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The Top Ten Middleweights of the Decade: 2010-2019

Matt McGrain

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Looking over the 160lb division of the last decade was tough. A concrete top three was difficult to order for reasons that will become apparent and no natural number ten presented itself; between ten and three were a series of interchangeable middleweights, none of whom made an irrefutable case over the man above him, this, despite their having a reasonable record of matching one another.

An average decade then, for the sport’s number two division, but no less fascinating for all that.

Rankings are by TBRB excluding 2010 to 2012 when Ring rankings are used.

10 – Dmitry Pirog

Peak Ranking: 5 Record for the Decade: 6-0 Ranked For: 41% of the Decade

Dmitry Pirog appears, at first glance to be an inclusion based upon potential and being frank that is a matter in his ranking. Pirog was slated to meet Gennadiy Golovkin in the summer of 2012 when he ruptured a disc in his back while striking a tire with a sledgehammer in the mountains of his native Russia. He never recovered. While Golovkin probably would have been too much for the man they called “The Grandmaster”, even at just 20-0, he would likely have been one of the better fighters Golovkin would ever have bettered.

For confirmation of this, see Pirog’s graduation night victory over Daniel Jacobs in July of 2010. Jacobs would get better but when the two men fought as elite prospects he was basically outclassed by the Russian. Pirog ran a savage pressure but it was his defense that set him apart. He was not impossible to hit, nor even difficult for the right punch, but he had superb reactive head and upper-body movement that saw him consistently ditch Daniel’s best blows, and in fact the best punches of almost every fighter he ever fought.

Prospect watchers know well the nagging doubt created by a leaky defense; Pirog’s was tighter than that of many more experienced men. It was his offense that marshalled Jacobs, however, who was driven to the ropes over and over again despite the demands of his corner and who, after being out-fought and out-thought for most of the preceding rounds, was terminated by a brutal right hand in the fifth. He remains the only man to have stopped Jacobs despite the kind attentions of Golovkin and Saul Alvarez.

Pirog never recovered from that ruptured disc and was almost certainly cheated of a much more significant legacy as a result. I’ll stick my neck out here and say he’d have landed in the top four had he remained uninjured. As it is, he is as reasonable a pick for the #10 spot as I can muster.

09 – Peter Quillin

Peak Ranking: 2 Record for the Decade: 14-2-1 Ranked For: 46% of the Decade

Peter Quillin survived a rough upbringing to become one of the signature contenders of the decade. For all that he failed to deliver on what seemed legitimate potential before being chased out of the division by Daniel Jacobs in 2015, Quillin had some pretty moments. Chief among them was perhaps his tenth-round stoppage of contender Gabriel Rosado in 2013. Some of this was genuinely gorgeous, feinting with the jab before hooking around the corner, delightful small-increment pressure with sudden two-piece attacks tagged on to the thinking footwork.

Quillin’s best though was his massacre of Hassan N’Dam N’Jikam. That fight had come a year earlier in something of a crossroads fight for both men, each sporting a ledger of 27-0. Quillin dropped N’Jikam over and again with a beautiful array of left hands. N’Jikam visited the canvas on six separate occasions.

Quillin didn’t deliver in the end and given his rags-to-riches story and healthy interest in boxing’s history, that seemed a shame to me; but he did enough and looked well enough to slip in to one of the two contested slots at the bottom of the ten.

08 – Felix Sturm

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 7-3-2-1 Ranked For: 49% of the Decade

At first glance, number eight might seem a tad harsh where Sturm is concerned but look closer.

First, he’s hitting barely 50% for a win ratio for the decade – and his best win in the 10s is Matthew Macklin. Not that this is anything to be ashamed of, Macklin was a good operator and ranked #3 in the world at the time of their meeting, but it’s a tough hook to hang a legacy on.

The problem, however, is that many observers felt that Sturm was not deserving of the decision against Macklin and it remains one of the most controversially scored fights on the fascinating Eye on the Ring website. What is clear is that Macklin out-landed Sturm, and herein lies the great strength, weakness and the most interesting wrinkle in Sturm’s fighting style. One of the most patient fighters I have ever seen, Sturm covers up, invites pressure, and lets his opponent work. This was a red flag to Macklin’s bullish instincts, and he spent the entire fight pushing forwards, working the body with veracity, bringing volume and aggression. Sturm responded not by running but by staying in the pocket and ceding round after round but looking to set up sneak counters, a double-left-jab, hard uppercuts. In almost every round he landed the quality work, appealing to a certain kind of eye.

It’s easy to find an argument for Macklin but the fight was indisputably close, and Sturm indisputably won the eleventh and twelfth. His style is one of natural economy. Macklin started to look ragged by comparison as early as the eighth. I scored it 115-113 Macklin but have no problem with a close Sturm card.

Still, his number two scalp that decade was either Sam Soliman or Sebastian Zbik, depending upon who you prefer. Sturm belongs here but would have been shaded in a better decade.

07 – Billy Joe Saunders

Peak Ranking: 3 Record for the Decade: 24-0 Ranked For: 35% of the Decade

Billy Joe Saunders spent most of the decade duelling middleweights before departing for 168lbs, but it is for two performances he makes the ten, one desperate, one so smooth as to be comparable to some of the truly great stylists. Such are the vagaries of boxing style and Billy Joe’s own maddening inconsistency.

The smooth was turned in against number four contender David Lemieux in late 2017. This was the fight where Saunders famously made the limited but brave Lemieux miss by such a margin that he was able to take the time to feign looking to the bleachers for a punch that flew wide. There was so much more to this performance than that distilled moment though. Saunders boxed with genuine brilliance, repeatedly making Lemieux miss him behind a southpaw jab by slipping and shifting to his own right, counterintuitive because it opened him up to Lemieux’s square attack. Saunders was never troubled. No puncher, he was never going to stop his rugged opponent, but he won every round. It made him a legitimate opponent for both Daniel Jacobs and Gennadiy Golovkin; neither fight materialized.

Two years earlier, almost to the day, the other Saunders was manifest in Manchester against Irishman Andy Lee. The temptation here is to give Lee, a good fighter who was in contention for the #10 spot, more credit, but Saunders dominated the first three rounds, scoring two beautiful knockdowns. The first, a slip counter of the absolute highest order, was a thing of fistic wonder.

Then he dropped off dramatically, his workrate and his strategic plan both floundering. Saunders got his win by majority decision, those knockdowns the difference.

Now 168lbs has him, but his incomplete legacy at one-sixty enough to scrape him the number seven spot.

06 – Miguel Cotto

Peak Ranking: Ch Record for the Decade: 7-4 Ranked For: 23% of the Decade

Miguel Cotto’s paper record for the decade and his brief sojourn at 160lbs make him the lowest ranked of the dead locks for this list. Cotto unquestionably belongs but can rise no higher.

His keynote victory over world middleweight champion Sergio Martinez has been dismissed by some given how Martinez’s knees had begun to creak but it is worth remembering that Cotto himself had begun to fade having dropped decisions to Floyd Mayweather and Austin Trout in consecutive fights at 154lbs; so his first round performance against even a struggling Martinez was astonishing.

The champion looked unsteady on his feet, yes, but Cotto’s left hand lead was rarely better, whether he was hooking to the body, jabbing upstairs, or feinting and throwing a stealing, cuffing left hook; it was clear from the first that whatever remained of Martinez was not going to be good enough for Cotto; so it proved, and the Puerto Rican legend was king.

Cotto only had one more win at the poundage, but it was over a second man to make this list in Daniel Geale. Geale is a name, less renowned than that of Martinez and with good reason, but in many ways, it was the more important win. Cotto dominated Geale, a legitimate middleweight, physically as well as technically, hurting him throughout with the left and up-ending him in four. It confirmed him a legitimate middleweight.

For all that, Cotto is exactly 2-1 at middleweight, and when he dropped his title to Saul Alvarez in his next contest, his transient visit to the division was over. Both Geale and Martinez were creaking when he got to them but two wins over men on this list, plus the lineal championship make him a lock.

05 – Daniel Geale

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 10-4 Ranked For: 51% of the Decade

This was an extremely close call.  Essentially the coin was in the air and it came down “Daniel Geale”.

Geale was defeated by Miguel Cotto, albeit at the end of his career, and Cotto was the legitimate champion whereas Geale was a strapholder and ranked the #1 contender. But Geale was a career middleweight; while Cotto’s relationship with 160lbs was fleeting, Geale fought two generations of middles and in his purple patch in 2011 and 2012 bears scrutiny.

He traveled to Germany in 2011 and in front of a partisan crowd outworked a game Sebastian Sylvester to a deserved decision victory over the world’s #3 contender, and better yet, returned there for a showdown and unification bout with Felix Sturm. Here too he came away a winner in a fight so close as to come down to the eleventh and twelfth, both bagged by Geale. Had Sylvester been blessed with Sturm’s jab, or Sturm with Sylvester’s work-rate, Geale could have lost either fight, but as it was he found the gaps in both styles to take decisions on enemy territory. Probably Geale was less than elite in everything that mattered, he was quick but not fast, a stinging puncher but not a powerful one, organized but not dynamic; for grit and work, however, there is no better middle on this list.

Like all fighters who rely upon stamina to get there, once he lost a step he was a hugely diminished fighter and that he lost three of his last five fights is a reflection of that. Geale is not a top five decadal fighter in sense of class and is reflective of what was a middling decade at 160lbs, but despite his past-prime loss to Cotto it is hard to see him ranked below the transient Puerto Rican here.

04 – Daniel Jacobs

Peak Ranking: 2 Record for the Decade: 18-3 Ranked For: 48% of the Decade

Another coin flip: the difference between Danny Jacobs and Geale wound up being not his wins, but his losses, two brave showings against the two pre-eminent middleweights of his era, Gennady Golovkin and Saul Alvarez. He met Golovkin in March of 2017 in a fight that was close, controversial and absorbing, Jacobs keeping a seemingly tentative Golovkin honest with a combination of size and power that the great Kazakhstani had perhaps not seen before. Two years later he entertained Alvarez and once again dropped a close decision, though on this occasion there was less controversy; Jacobs then bid farewell to 160lbs for super-middleweight.

The key victories that make him a legitimate if uninspiring number four were also fascinating, none more so than his single round dispatch of the world’s #2 contender, Peter Quillin. Jacobs, perfectly capable of engaging in and winning a technical fight, as he proved in 2018 in edging out Sergiy Derevyanchenko over twelve, chose against Quillin a shoot-out. Chasing Quillin back to the ropes with a sound jab he then forced the referee’s hands (arguably a little prematurely) with a mix of looping and compact right-hands.

These two contrasting victories and these two losses describe for us Daniel’s strengths and limitations. They make him difficult to rank below the likes of Geale and Cotto, and impossible to rank above any of the members of the undisputed middleweight top three of the 2010s.

03 – Sergio Martinez

Peak Ranking: Ch. Record for the Decade: 7-1 Ranked For: 50% of the Decade

Sergio Martinez moved up from 154lbs just in time for the beginning of the decade. Eight contests comprised the remainder of his career, but Martinez did some damage.

His definitive decadal performance was his title winning effort against Kelly Pavlik. Martinez won the first four rounds with his low-handed, circling style, prioritizing movement, hitting when the opportunity presented itself and forcing Pavlik to reset over and again. Pavlik dominated the middle rounds with faster pressure, accepting that he would be hit but allowing it in order to deliver his own offense. The final adaption was Sergio’s, and it was impressive. Instead of running, he elongated his visits to the pocket, shoe-shining a bit but throwing four and five punches where he had previously thrown one or two. He thrashed Pavlik in the final third, reducing him to a mask of gore, a desperate two-step flinching misses. Re-watching that fight, I was impressed by Sergio’s marked superiority over a reigning middleweight champion of the world. It was not insignificant.

Martinez did not rest on his laurels as a champion. He visited the top five on two further occasions, his terrifying knockout of Paul Williams perhaps the definitive stoppage win of the whole decade, middleweight or otherwise; his twelve-round domination of Julio Cesar Chavez Jnr. was almost as impressive in its own way but also signaled the beginning of the end. Martinez broke his left hand in the fourth and damaged his knee during a shocking visit to the canvas in the twelfth. Sergio had tipped over into the realms of the veteran.

He did a fine job on a duo of British contenders in Matthew Macklin and Martin Murray, but there was perhaps a feeling that he had come for a payday in his final fight against Miguel Cotto. Sure enough, his knees betrayed him, and he was pulled from the fight in the tenth round of a fight Cotto was dominating.

02 – Saul Alvarez

Peak Ranking: Ch. Record for the Decade: 24-1-1 Ranked For: 37% of the Decade

Squeaking in in front of Argentine Sergio Martinez is Mexican Saul Alvarez, who took the championship from the man who usurped Martinez, Miguel Cotto. Cotto was absolutely superb in defeat that night, boxing as he had against the menace of Shane Mosley some years earlier and actually pulling out the win on some cards, although the majority saw it for Alvarez. Personally, I was underwhelmed by Saul’s performance and expected a series of shallow defenses followed by his ceding the title to either Gennadiy Golovkin or the emerging Daniel Jacobs.

Instead, Alvarez got the embarrassing defense out of the way early via a smearing of Amir Khan then defeated both Golovkin and Jacobs in 2018 and 2019 respectively. What this means is that Alvarez has the scalps of three men from this list dangling from his waist, which is the gold standard at middleweight.

The devil, of course, is in the detail.

Alvarez first met Golovkin in September 2017, in a fight that was rendered a draw, most, but not all ringsiders seeing the fight for Golovkin, Boxing Scene and the Associated Press both seeing it a draw.  Undeniably it was close, and because it was close, I honor it here. 115-113 Golovkin was my own card and that’s certainly nothing like enough to cry robbery. The drawn fight stands.

A rematch was staged almost a year to the day after the first fight and if anything, it was even more controversial. The jab appeared to have just slipped Golovkin over the line, but, once again, most observers scored it a very close fight. The majority of cards fell into the range 115-113 to 113-115; those with wider cards tended to be outliers. I was something of an outlier myself here in having the fight a draw (though I was not alone – Sports Illustrated, Ring Magazine, Forbes and the BBC were among the numerous drawn cards). Once more, then, for the purposes of this list, the win stands.

His win over Daniel Jacobs certainly stands, though even this was a fight not without controversy and controversy too stalks the Mexican at 154lbs. What is Alvarez then? Is he a fighter of great talent who fights down to his opponent’s level? Something less than that, somehow manages to squeeze wins out by the barest of margins against opponents with serious physical advantages?  Something darker, a favored son of an industry that favors the cash cow above all?

Whatever else, he is the number two middleweight for the decade gone by.

01 – Gennadiy Golovkin

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 23-1-1 Ranked For: 83% of the Decade

First thing’s first: Alvarez’s victory over Gennadiy Golovkin is acknowledged for the purposes of the list but Alvarez is ranked below Golovkin; how does that work?

Although Alvarez defeated Golovkin, the fight was close enough that it could have, and perhaps should have, been scored for the Kazakhstani. This is not the key though. Even if Alvarez had knocked Golovkin out, Golovkin would still have outranked him for the decade. There are two reasons for this. The lesser of these is time served: Golovkin spent the entire decade battling middleweight and Alvarez was but a blink in his eye, for all that he did great work in his brief visit.  More than that is the destruction that Golovkin wrought between January first 2010 and December thirty-first 2019. It is surprising to me how quickly the terrible damage done to the middleweight division has been forgotten in favor of arguments over what “really happened” in the Saul Alvarez fight.

It began, for me, with Gregorsz Prokosa, the #4 contender and a unique, riffing southpaw who on paper appeared to be an enormous challenge for a technician, even one who seemed as composed as Golovkin. It was a slaughter. The stoppage itself was glorious but Golovkin’s pressure, jab, shepherding footwork and most of all, his calmness of demeanor, heralded the coming of royalty.

This was September of 2012. What followed over the next five years was nothing short of a reign of terror. Golovkin dispatched six middleweights from the top five; a total of nine contenders from the top ten. This is not normal. It is difficult to exaggerate how difficult it is for a fighter to pick off nine ranked contenders from one weight division in a given decade. If we see it twice more in the entirety of this series, I will be surprised, but it’s certainly unequalled between heavyweights and middleweights.

For a marquee win, Golovkin is looking at Daniel Jacobs, which is a little unsatisfactory, deepening the frustration surrounding the Alvarez result; but it is worth reiterating that Golovkin just doesn’t need it. He dominated the field for better than half of the decade and the decade is what we are interested in here.

Golovkin is number one.

For the other decadal number ones ranked so far, see the heavyweights, cruiserweights, light-heavyweights and super-middleweights accordingly.

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 126: Viva Puerto Rico, Claressa Shields, Canelo and More

David A. Avila

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 126: Viva Puerto Rico, Claressa Shields, Canelo and More

In the age of Covid-19 fights get canceled and re-arranged and that’s found here in this second attempt to stage Serhii Bohachuk versus Brandon Adams in a super welterweight showdown.

This pairing was first talked about back when the Dodgers and Lakers both won world championships last October. Finally, it’s ready to cast off.

Beautiful Puerto Rico will be the locale for Bohachuk (18-0, 18 KOs) when he meets Adams (22-3, 14 KOs) on Thursday March 4, at Felix Pintor Gym in Guaynabo. NBC Sports Network will televise the Ring City USA fight card.

“Flaco” Bohachuk has rampaged through the super welterweight division like a ravenous Ukrainian version of Pacman. Who can stop him?

Adams has fought the better competition including a world title match against Jermall Charlo that he lost by decision less than two years ago.

Other factors exist.

Bohachuk was formally trained by Abel Sanchez in Big Bear Mountain but now works with Manny Robles at sea level. Will it make a difference when he trades blows against the smaller but seemingly stronger Adams?

“We’re taking this fight seriously against Adams,” said Robles who has trained numerous world champions including Oscar Valdez and Andy Ruiz. “Adams is a very strong fighter.”

Bohachuk last fought deep in the heart of Mexico and emerged with a stoppage that saw him scrap with little-known but tough-as-nails Alejandro Davila. Both landed serious stuff but Bohachuk just had more firepower.

Adams says he has seen firepower like Bohachuk’s before. He went toe-to-toe with Charlo for the WBC middleweight title and never touched the canvas. He’s smaller but more muscular and has fought taller guys most of his career.

This is one of those fights that used to be held at the Olympic Auditorium back in the day. Ironically, there is a documentary that has just been released about those days before it was closed to boxing in 2005.

Added note: Fernando Vargas Jr. will also engage on the fight card. The son of “El Feroz,” Fernando Vargas Jr. fights out of Las Vegas and will be in his second pro fight as a super middleweight.

Women’s pay-per-view

An all-women fight card led by Claressa Shields takes place on Friday March 5. It will be streamed by FITE.tv beginning at 6 p.m. PT. Price is $29.99.

Shields (10-0) faces her toughest foe yet when she steps in the boxing ring against Canada’s undefeated Marie Eve Dicaire (17-0) for the undisputed super welterweight world championship.

Dicaire is a tall southpaw with speed and agility who has defeated several world champions.

Shields is a two-time Olympic gold medalist and former undisputed middleweight world champion and super middleweight titlist who dropped down two weight divisions to pursue this venture.

Also, just added is Marlen Esparza, a USA Olympic bronze medalist, and current flyweight contender.

Esparza (8-1) agreed to fight on the pay-per-view card and meets Shelly Barnett (4-3-2) in a six-round bout set for the super flyweight division. Her last fight took place in October and she handed talented Sulem Urbina her first loss as a pro.

Barnett is a Canadian veteran of nine pro fights including an eight-round battle with Florida’s Rosalinda Rodriguez.

Rumor has it that Esparza is getting prepared for a showdown with Mexico’s Ibeth “La Roca” Zamora for the WBC flyweight world title later in the spring.

It’s a pretty good pay-per-view card that also features Danielle Perkins, Logan Holler and Jamie Mitchell in competitive fights. If you haven’t seen women fights, take a look. Shields alone can astonish with her fighting skills.

Canelo

That redhead from Mexico continues to decimate the competition whether its from England, Turkey or Russia. Line them up and let them fly.

Saul “Canelo” Alvarez holds the WBA and WBC super middleweight world titles and was forced to fight the number one contender Avni Yildirim and promptly stomped him out like a bug on the rug.

Fans get upset. They don’t understand that ratings exist and with four or five sanctioning organizations all having different standings, a fighter like Alvarez who has two titles is forced to fight fighters ranked number one through 10. But it’s just a part of boxing that has to be done.

Alvarez had already skipped Yildirim before to fight Callum Smith for the WBA title which he won by unanimous decision. Now he will be meeting another Brit in Billy Joe Saunders who has the WBO version of the super middleweight title. It will take place on May 8, most likely in Las Vegas. That’s Cinco de Mayo weekend. Las Vegas needs the bank. Once again it depends on the Covid-19 situation.

Off topic, Canelo recently had an exchange with Claressa Shields who posted on social media that the Mexican redhead is one of her favorite fighters. She likes working on technique and posted one of her workouts where she is hitting a heavy bag with a combination that she saw Canelo use.

Canelo saw it and gave her a few tips. Champion to champion. That was kind of cool.

Farewell to L.A. Favorite

Featherweight contender Danny Valdez passed away on Sunday February 28 in Los Angeles. He was 81.

Valdez held the California Featherweight title when the state championship was not easy to gain. He also vied for the world title against Davey Moore in April 1961 in Los Angeles.

Many of his battles took place at the vaunted Olympic Auditorium where he fought the likes of Gil Cadilli and Sugar Ramos. Back in those days there was no better place to fight than the Olympic. But Valdez did engage in battles at Wrigley Field and the Hollywood Legion Stadium too.

Though Valdez fought up and down the West Coast in Oregon and California, he primarily battled at the Olympic Auditorium, a total of 24 times in all. If you ever watched a boxing card at the Olympic, it was a magical place.

Fights to Watch

(All Times are Pacific Time)

Thurs. 6 p.m. NBC Sports Network Serhii Bohachuk (18-0) vs Brandon Adams (22-3)

Fri. 6 p.m. FITE.tv.  Claressa Shields (10-0) vs Marie Eve Dicaire (17-0); Marlen Esparza (8-1) vs Shelly Barnett (4-3-2); Logan Holler (9-0-1) vs Schemelle Baldwin (3-1-2); Danielle Perkins (2-0) vs Monika Harrison (2-1-1); Jamie Mitchell (5-0-2) vs Noemi Bosques (12-15-3).

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Ramirez vs. Taylor Adds Luster to an Already Strong Boxing Slate in May

Arne K. Lang

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Boxing will heat up big-time in May. Canelo Alvarez will defend his WBC 168-pound title on May 8 against Billy Joe Saunders. Two weeks later, WBC/WBO 140-pound champion Jose Ramirez (26-0, 17 KOs) meets his IBF/WBA counterpart Josh Taylor (17-0, 13 KOs). Teofimo Lopez’s title defense against George Kambosos may transpire in May and now there’s talk that Manny Pacquiao will also return in May with Mikey Garcia in the opposite corner.

The Ramirez-Taylor fight was announced today (March 2). The match between the undefeated belt-holders, both former Olympians, will produce the fifth unified champion of the four-belt error. Middleweights Bernard Hopkins and Jermain Taylor, junior welterweight Terence Crawford, and cruiserweight Oleksandr Usyk are the only boxers to have held this distinction.

Ramirez vs. Taylor will be on ESPN. The fight appears headed to an MGM Grand property in Las Vegas. The T-Mobile Arena, the city’s largest indoor sports arena, is likely in the running. The arena houses the city’s professional hockey team, the Golden Knights, which played their first game in many moons with fans in attendance on Monday. Attendance was capped at 15 percent of capacity and the game was a “sellout” with all 2,605 available seats attracting occupants.

Josh Taylor, who made his pro debut in El Paso, of all places, will be making his second appearance in Las Vegas, assuming the fight transpires there. The Tartan Tornado appeared at the MGM Grand Garden on Jan. 28, 2017, on a card topped by the WBA featherweight title rematch between Carl Frampton and Leo Santa Cruz. Taylor and Frampton then shared the same trainer, Shane McGuigan.

In the words of Bob Arum, “Ramirez vs. Taylor is the best boxing has to offer, two elite fighters in the prime of their careers colliding in a legacy-defining matchup for the undisputed championship of the world. It’s a true 50-50 fight….”

In boxing, unlike other sports, anything under 2-to-1 is basically a “pick-’em” fight, so Arum isn’t far off the mark. For the record, however, the first betting lines to appear show the Scotsman the favorite in the 7-to-4 range, a price obviously based on the assumption that the fight will be held in Nevada, or at least anywhere other than Glasgow or Fresno.

Ramirez didn’t look sharp in his last outing when he scored a majority decision over Victor Postol at the MGM Bubble. Ramirez said he was burned-out after a long training camp – the fight was postponed twice – and said he thought the sterile atmosphere affected him; he was used to feeding off the energy of a crowd. Josh Taylor also had a tough time with Postol when they met in a 12-round bout at Glasgow on June 23, 2018 (the gritty Ukrainian is a tough nut to crack), but one would not have gleaned that from the scorecards which were soaked with hometown bias.

Josh Taylor’s last fight was at fan-less York Hall in London. The Scotch southpaw was entitled to a breather after his epic encounter with Regis Prograis and the IBF had just the ticket in mandatory challenger Apinun Khonsong. Taylor dismissed the overmatched Thai in the opening round with a body punch. This was Taylor’s first fight with new trainer Ben Davison.

The last time that Arum called an upcoming match a 50-50 fight, he was hyping the all-Mexican showdown between Miguel Berchelt and Oscar Valdez. That was no 50-50 fight, Berchelt was a solid favorite, but as it turned out, the pricemakers had underestimated the underdog who delivered the goods in a wildly entertaining skirmish.

On paper, Ramirez vs. Taylor will also be a very entertaining affair.

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From the Desert, Jack Dempsey

Matt McGrain

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Jack Dempsey, who has been matched by Jack Goodfriend to fight at the Hippodrome Monday, May 31 is expected to arrive from Reno within a day or two.  The match will be a ten round contest and preceded by a couple of good preliminaries. (The Goldfield News, May 22nd, 1915.)

In May of 1915 Jack Dempsey found himself trapped in Nevada and between purses. Fifty miles from his payday with no rail to ride, he walked out of the desert and into Goldfield, stuck the bewildered promoter for an advance and hired a sparring partner, knocked the sparring partner out and hired another.

Walking in ninety-five-degree weather can be dangerous for even an experienced athlete, but it seemed to agree with Jack. He had marched into Goldfield to meet a light-heavyweight named Johnny Sudenberg, a game but limited battler who had for the first time strung a decent run of wins together, all of them fought in the desert Dempsey travailed on foot. Dempsey had scored a series of knockout wins in Salt Lake City, enough that his name was known and interest in his proposed match with the local man stoked.

“Jack Dempsey, the husky Pueblo middleweight, who will meet Johnny Sudenberg at the Hippodrome next Monday night in a ten round bout arrived in camp this morning,” reported regional press. “Several local men have seen Dempsey in action…and all [are] united in the prediction that Johnny had better be ‘right’ when he crawls through the ropes.”

It speaks of boxing’s burgeoning’s status in the United States that there were two gymnasiums in Goldfield capable of staging training. Dempsey worked out at the Unity Club, little more than a middleweight, perhaps not least because of his fifty-mile travail through the desert earlier that week. He boxed a local footnote named Dick Trounce and he may also have boxed some rounds with the world class bantamweight Roy Moore.

Sudenberg, stung by assertions that it was Dempsey, not he, who was the puncher in the fight, bristled and demanded of himself a knockout while training down the street in the Northern Gymnasium.

There is a divergence now between Dempsey’s recollection of the fight and the newspaper reporting of the day. Before the fight, although he may have shared a ring with Jack Dempsey, not known for his tender attentions of even much smaller sparring partners, Roy Moore advised his sparring partner to steer clear. “Don’t slug with Sudenberg.  He’s awful strong. Stay away from him.”

Dempsey claims to have dismissed this advice, telling Roger Kahn, author of A Flame of Pure Fire, that the match was a brutal slugfest from the first. Local press though reported on a fight that was marked by cautious sparring early, and that after “feeling each other out” for two rounds that Dempsey dominated, it was Sudenberg who changed the pattern and “owing to the greater height and reach” Dempsey possessed, brought the fight to the inside. A fine battle resulted and one that saw Dempsey descend into total chaos for the first time, a feeling that would become as familiar to him as slipping on a pair of old shoes.

“I just kept swinging. Sometimes I think I saw a face in front of me, sometimes I didn’t. I kept swinging.”

Dempsey claimed he could remember nothing after the fifth.

A rematch was not immediately slated, but the failure of a potential Sudenberg opponent to deliver on a sidebet let Dempsey back in just days later. Dempsey moved a bit further north with the purses, his second battle with Sudenberg staged in Tonopah. Still years from the three-ringed circus his career would become, there was interest surrounding the young scrapper who trained for the fight in the town’s casino. Tonopah was a young but bustling setting, festooned with banks and lawyers and saloons as money poured in from Nevada’s second largest silver strike. By 1920 they had pulled $121m out of the ground and Dempsey was there to pull out his own piece.

“A great many were dissatisfied with the decision last Monday,” wrote the Tonopah Daily upon the fight’s announcement. “Dempsey gave Sudenberg the best fight he has had in this part of the country.”

Sudenberg, who seems to have been a prickly character, held the power in his relationship with Dempsey and so clearly backed himself to win a rematch. A fascinating aspect of the fight is their respective sizes. Dempsey was referred to as a middleweight in the earliest dispatches surrounding the fight, but in the ring made an impression upon ringsiders as the bigger man. Taller, rangier, it is possible he was already the heavier of the two or it may be that his trek through the surrounding desert left an early impression of litheness which slipped away as Dempsey, holding cash, boxed and ate his way to a size advantage during the build-up. The Goldfield News described him upon entering the ring for the rematch as looking “more like an overgrown schoolboy than a fighter” as he stepped on the canvas before noting wryly that he “proved otherwise.”

The fight quite literally drew from miles around, with “Goldfield well represented at ringside” and “eight to ten auto loads” appearing from nearby mines. Dempsey grabbed their attention early, a man you will recognise, coming out of his corner like a rocket and deploying what the Tonopah Daily Bonanza named “Dempsey’s mass attack,” presumably an early incarnation of the terrible beating he would inflict upon Jess Willard in Toledo with the world’s title at stake. Indeed, Sudenberg does appear to have visited the canvas in that first round, but Dempsey, over-eager, under-seasoned, missed with key punches following up his advantage and the canny Sudenberg survived a round of murderous intent.

Papers also report the use of straight punches by Dempsey, that he preferred range and looked to that superior range to dominate. Early Dempsey contests fascinate me in that they repeatedly throw up this story, of a fighter who at just 6’1 was able to dominate most of the desert’s pugs with height and reach. Here he plays the role that would later be played by Willard, Carl Morris and Fred Fulton, longer men trying to control the range while Dempsey tormented them with slips and punches.  Here it was Sudenberg who in the third and fourth seemed to do something of a job, getting inside and hitting to the belly while the two accused each other of low blows.

Dempsey is a victim of some criticism over his own use of low blows, alleged or otherwise, in huge fights with Tommy Gibbons and Jack Sharkey. It should be remembered always that he learned his trade in spots like Tonopah and Goldfield where local referees were not sympathetic to pleas for justice to be dispensed. Dempsey fought like a fistic savage because he was raised as one.

After just four rounds in Tonopah, he was tired, feeling the effects of a difficult month and a fast fight. “Dempsey takes punishment well and ducks cleverly,” noted The Bonanza, while The News saw Dempsey holding on a good deal more in the second half of the fight.

By round eight, Sudenberg began to show the effects of Dempsey’s right hand which he worked “like a sledgehammer” while Sudenberg “lands heavily on Dempsey’s digestive apparatus.” At the final bell the two worked one another mercilessly in search of the decision, but they were greeted by a draw.

Under a more modern ruleset I suspect that Dempsey would have received the nod. He crushed Sudenberg in the early part of the fight and more than matched him late, but with the referee acting as a single judge, draws in fights where a winner was not inarguably apparent were common.  Fighters expected it and pressmen expected it, which is perhaps why some of those in attendance saw the result as eminently reasonable. Dempsey clearly landed the better shots, but Sudenberg was rewarded for his gameness in “carrying the fight” a tenet of the era.

Dempsey had impressed though. “In Dempsey, who gives the promise of developing into a heavyweight,” stated The News, “there is room for a world of improvement, and with the experience he will gain during the next few years he should make a formidable opponent for any scrapper.”

Portentous words.

When Dempsey left Tonopah – history does not record whether he walked out – he was mere days from his twentieth birthday, an overgrown schoolboy appearing on the good end of draws against older, more experienced men, already determined to become heavyweight champion, already of the belief he would become one. History tells of a third fight between he and Sudenberg the following February, a more mature Dempsey thrashing a cowed Sudenberg in two rounds.

I spoke to Dempsey scholar and author of the outstanding In The Ring series, Adam Pollack. “Didn’t happen,” was his verdict.  “I am certain it didn’t take place.”

It is nice to have this one cleared up. Dempsey did not need to defeat Sudenberg to leave him behind. Dempsey, like any heavyweight champion has his obsessed fans – among them the men who developed a single thin thread concerning a third Sudenberg match and turned it into a truth that was reported in A Flame of Pure Fire and elsewhere – and obsessed haters, but there is no denying what he did. Irresistible and eternal, people will generate and propagate myths about Jack Dempsey for as long as there is fighting.

This story is about his beginnings – see the single-minded determination that saw him walk fifty miles through a desert? See the legendary fast start in the second fight? The mid-round sag that would lead Jack Johnson to label him a three-round fighter? His bending of the rules? Then again, what of his seeming determination to box against a smaller opponent? This was something he abandoned in time to avoid disaster against geniuses like Tommy Gibbons although it would not be enough to save his weary legs from Gene Tunney’s escape.

Dempsey’s matches with Sudenberg were his emergence from the desert in more ways than one.  They were where his pursuit in earnest of the world’s heavyweight title began. These were his first major steps outside of Salt Lake City where his ambitions were as penned as Sudenberg’s were in the desert; the defining series of an emergent Jack Dempsey.

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