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The 50 Greatest Lightweights of all Time Part Two: 40-31

Matt McGrain

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Floyd Mayweather

by Matt McGrain

Rules are everything.

Whether it’s the laws of physics describing the impact of a left hook upon a granite jaw or the Sweet Science’s editor applying the rules of grammar to the work we writers “bless” him with, they describe what we see, do and feel.  The process of ordering the Fifty Greatest Lightweights of all time, too, is a process described by rules.

Often, these rules throw up numbering that is counter-intuitive.  There is a fine example in this, the second installment in this series, at numbers 38 through 35.  At 38 and 37, I name two of the greatest fighters in history, while at 36 and 35 I name two fighters who were never named true champion and who own but a modicum of the fame commanded by the two men they rank directly above.  But the rules of this process say that actual achievement within the given division is far and away the most important factor and that fame and overall greatness achieved out-with the division count for less.  This is why we run across rankings that are counter-intuitive.

36 and 35 just did more at lightweight than 37 and 38.  They defeated more ranked contenders, achieved greater longevity in the division and also happened to be among the very, very best fighters at the poundage in their own eras.

Keep that in mind as we run down the fortieth to thirty-first greatest lightweights in history.

 

#40 – Billy Petrolle (89-21-10; Newspaper Decisions 34-4-6)

Billy Petrolle did wonders at the limit of 140lbs and against small welterweights.  He took scalps like Jimmy McLarnin, Battling Battalino and Jimmy Goodrich above the limit that interests us here, spreading his excellence over three weight divisions and perhaps not getting his due upon any of these lists for that fact.

Luck, too, was against him, in his career.

1932: after more than 100 contests, Petrolle finally gets his shot at the lightweight title.  The champion is Tony Canzoneri, a hideous vapor of feints and counter-intuition.  Canzoneri’s left was never better and for many, this was the absolute peak of his incredible career.  Petrolle, maybe – maybe – could have matched or run him close at his own spectacular best but he had a disastrous battle with the poundage in the week before the fight.  His bob and weave, normally so difficult to time, repeatedly saw him bob up onto the Canzoneri left; he dropped a fifteen round decision.  He would never be champion.

This was all the more frustrating because two months before Canzoneri lifted the lightweight title, Petrolle had beaten him.  Stopped only twice at the poundage, by injury, he had courage and pressure to match that chin and he had a left-hook as fine as any in that stacked division outside of perhaps Canzoneri himself.  1-1 is nothing to sniff at, but working entirely within the weight range we are interested in, his next best scalp belongs to Jack “Kid” Berg, and again, Petrolle failed to prove his superiority going 1-1-1.  A series of defeats to the likes of Ray Miller (with whom he also went 1-1-1), Sammy Mandell, King Tut and Tommy Herman also exercises some drag, and for all that it must be allowed that a breakneck schedule like the one he fought to – Petrolle made as many as 24 matches in a year – is going to kick up some losses, Billy had a habit of losing the fight that really mattered.

This puts him below fighters who never proved themselves quite as special but who were a little luckier.

#39 – Edwin Rosario (47-6)

Edwin Rosario had the same unfortunate habit as Petrolle, namely that of losing to the best fighters he fought.  This is a typical habit and one held to by surprisingly great fighters, but in Rosario’s case it is hard to argue that Jose Luis Ramirez, Hector Camacho and Julio Cesar Chavez are the most gifted fighters “Chapo” tangled with.  But for all that Chavez dominated him, these three didn’t have it all their own way and against Ramirez, at least, he also posted a win.  That win, for me, was slightly fortuitous and I think Ramirez can count himself a little unlucky.  Rosario dialed in his right hand in the opening six, which he dominated, but Ramirez’s wonderful shepherding footwork and body attack took its toll late and Rosario found himself unable to control the action, his seemingly perennially injured right no longer a factor.  Regardless the judges gave Rosario the fight.

If he was fortunate (and that’s just one man’s opinion) he didn’t hide behind his fortune; in defense of the vacant strap he won against Ramirez he met ranked men, blasting out Roberto Elizondo in a single round in 1984, that right the most important punch once more, and taking a decision from Howard Davis Jr.  Decking Davis with a left hand in the last round is what made the difference in another desperately close fight, underlining the Puerto Rican’s two-handedness, but Ramirez then exacted a terrible revenge, stopping him in four.

After another hurtful (but close) loss to Hector Camacho, Rosario came again, stopping the superb Livingstone Bramble in just two rounds before Julio Cesar Chavez arrived on the scene.

After that terrible encounter, Rosario would never defeat another ranked fighter.

This leaves him with a ledger of 4-3 against Ring ranked lightweights.  Numerically, it’s not a great mark to leave upon the sport, but Rosario ran into some tough hombres.

#38 – Floyd Mayweather Jr. (49-0)

Floyd Mayweather staged a brief, jabbing drive-by of the lightweight division in 2002 to 2003, a visitation defined by his two-fight rivalry with Jose Luis Castillo (more of whom later).The first fight is the most controversial in the Mayweather canon.  Starting aggressively, Mayweather stabbed with the jab, bagged the first four rounds on my card and seemed in total control.  Then, one of two things happened.  Either Floyd exacerbated a shoulder-injury sustained in training or the clash of styles favored Castillo enough that Mayweather found himself under unprecedented pressure.  Certainly, Castillo made him work, getting closer and closer, buying inches with every half-step and forcing Floyd to flee before him.  This was Mayweather at the end of his first career (Pretty Boy) and beginning of his second (Money) without yet having the studied economy that would sustain him in his quest to dominate bigger men.

Castillo was able to build a head of steam, rattling after him with handfuls of bruising body-punches.  My card says Castillo won, barely, and for those who were dismayed by the rise and rise of the man called “Money”, this fight would remain the crown-jewel of their criticism and certainly it is the closest this Rolls Royce came to engine trouble.  For me, the result was not so controversial.  I thought many of the rounds were close, arguable, and although I do not care for the official scorecards, I think a narrow Mayweather win would have been reasonable.

Having taken the decision against the world’s best lightweight in controversial circumstances, Mayweather dealt the closest thing he would ever have to a nemesis back in with an immediate rematch.  Here began the Mayweather “procession,” his relentless spearing of a bigger man who came to apply pressure, a style not beloved by the fans but one that made him the richest boxer in history.  In truth, there were breathtaking moments.  In the eleventh, with the fight still in the balance, Mayweather turned in a wonderful variety of punches, leading with rights, countering with uppercuts, snapping off the left hook that had been the bane of Castillo throughout.  When Castillo dropped his head to bull, Mayweather would throw that left, countering not just Castillo’s movements but his very essence.  This fight is closer than is generally accepted in my opinion, but there was only one winner.

Depending upon your own personal view of the term lineage, one or the other of these fights made Mayweather the first lineal champion since Pernell Whitaker, and sealed his legacy at the weight.  One of the true jab clinics against Victoriano Sosa and an astonishing show against puncher Phillip Ndou built upon the right hand were the defenses he staged of the lineal title and sneaks him into the top forty.

So lightweight delivers head-to-head monsters in just the second sitting.

#37 – Julio Cesar Chavez (107-6-2)

Here is another one.

Just as Mosley’s lightweight career mirrors Crawford’s, so the legendary Julio Cesar Chavez’s mirrors that of fellow great Mayweather.  While Mayweather jabbed and slipped his way to pre-eminence in his stay at the poundage, Chavez marauded his way to the top.  Although Mayweather spent more time in the ring with ranked men, Chavez destroyed his with such imperiousness and those men were of such quality that he stands a barrier to a higher ranking for Mayweather.

Enjoying the occasional sojourn from 130lbs to 135lbs as he cut his teeth at the lighter poundage, Chavez arrived in earnest in the division in 1987 at the expense of the superb Edwin Rosario.

Rosario was a wonderful lightweight and a wonderful puncher; Chavez brushed him aside like he was nothing.  It was an astonishing performance, one of the best that can be seen on film at any weight and perhaps the single best performance by any lightweight ranked outside the top ten.  Chavez wove punches through the eye of the proverbial needle that night and from the very first round.  Rasario is disciplined, neat in defense, but Chavez, using the bare minimum in terms of room, happily found him with combinations as complex as a double-uppercut, liver-shot  with withering regularity.  Much of the success Rosario had on offense was left-handed – Chavez swallowed the puncher’s blows without a blink, kept him smothered, did the superior work.  On the rare occasions he allowed Rosario to charge, he out-flanked him with head-movement and surging counter-attacks.  He didn’t lose a round.

While Mayweather beat a wonderful drum with his jab, Chavez gave a clinic in combination punching and all that stopped him was the inevitable crumble of his world-class opponent.  After ten rounds of hard work taking fire from a world class puncher, Chavez literally runs out of his corner for the eleventh.  You could almost see Rosario deflate.  He lasted another two minutes, full of guts.

Another first rate lightweight, Jose Luis Ramirez was in desperate need of guts when he met Chavez a year later.  Here, Chavez boxed quite differently, the drip-torture feed of his numbing right hand and his terrifying economy in wasting so few punches proving far too much for the veteran when a clash of heads and resulting cut to Ramirez called for the judges scorecards after ten.

Chavez was on rare form at 135lbs and perhaps could have ruled until Whitaker.  A shallow resume and a paucity of quality title-defenses keep him from the royal climates above, but he was a devastating lightweight.

#36 – Lockport Jimmy Duffy (36-8-4; Newspaper Decisions 60-12-26)

Lockport Jimmy Duffy turned professional in 1908, so while his record indicates he fell four wins short of the magical 100 mark, in reality he probably managed it; even among the elite for the era, fights tended to go unrecorded.

What we know about Duffy, though, makes him more than qualified for this list.

He never fought for the world title, but he bested champions, most prominent among them the great Freddie Welsh.  Duffy was never the pre-eminent lightweight during his career, but he got the best of a series with a man who was, beating Welsh twice to one loss, even dropping him for a short count in their second encounter in 1914.  He also took a decision from Johnny Dundee, the great featherweight and a contender for the #50 slot on this lightweight list.

Joe Shugrue was a superb boxer whose career was cut short by eye trouble and one who, despite inconsistency, was able to beat almost anyone on his day, including one Benny Leonard – Duffy took a ten round decision from him during World War One.  Leach Cross defeated Battling Nelson in November of 1912, but two months either side of this excellent result he dropped a DQ loss and a newspaper decision to Duffy.  Jack Britton, one of the greatest welterweights of all time, had the clear beating of Duffy at 147lbs, but during his lightweight apprenticeship, Duffy twice got the better of him.

Duffy was a giant, for his era, standing more than 5’10” with a reach pushing 72”, making him both taller and rangier than the most recent lineal champion, Terence Crawford.  He used his gifts, pumping out a left jab, keeping opponents at range while piling up points on the cards.

It made him one of the crack lightweights of a golden era, and a name sadly lost, for the most part, to boxing in 2016.  This is unjust.

#35 – Sid Terris (93-13-4; Newspaper Decisions 6-0-1)

Sid Terris was a contemporary of the great Benny Leonard and according to some, at least, bore comparison for all that he was clearly the inferior model.  “Terris was fondled like a second Benny Leonard in New York,” wrote Sam Levy in late 1926.  “Sidney could move with the speed of the old champion and he was just about his equal as a boxer, but lacked his prestigious hitting power.”  He noted, however, that there was an “existing doubt in the minds of the fistic jurists regarding the courage of Terris.”

This doubt was placed in the mind of the “fistic jurists” by a 1924 loss to Eddie Wagner, a six round stoppage in which Terris was said to show yellow.  Terris avenged himself on Wagner and went on a 45-1-1 tear up through the lightweight division that saw him out-think and out-move a veritable smorgasbord of contenders.

He defeated Mickey Walker’s two-time dance partner Ace Hudkins in a “ten round thriller” that saw him handled in the fourth and seventh but come blazing back to dominate his brutish foe in the tenth for a narrow decision.  Terris was a defensive specialist who may have operated only a single level below the genius Leonard but he was, like The Ghetto Wizard (Terris carried the moniker “Ghetto Ghost”) capable of turning the tables with real violence when called upon to do so.  He was called upon to do so against Billy Petrolle, who he met in 1926.  After a fast start, Terris was savaged by a rampant Petrolle in the eighth and ninth but stood his ground to blast out the tenth and take a narrow decision once more.

These occasionally thrilling battles boosted his popularity and quieted accusations that he was “just a dancer,” a fighter who liked to peck out decisions but was afraid to hit the trenches.  He hit the trenches in 1927 against feared puncher Billy Wallace.  Smashed to the canvas in the first, Terris fought back in a manner Leonard himself would have been proud of, and although ringsiders seem split as to who deserved the decision, it was Terris who got the nod.  Stanislaus Loayza, Jack Bernstein, Basil Galiano, Rocky Kansas, Jimmy Goodrich and Johnny Dundee all got the Terris treatment at one time or another and although many of them, like he, are not household names, they were all ranked men.

Nor is the list exhaustive.  Terris wasn’t a great lightweight and he never held the title, but he lists among the division’s most storied contenders.

#34 – Wesley Ramey (141-28-12; Newspaper Decisions 11-0-2)

Wesley Ramey turned professional as a lightweight in the 1920s and he retired as a lightweight in the 1940s.  Most of the fighters on this list, even legendary lightweights such as Joe Gans and Roberto Duran, did not sacrifice their entire careers to 135lbs.  What this means is that nearly every one of the 150 wins Ramey posted in his career were at the expense of a fellow lightweight and makes his resume at the poundage an exceptional one.

Of course it also means that most of the losses were suffered at 135lbs too, but this needs to be quantified.  He posted six of those losses in the final two years of his lightweight odyssey and several more during his ill-fated tour of Australia which included a loss at welterweight to legendary Ozzy Jack Carroll.  Between his schedule and longevity, losses were inevitable.

Ramey’s greatest night, however, came against legendary lightweight Tony Canzoneri.  Canzoneri, then the reigning lightweight champion of the world, was only a few months removed from his shattering performance against Billy Petrolle, a peak night for one of the great fighters; Ramey thrashed him in a non-title fight, winning all but two of the rounds on the Associated Press scorecard.  Canzoneri promised Ramey a title shot but had already signed to meet one Barney Ross.  Ross took Canzoneri and Ramey was frozen out.  On such moments, history turns.

That didn’t prevent Ramey defeating a long list of ranked contenders across the near twenty years for which he terrorized the division.  In the modern era he would have worn a strap, at the least.

#33 – Young Griffo (68-11-38; Newspaper Decisions 50-1-30)

A fighter like Young Griffo really tests a project such as this one.

Joe Gans named him the best defensive boxer he ever met; given the level of competition Gans was faced with in the course of his career this makes him as good as almost anyone to come out of boxing’s first fifty years.  But as Gans himself also observed, Griffo didn’t take his profession any more seriously than he took his training and seemed more enamored by hellraising than fighting, coming to the ring against even the greatest of his peers underprepared

Furthermore there is anecdotal evidence that Griffo’s main priority was to avoid defeat, not to achieve victory.  The rules of the day, which called for dominance in order that judges (or newspapers) might name a victor meant that there was a vast grey area in which a fighter could achieve a draw.  This made avoiding defeat a cinch for a fighter of Griffo’s great talent.

And so he scored many – nearly seventy of them, in fact, according to his most complete record.  That is absurd and makes judging him absurdly difficult.  Apart from Gans, with whom he boxed two draws, he fought stalemates with Frank Erne, Kid Lavigne and George Dixon, each of them among the very best fighters of their era.

But Griffo posted no wins in this type of company and many of those contests were farcical.  Chaotic draws with the likes of Lavigne are impressive but do they really forge a great legacy?  And what of persistent rumors that these results were agreed upon beforehand or that Griffo elicited his opponent’s co-operation during the contest?  The Australian will be back to torture me at featherweight, but as for lightweight, I can force him no higher.  It’s frustrating, because if he had applied himself in the same way that Wesley Ramey did, a spot in the top ten would have been his likely reward.  Even Gans and the other monstrous lightweights of his era may not have been able to stop his rise to the title – as it is we will never know, and Young Griffo fails to penetrate the top thirty.

#32 – Hector Camacho (79-6-3)

Despite boxing his way through the whole of the 1990s, Camacho never made the lightweight limit after 1986 and spent the early years of his career flitting between 130 and 135lbs.  No career lightweight then but the judderingly quick southpaw did inflict serious suffering upon the division in the early and mid-1980s.  Included in the suffering were two that readers of Part One and Two will be familiar with — Jose Luis Ramirez and Edwin Rosario.

Against Ramirez, Camacho’s dominance was a wonder.  He turned in a perfect performance, a true showcase for his wonderful speed; Camacho, arguably, is the fastest lightweight to appear on film and Ramirez is the fight where he really demonstrated that speed.  In the third, he dropped an axe-fall left hand on Ramirez to see him to the deck and only Ramirez’s equally wonderful toughness keeps him from the “ten” in this fight.

Rosario gave him more problems.  Quicker pressure, and that dangerous right-hand left Camacho wide open for lefts in the fifth and the eleventh and saw him on rubbery legs on two occasions.  Still, a wonderful engine kept Camacho a step ahead for seven of the twelve rounds and bought him a desperate split decision.  Lucky to avoid a point deduction for persistent fouling and arguably on the receiving end of a 10-8 round in the fifth, a draw would have been a reasonable result but given the referee’s position on the fouls, I think a Camacho win is the right result.

A true test of character for Camacho, there are those that believe that this fight turned him from an aggressive speedster into a stick-and-move merchant.  There is probably some truth to this; certainly for his next and last lightweight contest, against Cornelius Boza-Edwards, Camacho boxed carefully in taking a much more comfortable decision.

Then he bid the lightweight division, and any chance of making the top thirty on this list, adieu.

 #31 – Beau Jack (91-24-5)

Beau Jack only made the lightweight limit once after 1944 in his doomed tilt at the great Ike Williams, who then held the undisputed title.  Jack was a wonderful fighter, but one who stepped up in pursuit of cash and glory, leaving the poundage which best suited him behind.

Above the lightweight limit he scored great victories over the likes of Bob Montgomery, Bummy Davis, Sammy Angott, Lew Jenkins, Fritzie Zivic, and, most impressively, Henry Armstrong.  These are the results that made Beau Jack great but readers of these series’ will understand that he receives no credit for these victories here but rather is credited at welterweight and, of course, in a pound for pound sense.

His glittering ambition – which made him one of the most bankable stars of the era – limited his standing at lightweight to that which he achieved before 1944.  These are considerable, but not of the ilk that explains his high placement on Boxing Scene’s excellent top twenty-five.  Let’s take a look.

Jack’s finest win was over Bob Montgomery at the lightweight limit late in 1943 winning as many as ten and as few as seven on the scorecards of judges and ringsiders, but in all events winning more than his heavily favored opponent.  Montgomery was favored because he had defeated Jack for Jack’s lightweight strap six months before.  A brutal body attack registered early and by the end Jack was hanging on in desperation; in the rematch, he smothered the new belt-holder’s attack by keeping close and working hard.  The two fought on two more occasions, but Montgomery took the lightweight rubber to prove himself the better fighter at the 135lb limit.

Looking back over his earlier days in the division, Jack did good, but not great work.  His knockout victory over Tippy Larkin was impressive, and executed in just three rounds for the vacant NYSAC belt.  His best performance may have come during his run to that belt, a seven round hammering of number one contender Allie Stolz, who was heavily favored to beat him.  The United Press described his style as “hell-for-leather primitive pummelling” but the more scientifically gifted Stolz, who was riding a hot streak, hardly won a round.  A “menacing bundle of wiry muscle,” Jack applied fierce pressure upon the favorite, who melted before him.  I suspect Jack was never better at the weight, but if he was, it was probably against Juan Zurita, the NBA strapholder who forced Jack to the ring at 136lbs in order that his title would remain at his waist regardless.  Jack was made to miss often by Zurita but kept the pressure on to hammer out a ten round decision from the inside.

Jack beat both beltholders during his lightweight prime and was unquestionably the best lightweight in the world for a spell after his defeat of Montgomery and before Montgomery’s revenge; but he was never the lineal champion and, as described, the overwhelming number of his best wins came at 138lbs or above.

 

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

Ted Sares

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carl Thompson vs. Ezra Sellers (2001)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then it Happened!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s yours?

Ted Sares can be reached at tedsares@roadrunner.com

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

Jeffrey Freeman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They hold the 24K gold key to induction.

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

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

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

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

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

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

It looked like the end was near for Marlon Starling.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hope to see you in Canastota someday, Champ.

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

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The KIMBALL CHRONICLES: Bidding Adieu to John Ruiz, The Quiet Man

George Kimball

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The-Kimball-Chronicles-Bidding-Adieu-to-John-Ruiz-The-Quiet-Man

A TSS CLASSIC: I wasn’t even in Atlantic City on the night of March 15, 1996. Mike Tyson was fighting Frank Bruno in Las Vegas the following evening, and Don King had dressed up the undercard with four other world title fights (plus Christy Martin-Dierdre Gogarty), so even though I worked for a Boston newspaper and Johnny Ruiz, who lived across the river in Chelsea, was one of ours, there was never any question in my mind where I should be that weekend.

But a bunch of us did get together to watch Friday night’s HBO show, a unique event the network’s then-vice president Lou DiBella had cooked up called “Night of the Young Heavyweights. Not many of the 16 guys who fought that night were especially well known then, though several of them would be later. There were heavyweights from six different countries, and while six of these unknowns would eventually fight for world titles, only two would actually win one – and they both lost that night. Shannon Briggs got stretched in three rounds by Darroll Wilson, and Ruiz was counted out by Tony Perez exactly nineteen seconds into his fight against David Tua.

It was about as devastating a one-punch knockout as you’ll ever see. Nobody, or at least nobody in Boston, was exactly gloating about it, but the long-range implications were obvious. Even though Ruiz and his manager Norman Stone were saying “he just got caught; it could have happened to anybody, anyone who’d spent much time around boxing could have told you that a knockout like this one usually turns out to be the first of many.”

As an amateur Ruiz had been the best light-heavyweight in New England, but never quite made it to the top in national competition. In the 1992 USA Boxing Championships he lost to Montell Griffin. In the Olympic Trials in Worcester that year he lost to Jeremy Williams. You wouldn’t term either loss a disgrace – those two met in the final of the Trials, which Williams won, but then Griffin came back to beat him twice in the Box-off and earned the trip to Barcelona – but it did sort of define Ruiz’ place in the amateur pecking order.

As a pro Ruiz had already lost twice. Both were split decisions (to the late Sergei Kobozev in ’92 and to Dannell Nicholson a year later) and controversial enough that Stone could scream “We wuz robbed!” on both occasions, but now they, coupled with the Tua result, appeared to have defined his place in the heavyweight picture as well.

* * *
Three months later at the Roxy in Boston, Ruiz TKO’d Doug Davis in six. Davis was 7-17-1 going into that one and lost 16 of the 17 fights he had afterward. Davis was a career Opponent from Allentown, Pa., a little guy built like a fireplug who lost to nearly every mid-level heavyweight of his era, so the only real significance to this one was that back then he usually tried very hard to finish on his feet so that he’d be available the next time the phone rang.

To watch Stoney’s reaction, you’d have thought Ruiz had just knocked out Lennox Lewis at the Roxy.

As soon as the main event was over, I’d glanced at my watch and realized there was an edition I could still make if I filed my story in the next 20 minutes. I was already pounding away at my laptop before the fighters cleared the ring.

Next thing I knew, a red-faced Norman Stone was directly above me, bent over and shouting through the ropes, which was about as close as he could come to getting in my face without falling out of the ring.

The invective consisted for the most part of a stream of disconnected expletives, but from the few decipherable words in between I gathered that he hadn’t much enjoyed my interpretation of what the Tua loss might portend for Ruiz’ future.

Since I was on deadline, I just ignored him and kept writing. Trainer Gabe LaMarca and Tony Cardinale, Ruiz’ lawyer, finally dragged him away.

Seated next to me was a young boxing writer named Michael Woods, now the editor of The Sweet Science.

“What, asked Woodsy, “was that all about?

“Nothing, I shrugged without looking up. “He’s just a f—— psychopath, is all.

I finished my story and filed it, and then raced to Ruiz’ dressing room. Stone was still there.

“I don’t come up in the corner and interrupt you between rounds,” I told him. “If you want to act like a jerk (though I don’t think ‘jerk’ was actually the word I used), fine, but don’t try and drag me into it when I’m working.”

Having gotten that off my chest, I added “Now. Is there something you want to talk about?”

Actually, there wasn’t. He’d just been blowing off steam. The point of the exercise had been to remind Ruiz that he was standing up for him.

But I’ll have to admit two things. One was that John Ruiz had 27 fights after the Tua debacle, and he didn’t get knocked out in any of them. (Even when he was stopped in what turned out to be the final bout of his career, it was Miguel Diaz’ white towel and not David Haye’s fists that ended it.)

The other is that if somebody had tried to tell me that night that John Ruiz would eventually fight for the heavyweight championship of the world, let alone do it dozen times, I’d have laughed in his face, so on that count maybe Stoney got the last laugh after all.

* * *
No boxer ever had a more loyal manager. Stone was a hard-drinking Vietnam veteran who eventually kicked the booze and replaced it with another obsession. He had enough faith in Ruiz’ future that he twice mortgaged his house to keep the boxer’s career afloat, and was so protective that he eventually convinced himself, if not Ruiz, that it was the two of them against the world.

At that point in his career Ruiz was still vaguely aligned with London-based Panix Promotions, the same people who were guiding the fortunes of Lewis. It is unclear exactly how beneficial this might have been to Ruiz, who between 1993 and 1996 flew across the ocean to knock out obscure opponents in some fairly obscure UK cards, other than giving him the opportunity to boast that he knocked out Julius Francis a good four years before Mike Tyson got paid a fortune to do the same thing.

Working with Panix’ other heavyweight client was also supposed to be part of the arrangement, but Ruiz’ actual time in the ring with Lewis was brief. Ask Stoney and he’ll say that Lennox wanted no part of him after “Johnny kicked his ass.” Ask Lewis and he’ll laugh and point out that sparring with Ruiz was pretty much a waste of time anyway unless you were getting ready to fight a circus bear.

In any case, a few fights later Cardinal and Stone made what turned out to be a pivotal career move by enlisting Ruiz under Don King’s banner. (Panos Eliades seemed utterly shocked that a fellow promoter would poach a fighter from under his nose. “Ruiz isn’t Don’s boxer, he’s my boxer,” exclaimed Eliades.)

If Cardinale and Stone get full marks for aligning Ruiz with King, matchmaker Bobby Goodman deserves credit for the next critical phase of Ruiz’ career.

In January of 1998 Ruiz fought former IBF champion Tony Tucker in Tampa, and stopped him in 11 rounds. For his next three outings, Goodman was able to deliver opponents who each had but a single loss on their records, and, moreover, to strategically place the bouts on high-profile cards which provided national exposure to The Quiet Man.

In September 1998, on the Holyfield-Vaughn Bean card at the Georgia Dome, Ruiz fought 19-1-1 Jerry Ballard and stopped him in four.

In March of ’99 on the Lewis-Holyfield I card at Madison Square Garden, he scored a fourth-round TKO over 21-1 Mario Crawley.

In June of ’99, on a Showtime telecast topped by two title bouts in an out-of-the-way Massachusetts venue, Ruiz was matched against 16-1 Fernely Feliz, and scored a 7th-round TKO.

Ruiz at this point had been working his way up the ladder of contenders, and by the time Lewis beat Holyfield in their rematch that November, Ruiz was now rated No 1 and the champion’s mandatory by both the WBC and WBA. Ruiz, who at that point hadn’t fought in five months while he waited for the title picture to sort itself out, needed to beat an opponent with a winning record to maintain his position.

Enter Thomas “Top Dawg Williams of South Carolina (20-6). Ruiz knocked him out a minute into the second round.

Was it on the level? Hey, I was ten feet away that night in Mississippi, and I couldn’t swear to it, but I can tell you this much: three months later Williams went to Denmark, where he was knocked out by Brian Nielsen, and then when Ruiz fought Holyfield at the Paris in Las Vegas in June of 2000, Williams and Richie Melito engaged in an in camera fight before the doors to the arena had even opened, with Melito scoring a first-round knockout that was the subject of whispers before it even happened.

Having cut a deal and been flipped into a cooperating witness, Williams’ agent Robert Mittleman later testified under oath that he had arranged for Top Dawg to throw both the Nielsen and Melito fights.

The government had extensively prepped its witness before putting him on the stand. If the Ruiz fight had been in the bag, isn’t it reasonable to suppose that Mittleman would have been asked about that, too?

In any case, when Lewis ducked the mandatory, the WBA vacated its championship and matched Ruiz and Holyfield for the title. Holyfield won a unanimous decision, but under circumstances so questionable that Cardinale successfully petitioned for a rematch.

The return bout, at the Mandalay Bay in March of ’01, produced Ruiz’ first championship, along with another career highlight moment. Like so many of the Quiet Man’s other highlights, this one also involved Stone.

Stone had been foaming at the mouth since the fourth, when a Holyfield head-butt had ripped open a cut to Ruiz’ forehead. Then, in the sixth, Holyfield felled Ruiz with what seemed to be a borderline low blow that left Ruiz rolling around on the canvas. Referee Joe Cortez called time, deducted a point from Holyfield, and gave Ruiz his allotted five minutes to recover.

No sooner had action resumed than Norman Stone, loudly enough to be heard in the cheap seats, shouted from the corner, “Hit him in the balls, Johnny!

So Johnny did. And at that moment, not only the fight and the championship, but the course John Ruiz’ life would take for the next ten years were immutably altered.

The punch caught Holyfield squarely in the protective cup. Holyfield howled in agony, but didn’t go down. He looked at Cortez (who had to have heard Stone’s directive from the corner), but the referee simply motioned for him to keep fighting.

But Ruiz had taken the fight out of Evander Holyfield, at least on this night. The next round he crushed him with a right hand that left him teetering in place for a moment before he crashed to the floor, and once he got up, Holyfield spent the rest of the night in such desperate retreat that he may not have thrown another punch.

Inevitably, the WBA ordered a rubber match. The only people happier than Holyfield himself were Chinese promoters who had been waiting in the wings after the second fight. They seemed to be only vaguely aware, if they were at all, that Holyfield was no longer the champion, but when King announced the August fight in Beijing, they seemed to have gotten their wish after all.

This particular Ruiz highlight doesn’t include Stoney, nor, for that matter, does it include the Quiet Man himself.

Despite sluggish ticket sales, the boxers were both already in China, as was King, that July. I had already secured a visa from the Chinese embassy in Dublin a few weeks earlier, and then after July’s British Open at Royal Lytham driven up to Scotland for a few days of golf.

St. Andrews caddies can often astonish you with the depth of their knowledge, but I guess if a man spends a lifetime toting clubs for the movers and shakers of the world he’s going to pick up a lot through sheer osmosis. And on this occasion I’d come across one who was a boxing buff as well. We’d repaired to the Dunvegan Pub for a post-round pint to continue our chat, and when the subject of Ruiz-Holyfield III came up, I told him I’d be on my way to China myself in a few days.

“Oh, I wouldn’t count on that,” he said ominously. I asked him why.

“Ticket sales are crap,” he said. “Ruiz is going to hurt his hand tomorrow. The fight’s not going to happen.”

The next day I got an emergency e-mail from Don King’s office announcing that John Ruiz had incurred a debilitating back injury and would be sidelined for several weeks. The Beijing fight was indefinitely “postponed.”

At least the paper didn’t make me fly home via Beijing.

* * *
The third bout between Ruiz and Holyfield took place at Foxwoods that December. When the judges split three ways, Ruiz kept the championship on a draw. He then beat Kirk Johnson, who got himself DQd in a fight he was well on the way to losing anyway, and then decided to cash in, agreeing to defend his title against Roy Jones for a lot more money than he could have made fighting any heavyweight on earth.

It was as clear beforehand as it is now that if Jones just kept his wits about him and fought a disciplined fight, there was no way in the world John Ruiz could have outpointed him. The only chance Ruiz had at all was a pretty slim one – that of doing something that would so enrage Jones that he took complete leave of his senses and succumbed to a war, where Ruiz would at least have a puncher’s chance.

The trouble was, Ruiz’ basic decency would never have allowed him to stoop to something like that. But Stone gave it his best shot.

The Jones-Ruiz fight took on such a monotony that it’s difficult to even remember one round from the next, but Stone’s weigh-in battle with Alton Merkerson was pretty unforgettable. Merkerson is big enough, and agile enough, to crush almost any trainer you can think of, and even in his old age I’d pick him over some heavyweights I could name. He’s quiet and reflective and so imperturbable that I’ve never, before or since, seen him lose his temper, and it’s fair to say that’s not what happened that day, either. When he saw Stoney flying at him, he thought he was being attacked (albeit by a madman), and reacted in self-defense.

Stone was in fact so overmatched that even he must have expected this one to be broken up quickly. Instead, boxers, seconds, undercard fighters, and Nevada officials fled in terror for the twenty seconds or so it took for Merkerson to hit Stone at least that many times. It was a scene so ugly that even Ruiz seemed disgusted. It wasn’t the end of their relationship, but it was surely the beginning of the end.

The public reaction to Jones’ win was an almost unanimous outpouring of gratitude. At least, they were saying, “we’ll never have to watch another John Ruiz fight.” But they were wrong.

He beat Hasim Rahman in an interim title fight that was promoted to the Full Monty when Jones affirmed that he had no intention of defending it. (Referee Randy Neumann, exasperated after having had to pry Ruiz and Rahman apart all night, likened them to “two crabs in a pot.) He stopped Fres Oquendo at the Garden six years ago, and then in November of 2004 came back from two knockdowns to outpoint Andrew Golota.

The Golota fight produced yet another Ruiz moment when Neumann, wearied of the stream of abuse coming from the corner, halted the action late in the eighth round and ordered Stone ejected from the building.

Most everyone found the episode amusing, Ruiz and Cardinale did not. LaMarca had retired, and while Stone was now the chief second, he was also the only experienced cut man in the corner. Having forced the referee’s hand, Stone had placed Ruiz in an the extremely vulnerable position of fighting four rounds – against Andrew Golota – without a cut man. Strike two.

Ruiz was reprieved when his 2005 loss to James Toney was changed to No Contest after Toney’s positive steroid test, but he bid adieu to the title – and to Stoney, it turned out – for the last time that December, when he lost a majority decision to the 7-foot Russian Nikolai Valuev in Berlin.

Already on a short leash, Stone had openly bickered with Cardinale the week of the fight, but his performance in its immediate aftermath sealed his fate. When Valuev was presented with the championship belt after the controversial decision, he draped it over his shoulder in triumph. Stone tore out of the corner and snatched it away, initiating a fight with an enemy cornermen. With Russians and Germans pouring into the ring bent on mayhem, Stone had to be rescued by Jameel McCline, who may have saved his life, but couldn’t save his job.

Four days later it was announced that Stone was retiring. Ruiz seemed bittersweet about the decision, but the two have not spoken since.

All of Ruiz’ significant fights over the past four and a half years took place overseas, and while he was well compensated for all of them, they might as well have taken place in a vacuum. Few American newspapers covered them.

I didn’t cover them either, but Ruiz and I did get together for a few days last fall out in Kansas, where we appeared with Victor Ortiz and Robert Rodriguez at a University boxing symposium. He’d brought along his new wife Maribel and his young son Joaquin, and the morning we were to part company we got together again for coffee and reminisced a bit more.

Neither one of us had seen Stoney, though I would hear from him, indirectly, soon enough. Newspapermen don’t write their own headlines, and a few months ago the lead item in my Sunday notebook for the Herald reflected on Ruiz’ upcoming title fight against David Haye in England representing this country’s last best chance at regaining the championship for what could be years to come.

When somebody at the desk put a headline on it that described Ruiz as an “American Soldier, word came back that Stoney – who had, remember, been an American soldier – was ready to dig his M-16 out of mothballs to use on me, Ruiz, or both.

Few Americans watched the telecast of Ruiz’ fight against Haye earlier this month, which is a pity in a way, because his performance in his final losing cause was actually an admirable one. In his retirement announcement he thanked trainers Miguel Diaz and Richie Sandoval “for teaching an old dog new tricks, and while the strategic clinch hadn’t entirely disappeared from his repertoire, it was not the jab-and-grab approach that may be recalled as his legacy.

And while Haye was credited with four knockdowns in the fight, three of them came on punches to the back of the head that would have given Bernard Hopkins occasion to roll around on the floor for a while. If somebody had decked Ruiz with three rabbit punches back in the old days with Stoney in the corner, the city of Manchester might be a smoldering ruin today.

* * *
When Ruiz officially hung up his gloves on Monday he did so with a reflective grace rarely seen in a sport where almost nobody retires voluntarily.

“I’ve had a great career but it’s time for me to turn the page and start a new chapter of my life, he said. “It’s sad that my final fight didn’t work out the way I wanted, but, hey, that’s boxing. I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished with two world titles, 12 championship fights, and being the first Latino Heavyweight Champion of the World. I fought anybody who got in the ring with me and never ducked anyone. Now, I’m looking forward to spending more time with my family.

In his announcement he thanked his fans, Diaz and Sandoval, Cardinale, his brother Eddie Ruiz, and his conditioning coach. He thanked everybody, in other words, except you-know-who.

Oh, yeah, one more thing. Ruiz, who has lived in Las Vegas for the past decade, now plans to move back to Chelsea. He hopes to open a gym for inner-city kids. “With my experiences in boxing, I want to go home and open a gym where kids will have a place to go, keeping them off of the streets, so they can learn how to box and build character.

I guess the question is: is Metropolitan Boston big enough for Ruiz and Stoney?

EDITOR’S NOTE: George Kimball, who spent most of his work life with the Boston Herald, passed away on July 6, 2011 at age sixty-seven. In his later years he authored the widely acclaimed “Four Kings: Leonard, Hagler, Hearns, Duran, and the Last Great Era of Boxing” and co-edited two boxing anthologies with award-winning sports journalist turned screenwriter John Schulian. This story appeared on these pages on April 27, 2010.

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