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The Top Ten Light-Middleweights of the Decade: 2010-2019

Matt McGrain

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154lbs had a fascinating decade. The first generation that came through with Saul Alvarez and Miguel Cotto soon made way for a younger generation made up of exciting young fighters like Jarrett Hurd and Julian Williams, in some cases, in real and visceral ways, trading leather over inches of real-estate in blood-teared boxing-rings. There is much head-to-head resolution in this list, sure sign of a healthy division.

It wasn’t all fun and games though. The light-middleweight decade was also marked with dreadful scoring and one or two straight-up robberies. Like every division I’ve looked at so far, it seems to run out of locked inclusions well before we hit the last berth, which is a cause for concern.

But we do get a fascinating gallery of characters and actors which includes two pound-for-pound contenders for the decade. 154lbs has surprised me during this review, and I hope it surprises you too.

Rankings are by Ring 2010-2012 and TBRB 2013-2019.

10 – Demetrius Andrade

Peak Ranking: 3 Record for the Decade: 20-0 Ranked For: 58% of the decade.

The saddest sight from this past 154lb decade was the steady descent of Demetrius Andrade down the light-middleweight rankings as he continued to win, win, win and win in the boxing ring. The reason? Alphabet politics, specifically the level of fighter Andrade has mixed with during his pitiful WBO title run. There was a time when even an alphabet belt could only enhance a fighter’s legacy.  No longer.

Andrade, out of Rhode Island, picked that title up in 2013 in a superb performance against Vanes Martirosyan in a fight that reeked of ambition. Both Andrade and Martirosyan were unbeaten, both legitimately skilled prospects with deep amateur pedigrees. Andrade won a superb fight that began with a bang but became a little too one-sided down the stretch to be branded classic; Andrade was bizarrely awarded a split in a fight he clearly dominated.

And that is his fistic peak. Three years later he dominated and stopped Willie Nelson, the then number nine contender, and that is what qualifies as Demetrius Andrade second best win.

Also speaking for him is his unbeaten decade and a quick, clean southpaw fighting style, but our number ten is a sign of the times. I’ve almost (but not quite) talked myself into replacing him with Tony Harrison.

09 – Miguel Cotto

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 7-4 Ranked For: 52% of the decade

Is Miguel Cotto being under-represented here at number nine? Arguably, but the following needs to be considered: Firstly, Cotto fought just eleven fights in this decade. Secondly, some of these were contested at middleweight, not light-middleweight. Third, of the 154lb contests he engaged in, he lost three; finally, he beat just one ranked contender, Yuri Foreman, in a strange, badly refereed contest where Cotto brought good pressure but unquestionably benefited from a serious injury to his opponent’s knee. This contrasts with his middleweight visit where he defeated some of the best fighters of the 160lb decade.

Cotto scrapes in at nine, then, based upon his defeat of Foreman and his exquisite performance in combat with a man unranked at 154lbs but who brought with him serious pedigree from the 147lb limit he stretched his 5’11 frame over, Antonio Margarito. Cotto’s first fight with Margarito was a thing of great infamy, and no more virtual ink need be spent on it here. The rematch at light-middleweight is what interests us.

Cotto was precise and sharp throughout; Margarito, reaching. Cotto’s sensational performance needs to be balanced against Margarito’s condition, questionable after his brutal dismantling at the hands of Manny Pacquiao but it also needs to be noted that it was Cotto, not Pacquiao, who scored the stoppage.

Cotto was unquestionably a better light-middleweight than he was a middleweight, but it is also unquestionable that he achieved more in absolute terms against elite opposition at 160lbs in the decade at hand. Nine, then, is where Cotto finds himself for 2010-2019 at this weight class.

08 – Austin Trout

Peak Ranking: 2 Record for the Decade: 10-5-1 Ranked For: 50% of the decade

Austin Trout had a fascinating decade, but he left the numerical trunk of his career back in the 00s and an ugly close to the decade marred his paper record. Trout was defeated by both Charlo brothers and Jarrett Hurd 2016 through 2018; the new generation feasted on him.

In fact, 2012 aside, Trout did not perform as well as some may assume. That year though, was a fine one. He kicked it off with a patient, waiting performance against Delvin Rodriguez, who was at that time hanging onto his number ten ranking by his fingertips. Trout deployed his tiring, distracting southpaw jab to its usual discombobulating affect and coasted to a wide points victory. Exceptional defensively against middling handspeed (and good against fast hands), Trout was a brave choice of opponent for Miguel Cotto, coming off a thrashing at the hands of Floyd Mayweather but certainly still elite.

Trout was brilliant that night. It is perhaps the defining example of how to avoid being pinned to the ropes by a pressure fighter, not just in this weight class but in any weight class for this decade. Every time Trout felt the ropes close in behind him, he made an exit by way of feint or punch and fleet footwork. He made Cotto look ordinary and he was deserving of his majority decision victory, despite a huge swathe of tight, swing rounds.

Then he ran into Canelo Alvarez. This fight is important. Despite Trout’s seeming surety that he had lost the fight clean, it was very close; what needs to be understood is that the WBC’s insistence upon open scoring made much of the last third of the fight moot and after Alvarez won the eleventh clear, the twelfth round a redundancy. Trout could only win by a knockout he was never going to score.  That he won the fight by a single point on my card is neither here nor there.

And that leaves me with a problem. Trout, a fine fighter, who turned in one of the finest performances of the light-middleweight decade, can sit no higher than eighth. Having won two meaningful fights in 2012 he went on to lose to every ranked man he ever faced; it is natural that no fewer than four of them rank above him here.

07 Jermell Charlo

Peak Ranking: 2 Record for the Decade: 23-1 Ranked For: 45% of the decade

Jermell Charlo, one of a pair of fighting brothers from Texas, also ran into Vanes Martirosyan, who served as an elite gatekeeper throughout the decade. A tension-drenched contest resulted with Charlo edging a fight that could have gone any one of three ways. Jermell hasn’t been blessed with the power of his twin brother, the inconveniently named Jermall (see below) but the quickness of his jab and decent accuracy make him a difficult opponent.

Adding a deceptively stinging hook gave him the feel of a completeness in his style and Jermell capitalized on the punch against a much-faded Austin Trout, dropping him twice to squeak home on the cards. With the division at his fingertips, the capable, defensively sound Tony Harrison came calling. To be clear, Jermell deserved the nod here for me, but the surprise loss he suffered on the cards did underline some of the problems in his execution. I saw no fewer than four of the twelve rounds close and difficult to call. Jermell perhaps deserved the benefit of the doubt here (and I personally gave it to him) boxing on the front foot and landing all but one of the hard, eye-catching shots in the fight – but he also failed, perhaps, to close the show in rounds where he had an edge but an arguable edge. He allowed Harrison to wait for him and failed to capitalize on the pressure he brought to bear. Jermell’s loss to Harrison was unfortunate but it was no robbery.

Jermell put the blot right in a rematch, surging in to attack where before he had waited, willing to get hit to land a superior, tighter offense. His pressure bore fruit; Harrison was stopped on his feet in the eleventh.

Charlo stands having learned a valuable lesson and ready to take a new decade on with precision aggression; he nevertheless did enough between 2010 and 2019 to stand here on merit.

06 – Jarrett Hurd

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 23-1- Ranked For: 25% of the decade

In a division festooned with classy boxers, Jarrett Hurd assumed the status of bogeyman. Huge at the weight, strong, iron-jawed, relentless with inconveniently deceptive footwork that re-introduces him to the space of even the most fleet-footed runner or stick-and-move artist, Hurd is death on a stick for a certain type of fighter.

That type: older, some tough rounds on him, a boxer. Step forwards Austin Trout. This fight is painful to watch as the ageing Trout, never stopped before, never stopped since, is pulled by his corner late in the fight. Hurd mauled and punched him into submission until he was little more than a crouch and some pit-a-pat offense in the sphere of influence belonging to a fighter who cannot be turned around by even serious punches.

Hurd stepped out of Trout’s ring and into Erislandy Lara’s, a different matter. Their fight was fascinating and brilliant, Hurd’s ceaseless hunting and adeptness in cutting off the ring against Lara’s guile and brilliant footwork. Then Lara quit on his stick-and-move strategy and stepped into Hurd’s pocket. The Cuban proceeded to outfight his much younger, bigger, stronger opponents for long stretches.

Power is power though. A visit to the canvas in the twelfth cost Lara the fight and made Hurd the breaker-in-general of 154lb boxers.

Hurd was ranked the world’s #1 light-middleweight post-Lara and it seemed, perhaps, a period of dominance might follow. Then Hurd ran into a fighter named Julian Williams.

05 – Julian Williams

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 27-1-1 Ranked For: 50% of the decade

Julian Williams suffered a disaster in his last fight, losing his strap and number one ranking to Jeison Rosario; but that loss occurred in January of 2020. Williams, whose career entered the Covid-19 lockdown in tatters, is unaffected here by that devastating loss.

He did suffer a loss between 2010 and 2019 at light-middleweight, to Jermall Charlo who also stopped him in five back in December of 2016; his rebuild was something rather special. He summited in the final year of the decade with a victory over number one contender, Jarret Hurd.  This was a superb thinking performance from a fighter who had learned his lessons well. He out-thought Hurd on the outside, making a seeming lie of Hurd’s clear reach and height advantages to out-jab him, then out-fought him on the inside, throwing out tides of short, snappy punches that had Hurd in such serious trouble in the second that it seemed, after dropping the number one contender, he might stop him. Hurd survived to drop a clear unanimous decision.

Hurd came to that fight based primarily upon his victory over Nathaniel Gallimore, ranked six, another taller, longer fighter. This was Hurd-lite for Williams, a dress rehearsal for that excellent performance. I was saddened to see Williams stopped early in 2020, his resurgence one of the finest lo-fi stories of the decade. As to whether he deserves the number five spot for that decade, that is debatable – although certainly, battering the fighter ranked number six helps.

04 – Jermall Charlo

Peak Ranking: 2 Record for the Decade: 24-0 Ranked For: 20% of the decade

Trout beats Cotto, Hurd beats Trout, Williams beats Hurd and finally Jermall Charlo beats Williams.  It’s helpful in interpreting the division, these matches, and there’s been refreshing traffic between the top ten light-middleweights of the decade. Jermall departed undefeated for the middleweight division before the decade was out but despite the temporal shortage, Jermall made his mark and ranks as a “best of the rest” #4, clear water between he and the number three, but a stretch between he and #5, also.

Jermall landed in earnest as late as September 2015, obliterating storied veteran Cornelius Bundrage in four rounds. Bundrage won not a minute of a round and was yoyoed throughout. It was easy.  Bundrage was shocked by Jermall’s offensive capabilities and you could see it, especially on the third knockdown. After stopping Wilky Campfort in similar short order, Jermall fought perhaps the most important fight of his career against Austin Trout. Trout had lost to both Alvarez and Lara in short order but had since rebuilt and was once more ranked the world’s number two light-middleweight.  Jermall edged him out in a close, absorbing contest, emerging as a fighter of economy and no little power, his jab a hurtful weapon, the speed on his straight right turning it into a slashing, hurtful punch. Trout didn’t go away and, in fact, made some very exciting adjustments to test Jermall to his fullest, but it was the younger man who emerged with the victory.

Jermall then scored what, in retrospect, would seem a sensational knockout over Julian Williams and stepped up to middleweight. This leave him not beyond reproach; he departed the division at the very moment it seemed ripe for his dominance and he began mixing with top contenders only a short time before; two keystones in his resume were men past their apex in the form of Trout and on the slide in the form of Bundrage. But it must be remembered, too, that Jermall got a lot done in a short time and that he looked, for the most part, superb in doing it. He spent most of the decade at the limit and left it without loss.

03 – Erislandy Lara

Peak Ranking: 1 Record for the Decade: 17-3-3 Ranked For: 83% of the decade

Erislandy Lara is still ranked among the ten best fighters in the light-middleweight division, sitting pretty at number six as of April 2020. Each of these divisions has kicked up a survivor, a fighter who hangs onto his ranking by hook or by jab and who becomes a key operator for that decade. Lara is that man at 154lbs.

To be honest though, I was a little disappointed putting him under the microscope. This is a man who rarely matched ranked contenders; in fact, Lara could be comfortably placed a little lower judged purely on quality scalps. Lara’s third best win is over Yuri Foreman.

But his longevity counts for plenty here and is illustrated by the fact that the first and best big win of his career came back in 2013, a twelve round decision awarded to him over Austin Trout. Lara exposed Trout’s limitations. If you can outland him in a given round, he will lose; if you are fast, he will struggle defensively; if you are patient, he will crack, which may have been the key to Lara’s wide decision victory.

Later, in 2016, Lara matched old foe Vanes Martirosyan, a name familiar from earlier entries. Lara had been on the bad end of a technical draw against Martirosyan in 2012 in a match he dominated but he took the unanimous decision in the rematch; he rolled straight out of that contest into a fight with Yuri Foreman over whom he scored a weird knockout in four (track it down).

And that is all. Is that enough for number three? It is not.

Untold are the interesting wrinkles. In 2012 he took the enormous, the terrifying, the rather past-it Paul Williams and timed, bullied, battered and countered the bigger, stronger, longer, ever game Williams to pieces – the judges, all of whom would be suspended from the sport in the wake of their actions, scored the fight for Williams. Lara is credited for a win over Williams for the purposes of this list.

In 2014, Lara was in an excruciatingly close fight with Saul Alvarez; I had the Mexican a winner 115-113 but the average media scorecard was 114-114. This was a fight that basically failed to settle the issue between the two and Alvarez passed on a rematch.

This is enough to close the distance on and then overhaul Jermall; Lara is the third most accomplished light-middleweight of the decade. He was also the most interesting.

2 – Saul Alvarez

Peak Ranking: Ch. Record for the Decade: 24-1-1 Ranked For: 47% of the decade

Saul Alvarez followed a much-trodden path in his approach to his divisional summit: he walked the bones of former contenders like Carlos Baldomir, Lovemore Ndou, Kermit Cintron and a faded Shane Mosley. This is good practice for a well-funded prospect, and Saul Alvarez was always that.

But while the big bucks associated with his burgeoning fame was drawing in name fighters past their best, Alvarez was also breaking contenders in more interesting fights. Ryan Rhodes was ranked number four for their 2011 encounter while Alvarez was ranked number nine. Seeing the young Mexican learn and apply what he had seen during this fight was thrilling. He picks punches with more and more confidence as the fight nears its conclusion and indeed, he would seem to improve with every fight he had at 154lbs, eventually emerging up at 160lbs as complete a version of himself as could be imagined.

Rhodes succumbed in twelve and close victories over Austin Trout and Erislandy Lara would have made him the era’s outstanding light-middleweight.

Were it not for Floyd Mayweather.

Mayweather had made himself a force in the division before his retirement in the 00s and his re-emergence saw him inevitably clash with Alvarez in 2012. That Alvarez was so thoroughly beaten by Mayweather makes it extremely difficult to place him at number one here. This is especially hard on Alvarez because he was rendered number two up at middleweight, too – and for reasons directly opposite of those expressed here. The two differences are Mayweather’s total dominance over Alvarez and the fact that Alvarez managed fewer than half the decadal contenders that Golovkin did at middleweight.

In other words, Alvarez did not do quite enough in either division to be rendered number one, but for very different reasons in each case, which is a tough break. Had he remained at 154lbs, he would have done more than enough to justify the number one slot. As it is, he’s missed out by the narrowest of margins – the type of margin by which Floyd Mayweather might slip an oncoming jab.

1 – Floyd Mayweather

Peak Ranking: Ch. Record for the Decade: 10-0 Ranked For: 34% of the decade

Floyd Mayweather rolled back into light-middleweight in May of 2012 and made Miguel Cotto, then rated divisional number one, look like a journeyman. Cotto was never anything less than brave and in round eight he looked his sensational self, but in the eleventh and twelfth, especially, it was clear that there was at least a full class between Mayweather and Cotto.

What most impressed about this was that Cotto was a fighter made in hell for an older fighter. Fast pressure, technically sure punching, a good engine and a withering body attack are the attributes you absolutely do not want to see named in the opposite corner when you are in your fourth decade. Mayweather, who had lost a step or two, found other ways to keep his more aggressive foe under control, first among them, peerless countering abilities. Cotto did as well as any Mayweather foe of recent memory but was, in the end, left well behind.

Arguably though, Saul Alvarez was the more dangerous challenge and for the purposes of naming the number one light-middleweight of the era is obviously the key combat. Younger and in his physical prime, Alvarez was also two weight-divisions bigger on fight night, coming to the ring a super-middleweight. Mayweather looked him over and proceeded to outbox him for ten of the following twelve rounds. It was a glorified spar; it was a fighter headed for the upper echelons of the pound-for-pound list reduced to the status of a training partner. Mayweather was landing trailing uppercuts and outlanded his opponent in all but one of the twelve rounds.

It was as vivid a demonstration of one fighter’s complete superiority over another as can be imagined over twelve and leaves no doubt as to which of the two is the superior fighter. However, a counterargument to Floyd’s holding the number one slot does present itself. As a rule, before agreeing a fighter’s final slot with myself, I look at said fighter’s third best victory under the conditions described (here, light-middleweight in a given decade). The answer to that question, for Mayweather is “Conor McGregor.” That is, Floyd’s third most impressive scalp here considered is an 0-1 MMA specialist. This is unimpressive.

Given that Shane Mosley hadn’t won a fight for more than three years when Alvarez faced him, it could be reasonably argued that Alvarez’s own #3 scalp is Ryan Rhodes and, more significantly, that what Ryan Rhodes was to Saul Alvarez, Saul Alvarez was to Floyd Mayweather. That was the gap that existed between the two in the ring.

So it’s Mayweather at number one for me, not locked given that Alvarez got better and Mayweather underwhelmed with volume of victories, but as the only man to beat two number one ranked contenders in the decade and more than that, made it all look rather easy, I’m satisfied he is the right choice.

Other divisions presented even tougher choices: Heavyweight, Cruiserweight, Light-Heavyweight, Super-Middleweight and Middleweight.

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

Ted Sares

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carl Thompson vs. Ezra Sellers (2001)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then it Happened!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s yours?

Ted Sares can be reached at tedsares@roadrunner.com

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

Jeffrey Freeman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They hold the 24K gold key to induction.

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

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

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

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

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

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

It looked like the end was near for Marlon Starling.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hope to see you in Canastota someday, Champ.

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

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

George Kimball

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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