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July 13, 2014
July 13, 2014
SaadMuhammad-Lopez

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THE sport’s many action heroes all responded to adversity in their own way. Some had the will to stand up straight in a tornado. Others were at their most dangerous when badly hurt, only then finding the hammer blow to turn the fight in their favour. Then the born survivors able to absorb anything life throws at them, including the heaviest of hands.

Matthew Saad Muhammad was all of the above, so much so that his ring moniker was ‘Miracle’.

Abandoned in the mean streets of Philly as a child and named for the bridge at which he was found, the then Matthew Franklin went about forging an identity in the fistic arts.

Taking beatings like the old-timers and throwing power punches until the very end, he was one half of more action-packed fights than perhaps any man to bite down into a gumshield. Alvaro ‘Yaqui’ Lopez was a tough hombre from Mexico who went from aspirations of becoming a bullfighter to being the bull personified.

In their first bout in ’78 over 12 rounds for Franklin’s NABF title, ‘Miracle’ Matthew employed his superb jab, stifling his omnipresent urge to trade power punches and busting Lopez up in 11 rounds.

When they next faced off two years later Franklin had found Islam and was known as Matthew Saad Muhammad. He wore the prestigious green belt of the WBC, having punched it off Marvin Johnson’s waist.

For the first seven rounds they picked up where they left off, adding colour to tattoos they’d given each other two years before. In the eighth all Hell broke loose. Doing a paint job on Lopez and leaving himself open, Saad found himself in familiar surroundings, needing a miracle to survive a sustained bombardment of haymakers by the skin of his teeth. Yet as The Ring magazine’s ‘Round of the Year’ closed in on three minutes the champion was looking again like he’d survived a beating that would’ve felled a rhino.

Things were about to get very painful for Alvaro Lopez.

The challenger’s spirit carried him through to the 14th, but the rocks Lopez was pelted with had his legs waving the white flag on his behalf. Willing himself through three knockdowns, he could offer no more resistance after Saad bounced his trademark right hand off his head.

1980’s best fight stands with the very best of the decade that followed, and the very best of any era prior.

July 13, 2014
July 13, 2014
Spinks

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LARRY HOLMES complained bitterly about the verdict so Michael Spinks, who had upset the Easton man’s bid at Rocky Marciano’s historic 49-0 heavyweight mark, so they fought again.

Now as the heavyweight champion of the world, Spinks defended his crown against one of the best the division has seen and, once more Holmes cried robbery after losing a split decision.

Both fights were unmistakably close and while they were far from Holmes’ swansong, as many thought at the time, they were the icing on the top of a Spinks career that had seen him clear out one of the best light-heavyweight classes assembled.

A 1976 Olympic gold medallist – along with his brother, Leon, and the great Sugar Ray Leonard – Spinks made quick progress in the professionals, defeating tough Gary Summerhays in his first year and in 1980 he passed the first big hurdle of his career, defeating US-based Scot Murray Sutherland, dropping him on his way to a 10-round decision. He also came through a wobble against battle-hardened Yaqui Lopez to stop the Californian in seven, halted former (and future) champion Marvin Johnson in four before capturing his first world title, the WBA light-heavyweight crown, by defeating Eddie Mustafa Muhammad over 15 rounds. He made five defences before unifying the titles against the “Camden Buzzsaw”, Dwight Muhammad Qawi, in 1983 and then, after adding the IBF belt to his collection, he stepped up to unseat and upset Holmes becoming the first reigning light-heavyweight champion to win the larger prize.

Spinks was a tall, powerful fighter, intelligent and with a potent right hand at his disposal.

Two further high-earning contests saw him stop Steffen Tangstad (rsf 4) and Gerry Cooney ((rsf 5), setting him up for the June 1988 blockbuster against another undefeated heavyweight champion, this one at his peak rather than slightly beyond it.

The IBF had stripped Spinks for taking the Cooney payday over a defence against his mandatory challenger, Tony Tucker, but there was no doubt about who ruled the heavyweight roost after a dramatic night in Atlantic City.

After just 91 seconds, a youthful, aggressive and seemingly unbeatable Mike Tyson flattened Spinks in devastating style.

Michael’s own undefeated streak had been spectacularly culled and he walked away from the sport with his fortune and faculties intact.

He had made $13.5million in defeat, Tyson pocketed more than $20million.

“I miss the camaraderie,” Spinks said in retirement, “and the love we had and above all I miss the humongous paydays.”

Spinks went down as one of the great light-heavyweight champions, mentioned in the same breath as Archie Moore, Ezzard Charles, Roy Jones and Bob Foster.

He remained close to the man who guided him throughout his career, Butch Lewis, and while Spinks shunned the limelight, with the exception of visiting schools to inspire kids, he made appearances with Lewis from time to time until Butch died in 2011.

In the aftermath of the promoter’s death, however, Spinks sued Lewis’ estate in a Delaware Chancery Court alleging Lewis had failed to properly manage more than $24million he earned in his fighting days, violating an agreement that he would still manage the fighter’s money and pay his living expenses and, in the lawsuit, there were claims that Lewis had lumped their money together to pay his own personal and business expenses.

The month after Lewis died, Spinks’ lawyers alleged the executors of Lewis’ estate cut off payments to the retired fighter without telling him, causing his health insurance to expire and bills totalling $50,000 a month to mount.

The former champion’s lawyers claimed: “Spinks has had to invade his pension and retirement funds and incur significant taxes and penalties in order to meet these obligations.”

Lewis’ estate was valued at $8.5million.

Tragedy
Before Spinks could unify the titles his wife, Sandy Massey, and the mother of their two-year-old daughter Michelle, died. Massey was killed in a car crash leaving Spinks a single-parent.
He defeated Qawi two months later and, according to reports, Spinks’ daughter asked him in the dressing room if her mother would be watching the fight. Spinks broke down but managed to go through with the fight, coming through an eighth-round scare before winning a unanimous decision.

The punch
The ‘Spinks Jinx’ was a heavy right hand that became the St Louis favourite’s most formidable weapon.

The family
Spinks and his brother, Leon, both won world titles, as did Michael’s nephew, Cory, a talented welterweight and light-middleweight. Leon’s grandson, Leon “III Generation” Spinks recently made his professional debut.

July 12, 2014
July 12, 2014
HolyfieldQawi

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SOME felt Evander Holyfield, a 1984 Olympic bronze medallist, was being thrown to the lions when he was paired with the fearsome Dwight Muhammad Qawi, a former light-heavyweight champion who was a barrel-like keg of dynamite.

“The Camden Buzz-saw” was experienced and had been in his fair share of wars, whereas Holyfield had much to prove.

But in front of his raucous hometown fans, the future world heavyweight king dethroned Qawi in a 15-round barnstormer that provided non-stop action in a close-quarter war often referred to as the last great 15-round fight.

Qawi felt he had done enough by the end, but Holyfield’s work was crisper and cleaner and he landed more leather than the veteran star, who was deducted a point for low blows in the last round.

BN said of the fight that Holyfield, who had a seven-inch height advantage over the sawn-off champion, had won: “A split decision over 15 gruelling, thrilling rounds… There were no knockdowns but it was a fight loaded with action and solid punching.”

The action seesawed with both enjoying moments of success.

Holyfield seemed to be tiring in the fifth and sixth sessions but found a second wind.

“Qawi landed punches in sudden, punishing bursts,” read our report. “Often blazing back just when it seemed that Holyfield was having a good round. Then Holyfield would answer back, putting his own punches together in combinations as the crowd got right behind him.”

The future Hall-of-Famers fought again a year later, in Atlantic City, but an uninterested Qawi bowed out after four rounds in a comparatively timid affair.

Lara-Williams

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THE re-emergence of Paul Williams (10st 13 ½lbs) Aiken, South Carolina, took eight months, just enough time for old Mr. Rust to saturate his skinny frame. Or is it that “The Punisher” has been punished himself just enough to impede his rebirth? Williams, 30 later this month, was made to look average in a bout that went the full 12 rounds (nothing at stake but pride).

But by the evening’s close the judges decided that even an ordinary Williams had done just enough to pull out a majority decision over Cuban Erislandy Lara (10st 13lbs), now living in Miami. Bad call? Most in attendance thought so. Official cards were 114-114 from Al Bennet, 115-114 from Hilton Whitaker and 116-114 from Don Givens. My card had Lara up 115-113.

For Lara, a fellow southpaw the employment if his own version of a Sergio Martinez approach – less the knockout right hook- played out effectively, but not alas in the eyes of ones who counted. Perhaps they looked at the busyness of imposing Williams. Yes, he did push the action, and yes, he did throw many more punches- BUT he was getting hit flush in the return by the more accurate shots of Lara especially the left hand.

In a classic retort to the scoring, Lara echoed the losers lament of: “I don’t know what the judges saw.”

As for the official winner, he kind of contradicted himself, saying at first “I was being lazy in there but no excuses”, later he would say “bottom line is, I outworked him.”

Yes, he may of outworked his opponent, but his work was shoddy in comparison to the more deliberate Lara. Williams moves to 40-2 (27), while the snake-bitten Lara drops his first falling to 15-1-1 (10). The referee was Sammy Viruet.

boxing

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EMANUEL STEWARD should have been 70 today. It’s still hard to believe he’s gone. He deteriorated quickly in October 2012, when death became him. The boxing world he adored was devastated by his unexpected departure.

“What was disturbing for me is I only spoke to him two weeks before he went into hospital,” said Lennox Lewis, one of over 40 world champions Steward taught. “I had no idea he was ill. I don’t know how a man could get sick so fast. I tried to speak to him in hospital but he wasn’t well enough. It was so upsetting to know he was deteriorating like that. I kept close to the situation, and then I was told he’d gone.”

Anyone who knew Emanuel would have wanted to say goodbye, to tell him what a special man he was, and to thank him for his unerring faith in boxing. The sport has not been the same without him and his vast knowledge, without his teddy bear warmth, without his bright sleeveless vests from which his arms would dance.

Steward was a journalist’s dream and would welcome a phone call – at virtually any time – to
discuss boxing. Each response he uttered was considered, eloquent and wise. And extensive.

“From working in the media I hate it when you ask someone a question and they just give you a one word answer,” Steward chuckled after giving me a 35-minute explanation on Miguel Cotto’s chances of defeating Yuri Foreman in 2010. “Just let your shit flow, let’s talk about boxing, we can cut out all the rubbish later.”

Cutting the rubbish was never easy. Although his words would gallop and occasionally stumble as wisdom frantically searched for release, the end result of a conversation with Steward was always gold.

“What you got from Manny was honesty,” said Lewis, a fighter Steward often named as the most complete he had worked with. “I liked to call it ‘The realism of Manny’.”

That realism fed his magic. When he watched boxing he had an uncanny knack to combine a fan’s excitement (just listen to him almost explode with joy during his HBO commentary for Ward-Gatti), with a professor’s understanding of the science. His mind computed the intricacies of each punch; why it had been thrown, where the muscles came from to power the blast, and the workings of the brain that triggered the movement. He could predict what would happen next because he had an implicit grasp of what came before.

“Send your fighter out first for the next round,” Steward explained. “Psychologically, if the other guy is waiting for you in the centre of the ring, you lose the edge. Make sure you’re there first. When Samuel Peter knocked Wladimir [Klitschko] down, I made sure Wladimir was in the centre of the ring waiting for Peter when the bell went for the next round.”

Steward’s legend was made in his Kronk Gym, the unforgiving laboratory of champions. Not everyone who trained there could be king but improvement was almost a certainty.
“It was a dream for me when I went out and met Emanuel at Kronk,” explained Errol Christie, once the hottest prospect in British boxing who trained at the gym in the early 80s. “I was training with Thomas Hearns, Mike McCallum and Milton McCrory, who were talented guys. We all used to walk around joking one minute and sparring the next. I trained at a lot of gyms in my career and nobody moved like the Kronk boys. They moved so well around the ring they knew every inch of it and we all respected Emanuel. I just wish I could go back to those days.”

He’s not the only the only one. It’s been hard to say goodbye to Manny.

“[Before he died] I was talking to him about a couple of boxers who I wanted him to train but they’ll miss out on the greatest teaching in boxing,” said Lewis. “But I want a lot of Manny’s knowledge to continue through me, I feel I have to pass it on. I’m always helping fighters but it’s not until I start training them that I realise how much of what I am saying, Manny told me. I feel like I’m the son he gave a lot of things to and I want to carry on his tradition. He should never be forgotten.”