THE BEAUTY OF THE AGING ALI, LONGER FIGHTS
Hope this finds you and the family well and healthy. Like much of the fight world in these insane times, I’ve been getting my boxing fixes by watching old bouts, and watched a pair of Muhammad Ali’s, his second fights with Joe Frazier and Leon Spinks.
I sat there in awe at the beauty of Ali. What a boxer! As big a fan of his as I was back then, I don’t think I really appreciated his skills and conditioning. He danced and even threw in a few shuffles for 15 rounds in defeating Leon Spinks for his third title. Just unreal. I also saw Leon Spinks in a different light. Instead of just remembering him as a heavy bag with arms, he was a finely tuned and conditioned athlete. He fought a non-stop 15 rounds. It’s easy to forget he was an Olympic gold medalist at light heavyweight.
It leads me to the question, should the 12 round championship distance be reconsidered? The obvious and very real negative is protecting the fighters, but maybe a championship fight could be stretched to 13 rounds? This doesn’t eliminate the possibility of a draw, with knockdowns and other point deductions, but it decreases it.
Where would you place Floyd Patterson in the ranks of heavyweight champions? My earliest boxing memory is listening to one of his Ingemar Johansson fights, not sure which one, at night through the static on my little transistor radio. He became my first, pre-Ali boxing hero. Just some thoughts as I sit here socially distancing.
Thanks for helping us get through these times. Keep your hands washed! – Ken Kozberg, Oakham, MA
I’m washin’ ’em at least 20 times a day, Ken. I was a germophobe before this pandemic, so now I’m literally walking around my house with a large container of bleach wipes in hand all day, disinfecting everything I touch.
I think Patterson ranks outside of the all-time heavyweight top 15, but within the top 20. His two title reigns (spanning from November 1956 to September ’62) was unspectacular and included five consecutive years of fighting once or twice per year (and he made very good money fighting, for the most part, low-risk challengers, so in a way, he was the prototype for the modern boxing titleholder). However, he gets points from me for being willing to face his dreaded mandatory challenger, Sonny Liston, against the wishes of his trainer/manager (Cus D’Amato) and when most of the sports media, as well as black and white society, would have given him a pass for ducking the ex-con. Patterson put the sport before the business (and social politics). Also, he remained a contender for years, following his back-to-back first-round KOs to Liston, in which time he defeated Ring-rated Eddie Machen, George Chuvalo and Oscar Bonavena; plus, he hung tough with Ali (twice) and was competitive vs. Jerry Quarry (twice) and Jimmy Ellis.
I’ve been getting my boxing fixes by watching old bouts, and watched a pair of Muhammad Ali’s, his second fights with Joe Frazier and Leon Spinks. You can’t go wrong with Ali, even when he was way past his prime as he was for the second go-around with Neon Leon.
I sat there in awe at the beauty of Ali. What a boxer! As big a fan of his as I was back then, I don’t think I really appreciated his skills and conditioning. I know what you’re saying. As a kid (I was eight when he fought Spinks), Ali was my hero, but he was more celebrity than athlete in my young eyes. I just wanted him to win. I didn’t pay attention to his skill or technique. I didn’t know or care about ring generalship. As I got older and learned more about boxing, and more about Ali’s legendary career, I didn’t like watching those past-prime bouts because I was so enthralled by the brash personality and athletic brilliance of his glory years. But at some point in every hardcore fan’s life, he or she goes back and watches past fights of favorites that he or she may not have appreciated when new to the sport and sees them with more-mature/better-educated eyes. Also, it’s easier to see ring craft and savvy in older fighters, especially when they were dynamic/physical marvels in their prime (such as Ali, Roberto Duran, Manny Pacquiao).
I also saw Leon Spinks in a different light. Instead of just remembering him as a heavy bag with arms, he was a finely tuned and conditioned athlete. He fought a non-stop 15 rounds. It’s easy to forget he was an Olympic gold medalist at light heavyweight. Spinks was a relentless, indefatigable volume-puncher, and an absolute BEAST at 178 pounds as an amateur. He beat the s__t out of his amateur opponents. Prayers out to Leon and the Spinks family, by the way, he hasn’t been in good health lately.
It leads me to the question, should the 12 round championship distance be reconsidered? No, that era is past, my friend. Boxing should reconsider same-day weigh-ins before reconsidering 15-round title bouts, but ain’t happenin’.
THE ULTIMATE MYTHICAL MATCHUP
Special thanks to you for carrying on in this difficult time. I hope you and yours remain well.
Since we are now reduced to speculations on the future and reinterpretations of the past, I would be interested in your thoughts about what I consider the ultimate mythical matchup, prime Mike Tyson vs. prime Muhammad Ali. Let’s say it’s the Tyson who fought Michael Spinks against the Ali who fought Cleveland Williams.
Tyson once did a televised interview for Sports Illustrated, which was issued on a VHS tape. The interviewer asked Tyson how he would have done against the greatest heavyweights of the past, and he described how he would have beaten Jack Dempsey and Joe Louis. When the interviewer asked him about Ali, Tyson replied, “All I can say is, it would have been a hell of a fight.”
I remember one boxing writer saying that the night he fought Spinks, Tyson would have beaten any fighter who ever lived. I’ve always suspected that might be right. What do you think? Best. – Leslie Gerber, Woodstock, NY
Well, that one boxing writer was correct, according to the eWBSS heavyweight final, but I don’t see it.
I was as much a fan of the prime Tyson as anyone, but I never agreed that he had proven enough during that brief-but-impressive two-year title run (1986-’88) to his signature first-round KO of Michael Spinks to be considered the best big man ever (nor could I agree that he would have been able to best the legends of the glamor division). I was (and still am) a much bigger fan of Ali, so I
always thought The Greatest at his best would be too much for Tyson at his best. And I still believe that based on Ali’s immense talent, athleticism, boxing style, resilience, character, body of work and expertise in psychological warfare. Ali was able to withstand the best punches of great heavyweight champions known for the punching prowess – Foreman, Frazier, Liston – and he could even outlast devastating punchers, such as Earnie Shavers and Ron Lyle, when he was well past his prime. So, I have to figure that the prime version of Ali that could stick-and-move like nimble welterweight, but also had the savvy to hold and grapple when in close (or in trouble), could take Tyson the distance. Tyson’s title-unification bouts against taller, rangier boxers that held during clinches (Bonecrusher Smith and Tony Tucker) went 12 rounds, which adds to my belief that Ali would not only take him the distance but maybe wear him out to a late stoppage, because Mike seemed to lose enthusiasm in those frustrating bouts (although he dominated on the scorecards). I think Ali, who brought his own mystique to the showdown, would’ve not only refused to be intimidated by Tyson’s reputation but he would have worked on all of the New Yorker’s insecurities during the build up to the fight. Once in the ring, I envision the Louisville sensation scoring on Tyson and frustrating him with non-stop lateral movement and a rapid-fire jab on the fly during the early rounds. If Tyson was able to get inside and nail Ali to the body or head, I think he’d limit the punishment to just one good shot by tying him up, and you better believe that he’d play it off like he wasn’t hurt WHILE taunting the ’80s-era superstar. I could be wrong but I think Ali would mentally take the fight out of Tyson by the middle rounds and then seek to break him down physically down the stretch. In my mind it’s Ali by unanimous decision or late stoppage over a drained and demoralized Tyson.
But, hey, I’m an Ali guy. I’m sure Tyson’s diehard fanatics can’t envision Ali getting out of the third or fourth round vs. the prime version of their hero.
TYSON VS. THE 2003 ROY JONES JR.
I hope you and the family are well.
I saw a recent article in which Andre Ward said Roy Jones had rejected a massive deal upwards of £30m to fight Mike Tyson circa 2003. How close was that fight to being made? Tyson was far from his best but how would that fight have played out? How would the Tyson that blitzed Clifford Ettienne fared against the RJJ that beat John Ruiz (both fights occurred in 2003)?
A few more mythical matchups if you don’t mind:
Whitaker v Pacquiao?
Canelo v Trinidad?
Andre Ward v Calzaghe?
Naz v Morales?
Naz v Marquez?
Haye v Johnny Nelson at Cruiser?
Keep your hands washed and protect yourself at all times. Stay safe. Kind regards. – Hasan, England
Will do, Hasan. (I just got up and washed them before responding to this mailbag.)
Your mythical matchups (quick answers):
Whitaker v Pacquiao? Whitaker by close decision.
Canelo v Trinidad? Tito by late stoppage or competitive decision at 154 pounds; Canelo by competitive (but legit unanimous) decision at 160.
Andre Ward v Calzaghe? Calzaghe by close, maybe majority decision.
Naz v Morales? ‘El Terrible’ by split decision (terrific, dramatic fight).
Naz v Marquez? Hamed by close, maybe majority decision (thanks to a knockdown or two) vs. the late ’90s version of Marquez; 2000s featherweight version of JMM by close unanimous decision.
Haye v Johnny Nelson at Cruiser? Nelson by decision or late stoppage (don’t @ me!)
I saw a recent article in which Andre Ward said Roy Jones had rejected a massive deal upwards of £30m to fight Mike Tyson circa 2003. How close was that fight to being made? It was talked about, as was a potential showdown between Jones and Evander Holyfield, immediately after Jones’ WBA heavyweight title victory over John Ruiz. Why Jones chose to drop back down to 175 pounds (and drain himself) to regain titles that nobody cared about vs. Antonio Tarver is anybody’s guess. The Jones reps said they couldn’t cut deals with the heavyweight stars (like maybe Mike and ’Vander wanted too much money), but what I heard at the time was that part of Roy’s deal with Don King (to get the shot at Ruiz, plus a guaranteed $10 million) was that if he won the WBA heavyweight title, Don would get the option to promote him IF he defended that belt. So, maybe Tyson and Holyfield, who had had enough dealings with King during their careers, didn’t want to f__k with “the Don,” or maybe Jones didn’t trust the hall of fame promoter. Who knows? But had Jones fought one of those aging, iconic former heavyweight champs and won (and I would have favored him to beat Holyfield), and then retire on that note, A LOT of fans, pundits and even some historians would’ve considered him the G.O.A.T.
Tyson was far from his best but how would that fight have played out? How would the Tyson that blitzed Clifford Ettienne fared against the RJJ that beat John Ruiz (both fights occurred in 2003)? I think Tyson would have had to have much better preparation vs. Jones than he did for the ‘Black Rhino’ (that was the camp where he went AWOL, got a face tattoo, and then claimed his broke his back prior to the bout during his post-fight interview), but I think his pride would have forced even that faded, depressed, out-of-control version of Tyson to get his s__t together for one good camp. What heavyweight wants to lose to a former middleweight? If Tyson got into the best physical shape he could, with the right mental focus, I think he would have clipped the 2003 version of Jones sometime before the fourth round.
As much as I enjoy your mailbags in normal times, I’m enjoying them even more during this weirdness. I respect your opinions even when I disagree with them, which isn’t all that often.
You & yours be well, stay safe. – C.
Your appreciation is much appreciated, C.
Apologies for the relatively short mailbag today. It’s not for lack of emails. I’m just busy with putting the most recent edition of The Ring (with Roman Gonzalez on the cover), plus our Special Issue on the Four Kings, to bed.
LACK OF DOPING TABOO IN BOXING
Why is doping in the boxing community not viewed with the same stigma as most other sports view PEDs? Think about the lengths MLB and even the U. S. government has gone to in an attempt to eradicate PEDs. It stands as a stark contrast to boxing.
For instance, Shane Mosley was quickly whisked into the IBHOF, even though there’s clear evidence that he used PEDs—though he claims he was not knowingly doping.
Also, take Big Baby Miller—clearly doping out the wazoo—getting a lucrative deal with Top Rank.
How do you explain this insouciance? Is it a lack of a credible, all-encompasses governing body? Does it have something to do with boxing’s reputation—many viewing it as a “hood sport”? Or is the common understanding of boxing from the general public essentially just apathetic, thus not calling for any serious overhaul from the populace?
Thank you for your thoughts. – Brandon from ATL
I’ll keep this brief:
Is it a lack of a credible, all-encompasses governing body? Yes.
Does it have something to do with boxing’s reputation—many viewing it as a “hood sport”? Yes!
Or is the common understanding of boxing from the general public essentially just apathetic, thus not calling for any serious overhaul from the populace? YES!!!!
JOY AND PAIN
I hope your family and you are ok.
After the question about the crowd tragedies of Carlos last Friday, I was thinking… What were the 5 fights you felt so much joy and the 5 fights where you felt so sad??
Cheers from Paris!!! – El Pollito Diablo
Five fights I felt “so much joy” (this is off the top of my head… I’m sure I’ll read some comments from posters in the Diqus section below that reminds me of other fights that got me elated out of my gourd):
Fresh on my mind – Roman Gonzalez’s recent WBA 115-pound winning stoppage of Kal Yafai. I’m still flying off that one and I haven’t even watched a replay in its entirety.
Lamon Brewster’s massive April 2004 vacant WBO heavyweight title-winning TKO of heavily favored Wladimir Klitschko. My first daughter was nine days away from being born so I couldn’t be on press row for this one in Vegas, but it’s just as well because media aren’t supposed to cheer and I was out of my seat watching on HBO on home. I was screaming so hard for Lamon to get up and get it together after he was dropped near the end of Round 4 that I scared my very pregnant wife and her sister, and then I totally lost my mind when Brewster beat down the punched-out Wladdy in the following round.
Bernard Hopkins’ middleweight title unification victory over Felix Trinidad was very satisfying because Steve Kim and I had spent a lot of time with B-Hop in camps prior to that fight and especially during the buildup to the HBO/Don King 160-pound tournament. We covered all three bouts (yes, including Hopkins vs. Keith Holmes), visited Bernard’s camps in Philly and Vegas (plus his home in Delaware) for exclusive (members only) MaxBoxing.com video content and we got to know his entire team. Kim was close to B-Hop and I took a keen interest in the champ’s trainer Bouie Fisher. Hopkins was overlooked by 95% of the boxing media and insiders, but we believed in him, so that boxing clinic was special.
Speaking of boxing clinics, Marco Antonio Barrera’s master class vs. Naseem Hamed earlier that year (2001) had Kim and I buzzing on our drive back to Los Angeles that same night (there were no rooms available at MGM Grand on Saturday). Like Hopkins, MAB had been discounted by much of the boxing world going into that match, but we knew he was putting in the world up in the high altitude of Big Bear Lake, while Naz was half-assing it in Palm Springs. Plus, being Los Angeles-area guys, we had followed Barrera’s career as fans and media. He was our sentimental favorite.
And, speaking of sentimental faves (and that excellent year of 2001), I will never forget KING Kostya Tsyzu’s 140-pound title unification blowout of potential American star Zab Judah (also at MGM Grand in Vegas). Kim and I were split on this bout. Steve was a Zab man; I was ride or die for the Australia-based Russian and I never once wavered on my belief that he had the ability to best Judah and prove himself to be the real junior welterweight champ.
Honorable mentions: The five bouts I brought up were about the joy I felt for a particular fighter, but it should be noted that great fights leave me on Cloud 9, so Vazquez-Marquez IV, Corales-Castillo I, Gatti-Ward I, Carbajal-Gonzalez I, Holyfield-Bowe I, and so many other high-profile wars like those had me buzzing for days.
Five bouts that left me in the grips of sadness:
It doesn’t happen that often but Gonzalez getting bombed by Srisaket Sor Rungvisai in their rematch bummed me the f__k out (even though I was happy for the humble Thai champ), as did Barrera’s humiliating beatdown at the furious fists of Manny Pacquiao (first bout), Fernando Vargas’s punishing loss to Trinidad (I had high hopes for ‘El Feroz,’ who I thought would mature into a standout middleweight champ but I knew he would likely never be the same after lasting into Round 12 vs. the Puerto Rican hero), Tito’s fall from grace during the Hopkins showdown (even though I was very proud of B-Hop), and Oba Carr’s stoppage loss to Oscar De La Hoya (the Detroit contender was one of the first boxers I profiled for the HouseofBoxing website during the late ’90s, and I knew how much he wanted that title after coming up short twice before – vs. Tito and Ike Quartey – and how much he gave of himself; it was just heartbreaking. Carr had the ability to be a world titleholder, just not at welterweight during the late’90s; boxing, like life, isn’t fair.)
Email Fischer at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter and IG at @dougiefischer, and join him and Coach Schwartz and friends on Periscope every Sunday.
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