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Avila Perspective, Chap. 93: Best of Prizefighting

David A. Avila

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Avila Perspective, Chap. 93: Best of Prizefighting

Boxing powers are suggesting a return could be imminent but minus the clatter and chatter of a live audience. The threat of death by virus still looms large.

No fans allowed.

Television and streaming devices pay for the bulk of major prize fight confrontations so promotion companies like Top Rank, UFC, and Matchroom Boxing are considering a return next month, but minus the fans.

It got me thinking.

Though the actual combat participants may or may not be affected, whether its boxing or MMA the audience or fans will truly be missing a major reason they love prizefighting.

Watching a prize fight live in person just cannot be beat by any other sport. Though I love baseball, basketball, football and soccer without the flopping, when it comes to watching a world championship fight those other sports take a back seat.

Over the years I’ve witnessed some incredible feats in person. Watching fights on television is fine, but watching in person I’ve witnessed remarkable displays of physical talent that stand out. Here are some of the things I’ve seen:

Fastest Combinations with Power

Manny Pacquiao, Roy Jones Jr. Oscar De La Hoya

Manny “Pacman” Pacquiao could reel off a powerful combination faster than most people could think. He did it against Marco Antonio Barrera and then did it again. There are a lot of fighters that have fast hands, but few could muster up a fast combination with power behind it. Pacman could. Today, not so much, but when he began mowing down the featherweight division it was something to behold. He seemed like a freak of nature.

Roy Jones Jr. could hit you with a lightning combination as could Oscar De La Hoya in their primes. Any one of their lightning blows could result in seeing another fighter unconscious.

Fastest Feet

Mark “Too Sharp” Johnson, Roy Jones Jr., Guillermo Rigondeaux

When Mark “Too Sharp” Johnson dominated the flyweights, he was near impossible to hit. He would dart in and out quicker than anyone I have ever seen. If he didn’t want someone to hit him, they could not hit him. But he did occasionally take some chances or else everyone in the audience would have fallen asleep from boredom. In his prime, he was untouchable.

Roy Jones Jr. was pretty fast on his feet too. What makes Jones special was he did it in the light heavyweight division for years. When those legs got older and heavier is when the competition finally caught up to Roy Jones. I still remember when he fought the late Julio Gonzalez at the Staples Center and though 10 feet away Jones covered the 10 feet distance in the blink of an eye and connected with a left hook. I couldn’t believe my eyes.

Cuba’s Guillermo Rigondeaux also has very quick feet and deserves honorable mention.

Best Left Hook

Oscar De La Hoya, Felix Trinidad, Mike Tyson

It was a sound I’ll never forget when Oscar De La Hoya connected with a left hook to the jaw of Rafael Ruelas in their lightweight unification battle in Las Vegas on May 6, 1995. It sounded like a bazooka blast. De La Hoya could unleash a left hook so potent and seemingly from any angle. When he knocked out Oba Carr that blow was almost invisible and left the talented fighter unable to defend himself. But that knockout against Ruelas when they met outdoors at Caesars Palace remains the single loudest punch I’ve ever heard in person. That sound remains vivid in my memory.

Puerto Rico’s Felix Trinidad also possessed a lethal left hook and it was fully loaded when he dropped and stopped David Reid outdoors at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.

“Iron” Mike Tyson also had one heck of a left hook too. I only saw Tyson fight once live and witnessed his speed and power when he eliminated Orlin Norris when they met in Las Vegas. He was a human tornado.

Best Right Cross

Floyd Mayweather, Roy Jones Jr. Juan Manuel Marquez

Floyd Mayweather rarely knocked out opponents after he entered the welterweight division, but in his super featherweight and lightweight days that lightning quick right cross was deadly. Nobody throws a more perfect right cross than Mayweather. It is short, concise and undetectable. It’s also one of the hardest punches to land when the opposition knows it’s coming. Yet, Mayweather could land the right cross better than anyone I’ve ever seen. Just look at his knockdowns of Diego Corrales when they fought.

Roy Jones Jr. was cat-quick with his right cross, but needed his legs to deliver it. Because of his overall quickness, he was able to deliver a right cross from across the ring.

Juan Manuel Marquez had his right cross cocked and loaded at all times as he showed against Manny Pacquiao in their last fight that ended in knockout.

Best Uppercut

Vernon Forrest, Randall Bailey, Nonito Donaire

The late, great Vernon Forrest had one of the best uppercuts I’ve ever seen and when he delivered it the opponent was usually out. He caught Shane Mosley with that uppercut and almost turned out his lights. Forrest was a technically perfect fighter and his uppercut was a thing of beauty.

Randall Bailey was able to win world titles years apart thanks to his power punching. But when things got nasty Bailey could end the fight quickly via the uppercut. He won his first world title in 1999 against Carlos “Bolillo” Gonzalez by knockout. Lost the title in 2000 and kept his place in line via the uppercut until he regained a world title in 2012 against Mike Jones in Las Vegas.

Nonito Donaire had lightning in both fists but his uppercut was a thing of beauty. You never saw the punch coming. Whether his knockout win over Vic Darchinyan was a true uppercut or a slightly tilted left hook is debatable. But the uppercut he dropped Fernando Montiel in a world title unification battle in February 2011 was scary good. That was an uppercut to remember.

Best in the Pocket Defensive Fighters

James Toney, Winky Wright, Paulie Ayala, Floyd Mayweather

James “Lights Out” Toney was a master at fighting in close distance and making an opponent miss. Watch his fight against Evander Holyfield and be amazed. Or take a look at his fights against Mike McCallum or Iran Barkley. Amazing stuff. His defense is why I consider him the greatest fighter in the last 60 years. And his offense is not shabby either. He could write a master thesis on the subject.

Winky Wright often gets overlooked but if you need proof watch him disable Felix Trinidad’s offensive tools round by round when they fought. Wright might be one of the most under-rated fighters of all time. Nobody had an easy fight against Winky. Nobody.

Paulie Ayala is another who gets overlooked because he fought in close. But he could catch and parry with the best of them. Recently, Showtime televised some of his fights and it was a revelation. He could fight toe-to-toe and come out looking fresh as a daisy. Even CompuBox stats were bamboozled by his abilities to block, catch and slip. They seldom got the numbers right when Ayala fought.

Best Counter Punchers

Floyd Mayweather, James Toney, Juan Manuel Marquez

All three of these fighters are so equal in talent especially when it comes to counter-punching. Mayweather, Toney and Marquez could be lumped into one when it comes to delivering counter blows effectively.

All three of these fighters mentioned had so many examples that it’s needless to point out any single fight. My favorite of Mayweather was his single punch knockout of Ricky Hatton on Sept. 8, 2007. That night thousands of Brits invaded Las Vegas and saw Mayweather deliver his counter-punching magic.

Toney introduced his counter-punching skills to the boxing world when he knocked out the speedy Michael Nunn in May 1991. He brought back a surgical fighting style used by Ezzard Charles, or Jersey Joe Walcott, and dumped many a bigger man using his  counter-punching style throughout his career.

Mexico’s Marquez was another counter-punching master. He showed that speed is good, but timing is everything.

Best Chins

James Toney, Vitali Klitschko, Oscar De La Hoya, Floyd Mayweather, Shane Mosley

These fighters, all now retired, displayed chins made of granite during their careers. I vouch for all five of these retired fighters who absorbed some of the biggest blows and remained standing.

Klitschko, for example, took tremendous punishment when he fought Lennox Lewis in Los Angeles. He was tougher than his brother who was the technician. Vitali had one heck of a chin.

Toney was a middleweight fighting heavyweights when he finally retired. He never came close to hitting the floor.

De La Hoya began at super featherweight and showed his chin could withstand middleweight power. Mayweather also began at super featherweight and even super welterweights could not knock him out.

Mosley was another who fought incredible wars and remained standing despite fighting killers like Miguel Cotto, Saul “Canelo” Alvarez, Fernando Vargas and De La Hoya.

Best Jabs

Floyd Mayweather, Joe Calzaghe, Oscar De La Hoya, Vernon Forrest

All four of these fighters could win a fight by merely using his jab. Mayweather, in particular, did it on several occasions. De La Hoya could split an opponent’s eye open with his jab. Forrest was one of the best and could have posed a big problem for smaller welterweights like Mayweather had he lived. We will never know. Calzaghe could fire off a four-jab combination jab like a machine gun. The guy retired undefeated because of his jab. So did Mayweather.

Best Body Punchers

Marco Antonio Barrera, James Toney, Julio Cesar Chavez

I’m starting with Barrera because I saw him fight in person many more times than I saw Chavez. But, of course, Chavez was a master of the body shot or the “gancho.”

Barrera stopped two world champions, Johnny Tapia and Paulie Ayala, with body shots that still send shivers down my spine. If you have ever been hit with a good body shot you will never forget the pain. The Mexico City assassin was as good a body puncher as I’ve ever seen.

I only saw Chavez fight a few times live and he was not the young destroyer that used his body attack to render his opponents helpless.

Toney showcased his skills, especially when he broke down the bigger Evander Holyfield and defeated the gladiator by knockout via the body shots. Those body blows were fearsome and enabled the much smaller Toney to invade and defeat bigger competition throughout his Hall of Fame career.

Most Flamboyant

Prince Naseem Hamed, Jorge Paez, Hector Camacho Jr.

Who can forget Prince Hamed descending into the boxing ring dangling from a steel line at the MGM when he fought Marco Antonio Barrera. The speedy Brit was probably the most flamboyant fighter to ever come out of Europe. And he was as quick with the word as he was with his fists.

Jorge Paez, “El Maromero,” was the king of flamboyant when he fought and often to the point of distraction. More than once he fought in a dress. But the boxer from Mexicali, Mexico was a world champion. He could truly fight and was quite a character.

Hector Camacho Jr. once arrived to fight on top of a camel. I don’t think his pops did that.

Smartest Fighters

Ricardo Lopez, Bernard Hopkins, Joe Calzaghe, Floyd Mayweather

When it comes to intelligence these guys reign supreme. The quickest at analyzing and dissecting an opponent in my estimation was the little guy Ricardo “Finito” Lopez. The Mexican minimum and light flyweight world champion had a variety of moves and flinches that would open up an opponent’s defense. Once he figured it out, that guy was gone in an instant.

Perhaps the most spectacular was his one punch knockout over Thailand’s Anucha Phothong (Ratanapol Sor Vorapin) at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas on Dec. 2, 2000. Both were two feet apart and frozen when Lopez fired a crisp uppercut and down went Phothong for a knockout loss. It was so quick and effortless that it left the audience amazed and dumbfounded. I asked one world champion what he thought happened and he said “the other guy blinked.” I felt that was a good enough answer.

Lopez never lost a fight and retired undefeated.

Talk about smart fighters, Bernard Hopkins and Joe Calzaghe were two of the smartest fighters to ever meet. They used every trick in the book against each other when they fought in 2008 in Las Vegas. It was like watching two warlocks cast spells on each other and sometimes it was difficult to decipher. But the busier fighter Calzaghe won by split decision and eventually retired undefeated. Hopkins was just getting started. He would fight for the light heavyweight world title and win when the odds were against him. According to odds makers Hopkins was not supposed to beat Kelly Pavlik, Roy Jones Jr., Jean Pascal, Tavoris Cloud, or Antonio Tarver.

Then of course there is Mayweather. The Las Vegas fighter who began at super featherweight used his ring intellect to win world titles and become the richest fighter in the history of the sport. He figured out what he wanted to do and then used it to perfection such as his dominant signature wins over Manny Pacquiao and Ricky Hatton. They don’t come smarter than Mayweather who like Calzaghe and Lopez retired undefeated.

Fights to Watch

Showtime Boxing will be televising Lucas Matthysse versus John Molina on Friday, April 24. They are also televising John Molina versus Mickey Bey. Both were interesting slam bang affairs that displayed Molina’s willingness to take a shot to give a shot. Great stuff.

Check out more boxing news on video at The Boxing Channel 

To comment on this story in The Fight Forum CLICK HERE

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The Top Ten Super Bantamweights of the Decade: 2010-2019

Matt McGrain

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It has been interesting to see how transient fighters are when they inhabit the smaller divisions. Up at cruiserweight, fighters spent on average 50% of the decade in their division to earn their spot among the top ten; here at 122lbs it is nearer 30%.

This results in a list of fighters with less purchase on the list, generally. Occasionally though, even at the smaller weights, a fighter will rack up a list of serious victories in a short space of time and hit the heights – and the divisional stalwart is also not unheard of. Here, one of each of these type towers over the rest of the decadal division but the numbers ten through three kick up a lot of interesting fights, and some very interesting fighters.

In accounting for these fighters, the term “one hit wonder” is used liberally. Here I am not seeking to denigrate either the fighter or his wider opposition; it merely denotes a fighter who has one win of real significance which is often accounted for in some detail.

This is another symptom of a generation of fighters happy to put on a mere four pounds to visit the next division up for their next big test.

10 – Rico Ramos

Peak Ranking: 2 Record for the Decade: 16-6 Ranked For: 18% of the decade

The tenth slot was a shootout between Kiko Martinez, who did a little more at the weight, and Rico Ramos, who did a little less, but who was defeated at the poundage only by Guillermo Rigondeaux; Martinez, meanwhile, was thrashed twice by Carl Frampton and once by Scott Quigg. The Scott Quigg tilts me towards Ramos, whose purple patch of 7-1 gets him over the line.

The jewel in his super-bantamweight crown for the period January 2010 until December 2019 was his come-from-behind knockout victory over Akifumi Shimoda, one of the top contenders of 2010 and 2011. Shimoda himself has a claim to the number ten spot based primarily upon his superb victory over Ryol Li Lee, but Ramos eliminated him when they clashed in Atlantic City in July of 2011.

Ramos, an American of Puerto Rican descent, had been boxing since he was eight years old but seemingly had no answer to the Shimoda jab which was opening up other opportunities for the Japanese; Ramos, circling to his right at the beginning of the seventh, brought Shimoda onto a left hand, but it was unheeded and Shimoda continued to boss the real-estate and find a home for his bodypunches. A right hand from Rico seemed to gather his attention though and having landed yet another left Rico finally had his man rooted to the spot, and circling, he landed a left hand as beautiful as any thrown in the 122lb decade. Shimoda was up at nine but immediately took a second header to the canvas.

Ramos was chased from the division by Rigondeaux, as noted, but certainly there is no shame there.

09 – Rey Vargas

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 34-0 Ranked For: 42% of the decade

Rey Vargas has traced an old-fashioned career arc, occupying a spot at super-bantamweight since 2015 and slowly creeping his way up the ranks to inhabit the number one spot, without, really, meeting anyone to justify that ranking. Sometimes longevity is its own reward.

His highest-ranking victim was Tomoki Kameda, and it showed when they met in July of last year; Tomoki had real success early and took a handy lead out of the first third of the fight. Vargas though is a freakishly tall superbantam at near 5’11 and he has the reach to match. From the fifth on, he deployed a controlling jab birthed by a pedigree amateur career that has been augmented by some serious professional experience. The double-uppercut right hand he landed in that round set him apart; the cards may have been a little wide but clearly Vargas was the right man.

He was the right man too five months previously when he was faced with another tough assignment in Franklin Manzanilla. Manzanilla, out of Venezuela, had scored an impressive victory over Julio Ceja in just four rounds in his previous fight and set some problems for Vargas with his rushes and fouling. Vargas found himself with cuts over both brows from “accidental” head-clashes as early as the eighth and Manzanilla had two points docked for hitting on the break and pushing. But Vargas showed some of his best boxing, dominating at distance with the jab and outlanding Manzanilla with fluid combination punching when they met at mid-range.

Vargas has a little more depth than these two fights – Azat Hovhannisyan and Ronny Rios have both made waves since he beat them – but they remain his fistic cornerstones, and despite some impressive boxing this makes him borderline for inclusion. His paper record and longevity in the ratings at 122lbs has seen me favour him over one-hit wonders like Jeffrey Mathebula and Akifumi Shimoda.

08 – Isaac Dogboe

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 21-2 Ranked For: 18% of the decade

Isaac Dogboe’s pressure appeared functional rather than thrilling before his big step up against Jessie Magdaleno in 2018. Magdaleno had been inactive but had also defeated no less a figure than Nonito Donaire in 2016 and was heavily favoured.

In the first round Dogboe was dropped while pressing Magdaleno too hard and he lost the third too, to a gorgeous Magdaleno counter left. But all the while his pressure was beginning to look a little more than workmanlike. He was adept at keeping Magdaleno moving and again and again Dogboe, out of London via Ghana, would fetch his man up against the ropes and let go. Still very much in touch on the scorecards after four, Magdaleno was being aggressively outgeneralled and was steadily losing touch with the fight. His solution was to come out at the opening of the fifth and attack; Dogboe promptly dropped him with a single left hook.

Dogboe so dominated Magdelano that night that the favourite found himself in need of a knockout by the ninth. The then world’s number one super-bantamweight showed no sign he might achieve it and in fact slipped further and further from his technical best, eventually reduced to sagging on the ropes and beckoning Dogboe in. It was a sorry sight and one the referee interrupted in the eleventh after Dogboe perpetrated the second knockdown of the round over his withering opponent.

It was an impressive and rather unexpected performance, albeit against an opponent who seemed to struggle a little with rust after a year out of the sport and it set Dogboe up as the world’s number one super-bantamweight.

Dogboe never added to his 122lb legacy though; his own nemesis was lurking in the wings.

07 – Emanuel Navarrete

Peak Ranking: 2 Record for the Decade: 31-1 Ranked For: 26% of the decade

Like Dogboe, Emanuel Navarrete fought the usual learning fights, stepped up to take on some journeymen and was then launched right into the deep end to face off with the world’s number one super-bantam. Dogboe-Navarrete was a fascinating contest in that it pitted a Johnny-come-lately against an even more recently arrived contender. Dogboe, as the man with the pedigree opponent on his ledger, was favoured.

Navarrete, who is tall with a reach that seems planetary, allowed Dogboe inside to do his work. It felt wrong and even dangerous until Navarrete landed a triple left hook, up and down, on the inside, to win the second round. From here he controlled the fight, impressive and dominant in out-fighting the smaller pressure fighter whose nightmare had come to visit him in the ring: a fighter he could not push back but rather who was pushing him back. The ninth through twelfth were a parade, the bigger man marching down the smaller pressure fighter in what amounts to the most disheartening position a pugilist of any kind can find himself.

Unfortunately for Dogboe he had a rematch clause. Navarrete, who now knew how Dogboe moved, thought and fought, beat him mercilessly in that rematch. The fight becomes difficult to watch around the eighth; Dogboe’s corner, brave to the near last, finally pulled him as he was blasted to the canvas in the twelfth and final round.

It seemed to me that something special had emerged in that fight, but the truth is we don’t yet know. Navarrete has fallen afoul of the ABC strap he wears in defending against underqualified challengers whose selection for their “title shot” is based upon matters other than fistic. So, the jury remains out on Navarrete, who nevertheless was impressive enough in his twin maulings of Dogboe to comfortably make the list.

06 – Jessie Magdaleno

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 27-1 Ranked For: 22% of the decade

Here, we meet the last of the one-hit-wonders on the list but Magdaleno possesses the finest of all of them: Nonito Donaire. Donaire, it is true, had had some of the glitter removed by Guillermo Rigondeaux, but in November of 2016 he remained the top contender to the legitimate title he had once held. Then Magdaleno came calling.

What most impressed me was Donaire’s near abandonment of his left hook. It was oft repeated that he had one of the “best left hooks in the sport” and if Bernard Hopkins had established the removal of such a potent weapon much ink would have been spent on his exaltation. Magdaleno was less fashionable and has remained so, but it was a wonderful technical achievement. Moving unhurriedly, seeking for single shots, he countered beautifully throughout with the right jab and right hook of his own, taking every opportunity to strike without – shades of Hopkins again – ever over-extending himself. The result was Donaire sheathing his own hook in obedience of the rule that you don’t hook with a hooker, while Magdaleno freely threw his own; to the body, especially, he was prestigious.

Donaire went to the straight right and a fascinating tussle ensued, summed up perfectly in the ninth where Donaire hurt Magdaleno on the ropes, only for Magdaleno to charge him and dominate the remainder of the round, putting him out of sight on the cards; Donaire closed with real strength as Magdaleno’s energy waned.

But the decision clearly belonged to Magdaleno.

It was not too long after this that Magdaleno ran into Dogboe. The reasonable question would be, if Dogboe beat Magdaleno how does Magdaleno come to be ranked above him here? It’s a fair question. The mathematics, for me, says that Magdelano’s defeat of Donaire is more impressive than Dogboe’s defeat of a rusty Magdaleno; I accept that this is arguable but balk at Magdaleno as low as eight given his wonderful performance against Donaire.

05 – Toshiaki Nishioka

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 4-1 Ranked For: 19% of the decade

Toshiaki Nishioka was the number one super-bantamweight coming into the decade and remained so until he was removed by the sumptuous power-punching of Nonito Donaire (and an over-excited referee).

How you feel about his overall standing here will depend upon how you feel about Rafael Marquez and his standing in October of 2011. Having lost three of his last six, including two of those wars with Israel Vazquez, Rafael was ostensibly on the slide, but the fight itself shows a fighter that, while no longer at his withering best, remained stoic and technically brilliant, very much a fighter that had to be mastered.

This, Nishioka did. To this day he maintains that Rafael is his most skilled opponent and he boxed with great care to control him, refusing to contest the inside and avoiding any over-commitment with the jab. Meanwhile he drilled Marquez with his trailing left, a wonderful punch that he throws with as much variety as anyone this century. Flying it quickly to the body was his stock in trade in the early going but he began to risk a wilder, wider, harder punch when he realised how wary Rafael had become. Rafael had success, not least in the second half of the eighth round where it seemed he might actually assume control of the fight, but Nishioka out-fought and out-worked the former lineal champion in the tenth and eleventh to put the decision to bed. It was a deeply impressive performance that cemented his status as the first number one super-bantam of the decade.

Nishioka’s other wins do little other than demonstrate his superiority over the field, especially his October 2010 contest with Rendall Munroe. Munroe brought guts but little else as the fight turned into something of a parade down the stretch; still, re-watching it was worth it for the feinted straight and uppercut through the middle that Nishioka used to tilt Munroe’s head back in the third.

Placing him at number five is a borderline call, but Nishioka was a clearer number one than anyone running eight through six. I am happy that should see him placed above, rather than below, the one-hit wonders.

04 – Leo Santa Cruz

Peak Ranking: 2 Record for the Decade: 24-1-1 Ranked For: 27% of the decade

Leo Santa Cruz departed 122lbs in 2015 with his undefeated record intact having made his impact on the first half of the super-bantamweight decade. His meaningful arrival at the poundage, the equivalent of a Mack truck pulling up inside a jewellery store, came in August of 2013 against Victor Terrazas. Terrazas, a tough, dangerous fighter was unsupported by the type of chin that would have made him genuinely world class. Nevertheless, the world’s number two contender was a serious proposition for Santa Cruz, and was coming off a nerveless, brutal battle with Cristian Mijares which he won by the narrowest of margins.

Terrazas started aggressively as Santa Cruz brought pressure, all high guard and work-rate. But, as we saw while looking at featherweight, Santa Cruz is much more than that. His punch selection is excellent, his sense for the backfoot superb for a front-foot fighter, his jab is thudding and accurate but he can box squarely enough – weight generally over his back leg, when he does so – to lead with the right without courting disaster. Terrazas was complimented during fight commentary for “making this an inside fight” – but an inside fight suits Santa Cruz just fine. He has reach and the technique to use it but is comfortable trying to land punches behind the elbows.

The two fought on even terms until they didn’t, when towards the end of the second Santa Cruz, tougher and better, opened up while the two stood head to head at the ropes. Terrazas emerged wounded and in the third, emerged giving ground. Dropped twice, he seemed broken in part by the psychological pressure, although it was the consistent, severe punching that did the damage.

Santa Cruz’s number two win was over Mijares, undoubtedly damaged goods, but still ranked. Santa Cruz couldn’t stop him, but what he did was in many ways worse: in a fight as different as that with Terrazas as could be imagined, he thrashed Mijares and rendered him a fistic irrelevance.

Santa Cruz was a very dangerous super-bantamweight.

03 – Carl Frampton

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 24-2 Ranked For: 35% of the decade

Carl Frampton slotted in right behind Santa Cruz at featherweight, but here he nips in just ahead of his great rival. A clash at 122lbs would have been helpful though – there is very little to separate them.

What does separate them is the additional work Frampton did at the very top of the division. He met no fewer than three top five contenders during his time fighting as Guillermo Rigondeaux’s understudy – the Cuban was champion throughout Frampton’s stay at the poundage – and soundly defeated all of them.

First up was Kiko Martinez, who Frampton had already defeated in a European title tussle but met again in 2014. Frampton, who probably entered his peak that night, couldn’t put the more experienced Martinez away as he had in their first fight but he did dominate almost completely with a healthy mix of jabs and bodyshots. Chris Avalos, who failed miserably when he moved up to featherweight but was a serious super-bantamweight, visited Frampton’s Belfast stronghold in 2015.  This was Frampton’s finest performance at the weight, his right hand excellent, despite the scruffy squabbling in the second his dominance near-complete.

Frampton’s final fight at 122lbs showed the toll weight-making was taking upon him. He was dominant over the first six against a reticent Scott Quigg, even breaking his jaw in the fourth, but the Englishman came on in the second half of the fight which was, in the end, very close.

Santa Cruz was more impressive in the victories he did have at 122lbs but it was Frampton, in the end, who scored the more numerous and more impressive victories.

02 – Nonito Donaire

Peak Ranking: Ch. Record for the Decade: 18-5 Ranked For: 25% of the decade

The decade 2010-2019 produced two legitimate super-bantamweight champions and it is fitting that these two lead the pack. Nor is it close – there is so much clear blue water between Nonito Donaire at #2 and Carl Frampton at #3 that they may as well be on different lists.

Donaire stepped up to 122lbs in 2012 and immediately tackled a divisional strapholder, the number eight contender, Wilfredo Vazquez; after taking a decision form him over the twelve, it was Jeffrey Mathebula, the number six contender who towered over Donaire but nevertheless gave up a similar decision. This second fight is crucial because against both he and Vazquez it is possible to see Donaire over-reaching, under-boxing, pushing far too hard for the knockout which he openly demanded of himself in the press. In the tenth round of his fight with Mathebula, Donaire was so completely out-boxed that in the eleventh and twelfth he limited himself to his more direct sphere of influence and in doing so dominated Mathebula completely, cracking one of his teeth in the process. You could almost hear the penny drop.

I consider that Donaire found himself at 122lbs that night and the result was Donaire’s 118lb form suddenly materialising in the super-bantamweight division. His next fight was against no less a figure than Toshiaki Nishioka, the most accomplished fighter in the division, a meeting between the two best super-bantams in the world and so the beginning of a new lineage at the weight. Donaire was the absolute pinnacle of cool as far as his inherent aggression would allow; he won every round and devastated Nishioka in the ninth round of a non-competitive rout propelled by his right hand rather than left hook. When he butchered Jorge Arce two months later, in December of 2012, he had completed the single best unbroken run of the decade at 122lbs and one of the better runs at any weight.

This being boxing, the end of that run was just around the corner.

01 – Guillermo Rigondeaux

Peak Ranking: Ch. Record for the Decade: 15-1 Ranked For: 92% of the decade

Donaire met with Cuban amateur legend Guillermo Rigondeaux in April of 2013 in a huge fight between the two best super-bantamweights in the world. It was also as one-sided as any top tier match of the decade as Rigondeaux, in absolute control for ten of the twelve rounds, picked Donaire’s wings off in a study of lethal economy.

Rigondeaux breaks rhythm. A combination of feints, very astute defensive dips and slips and single power-punches make establishment of offense against him agonising. Donaire, a fluid fighter who counter-pressures his opponents to the canvas, was particularly afflicted by the Rigondeaux malaise.  Rigondeaux threw infrequently; still he out-landed Donaire in every round but one.

The Cuban spent the years in which Donaire was tying together his superb 122lb run emerging from the pack and was just 6-0 when he tangled with number five contender Ricardo Cordoba. Rigondeaux dominated with ease until Cordoba snapped his head back with a jab, flashing him.  Rigondeaux responded in away entirely unacceptable to the American fight fraternity: he ran away.

Rigondeaux took a split decision and learned his final lesson: professional fighting in America calls for more fighting than amateur boxing does anywhere. Rico Ramos, then still unbeaten at 20-0, was the man to bear the brunt of this newly learned lesson as he was blasted to the canvas in the first round and tormented through the sixth when a body punch – and the better part of valour – kept him on the canvas.

So Rigondeaux was primed when he stepped into the ring with Donaire, for all that he was professionally inexperienced. Donaire was made to understand it and the litany of excuses he laid out after the fight – his shoulder was bad, he didn’t study his opponent, his was distracted by his wife’s pregnancy – could not disguise his out-and-out inferiority to Rigondeaux.

The argument as to who would be the decadal number one at 122lbs ended there, but there is more to recommend Rigondeaux as one of the longest serving lineal champions in boxing. In a division that sees fleeting commitment, even by its most prominent fighters, Rigondeaux’s devotion to super-bantamweight has been unusual.

He never became the superstar his management wanted to make him – too technical, too careful, too defensive – but there is no questioning his status as the best of the decade.

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Remembering “Doin’ Damage”

Ted Sares

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Remembering-Doin'-Damage

On June 3, 1997, Darroll “Doin’ Damage” Wilson met Courage “No Limit” Tshabalala at Philadelphia’s legendary Blue Horizon where no seat was a bad seat. The fight was a true Philly Classic, one of the most exciting fights of the year. The result was a surprise, but not as surprising as the upset that Darroll Wilson pulled off in March of the previous year when he fought the much bigger Shannon Briggs at the Convention Center in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

Wilson vs. Briggs

Brooklynite Shannon Briggs (25-0) had achieved a reputation for being a guy who ended his fights early, as in first-round KO’s, but on this occasion, things kind of reversed themselves, as the gutsy Wilson (15-0-2 going in) survived a furious first round and then used his superior skills to shockingly take out “The Cannon” with a sharp left hook two rounds later.

Wilson, who lived close to Atlantic City in Mays Landing, N.J., had done considerable damage to his opponents until he met David Tua (24-0) in Miami and was KOd in the last second of an otherwise even first round by the streaking “Tuaman.” But losing to the short but super-powerful Tua was no disgrace. In fact, for Darroll, the best was yet to come.

 After beating limited Ron McCarthy, Darroll met the highly-touted Tshabalala (20-1). “Courage” had previously been shocked by Brian “Bam Bam” Scott (21-3) in the late Scott’s career definer in 1996, shattering the myth of the South African’s extraordinary power and alleged 72-1 amateur record (with 71 knockouts). Scott won using a fast and sharp combo, stopping him in the second round. Most of the 270-pound native of Kansas’s opponents had losing records which further amplified the shock factor– though Courage’s level of opposition was equally suspect.

Wilson vs Tshabalala (June 1997)

After Ed Darian Derian announced the fighters, the bell rang and Courage quickly decked Wilson with a power jab and then dictated matters for the rest of the round as he went on the stalk. The second round was uneventful until the last 15 seconds when Tshabalala opened up with a number of power shots. Wilson answered, but his answer came after the bell for which he received a firm warning.

Late in the third round, Wilson was hit clean by a perfect Courage right cross. He went down hard, got up, and then fell back down on Queer Street. Just as Referee Rudy Battle was about to signal the end of the fight, the round ended and Wilson was allowed to continue. Lou Duva, Courage’s manager, protested the call in his usual hyper/hysterical fashion but to no avail. Lou’s signature protests had acquired the feel of the little boy who cried wolf too often and this one was no exception.

Tshabalala came out fast in the next round trying to put away a still stunned Wilson, but the muscular Darroll did what he did against Briggs and, weathering the fierce storm, began to connect with his own shots. Both men went at it full-tilt boogie until the South African, exposing a stamina issue, finally went down, spit out his mouthpiece, and was counted out. He had nothing left. The Blue Horizon went bonkers.

Tshabalala had now participated in one of the upsets of the year and one of the most exciting fights of the year. Though a loser in both, he was nevertheless on everybody’s radar.

Bert Cooper (September 2002)

Darroll would go on to win some and lose some but against the very best opposition including David Izon, Frankie Swindell, Mike Rouse, Tim Witherspoon, Ray Mercer, and Oliver McCall. He ended his career in 2006 with a 27-10-2 slate and– before he took three years off–he scored another big win by stopping Bert Cooper (36-21) at the Blue Horizon in 2002. After this loss, Bert himself would take an eight-year hiatus from boxing, but for all practical purposes, he was done. (Cooper was a tragic figure with a deceptive record—a quintessentially sad boxing story– and the ups and downs of his life beg for a telling.)

As for Darroll Wilson, he always gave his best and on at least three occasions, he did some remarkable damage.

Ted Sares can be reached at tedsares@roadrunner.com or on Facebook.

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Leo Upends Williams as Boxing Returns to ‘Showtime’

Arne K. Lang

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Showtime Boxing kicked off their late summer/fall season tonight with a three-fight card behind closed doors at the Mohegan Sun Casino Resort in Uncasville, CT. Tonight’s show is the first of nine live boxing events that the cable TV giant announced on July 22. The season will run through Dec. 12 with the concluding match a WBC bantamweight title bout between defending title-holder Nordine Oubaali and ageless showstopper Nonito Donaire.

Unfortunately for Showtime, there was a COVID-19 complication right out of the box. Philadelphia bantamweight Stephen Fulton, who would have been the “A” side in tonight’s main event, tested positive on Wednesday, forcing some shuffling. Tramaine Williams was bumped up from the co-feature to challenge Angelo Leo for the WBO world super bantamweight title vacated by Emanuel Navarette.

Angelo Leo hadn’t prepared for a southpaw and it took him a bit find his groove, but he found it and won a fairly lopsided decision over a previously undefeated opponent who was fighting in his home state. The scores were 117-111 and 118-110 twice.

Leo, 26, worked the body well and had more fuel in his tank as the bout progressed into the late rounds. In winning, Leo became the first world title-holder from Albuquerque since Johnny Tapia. Promoted by Floyd Mayweather’s “Money Team”, he advanced his record to 20-0. It was the first pro loss for New Haven’s Williams who fell to 19-1.

It figures that Leo will make his first defense against Stephen Fulton.

Other Bouts

In another 122-pound match that was also penciled in for 12 rounds, Ra’eese Aleem thoroughly outclassed late sub Marcus Bates en route to a 10th round stoppage. This was their second meeting and Bates, who entered the contest 11-1-1, was looking to avenge his lone defeat. In their initial go in Philadelphia in April of 2018, Aleem won comfortably on the scorecards. Bates recently explained that loss away by saying that he believed that someone tampered with his water bottle, giving Aleem an advantage.

Aleem, 30, steadily broke Bates down. The referee halted the one-sided match when Bates, who appeared to have sprained his right wrist, turned his back on Aleem after absorbing a hard left hook. Aleem, the pride of Muskegon, Michigan, improved to 17-0 with his 12th knockout.

In the opener, a light heavyweight match slated for 10 rounds, Houston’s Joseph George (11-0, 7 KOs) landed a bombshell of a left uppercut in the ninth frame to put away Marcos Escudero (10-2) who was well ahead on the scorecards when lightning struck.

This was a rematch. When they fought last November on ShoBox, Escudero outworked George, but George landed the crisper punches and prevailed on a split decision. Escudero, who is from Argentina but had his early pro fights in Florida, outworked George again (George likes to fight with his back against the ropes, a strategy he needs to reconsider) but as they say, it only takes one punch in this business, and Joseph George, who is managed by NFL all-pro tackle Trent Williams, brought the howitzer.

Photo credit: Amanda Westcott / Showtime

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