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The Fifty Greatest Flyweights of All Time: Part Four 20-11

Matt McGrain

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The Top Twenty are in the can now. How do they compare to the other divisional Top Twenties?

Well the same clutch at featherweight was a ridiculous capture, starring immortals such as Henry Armstrong and Terry McGovern; Jack McAuliffe and Joe Brown likely outstrip their tiny cousins at the absurdly stacked lightweight; don’t even get me started on middleweight, where the likes of Mickey Walker, Freddie Steele and Jake LaMotta are appraised. But when it comes to their nearest relatives, the bantamweights, and their most distant, the heavyweights, flyweight compares directly. I think though, if I’m honest, the flyweights are probably bringing up the rear in terms of quality in the 20-11 bracket.

That said, the differences are slim – just like the differences that separate the fighters in this, the penultimate installment of a series that has taken more than half of one decade to produce.

#20 – Fidel LaBarba (1924-1933)

For a certain kind of fan, Fidel LaBarba will always be flyweight’s blue-eyed boy.

An amateur teen, an intelligent, well-spoken and humble New Yorker, LaBarba rose from obscurity to the world championship while still in his early twenties. It was a glorious story and it resounds through the decades.

That said, a pithy accountancy of LaBarba’s career at flyweight would be exactly two lines long.

LaBarba resigned the flyweight championship just months after lifting it to enroll in college; furthermore, many of the contests he partook between winning the title and resigning it took place at the bantamweight limit and even above. He was, in fairness, a growing boy but difficulties of his personal biology play no part in appraising his status at 112lbs.

He squeezed plenty into that brief time, however. In August of 1925 he defeated Frankie Genaro clean, a victory that remains arguably the best victory in all of boxing history by a teenager. It also made him the owner of the coveted American flyweight championship and the sudden passing of champion Pancho Villa shortly before meant he was also a top contender to the now vacant championship.

He annexed that belt in the first significant contest of 1927, taking the title against the doughty Scotsman Elky Clark. Clark was as tough as they come, stopped just once in his first professional contest back in 1921, and against LaBarba he needed every ounce of his stoicism as he was hammered from pillar to post by a fighter possessed. It was a violent beating that ended his career.

Traditionalists would rank LaBarba among the top twelve; personally, I don’t consider his resume is good enough even for this spot -but it was the manner of his dispatch of Genaro and Clark that most impress.  Like Roman Gonzalez he outclassed some of the best available opposition, but in Genaro and Clark he had opponents worthy of his best.

Villa’s tragic death likely denied us one of the great flyweight showdowns.

#19 – Newsboy Brown (1921-1933)

What’s better than defeating a legendary flyweight like Frankie Genaro once? Well, beating him twice is a good start, something Newsboy Brown, real name David Mondrus, was able to do, locking him in front of LaBarba on any sensible list by my eye.

Brown and LaBarba shared an era, then, and did in fact try to settle their differences the old-fashioned way, two draws the result.

So, it is settled between them based upon common opposition. Brown first met Genaro in October of 1925, not yet in his absolute prime but certainly his vaunted body attack had matured; Brown deployed it and edged the narrowest of ten round decisions. The two met again in 1927 and the result was a familiar one – Newsboy Brown scrapped his way to a second ten round decision victory.

Brown then began to show the same patchwork of results the other great fighters of this golden age of flyweight boxing suffered. Nobody could remain consistent in such company and Brown dropped decisions to Willie Davies, Frenchy Belanger and Izzy Schwartz in the next twelve months. His loss to Schwartz was the most damaging. Brown had previously dominated Schwartz so his fifteen-round loss with a strap on the line was a surprise and one that hurt both his hunt for the legitimate title and his all-time standing.

Nevertheless, victories over Johnny McCoy and Speedy Dado marry well with his previous decision win over Schwartz and, most of all, those two priceless wins against the great Genaro.

#18 – Yuri Arbachakov (1990-1997)

Yuri Arbackavov was a genius, as perfectly balanced a flyweight as has ever lived. He boxed out of Japan, turning professional in 1990 and battering a series of professional losers and journeymen before landing an unearned title shot against world champion Muangchai Kittikasem whose twenty-one fights made him a veteran by comparison. He had been a professional a little more than two years.

Yuri destroyed Maungchai. He weaved a hideous attack around the stiffest of stiff jabs to the gut, wielding hooks and crosses around it like a deadly and hurtful web. It would be wrong to say Yuri owned a vicious body attack; more, he found openings, landed punches at all sites, his strategy based purely upon availability rather than a strategic or even tactical plan. It was breathtaking.

Certainly, Maungchai must have thought so upon being deposited both unconscious and face down upon the canvas by a picture-perfect counter right hand. But he was a good fighter, and a legitimate champion so he dusted himself off and took another shot at Yuri; he lasted one round longer, crumbling in the ninth.

It wasn’t just that right hand counter that was picture perfect; everything Yuri did came straight out of George Benton’s manual. Limber, fluid, with gorgeous footwork and exquisite punching form, all of these things and more could be laid claim to by the Russian. Here’s the problem: this was his summit.

He successfully defended against the superb Ysaias Zamudio in 1993 and butchered Hugo Soto, a fair challenger, in 1994. But every one of his other successful title defenses was against questionable opposition, men who, like he, had not earned their title shots. His apprenticeship was non-existent, his title reign was lukewarm and when he bowed out against Chatchai Sasakul in 1997 he left an incomplete legacy in his wake.

Yuri looked the part and probably had enough skill and innate ability that a top ten berth was within his grasp. As it is, he managed to miss out on almost every significant flyweight of his era bar Muangchai and Zamudio, including Mark Johnson – who might just have tested that riffing strategy and exposed the merest hint that he, too, may have been vulnerable to a concentrated body attack.

We will never know – and because we will never know, this is as high as Yuri can stand, despite the protest of boxing purists who all but faint at his perfectly executed movements. A long reign and those nine title defenses scrape him into the top twenty.

#17 – Rinty Monaghan (1932-1949)

Rinty Monaghan was often described as “scrappy”, which seems to denote a determination to win on the part of a fighter who lacked knockout power, but Monaghan was far, far more. He was far more in cementing his claim to the title against Jackie Paterson in 1948, certainly.

In the light of Paterson’s inactivity in defending his title there were those that tried to recognize Monaghan’s claim from 1947 when he soundly defeated the visiting Dado Marino over fifteen rounds and was elevated to champion by the NYSAC and the Irish board of control – but Paterson remained the champion in the eyes of traditionalists (including your writer) having never lost the title in the ring. Monaghan tied up the loose ends by matching Paterson in Belfast five months later. The two were no strangers to one another, Paterson having shocked Monaghan by knockout a decade before, then succumbing to vicious cuts in a rematch in 1946; in their 1948 rubber, the Northern Irishman left no room for doubt, as Paterson, now emaciated by his battle with the 112lb limit, was a mark for Monaghan’s swarming attack and huge variety of right hands.

Monaghan looked disorganized, but he was a beautifully balanced fighter. Nullify his booming, swiping, layered right-hand and he had a sneaky left hook and left jab to fall back on. Fighters of a given type might neutralize one, but they would rarely then be able to neutralize the other. His attack was too variable to see him out-boxed, he had to be outfought.

After Paterson failed to do so, blasted into submission and then unconsciousness in seven brutal rounds, Monaghan staged two defenses. In the first, against the number three contender Maurice Sandeyron out of Paris, he took a fifteen-round decision. In the second, against Londoner Terry Allen, he got “the fright of his life”, was perhaps lucky to escape with the draw and promptly retired.

But Monaghan was so much more than just that short title run. He had been operating among the elite since 1938 when he first bested Joe Curran; he stopped the class operator Ed Doran in four in 1945, then began his series with Paterson before first meeting Terry Allen, blasting him out in just a single round.  Emile Famechon and Dado Marino both rated among the best of the time when he took them.

Monaghan suffered some losses, but he was much more likely to win, something he did well, often and against some of the best around.

#16 – Peter Kane (1934-1951)

Peter Kane is the division’s number two puncher.

He turned professional in Liverpool in 1934 and embarked on an unprecedented tear up through the British domestic scene, then the hub of flyweight excellence. On forty-one occasions a man came up to mark and was turned away by a fuselage of hard punches from a slugger who specialized in cracking un-broken chins. He stopped the brick-chinned Italian Enrico Urbinati in eight rounds in 1936; the granite-jawed Belgian Gaston Van de Bos later that same year; Pierre Louis, the Frenchman, early in 1937; and most impressively Northern Irishman Jimmy Warnock in four rounds that summer in front of 40,000. None of these men had ever been stopped before Kane got his blood-sodden paws on them and Warnock had just emerged victorious from a fifteen-round non-title combat with the genius Benny Lynch.

Kane’s defeat of Warnock earned him a shot at Lynch’s flyweight-title, but this proved a roundhouse swing too far for the brawler. Lynch countered Kane to death, stopping him in thirteen; but Kane, for anyone who isn’t paying attention, isn’t the type of man to go away and he earned himself a draw up at bantamweight the following year. Lynch, unable to make the 112lb limit, forfeited the title and Kane inevitably picked up the vacated championship against Jackie Jurich in 1938. Jurich hauled himself off the canvas five times to make the final bell.

Kane dropped the title in 1943 against Jackie Paterson by which time he had out-pointed ranked man Tiny Bostock over ten, twice bested top five contender Ernst Weiss, twice bested Valentin Angelmann, ranked four, which, when added to Louis, Warnock and Jurich, all highly regarded, and Joe Curran, also in the top five, resulted in one of a strong era’s tidiest resumes.

His title run, truncated by the war years, is unimpressive but the men he bested and manner he bested them in, was not.

#15 – Betulio Gonzalez (1968-1988)

Betulio Gonzalez remains one of Venezuela’s greatest fighters and, even for a flyweight, languishes rather underrated. A frustrating fighter to watch, he was capable of absolute brilliance, technically perfect smuggled uppercuts thrown on the inside, feinted lead and a cross-counter on the outside all well within his marshal grasp. He made technically difficult combinations look technically easy. Despite this, and despite the twenty years he spent in the ring, he could appear strategically moribund against the very best, bereft of a plan to hang his hat on.

When the problem was easy to solve though, he could be almost irresistible, as was the case in his 1978 crack at an alphabet strap held by the superb Guty Espadas. Espadas was on a seven-fight knockout streak and had done significant damage to significant names in lifting his belt, so Gonzalez set out to do the simplest and yet most difficult things: outfight the puncher toe-to-toe. The first four rounds are as sizzling and broiling as anything that can be seen at the poundage and is a must-see for fight fans; when the dust settled Gonzalez sought out and found his defensive rhythm, battling home for a narrow decision victory despite a series of quite astonishing rallies from his opponent.

So Gonzalez held a belt, but would never be the true linear champion. The reason was a valid one, however: Miguel Canto.

Gonzalez met this little giant three times between 1973 and 1976, twice with the lineal title on the line.  The second of these contests was a brilliant exhibition of boxing and possibly Canto’s best performance, a left-handed clinic in excess of almost anything that can be seen on film. Gonzalez was turned away in a split decision, the same result as in their third and final contest. But in their first meeting in 1973, probably before Canto had entered his absolute apex, Gonzalez turned that result on its head winning on two cards on his home soil to mount a jewel in the crown of his storied resume.

Osamu Haba, Peter Mathebula and two victories over Shoji Oguma ensured that Gonzalez stood out even in this golden age of flyweights and sees him stand among the finest contenders to the lineal crown in history.

#14 – Sot Chitalada (1983-1992)

The mighty Sot Chitalada’s boxing career was truncated to just thirty-one fights, but his combat career was longer. He turned professional in 1983 as a storied Muay-Thai competitor and this helps to explain his winning the world flyweight championship in just his seventh contest. It was an astonishing feat but one that must be understood in a wider context.

Having smuggled the title away from Gabriel Bernal, Chitalada traveled to the UK for his first defense and stopped Charlie Magri on a cut in the fourth. He then returned home and re-matched Bernal in one of the most exciting flyweight title fights captured on film. Bernal caught Chitalada early with two peachy, herding hooks and dropped him neatly onto his right haunch. This knockdown defined the fight.  Bernal, determined that his swirling southpaw pressure would pay, never stopped coming and even Chitalada’s vicious body-attack didn’t discourage him. The result, a majority draw, felt true in tone, Bernal’s knockdowns in the first and eighth key.

For his next trick, Chitalada turned over former champion Freddy Castillo before facing Bernal for a third time. Finally, Chitalada’s variety and accuracy separated himself from his old foe.

All this excitement means that Chitalada had dusted off three lineal flyweight champions (one of them twice) in just thirteen fights. Find me another fighter who successfully undertook a schedule like this in any weight division at any time in history and I’ll be impressed: wait, though. You’d have to go again – after losing his title to Yong Kang Kim in a raucous, weird, close fight out in Korea, Chitalada reclaimed his title in a nip-and-tuck rematch to beat yet another world champion.

During this process, I’ve been tough on fighters who take the alphabet route, fighting the selection of a corrupt ABC instead of one of the world’s better fighters and then complaining that his legacy is being disrespected. But the fighter disrespected it. Sot Chitalada is the Ying to that Yang.  He consistently matched elite fighters and an elite resume was the result.

#13 – Horacio Accavallo (1956-1967)

Argentine technician Horacio Accavallo is perhaps the most underrated flyweight of all time, which is the same as saying the most underrated fighter of all time. He was of a type that was and remains unheralded, a steady, correct technician who could pop well enough to earn an opponent’s respect but not the excitement of the wider boxing world. A hero in his home country, his brilliance never translated into dollars. Crucially, he never boxed in America.

But he did amass an astonishing 75-2-6 ledger and on it are some names worth noting. His first loss came during a protracted stay in Italy when he matched an Italian to be every bit the legend in his home country as Accavallo was in his, Salvatore Burruni. Both men were novices, but it was Accavallo, far from home, who stole the decision over 8; Burruni avenged himself a year later, also in Italy and the rubber match between the two legends occurred some six years later. Both, by then, superstars in their native countries, Burruni traveled to Argentina to meet Accavallo, by then a belt-holder for the third and final time. All grown up, the Argentine dropped Burruni in the opening round and assaulted him viciously in the closing rounds. This was one of Accavallo’s great and underestimated strengths: his late rallies were channelled from some other realm of the heart and he rarely allowed any opponent to finish stronger than he.

Certainly, Burruni wilted. Then reigning as the world champion, he had refused to put the true title on the line against Accavallo and would never offer him the chance to take it from him. Consequently, the Argentine never reigned as lineal but he did defeat the lineal champion. In fact, he defeated two of them. The great Hiroyuki Ebihara (see below) ruled the world in 1963 and 1964 and must be regarded as one of the greatest of all the flyweights. Accavallo met him twice, both times as his own career was running down and while Ebihara was arguably trickling past his own astonishing prime, he was also on a fourteen-fight winning streak that included two dominations of the excellent Efren Torres. Nobody other than Pone Kingpetch had beaten him since Fighting Harada had turned the trick in 1960.

Burruni beat him clear in their first fight in 1966 but it is the second contest the following year that has drawn the eye of the historian since. This, Accavallo’s last, is rumored to have been a questionable decision and the reason he went into retirement. This second claim is false; Burruni suffered an injury and after an 83-fight career, he never fully recovered. The first, too, is false and this can be seen online.  The second meeting between these two is captured on film and shows a tight fight, controlled, barely, by Ebihara early, arguably dominated by the Accavallo late. One could make an argument for an Ebihara card, but it is certainly no problem to deliver one for Accavallo. A majority decision for the 5’2 southpaw Argentine saw him once again overcome the height advantage his opponents invariably held over him.

1966 horacio accavallo

Toss in his victories over Katsuyoshi Takayama and Efren Torres, the nine uninterrupted years he spent ranked among the very best flyweights in the world, the 48-fight unbeaten streak he turned in during his prime, the fact that he managed 5-1 against men on this list and it is clear that Accavallo is clearly good for his spot.

His absence from the IBHOF makes a mockery of that institution.

#12 – Hiroyuki Ebihara (1959-1969)

Legendary Japanese southpaw Hiroyuki Ebihara ruled the world in 1963 and 1964, his reign amounting to just four short months. A footnote, then, in flyweight championship history. But Ebihara suffered some extraordinary company during his career, and those monstrous flyweights inflicted most of those losses.

He dropped a ten round decision to Fighting Harada in his tenth fight in early 1960 and lost twice to Horacio Accavallo, then dropped a decision in his last ever fight. His other loss was posted to the giant of flyweight boxing, Pone Kingpetch.

Kingpetch was in possession of the title when Ebihara got his shot in 1963. Kingpetch’s brilliance as a boxer was probably only matched by men ranked among the top division’s all-time top ten and he presented a singular problem to any challenger. Ebihara’s solution was equally pointed; in the very first round he landed the type of southpaw lead that turns durable fighters to jelly. Kingpetch, being made of steel, found his feet and staggered uncertainly on his slim legs. No flyweight in history would have survived the bombardment with which Kingpetch was greeted. A similarly terribly punch deposited him for a second time and the champion was rendered to the canvas, able only to raise his head uncertainly, all other portions of his body a victim of the messages of disaster his brain dispatched. Ebihara (pictured in black and white) stood the flyweight champion of the world.

The rematch with Kingpetch was a desperately, desperately close majority decision that would have gone to Ebihara in Japan as surely as it was reasonable for it to go to Kingpetch in Thailand.

And that was all for Ebihara and the championship, but he was more than the championship. He all but cleared up in the East, blasting out Shigeru Ito in two rounds just months after Ito extended Fighting Harada the distance, bested chief domestic rival Tsuyoshi Nakamura three out of four times (the fourth a draw) before travelling to America and crushing the ever-dangerous Efren Torres in seven. Jose Severino, then ranked #4 in the world, was his last great effort before Bernabe Villacampo retired him in late 1969.

#11 – Willie Davies (1924-1933)

“Wee” Willie Davies had a problem, and the problem was Midget Wolgast. Wolgast was a problem for a lot of hollow-eyed, newly-crushed flyweights in the 20s and 30s, but Davies had the questionable honor of meeting him on no fewer than seven occasions, and on no fewer than six of these found himself desperately seeking the answer to the often heard question asked by Wolgast’s opponents: “What happened?”

What happened was he was trapped in an era with perhaps the most unboxable flyweight of all and found himself unable to cope with his ludicrous feats of speed and punching. Betulio Gonzalez had Canto, Davies had Wolgast and neither would be champion. Sometimes, that’s just the way it goes.

Davies did manage to win a single contest against his perennial foe, their first, fought over eight rounds in 1927. Thereafter he had to settle for running Wolgast so close he was sometimes deemed worthy of a draw he never received. Fortunately, Davies had other exceptional competition against whom to prove his greatness, and this he did, plundering three wins and two draws from his six matches with “Black” Bill.  What Wolgast was to Davies, Davies was to Bill. Their fights were raucous, heated and close, but as in the former case so the cream rose to the top.

He dominated a four-fight series with Izzy Schwartz, dominated a sliding Frankie Mason, out-fought and out-slicked coming contender Emil Paluso and, in possibly his best night’s work, won a decision by a sliver against the superb Newsboy Brown.

Shifty, quick and armed with an iron jaw and clever defense, Davies served out his inevitable downfall up at bantamweight. At flyweight, in his glorious prime, the gold eluded him only by virtue of the glimmering company he kept. It’s a cliché because it’s true: the man was a champion in any other era.

And only the ten greatest flyweights in history stand between him and a spot in the final installment.

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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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