Anthony Wilson takes a look back at some of the greatest and most memorable victories in the last 30 years of boxing, since Duran vs Leonard I in 1980, in a special feature piece today for Bad Left Hook.
In my debut at Bad Left Hook several months ago, I wrote about Roberto Duran's debut at welterweight against fellow Hall-of-Famer Carlos Palomino. Duran is probably my favorite old-time fighter; I love his story and I love reading about him. My favorite piece on Duran is this one, by the gifted Springs Toledo for The Sweet Science; it centers around his win over Ray Leonard in their classic first fight, which took place back in June of 1980. Everyone agrees that there hasn't been a greater win in boxing since.
But that got me to thinking: what are the best wins in boxing post-Duran-Leonard I? I decided to make a list. The top ten, as I see it. And please...take it easy on me.
10. 05-21-2011 Bernard Hopkins UD Jean Pascal
The list kicks off with a fight that just happened: the Hopkins-Pascal rematch of their controversial draw, once again on Pascal's home turf of Canada, for Pascal's lineal Light Heavyweight crown. Hopkins is successful in his second crack at history, dominating the final two-thirds of the fight to become, at 46, the oldest world champion in boxing history, surpassing...
....45-year old George Foreman, who had challenged Michael Moorer for the real heavyweight title seventeen years earlier. Foreman had returned to the ring seven years earlier following a ten-year retirement. Moorer, nineteen years younger, had taken the title from Evander Holyfield in his previous bout, becoming the first southpaw heavyweight champion in history. In Foreman's lead-up bout, he had lost to Tommy Morrison. He was seen as little of a threat, needless to say.
And for nine rounds, it played out as expected. Foreman, by then a bloated, lethargic version of his former self, labored as Moorer built up a huge lead on the scorecards. And then, in the tenth, something divine intervened. Foreman, one of the most powerful punchers in history, hit Moorer with a 1-2 - a jab followed by a right hand that landed right on the side of Moorer's chin. It didn't even seem to be thrown with full power - more like an arm punch - but that was the depth ofBig George's power. It dropped Moorer like a sack of potatoes, flat on his back as referee Joe Cortez counted to ten. Announcer Jim Lampley then authored one of the most memorable calls in boxing history: "It happened!" The nature of Foreman's victory serves as evidence of two boxing notions: the "puncher's chance" and the idea that "the punch is the last thing to go."
I know this one is going to be a controversial pick, given what's happened to Hatton's reputation in the time since this loss, but consider this: up until that night, when "The Hitman" put his junior welterweight supremacy on the line against a history-seeking Pacquiao, Hatton had only lost one fight, at welterweight, to Mayweather, a man who has not lost thru fifteen years as a professional and may never lose (depending on how long he fights - another story for another day). He was undefeated at 140 lbs and had reigned as "the man" there for four years, since retiring Kostya Tzsyu in 2005.
After outgrowing 130 lbs (or, some say, fleeing the weight to avoid a third fight with rival Marquez - again, another story for another day), Pacquiao fought David Diaz and Oscar de la Hoya at 135 and 147, respectively, in his only two fights above super featherweight pre-Hatton. Some thought Hatton would be too physically strong for Pacquiao. And Pacquiao obliterated him. In two rounds. Knocked him down twice in the first and out cold, for several minutes,
at the end of the second. I think this is his most impressive win since he started his historic weight-jumping: no ridiculous catchweight, a full-weight limit title fight against a man I believe was in his prime (though many would disagree - after the fact, of course) to earn his record fourth lineal championship. Incredible.
In Iron Mike's fifth fight post-prison he squared off against on one of the game's all-time great warriors in a heavyweight title fight extravaganza. In his first four fights since his release Tyson, the champion, had dispatched of his opponents in a grand total of 18:40, looking like the Kid Dynamite of old. Holyfield, on the other hand, was four years older and looking past his prime. Two fights prior he had been knocked out in the eighth round by rival Riddick Bowe in the final fight of their classic trilogy. The odds were overwhelmingly in Tyson's favor.
But his aura and punching power failed to impress or intimidate the fearless Holyfield, who stood up to Tyson, took his best shots, and authored a truly special performance. At the start of the eleventh round, announcer Steve Albert remarked, "No matter what happens from here on in, we are looking at a sports legend in the purple trunks, Evander Holyfield." Almost on cue, Holyfield staggered and drove Tyson (still hurt from a Holyfield onslaught at the end of the previous round) onto the ropes with a barrage of punches. Referee Mitch Halpern stepped in to save Tyson from further punishment, and the stunning upset was complete.
Pacquiao had begun building a reputation as a monster, having wiped out Marco Antonio Barrera and knocked Juan Manuel Marquez down three times in the first round of their epic first fight (before salvaging only a draw) in his previous two outings. In his first fight at super featherweight he took on the great Morales, who was coming off a loss to Barrera in the final chapter of their savage trilogy and made as much as a 9-to-5 underdog against the rising Filipino slugger. Morales responded to the odds by putting Pacquiao in his place. He studied the counter-punching tactic Marquez used to get back into his fight with Pacquiao and adopted it, tempered his competitive spirit and controlled his
Mexican fire as much as he possibly could while attempting to carry out a disciplined gameplan, and outboxed Pacquiao in a thrilling bout. Morales was a tad bit past his peak here, but he still managed to give one last great performance. Maybe his greatest. Pacquiao has not lost since.
5. 03-31-2003 Roy Jones Jr. UD John Ruiz
Jones moves up from light heavyweight to heavyweight to become the first former middleweight titlist to win a heavyweight title in more than a century. Ruiz was one of the worst heavyweight champions in history, but this was still a grand achievement. This was the last fight of Roy's prime. It makes the list instead of James Toney's similar accomplishment against Ruiz two years later because Jones did it first.
4. 02-24-1989 Roberto Duran SD Iran Barkley
The 38-year old Duran was well past his best years when he took on Barkley, in his prime at 28, for the Bronx native's WBC middleweight title. Barkley had taken the strap from the great Thomas Hearns just one fight before, via a third round TKO in a shocking upset. Barkley was younger, much fresher, and really good - and Duran, in a division 25 lbs heavier than that of his peak weight, used his guile, experience, and trademark spite (considerable once again on this night) to outduel "The Blade" and take home a world title in his fourth weight class. It was an epic achievement for the legendary "Manos de Piedros."
Hopkins, then "only" 36, was the heavy underdog in the final of Don King's four-man middleweight unification tournament. Trinidad was in his absolute prime, undefeated, and looking like a monster. In the semifinal he stopped William Joppy in the fifth round in a scintilating performance, making him a three-division world champion. The victory put Tito's record at 40-0, with wins over Hector Camacho, Yori Boy Campas, Oba Carr, Oscar de la Hoya, Davey Reid, and now Joppy on his scalp (I'm excluding Pernell Whitaker because he was well past his best by the time Felix got to him).
Hopkins, despite having already crafted a Hall-of-Fame resume, was underappreciated as always - consistently great, but not spectacular like his explosive Puerto Rican counterpart. The Philly native had beaten Keith Holmes by wide unanimous decision in his semifinal match.
We all know what happened next: at Madison Square in New York City, Trinidad's home away from home, Hopkins dominated his foe from start to finish, exclamating things with a 12th round knockout that came via a brutal and picture perfect. Tito fell backwards onto his behind and then struggled to get up, finally using the ropes to make it to his feet and just barely beat the count. Exhausted and out on his feet, his father-trainer stepped between the ropes to save him from taking any more punches. Larry Merchant, from ringside, stated, "Bernard Hopkins has put himself up there in the list of all the great middleweights."
The 26-year old Toney was the favorite going into his 168-lb IBF title superfight with fellow pound-for-pound elite Jones. Toney was undefeated, with wins over Michael Nunn, Mike McCallum, Iran Barkley, and "Prince" Charles Williams already on his resume (all by knockout, save for McCallum). Jones, the challenger, was 25 and also undefeated, having earned his best win a year-and-a-half earlier, when he decisioned a then 27-year old Bernard Hopkins. This was his first fight at super middleweight and Toney's superior conquests to that point made him the pick in the eyes of most analysts.
But, at a time when James Toney was at the top of his game - fully committed, well conditioned, physically fit, a special mixture of technical skill, speed, and power fighting at his peak weight - he stepped through the ropes against Roy Jones Jr. and proved to be no different than any other Jones opponent over the first 15 years of his career: no match for the unparalleled speed and unorthodox artistry and brilliance of the man they once called "Superman." Toney was simply out of his league on this night.
Jones' fall from the top that started seven years ago has been so precipitous that it's almost hard to remember what he was at his peak. In the referenced piece by Toledo, he talks about Duran's up-and-down career following his great triumph over Leonard. "But what he was should not be eclipsed," Toledo writes. "It should be remembered." Same is true of Roy. I hope history is kind to him.
Yes, we're calling this one a win despite the disgraceful official decision, one of the worst in a big fight in history. Anybody who saw this one knows that, when the two greatest fighters of their era were in their primes, Pernell Whitaker outclassed Julio Cesar Chavez to the point that it was almost as if he didn't belong in the same ring with him. He gave him a boxing lesson.
Two Saturdays ago, lightweight king Juan Manuel Marquez knocked out Likar Ramos in the first round of a "tune-up fight" (whatever) for his upcoming third fight with Manny Pacquiao. If Marquez somehow manages to do the inconceivable and move up two divisions to beat the current version of Pacquiao, his name would no doubt have to be added to this list - probably at no. 1.