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January 30, 2019
January 30, 2019
Roberto Duran

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DATE: January 30, 1982

LOCATION: Caesars Palace, Las Vegas, NV

WEIGHTS/RECORDS: Wilfred Benitez (152 1/4lbs), 43-1-1. Roberto Duran (152 1/2lbs), 74-2.

TITLES/SCHEDULE: WBC light-middleweight title/15 rounds

WHAT HAPPENED: Duran was still haunted by his infamous ‘No Mas’ surrender to Sugar Ray Leonard from 18 months before, while Benitez – still only 23 – was three years removed from his loss to the American superstar. The Puerto Rican was a defensive wizard, and was expected to display elusive tactics against the pressure of Duran. Instead, though, he went toe-to-toe with Duran, and defeated the Panamanian at his own game.

“I wanted to beat him at his fight, to show him I was the champion,” Benitez explained afterwards.

The scores were close in the champion’s favour  – 145-141, 144-141, 143-142 – but the vast majority of observers felt that Benitez dominated. Mickey Duff, the British promoter, scored Benitez the victor by eight points whereas Duran was only given two rounds by legendary American trainer, Eddie Futch.

It was expected that Duran – inferior in strength and speed – would retire after the fight. “I wanted to put more pressure on him but my body wouldn’t let me,” said Roberto while explaining his performance.

RESULT: Benitez w pts 15 Duran.

WHAT HAPPENED NEXT: Benitez was thought to be at his prime but it turned out to be his last great performance. In December 1982, he was comprehensively beaten by Thomas Hearns in a disappointing bout. Losses over the next few years to Mustafa Hamsho, Davey Moore and Matthew Hilton followed before his career, and form, plummeted alarmingly. By the time he eventually retired in 1990, aged just 32, he was badly damaged by boxing… READ THE TRAGEDY OF WILFRED BENITEZ

Duran, meanwhile, decided not to retire. A loss to Kirkland Laing in 1982 appeared to confirm his slump but he would rebound to batter Davey Moore in 1983 for the WBA light-middleweight title and then (eventually) rebound from a horror loss to Hearns to stun WBC middleweight champion Iran Barkley in 1989. He fought on, with mixed results, until 2001… DURAN’S FINEST HOUR

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January 29, 2019
January 29, 2019
Mike Tyson vs Julius Francis

Action Images/Nick Potts

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WE now know Mike Tyson can still put bums on seats and vastly inferior heavyweights on their bums.

A sell-out crowd of 21,000 at the MEN Arena witnessed a predictable two-round demolition of British champion Julius Francis.

The exercise, to make Tyson appear devastating, was a success and lasted a mere four minutes three seconds. The Londoner was down five times, twice in the first.

The result reveals little about Tyson’s ability to perform in esteemed company again. We knew he would be too good for Francis.

By his own admission, Tyson is not quite ready for world heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis, who opted to remain in Jamaica rather than partake in some ringside commentary.

His absence was noted and didn’t surprise anyone. But Tyson’s extraordinary two-week stay in Britain generated enough interest with Lewis to ensue the match – if it can be made – will become one of the most expensive in the sport’s history.

Tyson’s modest self-evaluation has more to do with not wanting to rush into another major contest than any lack of confidence.

“I need a few more rounds and fights before I’m ready. But when I do (fight him), I’m sure I’ll be victorious.”

The former world heavyweight champion returned to America the following morning, destined for Phoenix and more training as he gets read for fellow-New Yorker Lou Savarese, a beatable but more creditable opponent than Francis, in New Jersey on March 25.

Tyson said he hoped to have his next two fights in Europe, not America, where he claims he is “treated like a monster”, but the Savarese match is almost sure to be on home soil.

We can be fairly certain he will return, if not to Britain, then perhaps France, Denmark or Germany, where local promoters are lining up to promote him.

French promoter Michel Acaries held talks with Shelly Finkel, Tyson’s manager, in Manchester last weekend and discussed the possibility of a match beneath the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

“There’s an 80 percent chance,” said Acaries. “But there’s a lot to be organized”.

The idea to stage a match beneath the famous structure has been the 26-year dream of former top French middleweight Jean-Claude Bouttier, who now works for cable TV network Canal Plus.

If successful in march, Tyson will fight again in Europe in June and August, thus completing his contractual obligations with Showtime, his paymasters.

From there, negotiations for a match with Lewis, who must overcome unbeaten Michael Grant in New York on April 29 and either David Tua or Frans Botha in England on July 15, can be put into motion.

Waiting in the wings are the Klitschko brothers Vitali and Wladimir, ringside guests in Manchester.

Vitali, the WBO champion, was not impressed by Tyson’s demonstration of power.

The giant Ukrainian has also stopped Francis – in Germany in April 1998 – taking 127 seconds longer.

“He showed no jab, no combinations and has not improved,” said Klitschko. “I don’t want to be too critical, but the opponent [17st 6 1/2lbs and a little fat according to Tyson] was a human punchbag.”

The undefeated Ukrainian’s wish is to fight Tyson this year, a sure sell-out anywhere in Europe. Asked if he would prefer Lewis or Tyson., Klitschko paused before replaying: “It’s hard to say. Lewis has three belts, but Tyson’s the bigger name. Tyson, I suppose.”

But to Francis, who has always been found wanting at the highest level, Tyson appeared back to his best.

“He’s a great fighter,” said Julius, who handed Tyson a piece of paper at the end of the Press conference and asked for an autograph. “He proved it. He’s a great puncher. Boxing’s a tough game. There’s going to be pain involved. I knew it would be tough.”

Someone asked: “What about the body shots?”

Julius replied with one word: “Painful”.

There is a clear-cut way to beat Tyson – for every punch the American throws, land two in return. But there aren’t many fighters, even today, who are durable, strong, fit and crafty enough to implement the plan.

Tyson can still hit hard. His hands are quick. He showed some nice footwork to create space to throw his h9ooks, uppercuts and body shots. There was slightly more head movement.

The signs are Tyson has worked at this craft in the gym, but Julius was a static target. He didn’t try to tuck up the way he did against Pele Reid a year ago; didn’t box and move as he did against Danny Williams last April.

Francis’ strategy – whatever it was – went out the window as soon as Tyson crashed home his first punches.

Like Michael Spinks, wiped out in 91 seconds in 1988, Francis seemed to forget all he had learned during training in Aldershot.

Any genuine belief that he could win faded with each step Tyson took in his direction.

But to those who questioned his bravery, the south Londoner, like Herbie Hide again Riddick Bowe in 1995, picked himself off the floor several times when he could easily have stayed down.

“I was surprised he kept getting up,” said Tyson. “This is what I want to do every time out, but Julius showed a lot of hear,”

The first knockdown cam from a terrific right uppercut, but it was hard to see precisely which punches did the damage on the other four occasions, particularly the final time.

A few disgruntled fans jeered Francis as he left the ring and thanked them for their support. Tyson was cheered loudly.

When Tyson entered the arena, the roar which greeted the American virtually smothered minority voices of derision.

The atmosphere, unlike the show, was magnificent, the turnout of fighters past and present – Marvin Hagler (who received a great welcome), Nigel Benn, Chris Eubank, Steve Collins, Alan Minter, Lloyd Honeyghan, Dennis Andries, Jeff Fenech, Harry Simon, Johnny Nelson (being touted as a future Tyson opponent), Kevin Lueshing and Ryan Rhodes – splendid.

Tyson came to meet the Press in record time after showering. Usually, he keeps us waiting. And when promoter Frank Warren tried to wrap up the proceedings swiftly – “Last question”, he said – Tyson who seemed to be enjoying himself, replied: “No, I’m all right. I haven’t spoken to these guys for some time.”

It was 12.30am and one or two supporters remained in a virtually empty arena. Tyson sat at a table in the ring with Warren and Finkel either side.

As Tyson spoke, one of the spectators shouted: “Would you like to fight in Manchester again?”

“I’d love to”, replied Tyson. “When are you going to beat Lewis?” another hollered. “One day”, was Tyson’s reply. “We had a lot of fun tonight. Thank you Manchester,” he continued.

In an interview with Sky’s Ian Darke earlier in the week, Tyson spoke of his later egos.

Talking afterwards was Mike the happy family man who had completed his work, not Tyson the fighter.

The other side to the 33-year-old had seen him storm through the hotel lobby on the day of the weigh-in with his minders, stopping to pose for photos with former heavyweight Earnie Shavers and Honeyghan, on his way to the airport.

It was reported he wanted to go home and call the fight off. Tyson returned, weighed in, seemed content again, even though Julius still kept him waiting.

The boxer explained: “I went to fetch my wife and children. I was told they weren’t coming. The kids were sick, but I wanted them to come anyway.”

Warren, who would obviously like to remain involved in Tyson’s plans but is keeping his cards close to his chest, said: “All we’ve asked is that he gets treated the same as anyone else. What damage did it do [letting him into the country]?”

Tyson thanked Jack Straw in his post-fight interview and the Krays for sending him flowers.

Staff at the Midland Hotel in Manchester said they had never seen any personality attract similar interest, not even Princess Diana.

Fans had gathered outside his hotel each day until the fight. Julius was at Old Trafford, where Manchester United won again, and made an appearance at half-time.

The last fortnight was a memorable experience for both. No one was seriously hurt and both were well paid. Those spectators who felt cheated were naïve.

Julius, who will presumably continue his career and defend his domestic crown (Michael Holden, his sparing partner, has been mentioned as a possible challenger), can claim he lasted longer than Spinks, Carl Williams and Bruce Seldon.

His sponsors, The Mirror, must be satisfied their logo, printed on the soles of the Londoner’s boots, received ample exposure.

Tyson made the usual no-nonsense entrance which had the crowd bubbling and, following his victory, as his entourage all celebrated and nodded approvingly to him, Iron Mike showed no trace of elation.

“I’m an American. I’m from Brooklyn and Catskill, New York,” he said, declaring his roots when asked if he would fight in the States again.

Tyson’s display was cool and typically ruthless. But better men, like Evander Holyfield, have revealed a different edge to Tyson’s fighting personality.

Finkel, who once managed Holyfield, is not thinking of going down that road again. The objective is for Tyson to have three more fights before Lewis. But within a year Tyson could heat Lennox and Holyfield could perform one more miracle by defeating his great rival a third time.

There is a greater chance of that scenario unfolding than the three belts (four if you include the IBO) remaining unified for the next 12 months.

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“I’ve got a way to go yet,” admitted Tyson. “I wish I felt as good as everyone said I looked.”

Tyson was not in quite as good shape physically as when I saw him against Orlin Norris in October. Some of his work in the first was scrappy. Many of his hooks and uppercuts missed or were blocked, but his body shots in the second drilled Julius to the ground.

Francis danced when he got in the ring and referee Roy Francis had to warn trainer mark Roe to cut out the verbal and animated exchange of taunts with Tyson’s corner. Steve “Crocodile” Fitch, Tyson’s cheerleader, wore a waistcoat with the words ‘Loved by few, hated by many, but respected by all’ neatly emblazoned on the back. He mad a throat-slitting gesture with his finger, while Roe pointed to the canvass.

With his shaven head and upper lip curled into a snarl, all Francis had going for him was a slight facial resemblance to Holyfield.

Francis got stuck in almost from the start, which wasn’t smart. At the opening bell the American shuffled his gloves and advanced to the middle of the ring, where Julius, conveniently for Tyson, was waiting.

Tyson, a chunky 15st 13 3/4lbs and only 2 ¾ lbs heavier than when he defeated Trevor Berbick in two rounds to first become WBC champion in 1986, missed a jab, but a hard left hook knocked the British champion to one side.

Francis absorbed it well but, instead of getting his jab working, crouched low, almost to Tyson’s level and threw a small flurry of hooks and uppercuts inside, more than anyone really expected him to do, until he missed with a right and hurtled off balance.

Mike was in no hurry to break free from the first clinch as Julius, who nodded to his corner, held tightly.

Tyson then showed some head movement as he tried to find a way inside again. Once there, Francis connected with a solid right to Tyson’s ear. The American didn’t budge.

But then Tyson started blasting with single body shots from both sides. Julius went back to the ropes and held again until the referee separated them.

By now Julius was tentative to punch. He made no attempt to box. Tyson missed a right, then left hook. Two body shots hit arms and elbows.

Surprisingly, the taller Francis was beaten to the punch and knocked back by a jab as he tried to throw one himself, but the sporadic action continued to be punctuated by clinching.

Tyson wiped something from his nose, but there was no damage. He swung and missed with aleft hook aimed at the head, but had success with a right followed by two hooks to the Englishman’s ribs.

With less than a minute to go and Francis being driven back, Tyson upped the pace. Without giving himself much room to manoeuvre, Tyson missed with a mean right, nut a right uppercut sliced through Francis’ guard and collided with his cheek.

Down went the Londoner on all fours. Francis was up slowly at nine, raised his gloves and the ref was satisfied he could continue. Julius tried to jab, but Tyson came at him with another surging, rolling attack.

Julius held for long enough to allow his head to clear, but soon enough Tyson was on the attack again. A right uppercut grazed the side of Francis’ head and Julius was chased to the ropes from more hooks and uppercuts which, luckily for the underdog, missed.

Seconds before the bell, however, Francis was on the floor again. It seemed to come from nothing more than a jab, similar to the blow Michael Watson planted on Benn to bring their superb 1989 fight to an end.

Julius skidded along the canvas on his shorts, his legs up into the air, and he rose at seven, his eyes clear, before heading back to his corner.

The minute interlude seem to pass in seconds. Julius was off his stool first for the next, as though he was eager to go at Tyson, but the pattern continued.

Inside 20 seconds, with Tyson punching intensely, Julius was down a third time. Again, Tyson had struck with body shots, but it was a short right to the head which followed that made Francis fall to his side by a neutral corner.

The British champion crawled up at eight, nodded determinedly when asked if he wished to carry one, but Tyson met him in ring centre, stuck out a jab, shuffled is feet to one side quickly and ripped a savage right hook to the body.

A flanking left uppercut to the temple followed and Julius dropped, rolling on the canvas before rising gingerly at seven.

Francis tried walking into Tyson with his hand high, but was unable to let his punches go. Tyson dipped under a jab, stepped to his right, threw a left hook and, as Francis connected with a right, delivered a right uppercut which seemed to miss a much as it landed.

Nonetheless, Julius went down on his hands and kneed and the referee spread his arms instantly.

The ring was soon filled with bodies and the crowd rose from their sears, like they would at the end of a film at the cinema. There was a loud cheer when Tyson was pronounced the winner. The American claimed the finishing shot was more from a body punch, but I didn’t see it.

Essentially, the outcome was not important. The event hinged on Tyson’s appearance. This was an exhibition.

Such is this man’s mystique that the referee was handed a camera and took a picture of him as Tyson crossed the ring to speak with Showtime’s Jim Gray.

There was another example of this fascination at the post-fight Press conference when Lewis’ assistant-trainer Harold Knight, hired to help Francis, inched his way to Tyson as one would when posing for a holiday snap and asked a cameraman to take a photo.

Tyson says he doesn’t want to be a superstar that he yearns to “hang out”, go for pizza and ice cream like anyone else. That’s a luxury Tyson, despite his astonishing ability to generate money, cannot buy.

READ Mike Tyson’s 10 greatest hits

 

January 28, 2019
January 28, 2019
Muhammad Ali v Joe Frazier

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MUHAMMAD ALI craved revenge over Joe Frazier in 1974. Almost three years had elapsed since “Smokin” Joe won a 15-round decision in their epic opener.

On January 28 he was given the chance and it was staged, again, inside Madison Square Garden. But with both having shed their invincible cloaks – Frazier had been bombed by George Foreman while Ali had split two bouts with Ken Norton – part two lacked the lustre of the original. Nonetheless, the intense dislike intensified between the pair. In the lead up, they were invited to review their first encounter on ABC’s Wide World of Sport. They ended up rucking in the studio, rolling around on the floor as if they were fighting in a bar. It was an ugly spectacle, for which they were both fined, but it heightened the anticipation for their rematch.

Ali began confidently, his jab like a spear, and in the second Frazier staggered under fire. Ali swarmed. Frazier was in trouble. The referee, Tony Perez, believing the round was over, leapt between them and denied Ali his chance for an early win.

“Somebody called ‘bell,'” Perez explained later, “so I stopped them both. Then the gong table yelled, ‘Tony, the round isn’t over.’ Usually I hear the bell, but the bell was defective before the fight. They had to call the electrician to fix it. It was only five to eight seconds.”

When they resumed, to complete the final 10 seconds of action in the session, Frazier had recovered.

Ali boxed well, showing he had learned lessons from fight one, and regularly exploded left and rights of his onrushing rival. Frazier, although he landed several versions of his honey punch, that leaping left hook, he struggled to repeat his success of the first encounter.

After 12 intense rounds Frazier objected to the unanimous decision that went against him but his swollen and puffy face told the correct story. Ali was unmarked. He had earned the right to challenge for his old title, 10 years after he had won it, and seven years after it had been stripped from his waist.

What happened next?

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January 26, 2019
January 26, 2019
salvador sanchez

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NOBODY knows what Salvador Sanchez could have gone on to achieve in his career. At only 23 years of age, the Mexican was a reigning WBC featherweight champion with nine successful defences under his belt, including victories over future all-time greats Wilfredo Gomez and Azumah Nelson. Just over three weeks after his stoppage defeat of the previously unbeaten Nelson, Sanchez died in a car crash; his Porsche colliding with a pick-up truck. If that tragic incident had not occurred, it is likely that “Chava” would have worked his way even further up the illustrious list of the greatest fighters of all-time.

Salvador made his professional boxing debut in 1975 at the age of 16. It is reported that he only had four amateur bouts before turning over. Tall and slim with a technically adept style, he stormed his way to 18 straight victories, with all but one of those wins coming by way of stoppage or knockout. This impressive run led to an attempt at the vacant Mexican bantamweight title in September 1977. However, Sanchez ended up on the wrong side of a split decision verdict against Antonio Becerra in Mazatlan.

After bouncing back with two points victories, the Santiago Tianguistenco man travelled to Los Angeles to make his first appearance outside of his native Mexico. In a difficult contest, Sanchez was held to a draw by Juan Escobar. He would go on to win all of his remaining bouts up until his premature death four years and three months later.

Thirteen consecutive victories between July 1978 and December 1979 earned Sal a shot at the WBC featherweight king Danny Lopez in 1980. “Little Red”, who had held the title for more than three years and had a reputation for being a big hitter, was unceremoniously dispatched of inside 13 rounds in Phoenix, Arizona. Sanchez punished his rival with sharp, accurate punches, forcing the referee to step in.

In the same year, the new WBC titlist made four impressive defences of his coveted strap, seeing off Lopez in a rematch (w rsf 14), as well as Ruben Castillo, Patrick Ford and Juan LaPorte all on points.

After retaining his world belt against Roberto Castanon in 10, Sanchez outscored Nicky Perez in a non-title affair to set up a mouth-watering clash with undefeated Puerto Rican Wilfredo Gomez, who he stopped in the eighth round in Las Vegas [see below]. That fantastic victory over a previously dominant Gomez brought Salvador much recognition in the USA, helping him to become a household name in the sport.

Two points successes over Pat Cowdell and Rocky Garcia – both in Texas – followed, before the featherweight boss met a 13-0 Azumah Nelson in July 1982. The future two-weight world champion fought with aggression and heart, but he was unable to dethrone the imperious Sanchez, who stopped the Ghanaian in the final round.

Salvador had the boxing world at his feet at this point. With a potential contest against WBC lightweight ruler Alexis Arguello in the offing, the life of one of Mexico’s finest fighters was sadly cut short in its prime.

Sensational Sal stops Gomez

WHEN Sanchez put his WBC featherweight championship on the line against the WBC super-bantamweight boss Wilfredo Gomez on August 21, 1981, the Mexican went into the fight as a 2-1 underdog. Heading into the contest, Gomez had compiled a truly outstanding career record of 32-0-1 (32), including 14 world title bouts. Many boxing observers believed that “Bazooka” was an unstoppable force in the ring. However, Salvador proved them wrong.

In front of a roaring, packed house of 4,500 at Caesars Palace, he shot out of the blocks in the first session, flooring Wilfredo with a left hook-right hand combination. Gomez managed to clamber to his feet and make it to the end of the round, but he looked to be only a punch or two away from defeat immediately following the knock down.

The Puerto Rican recovered sufficiently to take a share of the next six rounds, before the bell rang for the start of the eighth. During this stanza, Sanchez nailed Gomez against the ropes and unleashed a swarming barrage of punches, sending his adversary to the canvas once again. Despite rising at the count of eight, Wilfredo was in no fit state to continue, and the bout was called off at two minutes and nine seconds of the round.

MIRROR IMAGE

TWO generations later and Salvador Sanchez II is plying his trade as a prizefighter. With bundles of charisma and inherited looks, he has been featured on some noteworthy undercards but the nephew of the original Salvador Sanchez has a seriously hard act to follow and has amassed a record of 28 wins, four losses and three draws since turning pro in 2005.

Salvador_Sanchez005

FAST FACTS

Born January 26, 1959 in Santiago Tianguistenco, Mexico Died August 12, 1982 Wins 44 Knockouts 32 Losses 1 Draws 1 Best Win Wilfredo Gomez w rsf 8 Worst Loss Antonio Becerra l pts 12 Pros Counterpunching, tactical awareness Cons Could not fulfil potential

January 22, 2019
January 22, 2019
Harry Greb

Courtesy of Bill Paxton

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This special feature was originally published in Boxing News magazine

ON June 30, 1919, American citizens surged into saloons to clink their last glasses of hard liquor, and staggered out. At one minute past midnight on the “thirsty-first,” Pittsburgh and everyplace else was subjected to the Wartime Prohibition Act, the “dry law,” which was a warmup before the Eighteenth Amendment went into effect in January. Newspapers ran front-page obituaries for John Barleycorn; mock funerals were held in men’s clubs, kegs laid out in caskets, whiskey bottles stuffed with black roses. There was an epidemic of hangovers. Many proprietors announced their intention to remain open with the 2.75% beer temporarily tolerated by the Allegheny County DA on tap. No mention was made of crates of ardent spirits stashed in the back; winks went unreported. Over at Epiphany Church, Father O’Connell could have his sacramental wine at Mass and doctors’ prescriptions of alcohol for internal ailments would be honoured “when the patient is under constant supervision.” No refills.

Irish, Italian, and German Americans in the big eastern cities were outraged at this intrusion by blue-nosed busybodies with nothing better to do. At least one Catholic congressman would submit a bill of repeal. “A hard fight looms,” said a headline.

A hard fight looms, said the sports section. On July 4, heavyweight champion Jess Willard, who stood six foot six and weighed two-forty-five, would defend his crown against a surging Jack Dempsey. Dempsey, six-one and outweighed by sixty pounds, earned the “Giant Killer” moniker after knocking out Fred Fulton and Carl Morris in a minute or less. He’d been training in Toledo since May. Willard got there on June 30. Both had their life insurance paid to date.

Red Mason, who was handling Pittsburgh’s allotment of tickets for the big fight, placed a large bet on Dempsey. Harry Greb, surprisingly, picked the giant. Both were confident in Greb’s chances against Dempsey.

harry greb

Greb had him in his sights for nearly a year already because of a snub. He was in Philadelphia the previous summer when he heard Dempsey was going to face Billy Miske instead of him. “I think I am entitled to it,” he told the Philadelphia Inquirer. After defeating light-heavyweight champion Battling Levinsky later that night, he was at it again, telling all and sundry that he should get a shot at the man then hailed as the new wonder of the heavyweight class. Then he went and beat Miske in Pittsburgh two months before Dempsey got him in Philadelphia, just because.

“Me for the heavyweight class. I’ve cleaned up the middleweights . . . and I can go through the light heavyweights just as easily,” he said on a train platform in Buffalo in February 1919. “Fight Dempsey, why not? I hope he wins.”

Dempsey turned up in Pittsburgh on March 9 for a week-long engagement at the Victoria. The theatre section of the dailies called it “an opportunity to study Dempsey’s methods” and Harry and wife Mildred may have been in the audience doing exactly that.

A week later, Dempsey was asked his opinion about the upcoming Greb-Bill Brennan bout at Duquesne Gardens. He didn’t know much about Greb, but he knew Brennan. “He gave me one of the hardest fights I ever had,” he said. “If Harry Greb thinks he is going up against an easy proposition in Bill Brennan, he is much mistaken.”

“Harry Greb had no trouble in outpointing Bill Brennan of Chicago in 10 rounds last night,” said the Gazette Times on the 18th.

A tentative deal for Greb-Dempsey went up in smoke after the Willard-Dempsey articles precluded the challenger from boxing anyone before July 4. Another offer materialised for Dempsey to face Greb in an eight-rounder if he beat Willard.

Dempsey brutalised Willard. Meanwhile, Greb was nine hundred miles west of Toledo looking up at Brennan again. No one was confident in Brennan’s chances; no one. “There is no telling what is liable to happen to him,” quipped one newspaper. Greb “slashed and slammed his way to victory” and took in $1,903.75. It was a fraction of what Dempsey earned. “Look at that Jack Dempsey. Getting $27,500 for a chance at the heavyweight title,” he said. “Say, boy, that’s going to be my dish someday. Just watch me.”

Connecticut, Cleveland, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Cincinnati made overtures to match Dempsey with Greb. Greb did his part and targeted Dempsey’s opponents and sparring partners.

Among the former was Levinsky, whom Greb whipped for the umpteenth time on July 14. Among the latter was heavyweight Terry Kellar, who was running around Ohio claiming Greb was afraid of him. “Greb is no Dempsey,” he said. “Those folks who are talking about matching Harry and Jack must want to see the Pittsburgh boy murdered.”

“HARRY GREB SLAUGHTERS LOCAL MAN” said the Dayton Herald on August 12. “[Greb] won by not more than the length of one of Babe Ruth’s really long drives.” The crowd had a better time than Greb: “Put some cinders up there so Kellar can run!” “Someone wants you on the telephone, Terry!” “Let him hit you once, Harry!”

Greb was back in Pittsburgh two days later. His next fight was at Forbes Field, which afforded him the novelty of sleeping on a bed with Mildred instead of a railroad bench with Mason. He was looking forward to giving Brennan his fourth consecutive beating when he heard that Brennan was being lined up for a shot at the new heavyweight champion. All he had to do was give “a good showing” on August 23. Greb blew his top. “I’ll prevent that meeting,” he said. “I’ll give Brennan such a lacing that he will not be fit to fight Dempsey or anyone else for many weeks.” He also promised to put a decisive end to their one-sided tête à tête, and did.

Dempsey gave Brennan a shot anyway. Greb could do no more than delay it, and it wouldn’t be the last time he bumped off a prospective opponent only to see him propped back up and given a king’s ransom. Brennan extended Dempsey almost twelve rounds before he got stopped. He did unto Dempsey what Greb routinely did unto him—busted him up. Dempsey finished with a swollen eye, a torn ear, and an admission that it was “just about the most closely contested fight I ever had.” Greb broke into a wide smile at that and told a reporter that “his idea of a life of ease and comfort would be fighting Brennan once a week for a fair purse, until he retired from the ring because of old age.”

In September 1919, Dempsey’s manager Doc Kearns mentioned several fighters in the running for a shot at the heavyweight crown, but was dismissive of Greb. Kearns wasn’t alone. In November, after Greb defeated another Dempsey sparring partner, former heavyweight king James J. Corbett forgot all about his own losses to the lighter Bob Fitzsimmons and the smaller Tom Sharkey and scoffed at Greb’s chances against Dempsey. “Greb is entirely too light and too small,” he said.

Greb found it baffling—Corbett had never even seen him fight. “I think I am as good now as I will ever be, and, without boasting, that I can beat almost everybody in the game, Dempsey not excepted,” he said. “I am really anxious to fight him and I do not understand why the fans refuse to consider me in the light of a contender.” He then presented his case, listing four contenders Kearns was aiming for: Miske, Willie Meehan, Brennan, and Joe Becket. “I have beaten the first three, each more than once, and would like to fight Beckett,” he said. “If, on comparative records, anybody has more license to fight Dempsey than me, I’d like to know who he is.”

By early 1920 fans were coming around, especially in Cincinnati, Buffalo, and Philadelphia, where Greb’s dominance was witnessed firsthand. There was talk of a ten-round no-decision match to take place in Buffalo on May 31 and reports said Greb hopped a northbound train in January to discuss it with the Queensberry A.C. promoters and agreed to terms. He was in Akron on March 9 when a long-distance call from the promoters came in claiming Dempsey had also agreed to terms.

Greb came home to a mountain of mail, some of it congratulatory, some with sincerest condolences. He had much to say about his stylistic advantages and his intention to win. “I’ve got everything to gain and nothing to lose,” he said, and then asked to be left alone with his thoughts, which were grim. “I’ll be in there to do or die,” he said. “And I don’t expect to die.”

In April, Kearns denied that any negotiations had happened. “Bunk,” he said, “pure and simple.”

In July, Greb got word that Dempsey was in Manhattan, at a training camp at Broadway and Fifty-Seventh Street, and headed to Union Station.

Mason went with him, understandably concerned. A near-peak Dempsey was five inches taller, thirty pounds heavier, hit harder, and was nearly as fast and aggressive as Greb himself. While an official match was a win/win scenario, this was lose/lose. Greb, too willing, thought nothing of risking his health and reputation for zero compensation. And if he did get the better of Dempsey, what then? Would money-mad Doc Kearns risk the heavyweight crown against him? Not likely. It was a crazy idea. Greb didn’t care. He would put Dempsey on the spot and show him and the whole world who’s who and what’s what.

On Tuesday afternoon, July 27, Dempsey looked up and there he was.

Mayhem at Midtown

Reports said Dempsey was “well pleased” when Greb approached with an offer to get into the ring, but this should not be misunderstood. It was no favour from a colleague. It was a direct challenge from an adversary and had to be met.

We don’t know what happened on Tuesday except that Greb “boxed four hard rounds” against Dempsey and it got the boroughs buzzing. At three o’clock Wednesday, before Greb came into view, every seat was filled. Outside on 57th Street, a traffic cop had to clear the crowd from blocking traffic.

The price of a ticket was doubled, which meant that for roughly the cost of a haircut and a shave, you could watch David and Goliath—and it was no metaphor. Greb surprised everyone again with his showing, including promoter Tex Rickard and Kearns. Dempsey himself told Rickard that Greb was the first “who ever gave him a real workout.”

On Thursday, the added attraction of Douglas Fairbanks acting as honourary referee brought more to the arena door, particularly women. Kearns dubbed it “Ladies’ Day” and let them in gratis. We have details about what happened in that last session. “Greb tore into the champion,” said one report, “and in the middle of the second round, time had to be called when the Pittsburgher landed a hard right on Dempsey’s left eye and split it open.” Another report said it was a left hook that blackened Dempsey’s right eye. Embarrassed, Dempsey told his handlers he would try it again. A few exchanges later, he told them he would have to call it off for the day.

It was an unofficial TKO. Greb left the ring to ear-splitting acclaim. Fans spilled from the stands and surrounded him.

Dempsey stood by and nursed his eye.

New York fans joined the chorus clamouring for Greb to get a shot at the heavyweight crown. Rickard, who was blocking black title challengers by segregating them into diamond-belt tournaments, did something similar to Greb. He promised him a title shot—at middleweight.

The Battles at Benton Harbor

A few weeks into August, Dempsey’s handlers made a hurry-up call to get Greb to the training camp in Benton Harbor, Michigan. Dempsey was said to be concerned about ring rust and news out of challenger Billy Miske’s camp that he’d knocked out a sparring partner. This was nothing but hype. Insiders knew Dempsey was doing a favor for Miske, who was sick and watching medical bills pile up to the ceiling.

Greb knew what this was really about. When the two first clashed in July, Dempsey had just finished a stint with a travelling circus—entertaining children with a chimp and champ act and falling in love. This time he’d be ready.

On Tuesday August 31, Dempsey was tearing up sparring partners in a ring set up at promoter Floyd Fitzsimmons’s ballpark and promised to continue “hot and heavy for the balance of the week.” No one mistook his sun-speckled musculature for rust.

At some point that afternoon, Greb appeared. A fellow middleweight went two rounds one observer said “he’ll never forget” and climbed out. As Greb was about to climb in, Dempsey declined. Tomorrow, he said. He’d just gone eight rounds and knew from experience that Greb was not one to tangle with when he’s fresh and you’re not.

Tomorrow came soon enough. A host of writers were present as time was called and Greb was unleashed. “Greb,” went one report, “was in and out, under, around and on top of the champion for the full nine minutes that they traded punches.” In the first round, Greb landed a left uppercut and two rights to Dempsey’s chin. In the second, he was bouncing around the ring and off the ropes to score punches. “Three lighting lefts” landed on Dempsey’s face in the third. It was front page news in the St. Joseph Herald-Press.

The Detroit Times carried an Associated Press wire that said Dempsey’s famous left hooks were missing and he was getting countered to the body and the head and that Greb “gave a spectacular demonstration.”

“The Pittsburgher went into him like a hurricane,” another wire reported, “piling up points with his rapid, erratic style, and eluding the champion’s retaliatory efforts with ease.”

Newspapers in the Midwest reported that “Greb staggered Dempsey twice” and the Chicago Tribune confirmed that “there was nothing easy about the going for either,” that it was “a real battle. . . worth the price of admission and more.”

The New York Times said Greb was “all over him and kept forcing him around the ring”—at times jumping off the canvas to hit him in the mouth—“and seemed to be able to hit him almost at will.” It was “a real, honest-to-goodness battle.”

Frank G. Menke, one of the foremost sports columnists of the day, said phooey to all that. His coverage opened with a very different tack: “Jack Dempsey doffed the role of slugger today and donned that of boxer and startled the assemblage by his remarkable skill in the new role.” It’s a curious claim. In other words, the reports of the New York Times, Chicago Tribune, and the local newsmen at ringside were the stuff of delusion. Dempsey was merely practicing new shifts, said Menke. He was limiting his offense “to jabs and short wild hooks.”

Menke didn’t hear Big Bill Tate tell a reporter that Dempsey never pulls punches, that “he just lets them go and when they land—WHAM!” And Dempsey is on record confirming that he was taking no prisoners. “I made up my mind to let myself out today to satisfy myself that I am fit,” he said.

Menke’s write-up seems to be an attempt to stifle the applause for Greb’s showing and his claims were repeated in a letter to the press signed by Dempsey on September 3. It looks like an alibi provided by one friend to another. And friends they were. A few years later, Dempsey bought a racehorse. He named it “Frank G. Menke.”

Thirty years later, his friends were still in denial. George A. Barton said Dempsey was handcuffed by Kearns, who wanted him to make Greb look good so he could steal him away from Mason. This too contradicts the contemporary reports; Greb himself swore that Dempsey was trying to knock him out “every day.” What’s more, at the end of the two rounds, Dempsey asked for one more round, which supports the impression that he “could do little with Greb,” looked bad, and tried to save face.

The wide publicity given Wednesday’s session brought scores of fans and gawkers in on Thursday. Dempsey seethed all night while Greb weakened his legs with Mildred at a boarding house not far from the camp, and his eyes must have narrowed when he read the front page of Thursday morning’s Herald-Press: “Newspaper men at the ringside expressed the belief that Greb rocked the champion with a right to the chin in the third round.”

When he climbed through the ropes that afternoon, he called on Greb first. One report mentions that eight-ounce gloves were used. Wednesday’s were fourteen ounces.

Dempsey “tore into the Pittsburgh lad” immediately, according to the same Herald-Press. The New York Times said it was Greb who tore into Dempsey and landed a left hook to the body “with all the force at his command.” Then “the fur began to fly.”

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch said Greb “got in some pippins at the start” and as Dempsey returned fire, “the sickening sound of leather smashing flesh echoed around the ball park.” Greb was seen eluding Dempsey’s left hooks but was absorbing wicked shots to his ribs and there was real concern at ringside that someone might get hurt and badly hurt at that. Kearns was telling Dempsey to “slow down.” Mason was telling Greb to “be careful.” Greb was mocking Dempsey—“G’wan! Do your stuff champion!”

The United Press said Greb “fought viciously all the way” and Dempsey was “soaking Greb hard at long range and in the clinches.” Universal Service reported that Dempsey “more than held his own” in the first round, Greb hit him flush on the chin in the second, butted him “rather savagely” in a clinch, and then stepped back and was punching him repeatedly at the bell. In the third, Dempsey, spitting blood, went after Greb with body shots that lifted him off the canvas and sent him spinning backward. He was, it said, making Greb miss and countering hard, which is exactly what the AP reported Greb did to Dempsey the day before.

Throughout the match, the two thousand who crammed into the park spontaneously “burst into cheers and prolonged applause.” The announcer had to request that they stop exhorting the two combatants—it was too rough already.

Barton rightly framed Thursday’s session as Dempsey’s answer to the embarrassing coverage around Greb’s good showing in Wednesday’s session. But his memories about what actually happened were faulty. It was, in his mind, a one-sided rout and much briefer than it actually was. An emboldened Greb, he said, tore into the champion early in the first round only to be immediately paralysed by “two fearful blows” to the body that popped his mouth open and made a cartoon out of him. Dempsey caught him as he sank and held him up, Barton continued, and Kearns ended the contest early. These details don’t appear in the next day’s accounts; in fact, a contemporary report said it was Soldier Kelly who he caught under the armpits after a knockout blow.

Barton’s memory was faulty; his loyalty was not. He wrote the article in 1952 in response to the “Johnny-Come-Lately” talk that Dempsey ducked Greb because he was handled in a sparring session. “Let me set you right,” Barton wagged his finger. “And don’t let anybody tell you differently.”

Barton protested too much. His autobiography may tell us why: “The friendship I formed with Jack Dempsey in 1918,” he said, “is one that I have treasured down through the years.”

At the conclusion of the Thursday session there was bedlam in the stands. The crowd was yelling madly for “more, more,” tossing straw hats in the air, and cheering for a full ten minutes. Greb probably made a beeline for Mildred at ringside. Dempsey was sucking wind. A reporter saw him and thought it strange that it should take him so long to recover. He remarked that the champion’s conditioning was not what it should be.

But it wasn’t that. Dempsey knew what it was.

Greb was in Milwaukee later that September, his spirit as ardent as ever. “I know he cannot put over his famous rights on me,” he said. “I would wear him down.”

“I ask no favours,” he went on. “I can make more money in my own class. I merely want to satisfy myself.” Mason was bursting with confidence: “We have signed to meet Dempsey, $17,500 our end and if the champion wants any part of our game he can have it any old time.”

Dempsey was silent. So Greb tried forcing it again. In June 1921, he went to Atlantic City and took a jitney from Pacific Avenue to Dempsey’s training camp with an offer to box, ostensibly to help him prepare for Georges Carpentier. Kearns nixed it. He knew his true intention, which was, said Westbrook Pegler, “to make a fight of it and a spectacle of Dempsey and thus promote himself into the next fight for the championship.”

Foiled again, Greb resumed his scorched earth campaign. He went after Kid Norfolk, who was also calling out Dempsey, and Tommy Gibbons, who was deep in negotiations for a shot at the biggest crown in sports. Gibbons simply had to beat “a good man” to clinch the deal. He was foolish enough to sign for Greb.

Thirteen thousand crammed Madison Square Garden, Dempsey and Gene Tunney among them, to watch Gibbons try to win the most important fight of his life with his head stuck in a hornets’ nest. Mildred was cheering as Greb landed six and seven punches before pulling away without a return. Jim Jab, who bet on Gibbons, sat awestruck as Greb won twelve of fifteen rounds. Someone yelled, “One more setup for Dempsey is hobbled!” and when the decision was announced, Greb received perhaps the greatest ovation of his life.

Snippets overheard at the exits saluted the victor, though the very fans who gave him no chance against Gibbons now gave him no chance against Dempsey. He’s too undersized they said again. He can’t punch hard enough. They’re still saying it. Greb heard it then and if he’s listening from wherever he is, he hears it today. He sat in the dressing room with reporters. “I know it is going to make some people laugh but I am positive I can defeat Dempsey in a 12 or 15-round decision bout.” The reporters stopped scribbling and looked up. A few chewed their pencils. “I haven’t the slightest fear of Dempsey.”

Giant Jess Willard saw and believed. Greb, he said, “is the only boxer who has a good chance to win a decision over Jack Dempsey.”

Greb haunted the heavyweight champion like a ghost with soot on his suit. He was in every jitney that pulled into every camp, his voice called him out on sports pages in the name of Bob Fitzsimmons and Joe Walcott, his bland visage was in the bland tea Dempsey sipped with Hollywood fops. Greb was coming at him from every direction, eliminating contenders and targeting sparring partners—men he knew would report back to him. He even shared the name of another Dempsey haunt, but scars on four of the six men Dempsey defended his crown against said Greb, not Wills.

In April 1922, the New York Daily News took Dempsey at his word and invited the fans to decide his next opponent. Harry Wills began and ended the poll with the most votes. Greb spent most of it at third and finished fifth. Al Roberts was third, though Greb knocked him out a week before the poll ended. Kearns and Dempsey whistled right past it; the next opponent was Tommy Gibbons, who placed fourteenth in the poll.

In June 1922, Greb’s obsession with Dempsey saw him turn down three offers to fight Johnny Wilson, the middleweight champion. In November he confronted the New York press and rattled off what was becoming, with wins over Gibbons, Tunney, and Tommy Loughran inside of four months, the most remarkable record in boxing history. “If there is anybody else in the field that I have overlooked,” he said again, “I’d like to know about it.”

He was indeed overlooking others in the field. They’d been staring him in the face the whole time. “I was informed it would be proper for me to give $3,000 to the newspaper men of New York, the money to be used in booming a bout for me with Jack Dempsey,” he told a reporter for the Gazette Times in February 1923. “I could not see where I should give up my own money for such a project. I fought the proposition for a while, but finally gave up the money under protest.” He said too much, didn’t say it off the record, and when it triggered an investigation, his denials had zero credibility. This time Greb foiled himself—the boosts he needed stayed in the pockets with the boost money.

jack dempsey

Attempts to get Greb the shot were still going on in July 1925, when he was half blind and fighting with his head tilted to the right. Dempsey told Floyd Fitzsimmons that he would sign to meet “anyone except Wills or Tunney,” and suddenly Greb’s chances got better. Fitzsimmons said Dempsey gave his word. But Dempsey did an about-face and said he needed more time to get into condition. A few days later, he dismissed it outright, claiming that the sole match he wanted was with Harry Wills.

Dempsey never did sign to meet Greb. He never intended to.

Ed Hughes was among those who saw what Greb did to him in New York. “That bout convinced Jack that Greb would be a tough man to beat,” he said. Dempsey told Hughes plenty:

~  ~

I’d be a sucker to fight that guy. What would I get out of it? Probably he’d make me look bad for a few rounds. He’s a crazy fighter. It would probably take me eight or nine rounds to catch him. And when I knocked him out what would they say? Why simply that I beat a little fellow, and that he made me look bad until I happened to get to him. There’s nothing in it for me meeting that guy.

~  ~

Instead, he defended his crown against Greb casualties and hype jobs like George Carpentier and Luis Firpo. Doc Kearns was no dummy. He saw Dempsey-Greb as a scaled-down version of Willard-Dempsey. When “who’s next?” came up as it always did, he ignored the crazy fighter. When cornered, Kearns was shrewd enough to be dismissive. “I don’t think Greb would have any chance with Jack,” he told Frank G. Menke in 1919.

“Harry Greb could have licked Dempsey,” he told Damon Runyon in 1931.

By then, it should be noted, Kearns and Dempsey had parted ways with belligerence on both sides. Even so, Runyon saw a rare moment of candor and zeroed in.

“Oh, you admit then that Greb could have licked Dempsey?”

“Why not admit it now?” Kearns said. “It doesn’t make any difference at this late day.”

In 1933, the Eighteenth Amendment was finally repealed and Americans, including a few reformed prohibitionists, clinked a glass to ardent spirits. But the damage was done.

Smokestack Lightning: Harry Greb, 1919 is an eBook available now at Amazon UK (£6.34) and Amazon ($7.99).

Mike Tyson

MPS/USA Today Sports

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OLD men can remember their youth and be content: old fighters remember theirs, and get restless.

The more needy, egotistical or ill-advised can even delude themselves that they still possess it, until they are forced to accept the evidence of their own athletic decay.

Such evidence can rarely have been presented so compellingly as it was by heavyweight champion Mike Tyson to the 38-year-old Larry Holmes at the Convention Centre. Holmes, bidding to regain the title he had graced for seven years and 20 defences, was annihilated in less than four rounds and took the worst beating of his long career.

(It was, Dr Ferdie Pacheco remarked alarmingly, “the worst kind of beating that makes guys walk funny when they’re 50.”)

Referee Joe Cortez spared the old champion the final indignity of the countout when he signaled the end as Holmes crashed for the third time in the round, after two minutes 55 seconds.

The veteran fell so heavily that for a few anxious minutes we feared for his well-being.

But the damage, mercifully, is only to his ego: he recovered quickly, and his post-fight comments were coherent and gracious. “I wanted to go out their and tie him up and make him miss, he said.

“But what I did wrong was wait for the fifth round. He usually tires around the fifth, and I was waiting for that instead of going out and boxing.

“I fought Tyson because I knew I beat Michael Spinks and I was trying to get back something they took away from me. But I found out that Mike Tyson is better than I thought. There is no question he’s the champion”.

The near 100-year history of the heavyweight championship (in its modern form) is full of similarly rueful statements from ex-champs who had to learn the hard way that you cannot chase a young man’s dram on middle-aged legs. Only a very few have managed it – and, watching the ruined Muhammad Ali shuffling to his ringside seat, I wondered in the victory is worth the price.

The warmth of the welcome he received from the 17,000 crowd, as the once-familiar chant of “Ali, Ali” welled around the massive arena, was moving. But his devastated health should have served as a warning to his corner conqueror, Holmes that 38-year-old body is not conditioned to withstand the kind of punishment that a ferocious 21-year-old like Tyson can administer.

Holmes, like Ali, was driven back into the ring by the demands of his ego rather than his bank balance. “I’m not doing this for the money ($3.1m)”, he stressed. “Everybody knows I’m rich.”

For a fighter, more than any other athlete, pride is a good servant but and master. Pride, and heart, can carry him through a crisis and on to victory, but let it over-ride logic and common sense and the consequences are invariably disastrous.

There was not any way in the world that Holmes could have beaten Tyson. Everyone connected with the affair knew that, as did anyone with the slightest knowledge or understanding of boxing.

We campaigned against the match, and pleased wit the WNC delegates before their London Convention to refuse to sanction it, and thus allow one of their finest standard-bearers to retain his dignity and his reputation.

But in this business – and let’s not pretend that it is a sport – money speaks louder than sentiment or compassion. The affair was duly rubber-stamped, and the multi-million dollar mismatch went ahead.

Now, of course, we are contemplating another: Tyson’s No.1 contender in both WBC and WBA lists is our own Frank Bruno, and Bruno’s promoters Mickey Duff and Jarvis Astaire were hard at work throughout the weekend in Atlantic City.

There are complications. HBO, who are financing Tyson’s reign with a huge $27m package, are insisting that Bruno beat a recognizable opponent before they will accept him as an opponent. “The last tie America saw Frank was when he was knocked out by Witherspoon”, Astaire explained.

“It’s all very well for the WBC and the WBA to make him their No.1, but that doesn’t necessarily impress the people who are paying for the show.”

The useful Cuban Jose Ribalta, who went into the 10th round with Tyson, is being mooted for a March 8 date at Wembley, and his credentials should be sufficient to satisfy the cable TV giant’s requirements.

Tyson against anybody – with the obvious exception of Mike Spinks – looks a mismatch, but the ponderous and vulnerable Bruno could have been assembled by computer as Tyson’s ideal opponent. The flashing, powerful rights which destroyed Larry Holmes would not take long to shatter Bruno’s retentions to the title.

But the whole affair would be enormously profitable, and if its relevance to sport in any form is purely peripheral, who cares? Never mind the risks – count the takings.

Big-time boxing, under the malign influence of Don King, has long since forfeited any claim to be a sport. Tex Rickard, who promoted Jack Dempsey, and Mike Jacobs, who guided Joe Louis, may not have been models of probity but at least they were men with imagination and flair, and in their own way they probably cared about the game.

Their modern-day successors, though, are packagers rather than promoters, and they have allowed control of the game to pass into the hand of American TV executives. (As a cynical aside, is it coincidence that the 12-rounds title limit falls neatly into a 60-minute TV slot, allowing time for introduction and post-fight interviews?)

Viewing ratings, not boxing ratings, are what counts, and the one can often be arranged to accommodate the other.

The tabloid drum-beating for Bruno v Tyson is already underway, and no doubt the same elements who flocked to watch Bruno v Bugner will queue up once more. They will, no doubt, be convinced that Frank is a deserving No.1: he may well have as much claim to a title fight as anyone else, but it is noteworthy that out of the 29 others in the WBC’s latest Top 30, Bruno had beaten just two … Anders Eklund , nearly three years ago, and No.30 ranked James Tillis last march.

Tyson, by contrast, has disposed of four of the top10. The squat New Yorker does not merely dominate his division: He has decimated it.

The breezy optimism of the message on Holmes’ gown – “this Is It”, and its echoing “Shock The World” on his seconds’ jackets, had no basis in reality. The old champ made a grand entrance, while Tyson ran up the ring steps less than minute later with the air of a man who is late for work.

He arrived in the ring unannounced and almost unnoticed, and most of the crowd did not even know he was there until he shrugged his way through the cluster of people in the centre of the ring sand started prowling around its perimeter, like an animal staking out a territorial claim.

Tyson at such times, seems oblivious to anything going on around him. His concentration on the hob in hand was so absolute that he did not even cursorily acknowledge the introduction, while Holmes looked edgy and was sweating heavily.

Tyson tore into the attack from the first bell, driving Holmes to the ropes with a right to the body and a left to the head and forcing him to clinch. It was the first of many clinches – each time Tyson got within range, Holmes would tie him up.

His tactics recalled Bonecrusher Smith’s 12 rounds survival exercise against Tyson, and a touch of irritation showed a Tyson made as if to punch after the bell and then pulled it back.

There was still no sign of the once-elegant Holmes jab in the second. He was pawing with the left, using it to fend Tyson off rather than punch cleanly, and it was not succeeding. Tyson bulled his way inside, clubbing rights to the ex-champion’s body and making Holmes look old and flat-footed.

Referee Cortez cautioned Holmes for holding late in the round.

Tyson actually ran across the ring at the start of the third, and Holmes met him with a couple of solid rights to the head. It was Holmes’ first real success, and it inspired him to produce his best work of the fight.

He got through with a series of right uppercuts, and effectively smothered Tyson’s counter attacks. It was beginning to look as if we might really have a contest to report – but then just as the bell sounded Tyson smashed in a crunching overhand right to the chin.

Holmes was clearly shaken, although he had done enough earlier in the round to win it on my card, and on those of two of the three judges.

The crowd responded instantly at the start of the fourth as Holmes came out dancing, hands dangling and popping out jabs. Briefly, it was like the old hays … but then Tyson rocked him with a big left hook and, as Holmes tried to grab him, a stunning right slammed the veteran to the floor.

It was not a knockdown in the usual sense – the impact was so tremendous that Holmes seemed to have been hurled onto the floor, rather than punched. Incredibly, he got up at four, shaking his head to clear it.

Referee Cortez gave him the rest of the mandatory eight count, then waved Tyson back in. Holmes tried to retreat across the ring, but the stocky Tyson charged after him and a flurry of blows, including right to the body and final right which grazed the top of Holmes’ head, dropped the dazed challenger again.

Once more, he was up at four, and indicated that he was all right. But he clearly was not, and this would have been the right time for the referee to rescue him.

Holmes’ legs were out of control, and he reeled back as Tyson poured in more stunning hooks to head and body. There was not a hint of the compassion which Holmes had shown Muhammad Ali in similar circumstances eight years ago: the heavyweight division has not seen a more merciless finisher than Tyson.

Just when it looked as if Holmes would survive the round, he was pinned in a neutral corner. He tried to punch his way out of it, nut his right hand had become entangled in the ropes and he was swung around, off balance and square on to Tyson, to take final full-blast right to the head.

He fell straight backwards, unconscious even before he hit the floor, and there was real anxiety around the arena until, after a couple of minutes, he had recovered enough to go back to his corner.

It was as comprehensive a defeat as we have seen in a title fight, but at least it was defeat with honour. Holmes fought to the end, and his last conscious action was that rope-thwarted right.

In the old cliché, he was carried out on his shield, and this proud man would not have settled for less.

“I made it clear to Larry Holmes that his career is unquestionably over”, Tyson said afterwards. “Larry was a great champion in his time, but his isn’t his time anymore.”

Richie Giachetti, Holmes’ long-time trainer, summed it up best. “Larry went out with style, none of this tie-the-guy-up-the-whole-time stuff”, he said.

“He was moving real nice there in the fourth round and he stopped. He stopped. You can’t do that against Tyson. He’ll murder you”.

He almost did.

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January 22, 2019
January 22, 2019
George Foreman

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Original Ringside Report, January 22 1973

GEORGE FOREMAN battered the world heavyweight title away from Joe Frazier in two sensational rounds at the National Stadium and emerged as a new super-champ.

Foreman battered Frazier to the floor six times before New York referee Arthur Mercante intervened after 1min 35sec of the second.

Frazier, a 3-1 on favourite, was outgunned and manhandled by the massively muscled, 6ft 3½in challenger.

It was one of the most sensational fights in heavyweight history.

Frazier had battered his way to 29 consecutive victories while Foreman had won 37 straight, 34 inside the distance, in the clash of former Olympic champions.

But Frazier had faced the more formidable opponents, including outpunching Muhammad Ali in their Fight of the Century 22 months ago.

It was claimed that Foreman, 25 on the day of the fight, had been wrapped in cotton wool. The experts said he would fold before Frazier’s relentless hooking.

But Foreman, towering four-and-a-half inches over the chunky, tank-like Frazier, fought a cool battle and teed off as the champion came to him.

When Foreman had Frazier going he did not let him off the hook. The challenger, from Houston, Texas, wielded punches like an axe-man hacking down a tree.

Sometimes Frazier was able to bob and weave under Foreman’s scything blows. But when Frazier tried to hook coming out of a crouch he exposed his chin and was tagged.

Foreman’s punches crashed in with brain-numbing power. Every punch was like a hammer and even Frazier, renowned for his durability, could not withstand such awesome pounding.

As soon as the fight was over there was speculation about Foreman fighting Muhammad Ali in what looms as boxing’s biggest money-spinner.

Frazier says he will fight on and wants a rematch with Foreman. The new champ said his immediate plan is to have a long rest.

Strength

Foreman, 15st 7½lb to Frazier’s heaviest-ever 15st 4lb, showed his strength by pushing Joe off balance. He blocked Frazier’s hooks on his brawny arms and even when Joe did get through he failed to make much impression.

The 29-year-old Frazier showed moving pride and courage, coming off the floor to go straight back in. He tried to hurt Foreman and turn the fight around but Foreman impassively stayed with him and timed his punches to shatter Frazier’s aura of invincibility.

Frazier tried to come out smoking in the first round, snapping out fast jabs and looking to come over with the hook. But Foreman stood with him and banged back.

Foreman drove in a brutal right to the body and stepped back with a bombing left hook. Frazier looked shaken. It was the first indication of an upset in the making.

The challenger was looking dangerous but the first knockdown stunned the 36,000 crowd.

Foreman landed a long, heavy right that caught Frazier over the left ear and sent the champion sprawling.

Frazier jumped up almost at once to take the mandatory eight count and tried to fire back.

They exchanged punches with Frazier backed on the ropes. Then another right, this time a head-jerking uppercut, crashed in and down went Frazier again for a second mandatory eight count.

Frazier’s huge legs trembled disobediently as Foreman closed in to club and pound him about the head.

Finally Frazier went down again near his own corner from a right-hander. The bell rang almost immediately.

Joe’s corner helpers worked on him feverishly in the minute’s rest period, but it was now just a matter of time. Foreman could scent victory and was unstoppable.

Frazier gamely came forward at the start of the second, but it was like a suicide mission.

Foreman banged away and that thundering right hand caught Joe behind the left ear and sent him sprawling for the fourth mandatory count.

The champion did not seem to know where he was. He tried to bob and weave but Foreman was throwing tremendous punches.

Frazier tottered and Foreman left-hooked him to the floor for the fifth knockdown. Once again Frazier pulled himself off the floor to go back into the firing line, but the champ could hardly hold his hands up.

Joe reeled against the ropes as Foreman aimed punches with a cold, controlled power that was almost frightening.

Frazier sagged and Foreman hit him with a right uppercut to the jaw that lifted Frazier off the floor, and deposited him with a crash in a kneeling position on the canvas.

This was enough for referee Mercante to signal an end to what had ceased to become a boxing match. Frazier, blood pumping from a split lower lip, was on his feet but stumbling, his eyes glazed. It was all over.

Wildly-excited Jamaicans invaded the ring but Foreman managed to fight his way to Frazier’s corner to tell him: “I have more respect for you now than for any champion in history.”

Frazier replied, “Right on, George, right on.”

Joe’s crushing defeat would seem to back up the theory that Muhammad Ali’s fists took terrible toll in their classic fight, even though Frazier won the unanimous decision.

Frazier had only fought twice after beating Ali, hammering out fourth-round wins over Terry Daniels and Ron Stander, both some way removed from the top 10.

Some may argue that Joe was caught cold by Foreman, but the Frazier of pre-Ali days might have been expected to shrug off his challenger’s blows and come roaring back.

Either Frazier had been blunted by Ali or Foreman is one of the true greats – take your pick. The truth will lie somewhere between the two.

At this stage Foreman looks practically unbeatable, a dangerous and worthy champion. Only Ali, it seems, has the equipment to whip him.

Another dream match is in the making.

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