Connect with us

Featured Articles

The 50 Greatest Welterweights of All-Time Part Four: 20-11

Published

on

welt2 483b3 

By Matt McGrain

If this process is unique, it is for one reason only and that is its length.  There are fifty spots on my list but considerably more than fifty fighters were considered.  What this lends the exercise is a broader understanding of the division's history.  Who was a contender to the title and when?  Why?  Who was the real champion in the age of casually fostered belts; why?  Knowing who a fighter was when a man from the “50” defeated him is far more important than how.

The internet is awash with top ten lists at heavyweight; there are dozens at light-heavyweight and middleweight.  The lighter the fighter the fewer the lists – and of justified, explained top fifties, there are none.

Exploring is fun.  That's why people do it.  But here we reach the outer edge of what is known: the top twenty.  If this top twenty is different from other top twenties, it is because it is informed by what went before it.  This results in one or two sprung surprises.  I hope you enjoy them as much as, or more than, the familiar names in the familiar places.

 #20 – Roberto Duran (103-16)

Roberto Duran just chiselled away at this list.  His original spot was in the low twenties; but whenever I came to analyze the ordering, the ghosts of Montreal echoed and the reverberations shattered the resistance of the man above.  So Roberto Duran, the animal, the beast, the thinking man’s demon, makes the top twenty at 147lbs despite a ledger of just 7-1 at welterweight.  He had eight fights there.  Like Charley Burley, there is a sense, under the criteria by which this list is judged, that Duran may be overrated based upon what he actually did.  Nevertheless, I cannot place him any lower, because in the fifteen legendary rounds that this fighter’s 147lb prime lasted, Duran, like Burley, may have destroyed very nearly every fighter that is ranked above him.  It must also be stated that he may be in possession of the single finest filmed performance ever to have occurred at the poundage.

Montreal, Canada, 1980.  Duran has harbored enmity against the great Ray Leonard for years and his time has come.  His boyish looks are gone.  Entering the ring, he appears relaxed, but there is slate behind his eyes.  He turns a circle in the ring and lashes out a series of executioner’s jabs.  Duran is absolutely primed, an avatar for the summit of boxing history, as complete and prepared a fighter as ever stepped into a boxing ring.  Leonard, unbeaten, smiling, the epitome of boxing cool.  They are twin stars in a decaying orbit from which only one can emerge.

The man who emerged was Duran in a raucous fight that showcases territorial warfare at the highest level.  Relentless through the fourteenth he could afford to cakewalk his way through the fifteenth round and lift a narrow decision in a display that astounded with its brilliant timing.

Almost every time Leonard shifted his weight in a move within range, he drove home and inflicted misery upon his range and body.  For all that Leonard’s battle plan was maligned, I can understand his desire to carve out territory against a natural lightweight; it was the inflexibility of that plan that surprised me – it’s worth remembering though that the fight was desperately close and a swing of a single round may have produced a different result on the judges scorecards.  Leonard, one of the greatest fighters of all and in his absolute prime, made it desperately close.

Duran’s other exceptional welterweight performance was against the recently deposed Carlos Palomino.  Readers might remember that Palomino was ranked in the Fifty and in fact was profiled in Part Two; it should be understood then, that the fact that Duran arguably won every one of the ten rounds against Palomino is significant.  Duran tied Palomino up in knots, controlling him beautifully with the virtual threat that was his right hand, a punch that Palomino was desperately wary of.  This was with good reason, as he was dropped firmly by that very blow in the sixth round.  It was a surgical performance of astounding fistic grace, as brutal as it was perfect.

These lethal displays must be weighed against what amounts to a brief flirtation with the division, and with the shameful quit job he perpetrated in his rematch with Leonard.  But rating Duran is always desperately difficult.  I’ve described him before as the harshest possible indictment of lists such as this one – assigning Duran a number as this just doesn’t sit right.  Alas, given the criteria, he can stand no higher.

#19 – Felix Trinidad (42-3)

So Felix Trinidad edges in front of peer Oscar De La Hoya despite my insistence that Oscar was robbed; why? 

Certainly, the judges’ decision played a part.  I’m ill at ease reversing an official decision for the sake of a fighter’s legacy and although I do not treat Trinidad’s win over De La Hoya in the normal way, nor do I “count it as a loss” for Trinidad.  I will say that it is probably the most dissatisfying manner in which a welterweight has lifted the lineal title in the modern era.

But more than that it is that Trinidad relinquished that title undefeated; nobody at welterweight beat him, making him an impressive 35-0 before he departed for light-middleweight, middleweight and even light-heavyweight.  It must be said, however, that his competition was less than sparkling.  De La Hoya aside, his highest ranked opponent was the near-corpse of Pernell Whitaker and these two fights aside, his record against opponents ranked in the top five by The Ring magazine is 0-0.  A withering, loose-limbed puncher with talent to burn but certain defensive frailties, his destruction of the excellent Oba Carr, then ranked #6, is perhaps the most instructive contest of his career.  He boxed with the abandon only the true puncher knows, his job to engender exchanges that he would inevitably dominate, primarily with perhaps the best left-hook the division has seen.  This approach carried with it dangers and after a cagey opening round those dangers were underlined by a Carr right hand that deposited the Puerto Rican neatly on the seat of his trunks.  Trinidad, lethal off the canvas, boxed back steadily, using shooting straight right hands and right uppercuts to systemically break his brave opponent down, stopping him in eight.

The Joe Louis axiom “he can run but he can’t hide” can be applied as earnestly to Tito Trinidad, and that is the highest compliment I can pay him.

#18 – Luis Manuel Rodriguez (107-13)

Luis Manuel Rodriguez was an absolute horror of a welterweight, a hideous combination of attributes and physical abilities making him among the most difficult engagements possible at 147lbs.  At distance he was a superb sharpshooter in possession of a very good jab and a beautiful right hand, but most of all he was a brilliant ring general with wonderful timing and an uncanny judge of the distance.  That judgement was put to good use, because he often made it vanish with a step of that gliding, shadowy footwork before deploying a swarmer’s body-attack on the inside, mixing fast, cuffing punches with hard, punishing blows cut short by technique.  Capable of boxing with boxers, wrestling with strong-men and slugging with sluggers, he had the chin and durability to mix it and the balance and the skill to make it unnecessary.

His limitations, such as they were, were exploited by two other wonderful welterweights.  Curtis Cokes, as described below, took Rodriguez 2-1; Emile Griffith also defeated him, over four, beating him 3-1 in as a close a series as is possible with that final score.  Griffith was the stylistic opposite to Rodriguez, arrhythmic where Rodriguez was smooth and their fights were entrenched, difficult to score, stylistic anti-coagulant and arguably, despite the fact that they met four times, the series did not produce a definitive winner.

However, that is not my argument.  It’s true that their third fight, the first defense of Rodriguez’s welterweight title, a title he had taken from Griffith months earlier, easily could have been scored for Rodriguez – most ringsiders did, and I myself had it 7-6-2 – but it was a close fight with some rounds decided by a single punch or flurry.  I don’t hold that Rodriguez was robbed.

Nevertheless, it was a tragic turn for the Cuban; had he very reasonably been given that decision it is unlikely he would have matched Griffith again and he may have held the title for some time.  A slot in the top ten would have beckoned.

As it is, Rodriguez departed for middleweight where he did more excellent work.  Here, the criteria hurts him a little; in the end, he was bested, however narrowly, by the two best welterweights he met and although there were stunning performances at the weight – his incredible mastery of Luis Federico Thompson, for example – his is not a deep ledger of ranked men.  I would rank him higher on a head-to-head list, or upon a list that took into account his wins at middleweight, but justifying a higher slot under these rules is not possible.

#17 – Curtis Cokes (62-14-4)

The legacy of Curtis Cokes is undernourished.  Why shouldn’t he rank above Luis Manuel Rodriguez?  He beat him, after all.

Cokes turned professional aged twenty with, by his own account, no amateur experience.  He debuted against an inexperienced Manuel Rodriguez, a fighter who would retire with a poor paper record but with wins over the likes of Emile Griffith and Gaspar Ortega; he and Cokes fought an absorbing five fight series, dominated by Cokes and culminating in a clear fifteen-round decision for the world title.  Cokes won five consecutive title fights at the weight, including a wonderful five found stoppage of the highly ranked Willie Ludick.  Cokes gave up real estate, even allowing himself to be cornered in exchange for counter-punching opportunities, especially with his diamond-wire right hand, one of the most cultured in the division’s history.  He sucked the poison out of Ludick’s attack and when the time came, the straight-right, right uppercut, straight-right combination he landed to draw the blinds was Tysonesque.

But really, his career is a tale of two men, both deadly, both welterweights.  The first is Jose Napoles. Napoles, about whom I am revealing nothing in telling you he appears in the top ten, was a man Cokes could not have beaten in twenty tilts; Napoles was simply better at the things Cokes did so beautifully, Cokes plus.  He lost two title fights to his nemesis.

But the second was Luis Manuel Rodriguez, the welterweight that so terrified Emile Griffith the first time they met, a demon of a boxer who Cokes crossed swords with no fewer than three times.  Cokes dropped Rodriguez in the fifth round of their first fight to take a desperately close split decision; their rematch, fought just four months later, went clearly to Rodriguez.  Finally, the two met in a fifteen round combat in 1966, and Cokes turned tiger in the fourteenth to become the first man and the only welterweight ever to stop Rodriguez.

For all his slick smarts, this was the greatest weapon of Curtis Cokes; he trained like a swarmer and possessed the engine of a great one, allowing him to bring the pain to his opponents late in hard fights. Cokes eliminated Rodriguez before he came to the title and then protected it until Napoles came knocking.  He boxed a wonderful career.

#16 – Jimmy McLarnin (55-11-3)

Jimmy McLarnin, unquestionably a pound-for-pound great, comes up a little short of his normal standing here.  A very special welterweight, I do nevertheless believe that he benefited from size and age advantages during the sixteen fights that constituted his welterweight career.  This is illustrated most keenly by his destruction, in 1932, of a thirty-six-year-old Benny Leonard.  McLarnin did his job, balking only at the end as his great hero swung drunkenly ring-center, incapable of inspiring himself to anything like the Olympian heights he had travelled.  Leonard’s comeback had been stage-managed but McLarnin was the real deal.  Their fight was depressing and non-competitive. 

This was a rehabilitation fight for McLarnin who was coming off a split-decision loss to the excellent Lou Brouillard.  Worse, he was moving up to 147lbs after losing out in his first title-shot at lightweight; still a superstar, McLarnin needed a championship and after belting out Leonard and lightweight Sammy Fuller, he got his second chance, blasting out Young Corbett III in just a single round.  Years later, McLarnin modestly labelled this a lucky punch but nothing could be further from the truth.  McLarnin, and his legendary handler and career-long partner, Charles “Pop” Foster, set a trap for the granite-jawed Corbett and it worked perfectly.  Noting Corbett’s habit of dropping his left when he threw his southpaw-right to the body, McLarnin started the fight with his hands high, baring his left rack to the Corbett right; Corbett bit – McLarnin sent him to sleep.  It remains the most impressive knockout in welterweight history.

This set up the trilogy for which McLarnin will be remembered best.  His three fights with Barney Ross, contested through 1934-35 were genuine superfights between enormously popular legends of the sport.  McLarnin lost the first and last of these and thereby remains locked, forever, below Ross on both the welterweight and the pound-for-pound scale.  McLarnin’s wider resume is no more impressive than that of Ross, by my eye, so even though the series was closely contested it settles the issue as to who was the greater fighter.

McLarnin closed out his welterweight career as he had begun it, using a significant size advantage to beat out lightweights Tony Canzoneri (with whom he went 1-1) and Lou Ambers; great fighters both, but perhaps not great welterweights.

#15 – Barney Ross (72-4-3)

Barney Ross, war-hero, recovered heroin addict and social activist also had a rather marvelous boxing career.  Lacking the depth of resume of the men who surround him, he made his bones for this spot just outside the top ten based upon his victory in the most celebrated trilogy in welterweight history.

When Ross stepped up from 140lbs he didn’t mess about; he took on the world champion, Jimmy McLarnin.  Both men were already superstars and their meeting was a legitimate superfight, stoked not least by a racial element spurred by McLarnin’s unwanted nickname at that time, “The Jew Killer.”  According to Douglas Century, Ross set out to wage “naked psychological warfare” on his bigger, harder-hitting opponent, standing with him early and trading against the McLarnin right that had sent champion Young Corbett III so lustily to sleep.  It worked.  “He was mad,” said Ross post-fight, explaining his strategy to use his speed to get inside the sweeping right of the champion.  “He looked dumfounded.”  Ross made neutralizing McLarnin’s right his mission and it worked well for him; “a wasp in the ear of a horse” according to one ringsider.  They both bled, Ross visited the canvas for no-count in round nine, but it was he who emerged with the decision.

The scoring for this fight was a disaster, with one judge finding just one round for Ross and the other two finding just three between them for McLarnin.  Additionally, it appeared that the officials had not approached McLarnin’s warning for low-blows in a uniform fashion; a rematch was inevitable and McLarnin won a desperately close split decision, taking advantage of an overly aggressive start on the part of Ross.  They went again, the two men swapping momentum with the fortune of their jabs until the final third when a grim battle for superiority took them down a long black tunnel; Ross emerged from it with the title.

All three decisions were, to one degree or another, controversial.  It’s very possible to produce, with the right mix of sources, 3-0 for either man. Things as they are, the officials have the final word and, by the narrowest of margins, Ross is proved the superior to McLarnin.  Ceferino Garcia, the then number one contender, and the highly ranked Izzy Jannazzo are his other key scalps at the weight where he suffered only two losses, one to McLarnin and one to Henry Armstrong.  Certainly there is no shame in that.

#14 – Mickey Walker (94-19-4; Newspaper Decisions 37-6-2)

Mickey Walker is a pound-for-pound beast who suffers here by virtue of his enormous bravery; unlike my pound-for-pound list, Walker receives no credit for the astonishing work he did between middleweight and heavyweight but rather is appraised on only his 147lbs career.  Nevertheless, so storied is Walker that his introduction represents a new level of greatness in this process, another gear-change in process that takes us deeper and deeper into the annals of the very best.

Aptly nicknamed “The Toy Bulldog”, Walker was an educated savage, not hard to hit but hard to hit clean, terrifying in pressure and power, armed with one of the division’s more devastating left hooks. 

This style first turned heads in earnest in 1921 when he came off the canvas to take world-champion Jack Britton to a probable share in a no-decision bout that anointed him a champion of the future.  This was born out just over a year later when he lifted the title on a decision, dropping the granite-chinned defensive genius that was Britton on his way to a fifteen round victory.  It was the single greatest win of his career.

Even during his reign he was distracted by riches and competition in the divisions above, mounting defenses both sublime (Pete Latzo, who eventually deposed him, Dave Sands, Lew Tendler) and ridiculous (the embarrassingly over-matched Bob Barrett, the shameful No-Contest against Jimmy Jones).

Held back in the rankings by his bizarre 1922 downturn and by his eventual loss to Latzo, who firmly out-boxed him for his title, Walker has not appeared in the top ten in any of my divisional breakdowns, but #14 is the highest he has climbed on any individual list, having come in at #94 at heavyweight, #36 at light-heavyweight and #18 at middleweight.  This is indicative of both Walker's natural size and the hellish competition for places at 160lbs.

 #13 – Jackie Fields (72-9-2; Newspaper Decisions 2-0)

Jackie Fields is one of the most underrated welterweights and fighters in history.  I suspect that this list will be unique in listing him in front of the likes of Luis Rodriguez and Mickey Walker but it shouldn’t be.  All but the most hardcore of Sweet Science readers will be unfamiliar with Fields so to start with I’ll make a list of the men who composed his stunning win resume, superior to that of every single fighter ranked beneath him, and which contains the names of many more famous fighters. 

Fields beat welterweight champion Young Jack Thompson, welterweight champion Joe Dundee, welterweight champion Tommy Freeman, welterweight champion Lou Brouillard, future middleweight strapholder Vince Dundee, future middleweight champion and great Freddie Steele, ranked men Joe Cooper, Sammy Backer, Gorilla Jones, Jackie Brady, King Tut and Jimmy Belmont.  To put this in context, he beat more fighters who would go on to be called champion than the likes of Roberto Duran and Felix Trinidad beat ranked contenders; when I said Walker’s introduction heralded a new kind of welterweight, I meant it.  Fields unquestionably falls into that category and his consistent oversight in naming the greatest welterweights of all time is a great shame.

It is explained though, in part, by his lack of successful defenses of the welterweight title, which he held not once but twice.  He won it for the first time in 1929.  Joe Dundee had been stripped of his alphabet strap and Fields was matched with Young Jack Thompson to fill that void; Fields cleaned up the mess by meeting and beating the lineal champion on a disqualification as Dundee fouled out while being dominated.  Thompson avenged himself the following year, but Fields came again, defeating the wonderful Lou Brouillard, who had by that time beaten Thompson.  Heavily favored, Brouillard never really recovered from the right-handed mauling he received from the ever-aggressive Fields in the sixth round.  Young Corbett III then called time on his championship career, taking a clear ten-round decision from him in 1933.

A fine boxer-puncher with a superb engine and true-grit, Fields was stopped just once, by a young Jimmy McLarnin in an early fight at featherweight; of his nine career losses, only two came at the welterweight limit, both against fellow champions.

#12 – Joe Walcott (95-25-24; Newspaper Decisions 9-7-3)

It was the ever-strange and always brave Rube Ferns who gave Joe Walcott his second title shot in December of 1901.  Probably he wished he hadn’t bothered as “The Barbados Demon” battered him to body and head, stopping him in just five rounds.  It was a performance of terrible destruction and typical of Walcott; he was the most feared puncher between John L. Sullivan and the prime of Sam Langford and among the most terrible punchers of all time, pound-for-pound.

Which is why some of what followed is so strange.  First, Walcott fought Billy Woods, a tough customer, certainly, but not a great fighter and yet he had Walcott in trouble in the sixteenth and according to some reports came away with the better part of a closely contested draw.  His second defense was against Young Peter Jackson, a fighter who very nearly made this list; the two had met thrice already, the ledger reading 2-0-1 in favour of Walcott.  They boxed their second draw for the title, Walcott once more clinching excessively in the final quarter, with some reports suggesting that the crowd favored a Jackson decision.  He then battered Mose LaFontise, who had been agitating for a fight for some time, in three rounds, before getting a little luck in draws with a young Sam Langford and the wonderful Joe Gans and losing his title to Honey Melody.

This is not a great title run.  Walcott fought draw after draw and was lucky on more than one occasion.  Were it not for his innate aggression and the seemingly obsessive emphasis placed upon it by scoring officials of this era, he probably would have lost to Jackson, Langford and Gans and possibly Woods. 

Those were the rules of the day though and so Walcott has a serious title run, however uninspiring.  He also has victories over the likes of Jackson and Billy Smith from before a time when he held the title.  Finally, rumors have persisted for years that Walcott was forced to “wear the cuffs,” going easy on opponents in order to help gamblers pocket cash by carrying them the distance.  But if it is true, why was Walcott often struggling by the end of fights?  We will never know.

For the purposes of this list, the results are treated as genuine.  Walcott was incredible at the height and weight against middleweights and even bigger foes, but against foes met at and around the welterweight limit, he just doesn’t have the resume for a top ten berth.

#11 – Tommy Ryan (84-2-11; Newspaper Decisions 5-1-1)

I rate Tommy Ryan very highly at middleweight.  What I do not do, is credit a fighter twice for any one performance.  It is possible that Ryan suffers from something of a “middleweight hangover” in his ranking here; that said, my investigation of the championship picture in his era leaves me sure of my position in seeing him a greater middleweight than welterweight.

Even so, the threads of even championship boxing in the 1890s are difficult to unpick.  After the death of Paddy Duffy in 1890 there were several claims, one of which was made by Ryan in the wake of his 1891 defeat of Danny Needham.  Billy Smith, too, claimed the title and it is probably reasonable to say that the matter was not settled until 1894 whereupon Ryan defeated Smith in a twenty round decision.  Ryan was brilliant in this fight, making not a single mistake by one account, using speed and footwork early to make Smith miss and stumble while finding gaps for his own offense throughout.  Ryan claimed to have been hurt by the murderous Smith just once in twenty rounds, by a right hand to the throat.

The rest of Ryan’s title reign, however, was something of a mess.  A rematch with Billy Smith was marred by an early end to round ten at a time when Ryan was in desperate trouble.  The Australian Tom Tracey provided no competition at all in his title shot and there the story ends; Ryan’s next title fight was up at middleweight and although he turned in at the modern welterweight limit for a number of contests at this weight after Tracey, most of the significant ones were against bigger opponents.  For these, he is credited up at middleweight.

Before 1894, Ryan did more interesting work at welterweight and his domination of the opposition while posting so few losses is deeply impressive as is his unbeaten run in fights for the welterweight championship.

More welterweight champions next week.  Every one of them a monster.

 

 

Comment on this article

Share The Sweet Science experience!

Featured Articles

The Mirage Goes Dark and Another Storied Venue for Boxing Bites the Dust

Published

on

The-Mirage-Goes-Dark-and-Another-Storied-Venue-for-Boxing-Bites-the-Dust

Life comes at you fast. It seems like only yesterday that I stood in a crowd of rubberneckers gawking at the artificial volcano that fronted the spanking new Mirage Hotel and Casino. After sundown, it erupted every 15 minutes, sending fireballs into the sky accompanied by a soundtrack of actual eruptions as the air was perfumed with the scent of a pina colada. In those days, late November of 1989 and beyond, the artificial volcano was Southern Nevada’s #1 tourist attraction, supplanting Hoover Dam. (The “Welcome to Las Vegas” sign at the south end of the Strip hadn’t yet become a magnet for hordes of camera-toting tourists.)

I didn’t come to the 3,044-room Polynesian-themed resort to see the volcano. I came there to see the centerpiece of the grand opening festivities, a prizefight between Sugar Ray Leonard and Roberto Duran, the third meeting between the two gladiators. The Mirage had actually opened for business two weeks earlier, but it was a soft opening, as they say in the trade. The boxing event on Thursday, Dec. 7, 1989, was the cherry on the cake, a spectacle in every sense of the word. Celebrities were chaperoned to their ringside seats on a red carpet, mirroring the Oscars, and a mesmerizing fireworks display, better than New Years Eve, lit up the sky in the interlude between the last preliminary bout and the main event.

Leonard-Duran III was the first of 13 boxing shows at the Mirage, the last of which was staged in 1995. Thirteen isn’t many, but they included some of the biggest fights of the era, five of which – the first five – were staged under the stars in makeshift arenas built specifically for boxing. And now, with the closure of the Mirage today (July 17), another place that housed historic prizefights has dissipated into the dustbin of history.

The accoutrements were more memorable than the fight. Roberto Duran had turned back the clock in his most recent bout, unseating middleweight title-holder Iran Barkley at the Atlantic City Convention Center, but against Sugar Ray he looked older than his 38 years. Leonard was content to out-box Duran and won nearly every round. The final chapter of the Four Kings round-robin (Leonard, Duran, Marvin Hagler, and Tommy Hearns) was a dud.

Two months after the Leonard-Duran rubber match, fringe contender James “Buster” Douglas shocked the world with a 10th-round stoppage of Mike Tyson.

Tyson-Douglas was in faraway Tokyo, but the Mirage became a sidebar to the story of the fight when mischievous Jimmy Vaccaro, who ran the Mirage Race and Sports Book, just for the fun of it posted odds on the match. That gave the Mirage a monopoly as it would be the only property in the bookmaking universe to take bets on the outcome of the fight.

The betting line bounced around a little bit and at one point the odds favoring Mike Tyson stood at 42/1. This price would come to be etched in stone. “42 to 1” became the title of an ESPN “30 for 30” documentary.

It wasn’t lost on Mirage founder and chairman Steve Wynn that Buster Douglas would be the perfect poster boy for a gambling establishment. After all, Buster was the Joe Blow that knocked out Superman and won the big jackpot. Wynn’s attorneys succeeded in extricating Douglas from the clutches of Don King and he was matched against Evander Holyfield, a former cruiserweight champion who was 24-0 with the last six wins coming as a heavyweight.

Worldwide, Douglas vs. Holyfield was a much bigger attraction than Leonard-Duran III. The Mirage reportedly credentialed 1,200 members of the media, many from overseas.

In the days leading up to the fight, there were rumors that Buster Douglas had been lax in his training. Those rumors were confirmed when Douglas weighed-in at 246 pounds, 14 ½ pounds more than he had carried for Mike Tyson.

Counting the intermissions between rounds, the fight lasted a shade over nine minutes. In the third frame, Buster missed with an uppercut and Holyfield countered with an overhand right that landed on the temple. Buster fell to the canvas and made no attempt to rise as referee Mills Lane tolled the 10-count. As he lay there, picking at his nose, the scene was reminiscent of the famous photo of Jack Johnson lying on his back with his right arm shading his eyes from the sun at the conclusion of his 1915 fight with Jess Willard, a match that would always beg the question of whether Johnson was faking it.

Steve Wynn, who could be charming but was a perfectionist with a volatile temper, was livid. On the streets of Las Vegas, there was talk that Wynn had Douglas and his crew evicted from their hotel rooms even before the arena was locked down. If it were true that Buster Douglas was given the bum’s rush like some deadbeat inhabitant of a fleabag hotel, he would have been the first millionaire to experience this indignity. His purse was reportedly $24 million with $19.9 million guaranteed (roughly $40 million in today’s dollars).

Wynn partnered with promoter Bob Arum for the Leonard-Duran fight. For Douglas-Holyfield, he decided to go it alone, eliminating the middleman. By his reckoning, he had people on staff who were quite capable of getting all the moving parts to mesh into a coherent whole. But manufacturing a megafight is a complicated undertaking and Wynn would discover that he had over-reached. Plus, he had soured on boxing after two stinkers.

History would show that Steve Wynn would never again commit a large amount of money to host a prizefight. But this didn’t mark the end of boxing at the Mirage as Wynn owed Don King some dates as part of the out-of-court settlement that freed Buster Douglas from King’s grasp and a handful of promoters with lesser clout (e.g., Kathy Duva, Cedric Kushner, Dan Goossen) would anchor an occasional show there in a four-wall arrangement.

Don King’s first two Mirage promotions pit Mike Tyson against Razor Ruddock. Tyson stopped Ruddock in the seventh round on March 18, 1991. The stoppage by referee Richard Steele, which struck many as premature, sparked a wild melee in the ring between the opposing handlers. The sequel in June went the distance. Tyson copped the decision. Take away the three points that Ruddock was docked for low blows and Tyson still would have won.

King also promoted the last of the outdoor shows at the Mirage, a September 14, 1991 card topped by Julio Cesar Chavez’s super lightweight title defense against Lonnie Smith. In hindsight, this event was historically important.

Although Chavez was a massive favorite and the weather was oppressively hot, the Mexican Independence Day weekend fight attracted a larger-than-expected turnout of mostly Mexican tourists with deep pockets. In future years, many big fights in Las Vegas would be noosed to a Mexican holiday weekend. Chavez vs Smith was the ice-breaker.

In addition to Leonard, Duran, Holyfield, Tyson, and Chavez, future Hall of Famers Riddick Bowe, Jeff Fenech, Azumah Nelson, Buddy McGirt, and Michael Carbajal appeared at the Mirage. “Big Daddy” Bowe never headlined a show at the Mirage but had three fights here preceding his memorable trilogy with Evander Holyfield.

Steve Wynn divested his interest in the Mirage in 2000 and the property became part of the MGM consortium. In December of 2021, the property was purchased by the Hard Rock organization whose parent company, as it were, is the Seminole Indian tribe of Florida. The transition from the Mirage to the Hard Rock is expected to take almost three years. When the renovation is finished, the property will have a new hotel tower shaped like a giant guitar. The guitar, the symbol of the Hard Rock brand, couldn’t hold the volcano’s jockstrap, but it is what it is in the city that constantly reinvents itself.

Back when the Mirage opened, the charismatic Steve Wynn was the most admired man in town. An innovator and a true visionary, Wynn melded the sensibilities of Walt Disney and Bugsy Siegel and changed the face of the Las Vegas Strip. Wynn still has a large footprint in Las Vegas reflected in two look-alike five star hotel-casinos, the Wynn and the Encore, but, incredibly, he is now persona non grata in the city that once worshiped him. His fall from grace is not a proper subject for this website. Suffice it to say that Wynn, now 82, was quite the philanderer in his younger days and his recklessness caught up with him.

Yes, a lot of water has passed under the bridge since that magical night almost 35 years ago when Sugar Ray Leonard and Roberto Duran formally christened the newest and brightest jewel on the Las Vegas landscape. Those were the days, my friend, and for some of us it seemed like only yesterday.

A recognized authority on the history of prizefighting and the history of American sports gambling, TSS editor-in-chief Arne K. Lang is the author of five books including “Prizefighting: An American History,” released by McFarland in 2008 and re-released in a paperback edition in 2020.

To comment on this story in the Forum CLICK HERE

 

 

Share The Sweet Science experience!
Continue Reading

Featured Articles

A Conversation with Legendary Phoenix Boxing Writer Norm Frauenheim

Published

on

A-Conversation-with-Legendary-Phoenix-Boxing-Writer-Norm Frauenheim

It seems all along that Norm Frauenheim was destined to become a boxing writer.

Two critical elements were at play that led the 75-year-old scribe to that profession.

“I was always interested in boxing, even as a kid,” said Frauenheim who spent 31 years with the Arizona Republic beginning in 1977. “I’m an Army brat. I was born in January 1949 on a base, Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio, a city I didn’t really see until I hit the NBA road covering the [Phoenix] Suns for more than a decade starting in 1979-80.”

Frauenheim, a longtime correspondent for The Ring magazine who writes for various boxing sites such as boxingscene.com and 15rounds.com, added more background: “One of the many places I lived was Schofield Barracks on the Hawaiian Island of Oahu from 1962 to 1966,” he continued. “I delivered The Stars & Stripes to troops with the 25th Infantry Division, which was headed to Vietnam, along with my dad.

“Anyway, boxing and Schofield have long been linked, mostly because of a novel and film, ‘From Here to Eternity’ (the James Jones novel starring Frank Sinatra on the big screen). The troops were still boxing, outdoors, at the barracks along my newspaper route. I was 13 to 17 years old. I’d stop, watch and get interested. I’ve been interested ever since.”

Frauenheim added: “From there, my father and family shipped to Fort Sheridan, then a base north of Chicago where I spent one year and graduated from high school “Then my dad went back to Vietnam and I went to Vanderbilt University in Nashville (1967 through 1971) and graduated with a major in history. I was also a competitive swimmer, pre-Title IX.

“Competitive swimming is also at the roots of my sportswriting career. I was frustrated that Vanderbilt’s student newspaper didn’t cover us. I offered to do it. The newspaper agreed. I don’t swim as well as I used to. I look at a surfboard and look at the waves I used to take on and wondered what in the hell I was doing. It’s a lot safer to be at ringside.”

After a more than five-decade stint covering boxing, Frauenheim is glad that the manly sport is still around but with more outside competition.

“It’s surely not the [Muhammad] Ali era. It’s not the Golden 80s, either. It’s a fractured business in a world with more and more options for sports fans. MMA is just one example,” he said. “Boxing is not dying. It has been declared dead, ad nauseam. I read the inevitable obits and think of an old line: Boxing has climbed out of more coffins than Count Dracula.

“Still, the sport has been pushed to the fringe of public interest. But it’s been there before. Resiliency is one of its strongest qualities. It’ll be around, always reinventing itself.”

In some respects, boxing, like the other sports, has always been dependent on rivalries like the NBA’s Celtics versus Lakers, which drives the public’s interest and storylines.

“[Larry] Bird-Magic [Johnson] was basketball’s Ali-[Joe] Frazier,” Frauenheim says. “It transformed the league, setting the stage for Michael Jordan. It can happen again, in boxing or any other sport.”

Boxing is still the same but with tweaks here and there.

“When I started, championship bouts were 15 rounds instead of 12,” said Frauenheim who began his journalism career in 1970 at the Tallahassee Democrat and worked at the Jacksonville Journal before being lured in Phoenix. “There were morning weigh-ins instead of the day-before promotional show. There was also a lot more media. A big fight in Vegas meant all of the big media people were there. The last time that happened was Manny Pacquiao-Floyd Mayweather Jr. in 2015, a fight that failed to meet expectations and I think eroded much of the big media’s appetite for more,” continued Frauenheim whose byline has appeared in USA Today, the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times.

Mexican legend Saul Alvarez is still a major draw, but there are others on the horizon who are ready to step in and take over like the undefeated super middleweight David Benavidez.

“The clock is ticking on Canelo’s career, and I think he knows it. At this point, it’s about risk-reward. The 27-year-old Benavidez is too big a risk. Canelo, I think, looks at Benavidez and thinks he’ll beat him. I don’t think he would,” Frauenheim noted. “Benavidez is too big, has a mean streak and possesses a rare extra gear. He gets stronger in the late rounds.

“Even if Canelo wins, there’s a pretty good chance that Benavidez hurts him. There’s still a chance Canelo-Benavidez happens. But I think it’ll take some Saudi [Arabian] money.”

Boxers stand alone in the ring, literally and figuratively, but have a small supporting crew.

This makes them unique compared to baseball, football, basketball and hockey.

“Boxers are different from any other athlete I’ve ever covered. It’s why, I guess, boxing has been called a writer’s sport. There are plenty of NFL and NBA players who have grown up on the so-called mean streets,” Frauenheim said. “But they have teammates. They don’t make that long, lonely walk from the dressing room to the ring.”

Stripped naked, boxers are an open book, according to Frauenheim.

“They can be hard to deal with while training and cutting weight. But after a fight, no athlete in my experience is more forthcoming,” he said. “Win or lose, they just walked through harm’s way in front of people. In my experience, that’s when they want to talk.”

Selecting a career highlight or highlights isn’t easy for Frauenheim, but he tried.

“There are so many. I was there for the great Sugar Ray Leonard victory over Thomas Hearns [1981], a welterweight classic,” he recalled. “A personal favorite was Michael Carbajal’s comeback from two knockdowns for a KO of Humberto Gonzalez in 1993, perhaps the best fight in the history of the lightest weight class. I was also there for the crazy, including Mike Tyson-Evander Holyfield’s “Bite Fight” and the “Fan Man” landing in the ring like the 82nd Airborne Division midway through a Riddick Bowe-Holyfield fight behind Vegas’ Caesars Palace.”

Three boxers set the tone and backdrop for Frauenheim’s illustrious tenure as a writer.

“Roberto Duran is the greatest lightweight ever. His lifestyle sometimes got the best of him. That was evident in his infamous ‘No Mas’ welterweight loss to Sugar Ray Leonard in New Orleans,” he said of that November 1980 bout. “He told me that he took the rematch, on short notice, because of the money. “Women-women-women, eating-eating-eating, drinking-drinking-drinking,” he told me in an interview of what he had been doing before Leonard’s people approached him for an immediate rematch of his Montreal victory. But take a look at Duran’s victory in Montreal [June 1980]. Watch it again. On that night, there’s never been a better fighter than Duran.”

Frauenheim added another titan to that short list: “Leonard, who is the last real Sugar,” he said, and ended with the only eight-weight division king. “Manny Pacquiao, an amazing story about a starving kid off impoverished Filipino streets. He was a terrific fighter, blessed with speed, power and instinct. Add to that a shy personality unchanged by all the money and celebrity. He is an example of what can still happen in boxing. He’s the face of the game’s resiliency.”

That’s quite a trio, and they’re the best of the best that Frauenheim’s seen and covered from ringside.

To comment on this story in the Fight Forum CLICK HERE

Share The Sweet Science experience!
Continue Reading

Featured Articles

Aaron McKenna and Kieron Conway Victorious in Osaka

Published

on

Aaron-McKenna-and-Kieran-Conway-Victorious-in-Osaka

Aaron McKenna scored a 10th-round stoppage of Jeovanny Estela today (Monday, July 15) in Osaka, Japan. The bout was one of four scheduled 10-rounders in the middleweight division in a revamped Prizefighter Tournament with a $1,000,000 prize at stake for the winner.

One of two fighting brothers from the little town of Smithborough in County Monaghan, Ireland, the undefeated (19-0, 10 KOs) McKenna (pictured) was well ahead on the scorecards when the referee stepped in and halted the match at the 2:02 mark of the final round. He entered the ring a 4/1 favorite over Estela (14-1), a 23-year-old Floridian of Puerto Rican descent who began his pro career at 147.

McKenna’s opponent in the next round (at a date and place to be determined) will be England’s Kieron Conway (21-3-1, 6 KOs) who scored a seventh-round stoppage over China’s obscure Ainiwaer Yilixati (19-2). All three of Conway’s losses were to opponents who were undefeated when he fought them with two of those setbacks occurring on Canelo Alvarez undercards.

Two Japanese fighters – Riku Kunimoto and Kazuto Takesako – were victorious in the other bouts and will meet in the semifinals.

Local fan favorite Kunimoto, recognized as the middleweight champion of Japan, advanced to 12-1 (6 KOs) with a fifth-round stoppage of countryman Eiki Kani (8-5-3). This was a rematch. The two fought earlier this year in Nagoya with Kunimoto registering a fifth-round TKO.

Takesako (17-2-1, 15 KOs) registered the lone upset on the card with a hard-earned decision over England’s Mark Dickinson. It was the first pro loss for Dickinson who had only six pro fights under his belt but was a highly decorated amateur. The scores were 98-92, 97-93, and 95-94.

The next fight for Kunimoto will be another rematch. Takesako saddled him with his lone defeat, knocking him out in the first round at Tokyo’s venerable Korakuen Hall in May of 2021.

The tournament, co-sponsored by Matchroom and televised on DAZN, offers an aggregate $100,000 per event for knockouts. McKenna, Conway, and Kunimoto scooped up $25,000 apiece.

Aaron McKenna, his brother Stephen, and their father/trainer Feargal McKenna were the subjects of a story that ran on these pages. Stephen McKenna (14-0, 13 KOs) returns to the ring next month against 14-2 Joe Laws on a BOXXER promotion that will air on Sky Sports in the UK.

Aaron McKenna entered the Prizefighter Tourney as the pre-fight favorite and Matchroom honcho Eddie Hearn has indicated that he will be in line for a world title shot if he wins his next two matches.

To comment on this story in the Fight Forum CLICK HERE

Share The Sweet Science experience!
Continue Reading
Advertisement
The-Hauser-Report-Ryan-Garcia-and-the-New-York-State-Athletic-Commission
Featured Articles3 weeks ago

The Hauser Report: Ryan Garcia and the New York State Athletic Commission

Middleweight-Title-Fight-Cancelled-Super-Wekterweight-Sizzler-Announced-by-Golden-Boy
Featured Articles5 days ago

Middleweight Title Fight Canceled; Super Welterweight Sizzler Announced by Golden Boy

Rodriguez-vs-Estrada-A-Closer-Look-at-Saturday's-Dream-Match-Up -in-Phoenix
Featured Articles3 weeks ago

Rodriguez vs. Estrada: A Closer Look at Saturday’s Dream Match-up in Phoenix 

Angelo-Leo's-Homecoming-Fight-in-Albuquerque-was-Fermented-on-ProBox
Featured Articles2 weeks ago

Angelo Leo’s Homecoming Fight in Albuquerque was Fermented on ProBox

Will-Eumor-Marcial-be-the-First-Filipino-Boxer-to-win-an-Olympic-Gold-Medal?
Featured Articles4 weeks ago

Will Eumir Marcial be the First Filipino Boxer to Win an Olympic Gold Medal?

A-Pearl-from-the-Boxing-Vault-Fritzie-Zivnic-Will-See-You-Now
Featured Articles4 weeks ago

A Pearl from the Boxing Vault: Fritzie Zivic Will See You Now 

Results-from-Las-Vegas-where-Rafael-Espinoza-Reyained-his-WBO-Belt-in-Grand-Style
Featured Articles4 weeks ago

Results from Las Vegas where Rafael Espinoza Retained his WBO Title in Grand Style

Shakur-Improves-ro-22-0-and-Christmas-Comes-Early-for-Conceicao-in-Newark
Featured Articles2 weeks ago

Shakur Improves to 22-0 and Christmas Comes Early for Conceicao in Newark

Jesse-'Bam'-Rodriguez-is-the-Boss-at-115,but-Don't Sleep-on-Ioka-vs-Martinez
Featured Articles2 weeks ago

Jesse ‘Bam’ Rodriguez is the Boss at 115, but Don’t Sleep on Ioka vs Martinez

Results-and-Recaps-from-Philly-where-Boots-Ennis-Stomped-Out-David-Avanesyan
Featured Articles4 days ago

Results and Recaps from Philly where ‘Boots’ Ennis Stomped Out David Avanesyan

Results-and-Recaps-where Teofimo-Lopez-Outlcassed Steve
Featured Articles3 weeks ago

Results & Recaps from Miami where Teofimo Lopez Out-Classed Steve Claggett

Jesse-Rodriguez-KOs-Juan-Francisco-Estrada-Before-a-Roaring-Crowd-in-Phoenix
Featured Articles3 weeks ago

Jesse Rodriguez KOs Juan Francisco Estrada Before a Roaring Crowd in Phoenix

Trevor-McCumby-Fell-Off-the-Map-and-Now-He's-Back-with-a-Big-Fight-on-the-Horizon
Featured Articles1 week ago

Trevor McCumby Fell Off the Map and Now He’s Back with a Big Fight on the Horizon

Denny-and-Crocker-Win-in-Birmingham-Catterall-vs-Prograis-a-Go-for-Aug-24
Featured Articles4 weeks ago

Denny and Crocker Win in Birmingham: Catterall vs Prograis a Go for Aug. 24

fulghum
Featured Articles3 weeks ago

Kalkreuth and Fulghum Score Uninspired Wins over Late Subs at Fantasy Springs

Lamont-Roach-TKOs-Teak-Tough-Feargal-NcCrory-in-a-Homecoming-Title-Defense
Featured Articles3 weeks ago

Lamont Roach TKOs Teak-Tough Feargal McCrory in a Homecoming Title Defense

U.S.-Olympic-Gold-Medalist-Fidel-La-Barna-Was-a-Phenom-After-a-Rocky-Start
Featured Articles2 weeks ago

U.S. Olympic Gold Medalist Fidel La Barba Was a Phenom After a Rocky Start

Avila-Perspective-Chap-287-Boxing-Wars-on-Tap-in-Philadelphia-and-Las-Vegas
Featured Articles7 days ago

Avila Perspective, Chap. 287: Boxing Wars on Tap in Philadelphia and Las Vegas

Shane-Mosley-Jr-Turns-Away-Daniel-Jacobs-in-the-Co-Feature-to-Masvidal-Diaz
Featured Articles2 weeks ago

Shane Mosley Jr Turns Away Daniel Jacobs in the Co-Feature to Masvidal-Diaz

Fernando-Martinez-Ratches-Up-the-Heat-in-the-Hot-Super-Flyweight-Division
Featured Articles1 week ago

Fernando Martinez Ratches Up the Heat in the Hot Super Flyweight Division

The-Mirage-Goes-Dark-and-Another-Storied-Venue-for-Boxing-Bites-the-Dust
Featured Articles7 hours ago

The Mirage Goes Dark and Another Storied Venue for Boxing Bites the Dust

A-Conversation-with-Legendary-Phoenix-Boxing-Writer-Norm Frauenheim
Featured Articles1 day ago

A Conversation with Legendary Phoenix Boxing Writer Norm Frauenheim

Aaron-McKenna-and-Kieran-Conway-Victorious-in-Osaka
Featured Articles3 days ago

Aaron McKenna and Kieron Conway Victorious in Osaka

Results-and-Recaps-from-Philly-where-Boots-Ennis-Stomped-Out-David-Avanesyan
Featured Articles4 days ago

Results and Recaps from Philly where ‘Boots’ Ennis Stomped Out David Avanesyan

Muratalla-Nips-Farmer-and-Segawa-Upsets-Villa-on-a-Top-Rank-Card-in-Las-Vegas
Featured Articles4 days ago

Muratalla Nips Farmer and Segawa Upsets Villa on a Top Rank Card in Las Vegas

Chocolate 560x590
Featured Articles5 days ago

‘Chocolatito’ Gonzalez Delights the Home Folks: TKOs Barrera in 10

Middleweight-Title-Fight-Cancelled-Super-Wekterweight-Sizzler-Announced-by-Golden-Boy
Featured Articles5 days ago

Middleweight Title Fight Canceled; Super Welterweight Sizzler Announced by Golden Boy

Avila-Perspective-Chap-287-Boxing-Wars-on-Tap-in-Philadelphia-and-Las-Vegas
Featured Articles7 days ago

Avila Perspective, Chap. 287: Boxing Wars on Tap in Philadelphia and Las Vegas

Trevor-McCumby-Fell-Off-the-Map-and-Now-He's-Back-with-a-Big-Fight-on-the-Horizon
Featured Articles1 week ago

Trevor McCumby Fell Off the Map and Now He’s Back with a Big Fight on the Horizon

Fernando-Martinez-Ratches-Up-the-Heat-in-the-Hot-Super-Flyweight-Division
Featured Articles1 week ago

Fernando Martinez Ratches Up the Heat in the Hot Super Flyweight Division

Shane-Mosley-Jr-Turns-Away-Daniel-Jacobs-in-the-Co-Feature-to-Masvidal-Diaz
Featured Articles2 weeks ago

Shane Mosley Jr Turns Away Daniel Jacobs in the Co-Feature to Masvidal-Diaz

Shakur-Improves-ro-22-0-and-Christmas-Comes-Early-for-Conceicao-in-Newark
Featured Articles2 weeks ago

Shakur Improves to 22-0 and Christmas Comes Early for Conceicao in Newark

Results-and-Recaps-from-Ontario-Where-William-Zepeda-KOed-Giovanni-Cabrera
Featured Articles2 weeks ago

Results and Recaps from Ontario Where William Zepeda KOed Giovanni Cabrera

Chalk-Up-Another-Quickie-for-the-Romford-Bull-Wipes-Out-Alen-Babic-in-36-Seconds
Featured Articles2 weeks ago

Chalk Up Another Quickie for the ‘Romford Bull’: Wipes Out Alen Babic in 36 Seconds

Angelo-Leo's-Homecoming-Fight-in-Albuquerque-was-Fermented-on-ProBox
Featured Articles2 weeks ago

Angelo Leo’s Homecoming Fight in Albuquerque was Fermented on ProBox

Jesse-'Bam'-Rodriguez-is-the-Boss-at-115,but-Don't Sleep-on-Ioka-vs-Martinez
Featured Articles2 weeks ago

Jesse ‘Bam’ Rodriguez is the Boss at 115, but Don’t Sleep on Ioka vs Martinez

U.S.-Olympic-Gold-Medalist-Fidel-La-Barna-Was-a-Phenom-After-a-Rocky-Start
Featured Articles2 weeks ago

U.S. Olympic Gold Medalist Fidel La Barba Was a Phenom After a Rocky Start

Jesse-Rodriguez-KOs-Juan-Francisco-Estrada-Before-a-Roaring-Crowd-in-Phoenix
Featured Articles3 weeks ago

Jesse Rodriguez KOs Juan Francisco Estrada Before a Roaring Crowd in Phoenix

Results-and-Recaps-where Teofimo-Lopez-Outlcassed Steve
Featured Articles3 weeks ago

Results & Recaps from Miami where Teofimo Lopez Out-Classed Steve Claggett

Lamont-Roach-TKOs-Teak-Tough-Feargal-NcCrory-in-a-Homecoming-Title-Defense
Featured Articles3 weeks ago

Lamont Roach TKOs Teak-Tough Feargal McCrory in a Homecoming Title Defense

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

Trending

Advertisement