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10 future champions who were defeated on their pro debut

Bernard Hopkins
Action Images/Reuters/Mike Segar
Cuba's Robeisy Ramirez isn’t the first boxer to have to dust himself down and come again following a loss in his first pro fight

1. Henry Armstrong

Armstrong is rightly celebrated for winning world titles as a featherweight, lightweight and welterweight, and for defending his welterweight title 19 times, but that doesn’t mean it was all plain sailing. Back in 1931, ‘Homicide Hank’ lost his first fight to Al Iovino, when stopped in three rounds, and then lost three of his next four.

2. Bernard Hopkins

Before going on to win world titles at middleweight and light-heavyweight, Hopkins lost his 1998 pro debut against Clinton Mitchell, a fellow debutant. Soon to become a master of dictating fights, B-Hop was back then pipped over four rounds on a majority decision.

3. Rafael Marquez

In 1996, Marquez, a future world champion at bantamweight and super-bantamweight, was stopped in round eight by the experienced Victor Rabanales, who boasted 55 pro fights at the time. Interestingly, Rafael’s brother, Juan Manuel, also lost his pro debut, though his ’93 defeat arrived via disqualification.

Rafael Marquez
Rafael Marquez, like his brother, had to do things the hard way (Action Images)

4. Pipino Cuevas

Cuevas’ pro career, which started in 1971, was tarnished from the off by Alfredo Castro, who stopped him inside two rounds in Mexico City. However, despite a patchy first couple of years, Cuevas eventually made his mark as a WBA welterweight champion, registering 11 defences of the title.

5. Wilfredo Vasquez

Vasquez lost his pro debut against another newcomer, William Ramos, in 1981 but was able to rebound and win the WBA super-bantamweight title, a belt he would defend nine times, in 1992, before landing the featherweight version in ’96.

6. Johnny Nelson

WBO cruiserweight champion Nelson didn’t just lose his pro debut, he lost his first three fights. His debut in 1986 saw him drop a six-round decision to Peter Brown and subsequent fights, one of which was in Denmark, were equally frustrating for the Sheffield man.

Johnny Nelson lost his first three fights but still became a champion (Action Images)

7. James ‘Bonecrusher’ Smith

Smith’s 1981 debut against James Broad ended abruptly in the fourth round when a Broad left hook to the body rendered Smith unable to continue. Ultimately, though, Smith wouldn’t be denied and later managed to win the WBA heavyweight title.

8. Miguel Vasquez

Poor Vasquez. Not only was his pro record sullied by a debut loss, but he was cruelly forced to kick off his pro career in 2006 against a 2-0 Saul ‘Canelo’ Alvarez. After that loss, a split decision, Vasquez went on to become IBF lightweight champion in 2010.

9. Orlando Salido

Famous for soiling Vasyl Lomachenko’s pro record, Salido battled back from an early defeat of his own when bested on his debut in 1996. That loss came against Ivan Cazarez, also making his debut, and Salido lost plenty more before later becoming IBF featherweight champion.

10. Jhonny Gonzalez

Gonzalez’s pro debut against Mario Perez in August 1999 ended in disappointment, as did his next fight against Hugo Vargas three months later. Both times Jhonny was outscored and yet still he went on to win WBO bantamweight and WBC featherweight titles.

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