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May 6, 2018
May 6, 2018
oscar de la hoya

Action Images/Reuters/Steve Marcus

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EMANUEL STEWARD once said that of all the fighters he had trained, none strived for greatness the way Oscar De La Hoya did.

Steward is no longer with De La Hoya, of course, but for Oscar the fire still burns.

Inactive for 20 months following his body-punch loss to Bernard Hopkins, De La Hoya had assumed the role of a part-time fighter. Now, following his sixth-round stoppage over Nicaraguan hardman Ricardo Mayorga, De La Hoya, as incredible as it may seem, is again the biggest draw in the sport.

At worst his display to dethrone WBC light-middleweight champion Mayorga here was superb, at best it was sensational. Quite frankly, De La Hoya has never looked better.

But before assuming the Golden Boy is fully back, consider that Felix Trinidad turned in a similar display against Mayorga after a comparable layoff. Yet in Tito’s next fight, he could scarcely touch Winky Wright.

To the 13,076 fans inside the MGM’s Grand Garden Arena on May 6, 2006, the fight featured hero versus villain. When De La Hoya was introduced, the crowd cheered wildly. In contrast, boos rang down on Mayorga at the mention of his name.

To fight Ricardo means having to endure abuse in the lead-up to the fight. The vulgarity of the man led Oscar to comment that he never wanted to punish an opponent as badly. Yet three days before the show things took a strange twist when Mayorga threatened to pull out. Ricardo, who was pencilled in to receive $2m, claimed he had been promised $8m by his promoter Don King. Mayorga took his case directly to De La Hoya.

It created a situation unlike any other in boxing history. As the show’s promoter (Golden Boy Promotions), De La Hoya felt an obligation to sort out the mess, but at the same time his mindset had to be one strictly of a fighter.

Their meeting was brief. Mayorga apologised for the things he had said to Oscar, but before the conversation could go any further De La Hoya’s people whisked their man away.

Even the latter was not sure what to make of the entire episode. “I think Mayorga was trying to play with my head,” De La Hoya surmised. Certainly, no more money was made available.

The body language a fighter displays can often be deceiving, but in this case it rang true. From the moment they walked down the aisle to the ring, De La Hoya seemed resolute and determined for the task that lay ahead. Mayorga’s brash cockiness was missing.

Ricardo, 10st 13 1/2lbs as was De La Hoya, came out swinging but missed widely. Oscar’s advantage in speed was evident right away in this scheduled 12-rounder. So was his willingness to stand and trade.

About a minute in De La Hoya delivered a thunderbolt when a right followed by a superb, “hidden” left hook to the chin dropped Mayorga heavily. As referee Jay Nady counted, Oscar looked like a cobra set to pounce upon his prey.

To his credit, Mayorga rose at four and warded off De La Hoya’s efforts at a quick victory, but he was hurt again late in the round.

At the bell the Los Angeles fighter stared at Mayorga. He now not only held physical advantages, but a psychological one as well.

Some of Mayorga’s looping rights landed on his opponent’s right ear, reddening it in the second. De La Hoya, now 38-4 (30), unloaded one barrage that hurt Mayorga in the corner. Oscar’s speed continued to prove the difference, but Mayorga had the last say in the round when he landed a hard left hook to the body.

The Nicaraguan’s most promising moment came in the third. A couple of right uppercuts shook up De La Hoya, who fired back to rock Mayorga, now 28-6-1 (23), with hard blows of his own.

De La Hoya outboxed Mayorga in the fourth but took some good body blows.

By the fifth it had become clear Mayorga would need a stoppage. In command, De La Hoya was turning his left hooks over beautifully and bringing the jab into play more. Quick flurries to Mayorga’s body looked impressive as well. A cautiously aggressive Mayorga was warned twice for rabbit punching. ‘

A big left hook started Ricardo’s downfall in the sixth. Oscar pounced, forcing Mayorga to the strands and unleashing an attack that dropped him for eight. Mayorga seemed reluctant to get up and was definitely hurt… had a sick look.

When the action resumed, De La Hoya kept the champion on the ropes and opened up. He fired away furiously with straight blows while Mayorga tried to respond with wide hooks.

De La Hoya simply overpowered Mayorga with a series of flush shots that put him down a third time. At that precise moment referee Nady stopped it at 1-21 of the round.

A delirious De La Hoya had been pulling back and lost his balance. This, along with the ref barging in, caused him to tumble to the canvas as well. The difference was Mayorga was finished and Oscar wasn’t.

De La Hoya was comfortably ahead at the time: Duane Ford 50-44, Guido Cavalieri 49-46 and Paul Smith 49-45. Two judges gave Mayorga the third and one the fourth.


Oscar: My next move will shock you

THE fight was good, but I enjoyed the post-fight press conference even more.

In one breath De La Hoya said he would announce his next move in a couple of weeks and that it would shock us all. In the next Oscar acknowledged that he had not made up his mind.

This much is certain: when De La Hoya’s career is thriving, he becomes the central figure in and around his weight class. For economic reasons more than anything else, everyone wants to box him.

Contrary to what has been reported elsewhere, De La Hoya did not injure his rotator cuff during the fight. He said he’d had the injury for three years and that it might necessitate surgery but that hoped to avoid that.

It was later revealed he had damaged his left forearm in the fight. This could affect his plans to box again on September 16.

Whatever, the fight everyone wants to see is De La Hoya versus Floyd Mayweather Jnr, who was in the crowd, but Oscar said it wouldn’t happen. He cited Floyd Mayweather Snr as the reason, saying his trainer told him he would not work in the corner opposite his son.

oscar-and-shane

Previously, Mayweather Snr had said he would. De La Hoya said he would not fight the younger Mayweather without Snr in the corner.

Confusing? Consider this: with uncle Roger Mayweather on a one-year suspension, Floyd Jnr will need a head trainer. Is his feud with his father healed enough to accept him back? And if he does, what happens when Roger eventually returns?

And if the Mayweather situation needs more intrigue, he is now a free agent. The way Oscar was praising him at the press conference as the best fighter in the world pound for pound made you wonder if the blockbuster announcement was that he had signed Floyd for GBP.

Antonio Margarito had his picture taken with Mayweather [below]. Margarito looked angry and ignored Mayweather. A smiling Floyd tapped Margarito’s fist in a sign of respect after the photo was taken. Oscar was asked if he would box Margarito. He praised him, but Margarito did not seem to  be in his future.

margarito floyd

Winky Wright was there and through an aide put out a challenge to Oscar. De La Hoya said he would consider it, but following the loss to Hopkins had made it clear he had no plans to box at middleweight again. This would seem to rule out him taking on the winner of Wright-Jermain Taylor, which happens next month.

Maybe Oscar is eyeing the Shane Mosley-Fernando Vargas winner. Oscar and Shane are now buddies and GBP partners, but no one says it has to be a grudge match.

De La Hoya is 0-2 versus Mosley. Having another go at Mosley might appeal to De La Hoya’s competitive instincts. And if Vargas should beat Shane in July, a bout with De La Hoya would do huge business.

Last but not least is the possibility of Ricky Hatton emerging as the main man in the De La Hoya sweepstakes. That is provided Hatton beats Luis Collazo tomorrow.

May 5, 2018
May 5, 2018
floyd mayweather

Action Images/Reuters/Steve Marcus

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IT’S every outstanding fighter’s dream to go out on a high, at his peak, undefeated, wealthy and with his faculties intact, but so few succeed in an industry where often ego overrules wisdom.

Though Floyd Mayweather’s 12-round split decision victory over Oscar De La Hoya before a sell out, celebrity-packed 16,700 crowd at the MGM Grand on May 5, 2007 has to be regarded as the 30-year-old’s crowning moment, he has more to prove to achieve the level of respect he desires, even if he claims he is fully satisfied and is getting out.

After the huge build-up to this, the richest non-heavyweight contest in the sport’s history, Mayweather didn’t deliver on his promise of “Blood, sweat and tears.”

He didn’t punish, humiliate, and massacre Oscar as he said he would to win the WBC light-middleweight title. It wasn’t the one-sided fight he tried convincing us it was going to be. He didn’t compete as if willing to die in the ring, as he claimed he would (not that I ever expect a fighter to give his soul in pursuit of victory).

Floyd didn’t dominate or defeat De La Hoya in a manner that would leave us, the watching public, thinking he could have done likewise with former greats Sugar Ray Robinson or Sugar Ray Leonard.

But that’s not to denigrate his fabulous achievement of becoming a ‘world’ champion at five weights, the only man to do so without ever losing. It just means Mayweather hasn’t quite left the mark he wanted to and that his proclamation of retirement is, I believe, merely temporary.

Great champions Roberto Duran, Thomas Hearns, Felix Trinidad and Bernard Hopkins, all watching ringside, have been in Mayweather’s shoes and tried to quit when they thought it was smart rather than when the passion had diminished, but later reversed their decision to quit. Without even knowing him well, I feel certain Mayweather will also.

He may even fight De La Hoya again before the year has concluded. September, being a favourite month for Oscar. And, crucially, there is a lot more money to be made, even if Mayweather (guaranteed $10m here to De La Hoya’s $25m – figures that are likely to multiply when the pay-per-view numbers are in) says he is so rich he doesn’t need it and De La Hoya is also ludicrously wealthy.

There are two schools of thought regarding Mayweather’s retirement. The first is that he craves so much the respect of the press and public that by bowing out, leaving at the top, he hopes boxing will miss him so badly and beg for him to come back, thus increasing the appreciation for him to perform.

The second is that Mayweather fears losing and, having established a perfect record of 38 consecutive wins, doesn’t want to risk spoiling what he’s achieved.

If he gets out, Floyd knows in time his legacy will only grow.

Mayweather said he wanted to spend time with his kids and develop projects outside of boxing, such as promoting and making music.

But he is a boxing man to the core and I don’t think it will be long before he starts to miss the stage and the juices for exhibiting his magnificent skills begin to show again.

As much as I would admire any fighter for putting his health and family before greater fame and glory, Mayweather is in his physical prime. He’s at an age when walking away is especially difficult, particularly as he’s at the height of his profession and has never been as widely known (not to be confused with popular).

I would find it much easier to comprehend if it were De La Hoya saying it was time to pack up.

Oscar said he would go back to the drawing board and analyse his performance. “If I didn’t go forwards there would have been no fight,” he said. “I didn’t feel like a loser. I’m satisfied.”

But at 34, De La Hoya lacked the speed, movement and energy to make certain of victory, although many observers, including Floyd Snr, when pushed, believed he had done enough.

The margin of defeat was so narrow. In fact, had judge Jerry Roth handed the “Golden Boy” the final round, as had his two colleagues Chuck Giampa and Tom Kaczmarek, the bout would have ended in a draw.

Although Mayweather was convinced he had won handily by eight rounds to four, it was much closer.

Roth had it 115-113 for Floyd, Giampa 116-112, while Kaczmarek gave it to Oscar 115-114.

I had them level 115-115. Even though Nevada officials are encouraged to find winners in every round, I made both the eighth and last even, my belief being that if you cannot determine a dominant fighter in a round you shouldn’t, because it only creates a misleading impression on the scorecards.

For me De La Hoya was ahead after six rounds and, as he’s done so often in big fights, faded over the last half-dozen when Mayweather, the superior boxer, picked up the pace and punched with greater authority.

de-la-hoya-mayweather

But given the closeness of the result it suggested that a younger Oscar, even the man who lost to Shane Mosley seven years ago, would have been too active for Mayweather. We will never know, I suppose.

It was a better contest than I had anticipated. Mayweather didn’t stand and trade until the dying seconds, but he didn’t run either, as he had against Jose Luis Castillo in the first fight with the Mexican and as some suspected he might against the bigger De La Hoya,

A crowd of 7,000, the biggest ever for a weigh-in in Las Vegas, gathered to see them strip off the previous day with fans waiting in line up to six hours in advance to catch a glimpse of the stars.

De La Hoya looked superb at 11st and likewise Floyd at 10st 10lbs, roughly the same weight carried into the ring.

Oscar had whipped himself into shape. Physically, he looked as fit as ever.

However, I was left to contemplate the difference it would have made had De La Hoya gone through with his promise to throw 50, 60 jabs each round – according to punchstats he landed only 40 the entire fight – or hounded Mayweather mercilessly.

Oscar advanced on Mayweather, but never with sufficient eagerness to sap the challenger’s deep stamina reserves. Had De La Hoya jabbed repeatedly and let more bursts of punches go it would surely have made a significant difference. The jab was his most effective punch, but used so sparingly.

But, as Oscar explained and many might not appreciate, Mayweather is a difficult fighter to pin down and hit easily. Oscar was made to miss frequently and didn’t want to either look foolish swiping air or leave himself open to stinging counters.

Instead, he often waited too long to let his punches go, preferring to sneak the points by opening up on Mayweather’s body whenever the challenger attempted to hold.

This was an effective tactic, though one Mayweather soon learned how to defuse, by not engaging De La Hoya in the final 10 seconds and staying clear of the ropes.

Even if, as Mayweather claimed, Oscar’s punches hit mostly arms and gloves during those attacks, in the eyes of the judges and fans, the “Golden Boy” was scoring.

However, there were few sessions I could call dominant for either fighter. The judges agreed in seven of the 12 sessions – rounds one, five, six and 11 for Mayweather and two, four and seven for De La Hoya. That meant that five rounds were up for grabs.

It surprised me that in the close rounds the judges didn’t side with De La Hoya, who so clearly had the backing of the fans, was
the one going forwards and produced the eye-catching work.

“The crowd was for De La Hoya. He chose the [Reyes] gloves, the site and weight class. There were 16,000 rooting for him. But popularity and fame don’t win fights,” said Mayweather.

Surprising also was the power in Mayweather’s punches and the challenger, really a welterweight at best though the betting favourite, elected to shoot mostly single blows, superbly fast lead left hooks, jabs and rights, rather than his trademark combinations.

mayweather-de-la-hoya

It was a risky strategy, but Mayweather coped brilliantly with the pressure when it seemed to most the fight was slipping away. He retained his composure from beginning to end, entering the ring with rapper 50 Cent by his side and wearing a sombrero as his uncle and trainer Roger used to do. He also wore trunks in the colours of the Mexican flag, with it being a Mexican public holiday.

That didn’t win the crowd over. They booed him into the ring and jeered when he left, clearly unhappy with the outcome of the fight.

But Mayweather went about his business as if he didn’t hear them. He didn’t panic that Oscar might be nicking rounds, because he was so sure he was outboxing De La Hoya and that he would make certain of victory in the later rounds.

Mayweather took the first, making Oscar miss several times, even cleverly pulling his stomach out of the way of a right, and picking off the champion with quick left hooks as he stayed on the outside.

In the second, though, Oscar came out working the jab effectively. But for some reason he didn’t sustain it.

Mayweather didn’t neglect his, though the crowd cheered for De La Hoya, who avoided a right to land one of his own and make his opponent smile. De La Hoya was not going to overwhelm the smaller man, even if Oscar came out firing to the body in the third and then sent Floyd’s head back with a right. More chants of “Oscar, Oscar…” reverberated around the arena.

Mayweather landed two solid rights later in the round, but was boxing as though he had a lot more in reserve. He finished the round well, although De La Hoya knocked him off balance with a potent jab.

Although De La Hoya took command of centre ring, he allowed Mayweather too much time and space. Only in close, when angrily firing both hands, was he scoring with telling shots. Mayweather tried holding, but Oscar worked his free hand vigorously to the body.

Again, though, Mayweather finished the round commandingly, standing his ground more, shooting out straight rights. He didn’t like it, though, when Oscar got in a glancing combination as the bell sounded, before referee Kenny Bayless could intervene.

Mayweather came back in the fifth, when displaying fine defensive work and looking strong. He fired repeatedly straight rights and one stiffened De La Hoya’s legs slightly.

Early in the sixth, Mayweather brilliantly landed a right uppercut, dipped his knees to duck a countering left hook, and stepped to the side. He scored with a beautiful left hook up and down, but then made the mistake of going to the ropes and allowing Oscar to flurry.

Mayweather took another right when against the ropes and later a left hook, making it a close round. I went for Oscar.

It was interestingly poised going into the second half. De La Hoya started the seventh solidly, hard jabs driving back Mayweather. Periodically, Oscar was invited to test Mayweather’s defence with combinations. Floyd wasn’t attacking enough. It was another round for the champion.

Floyd needed to pick up the pace in the eighth, but concentrated on throwing single punches, mostly jabs and hooks.

Though De La Hoya had another good spell attacking with Floyd against the ropes, the champion seemed tense and was nailed by a darting right, Mayweather’s best punch thus far.

The crowd tried to lift De La Hoya, but Mayweather was boxing with greater finesse, standing close enough to land and slip out of distance in case the champion tried to reply. Oscar didn’t have great success until the end, when Mayweather held but had his head whipped back by a left.

From the ninth, though, I had Mayweather in command. For the first time he let a flurry go, the type of shots that dismantled Arturo Gatti so impressively.

Even when Oscar pinned Mayweather on the ropes and attacked, Floyd parried brilliantly, like no one in the sport today can.

Mayweather made sure he didn’t lose the round by keeping his distance as the session came to a close.

Floyd took a sharp countering right early in the 10th but replied with a fabulous right to the jaw. De La Hoya held for the first time. The challenger followed up with a right uppercut, made De La Hoya squander three or four shots and then, catching Oscar square, rocked the champion back with a right as the round ended.

In the 11th, Mayweather, so superbly balanced and quick-handed, stepped it up further. He dominated. Oscar shook out his arms, as if feeling lethargic.

Floyd launched further strikes to body and head, though De La Hoya came back with a jarring right to the jaw seconds before the bell.

The 12th was open to interpretation. It was too close to call with De La Hoya having big moments bombarding the body with both hands and Mayweather, faster and sharper than the champion, scoring with single rights.

I thought a flurry from De La Hoya late on had nicked the round, but then Mayweather hit back hard with a right, buckling Oscar’s knees. Floyd then pelted the champion with a left hook as they exchanged for the first time in a dramatic finale.

As soon as it was over, Mayweather reached out to hug his opponent, bad feelings put aside. Oscar then raised his arms and the crowd let out the sort of scream that let it be know where their allegiance rested.

Read: The top 15 biggest grossing gates in Las Vegas’ history

After the scores were declared to dissenting chants and the crowd had long dispersed, there was more drama when De La Hoya’s partner at Golden Boy, Richard Schaefer, announced a possible mistake when calculating the scores – that one for Mayweather should have indeed gone the other way.

The Nevada commissioner denied any wrongdoing.

De La Hoya, as ever, took defeat graciously, shook Mayweather’s hand and embraced him, praising the champion’s skills. “You have to respect the judges,” said De La Hoya.

“Mayweather’s a fast fighter, talented. But my jab failed me. But it also has to do with Floyd’s style.”

“We graced the fans with a hell of a fight,” said Mayweather, although it wasn’t as riveting as he suggested but none the less was exciting by Floyd’s standards.

“I kept thinking, “How did he beat all these guys when he doesn’t move his head?’ I thought I won easily. I was hooking him to death,” said Mayweather, whose eyes were slightly swollen whereas De La Hoya was relatively unmarked.

“He tried to steal rounds. It reminded me of Hagler-Leonard, but you cant steal rounds taking punches to the face.

“Everybody talked about his big left hook, but I saw it coming. He does have a good chin.”

Mayweather had talked a good fight, promising a knockout, but much of what he said was to boost pay-per-view and closed circuit sales and not to be taken literally. That’s just another reason to take with a pinch of salt, his decision to quit.

“As of now I’m sticking to my word. I don’t know what the future holds,” he said. “I’ve done everything I wanted to in this sport. I beat the best from 130 [9st 4lbs] to 154 [11st] and made a lot of money. You can’t stop God’s work. What’s meant to be is meant to be. Right now I am officially retired.”

May 3, 2018
May 3, 2018
Sugar Ray Robinson

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TIME has done little to distort the image of near-perfection which is Sugar Ray Robinson.

Many years have passed since he last fought and, to the end of a staggering 25-year career, Robinson remained extraordinary: a master boxer, wonderfully proportioned, steel-chinned, iron-willed, a chilling puncher blessed with dazzling speed who would always knock his opponent out if the chance presented itself.

Robinson knew how to do just about everything – except, perhaps, hang up his gloves at the right time.

Like so many of the greats, Sugar Ray, our No. 1 choice, was transfixed by glory and adulation and finished on a loss, a 10-round points defeat by Joey Archer, who couldn’t punch particularly hard, yet knocked him down.

Indeed it would be grudging to allow the minor setbacks at the tail-end of an astonishing career to offset his fabulous achievements.

Anyone who saw Robinson fight will acknowledge he was the best, as will nearly all his opponents, with the possible exception of the sturdy Gene Fullmer, who beat him in two of four (one draw) meetings.

Robinson, world welterweight champion from 1946 until 1949 and five-time world middleweight king between 1951 and 1960 (a record), packed up for good on December 10, 1965, a month after his final contest.

Amazingly, only 15 months separate the end of his career and the beginning of Roberto Duran’s, but Sugar Ray was 45 when the curtain came down for good. He had first retired on December 18, 1952, six months after suffering his sole inside-the-distance defeat in 202 contests – against Joey Maxim for the world light-heavy title – but couldn’t resist the lure of the ring.

Sugar Ray thought he could. His mother, Marie, who watched most of his fights, had always told him, “Get out when you’re ready, not when you’re through”.

It was smart advice. “There ain’t nothing or anyone who can get me back in the ring,” Ray insisted in 1953.

Robinson, despite saying the training had become harder leading up to the Maxim fight, grew bored with dancing on the night-club circuit – apparently a brilliant dancer – and announced his return on October 20, 1954, boxing another 65 times over the next 11 years.

From the slicked-back hair – always neatly in place – to his primed physique, not overly muscular but defined and loose, Robinson, who was almost 6ft tall, majestic, handsome and charming, was as close to the consummate fighting machine as the world had seen.

He possessed sharp reflexes, amazing agility, a vicious punch in either hand, grace, accurate timing, clever footwork, the ability to take a blow and attack going in any direction. He had a unique stance: the left hand held low – always ready to counter – the right fist unclenched, tucked slightly under and to the left of his chin.

He moved on the balls of his feet, always balanced perfectly and poised to spring into action. Robinson controlled opponents with his jab, could dart at his foes with amazing precision, sometimes doubling and trebling his slashing left hooks – often aimed to head and body in the same attack – and landing them like bolts of lightning.

Sugar Ray may have appeared open to hooks and the right over the top, but no one was able to take advantage. The closest he came to getting knocked out was by Artie Levine, who dropped him with a left hook for nine in the fifth before getting stopped in the 10th of their 1946 meeting.

Often, though, Robinson’s rivals never knew what to expect. Rarely did he allow his foes much time to settle and he was always fit. The doctor who examined Robinson before he stopped Jean Walzack in six in Liege in 1951 said he was the fittest man he had ever met.  There can be no disputing he was the supremo.

Muhammad Ali, the former world heavyweight king whom we rated No. 2 in our all-time list, said so and Sugar Ray Leonard added, “There was no comparison between us. He was the best”.

Born Walker Smith Jnr in a flat in Black Bottom, Detroit on May 3, 1921, Robinson grew up on 662 Henry Street before the family moved during the deep depression to Harlem, New York when the skinny boy was 12.

Two years later he started boxing on a show in Kingston, New York. George Gainford, a big man of about 6ft and almost 15st who forged a partnership with Ray for his entire career, matched him with a kid of a similar build.

Robinson was not registered, so Gainford reached into his pocket to produce an old card of a fighter named Ray Robinson. The legend was born.

Soon Sugar Ray was earning well in “bootleg” bouts to support his family, quitting school when he was young. He got into scrapes on ‘ the streets, but says his sister often stood up for him.

Robinson turned professional at 20 (October 4, 1940), having won all 89 amateur contests (63 inside the distance) – including a decision over Willie Pep, our No.6 – climbing off the floor to stop Joe Echevarria, one of seven men to knock him down, in the second.

His final and lasting retirement came after suffering his fifth defeat of 1964. Ten of his 18 points setbacks took place after 1962, when his skills had eroded, his timing slower and his blows had lost some bite. But Robinson could still mix with the best right until the end, even if much of his greatness had worn off. He won 175 times, scoring more knockouts or stoppages (110) than modern great Julio Cesar Chavez has had fights.

He drew on six occasions and was stopped only once, through heat exhaustion (temperatures reached 106 degrees) when he failed to answer the bell for the 14th round against Maxim at Yankee Stadium, New York in June 1952.

“Maxim [below left] was lucky to stand up to the heat better than I was,” he said. “It was too hot for walking let alone fighting. Maxim was nothing. He didn’t hit me for 10 rounds.”

RobinsonMaxim

It was a boiling, incredible night. Even referee Ruby Goldstein failed to last the course, unable to come out for the 10th and being replaced by Ray Miller. But Sugar Ray, who at 11st 3 1/2lbs was lighter than any other world light-heavyweight title challenger in history bar Ted ‘Kid’ Lewis (knocked out in two minutes 15 seconds by Georges Carpentier in June 1922), was still way ahead on points when the finish came against a champion who outweighed him by 15 1/2lbs and, a year previously, had gone 15 rounds with Ezzard Charles for the world heavyweight title.

Sugar Ray perhaps paid the price for setting such a torrid pace and it was too one-sided to be called thrilling, but his amazing performance was comparable today with, say, a welterweight Oscar De La Hoya outclassing super-middleweight Joe Calzaghe.

Robinson, as weak as a kitten, was carried back to his changing room and put under a cold shower. He and Gainford were criticised for trying to bridge the gap in weight – a venture taken all too often these days – and The Ring magazine even suggested a ban should be imposed to prevent fighters from doing so again.

But there’s more. Much more. Robinson, who had an ego to match his heart and skill and hated to fly or travel by boat, won his first 40 fights before losing on points to great rival Jake LaMotta, ‘The Bronx Bull’ (Sugar Ray claimed he paid the price for not training properly), and went undefeated in his next 89 bouts (two draws and one No Contest) before Leamington Spa’s Randy Turpin dethroned him over 15 rounds in a huge shock at Earls Court in July 1951.

Sugar Ray was really only a light-middle, but the 11st division didn’t exist back then.

Turpin, big for his weight, fought brilliantly. “Ray made the first move every time,” he said. “When he moved, I moved. When he feinted, I feinted. When he ducked, I ducked. I watched him more carefully then a cat watches a mouse.”

Robinson congratulated his conqueror: “There’s no doubt he was the better fighter,” he admitted. “For once, I just didn’t have it.”

But Ray made his excuses. “I was sold out from all the travelling [on his European tour]. It wasn’t the fights, but never sleeping in the same bed for more than two nights. My eyes were tired. He punches pretty good, but the return won’t go 15 rounds. I’ll get the title back.”

He was right. Randy lost the return 64 days later at the Polo Grounds, New York before a crown of 61,370.  For nine rounds Robinson again could not get to grips with the Briton – until he suffered a terrible cut over the (same) left eye which had required stitches in the first clash.

Sugar Ray saw red – literally – and shifted gears almost instantly, forcing a conclusive finish in the 10th as he dropped Randy with a huge right hand. Turpin took a count of nine, went to the ropes, where he thought he would be safe, and was subjected to a furious fusillade of blows before he was rescued, still trying to bob and weave, with eight seconds left in the round.

No one knows how he stayed on his feet, though many, to this day, say Turpin was robbed of glory. A fighter had been killed just days earlier and many say that influenced referee Goldstein’s decision to step in.

Whatever, it was reported in Britain that because four million had switched on lights and radios during the night to listen to the BBC’s broadcast, burning an estimated 70 tons of coal, the British electricity authority would find itself short of power in the forthcoming winter.

The American Press called it Robinson’s finest hour, but Sugar Ray had greater moments. It is still argued he was at his peak as a welter, particularly as his record in the world middleweight title bouts was only 8-6-1, but there were few fighters he failed to unravel and he fought all sorts in an age and division where knockovers rarely existed.

Robinson tackled all the great champions of his day. LaMotta said he boxed Sugar Ray so many timed he was surprised he didn’t get diabetes. “All our fights were close,” he said. “But that’s why we fought six times [Robinson won five]. He knew he was in a fight – and so did I.

“I fought the greatest fighter of them all. We stood toe-to-toe and banged away. No foul ‘ blows. Most times I had to chase him. I had to be in superb condition.”

Robinson stopped LaMotta in the 13th in their final meeting before a crowd of 14,802 at Chicago Stadium in February 1951. Having outscored Jake four times previously, Sugar Ray, who collected $22,340 – the smaller share – tried desperately, but failed to floor his great rival, who had never before hit the canvas in 95 fights.

“I thought the fight was even for six rounds and that he shaded me in the seventh and eighth,” admitted Robinson. “But I purposely let him gain false confidence. Then I got tired of hitting him. It was the shortened punches in the late rounds that did the trick.”

Robinson’s finishing attack was described as “frenzied”. And referee Frank Sikora stopped the slaughter with Jake on his feet but helpless on the ropes. LaMotta’s lips were almost too swollen for him to speak. He left the ring under his own steam, but received oxygen. Jake’s wife Vicki, a “Miss America”, said her husband had struggled to make the weight.

Henry Armstrong, whom we ranked No. 4 all-time great and held the world feather, light and welterweight titles simultaneously, lost over 10 rounds to Sugar Ray in New York in August 1943, shortly before Robinson joined the army.

Armstrong was 30, Robinson 23, though it was Henry’s sole blemish during a 19-fight spell. Armstrong accused Robinson of running. “He was clever,” admitted Henry.

But Robinson said he fought that way because Armstrong was a friend and needed the money. Sugar Ray claimed Henry, his idol who had fallen on hard times, had phoned him and pleaded for the fight. “It’s difficult fighting a fellow you look up to,” said Robinson. “You don’t have a feel for fighting a friend.”

At the age of 32 Sugar Ray Leonard, a modern-day champion in five divisions, had boxed 36 times and started to slide,
whereas Robinson, who fought in a tougher era, was about 13 years away from retirement and had compiled a record of 127-2-2 with one No Contest. Leonard was undoubtedly superb, but Robinson better.

Rocky Graziano, who won the world middleweight title from Tony Zale, “The Man of Steel”, in 1947 and was 21 fights unbeaten before facing Robinson, said of their April 1952 confrontation: “I thought I was going to lick him. I had him down [a flash knockdown] in the second, but Robinson is the greatest fighter I ever fought. Pound-for-pound, he was a fantastic fighter.”

Graziano, knocked down in the third when his gumshield was sent spinning into the crowd, had one more fight, a points defeat by Chuck Davey, before retiring.

Yet Robinson had gone 15 rounds with Carl ‘Bobo’ Olson only a month earlier.

Millions watched the Graziano fight on TV. A crowd of 22,264 paid to get in at the Chicago Stadium. “I feinted and them hit him on the chin [with a superb right],” said Robinson, describing the finish. He had moved anti-clockwise for a second to confuse his opponent.

Olson, who became world middleweight king after two defeats by Robinson, also said: “Robinson was the best. He had no one to challenge him when I came along. He couldn’t be beat at the time. I was confident, but he stopped me [in 12 in October 1950].

“I fought him again in 1952, went the full distance and lost by two points. Robinson was the greatest fighter who ever lived. I was glad to go 15 rounds with him and come close.”

They fought twice more, on December 1955 and May 1956, with Olson – who lived a secret life for years with two women and two sets of kids – losing in two and four rounds respectively.

Still, Olson went on to take Maxim the distance in his next fight, draw with Giulio Rinaldi, who had outscored light-heavyweight great Archie Moore, and lasted the course with quality operators like Johnny Persol and former Olympic champion Pete Rademacher.

Robinson fought 14 world champions in all, comprising 33 contests. He defeated all but three of them, probably because of age. Twice he outpointed tough ex-world lightweight champion Sammy Angott.

Fritz Zivic [below right], who had 232 fights and was crowned champion at 10st 7lbs in 1940 when he outpointed Henry Armstrong, also boxed Robinson twice. Nine months after stopping Armstrong in the 12th round of a rematch, Zivic was outpointed over 10 by Sugar Ray and, in 1942, Robinson recorded one of only four inside-the-distance victories against the Pennsylvanian, stopping him in 10 in New York.

robinsonzivic

The fabulously-slick Cuban, Kid Gavilan, master of the bolo punch which Robinson also perfected and never halted in 143 fights in 15 years as a pro (1943 – 58), beat  Carmen  Basilio, but Sugar Ray outpointed him in both their meetings – a non-title 10-rounder in September 1948 and unanimously over 15 difficult rounds for the world welterweight title at the Municipal Hall, Philadelphia in July 1949.

Twenty two months and 26 fights later Gavilan became world champion, just to prove the Cuban Hawk was far from over the hill.

Basilio and Robinson had two memorable meetings, the first at Yankee Stadium in 1957 which Carmen won by a split decision over 15 rounds. When they met again six months later (March 25, 1958) at the Chicago Stadium the result was the same, only in Robinson’s favour.  The blistering contest was shown via satellite from 174 outlets in 143 American cities with 364,876 customers paying more than $1,400,000 at the box-office.

Robinson, eight years older at almost 38 and who earned about $250,000, won the middleweight crown for a record fifth time and threatened to retire again – as undefeated champion. He had struggled to make the weight and the rough, tough Fullmer, who had outpointed him over 15 rounds for the title in January 1957 and lost the rematch four months later, was on stand-by.

Basilio, impervious to pain, had his left eye slammed shut for the last 10 rounds, but said he was never hurt.

“Robinson kept using the right uppercut,” he said. “He knew I bobbed and weaved. He was tall, hard to catch cleanly, but I fought him with one eye. I had ice on the eye for three days to reduce the swelling. But he’d never fight me a third time.”

Sugar Ray didn’t box again until December 1959 – 21 months later – when he stopped Bob Young in the second of a non-title clash in Boston. Then he engaged in two more matches with Fullmer, losing both.

“I was confident I could beat Robinson,” said Fullmer.  “I trained hard and had such a tough time getting the fight. He wasn’t the greatest where I was concerned. My style gave him more trouble than most. My fights with him weren’t my toughest other than he knocked me out that time [with the sweetest left hook in the fifth round in May 1957, the only time Fullmer was ever knocked out in 64 fights].

“He held a lot and complained a lot too because I was rabbit-punching.

“He liked to punch at long range. I learned how to cut the ring off and keep from getting hit on the chin as I was getting in close.

“I think it made me a better fighter after he knocked me out. I understood it could happen. I don’t know anything about the punch except what I have seen on the video. The first thing I knew, I was standing up and Robinson was in the other corner. There was no pain, nothing.”

Robinson should have retired after the last defeat by Fullmer. He was approaching 41 and his record – 32-11-3 1 NC – over the final five years of his career illustrates his decline.

At worst, Robinson could still muster a good opening round, when his arms and legs were fresh, but struggled to manage that against Joey Giardello in Philadelphia in June 1963.

Sugar Ray never ran short of gusto, though. He tried hard over the final three rounds to find a way to win – having lost the previous seven and taken a count of eight in the fourth from a left hook – but as one American writer put it, “Even my typewriter is running out of tears”.

Britain’s Terry Downes also had the advantage of youth against Robinson – though Giardello was 33 – and outpointed the former champ over 10 before a packed house at Wembley in September 1962, five months after the cockney, then 26, had lost his world crown to Paul Pender, who two years previously had outpointed the Sugarman twice in 15 rounders for the same title. Downes didn’t give the 42-year-old Robinson a moment’s rest and Britain was not a successful hunting patch for the great American.

He loved Europe, but lost three of four appearances in the UK; a controversial decision against Mick Leahy in Paisley in September 1964 followed the next month by his sole success – a sixth-round stoppage against teak-tough Nigerian Johnny Angel at the Hilton Hotel in London in October 1964.

In only five of the first 21 years of Robinson’s career did he fail to face a future or former world champion: 1953 (because he was retired), and 1954 and 1959 (because he boxed only once).

By the time Robinson was 30 and around his prime, he had earned well, though most of his money was tied up in property and businesses. He cared for his close family, particularly his mother, who had raised him (when Ray’s father had left home) and paid 25 cents for Robinson’s first boxing lesson at the Brewster Recreation Centre, where Joe Louis, who became his close friend, also learned to fight.

Sugar Ray never had much loose cash. His money went on his huge travelling 20-strong entourage which included a trumpet player and barber. Robinson, who drove an open-top pink Cadillac, denied it was a circus and insisted every member had an important role to play.

Perhaps he was just being modest, but Robinson didn’t consider himself the best. He never lacked confidence, though. In an interview in 1951 Sugar Ray said, “I don’t think I’m so great. When I hit a fellow and he goes down, I say to myself, ‘I don’t know how that happened’. It just happens.

“Someone said I was the best fighter since Benny Leonard, but I never saw him fight and don’t know how I fit with him.”

Robinson had natural ability in abundance. He was a dancer, quick on his feet and with his hands. His trainer maximised Robinson’s talents.

“He showed me how to punch so as not to hurt my hands and how to keep from getting hit,” he said.

“Some champions were accused of not fighting enough, but I was accused of fighting too much. You never quit learning from the men you meet, whether you win, lose or draw.

“I got a kick out of being champion. But if you can’t act like one out of the ring, how can you be one inside?”

Robinson, who in August 1950 retained his world welterweight title on points over 15 rounds against Charlie Fusari in Jersey City and gave his entire $33,120 purse to the Damon Runyon Cancer Fund, said the secret to his success was to keep his mind and legs in shape. “I always got that part right,” he said.

“I had pride, and a lot of it. After Turpin beat me – fair and square – I watched a tape of the fight and didn’t realise how bad I’d looked. But lightning doesn’t strike twice in the same place.”

Sugar Ray, a keen golfer, liked the good life, but didn’t drink or smoke. He trained hard, often going into camp, running in the mornings, sparring in the afternoons and walking in the evenings. He enjoyed the mountains, the fresh air, the sound of the trees in the wind. He liked to reach his peak a few days before a fight and then hold it.

“If it hadn’t been for boxing I could have been a hoodlum or a gangster,” he said.

“I escaped all that. I got to be a big man in boxing. I figure boxing was good for me. It could be I was lucky.

“You have to sacrifice to be a fighter. George [Gainford] taught me everything. He taught me how not to argue with people.”

Robinson’s success continued long after his retirement. In 1969 he started Sugar Ray’s Youth Foundation in downtown Los Angeles, where he worked until his death, aged 67, because of heart failure on April 12, 1989.

He had been ill with Alzheimer’s Disease for some time and had perhaps forgotten much of what he had achieved.

But it is extremely doubtful, particularly with the trend of boxers’ careers shortening, his like will be seen again.

May 2, 2018
May 2, 2018
Manny Pacquiao

Action Images/Reuters/Steve Marcus

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WITH one of the best punches he has ever thrown, Manny Pacquiao knocked out Ricky Hatton in the second round on this day (May 2) in 2009 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.

“I’m surprised the fight was so easy,” Pacquiao said. “He was wide open for the right hook. I knew he would be looking for my left.”

The humble Hatton was heartbroken: “It was a hard loss but I’m OK,” he said. “I really didn’t see the punch coming but it was a great shot. I know I’ll be OK.”

The fight was originally cancelled as the two sides could not agree on how to split the purse. They eventually agreed upon a 52-48 split in favour of Manny Pacquiao. With this split, Pacquiao received a guaranteed 12 million dollars, with Hatton expected to receive around $8m.

In the post-fight interview the Pacquiao was ever gracious in victory: “This was nothing personal. I was just doing my job. This was as big for me as the Oscar De La Hoya victory.”

All photos: Action Images/Reuters

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May 1, 2018
May 1, 2018
Floyd Mayweather

Action Images/Reuters/Steve Marcus

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FLOYD MAYWEATHER overcame a rocky start to win a lopsided decision over 38-year-old Shane Mosley at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on this day seven years ago (May 1, 2010). The unbeaten Mayweather endured the rockiest moments of his career in the second round when a huge right hand from Mosley buckled his knees a minute in to the session. He was forced to grab and spoil to weather the storm.

“It’s a contact sport, and you’re going to get hit,” Mayweather said. “But when you get hit, you suck it up and keep on fighting. That’s what I did. I’m happy we finally had a chance to fight. This is a fight the fans have been looking forward to for a long time, and they deserve it.”

Shane landed a similar punch again later in the round, but couldn’t build on the success as Mayweather regained control to outbox his veteran opponent for the rest of the fight. Two judges scored it 119-109 for Mayweather, while the third had it 118-110. All officials had him winning everything past the second round.

“I caught him with my big right hand and I tried to move around but by that time he was too quick and I was too tight,” Mosley said. “After the right hand I thought I needed to knock him out and I needed to do it sooner than later. But I couldn’t adjust and he did.”

The man they call “Money” lived up to his moniker with a guaranteed $22.5 million plus a percentage of the pay-per-view revenue, and Mosley was guaranteed $7 million. Mayweather earned around $40 million after the pay-per-view totals were calculated.

All photos: Action Images/Reuters/Steve Marcus

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April 27, 2018
April 27, 2018
gene fullmer

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HOW good was former world middleweight champion Gene Fullmer, who died on April 27, 2015 at the age of 83? Well, he lost just one of four fights with the man most rate as the greatest ever, Sugar Ray Robinson – and if the latter was past his best by then, it was still a notable achievement.

Fullmer campaigned at a time when there were plenty of quality fighters and the world titles – in just eight weight divisions – were for the most part still undisputed. But true fight fans appreciate the achievements of a boxer who had only 64 pro fights (55 wins, including 24 inside the distance, six defeats and three draws) but who boxed 13 times for a world middleweight title.

The nickname “Cyclone” gives away the fighting style of the man from the small town of West Jordan, Utah.

The 5ft 8ins Fullmer was a pressure-fighter, a durable crowd-pleaser who got stuck in and punched away all night long.

It was a style for which he paid a price in later years. Gene spent his final few months at a Salt Lake County care centre, suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia, although it was a bacterial infection that finally put him down for the count.

His brother Jay, a pro welterweight who boxed from 1956-60, had passed away just five days earlier. The youngest of these three boxing brothers, 1968 world middleweight title challenger Don, died in 2012.

Gene turned out to be the most successful of the lot, turning pro in 1951 after an amateur career that saw just four losses from 70 bouts. The former apprentice welder in a Utah copper mine made swift progress, not losing until 1955 when Gil Turner outpointed him in New York. He beat Turner twice in returns and by January 1957 was challenging Robinson for the world middleweight title at Madison Square Garden.

He was a big underdog, but in front of 18,134 fans clearly dethroned the 36-year-old champion on cards of 10-5, 9-6 and 8-5-2 in rounds. In the second a short right to the jaw caught the challenger but, this paper reported, “To Robinson’s amazement and Fullmer’s delight the blow had no effect, and it was obvious that the challenger was as durable as his reputation suggested.”

Emboldened, Fullmer kept taking the fight to the champion and in round seven a right-left to the body put Robinson down for a count of six. Ray was also cut on the left eye and lost without doubt, conceding of Fullmer: “He is good, though I have seen better – and worse – champions.”

But the return four months later in Chicago produced a dramatic reversal of fortune when a Robinson left hook put Gene down for the count in round five.

Read: Top 10 greatest middleweights of all time

It was Fullmer’s first inside-the-distance loss and one of only two he would ever suffer (the other came in his last fight, against Dick Tiger in August 1963).

By 1959 the world middleweight crown was split and Gene won the National Boxing Association version with a 14th-round stoppage of former welter champ Carmen Basilio. He would retain seven times, including another stoppage of Basilio (two rounds quicker), draws against future champ Joey Giardello and Robinson, both in 1960, plus a points win over a 40-year-old Robinson in March 1961.

But when Tiger took the title off him in 1962 the ride was over, with Fullmer failing to gain his revenge in two rematches, a draw and a seventh-round retirement loss.

After boxing, he ran a mink ranch in Utah and gave financial support to his Mormon church. He was elected to the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1991.

April 26, 2018
April 26, 2018
James Toney

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IN the summer of 1999 James Toney launched a serious campaign that was focused on ending with a major cruiserweight belt strapped around the Ann Arbour warrior’s waist. It would not be easy and many critics were out in force telling anyone who would listen how the 30 year old former middleweight and super-middleweight ruler had peaked; his talents and gifts largely squandered.

“Lights Out” was done, these people said; and Toney, a notorious on-and-off hard worker in the place that mattered, the gym, would not become a three-weight world champion. But Toney, one of the finest “born fighters” in history, was not listening, and neither was his current trainer, Freddie Roach, a man who had been brought up the old-school way himself, taught as he was by the incomparable Eddie Futch.

Toney, who had lost widely to Roy Jones in their big super-middleweight showdown in 1994 and had since dropped closer decisions to Montell Griffin (twice) and, shockingly, Drake Thadzi, was not the same force as a light-heavyweight as he had been as a 168 pounder – what made him feel he would be able to take on and beat the best at an even higher poundage, the “experts” demanded to know. Again, Toney wasn’t listening.

After reeling off eight or nine decent wins over good if not great cruisers – guys like Saul Montana, Michael Rush and Jason Robinson giving Toney work, each fight seeing the rededicated former champ get into better and better physical shape – Toney had earned himself a shot at Vassiliy Jirov. Jirov, unbeaten at 31-0, was not only the reigning IBF cruiserweight king; he was in the opinion of most THE best cruiserweight in the world.

A former Olympian who had made five retentions of the belt he had won in June of 1999, Jirov could perhaps have been referred to as an old-school fighter himself; he, like Toney, having a number of non-title bouts whilst reigning as world champ. Style-wise, though, there was no comparison between the two. Toney was slicker than slick, a master at slipping shots as well as placing them, and James knew how to pace himself in a fight. Jirov was a non-stop train who routinely threw a gazzillion punches in a fight, he was not at all hard to hit yet his chin was seemingly carved from timber, and Vassiliy was a southpaw.

It was Jirov’s youth (28 to Toney’s 30 not being too wide but the perception was Toney had aged considerably due to allowing his weight to balloon between fights; his skills having eroded somewhat as a result) and sheer work-rate that convinced most that Toney would take something of a hiding on the night of April 26, 2003. Toney, as lazy in some of his fights as he could often be in the gym, would not be allowed to rest for a second in this fight.

What followed on HBO Boxing After Dark proved memorable for a number of reasons.

Some fights can be referred to as ‘a joy to watch,’ and this was the case here. Both fighters saw their reputation elevated, so good, so great, was the two-way action. Jirov was as aggressive as ever, while Toney quite simply put on a masterpiece of in-fighting and making his man pay with hard, sickening counter-punches. Toney’s right hand, so effective a weapon against a southpaw, was brutally efficient, appearing at times to be laser-guided. Jirov’s famed chin was tested and tested hard. The body punching, from both sides, was also quite incredible.

Soon swollen up around the face (nothing uncommon for a Jirov fight) and fighting fatigue, it was the younger, supposedly fresher fighter who was suffering. Toney was breathing hard himself, digging deeper than he had dug in years. The fight, one that seemed to whiz by so engrossing was the fierce, quality punching, also appeared to be close, very close. Roach, sensing this, bellowed into Toney’s ear how he had to “put this man on his ass!”

Toney, again having paced himself superbly, came out in the 12th and final round and did just as Roach commanded. Jirov, looking shocked, hurt and dead-tired, did well to clamber back up from the heavy knockdown. Had Toney done enough? James wasn’t sure himself (despite his later post-fight boasts) and he knelt in a corner as he awaited the verdict. Jirov had been docked a point for a low blow in round-eight, yet this aside it was a surprise when the scores were announced: 117-109, 117-109 and 116-110, all to Toney – the brand new IBF cruiserweight champion of the world.

The right man won, even if the fight, a modern day classic, was a lot closer than the scores indicated. Toney, now 66-4-2(45) had seen his career revived in one big, big way. Fight of The Year accolades showered the great fight he had just won and then, in another, even bigger surprise that showed once again how special a fighter Toney really was, he moved up to heavyweight! Toney scored a handful of notable wins here too.

Toney put on, throughout his incredible near-30 year pro career, quite a few special performances. For some, his greatest nights came when he pitted his wits and his skills against those belonging to Mike McCallum, for others Toney shone most brightly the night he sliced and diced Iran Barkley. But for many, the night fifteen years ago when “Lights Out” became the first man to beat Jirov ranks as his finest ring display. It was Toney’s cruiserweight masterpiece.