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

Matt McGrain

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

In Part One we talked about Brian Viloria and his momentous confrontation with Juan Francisco Estrada.  Their fight denotes their relative standings. As a general rule each chapter of this series, from heavyweight to bantamweight, will produce an entry or two where two of the fighters listed have actually met in the ring.

At flyweight, every entry appraises two fighters who met in the ring.

Some huge flyweight contests have failed to materialize. We meet a fighter in this installment who made a very impressive career out of failing to fight the best. Nevertheless, I am struck by how often top fighters from this division clashed and how often those vying for spots in the Top Fifty have settled their differences in the ring. Flyweight is overlooked by boxing history but it is a fact that the very greatest flyweights had a tendency to butt heads.

Despite being faster than the denizens of every other division, despite, as a rule, being the most technically sure, flyweight is under-celebrated both in boxing’s past and in boxing’s now. What this means is there is less money to sustain mediocrity. So, the best meet the best more often.

The men listed here are some of the best.

#40 – Fighting Harada (1960-1970)

Fighting Harada represents terminal velocity for a box-swarming style. On film he only has Joe Frazier and Henry Armstrong for company and with available footage of Hank so limited, Harada comes off a little better compositely. He was elemental.

But his best work came at bantamweight. Thickening out of his youth, he had time to do only a minimum of damage to a division that breathed a sigh of relief at his passing. What gets him onto this list, though, is his best win, a title-winning effort for the ages against the champion Pone Kingpetch.

Like Rocky Marciano before him, this early iteration of Harada always had something on his opponent, his head, his wrist, the knuckle of his glove; and like Marciano before him he lived and breathed the pressure he brought with a fire unseen in the division’s filmed history. He often missed but when he missed he tended to be bringing something behind. What sets him apart – arguably – from Marciano and Frazier and Armstrong is his jab, which was as excellent and as busy as any fighter of his type from any division you care to name.

All of this can be seen in his woefully underappreciated first fight with Kingpetch who succumbed in the eleventh while propped in his own corner, alarmingly abandoned by the referee while Harada battered him. It was a brilliance.

Harada was narrowly defeated in an immediate rematch and the win over Kingpetch is far and away his best (next may be his six-round defeat of a youthful Hiroyuki Ebehara). His title reign was comprised of exactly zero successful defenses, but so wonderful was he against Kingpetch and that result was so suggestive that Harada slips in here in front of men with more concrete reasons for a higher ranking.

I suspect none of them could have defeated him in the ring.

#39 – Erbito Salavarria (1963-1978)

Erbito Salavarria, who wore the brooding good looks of a Hollywood matinee idol, held the flyweight world championship for the whole of 1971 and 1972, snatching it from no less a figure than Chartchai Chionoi in December of 1970 before losing it to the wrecking ball Venice Borkhorser early in 1973. He defended it successfully against top flyweight Susumu Hanagata, whose hopes he dashed no fewer than three times, and the near legendary Betulio Gonzalez.

So far, so good, and considering he also defeated solid contenders like Berkerk Charvanchai and Vincente Pool, he has the paper resume for a higher ranking; but the devil, as always, is in the detail.

Salavarria’s contest with Gonzalez, a desperate split draw, was a bad-tempered affair and one of the most controversial title fights in flyweight history. After the contest – marred by conflicting perspectives on the veracity of the scorecards – Salavarria had a bottle containing “honeyed water” removed from his corner by officials. This water was later reported as containing amphetamine.

It is unclear what should be made of this. On the one hand, Salavarria has maintained his innocence throughout, claiming that the amphetamine was planted by Venezuelan authorities in order to protect their beloved Gonzalez. On the other, the claim was upheld by the WBC, hardly a bastion of incorruptibility but the best we have by way of an arbiter.

That’s seen me drop Salavarria to the lowest berth his resume can stand. But Salavarria unquestionably had the goods. His second victory over Hanagata, who was absolutely legitimate, came years after his controversial draw with Gonzalez and was so close as to be scored either way; but fought in Japan it is also the case that Salavarria was almost certainly clean, thereby proving his countering abilities and late excellence born of true stamina was a valid representation of his ability.

#38 – Mark Johnson (1990-2006)

The disturbing truth about Mark “Too Sharp” Johnson is that he never defeated a top five opponent in his entire over-celebrated career. Johnson spent the mid-nineties waving around something called the World Boxing Board championship, thankfully now defunct, before picking up a slightly more respectable strap in 1996 which he defended seven times before departing for 115lbs.

And these are the numbers you tend to run into when you read about his career.

The number you tend not to read is “6”, which was the highest ranked opponent Johnson ever met, specifically a fighter named Arthur Johnson who he knocked out in one round in February 1998. Arthur was 17-3.

But Johnson was brilliant. There is no denying it. So, he ranks here higher than I feel he earned in the course of his career beating the likes of Alejandro Montiel (ranked seven), Alberto Jiminez (ranked ten) and Enrique Orozco (ranked seven). This was while missing out on the likes of Saen Sor Ploenchit, Miguel Martinez, Jose Bonilla, and most of all, Yuri Arbachakov.

The awful truth is, Johnson was probably good enough to beat all of these fighters and would have been embarrassed by none of them. As it is, his unbeaten status at the poundage and his brilliance on film makes him impossible to ignore.

But his is another potentially great career sacrificed to inexplicable alphabet mandatories.

That costs him a spot in the top thirty.

#37 – Emile Pladner (1926-1936)

I maintain a special admiration for boxing centurions, men who have found a way to win no fewer than 100 fights. It’s a special number and one rather understated now by boxing for one very good reason: it will never happen again.

So, men like Emile Pladner should be lauded for this special achievement.

Also special was his 1928 victory over Izzy Schwartz, who opened our own half-century at #50.  Pladner sliced him open both figuratively and literally, finding his way past his opponent’s defences in the third and thereafter abusing him so thoroughly that Schwartz left the ring a bloody mess.

He was more admirable still is his 1929 defeat of Frankie Genaro, one of history’s greatest knockouts.

Genaro, probably, had begun to slip by the time he met with Pladner, but he was already a flyweight immortal. What Pladner did to him was absurd. Reportedly always a little skittish at the first bell, he was somewhat startled by Genaro’s early two-handed charge, stepped close, rattled the American’s teeth with a right, and then landed a devastating uppercut somewhere on Genaro’s body. Some say liver, others say below the heart and maddeningly, the scraps of surviving footage do not settle the issue.

Joe Jacobs, who was managing Genaro at the time, claimed it landed considerably lower, indeed, even below Frankie’s belt, but this was dismissed outright by the Associated Press: “To ringside spectators the knockout blow appeared to land six inches above the belt.”

Whatever the specifics of the punch, Genaro dropped like a stone and writhed in agony at the feet of the referee. It was the only time anywhere near his prime that he heard “ten”.

Pladner dropped the title in the rematch with Genaro – after landing two low blows. He bid “adieu!” to flyweight, leaving behind an incomplete, perhaps even unsatisfactory legacy.

#36 – Black Bill (1920-1931)

Eladio Valdes, unfortunately renamed “Black Bill” by a promotional team in search of higher ticket sales, stuffed 160 fights into an eleven-year career. That’s an average of more than one combat every month. A cast-iron jaw and a dearth of power also sent the number of rounds he boxed through the roof.

Never a ticket-seller despite the change of name, it took a winning streak of nearly thirty fights to land him in the ring with a champion, and he was presented with a beauty: Midget Wolgast who out-pointed him over fifteen in March of 1930. His sight deteriorating, he lost four of his next five and went the way of all those who draw too much dark water from the well within. A struggling shadow of his former self, depression sent him to an early grave within three years of his retirement.

Before that: he dominated a series with Corporal Izzy Schwartz, winning four of six closely contested fights in one of the definitive flyweight series for this era; took a single victory in the losing end of another epic five-fight series with Willie Davies; and defeated contenders Phil Tobias and Johnny McCoy.

It’s good. It’s a strong resume but an ill return for a fighter who fought so many contests. In truth, his absurd and difficult schedule and his unfashionable standing – and his admitted limitations as a fighter – resulted in his suffering twenty-four losses and his being frozen out of the title picture.  Difficult patches afflicted him, especially between 1925 and 1927.

Still, that hot-streak, for all that it ended in defeat at the hands of the genius Wolgast, cements his place here among some great contenders and the lesser champions.

#35 – Johnny Buff (1917-1926)

Johnny Buff, the one-time world bantamweight champion out of New Jersey, has proven something of a difficulty for me. He inexplicably pops up in the IBRO all-time great top twenty, at the #14 spot no less; suffice  to say here that there is no possible reason for his ranking so highly under my criteria and it is difficult to imagine any system that would make such a lofty position justifiable.

Buff did do some interesting work at fly before and after winning his bantamweight title, however, and it certainly deserves a second glance.

He turned professional at bantamweight in 1917 and did most of his best work at that poundage into the early 1920s culminating perhaps in a very good draw against Pete Herman. He then seems to have spent some months sitting down on the flyweight limit in order to generate some title tractions. This is the key in appraising his flyweight legacy.

In a final eliminator for the  American flyweight title, a title that carried much more weight then than now, he defeated the favored Frankie Mason over fifteen rounds in New York City, clambering from the canvas after an  early knockdown to out-fight an opponent who managed to win as few as two rounds according to some ringside reports. It was a savage, vicious performance, and perhaps Buff’s best. He then took the vacant title against Abe Goldstein, a capable and storied fighter but another one who would make his true championship bones up at bantamweight; solid defenses against Young Zulu Kid and Eddie O’Dowd followed before Pancho Villa battered the title out of him in 1922.

By that time, Buff was once again campaigning at bantamweight, where victories over Pete Herman and Jackie Sharkey made him a fighter of real note – but he never again won a meaningful combat at 112lbs where he lost crossroads fights to Frank Ash and Joe Lynch.

All of this adds up to enough to scrape him into the top forty, but arguments for a higher berth seem reliant upon bantamweight honors.

#34 – Venice Borkhorsor (1968-1980)

Venice Borkhorser is perhaps more famous for the thumping damage he did with his menacing punches and his menacing presence up at bantamweight, not least because he spent most of his career fighting above 112lbs; big even at 118lbs, he was huge for a flyweight and would remain so even today.

This in part brought him the championship of his native Thailand and in late 1972 and early 1973 brought him pre-eminence in a division he would leave forever just months later.

His clash with the excellent Mexican Betulio Gonzalez in September 1972 was probably his peak. He stalked, battered and eventually broke the proud champion, leaving him stricken to the body and bleeding from the face. Gonzalez quit. Borkhorsor, though he could not sustain his career at 112lbs, was a steam-fired engine running on hatred for the days he managed to crush his musculature into a weight division that stretched at the seams to contain him.

Just a few months later (and time was of the essence), Borkhorsor was matched with Erbito Salavarria with lineage on the line. Salvarria did not quit, but he was harassed, harried, cut, pushed back and according to the Thai officials, did not win a single round against a Borkhorsor who battered a second world class fly into non-resistance.

Gonzalez ranks above Borkhorsor but the details of their contests suggest that he could never have beaten him in a dozen efforts. But Borkhorsor never fought at the poundage again, departing for bantamweight where he continued to box with the same menace though with less devastating results.

#33 – Salvatore Burruni (1957-1969)

Salvatore Burruni was the idol of Italy for a short spell in the 1960s, demonstrating the art of the most direct form of boxing in out-thugging champion Pone Kingpetch in 1965, backed by a rampant Roman crowd. Burruni gambled it all on a violent frontal assault, eschewing the jab in favor of an absurd smorgasbord of leads that included a trailing uppercut and numerous over-the-top hooks.  But Burruni’s fight-plan was more detailed and nuanced than just that. He squatted in the attack, extenuating his height deficiency and opening up Kingpetch’s heart for a reverse one-two finishing in a straight left. He racked up the early rounds to make himself unassailable late in the fight when he inevitably began to tire. Kingpetch, at that point in his career, was there to be taken, and indeed had been taken before – but he had always won a return. Burruni had beaten him so thoroughly that a rematch seemed redundant.

Instead he fought the Australian prospect Rocky Gattellari, an understandable decision from a monetary perspective and a reasonable one from the fistic perspective. Gattellari, though inexperienced, was ranked at #5 by The Ring magazine.  This wasn’t good enough for the alphabet organizations who immediately stripped him.

Burruni then defended his lineal title against former victim Walter McGowan and was summarily defeated by decision in London in 1966. He continued to explore bantamweight, where he was never a serious force.

He leaves behind a decent resume made up of McGowan, Gattellari and Mimoun Ben Ali, the perennial fly and bantamweight contender, who he defeated for the European title in 1962. His victory over Kingpetch, however, is the jewel in his crown. It remains perhaps the most perfect example of a face-first, bet-it-all assault on a champion that resulted in the passing of the torch, echoed by, among others, Ricky Hatton’s 2005 defeat of Kostya Tszyu.

#32 – Chan-Hee Park (1977-1982)

Those paying close attention and of a certain type of mind may have noticed that there is a pattern emerging in the low forties and high thirties, specifically a clutch of fighters who have one very significant divisional win backed by another good victory in the flyweight division. This description fits Chan-Hee Park, the Korean world flyweight champion in 1979 and 1980, like a glove.

Park’s marquee win was over all-time great and contender for the #1 spot, Miguel Canto. Nor was Park fighting some busted version of Canto but rather he was the man who unseated the then champion from the throne, breaking a streak which was arguably the most impressive in the history of the division.

On paper it’s a stuck-on nomination for one of the greatest wins in the history of the sport. In reality, Canto was far from the Rolls Royce that used to glide around the ring dictating pace with one of the greatest of left hands. Still, Park beat him out of sight, an impressive achievement.

Three months later he became the first man to stop the formidable Mexican contender Guty Espadas in a short and brutal encounter; two more defenses against limited opposition stiffened his championship reign a little and then Park ran into a roadblock named Shoji Oguma.

#31 – Shoji Oguma (1970-1982)

Shoji Oguma’s paper record of 38-10-1 is less than overwhelming but he must be included, and must be included above Park, for no better reason than he defeated the Korean no fewer than three times.

The result of their first fight, fought in Seoul, Korea, was indisputable, as Oguma began throwing left-hand leads from his southpaw stance to dent Park’s great chin and finally take him out in nine hard rounds. An ultra-aggressive fighter, Park began an inevitable wind-down in a long fight, a factor that Oguma exploited mercilessly in their second and third contests, the second a desperately close split decision that could have gone either way, the third, total carnage, both fighters finishing smothered in blood, Oguma taking another disputed, narrow decision.

Defeating Park the first time made Oguma the world’s champion and the second and third were primo defenses; Sung Jun Kim, ranked five, made for a quality third defense before Oguma shipped the title to Antonio Avelar, who knocked him out in heartbreaking circumstances.

What makes Oguma a little special is that this was actually his second run at the problem. He had been a major force in the division once before, in the early seventies. There lies the beginning of another extraordinary series in which Oguma met Betulio Gonzalez, another excellent flyweight and one we will be hearing from soon. Oguma went around with him four times. His reward was two losses, a draw and a single victory over fifteen rounds in October of 1974. That brought Oguma a strap and although it was immediately scooped up by Miguel Canto, it makes him some sort of champion in two different decades. Worthy, perhaps, of a higher spot; those losses peg him back a bit.

But it takes a special legacy to demote Oguma from the top thirty. We will be meeting some of the men that keep him out next week.

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Three Punch Combo: Gvozdyk-Beterbiev Thoughts and More

Matt Andrzejewski

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

A Tactical Fight?

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

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

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

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

Beterbiev’s Defense and Chin

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

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

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

Gvozdyk’s Mindset

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

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

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

Under The Radar Fight

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s Next For Dmitry Bivol?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The First Coming of George Foreman: A Retrospective

Rick Assad

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Road to Zaire

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Post-Ali

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

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

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

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

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

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

Second Coming

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

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

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

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

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

old george

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

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

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

Jeffrey Freeman

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

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

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

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

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

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

TRUTH AND JUSTICE

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

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

GRAPHIC NOVEL

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

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

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

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

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

But not so fast, speeding bullet.

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

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

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

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

Who’d have won?

Does it even matter anymore?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN

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

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

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

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

DOOMSDAY CLOCKED

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

Stevenson Gvozdyk Wescott 770x513

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

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

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

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

“Superman” Stevenson is dead.

Long live Adonis Stevenson…

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

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

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