After last night's incredibly disappointing HBO show, I'm feeling a little gypped. It's one of those things that happens -- of course, it's not one of those things that happens, specifically, but it's "one of those things that happens."
So to make up for my TV evening on Saturday (which consisted of part of the Mayweather-Mosley replay, the Lakers going up 3-0 on the Jazz, the Williams-Cintron disaster and the last two rather one-sided fights of the Top Rank show), I figured I'd break out another classic round-by-round.
This time, we travel back to 1986. Irishman Finbar "Barry" McGuigan was reigning as featherweight champion of the world, having in 1985 beaten Eusebio Pedroza in London in front of a reported 26,000 spectators. McGuigan defended twice against unbeaten Bernard Taylor (W-TKO-8) and Danilo Cabrera (W-TKO-14) in Belfast and Dublin, respectively, before heading to the United States for a rare appearance on this side of the pond.
His opponent was Texan Steve "Super Kid" Cruz, whose record was a little empty (ranked No. 9 by the WBA) and who -- in the belief of McGuigan's camp, anyway -- didn't figure to be more than a stepping stone for McGuigan as the Irishman eyed a showdown with Azumah Nelson, or at least that was the hope of many.
McGuigan and Cruz fought 15 rounds in the Ring Magazine Fight of the Year.
World Featherweight Championship
(29-1, 24 KO)
(25-1, 13 KO)
June 23, 1986 | Caesars Palace - Las Vegas, NV
Referee: Richard Steele | Judges: Angel C. Tovar, Medardo Villalobos and Guy Jutras
It's so God awful hot out there that Richard Steele has to wipe his brow while being introduced. There is a lot to be said for the atmosphere of older fights. We rarely see genuinely interested crowds anymore. Ricky Hatton's fights have had a lot of it, and it's because common folk liked Ricky Hatton. Common folk used to be able to go see boxing a lot more than they are now. How many Regular Joes and Janes do you think were there for Mayweather-Mosley with those ticket prices? It's just different now. Everything truly seems so much more corporate than it used to. Boxing's always been a business, but now it's almost all business.
But I digress, since I'm not old enough to hate my own generation, at least by socially acceptable standards.
Both working the jab to start, and Cruz lands a little left hook under a missed McGuigan right. Cruz chopping with rights, and swinging his left. Great little left hook from McGuigan. Two guys right in front of each other. When we say "feeling out" these days, we generally mean a couple guys standing and looking at each other. But these two are whipping some big shots while seeing what the other guy has.
Both putting punches together nicely. Quick little exchanged leads to McGuigan being warned for a low blow. McGuigan swings a left hook after a jab, then a right hand. Nothing lands too hard, and then Cruz lands a beautiful series of hard punches, backing McGuigan down with a right hand.
McGuigan the one pressing the action, but Cruz is landing wonderful counter shots, and almost always in combination. No one punch and admire with him. They mix it up, McGuigan shooting toward the body, and then he goes back to it. But Cruz was right there with a left hook. Cruz with a right, Barry fires back and is warned for holding behind the head, which he did.
Cruz leads with a right, then shoots a left hook. It's clear very early in this fight that Barry McGuigan may well be getting more than he was supposed to from Stevie Cruz. McGuigan fighting well inside with a hard left to the body, then they land jabs and Cruz fires away with hard shots again. Consistently snapping McGuigan's head back, but otherwise not budging Barry, who eats the shots and keeps moving forward.
Color commentator Gil Clancy believes McGuigan needs to bang Cruz more, stop trying to box the boxer. Hard right hand by Cruz hurts McGuigan. McGuigan targeting the body again, doing some nice work. Cruz, though, comes right back on him with the right hand. Hard right by McGuigan! Now McGuigan staggers Cruz with body work and a left hook to the chin, but Cruz fires back! Right hand by Cruz! Left hook from McGuigan! Another right by McGuigan! Cruz finding himself going backwards steadily now, and CREAMED with a roundhouse right hand from McGuigan!
This was the McGuigan who was heavily favored to win this fight. Hard shots, upstairs and to the body, and just battering Cruz in this round. Cruz, for the first time, seems uncomfortable and perhaps overmatched. Another left hook on the chin from McGuigan, and a right hand slams into Cruz's chin moments later. Cruz dominated this round.
Cruz now trying to control distance with his jab, snapping it out there. Right hand by Cruz catches McGuigan off balance as the champ tries to fire to the body. Cruz dictating pace again, which he did not do in the third. Left hook by Cruz, McGuigan with a hook to the body and a right hand. McGuigan pours on the pressure again, Cruz covering up and not fighting back. McGuigan getting right on him and banging away. McGuigan strays low, Steele misses it.
Here we see McGuigan at his best again. Just all over Cruz, but then Cruz comes back! McGuigan simply pushing Cruz around, burying him on the ropes and pounding away. They clash heads, McGuigan gets his elbows involved, and he just hammers throwing shots to the body, then going upstairs with hard blows. Cruz finding it impossible to get off the ropes with about 30 seconds left in the round. Another terrific round for McGuigan, but McGuigan warned for landing after the bell.
McGuigan looking to load up power shots, and Cruz is finding it difficult to control the distance anymore. This is all pressure from McGuigan the last two rounds and change. Barry with a 1-2. Cruz with a right, then a left hook. McGuigan still won't back off at all, just trying to smother Cruz as best he can. Cruz is doing nice work with the jab this round, but that's about it.
Long shot by McGuigan, and then he goes to the body. Steele again warns him to keep the shots up. Right hand McGuigan, and Cruz goes back to the ropes yet again. McGuigan, while winning another round, shows some signs of fatigue. Cruz looks by far the fresher of the two fighters, as he's simply used less energy. McGuigan punctuates the round with a right near the bell.
Cruz taking the pace again, really turning it up with combination blows, catching McGuigan a bit off, and beating him to the punch to start this round. A couple good jabs from Cruz find McGuigan off balance. Barry fires a lead right, but misses. Now he throws combination punches, but Cruz is able to get out of danger. McGuigan STAGGERED with a left hook counter! Now Barry's on the run. Cruz jabs him twice, stings him with a right, and nails him again! Another right lands, and another! McGuigan being punished in the final minute of the sixth round.
Cruz comes straight out working the right hand again. Both guys throwing hard shots, Cruz landing a telling left hook. Another right by Cruz backs McGuigan down. McGuigan no longer able to effectively pressure Cruz, and getting backed down routinely. Cruz with a right that stings him again. McGuigan lands a right, but Cruz shrugs it off and starts unloading with wonderful shots. Lefts, rights, all just cracking the champion, as the challenger continues to build some terrific momentum.
Cruz with a combination in close, then back out and McGuigan just looks lost. McGuigan swings an incredibly wild right hand, a home run shot, and misses. McGuigan trapped where he was the first two rounds, trying to box a better boxer, and also still getting beaten on like he was in the sixth. McGuigan strays low for the third or fourth time, and gets warned for the second time. Steele threatens a point the next time.
McGuigan pressing with a right hand, and he stings Cruz with one, then a left to the body, and Cruz comes back big! Cruz with right hands that back McGuigan down and cut him over the right eye.
Cruz continuing to show a lot of fire, but now McGuigan getting the better of him inside. McGuigan finally backs Cruz down again. Halfway through the round, McGuigan lands a lead right and a left to the body, then charges in again with a right hand. A left hook puts Cruz on his back foot. Cruz stunned with a brutal right hand! Cruz doesn't even wobble, though. At some point, McGuigan has to wonder what he can hit this guy with that might really put him in a bad way.
McGuigan pressuring again, putting Cruz back on the ropes. McGuigan with a left hook to the body. Lead right just misses. Big right by Cruz, but McGuigan slams back with hard blows of his own! What a fight this is. Tremendous momentum shifts from round to round. In my view, all eight of these rounds were clear.
Cruz looking far more relaxed, McGuigan looking, in a way, a bit desperate. Steele warns McGuigan again for a low blow. And this time Cruz unleashes a completely blatant return shot. Hell, that was number five from McGuigan. Take some, give some.
Thudding right upstairs from Cruz. Both fighters have slowed down some, but McGuigan has totally lost his rhythm and has little power on his shots. With 30 seconds, the first really close round of the fight. Cruz backs McGuigan down with another right hand, as Barry looks to finish the round hard. McGuigan with a right! Again at the bell, McGuigan lands. He steals the round.
The McGuigan corner plots to get Cruz out in the 10th or 11th round.
McGuigan with a stiff jab, and now he starts putting the pressure back in. Cruz backing to the ropes -- commentators pick up on the fact that when Cruz gets there, he consistently looks to counter. Cruz fires away with combination shots again, but McGuigan is pushing the pace. Right from McGuigan lands. McGuigan with a great combination, and then lands, according to Gil Clancy, two more low blows.
McGuigan with big shots, but a COUNTER HOOK FLOORS MCGUIGAN!
A massive turning point in a round that was going McGuigan's way. McGuigan up at eight, and his legs look alright, but he looks very fatigued. Cruz puts no pressure on McGuigan, even as his corner pleads with him to go for the kill. Cruz lands a counter right at the bell.
McGuigan clearly tired, and now hurt on a right hand. His legs are going as the pace and the heat begin to really wear on him. McGuigan trying to box, which has proven to be a poor idea the entire fight. Cruz with a lead right, McGuigan wobbles and gets away. Cruz and McGuigan both throw, Cruz getting the better shots in. Cruz with more hard shots, as McGuigan can get nothing mounted on offense. McGuigan finding himself moving backwards most of this round, but leads with a right that lands and has no mustard on it. Total arm punches from McGuigan, while Cruz still has some real pop coming from his shots. He's able to back McGuigan off with jabs now.
McGuigan showing some signs of life as he starts countering better than he has all night, and then lands a hard lead right hand. McGuigan with some bounce in his step, a little swagger coming back. McGuigan dictating the pace again. What a tremendous ebb and flow this fight has. Halfway through the 12th round, and the Irish fans really wake up.
McGuigan with two left hooks to the body, but Cruz DRILLS him with a left hook counter over the body shots! Best punch of the round to this point. Cruz starting to put the pressure on a little bit now. McGuigan with a lead right and then a left hook. Now McGuigan ripping on the ropes, and McGuigan goes low yet again and a point is finally taken.
McGuigan goes right back to the attack. He's getting hit, but staying right in there and going for broke. Cruz with a couple of good counters there at the end of the round, and that left hook he landed was the round's best. He gets the nod in this one. His "half" of the round was simply more effective than McGuigan's.
-1 for McGuigan (low blow)
You look at how this is playing out now, and what a hole starting to be dug by McGuigan. The point taken in the 12th was huge, but even bigger was that knockdown. He was winning the 10th and arguably winning the 12th.
Cruz hurt by McGuigan early in the round, but he uses his legs and gets out of trouble. McGuigan really building some steam, though. Cruz can't seem to find rhythm -- and just when I say that, Cruz lands a hard right hand, and McGuigan comes back. Cruz is just landing much harder, better punches. Even when McGuigan lands a good shot, Cruz just has something better. But here comes McGuigan with a combination! Cruz finally holds.
McGuigan goes to the body, now banging away to the head. Cruz getting pounded on a bit this round, but staying right there with McGuigan. He gets off the ropes without taking much punishment at all. McGuigan to the body, then the head again. McGuigan looked like he might've gone a bit low there, but no call, and Cruz is warned for holding.
McGuigan starting to throw with volume as Cruz has slowed down. And Cruz isn't finding the counter shots quite as much as before. Cruz with a hook to the body, but McGuigan comes back with fire. Again McGuigan goes low. Cruz with a counter left. Cruz getting pushed around, but now Cruz pushes back. McGuigan using his signature style, just wearing Cruz out, and McGuigan is caught with another counter shot, but offers no reaction.
What a war.
Now it's Cruz finally looking really tired. Wicked right by McGuigan! Cruz is tougher than all hell. McGuigan lands good shots, Cruz comes back. Cruz is sticking to a gameplan in this fight as well as you'll ever see. Nothing seems to take him off his game. But this was a Barry round.
A deserved standing ovation precedes the final round.
McGuigan hurt, but McGuigan holds on! He's on spaghetti legs now. Both have come out to make a statement in this final round.
McGuigan has no legs left at all. He's trying to box, because he doesn't hold. HUGE right by Cruz, and McGuigan staggers again! How on earth is McGuigan staying on his feet? Cruz is making a massive charge here, and then DOWN GOES MCGUIGAN ON A LEFT HOOK AND A RIGHT HAND!
McGuigan bounces back up immediately. Steele lets him go even though he's clearly just about done. There's a minute left in the round.
McGuigan getting hammered in this round. Just demolished in there. Cruz backs off even though McGuigan is about to tip over again. McGuigan is simply ready to go at any moment, and MCGUIGAN GOES DOWN WITH 32 SECONDS LEFT!
Remember, the three-knockdown rule is in effect. Steele lets it go.
McGuigan just hugs Cruz, but he doesn't know how to hold. Seconds remaining and Cruz is stalking, but the bell sounds. What a huge round for Steve Cruz. Talk about leaving it in the ring. That's exactly what these guys did.
THE FINAL TALLY
Angel C. Tovar: 143-142 Cruz
Medardo Villalobos: 143-139 Cruz
Guy Jutras: 142-141 Cruz
This was a wonderfully-fought, gutsy war of attrition for both men. The three judges got it right -- Cruz won this fight, in large part due to the knockdowns. I scored it for Cruz 8-7 in terms of rounds, but he had a knockdown in round 10, two in the 15th, and McGuigan lost that point for the low blows, and frankly is lucky he didn't lose more points for the same thing.
This was the pinnacle of Steve Cruz's career. He showed in this fight good technique, a very square head on his shoulders, tremendous durability, and a real ring IQ. When he found himself on the ropes early, he wound up taking some shots. But for whatever reason, Cruz learned there that McGuigan might not have been as powerful as advertised. It may have just been the heat sapping some of Barry's strength, and Cruz himself probably just had a damn good chin and an ability to take some stiff shots. Add it up, and McGuigan spent half this fight, it seemed, punching fruitlessly. Yes, he won his share of the fight and did some good work, but he also never got Cruz in significant trouble. Even when he hurt Cruz, the Texan stood up to him and fired right back.
Cruz just landed better, shorter, straighter, and harder punches almost all night long. What a magnificent fight, because for as easy as it is to say Cruz won, McGuigan put up one hell of a fight, and went out on his shield.
After this, Cruz would fight in his hometown (Fort Worth) against a Mexican fighter named Roger Arevalo in November. Cruz won that on points, then geared up for his first defense of the featherweight crown. He was stopped in the 12th and final round on March 6, 1987, by Venezuelan puncher Antonio Esparragoza, the last of the original chain of featherweight champions recognized by The Ring, who stopped publishing for a while in 1989 due to a fight with bankruptcy, which the publication eventually won. Esparragoza would defend his championship seven times, before losing in 1991 to Young-Kyun Park in South Korea. Esparragoza never fought again.
Upon losing the championship, Cruz never reached the heights again. He scored an upset of Tracy Harris Patterson in 1989, earning him a shot at and loss to IBF titlist Jorge Paez. He did receive a final title shot when he faced WBC featherweight beltholder Paul Hodkinson in 1992. Hodkinson won in three rounds. It was a ridiculous title shot anyway, as Cruz had been knocked out in two in his last fight by Rafael Ruelas, over a year before the Hodkinson bout.
After getting finished off in two rounds by Yuji Watanabe in August 1992, Cruz returned for two club fights in Fort Worth in 1993. He won both, and retired.
Barry McGuigan was simply never the same fighter. He was hospitalized after the bout for dehydration, and then announced his retirement in 1987, after the death of his father, who he said had been his main inspiration to fight. He made a return in 1988, and won three straight over Nicky Perez, Francisco Tomas da Cruz, and Julio Cesar Miranda. In May of 1989, he fought Jim McDonnell in Manchester. The fight was stopped in McDonnell's favor due to cuts in the fourth round, and McGuigan retired for good this time, still shy of his 30th birthday.
McGuigan's post-boxing life has been an admirable one, as he's worked in boxing TV in the UK for ITV, and also in 2007, he set up the Professional Boxing Association, an idea he'd been trying to get off the ground for years. McGuigan's organization stresses to fighters the importance of education, and even educating the fighters. In 2005, McGuigan was elected to the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
For one sweltering night in 1986, Steve Cruz and Barry McGuigan were on top of the world in a featherweight championship battle that has stood the test of time. Though the glory couldn't last (it never can), fans the world over will always have at least that one night to remember, when the two fighters clashed so perfectly.