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.
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 Boxrec.com 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
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.
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.