Corona

On Friday, Aug. 23, Thompson Boxing Promotions presents a summer outdoor event at Omega Products International. In the main event, bantamweight prospect Saul Sanchez (12-0) meets Edwin Rodriguez (10-5-1) in a 10-round fight.

Sanchez, 22, returns to the site of his last battle that took place this past May and ended in a knockout win for the Pacoima, Calif. prizefighter. He’s trained by Joel Diaz and Antonio Diaz and has shown improvement in each of his fights since February 2016.

“I think it’s great that I’m fighting in the same place as such great champions,” Sanchez said. “I put in a lot of work for this camp to make sure I win convincingly. I know Rodriguez is looking to pull the upset, but it’s not going to happen.”

Rodriguez is a tough Puerto Rican who has toppled a couple of undefeated fighters and has never been knocked out. He also briefly held a regional title and has never been an easy foe for anyone.

A welterweight showdown pits Kazakhstan’s Bobirzhan Mominov (10-0, 8 KOs) against Puerto Rico’s Javier Flores (14-2, 12 KOs) in an eight-round fight.

Mominov, 27, fights out of Florida and his last fight was in Costa Mesa this past March.

Flores, 33, is a southpaw slugger who has fought some tough competition. It’s an interesting welterweight matchup.

Others on the fight card that begins at 8 p.m. are heavyweight prospect Oscar Torrez, welterweight Luis Lopez and super featherweight Sebastian Salinas. For more information call (951) 737-7447.

Pico Rivera

Red Boxing International presents another lengthy boxing card at Pico Rivera Sports Arena on Saturday, Aug. 24.

In a lightweight headliner, Angel Flores (5-0, 4 KOs) risks his undefeated record against veteran Roberto Almazan (9-11, 4 KOs) in a six-round bout. Both Flores and Almazan previously fought at the outdoor arena located by the San Gabriel River.

A flyweight matchup pits Axel Aragon Vega (12-2-1, 7 KOs) against Giovanni Noriega (2-4-2) in a six-round fight. Vega, 19, fights out of Ensenada, Mexico and Noriega, 24, hails from Tijuana, Mexico.

Seven other pro bouts are scheduled on the fight card. Doors open at 5 p.m.

San Diego

Middleweights clash on a Roy Jones Jr. Boxing Promotions fight card on Saturday Aug. 24, at Viejas Casino and Resort in Alpine, Calif.

Connor Coyle (10-0) and Rafael Ramon Ramirez (21-4-2) meet in a 10-round middleweight contest. UFC Fight Pass will stream the fight card.

Coyle is an Irishman who now trains in Florida. San Diego’s Ramirez is a fighter who actually fought at the Olympic Auditorium and left boxing for seven years before returning in 2013. He hasn’t lost since losing at the now retired boxing venue in 2004.

Six pro bouts are scheduled for Saturday.

Fights to watch

Thursday Facebook Watch 5 p.m. Luis Feliciano (12-0) vs Genaro Gamez (9-0).

Fri. Showtime, 10 p.m. Shohjahon Ergashev (16-0) vs Abdiel Ramirez (24-4-1).

Sat. ESPN+ 9:30 a.m. PT Sergey Kovalev (33-3-1) vs Anthony Yarde (18-0).

Sat. DAZN 4 p.m. Juan Francisco Estrada (39-3) vs Dewayne Beamon (16-1-1).

Sat. UFC Fight Pass, 7 p.m. Connor Coyle (10-0) vs Rafael Ramon Ramirez (21-4-2).

Sat. Fox Sports1, 7 p.m. Brandon Figueroa (19-0) vs Javier Nicolas Chacon (29-4-1).

Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel  

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An Eclectic Undercard Girds Juan Francisco Estrada’s Hermosillo Homecoming

Arne K. Lang

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Juan Francisco Estrada: His Hermosillo Homecoming and an Eclectic Undercard

Eddie Hearn, the head of the boxing division of Matchroom Sport, the company founded by his father, sure does get around. Since entering into a joint venture with DAZN in May of last year, Hearn has widened his geographic scope. This weekend, Matchroom is in Hermosillo, Mexico, partnering with Mexican heavyweight Zanfer Promotions on a deep DAZN card headlined by a local man, WBC 115-pound title-holder Juan Francisco Estrada.

Estrada (39-3, 26 KOs) is widely considered the top fighter in his weight class. He’s 13-1 since losing on points to Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez who was then undefeated and climbing the list of the world’s top pound-for-pound fighters. The lone defeat was to Chocolatito’s conqueror, Srisaket Sor Rungvisai (aka Wisaksil Wangek), and Estrada avenged that setback in his last outing, winning the WBC belt to become a title-holder in a second weight division.

The challenger, Dewayne Beamon (16-1-1, 11 KOs), hails from Goldsboro, North Carolina. He had 11 of his first 12 fights in the Tar Heel State, the other in neighboring Virginia, and fought his last six fights in Mexico. He’s 34 years old.

Beamon certainly hasn’t done enough to warrant a shot at a world title and hailing from North Carolina is a knock against him. North Carolina cranks out about as many good pro boxers as North Dakota cranks out good pro basketball players, which is to say hardly any at all. In common with several other states, North Carolina has become a feeder lot, a place where boxers are fed soft touches to pad their records and make them palatable as opponents for pugilists higher-up in the food chain. But having said that, we have a nagging suspicion that Beamon will make things interesting.

Beamon excelled in football and basketball at a small college in Virginia that has since dropped its football program, impressive for a five-foot-four fellow whose playing weight was somewhere south of 140 pounds. The son of a minister, he came to boxing late because his parents were opposed to it and as an amateur he was good enough to advance to the National Golden Gloves tournament. His curious nickname, “Stop Running,” dates to his amateur days and was a nod to the fact that none of his opponents were willing to stay in the pocket and trade punches with him.

The aforementioned Sor Rungvisai is also under contract to Matchroom/DAZN. A win by Estrada is expected to propel him into a rubber match with the Thai. Their previous fights were highly entertaining and a third meeting would be welcomed with raves by serious boxing fans.

– – – –

Notable British boxers Liam “Beefy” Smith and Jono Carroll and hot heavyweight prospect Filip Hrgovic are also on the card.

Liverpool’s Smith, one of four fighting brothers (the youngest, Callum Smith, just may be the best 168-pound fighter in the world) has lost only twice in 30 starts, both coming in world title fights, the first with Canelo Alvarez and the second with Jaime Munguia. He is matched against Mexican veteran Mario Alberto Lozano (33-9, 24 KOs) who went the distance in a 10-round fight with Jermell Charlo in 2014.

Jono Carroll (16-1-1, 3 KOs) made a lot of new fans in his U.S. debut in March when he battled defending IBF 130-pound champion Tevin Farmer hammer-and-tongs in Farmer’s hometown of Philadelphia.

This was a match between two southpaws, neither of whom was known as a hard puncher. On paper, it figured to be boring, but au contraire it was a feisty squabble in which the combatants threw a combined 2,050 punches according to BoxRec, 1,227 by Carroll. When the smoke cleared, Farmer won a close but unanimous decision, after which he reportedly took Carroll along for a post-fight meal, a Philly cheesesteak, natch.

The heavily bearded Irishman, who made his pro debut in Australia, is an interesting character. It figures that he will have a less strenuous fight in Hermosillo where he is matched against Mexican journeyman Eleazer Valenzuela (20-11-4, 16 KOs).

Filip Hrgovic (8-0, 6 KOs) needs to be busier. Although he has a far stronger amateur background than fellow young guns Daniel Dubois and Efe Ajagba, they have surpassed him in terms of name recognition.

The six-foot-six Croatian, who trains in Miami, needed only 60 seconds to dispatch Gregory Corbin in his U.S. debut in May. On Saturday, he opposes Mario Heredia (16-6-1, 13 KOs) who stands 5-foot-10 and carried 275 pounds in his last fight against Samuel Peter in Atlantic City. He earned this assignment by defeating Peter, winning an 8-round split decision.

“After his countryman Andy Ruiz’s win and his win in his last fight against Samuel Peter, (Heredia) surely has the wind in his sails,” Hrgovic told a reporter for a Croatian paper.

Hrgovic will take the wind out of his sails.

For some folks, the 10-round junior welterweight contest between Shakhram Giyasov (8-0, 6 KOs) and Darlys Perez (34-4-2, 22 KOs) is the most intriguing match on the card.

Columbia’s Perez, a former interim WBA lightweight title-holder, has lost two of his last three, late stoppages at the hands of Luke Campbell and Maxim Dadashev, but before that he out-fought future super lightweight titlist Maurice Hooker in a bout that was confoundingly scored a draw. Perez is definitely a step up in class for the fast-rising Giyasov, a silver medalist for Uzbekistan at the 2016 Olympics.

Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel  

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Hughie Fury vs. Alexander Povetkin: At the Crossroads

Ted Sares

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Hughie Fury vs Alexander Povetkin will be on the undercard of the Vasiliy Lomachenko vs Luke Campbell world lightweight title fight on August 31 at the O2 in London.

Fury is 23-2 while the Russian is 34-2 but these records somewhat hide the fact that the loser will need to reevaluate things while the winner can move on to bigger things. In short, a win can catapult Hughie (Tyson Fury’s cousin) to the world stage, but a loss in this, his Matchroom debut, can be disastrous, especially coming after his ugly win against a bloated Samuel Peter in a foul-fest this past July.

Said promoter Eddie Hearn, “Hughie will have to come through fire in this fight to win but, if he does, the rewards are huge.”

That’s a big “if.”

Povetkin turns 40 in a few weeks. Father time takes no prisoners and Povetkin is hardly the Povetkin of old. He was dismantled by Anthony Joshua and was even in trouble against big David Price. But “Sasha” has fought much stiffer opposition and is heavy-handed with many notable wins on his resume.

Fury himself said, “You can’t underestimate Povetkin. One [wrong] move and you get your head taken off.”

So, the two will be at the crossroads. And Robert Johnson said it best in these lines from his iconic “Cross Road Blues”:

I went to the crossroad, fell down on my knees
I went to the crossroad, fell down on my knees
Asked the Lord above “have mercy, now save poor Bob, if you please”

Ooh, standin’ at the crossroad, tried to flag a ride
Ooh-ee, I tried to flag a ride
Didn’t nobody seem to know me, babe, everybody pass me by

Many pundits (but not this one) think Fury, being the younger and fresher man, will prevail in the fight as youth trumps experience, but others, including the oddsmakers that made Povetkin the favorite, assert that the more experienced Russian is stronger and more dangerous and will not stop moving forward.

Fury adds, “My mind is good at the moment….I’ve had a bit of bad luck with boxing, health issues and all that….It has been frustrating at times but that’s all behind me now and we’ve got a good team behind me. We’re ready now….Nobody has got the experience I have at my age. I’ve fought all over the world and I haven’t been protected. I’ve had experience that nobody else has ever had, especially at my age.”

However, his last effort against former titleholder but now woefully dreadful Samuel Peter in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia was, well, dreadful. BLH’s Scott Christ nailed it: “The cousin of Tyson Fury is not known as one of the world’s more exciting heavyweights, to put it kindly, but he’s a good technician who understands how to use his physical advantages, and he kept range easily against Peter, who was never much of a mover and at this point has cinder blocks for feet.”

One notable thing the combatants have done is signed on to be tested by VADA, both before and after their fight. “It is impossible to say in advance how many doping samples will be collected in total,” Povetkin’s promoter Vadim Kornilov told TASS. Given Povetkin’s record on this account, the VADA tests are a welcomed addition.

Ted Sares is a lifetime member of Ring 10, and a member of Ring 4 and its Boxing Hall of Fame. He also is an Auxiliary Member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA). He is an active power lifter and Strongman competitor in the Master Class.

Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel  

To comment on this story in The Fight Forum CLICK HERE

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