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

Ted Sares

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carl Thompson vs. Ezra Sellers (2001)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then it Happened!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s yours?

Ted Sares can be reached at tedsares@roadrunner.com

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

Jeffrey Freeman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They hold the 24K gold key to induction.

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

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

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

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

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

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

It looked like the end was near for Marlon Starling.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hope to see you in Canastota someday, Champ.

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

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

George Kimball

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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