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April 29, 2019
April 29, 2019
Tony Tubbs

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I WAS blessed with a long and successful career, during which I fought a lot of top names. Back in the 1980s, it was a wonderful time for the heavyweights, and I boxed six heavyweight champions in total. We were all together, [fighting] in a round-table. There was me and Tim Witherspoon and Greg Page and [James] “Bonecrusher” Smith. The top promoter [Don King], he had every fighter and he matched us up together. My best night was when I won the WBA title beating Greg Page. I was young then and fast, but I also had great experience.

I had worked with Muhammad Ali, and he taught me a whole lot. I sparred him for the second fight he had with Leon Spinks. The first spar I ever had with Ali, I was just 16 years old, and he broke my nose. He told me I had fast hands, it was just a matter of me knowing what to do with them in a fight.

The championship fight with Greg Page, he was a little cocky at that time. He and I had boxed before, five times as amateurs, and he beat me three times. He was taller than me back then and he had a longer reach. Going into the [title] fight, he said he was going to knock me out. But I told him that I was a different Tony Tubbs now, that I had grown up and matured a whole lot. I told him to get ready for a surprise.

He was slick and Greg had power. The thing is, speed overcomes power and I was slicker than him. I was also faster with my hands and I was able to tease Greg a little bit during the fight. Whenever he threw a right hand, I would slip the shot and then counter him. At other times, I would block his shots. See, Ali, he really had taught me so much. I give Ali the credit for me being able to beat Greg Page.

People were calling him [Page] the new Ali, but as good as Page was, he was still using amateur moves as a pro. I said to myself, ‘Man, I know how to keep my hands up. I know how to target the body.’ It was 15 hard rounds but I was glad it was 15 rounds, because after I got the win I felt like a true champion. You go to school in boxing, and you graduate with being able to do the 15 rounds. I knew I’d beaten him [when waiting for the decision]. I won a unanimous decision and I wasn’t even all that tired at the end of the fight. It meant so much to me to be the world champion. People would come up to me in the street and tell me, ‘Well done, champ.’ That means you have done something good with your life.

In 1985, that was my time. That was my night. I think they should bring 15-round fights back today. You had a real fight with 15 rounds. After the 10th round [against Page] I was getting stronger and I took over. I was in great shape. Greg underestimated me, yeah. It was a technical fight with real skills from both of us. I had picked up so much knowledge as an amateur and from Ali. I had overtaken Greg in terms of speed, experience, know-how, and on that night, I had the desire. That win changed my life and I’ll always remember it.

(Tubbs was talking to James Slater.)

April 17, 2019
April 17, 2019
Jim Watt

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WHEN I signed with my trainer and manager Terry Lawless in 1976 I did feel I had missed the boat, I was in my late 20s, but he was the main man at the time, and it became clear pretty soon that I would get opportunities. He felt I was the best lightweight in Europe and had underachieved.

If you look at my losses, three were on cuts in fights I would probably have won today with the changes in regulations [that send many bouts ended by cuts to the scorecards]. I also lost a couple of pretty bad decisions, one in South Africa. I had lost to Ken Buchanan and I didn’t complain. I lost for the vacant Commonwealth title in Africa and never complained.

You don’t moan, you just accept them. But I did it the old-fashioned way, I was the British champion, so
I proved myself the best in Britain, then I won the European title and defended it three times, once against a former world champion in Perico Fernandez. I was due a world title fight. I was the No. 2 contender, Alfredo Pitalua was No. 1 and WBC champion Roberto Duran had not made lightweight in a long time [and he vacated the belt in January 1979]. Not in a million years would I have beaten Duran at lightweight.

The hometown setting was very important. There’s nothing quite like boxing at home, it’s a huge advantage in any fight. The pressure can tighten you up in the early stages, but when the fight reaches the tough stage and the crowd are behind you it really lifts you. It was huge for me.

You can’t go into a fight worrying about cuts; it’s like worrying about what the judges are going to do, because there’s nothing you can do about it. Also, some cuts had come earlier in my career when I would still keep my head a little too high. You learn to keep your chin down.

Today, any opponent you get, you can see their last couple of fights on YouTube, but I hadn’t seen anything of Pitalua, so you’d speak to people you knew, in this case especially those in the States [where the Mexican had fought twice]. All I did was get all my tools ready, I didn’t have one specific plan in mind, but I did things properly. I didn’t drink while I was boxing or get out of shape between fights.

On fight night, I felt the pressure because I was almost 31; now, being a lightweight in your 30s is no big deal but I was very conscious of the fact that this was the only chance I’d get – if I slipped up or froze that was it.

I remember walking out behind the bagpipes, there were 10,000 people in the Kelvin Hall and the reception they gave me was phenomenal.

Pitalua was aggressive, very fast and powerful and he threw a lot of combinations. The early part of the fight was a bit of a struggle, but the longer it was going the more I could feel it tilting in my favour. I was a right-handed southpaw so I was doing 80 per cent of my work with my best hand. The likes of Marco Antonio Barrera and Oscar De La Hoya are left-handers who fought orthodox, and I used being the opposite to my advantage, taking punches back as fuel and getting in control. I scored a knockdown with a left hand in the seventh but the jab was my main weapon, the key to keeping Pitalua under control. I felt by the halfway point of our 15-rounder that I would be world champion if I carried on the same way.

By around the ninth or 10th round I was in control but I saw it going 15 rounds and I always worried about running out of steam. So I came back to the corner after the ninth or 10th and Terry Lawless gave me a roasting! He saw I was winning but he also saw that I was pacing it for 15 rounds. He reckoned if I upped the pace it wouldn’t go 15 rounds. He accused me of not wanting to win enough and of being on the verge of quitting! The fight was on a Tuesday night, so my son Andrew was going to school the next day, and Terry said, ‘He’ll go knowing his dad’s not world champion champ because he didn’t try hard enough.’ He demanded I raise the pace and in the 12th round I stopped him. That’s probably thanks to Terry Lawless and how brilliant he was.

jim watt

In the deciding round, I was pinned on the ropes, I landed a solid shot to his ribs and I felt him sag.
He’d slowed down, I was firmly in the driving seat. I was trying to finish him and I think I was holding and hitting. When the referee, Arthur Mercante, split us up, I thought he was stopping it but he waved ‘box on’. [Mercante said at the time, ‘He seemed to be caught there the way Benny Paret was against Emile Griffith, and I had to satisfy myself he was okay.’]. I landed a few more punches, Pitalua’s head was rolling around, he was trapped on the ropes and Mercante dived in.

It was fantastic, the jubilation. Terry was in the ring, I jumped up and he cuddled me with both my feet off the floor. It’s funny but one of my first emotions was relief because it was a tough fight all the way through and I was glad it was over.

But it’s a great feeling, winning a world title is what I’d been heading towards my whole life and, whatever happens in the future, they can’t take it away from you. Back then, British fighters didn’t tend to hang on to world titles for very long and I didn’t know I had five more world title fights ahead of me. It was a terrific night.

April 15, 2019
April 15, 2019
marvin hagler rematches article

Will Hart/HBO

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I FELT as though all my career was a challenge.

I didn’t get the big breaks, didn’t get the exposure that the others did. I always had the highest respect for both Ray Leonard and Thomas Hearns and I’m sure they had the same for me. Leonard said to me the fight between me and him would happen, and I knew we’d make it happen one day.

As for Hearns, I always knew Tommy was a good fighter with a good right hand. He was tall, lanky and very crafty. He always had good management behind him too. He was Manny Steward’s No. 1 boy. And Manny took very good care of him in preparation for his fights. But I was always hoping for the day me and him would meet.

[The fight should have happened two years before but Hearns pulled out with an injured finger]. I said, ‘What? I know guys that would take this payday and cut that little pinky right off.’ I thought, honestly, he wasn’t sure about the fight because he saw me as a real threat. I thought it was an excuse.

I needed a big, big fight and someone that was a potential threat to me. I had basically cleaned up my division and I needed some fresh meat. I needed a new and different kind of challenge. Someone who people thought could beat me. That sold tickets. But I was getting better and reaching my prime at the right time. He said he was going to knock
my bald head off. I thought, ‘Great, that means you’re going to show up and I’m going to get paid.’ But I was trying not to scare him in case he didn’t get in the ring with me. I was polite and quiet because I didn’t want him running away.

Going into the fight I was a nasty guy. I wanted a war. And there was no way in hell he was going to take my title. I was reaching my prime and was hungrier than ever. It was exciting and electrifying for me and I knew there was going to be drama.

I tried to maintain the pressure for the whole fight. And I had a solution for everything he had. I had to put pressure on if he boxed. The first round was too exciting and too much of a blur. It surprised me that he could take as many punches as he did. He was trying to outbox me. I went after him non-stop.

I’d not been fortunate in boxing with things not going my way due to politics. And I can see all this flashing in front of my eyes when I got cut. I thought, ‘They’re trying to steal it and take it away from me.’

I went to the doctor and he asked, ‘How do you feel? Can you see?’ So I said, ‘Well I ain’t missing him am I?’ So he said, ‘Go on’ and I thought, ‘Oh he’s [Hearns] going to get it now.’ I got even more aggressive and the monster came out.

Marvin Hagler

I never wanted to kill another man in the ring. But anything could have happened had he survived. I thought I would have hurt him real bad, the adrenaline was flowing that much. You have to picture that it would have taken a tragedy. All the talk comes out in the ring. I wasn’t finished and I was ready for more. I was in such tremendous shape. But thank God he was okay and the fight ended when it did.

[In the end] it made all the struggles and sacrifices worthwhile. For all the fights I’ve been through not being that shining star, being the bad guy, having this killer image. They never looked at my artistic side. I was a switch-hitter. I was a complete fighter. I believe that at that time it was the highlight of my career. People now knew I was a great fighter. I wanted to be the best and I was. And now people look at me as a legend.


April 15, 2019
April 15, 2019

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10. Tony Canzoneri vs Al “Bummy” Davis

November 1, 1939, New York

OVERVIEW: Canzoneri was riding a seven-fight winning streak against mediocre opposition, but was clearly past his prime. The 19-year-old Davis, unbeaten in 35 fights, was his era’s version of Arturo Gatti. For Canzoneri, 30, a former feather and super-featherweight world title holder, the contest in Madison Square Garden was a chance to show he was still a championship-calibre fighter.

WHAT WAS EXPECTED: Canzoneri’s 14-year, 170-fight career had caught up to him, but it was expected to be competitive.

WHAT HAPPENED: Davis dropped Canzoneri twice and halted him in three rounds. Canzoneri never fought again.

WHAT IF CANZONERI HAD BEEN HIS PRIME: Canzoneri was a great fighter, Davis merely a very good one. Canzoneri would have won a by a clear decision or a late rounds stoppage.

THE LEGACY AFFECT: Canzoneri is acknowledged as one of the best of a golden era, but we rarely see him on anyone’s all-time best lists. Perhaps the quick loss to Davis has contributed to that.

9. John L. Sullivan vs James J. Corbett

September 7, 1892, New Orleans

OVERVIEW: Despite a questionable lifestyle, the mighty “Boston Strong Boy” was revered. For the people of that era he epitomised everything that a heavyweight champion should be. Corbett was just a boxer; Sullivan a larger than life personality.

WHAT WAS EXPECTED: It was incomprehensible to the public at the time that anyone could defeat Sullivan. Corbett would be another victim, one that the champion would dismiss without a fuss.

WHAT HAPPENED: Sullivan was ill-prepared. On the other hand, Corbett was in magnificent condition. Corbett, clearly underrated, boxed rings around the winded Sullivan who collapsed and was counted out in the 21st round. Sullivan never boxed again.

WHAT IF SULLIVAN HAD BEEN IN HIS PRIME: The match would have lasted a lot longer, but Corbett still would have likely prevailed. His skill set was much better than Sullivan’s.

THE LEGACY AFFECT: Sullivan continued to be idolised, but would no longer be considered invincible.

8. Benny Leonard vs Jimmy McLarnin

October 7, 1932, New York

OVERVIEW: The stock market crash wiped out all of Leonard’s earnings resulting in a comeback after being away from the ring for seven years. Leonard went 19-0-1 against limited opposition before being matched against McLarnin.

WHAT WAS EXPECTED: McLarnin, a great fighter in his own right, was in top form and expected to win. However, it was thought that Leonard might have enough in the tank to at least put up a credible fight.

WHAT HAPPENED: It was no contest. McLarnin dropped Leonard, 36, in the second round and delivered a one-sided beat down before it was stopped in the sixth. Leonard never fought again.

WHAT IF LEONARD HAD BEEN IN HIS PRIME: Ray Arcel called Leonard the greatest fighter in boxing history. Considering that he trained Roberto Duran as well that is quite a compliment. Leonard by a close decision would seem to make sense.

THE LEGACY AFFECT: Leonard continued to be revered as one of the best ever, but unfortunately his loss to McLarnin is remembered just as much as any of his victories.

7. Mike Tyson vs Kevin McBride

June 11, 2005, Washington D.C.

OVERVIEW: At age 38, he was Mike Tyson in name only and looking to rebuild (again) following a surprise loss to Danny Williams. McBride an average heavyweight at best and, though big and strong, was widely considered to be just another knockout victim on Tyson’s ledger.

WHAT WAS EXPECTED: Style-wise McBride was made to order for Tyson. Despite Tyson’s diminished skills he was expected to get a much needed victory and sustain his career for a little while longer.

WHAT HAPPENED: Tyson hit the bigger man with everything he had, but could hardly budge him. Tyson’s deterioration was sad to witness. After going down a couple of times from sheer exhaustion, Tyson retired on his stool at the end of the sixth round. He never fought again.

WHAT IF TYSON HAD BEEN IN HIS PRIME: It would have been an utter mismatch with Tyson prevailing within three rounds.

THE LEGACY AFFECT: None at all. Tyson was and continues to be one of the most polarising figures in boxing history.

6. Carlos Ortiz vs Ken Buchanan

September 20, 1972, New York

OVERVIEW: Former lightweight champ Ortiz was on the comeback trail having registered 10 soft victories in a row. He was originally scheduled to box new king Roberto Duran in a non-title bout. When Duran pulled out, in came Buchanan who had been dethroned by Roberto three months earlier.

WHAT WAS EXPECTED: Virtually everyone agreed that Duran would have annihilated Ortiz, but he might last the distance with Buchanan.

WHAT HAPPENED: The Bronx-based Puerto Rican, 36, suddenly retired on his stool at the end of the sixth. Ortiz said that he was exhausted and would have been knocked out had he continued.

WHAT IF ORTIZ HAD BEEN IN HIS PRIME: Ortiz was arguably a greater fighter than Buchanan, but movers always gave Ortiz problems. Buchanan would have won a close decision.

THE LEGACY AFFECT: The crowd booed Ortiz out of the ring. Even Buchanan remarked that Ortiz had robbed him of a true victory. It was the only time Ortiz had ever been stopped. He retired, but was not allowed to exit the sport with his head held high.

5. Bernard Hopkins vs Joe Smith Jnr

December 17, 2016, Los Angeles

OVERVIEW: Hopkins made it clear that this was his farewell fight, one intended to let him take one last bow and exit the sport in style. He handpicked Long Island light-heavyweight Smith Jnr who he viewed as very beatable.

WHAT WAS EXPECTED: Because of Hopkins’ age (52), Smith was given a serious chance of spoiling the script, but the odds favoured the former middleweight and light-heavyweight champion.

WHAT HAPPENED: It was competitive, but Smith proved to be too physically strong. Hopkins was knocked out of the ring in the ninth round and failed to beat the referee’s count. It was the first time in his career he had been stopped.

WHAT IF HOPKINS HAD BEEN IN HIS PRIME: Judging by the success Bernard had landing punches, a youthful version of himself would have probably won a wide points verdict.

THE LEGACY AFFECT: The aura surrounding Hopkins was his ability to defy Father Time. Hopkins tarnished that with the manner in which he came crashing down against Smith.

4. Sugar Ray Leonard vs Hector Camacho

March 1, 1997, Atlantic City

OVERVIEW: Comebacks were the norm for Leonard so it was no shock to see him return to the ring at age 40, to take on Hector Camacho following a six-year layoff.

WHAT WAS EXPECTED: It is a tribute to Leonard’s greatness that despite his age and inactivity he was installed as a 7-5 favorite. Camacho was still a winning fighter, but his punching prowess had dramatically diminished over the years.

WHAT HAPPENED: Leonard was dropped in the fifth round, then pummelled on the ropes necessitating the stoppage. Reportedly Leonard had suffered a calf injury beforehand. Whatever the reason, his performance was dreadful. It was the first time that Leonard had been stopped. It was his last fight.

WHAT IF LEONARD HAD BEEN IN HIS PRIME: For sure he would have won, but considering that Camacho never had been stopped in his career, logic says Sugar Ray would have won widely on points.

THE LEGACY AFFECT: None. His great moments fully overshadow the fiasco of the Camacho defeat.

3. Joe Louis vs Rocky Marciano

October 26, 1951, New York

OVERVIEW: Marciano was on the fast track to the heavyweight title, but first had to get by the legendary “Brown Bomber”. Louis who had previously ruled the division for almost 12 years was installed as a 6-5 favorite.

WHAT WAS EXPECTED: Despite the odds, logic said that Marciano should win. However, Louis was riding an eight-fight winning streak leading some to speculate he still had enough left to triumph.

WHAT HAPPENED: It was an even fight for five rounds, but Louis, at 37, could not keep up with the younger, stronger Marciano, 28. Marciano wore Louis down and dropped him twice in the eighth. The second knockdown was dramatic as Louis was sent onto the ring apron, sprawled out on his back. Louis never boxed again.

WHAT IF LOUIS HAD BEEN IN HIS PRIME: It would have been a great fight. A younger Louis could punch in combination the way an older one couldn’t. The chances are that Louis would have cut Marciano badly enough to force a stoppage by the later rounds.

joe louis boxing

2. Muhammad Ali vs Larry Holmes

October 2, 1980, Las Vegas

OVERVIEW: Ali had retired on top two years previously, but could not resist the urge to return to the ring. In his former sparring partner Holmes, he was facing the man who had replaced him as the consensus world heavyweight champion.

WHAT WAS EXPECTED: Holmes was at his peak, Ali clearly past his. Holmes was expected to win decisively.

WHAT HAPPENED: It was a thrashing. Holmes dominated nearly every second of the fight, before Angelo Dundee pulled Ali out at the end of the 10th round. Ali would box one more time, being beaten on points by Trevor Berbick.

WHAT IF ALI HAD BEEN IN HIS PRIME: Holmes was a great fighter so his chances shouldn’t be discounted, but Ali at his peak was a little quicker and better. Ali by decision with room to spare would be the most likely result.

THE LEGACY AFFECT: His standing as the greatest heavyweight of all-time remains. However, the sight of him being beaten up so badly is perhaps the saddest in boxing history.

1. Jim Jeffries vs Jack Johnson

July 4, 1910, Reno

OVERVIEW: Former world heavyweight champion Jeffries returned to the ring after a six-year layoff to try to reclaim the throne from Johnson in a contest that transcended boxing. The term ‘Great White Hope’ originated from this contest.

WHAT WAS EXPECTED: Despite his inactivity, Jeffries was slightly favoured against a peak Johnson. This illogical assumption was based on a combination of racism and Jeffries being viewed as an indestructible force during his title reign.

WHAT HAPPENED: The years of inactivity took a drastic toll on Jeffries who was just a shell of his former self. Johnson toyed with “The Boilermaker” before halting him in the 15th round.

WHAT IF JEFFRIES HAD BEEN IN HIS PRIME: Jeffries would have given Johnson hell but likely have been defeated.

THE LEGACY AFFECT: More so than any other fighter in the history of boxing. Not only was he ridiculed for failing to uphold the ‘honour’ of the white race, but his standing as a great heavyweight champion was forever diminished as well.

This feature was originally published in Boxing News magazine

April 14, 2019
April 14, 2019
Ad Wolgast

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LIKE another thunderous product from Cadillac, Michigan, the famous Shay locomotive, Ad Wolgast tore through the lightweight division for a few tumultuous years before derailing spectacularly in the kind of tragic circumstances all too common in prizefighting. If the appeal of boxing rests on its peculiar ability to dramatise – albeit on a small and unholy scale – certain bleak cultural touchstones – social Darwinism and the Nietzschean will to power, for example – then Wolgast can only be Exhibit #1. In his furious life, both in the ring and out, Wolgast resembled nothing if not a character from a Frank Norris or Stephen Crane novel, naturalism personified. Best remembered for his apocalyptic free-for-all against Battling Nelson in 1910, Wolgast also beat several world-class pros from 1908 to 1912, when prizefighting was in its brutal heyday, and before his peak was cut short by the hard logic of the ring.

At 16, Wolgast, son of a struggling farmer, left home to eke out a bootstrap subsistence throughout Michigan. He sold newspapers, shined shoes, and took on one odd job after another before finally settling on fisticuffs as a vocation. In 1907, after compiling a winning record across Grand Rapids and Petoskey, Wolgast moved to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where he built a bloody reputation as a relentless brawler with a crippling left hook and a ferocious body attack. Two years later, Wolgast settled in California, the centre of the boxing universe after professional fighting had been banned in New York City in 1901.

In Los Angeles, Wolgast raised his profile to a national level with solid showings in a pair of no-decision bouts against Abe Attell and reigning lightweight champion Battling Nelson. If not for the swaggering shadow of Jack Johnson, who dominated headlines from coast to coast, Oscar “Battling” Nelson would have been the most famous fighter of his era. Nelson, who underestimated Wolgast before their first fight in July 1909, sneered at the cocky upstart every chance he got. Finally, seven months after their first encounter, Nelson agreed to meet Wolgast again, this time with the title on the line.

To skirt laws against “fights to the finish,” promoter Sid Hester scheduled Nelson-Wolgast for a preposterous 45-round limit, knowing full well that the final bell would never ring. What Hester did not know, however, was that Nelson and Wolgast would fight so savagely and for so long. On February 22, 1910, Battling Nelson and Ad Wolgast took what Theodore Roosevelt called “the strenuous life” to grisly extremes in Port Richmond, California. When they met at ring centre for final instructions from referee Eddie Smith, Nelson more than justified the nickname – “The Abysmal Brute” – Jack London had given him. “Let everything go,” he snarled. “No fouls.” Never one to shy away from a brouhaha, Wolgast enthusiastically agreed and the stage was set for one of the most famous bloodlettings in boxing history. Both men tore at each other from the opening bell, with Wolgast, six years younger, getting the early edge. After a few rounds under the raw sun, Nelson, already bleeding from his nose and his mouth, sported purplish lunettes above each cheek. As the fight progressed, his eyes swelled shut completely, and Nelson found himself tottering on the verge of defeat. Still, Nelson would not yield. In the 22nd round, Nelson dropped Wolgast with a right cross, but Wolgast was as tough as an arrowhead, and he resumed battering the champion from one end of the ring to the other. Finally, in the 40th round, Nelson, nearly blind and splattered with his own gore, could only paw feebly at the air. Smith finally intervened, hours after the combatants had first touched gloves and long after the squeamish crowd had called for pity.

“Why say anything else?” Wolgast asked after his struggle against Nelson. “Just say I am the strongest man ever to put on gloves.” Indeed, Wolgast was strong enough to defend his title at a pace that far outstripped his predecessor. Among the notable fighters Wolgast faced during his title reign were Frankie Burns, Joe Mandot and Owen Moran. His melee against “Mexican” Joe Rivers on July 4, 1912 was such a spectacular disaster that it gave Wolgast a succès de scandale to go along with his already legendary title-winning effort against Nelson. Against Rivers, a Los Angeles native, Wolgast reveled in the ferocity of hand-to-hand combat, what reporter Lester Bromberg once called his “magnificent obsession.” Bruised and bloody, Wolgast was trailing on points when he cornered Rivers against the ropes in the 13th round. There, the two fighters unleashed simultaneous punches – Rivers a slashing right to the jaw and Wolgast an arcing left hook below the belt – that sent both men crashing for a double knockdown. With Wolgast on top of Rivers, referee Jack Welsh began tolling the count, and at some point before reaching “10”, he helped Wolgast to his feet. An outraged crowd, soon primed to rush the ring, watched as Rivers was counted out for a knockout loss.

To Wolgast, his close call against Rivers was just another example of his iron will. “Double knockout, hell,” he said after the fight. “I was just too strong for him. Put it in the paper, none of them can take a beating like Wolgast.” But less than six months later, Wolgast was an ex-champion already making his shaky way to a bleak and black future that lay ahead of him. On November 28, 1912, Wolgast took a terrible beating at the hands of Willie Mitchell in Daly City, California, before fouling out in the 16th round.

Although Wolgast was still only in his mid-20s, the ultraviolence he demanded between the ropes was beginning to affect him. In those days, boxing was far less charitable than it is now. Referees were less merciful, gloves were smaller, and rounds went far beyond reasonable limits. Little by little Wolgast was disintegrating – both personally and professionally. His brittleness, at odds with a ring style rooted in brutishness, was a dark premonition of his ultimate fate. Over the course of his unruly career, Wolgast had been stricken by appendicitis, ptomaine poisoning and pneumonia. He broke his wrist, broke his thumb, suffered fractured ribs as well. Although he was still a box-office attraction – due to his dead-game attitude – the losses began to mount. More than once he broke an arm during a fight. Between 1913 and 1916, Wolgast struggled against one opponent after another.

By 1917, Wolgast was in a Milwaukee psychiatric hospital for what was euphemistically called a ‘nervous breakdown.’ In truth, Wolgast was already suffering from dementia pugilistica. In and out of institutions for over a year, Wolgast was eventually released from a California hospital in 1918. To the dismay of the press, Wolgast resumed fighting in the Southwest and California, where he took more punishment from an assortment of second-raters. Eventually, Wolgast would need medical care, but the kind of treatment he received would wind up in a ‘stranger than fiction’ file.

After World War I, when the blood-drenched trenches of Verdun, Passchendaele and Warlencourt familiarised the globe with both shell shock and mass mechanised slaughter, America, naturally, turned to whoopee in response. Indeed, even with Prohibition looming over the country, the nascent Jazz Age introduced the foxtrot and hedonism as national pastimes. And all that adolescent vigour produced an unusual cultural byproduct: the new cottage industry of rejuvenation as peddled by numberless quacks. Old medicine show standbys such as swamp root, snake oil and sarsaparilla were joined by miracles such as Worm Candy, Pepsin and Vim-O-Gen. While the American Medical Association was still in the midst of professionalising healthcare through state licensing boards and a public crackdown on charlatans, rogue doctors, often with degrees purchased from diploma mills, continued hawking magic powders and elixirs anywhere from gleaming office suites to the backs of covered wagons.

Then, like something out of The Island of Dr. Moreau, animal transplants via tissue grafts suddenly became part of rejuvenation mania. Already something of a story in Europe, where Dr. Serge Voronoff had been experimenting with monkeys, the bizarre act of surgically inserting animal glands into scrotums promised to reverse ageing and give men new life in the bedroom.

In America, the most famous fraud of all was Dr. John Brinkley, who wisely swapped monkeys – exotic animals to most – with goats, a common presence on farms across the country. Brinkley, a dedicated con man who began his bunco career in a travelling show before becoming an ‘electric medic’, triggered an entire sub-industry of goat gland peddlers at the dawn of the Flapper era. Seemingly overnight, rejuvenation clinics opened in one city after another.

Wolgast, only 32 in 1920, was now a physical wreck and as desperate as any septuagenarian hoping to recapture his libido. So he did what so many easy marks had done since the rejuvenation fad began a few years earlier: he went to see “The Goat Man”. In June 1920, Wolgast underwent surgery in a Los Angles clinic. His ‘doctor’, P. Livingstone Barnes, pronounced the operation a success. “Wolgast has been completely restored to health,” he said. “He is normal now and his muscles are in excellent condition… His memory, once shattered so that he could not remember names, dates, places or conversations, is again normal and I see no reason why Wolgast cannot come back.”

Even for such a permissive age, the fact that Wolgast was allowed to fight again after having been institutionalised was astonishing. But Wolgast insisted his comeback would be different. After all, he had modern science in his corner. “I am no longer an old young man,” Wolgast announced, “I have the physique and qualities of one in his early twenties.”

On September 6, 1920, only a few months after his operation, Wolgast took part in his last fight, a desultory draw against Lee Morrissey in San Bernardino, California. “The crowd booed the one-time champion, and he left the ring almost in tears,” reported The San Diego Evening Tribune. “He refused to comment at the end of the bout whether he still favours goat glands.”

Wolgast, whose record stands at 60-13-17, with dozens of no-decision bouts, never fought again. Now a shambling mess, he was taken in by Jack Doyle, a friendly promoter who allowed Wolgast to live on his compound and train, in his own delusional way, in his gym. A few years later, however, Wolgast was so far gone that Doyle had him committed to Patton State Hospital in San Bernardino. From 1927 to his death nearly 30 years later, Wolgast was confined in a succession of institutions and was largely forgotten.

Almost fittingly, violence brought Wolgast back into the headlines in 1949, when two sadistic employees of Stockton State Hospital assaulted the “Michigan Wildcat”. It was like something out of a Hollywood noir – Wolgast, enfeebled, scrawny, and now in his sixties, abused by sinister orderlies. The beating Wolgast took left him hospitalised, then bedridden for the remaining years of his life. No longer would he shadowbox in the hospital corridors, where he had continued ‘training’ in a haze for a phantom bout with his greatest nemesis – Battling Nelson. When he finally died, on April 14, 1955, it must have been a mercy, one of the few a man as proud as Wolgast was likely to accept. Oh, yes, it must have been a mercy.

This feature was originally published in Boxing News magazine. Don’t miss an issue – subscribe HERE

April 4, 2019
April 4, 2019
Razor Ruddock

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THE best night of my boxing career, I’d definitely have to say it was when I arrived on the big stage, when I showed the world what I can do. I fought a great former world champion in Michael Dokes and not too many people were giving me much of a chance going into the fight. I was the underdog, no question.

People thought he’d be too crafty and too knowledgeable for me, and Dokes had trained hard and was in great shape that night. At that time in my career, they all thought they’d beat me – until they actually got in the ring with me and felt my power and my speed. But that was the fight where I unleashed “The Smash” to the world for the very first time [Ruddock’s hybrid left hook/uppercut].

I had injured my right hand in training, but we kept it secret; there was too much at stake for me to risk postponing. I had broken a bone in my right hand and it was actually quite painful – so I mostly used the left hand that night against Dokes. I had actually trained on using the “Smash” in the gym anyway. I worked very hard for the Dokes fight and I wanted a special punch to get the win in a spectacular way.

That was my very first fight at Madison Square Garden, which meant a lot to me. The sheer history of the venue, with Joe Louis and Rocky Marciano and of course Muhammad Ali fighting there. That gave me a real boost. For me, a young and unknown heavyweight fighter at the time, to be fighting in such a great stadium, it was very special. I wanted to give a great performance and I did it.

I remember the commentator that night. It was the great trainer, [Gil] Clancy and he spoke about
how I wasn’t using my right hand. That was because of the injury I had picked up. But that night, he [Clancy] called me the best heavyweight contender he had seen in some years, which was a great compliment from a guy like him. He said I was a very sure future champion. I felt great after that win.

Dokes was a good fighter and he did catch me with a couple of punches. But in a fight like that, with so much on the line, you never even feel them. He went down hard, but I knew he’d be okay. All tough fighters, they bounce back and come back to fight again another day.

After that win, I knew I was ready. I wanted Mike Tyson. I wanted the title. I had shown the world I was a very venomous puncher and I was ready. And don’t forget, that fight was basically me with just one good hand. And the heavyweight division was truly exciting back then. You had all the big names and people cared about the heavyweights, not like now. Those guys, they wouldn’t have lasted in our era, not with me and Tyson and [Evander] Holyfield and Lennox [Lewis]. It was a great time for the heavyweights, when everyone knew who the champion was, and also who the top contenders were. That is what the fans want back now, where they can get super-excited about the heavyweight division.

With that win, I became the top contender. I’ve never lost that punching power, but that was me at my best, as a young and hungry fighter, who knew he had nothing to lose and everything to gain in boxing. It seems like it was just yesterday.

April 1, 2019
April 1, 2019
julio cesar chavez

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GOING into the 12th round at the Hilton Hotel in Las Vegas, he had a busted lip and a fractured eye. He had lost nearly two pints of blood. Later, he would spend a night in hospital receiving blood transfusions. Still, Meldrick Taylor was two scorecards up – 108-101 and 107-102. He’d landed nearly 450 punches. There was surely no way he could lose. Except there was.

The rest is history, even if it’s history that won’t quite rest. With two seconds to go, and Taylor, staggering like a drunk in a dark corner, woozy, swollen, knocked down but back on his feet, referee Richard Steele stopped the fight.

After, there were press conferences, noise, complaints. In the immediate moment, Lou Duva, Taylor’s manager, stormed the ring, fury and shock and disappointment mangling his face, “bullshit” the best word he could summon, but the real trauma was Taylor’s. As Steele went to hold him, smiling tenderly, Taylor said it simplest and best: “What?”

Capturing the mood, even his opponent, Julio Cesar Chavez, was solemn after the fight. “He was faster than me, he was stronger than me,” journalist William Nack reported him as saying. “I could not develop myself the way I wanted. I was very surprised at his handspeed. Meldrick Taylor deserves a rematch. He is a great fighter.”

The rematch would happen, Chavez stopping Taylor in 1994 in an eight-round thrashing, but ultimately it would prove nothing. In hindsight, those final four rounds did not lead simply to one end but were themselves a series of endings, as Taylor’s body and talent were claimed punch by punch by Chavez and his sport. At 23, drained of blood, his career was finishing at the same time as the fight.

And while Steele’s decision seemed incredible at the time, Taylor’s future thereafter makes it look increasingly prescient. Though he would win another world title, decisioning an unbeaten Aaron Davis in 1991, Taylor was poor in his three defences, and as soon as 1992, after stoppage defeats to Terry Norris and Cristano Espana, he was being urged to retire. As with all things messy and disordered in the past, history has a way of imposing a certain logic.

The fight – for the unified world super-lightweight title – remains a classic. Chavez, 68-0 (55) at the time, from Culiacan, Mexico, entered as the best fighter in the sport: in the past three years, he’d stopped Edwin Rosario and Roger Mayweather in dominant wins. And Taylor? He was 24-0-1 (13), a Philly fighter if ever there was one, “unequalled” in his speed, according to trainer George Benton, even if he lacked quite the thud of the harder-hitting Chavez, 27.

“Mexicans and guys from Philly have the same kind of reputation,” Duva told Bernard Fernandez for the Philadelphia Daily News beforehand. “Tough guys who are going to give everything they have. You almost have to kill them to get them out of the ring.”

Like Ray Leonard on his better nights, Taylor was a guy who could have run laps if he’d wanted to, but preferred instead to work the centre of the ring: he was a prizefighter in the truest sense, who fought for his prize first and talked about it second. And owning the centre of the ring up close was no bad tactic against Chavez, even if it seemed a contradiction. Against the ropes, where Chavez loved to pound away, Taylor would have been cornered like Simone Mareuil in Un Chien Andalou, the young girl whose eye is slit open by a razor. From the centre, where he stood slightly crouched like a coiled spring, he could leverage his punches better, and he could also count on giving Chavez interest back on every shot he threw: it took Chavez as much time to throw one as Taylor to throw three.

But it might also be true that it took Taylor three punches to land anything so hard as Chavez’s one.
No matter that Taylor caught the Mexican with over 450 punches, Chavez was barely marked up at the end. In contrast, Taylor looked more like Joe Frazier after 14 rounds with Muhammad Ali in Manila than he did a guy who had all but carried the fight.

“I see myself outclassing him all the way with my handspeed and, surprisingly, my strength,” Taylor predicted beforehand. “He’s confused. No one’s ever fought him the way I’m fighting him. I’m hitting him with combinations, bam, bam, bam! And then I’m gone. He throws a punch and I’m not there.”

No one had ever fought Chavez the way Taylor did, and yet no one had fought Taylor like Chavez.
A minute before the end, blood leaking into his kidneys, energy draining to nothing, Taylor finally stood up and backed away, pain and exhaustion unwinding his body, when Chavez leapt past a jab to whack him down with an overhand right. Taylor would get to his feet, but it wouldn’t be enough.

“I’m 100 per cent sure I did the right thing,” Steele told Boxing News a few years ago. “Taylor was taking so many punches, which did so much damage to him. The public did not realise how bad it actually was. I stand by what I did. The medical report [on Taylor] shows I was right. The kid was never the same after that fight.”

On another night he might have escaped with victory, even if not his health. But it was not to be. Meldrick Taylor was stopped by Julio Cesar Chavez with two seconds to go, the first end in a career that would keep on ending, as a death fugue or a dirge, long after that night.

This feature was originally published in Boxing News magazine. Don’t miss an issue – subscribe HERE