|A Generation’s Best
By JD Camacho, DoghouseBoxing.com (May 16, 2009)
It tends to happen only once a decade.
If boxing is about the best fighting the best, there is no rarer a case than a generation’s top two sweet scientists mixing it up to create a chemical cacophony of fistic perfection - or, if not perfection, at least a blend interesting enough to be memorable.
Let’s take a look at these watershed moments over the past four decades:
The Era: The 1970s
The Fight: George Foreman Muhammad Ali
The Date: October 30th, 1974
The Place: Kinshasa, Zaire
While arguments can be made that lightweight Roberto Duran and middleweight Carlos Monzon accomplished the most during this time, 1970s boxing will perhaps always be remembered for its heavyweight events namely, the fights of one Muhammad Ali. And while Muhammad Ali Joe Frazier I was the Fight of the Century, 1974’s Rumble in the Jungle held a similar level of cultural and athletic significance and pitted Joe Frazier’s pugilistic superior against the self-acclaimed greatest heavyweight of all-time.
The fight more one-sided than most remember established Ali’s place in the upper echelon of all boxing greats. The loss more devastating than it may have seemed - haunted Foreman until he himself reached boxing’s highest pantheon and regained the heavyweight championship twenty years afterward.
Thirty-five years later, the Rumble in the Jungle stands as not only one of the biggest events in boxing history, but as one of the biggest events of any sport in the 20th century.
Renowned film critic Roger Ebert said of the occasion, “What amuses me about boxing as a sport is the way intellectuals are drawn to it. Norman Mailer, George Plimpton they have to be there down in the jungle, they’re writing articles for Esquire, they’re writing books about it. They want to somehow take something that is very elemental and simple and turn it into something very cerebral. That whole process creates a lot of interest.”
The Era: The 1980s
The Fight: Marvin Hagler Ray Leonard
The Date: April 6th, 1987
The Place: Las Vegas, Nevada
The terrifying reign of heavyweight menace Mike Tyson may be the most unforgettable happening of 1980s boxing, but Sugar Ray Leonard defeated a greater variety of opponents at the top level than Iron Mike. No fighter Leonard fought was perceived as more dangerous than undisputed middleweight champion Marvelous Marvin Hagler.
After essentially a five-year layoff, the former pound-for-pound king fought the reigning pound-for-pound king in Hagler’s middleweight kingdom. They had common opponents in greats Duran and Thomas Hearns. They had mainstream appeal and had done commercials for various products. And they shared the public’s desire to see it happen, Leonard moving up in weight and Hagler conceding multiple contractual demands to his opponent.
That the fight was close and controversial only adds to its mystique. A mismatch on paper, Leonard provided numerous dramatic moments and Hagler pressed him down the stretch. The outcome is still a subject of debate two decades later.
William Nack, formerly of Sports Illustrated. reflected on the event, “It’s the greatest comeback I think I’ve ever seen. Whether you think [Leonard] won or lost, it was one of the transcendent performances in the history of the sport. No question about it.”
The Era: The 1990s
The Fight: Oscar De La Hoya Felix Trinidad
The Date: September 18th, 1999
The Place: Las Vegas, Nevada
Of course, the most piercing and penetrating boxing moment in the 1990s occurred when Mike Tyson cannibalized Evander Holyfield’s earlobes before millions of viewers. And much like that fight, the encounters between the greatest fighters of the 1990s were disappointing on many levels. Pernell Whitaker’s notorious draw against Julio Cesar Chavez robbed Whitaker of his crowning achievement. Roy Jones’ bland decision over Bernard Hopkins in each fighter’s first title shot incited comparisons with watching politicians filibuster on CSPAN.
None of those perhaps matched the supreme anticlimax that took place on September 18th, 1999. Neither fighter was considered faded. Neither fighter was outside their best weight class. Neither fighter was inexperienced. No, Oscar De La Hoya and Felix Trinidad were the same age, in the same weight class, in the prime of their careers and among the Top 3 fighters in the sport at any weight.
The flow of the fight has been gone over countless times. In the aftermath, De La Hoya and Trinidad failed to receive the Fighter of the Decade award from the writers’ association an award that seemed to go to Roy Jones by default.
Former Boston Globe writer Ron Borges said of the fight, “It’s the story of two guys who weren’t quite what we thought they were. Oscar De La Hoya put on this tremendous boxing performance, and he couldn’t close the show. Felix Trinidad had a guy in front of him looking for an excuse to lose, and Trinidad couldn’t give him one.”
So, what about the 2000s?
Some might point to last year’s fight between unbeaten Welshman Joe Calzaghe and the ageless Bernard Hopkins. But that fight was less than scintillating, neither fighter was in the prime of his career, neither fighter was in his best weight class, and neither fighter had true mainstream appeal. And on top of all that, some question Joe Calzaghe’s credentials.
That leaves…what were their names again?
-I hope Andre Ward doesn’t let his hometown fans distract him. Ward’s a professional, but Edison Miranda is not the kind of fighter to lose focus against.
-Chad Dawson needs to build some kind of fan base. His last two fights sold around 3000 tickets total. Maybe he should try and unify the title while fighting exclusively at the Foxwoods Casino in his home state of Connecticut. He can make good money and build a good legacy there until his moment comes along.
-Bob Arum says that a potential Mayweather-Pacquiao bout would “definitely” not take place this year. That’s preposterous. I doubt that Pacquiao could look any better against proposed opponents Shane Mosley and Miguel Cotto than he did against Ricky Hatton. The hype for this fight is through the roof. The time is now.
-Speaking of Pacquiao, ESPN anchor Robert Flores called Pacquiao “the best athlete in the world.” His co-anchor believed basketball player Lebron James should have the honor. To even be in the same sentence as Lebron in the mainstream sports media is a pretty big deal.
e-mail JD at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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