Boxing's Top 10 - Their Number Was Up
By Martin Mulcahey, MaxBoxing (Nov 16, 2011) Special to Doghouse Boxing (Photo © German Villasenor)
Photo: Manny Pacquiao, Juan Manuel Marquez
The phrases “He has his number” and “Styles make fights” must have registered dramatic increases in occurrence from Saturday night to Sunday morning when Googled, with sports writers employing the clichés to explain Juan Manuel Marquez’s gutsy performance against Manny Pacquiao. That is the thing about a cliché; it exists because of the accurate reflection of the proverb to life. The “He has his number” paradox has caught my attention too, along with its role in the history of boxing upsets. Why does a boxer with all the advantages and the ability to win the fight on merit and skill set inexplicably lose to a seemingly inferior foe more than once? It is a relatively rare occurrence but has happened enough to make choices for a top 10 list debatable.
Of course, the logical answer to this is the “Styles make fights” axiom- but is it that simple? Surely, Muhammad Ali ran into similar styles to Ken Norton, same with Thomas Hearns and Iran Barkley. One thing is for sure; a sound mind is a key component for the underdogs (even if only for one fight, in the case of fragile heavyweight mentalities Buster Douglas or Oliver McCall), for without that overcoming self-doubt generated by facing these legends would be an impossible hurdle. To make this list, the hurdle must be a Hall-of-Famer and the underdog could not be of similar virtue. So, a historic series like Gene Tunney versus Jack Dempsey was not considered because of similar capabilities. Before the e-mails stream in, I included Ken Norton’s trilogy with Muhammad Ali because, frankly, I do not see Norton as Hall of Fame-worthy. In their stead, you can email about the last statement.

One other note, when making the final cut, a criteria I considered is when these upsets took place during the favorite’s career. Therefore, a Hall-of-Famer getting upset early or late in his career had an influence on the selection process. This is why someone like Ralph “Young” Gizzy beating Billy Conn twice early in his career or Baltazar Sangchili defeating Panama Al Brown twice late in the former’s career did not have the same impact as a Muhammad Ali or Marco Antonio Barrera losing in their primes.
10. John Ruiz vs. Evander Holyfield - I readily grant that it is exceedingly difficult to look good against the clutch-and-grab style of Ruiz; the Bostonian made other heavyweights look similarly inept and ordinary. However, if anyone should expose Ruiz, it was an angle-working combination puncher like Holyfield. Evander also had the advantage of that tactically-adept cranium, which would discourage most huggers and infighters with its ability to find their faces while falling into the clinches. The pair’s struggles against each other ended in a 1-1-1 tie. Ruiz’s win over Holyfield was by a wider margin and many think he should have been given the nod in their first encounter. The only thing that was sure about this series is that neither the fans nor television networks wanted to see a fourth bout. I think the same can be said for the combatants.
9. Rafael Herrera vs. Ruben Olivares – Mexican hero Ruben Olivares was a force of nature. A man who would out-party Charlie Sheen the night before a fight and the next day, knock foes out as if he had just come of 12 hours of deep sleep. Olivares’ delivery system found opponents with startling accuracy; it also located the best parties on either side of the Rio Grande. Countryman Rafael Herrera was Olivares’ polar opposite, an energetic boxer who used a high work rate and fast fists to outpoint opponents. Herrera could be slick and quick too and thrived in an era of murderous punching bantamweights. It was Herrera’s fitness that got to “Rock-a-Bye Ruben” most. The latter had trouble making the weight, aiding in a 2-0 sweep of the beloved extrovert that never sat well with Mexican fans.
8.  Johnny Jadick vs. Tony Canzoneri - Here was another light-hitting wonder but unlike Herrera, Jadick did not have much in the way of boxing finesse to fall back on. Jadick simply went at opponents, mauling them with punches from all angles, particularly known for slowing down opponents with body work. When allowed, that extended to below-the-belt work when a referee was on the wrong side. The two wins over Canzoneri both came in Jadick’s hometown of Philadelphia (when both men were in their primes), so there was a hint of home cooking involved in the outcomes, though Canzoneri was always more popular. Canzoneri scored a knockdown in the first round of their initial bout, which might have lulled him into a state of overconfidence. Their second fight was for the newly established junior welterweight title, which Jadick won by a wider margin than in the first. Canzoneri did win their last fight after Jadick inexplicably hit the skids, losing 20 of his last 21 bouts.
7. Junior Jones vs. Marco Antonio Barrera - Even when Barrera adjusted his game plan for the second fight (as we later found out he could expertly do), Jones had a special mojo that seemed to befuddle Barrera. Or was Barrera somewhat gun shy after their first encounter? In their first meeting, Barrera entered as an undefeated assassin, while Jones looked the part of the chinny speedster, which, ironically, Jones became after the second Barrera fight when he was knocked out by Kennedy McKinney and Erik Morales in succession. Barrera was in control the first time, ahead on the scorecards, when he was rocked and knocked down by a counterpunch at mid-ring that effectively ended the fight. To be honest, I thought Barrera won their second fight by a slight margin but again, Jones emerged with a victory and has to be given credit for holding Barrera at bay. Maybe it was that lanky frame, not unlike Erik Morales’, that gave Barrera fits in his prime.
6. Paul Pender vs. Sugar Ray Robinson - For a man who twice defeated the legendary Sugar Ray Robinson, Paul Pender gets precious little attention when compared to another Robinson conqueror like Randy Turpin. Admittedly, Robinson was past his prime but the 31-year-old Pender was no spring chicken and Robinson had only lost six of 150 bouts! Pender battled chronically injured hands (breaking them six fights in a row) too, sending him into premature retirement twice. Pender was a spoiler, learning every trick in the book to compensate for his chronically sore hands. In spite of fighting in Boston, Pender was a European-style boxer with a stand-up style, working behind an educated jab and stout defense to frustrate opponents into mistakes. It combined to beat Robinson twice over six months, with the world middleweight title hanging in the balance both times. Pender was Robinson’s equal outside the ring (Robinson was notorious for his contract demands), lobbying for a boxers’ union and famously saying, “The worst thing that happened to managers was when boxers learned to read and write.”
5. Shorty Hogue vs. Archie Moore - As his nickname suggests, Willis Burton Hogue was not a long-range bomber. He burrowed his way inside, doing damage with average but intelligent fists that worked their way upward as the rounds progressed. A quick perusal of the record shows Hogue lost 11 of 66 fights but a closer look reveals seven of those came in his last nine bouts. One of those seven was to Archie Moore in Hogue’s final bout and it was the only time Moore managed to beat him. The other three times (yes, three, only two are noted at but a third date and victory for Hogue is listed in The IBHOF’s Boxing Register) Moore came out on the short end of the scorecards. Shorty was not all brawn. He did have brains, winning the National Diamond belt amateur tourney at middleweight in 1939. Also of note is that both men were in their primes, with Moore actually having the edge in experience and age.
4. Young Corbett III vs. Terry McGovern - Terry McGovern operated behind a formidable specter of intimidation and perceived invincibility, the forerunner to Jack Dempsey and Mike Tyson in that respect. When these twin assets were taken from McGovern by a brash young challenger who refused to be intimidated, the champion’s world went into a steep and irreversible decline. McGovern’s personal life not only mirrored but eventually exceeded his ring demise. McGovern had one huge flaw, as a boxer and man, in that his temper exploded with frightening regularity. The fuse that lit his temper was shorter than a Joe Louis hook. Corbett took advantage of this, trash-talking McGovern into his punches before the opening bell sounded with ethnic taunts. It did not hurt that Corbett had a considerable punch and went 2-0-1 against McGovern, knocking out the legendary bully twice.
3. Iran Barkley vs. Thomas Hearns - Perhaps no fighters’ victories were more emphatic than the kayo scored by Barkley over “The Hitman” Thomas Hearns. Let’s establish another fact; even though he looked like a crude brawler, Barkley had real skills, a skill set he developed in the amateurs, winning the New York Golden Gloves as well as finishing in the medal count at three international tourneys between 1981 and 1982. Still, Hearns was the obvious favorite based on his pro résumé and quality of opposition. It was a shock when Barkley rallied from a bad cut and the brink of stoppage to kayo Hearns in the third round of their initial encounter. A fluke, right? Especially since Barkley lost his next three fights. Nope, because Barkley boxed well in their rematch, knocking Hearns down again and is the only man to ever defeat Hearns on points. The largest margin given was two points but even the close ones count on this list.
2. Ken Norton vs. Muhammad Ali - This is the gold standard for many in this category and the series of bouts that most fans reference mentally. Norton was a fine fighter, in all aspects of boxing; the former Marines work ethic was unrivaled. Still, he could be considered a bigger version of Floyd Patterson, whom Ali had no problem dealing with. In retrospect, the only advantage Norton could ever claim over Ali was conditioning and overall athletic ability. Now for the shocker, Norton only got the nod in one of three fights, leaving him with a negative 1-2 record against Ali. So why do I still list this match-up? Because many believe Norton should have been given the decision in all three fights (Marquez versus Pacquiao anyone?) and only one point separated the duo on two of the three judges’ cards in the bouts Norton lost. Most disappointing for Norton had to be their final bout, where WBC and WBA titles were on the line. This just goes to prove that sometimes perception overrules facts.
1. Willie Meehan vs. Jack Dempsey - Meehan never trained a day in his life and earned his nickname “Fat” by eating whenever and whatever he wanted. The Ring magazine famously wrote of Meehan, “He resembled a fighter just about as much as Carnera looked like a pole vaulter.” Yet, Meehan had the style to go 2-1-2 with a firecracker like Dempsey. Two of Dempsey’s six loses came against Meehan and there could have been more since Meehan won their last encounter and effectively chased the future champion away. It was after the last loss to Meehan that Dempsey made his way to the East Coast, leaving Meehan in his rear view mirror. How inexplicable was Meehan to Dempsey and his legacy? In Roger Khan’s idol worshiping biography of Dempsey, Meeham was only mentioned one time. While Gene Tunney (who holds just as many wins over Dempsey as Meehan does) is referenced on 42 pages. O.K., Tunney was a much larger part of Dempsey’s career, but let’s give some credit to the fat kid.
Worthy duo’s who were considered but did not make the final cut were: Jermain Taylor vs. Bernard Hopkins, Frankie Randall vs. Julio Cesar Chavez, Lou Nova vs. Max Baer, Johnny Famechon vs. Fighting Harada, Doug Radford vs. Kid Gavilan, Miguel Berrios vs. Flash Elorde, Ralph Gizzy vs. Billy Conn, Cipriano Zuluaga vs. Antonio Cervantes, Montell Griffin vs. James Toney, Johnny Vaca vs. Fidel Labarba, Maurice Thompson vs. Stanley Ketchel, Baltazar Sangchili vs. Panama Al Brown, Dave Sands vs. Bobo Olson, Vernon Forrest vs. Shane Mosley, Antonio Tarver vs. Roy Jones.
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