A Night to Remember
By John Raspanti, DoghouseBoxing.com (April 3, 2009)  
“Every pug thinks he’s got one left”

Never have truer words been spoken, especially in boxing. The older boxer, the one usually over thirty five always thinks he’s good for one more great fight. We, the spectators scoff at the silliness. Who is he kidding we ask? Then we usually answer our own question.

Himself of course.

And…more times than not we are proven to be right. The older boxer looks…well…older in the ring against his younger, stronger opponent. We nod and go…yep…told ya so. The old guy aint got it no more. What’s he…delusional?

Yes but…no. Sometimes, more times than we realize, the old fighter manages to stop the tick…tick…tick of the clock, the aging clock. The boxer knows he’s getting old but he also knows something else. There are times he can still fight, and nights where the greatness that was once taken for granted is there…again. Not holding him at bay and mocking him, but back fully in control and driving him to win.

Boxing history provides some examples of this phenomenon.

Jersey Joe Walcott vs. Ezzard Charles

Charles was a five to one favorite to hand Walcott another championship loss. Ezzard had easily beaten Jersey Joe two times before. Walcott was thirty seven years old and according to some observers was starting to look it. That word ‘old’ was being bandied about. The date was July 18th, 1951, and for whatever reason Jersey Joe looked different that night. He was a step faster, his punches were sharper and he controlled ‘the cobra’ with ease. Going into the seventh round Walcott was ahead on all the scorecards. After a clinch, Walcott delivered a blistering left hook that caught Charles flush on the jaw. He fell forward like a tree and didn’t move for a number of seconds and when he did, he toppled backwards. To the shock of many ‘old Jersey Joe’ was the champion of the world.

Sugar Ray Robinson vs. Gene Fulmer, May 1st, 1957.

Fulmer had beaten Robinson already, so when the rematch was announced Fulmer was installed a three to one favorite. Robinson was thirty seven years old and past his prime. Everybody knew this, most of the experts picked Fulmer to win. He was too strong, to tough and just too young for Sugar Ray. Did somebody forget to tell the Sugar man? Going into the fifth round, ahead by a point or two Robinson timed a left hook that landed perfectly on the side of the charging Fulmer’s chin. Down went Fulmer like a buffalo in a shooting range. He later told his corner he had no memory of what happened. Maybe that was a good thing…

Muhammad Ali vs. Leon Spinks, September 15th, 1978

The greatest was hardly great anymore. In the first fight with Spinks, he looked old, tired and bored. I can remember wincing during the fight, and then cringing as the decision was announced. Spinks had won a split decision. Nobody was split after the fight on whether Ali was done as a class a heavyweight. The masses begged him to retire but instead he asked for and received a rematch. As they stood in the center of the ring Spinks looked over confident and fidgety. Ali looked focused and ready. Was this the same Ali who looked so ancient and at times decrepit in the first fight? Yes and yes. Muhammad Ali won convincingly that night, out boxing a man twelve years younger than him. He had found some of his fleeting greatness, and in the process restored his boxing integrity.

Roberto Duran vs. Iran Barkley, February 24th, 1989

Duran was thirty eight years. He was taking on an opponent who only the year before had knocked Thomas “the hit-man” Hearns into la-la land. Hearns had destroyed Duran five years before. Not many gave Duran a chance, but the ‘hands of stone’ had a trick up his sleeve. His trick was his moxie; he then proceeded to go toe to toe with the bigger and younger man. Duran outfought, outhustled and outthought ‘the blade’ winning a close twelve around decision. Barkley looked shocked after the fight, as were many of the experts.

Bernard Hopkins vs. Kelly Pavlik, October 18th, 2008

Before their fight Kelly Pavlik was being ordained as the next truly great fighter. On the other hand Bernard Hopkins was forty three years old and coming off a loss to Joe Calzaghe. Hopkins had lost a couple of decisions to Jermaine Taylor, who Pavlick had beaten twice. So as so often happens, everybody was picking Pavlik to dominate ‘grandpa’.

Didn’t happen. It was Grandpa who did the dominating. He constantly beat ‘the ghost’ to the punch, sidestepping and ducking away from his opponent’s big right hand and countering effectively. It was an effortless, beautiful and amazing exhibition in boxing prowess and mental dexterity. “The Executioner” never executed better.

Shane Mosley vs. Antonio Margerito, January 24th,2009

I went on a boxing website a day before this fight happened and read the predictions. All picked Antonio Margerito to dismantle, destroy and defeat thirty seven year old Shane Mosley. Here we go again. I sat down to watch the fight and was amazed at the speed of ‘Sugar Shane’s’ hands. I heard myself saying some extremely intelligent things like…”Wow” and “Man” and later “You go Shane”. Shane did go, he completely thrashed Margerito in a way that was almost…shocking.

How did they do it? How did these ‘old guys’ find it? The easy answer is that it was always there. Not lost but hiding, ready to appear when you least expect it to. Maybe that’s why they always feel that they got one more left. They know that their ability might rear itself one more time and reveal it all to the world, the greatness of another time and give us the fan’s…one more night to remember.

Long live the greatness.

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