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TSS Survey: 30 Notables Weigh in on the Most Overrated and Underrated Boxers

Ted Sares

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Overrated

PART ONE (A-K)  OF A TWO-PART SURVEY — In this month’s survey, we asked our respondents to name the most overrated and most underrated boxers, active or retired. There was little agreement in the overrated category although Joe Calzaghe and Mike Tyson were both named twice. This was not the case with the most underrated where Ezzard Charles (pictured) made a strong showing as did Mike McCallum. John Scully and J. Russell Peltz threw us a curve call by nominating Rocky Marciano in both categories.

Here are the responses with the respondents listed in alphabetical order:

MATT ANRZEJEWSKI – TSS boxing writerMost underrated: Junior Jones. He has a Hall of Fame resume that includes wins against Hall of Famers Marco Antonio Barrera and Orlando Canizales. Jones had tremendous boxing ability and one of the top jabs of his era. He is unfortunately judged too much on some losses, particularly a couple early in his career, but his body of work is outstanding and, in my opinion, he belongs in Canastota. The most overrated is Adrien Broner. I am not talking the current version of Broner but the prime version of a few years ago. Broner is a guy who beat up on “C” level fighters, struggled with “B” level type fighters and lost when he took any steps further up in class. Yes, he won some belts along the way but that is more the era we are in along with some excellent management.

JOE BRUNO former New York City sportswriter; prolific author: Overrated – Muhammad Ali, without a doubt. He was only the greatest because he said so. Lost a decision to Leon Spinks in Spinks eighth pro fight. Five losses total. Enough said. Underrated- Rocky Marciano – won 49 straight, 43 by KO and people still question his ability. He fought the best of his time; some of them twice. What else could he have done?

STEVE CANTON – author, historian and President of the Florida Boxing Hall Of Fame: Among the most underrated boxers, in my opinion, would have to be Davey Moore, the Springfield Rifle, featherweight champion from the 1950’s and 60’s. He was our U.S. representative in the 1952 Helsinki Olympics and went on to a great professional career and was a dominant world champion until his untimely death following his ill-fated bout with Sugar Ramos. His final record was 59-7-1-1. Sadly, he has been overlooked for enshrinement into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. Two other names who I feel are also underrated are Italian junior welterweight champion Duilio Loi who won two of three from the great Carlos Ortiz along with defeating many other top names and retired with a final record of 115-3-8 and Mike McCallum, who retired with a professional record of 49-5-1 and was 240-10 as an amateur. Although both Loi and McCallum have been inducted into the IBHOF their names are not really brought up with the all-time greats and they should be.

CHARLIE DWYER – former professional referee and member of U.S. Marine Corps Boxing Hall of Fame: The most underrated boxer is Ezzard Charles. He was heavyweight champion and fought the metal of his division. What is forgotten is the fact that he was one of the best light heavyweights of all time. He defeated many top light heavy contenders and KO’d the “Old Mongoose” Archie Moore. Most of Ezzard’s losses were near the end of his career when he probably shouldn’t have been fighting. He never got his just due.

The most overrated boxer was Lamar Clark. As a heavyweight out of Utah in the late 50’s, he was knocking out everyone in sight. He was a stablemate of middleweight champion Gene Fullmer. Lamar had about 30 KOs in a row; in fact, on one show in late 1958, he KOd six opponents in one night. Because of his punching power, size, and the region he came from, Lamar was being hailed as the second coming of Jack Dempsey. Finally in early 1960, Lamar was matched with tough fringe contender Bartolo Soni. After going all out for a KO and flooring Soni, Clark faded and was stopped on his feet late in the fight. In 1961 Clark was KOd in two rounds by an upcoming Cassius Clay but not before staggering Clay with an overhand right in the first round. Lamar made some noise, but never lived up to the hype.

JEFFREY FREEMAN (aka Boxing Digest) – TSS New England correspondent: Olympian Teófilo Stevenson was grossly overrated by a left-leaning U.S. media that shamelessly promoted him over his professional American counterparts with little or nothing to go on. “Stevenson would’ve beaten Muhammad Ali and Larry Holmes.” No, he would not have. Better than being embarrassed like Jorge Luis Gonzalez against Riddick Bowe, Stevenson is now the undefeated heavyweight champion of many imaginations. We found out exactly what happens when Cuba sends their best. Does Rigo ring a bell? Yuriorkis Gamboa or bust? Maybe Odlanier Solis and Luis Ortiz should have never turned pro and just stayed amateur.

Liverpool’s Tony “Bomber” Bellew is the most underrated active fighter out there. He’ll get beat by anybody half decent they say. Really? Bellew is a light heavyweight who won a cruiserweight world title and remains undefeated (2-0 with two TKOs of David Haye) at heavyweight where his biggest dreams might yet come true. If Bellew fights comebacking clown Tyson Fury, my money is on the good little man who takes his career more seriously. If Bellew goes back down to cruiserweight for a shot at Oleksandr Usyk, don’t be too shocked if Bellew emerges with the undisputed cruiserweight championships or a hell of a good story to tell in the pubs someday.

CLARENCE GEORGE – boxing writer and historian: Plenty of candidates on both sides of the aisle, but Ingemar Johansson stands out among the underrated. His performances against Eddie Machen and Floyd Patterson were very impressive, and he had a magnificent right hand — “He left it perched on the side of his chin like a pigeon on a cornice,” wrote A. J. Liebling, “depending on it to take flight when its moment came.” Although not one of the giants, he nevertheless deserves greater appreciation. That’s on the one hand. On the other, Keith Thurman’s reputation is mystifying. His inactivity alone is cause for re-evaluation. His last three fights took place in July 2015, June 2016, and, most “recently,” in March 2017. Elaine Benes would not deem him at all “sponge-worthy.”

LEE GROVES – author, writer and CompuBox wizard: Underrated — Gene Tunney: Only one loss and one draw in nearly 80 fights, and that loss (to all-time pound-for-pound great Harry Greb, no less) was avenged several times over. Incredibly intelligent inside and outside the ring, Tunney also possessed enough grit and resourcefulness to survive a horrific beating and bloodletting at Greb’s hands and to fend off (and later knock down) a rampaging Jack Dempsey in their rematch. Yes, his time as heavyweight champion was limited to two fights, but he made the most of his opportunities, and before he dethroned Dempsey he was long considered one of the world’s best light heavyweights. “The Fighting Marine” was a truly underrated — and under-appreciated — fighter.

Overrated — Ingemar Johansson: My criterion for this category may be a bit different than most. To me, Johansson is overrated because he was elected into the International Boxing Hall of Fame by a majority of voters in 2002 despite going 1-2 in championship fights (where the strongest cases for induction are created), and, in both losses, he was knocked out by the man he dethroned. Champions, especially heavyweights since that division is so deeply historic, normally have a pretty high bar to clear in order to be considered (much less inducted), but, apparently, his one magical night against Patterson — and it was indeed magical — was enough in itself to merit induction in enough eyes.

HENRY HASCUP – historian; President of the New Jersey Boxing Hall of Fame: Underrated -Luis Manuel Rodriguez. Most people point to his loses to Emile Griffith but they fought four times and any one of those fights could have been scored the other way. He beat some of the best fighters from welterweight to light heavyweight. He is also one of ONLY two fighters in history who, after fighting 100 pro bouts, held a win over every opponent he had met in a pro ring.

Overrated is much harder as I never like to downgrade anyone that ever stepped into the squared circle.

DANNY HOWARD – boxing writer: Underrated? Michael Moorer. Was a dominant light heavyweight champ before becoming the second 175lb champ to win a belt at heavyweight and the first southpaw heavyweight champ ever. He was a top 5 heavy in the 90s in a deep era.

Overrated? Joe Calzaghe. Played it safe and his best win was against a never-was in Jeff Lacy.

JEFF JOWETTlongtime boxing scribe: Underrated: Georgie Benton. What boxing should be all about. A master technician who could stand toe-to-toe without being hit with a solid punch while getting enough leverage to deal out punishing blows in return, as opposed to defensive boxers who circle the ring on their toes, cut down on actual combat time and lack power. This was the sport at its best, a balance between defense and offense that made for exciting fights without having just two opponents blasting away on each other’s heads. Because of the economics and politics of boxing, there was a generation of post-war African-American master boxers who didn’t have a level playing field, Benton among them. Stevie Farhood once wrote an article in Kayo magazine about the 12 best boxers never to get a title shot, and ten of them were African-Americans, mostly post-war but before this writer’s time. So, my personal pick would be Georgie Benton.

Overrated: Barry McGuigan. Sorry about this; he really just represents a whole class of manufactured title holders since the devolution of the very meaning of “champion”, and so could be easily interchanged with a whole host of boxers with similar careers; meteoric rise and precipitous fall from grace, followed by little of note. He lost decisively while at the pinnacle, then instead of immediately launching a campaign to regain the title and recoup his reputation, stayed out for two critical years (I don’t know why; probably contracts), won three decent contests and then got knocked out, never fighting again. OK, so what’s so terrible about this? A good career, yes, and deserving of recognition in its own right. But he’s in the International Boxing Hall of Fame!!! This just isn’t my idea of a genuine HOF career; hence, overrated.

STUART KIRSCHENBAUM – Boxing Commissioner Emeritus, State of Michigan: I rate Rocky Marciano as the most overrated boxer of all time. Before I get in trouble with the American Italian Anti-Defamation League, I base my opinion on my years of experience approving boxing matches as a Commissioner. Let me dissect Rocky’s iconic 49-0 unbeaten heavyweight record.  In his first 15 fights only one opponent had more than nine fights. In his next 34 fights his opponents had collectively 471 loses. His wins were over aging boxers on their way down the ladder as Rocky climbed over them to the top.

I rate Charley Burley as the most underrated boxer of all time. Charley never had a chance to fight for a world championship. During his career he defeated future world champions Fritzie Zivic, Billy Soose and Archie Moore. He won 84 of his 98 professional fights without ever being stopped. My late friend Allen Rosenfeld wrote the book “Charley Burley, The Life and Hard Times of an Uncrowned Champion”. The book is over 600 pages…a biblical treatise supporting my choice.

BRUCE KIELTY- boxing matchmaker, manager, and historian: I rate Wesley Ramey, master boxer, as one of the most underrated. He was too good for his own good and was not a major ticket seller (due to his slick style instead of blood and guts) so promoters did not have an incentive to give him a title shot. Heck, if respected boxing historian Hank Kaplan didn’t cite Ramey’s credentials during his own (Kaplan’s) IBHOF induction speech, Ramey might not have ever entered the HOF himself.

Thanks to all the contributors and especially Jim Lampley who took time out from his busy schedule to write an in-depth response to our survey questions. Lampley’s provocative entry opens Part Two arriving shortly. Stay tuned.

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Jan. 29, 1994: A Stunning Upset Animates the Debut of Boxing at the MGM Grand

Arne K. Lang

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Twenty-six years have elapsed since the first boxing card at the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas. The inaugural show took place on Jan. 29, 1994, the eve of Super Bowl XXVII.

A little background: The MGM Grand opened on Dec. 17, 1993. With its 5,005 rooms, it was the largest hotel in the world. The MGM Grand Garden arena, effectively the municipal auditorium of the self-styled “City of Entertainment,” was christened on New Years Eve with a concert by Barbara Streisand. Twenty-nine days later, the bill of fare was an 11-fight boxing card promoted by Don King.

Looking back, seven of the participants – boxers Julio Cesar Chavez, Felix Trinidad, Hector Camacho, Thomas Hearns, and Christy Martin and referees Richard Steele and Joe Cortez – would go on to the International Boxing Hall of Fame.

Hearns, who was nearing the end of his career, having grown into a cruiserweight, was matched soft, as was Christy Martin who was making her Las Vegas debut and was then looked upon as a sideshow novelty act. Two other notables, heavyweight Razor Ruddock and welterweight Meldrick Taylor, were likewise deployed in stay-busy fights. The undercards of Don King’s major promotions typically took this tack – big names in little fights.

Topping the bill were three world title fights. WBC 154-pound title-holder Simon Brown opposed Troy Waters. Trinidad defended his IBF welterweight title against Camacho. And in the grand finale, the great Chavez, who held a junior welterweight title, was matched against Frankie Randall.

Simon Brown had a more difficult time than expected against Troy Waters, a teak-tough Australian, but prevailed on a majority decision. Trinidad, at age 21 the younger man by 10 years, chased Camacho all over the ring en route to winning a unanimous decision. And Chavez….

The MGM Grand Garden was scaled to hold 15,200, but there were a lot of empty seats; the announced attendance was 12,777. One would have expected a sellout as Las Vegas is chock-full of revelers on a Super Bowl weekend, but there was an extenuating circumstance.

Twelve days before the fight, at 4:30 am on Jan. 17, Southern California was struck by an earthquake. Centered in the San Fernando Valley, about 20 miles northwest of downtown Los Angeles, the Northridge Earthquake damaged buildings as far as 85 miles away. It buckled portions of some heavily-traveled freeways, forcing their closure and repairs were hindered by a scattered series of aftershocks that lasted the better part of two weeks.

Visitors from Southern California are the backbone of the Las Vegas tourism industry. Most arrive by car. The earthquake had the effect of reducing hotel occupancy as many Southern Californians cancelled their reservations and that assuredly spilled over into the fight, hurting attendance. But those that were there witnessed a memorable main event.

Frankie Randall, nicknamed the Surgeon, hailed from Morristown, Tennessee. He had an excellent record (48-2-1, 39 KOs), but Julio Cesar Chavez, who owned the most eye-catching record in boxing (officially 89-0-1), was so highly regarded that he was listed as a 17/1 favorite in the MGM sports book.

Randall started strong, an indication that he would be a hard nut to crack. But the middle rounds belonged to Chavez with his patented body attack. In round seven, one of those body punches strayed too low and Richard Steele deducted a point.

In round 11, Steele deducted another point for the same infraction and, worse for Chavez, he was knocked down for the first time in his career. It was a straight right hand that did the damage, a clean punch, and although Chavez was up at the count of “three,” it was a 10-8 round for Randall.

During the early rounds, shouts of “May-hee-co, May-hee-co” reverberated through the arena. Late in the fight, when one could sense that an upset was brewing, shouts of “USA, USA” punctuated the din.

The 11th round proved decisive. When the scores were read, the Mexican judge favored Chavez 114-113, but he was overruled by the Puerto Rican judge (114-113) and the Las Vegas judge (116-111). If not for those two points deducted by referee Richard Steele – the same referee who had controversially stopped Chavez’s fight with Meldrick Taylor with one second remaining on the clock in the final round – Julio Cesar Chavez would have retained his title — and his undefeated record — on a split decision.

Chavez did not take losing very well. He bellyached that he was robbed, an opinion that found few sympathizers. A fast rematch was arranged which took place at the MGM Grand on Cinco de Mayo weekend. In this fight, an accidental clash of heads late in round eight left Chavez with a bad gash on his forehead and the fight was stopped. By rule, it went to the scorecards where Chavez emerged the winner by split decision, a very controversial denouement (and a story for another day). There would be a rubber match in Mexico City when both gladiators were in their 40’s, a dull 10-round affair scored in favor of Chavez.

By the way, on the day following the debut of boxing at the MGM Grand, the Dallas Cowboys defeated the Buffalo Bills 30-13 at Atlanta. As Super Bowls go, this one didn’t attract all that much buzz. The same teams had met in the Super Bowl the previous year and Dallas had won by “35.”

By all indications, the forthcoming Super Bowl will be a doozy. Enjoy the game.

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Introducing Top Prospect Raeese Aleem, the Pride of Muskegon

Arne K. Lang

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At age 29, Raeese Aleem has yet to appear in a 10-round fight, but that will almost assuredly happen this year. The undefeated (15-0, 9 KOs) super bantamweight from Muskegon, Michigan, takes another step in that direction on Friday, Feb. 14, when he opposes San Antonio’s Adam Lopez (16-3-2) at Philadelphia in a bout that will air on “ShoBox,” the long-running SHOWTIME series that’s been a springboard for 81 fighters who went on to win world titles.

Aleem earned a black belt in karate before taking up boxing and becoming a four-time Michigan Golden Gloves champion. As an amateur, he and his coach Terry Markowski did a considerable amount of traveling between meets to find good sparring. Grand Rapids, an amateur boxing hotbed, was just down the road, but Detroit and Chicago were a good three hours away and on occasion they went on an even longer excursion into Ohio.

Aleem turned pro in 2011 and had his first 10 fights on the Midwest circuit, venturing as far north as Green Bay and as far south as Cincinnati. At the time, he worked in the produce department of Meijer’s, a regional rival of Walmart. His bosses, he notes, were generous in letting him juggle his work schedule around his boxing assignments.

For a boxer with designs on winning a world title, the Midwest circuit is like a bicycle with training wheels. Aleem had to shake free of it to see how far he could go. Besides, getting fights was getting tougher and tougher. There’s a 28-month gap in his pro timeline that includes all of 2013. He had several fights fall out during this frustrating quiescence.

If you’re an aspiring film actor, you go to Hollywood. If you’re an aspiring boxing champion, you go to Las Vegas. Not a week goes by without a young fellow turning up here to test his mettle in one of the many local gyms with the hope of attracting the eye of one of the major promotional firms.

“When I came to Las Vegas,” says Aleem who has a daughter back in Michigan, “I had no family here, no friends.” He was directed to Barry’s boxing gym, run by ex-boxer Pat Barry and his wife Dawn, retired Las Vegas police officers, and started training under their son-in-law Augie Sanchez. But Sanchez, the last man to defeat Floyd Mayweather Jr (accomplished when they were amateurs), had other priorities. He is an assistant coach with Team USA which obligates him to spend a good deal of his time at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.

Things started looking up for Aleem when he joined the Prince Ranch stable under the management of Greg Hannley. At the Prince Ranch Gym, where the head trainer is Bones Adams, he has sparred with such notables as Nonito Donaire and former WBO 122-pound champion Jessie Magdaleno.

Aleem doesn’t miss the weather in Muskegon, a lakefront city where sub-freezing temperatures are the norm in the dead of winter and snow is forecast for all of next week. But he still has one foot in his hometown, as evident by his unbroken bond with Terry Markowski. In an era when some boxers appear to change trainers as often as they change their underwear, Aleem has remained loyal to Markowski who has been in his corner for all of his pro fights and will be there again on Feb. 14.

Markowski, who teaches boxing at the Muskegon Rec Center, is a protégé of Muskegon’s most esteemed boxer, the late Kenny Lane. The epitome of a crafty southpaw, Lane, a lightweight and junior welterweight, was a three-time world title challenger during a 100-fight career that began in 1953.

The relationship between Raeese Aleem and Terry Markowski dates back to 2003 when Aleem resided in the nearby village of Ravenna, where Aleem’s father, the patriarch of a large blended family, planted Raeese and his siblings to get them away from the temptations of Muskegon which has several blighted areas. “It was a culture shock for me when I started going to school in Ravenna,” says Aleem, looking back, as none of his schoolmates looked like him.

This will be Aleem’s fifth fight in Pennsylvania where he has made four of his last five starts. The connecting thread is Reading, Pennsylvania gym operator-turned-promoter Marshall Kauffman who has been credited with keeping boxing vibrant in the Keystone State.

This being Aleem’s national television debut, it’s important that he make a good showing. His Las Vegas trainer Bones Adams, a former world champion in Aleem’s weight division, expects nothing less. “I’m confident he will be a world champion someday,” says Adams.

Photo credit: Mario Serrano / Prince Ranch Boxing

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A Bouquet for Danny Garcia in This Week’s Edition of HITS and MISSES

Kelsey McCarson

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Two-division champion Danny Garcia had the spotlight all to himself over the weekend in a stay-busy fight against Ivan Redkach on Saturday night at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. It was the main event of a Showtime Championship Boxing tripleheader that had the odd privilege these days of not being counterprogrammed by a Top Rank show on ESPN or any other kind of boxing card on DAZN.

So Garcia, 31, from Philadelphia, had the chance to remind people how excellent a fighter he is in full force, which would help him greatly in his effort to secure an unlikely bout against WBA champ Manny Pacquiao or remain first in line to face WBC and IBF champ Errol Spence whenever the Texan recovers from the injuries he sustained in a car accident in October.

But did Garcia pull it off? Here’s the latest edition of HITS and MISSES.

HIT – Danny Garcia’s Pristine and Precise Technique 

The best parts about Garcia were on full display against Redkach. That was made easier by Redkach’s lack of anything that might have given Garcia any real problems, but nonetheless Garcia was able to show the lovely footwork and balanced countering ability that made him so formidable at junior welterweight. There’s just something special about seeing Garcia fight. The economy of his movement inside a boxing ring is something that is just plain different than just about any other world-class fighter in the world today. In a fight that most people probably would have preferred he just skipped, and one that didn’t turn out to be any different than everyone expected, at least Garcia’s beautiful boxing was on display.

MISS – Showtime Sparring Sessions

In addition to Garcia-Redkach, Showtime rounded out its tripleheader with undefeated junior featherweight Stephen Fulton taking on former Muay Thai fighter Arnold Khegai and former unified junior middleweight champion Jarrett Hurd taking on career welterweight Francisco Santana. While Fulton’s fight against Khegai seemed like a legitimate prizefight, there was something about the other two bouts that screamed sparring sessions. That was especially the case for Hurd’s bout. Not only was Hurd in there with a middling welterweight, but he also used the rounds of the fight to work on vastly different boxing techniques than what made him so popular in the first place. Showtime might not have the pull they once had with the people over at the PBC offices, but they for sure need to get more involved in vetting matchups if they hope to remain afloat within the competitive boxing landscape of today.

HIT – Stephon Fulton’s Title Chances at 122 Pounds

Fulton is a very solid boxer who digs to the body and has a fast, clean jab. Khegai was the perfect kind of opponent for the 25-year-old. He was very game and never stopped trying to win. Additionally, his background in Muay Thai offered some different looks to Fulton that should help him on his way toward world title contention. In the end, Fulton outworked Khegai to hand the tough 27-year-old the first loss of his career. Now let’s hope Fulton is off to bigger and better things such as challenging for a world title. He’s ready right now.

MISS – Andy Ruiz’s Continued Soap Opera

The best thing former unified champion Andy Ruiz could have done after blowing the rematch against Anthony Joshua in December is getting right back to work in the gym. What better way to show trainer Manny Robles that he was taking responsibility for his actions than to get right back to work with the same team he had just let down so badly? Instead, Ruiz fired Robles and is considering other trainers. That would make more sense if there had been some sort of tactical error in the fight. But Ruiz already admitted he simply didn’t train for arguably the biggest fight of his life, and that’s not anyone’s fault but his own.

HIT – Former Middleweight Titleholder Andy Lee’s Second Act

It appears former WBO middleweight champion Andy Lee found his second act in life as a trainer, which makes a ton of sense if you followed Lee’s career under the tutelage of the late Emanuel Steward. Lee, 39, left Ireland after his amateur days to live with Steward in Detroit and train at Kronk. The two had a very close personal relationship and that experience ultimately helped Lee win the world title in 2014 two years after Steward’s passing. Now, Lee is passing on what he knows in the same way Steward did with him to other fighters. He trains and manages Irish upstart Paddy Donovan, is guiding Jason Quigley back to contention and even helped orchestrate distant cousin Tyson Fury bringing on Javan “SugarHill” Steward for the heavyweight’s upcoming rematch against Deontay Wilder.

Photo credit: Amanda Westcott

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