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The Fifty Greatest Flyweights of All Time: Part Three 30-21

Matt McGrain

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The Fifty Greatest Flyweights of All Time: Part Three 30-21

In Part Three we meet fighters who approach true greatness, but who, for whatever reasons, failed to grasp the nettle. We also take in the full vista of the flyweight division traveling back to the First World War and sweeping right up to the present day with a selection of fighters as different as they were excellent.

Running into Fighting Harada in Part Two means that we have already let the head-to-head monster out of the genie’s lamp but there are one or two named below who could have lived with him.

Despite this, and an array of all-time great scalps and some astonishing facts and figures these men do come up just short of the top twenty, however.

This cannot be explained in its entirety here – in large part it is due more to the wonderful talent we will discuss in Parts Four and Five.

#30 – Terry Allen (1942-1954)

Londoner Terry Allen was difficult to rank. He had one of those careers where he seemed at times capable of anything and at others, limited. Nothing is more demonstrative of this than his bizarre trilogy with the superb Northern Irishman, Rinty Monaghan.

The two first met in 1947, both men already well established as flyweights of class, Monaghan then the #1 contender to the flyweight crown. Their all British affair would see the winner advance to a shot at the champion, Jackie Paterson, in another lucrative domestic contest. Much was at stake.  Focus was paramount.

Allen was blasted out in a single round.

He got his chance at revenge in 1949. Monaghan, by then the champion, gave his storied old foe a chance at redemption in an eight-round non-title fight at the Harringay Arena in London and Allen grabbed at it with both hands, climbing from the canvas to dominate a torrid sixth round and receive a deserved decision over the short distance. A championship fight was his reward.

Allen got everything right early, dropping his nemesis heavily in the second round, but seems perhaps to have been disorganized in following up his advantage. Monaghan survived. The Coventry Evening Telegraph described the fight as “the biggest fright of [Monaghan’s] life” and it is suggested, perhaps, that the Northern Irishman was given the benefit of the doubt on home soil in escaping with a draw; whatever the detail, Monaghan promptly retired and the title passed into vacancy.

Allen would lift that title in 1950, outpointing Honore Pratesi to begin a new lineage; that lineage passed to Dado Marino just four months later as Allen in turn dropped a decision out in Hawaii.

Another crackling series with Dickie O’Sullivan and a victory over contender Norman Tennant enhances his standing and his legacy; stories, perhaps, for another day.

#29 – Muangchai Kittikasem (1988-1999)

Muangchai Kittikasem is a perennially underrated fighter who reigned undisputed as the best flyweight in the world in 1991 and 1992. He then made way for the extraordinary Yuri Arbachakov but he ended the reign of a fighter just as extraordinary, that of Sot Chitalada, the great Thai.

The first time they met was in February 1991, a vicious contest that left Chitalada repeatedly tangled in or draped over the ring ropes. It was his first ever stoppage loss. His second was just around in the corner in the rematch, staged almost exactly one year later.

Chitalada survived two heavy knockdowns in the second round, but only to be savagely dispatched in the ninth. Kittikasem, then, mastered Chitalada but he could never supplant him and achieve his superstar status. In between his two battles with Chitalada, Kittikasem staged a fight of the year contender with the highly ranked Jung Koo Chang, surviving three knockdowns himself to dispatch his Korean opponent in the twelfth and final round with the fight in the balance. He also sneaked past Alberto Jimenez in a narrow majority decision, another excellent fight.

When Arbachakov came in along, Kittikasem was far from “ready to be taken” and it must have hurt to have to step aside for the better man. An underappreciated legacy underpinned by that victory over Chitalada should see him more fondly remembered than he generally is.

#28 – Percy Jones (1911-1916)

Percy Jones was the other top Welsh flyweight from the World War One era who sadly never met the great Jimmy Wilde in the ring. It seems odd that their paths never crossed but Jones had a relatively short career, although he packed in plenty.

He first made his mark early in 1914 beating Londoner Bill Ladbury in a desperate scrap that saw him a points winner. A weird hybrid of styles, Jones seems to have fought out of the American crouch but kept the British propensity to stress the jab above all else, a frustrated stylist. Quick, powerful and famous in his own time for the accuracy and sharpness of his left hand, Jones took the British and European titles from Ladbury as well as an uneasily burgeoning version of the world title, leading many to name him the first Welsh world champion.

Whatever the validity of this claim, Jones became the pre-eminent flyweight for a spell while Wilde was emerging. His chief dance partners were Joe Symonds, who we ran across in Part One, Jones winning three of their four matches, and Eugene Criqui, with whom he split a series 1-1. The most meaningful of these contests, with Percy’s titles on the line, took place in March of 1914 and was perhaps the finest performance of the Welshman’s career.

It would also be his last at the flyweight limit. Jones always made war with his body to cut to the requisite poundage and he had taken the flyweight adventure as far as it could go.

The valleys of Wales rarely fail to astonish with the huge assortment of brilliant talent they’ve gifted to boxing over the years, but the Jones/Wilde domination of the blooming flyweight division’s early years is perhaps the most spectacular.

#27 – Santos Laciar (1976-1990)

Santos Laciar was a sawed-off 5’1” Argentine who sported the heart of a much larger man, reflected in the fact that he was never stopped in 100 boxing contests. He was a true centurion, rarer and more beautiful for the fact that he became one in 1990 in the third decade of his career and the year of his final contest.

For all that, he was never the lineal title-holder, but rather a belt-holder (Atonio Avelar, Freddy Castillo and Ele Mercedes the true champions who evaded his grasp) Laciar gathered a splendid resume, besting Peter Mathebula and Juan Herrera, who were both among the most admired flyweights of the early eighties. Defeats of former lineal champion Prudencio Cardona, the past prime Betulio Gonzalez and Hilario Zapata all speak for him.

The best of Laciar can be readily seen online in the form of his 1981 destruction of Mathebula.  Much rangier than Laciar, Mathebula was then the #3 contender to the flyweight crown and favored to beat his smaller opponent on his native South African soil; 5,000 miles from home, Laciar tucked up, narrowed himself, and put on a glory of slippage, nullifying Mathebula’s excellent jab. A delicious and short left-hook ate up the real estate Mathebula deployed between them and the transmuted left uppercut that accompanied it slowly opened up the right hand. This spelled the end for the South African and made Laciar one of the world’s pre-eminent flyweights, a position he did not relinquish until 1985.

#26 – Efren Torres (1959-1972)

Efren Torres, “The Scorpion”, interrupted the championship reign of the great Chartchai Chionoi in the late 1960s to rule briefly as the lineal flyweight champion of the world. As signature wins go, this is very much one for a fighter to hang his hat on.

But Torres has so much more than a gatecrash grab of Chionoi’s title going for him. Not least was the impression he made in his 1968 losing effort versus Chionoi, running the great Thai right to the wire with the judges split down the middle as referee Arthur Mercante stopped the fight after thirteen savage rounds of vicious fighting that saw the ring mired in gore. Chionoi, who called Torres “the second best flyweight in the world” in the wake of this war, opened up a grotesque cut and rendered the Mexican’s face a crimson visage; a rematch of this first fight, which remains one of the most celebrated title-fights in flyweight history, was inevitable.

The second fight did not deliver. Torres, without suffering the urgency that terrible cut forced upon him in 1968, totally outclassed Chionoi in 1969. In the broiling El Toreo de Cuatro Camino, he slid, slipped, and counter-punched his way to total dominance, stopping the champion in eight one-sided rounds, even returning the brutal favor in crisply battering his opponent’s face into an unrecognizable lump with volleys of punches crowned by a deadly straight right hand.

Alas, Efren’s time at the top was not to last. A single successful title defence against Susumu Hagata, then among the five best flyweights in the world, was followed by a third clash with Chionoi.  Perhaps not many fighters could have prospered in sharing an era with the great Thai and Efren came up short, dropping a wide decision in the Orient. He would never return to the title.

His wider resume was impressive, including victories over an ancient Pascual Perez, a young Octavio Gomez and Raton Mojica, who would one day best Chionoi himself.

But it is for his evergreen trilogy with the wonderful Chionoi that he will rightly and always be remembered.

#25- Jackie Paterson (1938-1951)

Jackie Paterson is one of the longest-reigning champions in flyweight history and despite this fact remains perennially underrated. His claim is generally recognized from 1943 when he destroyed former champion Peter Kane, brilliantly, surreally, in a single round.

So why is he ranked no higher?

Well, Paterson was a fighting champion, he was very busy in the years in which he held the title, but he rarely placed it on the line. He fought a meager number of defenses, explained, in part, by his endless battle to make the 112lb weight limit. He fought as high as featherweight, battling (the right word) back down the flyweight limit to re-match old foe Joe Curran in 1946, coming out ahead over fifteen but likely delivering less than his best.

Another, more pertinent question then: how to justify such a high ranking?

Despite his shyness with the title, as a contender, Paterson operated with regularity in the upper echelons of his division. A good, if not a great bunch, he matched as many ranked contenders as anyone ranked below him on this list. He fulfilled the time-honored tradition of breaking out by battering a contender on the wane in the shape of Curran in June of 1939; he stopped Paddy Ryan later that same year and in doing so claimed the British and Commonwealth title. He was barely into his twenties.

Two years later, stretching the definition of what a flyweight could be, Paterson embarked on that lengthy title reign. He is not credited for it fully for the purposes of this list; he simply couldn’t be given the infrequency of his defenses.

A quick word on Paterson’s final paper record, which stands at 65-25-3. Paterson endured a long and depressing wind-down to his career, but this took place up at bantamweight. He never made the flyweight limit again after dropping his title to Rinty Monaghan in 1948 and went 3-9 during his run in. Even as champion he was seen more frequently at bantamweight and above than at flyweight, and these were the weight divisions in which he suffered most of his losses.

#24 – Roman Gonzalez (2005-Active)

Roman Gonzalez was an awesome flyweight who somehow managed to encompass the spirit of a runaway moon and a precision-engineered instrument concurrently. He was a terrible death for boxers and box-punchers and a rending ending, usually by knockout, for those who tried to stand with him. Had he been born in 1930 he likely would have been ranked among the ten greatest flyweights of all time. As it is, he lost precious years dismantling contenders below 112lbs before landing in earnest at flyweight around 2012. Hardly a wasted career but one that sees him ranked lower than feels right on this list.

The Gonzalez resume at flyweight boils down to four fighters: McWilliams Arroyo, Brian Viloria, Edgar Sosa and Akira Yaegashi. The Yaegashi performance, his first meaningful combat at the weight, was a glorious one and one that saw him lift the legitimate flyweight world-title.

Reigning champion Yaegashi, the very personification of bravery in a boxing ring that night, seemed at no time to have any chances of winning. Picking his moments to fight as he was driven round the ring, Yaegashi lost almost every exchange to a fighter who, at the time, was throwing punches with an eerie fluidity that few of history’s top stalkers could match.

With the championship in tow, Gonzalez collapsed top contender Edgar Sosa three times on the way to an early knockout, crucified Viloria, himself named in this Top Fifty and posted a shutout against Arroyo.

He then departed for 115lbs, a step too far even for him; in his flyweight prime he was a match for anyone on this list.

#23 – Yoshio Shirai (1943-1955)

Yoshio Shirai turned professional during World War Two and after being drafted into the Japanese navy suffered injuries grave enough that they threatened his burgeoning boxing career. That career was resurrected by his own innate toughness and by his close association with a member of the American occupied forces, Alvin Cahn, who helped him refine his raw aggressive style into that of a technically minded pressure fighter.

There was money, too; it bought him two non-title shots at the reigning champion Dado Marino. The first, in Japan, saw him drop a split decision but made firm the notion that Shirai was for real. The rematch was staged in Marino’s native Hawaii, and once again was a non-title match-up; this time Shirai had the measure of his man, stepped into the pocket and clinically out-fought him. This forced Marino’s hand and he returned to Japan where the title changed hands in a baseball stadium before 40,000 fans.

Shirai made four successful defenses of his championship, no mean feat and more than most of the champions to have preceded him. He re-matched Dado Marino (winning a unanimous decision in the fourth in their epic series) then defeated Filipino Tarry Campo, who was among the finest flyweights in the world. A minor setback unfolded when he was stopped on a cut by top contender Leo Espinosa in seven in a non-title fight, but the rematch went Shirai’s way, for all that Espinosa ran him desperately close. In between those matches, Shirai found time to outfight former champion and fellow Top Fifty flyweight Terry Allen. It was a hot, hot streak.

The man who ended it was the all-time great Pascual Perez. The deadly Argentine genius was made to work for it though and in fact in the first of their three contests he had to make do with a draw.  When Perez took his title in a rematch and turned him away by stoppage in a third contest, the first of the Japanese champions hung up his gloves, 46-8-4 and the former flyweight champion of the world.

#22 – Tancy Lee (1906-1926)

Having composed similar lists on all seven of the other classic weight-classes I’m familiar with the stage we have reached in this flyweight Odyssey: the stage where good resumes are elevated to something greater by an exceptional win. Torres has Chionoi. Allen has Monaghan. And Tancy Lee has Jimmy Wilde.

As far as apex victories come there are few, if any, that impress more. Sure, Lee was considerably heavier than the sub-100lbs Wilde, but it is also a fact that the Welshman was on an astonishing unbeaten streak approaching one-hundred fights and that at the end of the previous year of 1914, he had defeated the excellent Sid Smith and Joe Symonds back to back. Tancy Lee ended all of that, and on a stoppage.

A familiar claim emanates from the ashes of their January 1915 meeting, one that is stumbled upon frequently when a great fighter is vanquished: claims that Jimmy Wilde had the flu. It was a brave man who voiced these opinions around ageing Scotsman Tancy Lee in later years. This is understandable – proof that Wilde had the flu is basically non-existent. It should be remembered, after all, that an epidemic of flu killed as many as 100 million people between 1918 and 1920.  Boxing was not something you did when you had flu in 1915, it was something you saw your priest about.

More likely, Wilde suffered a cold and suffered even more from the vicious attentions of a flyweight who carried a huge upper body for the era. A miniature Bob Fitzsimmons in aspects of his physical appearance, Lee harassed, harried, and battered Jimmy Wilde until his corner tossed the towel in the seventeenth. Lee had his marquee win.

He defeated another superb Welsh flyweight in Percy Jones and numerous other excellent British flyweights at a time when the UK dominated the smallest division. Accountancy purely of the lower weights in his own era would see him rank very respectably indeed, but his October 1915 loss to Joe Symonds costs him a couple of spots here. Lee did avenge this loss, but above the flyweight limit where he enjoyed a second career of no small matter.

#21 – Pongsaklek Wonjongkam (1994-2018)

What do you do with a problem like Pongsaklek Wonjongkam?

On the one hand the Thai staged more than twenty successful title defences in two spells as champion between 2001 and 2012. This measure of success denies almost all possible criticism.

That said, many of these defenses were little more than stay-busy fights staged for walking-around money, both for the fighter and for his sponsor, the WBC. A list of the worst ever lineal title challengers would draw heavily from Wonjongkam’s opposition.

Malcolm Tunacao, who was in possession of the flyweight championship of the world when Wonjongkam got his shot, was absolutely legitimate, however. Wonjongkam stopped him in a round with a direct, fast-handed attack of glorious naivety that began at bell and ended with Tunacao dropped for a third time, unbroken but a victim of the three-knockdown rule.

Thus began a series of bum-of-the-month defenses interrupted in April 2002 by the Japanese Daisuke Naito. Naito, it must be noted would emerge as one of the best flyweights of his generation and as a fitting foil for Wonjongkam over a four-fight series contested over much of the coming decade. Their first fight, however, was a wash. Naito was the first serious opponent for the champion since he’d destroyed Tunacao, and as it was so it would be as the Thai king knocked Naito unconscious with a blistering reverse-one-two in just seconds.

Naito, however, came again. He put together an eight-fight winning streak and indeed he would never lose a fight to any man other than Wonjongkam. Their rematch staged in in 2005 was unsatisfying, Wonjongkam winning an exciting technical decision after seven when an accidental clash of heads caused a cut to be opened above Naito’s right eye.

Their third and fourth fights, both contested in Japan, were ramshackle, turgid affairs which could have been won by either man. Wonjongkam lost the first of these and drew the second, probably deserving of a narrow win. This represented the end of his rivalry with Naito who dropped his title to Koki Kameda in 2009. Wonjongkam defeated Kameda in turn to become a two-time lineal flyweight champion.

Aside from this, the Thai bested several fringe contenders and nobodies to build his astonishing title-fight figures. He leaves a curious legacy. Few fighters to have spent so long at the pinnacle can leave me feeling so uncertain as to their quality. On the other hand, there is no arguing with the numbers.

That’s because numbers hold power over us. They matter. The difference between twenty-one and twenty is no wider than a hair but for some reason, it matters. Next week, we meet the fighters who cross that crucial hair’s breadth.

To read Part One of The Fifty Greatest Flyweights of All Time, please CLICK HERE.

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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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