Category Archives: Boxing Articles

The Night Rocky Cried

Louis vs Marciano

By Bobby Franklin

Rocky Marciano cried the night he knocked out Joe Louis. Louis had retried in 1948 after defending his title against Jersey Joe Walcott. Joe stopped Walcott in the 11th round. Seven months earlier Louis had won a controversial 15 round decision from Jersey Joe, so winning decisively was a great way to cap off his career and make a dignified exit. 

Unfortunately, money problems forced Louis to embark on a comeback. He had a huge outstanding debt with the IRS, and the only way he knew how to make money was by stepping back into the ring. His first bout back after a two year layoff was against Ezzard Charles in an effort to regain the crown now held by the Cincinnati Cobra. After 15 brutal rounds Charles prevailed by earning a unanimous decision.

That fight did not earn Joe the money he needed to pay off his debts, so he continued fighting in the hope of getting another shot at the title. Louis fought often over the next year engaging in 8 fights with 8 wins. He still flashed signs of greatness, but it was clear his reflexes had slowed. At 36 years of age and after a lifetime of hard training his body was just worn down. On top of this, even with fighting so often, he could not earn enough money to pay off his debt. The interest kept compounding, and he was up against a tide that would not recede. 

His bout against Rocky Marciano, which took place on October 26, 1951, was a classic match of the young up and coming star versus the fading veteran. It’s a script that has played out many times, but in this case it was cloaked in sadness. Joe Louis was well loved by the public. Everyone knew that he would rather have been enjoying a richly deserved retirement but had no choice other than to fight. So it came to be that a man who was arguably the greatest heavyweight who ever lived would face a future great.

Even after all of these years it is still painful to watch the footage of that October night 67 years ago at Madison Square Garden.

Even after all of these years it is still painful to watch the footage of that October night 67 years ago at Madison Square Garden. Louis, now 37 years of age, entered the ring a 6 to 5 betting favorite against the unbeaten Brockton Blockbuster. Many felt experience would win out over youth, but the years had caught up to Joe.

When the bell rang for the first round a balding Joe Louis moved out in his classic stance. Rocky came out very aggressively and won the first two rounds big, landing numerous overhand rights that Joe just could not avoid. He had not been hit like this since his first fight against Max Schmeling in 1936, 15 years earlier. 

It is a testament to Louis’s championship heart that he was able to become competitive against his younger opponent when he won the 4th and 5th rounds. Even though he took those rounds it was obvious he was a shadow of his old self. He was throwing combinations but his punches were not firing off like they used to. It was taking just that much longer for his body to respond to what his brain was telling it. While Joe outweighed Rocky by nearly thirty pounds he could not keep the younger man off of him. The fifth round would be the last round Joe would win in his career.

In the sixth round you can see how Joe’s legs appeared stiff. He lost the bend in his knees and could not move away from Rocky. There was no spring in his legs. At this point he began to take an awful beating. Rocky was landing rights to the head while punishing Joe’s body. It was just a matter of time before the end.  Suddenly, Joe became an old man. Boxing is a cruel sport where old age strikes early.

When the bell rang for the 8th round an exhausted and bruised Louis stepped forward slowly. He was not only worn out from the blows of Marciano, but also from the years of fighting and training. Louis had been fighting professionally since 1934 and as an amateur before that. He had always trained hard and he had fought often, only taking time out to serve his country during WW II. He had never failed to give his all and was doing it again on this night. However, his tank was now empty and his opponent was relentless.

About a minute and a half into the round Marciano floored Louis with a short and powerful left hook. Louis stayed on one knee while taking an eight count. When Joe rose Rocky went in to end the fight. He backed Louis up to the ropes and landed two left hooks. After the second hook, Louis’s hands dropped to his side and Marciano landed a right that drove Louis down and through the ropes. As he landed on his back members of the press sitting at ringside reached up to help him. You can see the look of sadness on their faces. A police officer jumped onto the ring apron. Cornermen and the ring doctor rushed to him and made a protective circle around the fallen champ. There was a sudden outpouring of grief that can still be felt while watching the old black and white footage. The scene made me think of a line from Shakespeare’s Richard II, “For God’s sake, let us sit upon the ground and tell sad tales of the death of kings”. 

As you look at Rocky’s face as they announce him the victor, you see no joy. It has been reported Marciano wept in his dressing room. He said to Louis, “I’m sorry Joe”. Joe responded “What’s the use of crying? The better man won. I guess everything happens for the best.”

Joe Louis would retire for good after this fight, but his financial problems continued. He turned to professional wrestling for a time and did some refereeing. He eventually ended up working as a greeter in Las Vegas. While his life didn’t turn out the way it should have, he never lost the love and admiration of the American people. He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery, a fitting tribute to a man who gave so much to his country.

Rocky Marciano went on to win the championship and retired undefeated. The Rock remained retired, being one of the few who was not lured back into the ring. Tragically, he died in a plane crash in 1969 at the age of 45.

Joe Louis and Rocky Marciano were two of the greatest heavyweight champions. Both displayed class and dignity in and out of the ring. That class was displayed by each man when they met in the ring. If you want a lesson in how to be a good winner, how to be a good loser, just follow their example.

John Douglas Thompson To Play Emile Griffith In Boston Production

“Man In The Ring”

The Story Of Boxing Champion

Emile Griffith To Open 

At The Huntington 

John Douglas Thompson

In exciting news for both boxing and theatre fans, the Huntington Theatre Company production of Man In The Ring will be opening at the Calderwood Pavilion at the Boston Center for the Arts on November 16. The play, written by Pulitzer Prize winner Michael Cristofer, will run through December 22. Man In The Ring chronicles the life of former Welterweight and Middleweight Champion Emile Griffith. 

Griffith’s story will span the time of his humble beginnings in the Virgin Islands, his love affairs, and the tragedy in the ring that forever changed his life. It its a complex story that is both touching and tragic.

I am very excited to hear that John Douglas Thompson has been cast in the role Emile Griffith as an older man. Mr. Douglas is one of the best actors on stage today, and I had the pleasure of seeing him in the world premiere of Terry Teachout’s Satchmo at the Waldorf n 2012. He was simply phenomenal that night. Most recently, he played Starkeeper in the Broadway production of Carousel. It will be interesting to see him play Griffith as an older man who if suffering from the effects of his years in the ring as well as the emotional turmoil from the Benny Paret fight.  

Kyle Vincent Terry

Kyle Vincent Terry will be playing the younger Griffith. Mr. Terry served as fight choreographer for The Royale which I saw last year at the Merrimack Repertory Theatre. The fight scenes in that production were very creative and well done. It is a challenge to create what happens in a boxing ring onto a stage, and Mr. Terry work was quite impressive.

Playwright Michael Cristofer won the Tony Award and Pulitzer Prize for his 1977 play The Shadow Box. In his script for Man In The Ring, Mr. Cristofer explores Emile Griffith’s struggle with his homosexuality which was an open secret in the boxing world during his career. Benny Paret’s taunts of Griffith before their tragic fight have always been thought to have contributed to Emile’s fire in the ring that night.

“Emile Griffith was a true hero in my book”, says Cristofer. “He was a young immigrant form the Virgin Islands and a man struggling with his identity while in a brutal sport who, as an older man slipping into dementia, worked to find peace amid the love, pain, and joy that was his life.”

Emile Griffith

Huntington Artistic Director Peter DuBois says “One of the hardest things to do in theatre is to tell the full story of a complex person’s life. Michael Cristofer beautifully captures the excessive, eccentric, and emotional parts of Emile’s amazing story by mixing the champ’s easy charm with the raw and traumatic things he experienced.”

The cast also includes Victor Almanzer as Luis, Griffith’s lover and later his caretaker, Starla Benford as Griffith’s mother Emelda, Krystal Joy Brown as his wife Sadie, Gordon Clapp as manager Howie Albert. Sean Boyce Johnson is cast as Benny “Kid” Paret with Carla Martinez playing his wife Lucia. Eliseo Sosa will play Paret’s manager Manuel Alfaro. 

Man In The Ring will be directed by multiple Tony Award  nominee Michael Greif. Michael McElroy is the music director and composer of incidental music. 

Man In The Ring

Huntington Theater Company

Playing at the Calderwood Pavilion, Boston Center For The Arts

527 Tremont Street, Boston 

November 16 through December 22, 2018

huntingtontheatre.org

617.266.0800

Was There Almost A Rocky 2.0?

Marciano Considered Coming Back To Fight

Ingemar Johansson in 1959

Was He Serious?

By Bobby Franklin

On September 22, 1955 Rocky Marciano stepped into the ring to defend his title in Yankee Stadium against the great Archie Moore. It was a bruising fight with Moore dropping the Champion in the second round, but Rocky eventually wore down his cagey opponent and stopped him in the 9th round. While the fight was one sided in the scoring up until the stoppage, it was by no means an easy fight for the Rock. Moore was a great boxer and a powerful puncher, and he landed punches on Marciano that would have flattened other mortals. But Marciano was no mortal when he was in the heat of battle. He seemed to get stronger when he got hit, and his drive and determination were too much for the 49 men he met and defeated in the ring.

This would be Marciano’s last fight, seven months later he would retire citing his desire to spend more time with his wife and daughter. He did leave a slight window open for a return to the ring when he said “No man can say what he will do in the future, but barring poverty, the ring has seen the last of me.”

It is reported that Rocky told those close to him that the real reason for his retirement was his displeasure with his manager Al Weill and the way his money was being handled. Rocky believed he was being taking advantage of and wanted out.

I was speaking with Mike Silver, the author of The Arc of Boxing, and we both agreed that while both of these reasons are legitimate we felt that Marciano may have finally tired of the grind of training and the pain he had to go through in each of his fights. Again, while the Moore bout may have seemed one sided in the scoring, Rocky took some terrible blows in the fight and had to be feeling the effects for days afterwards. The Champ was not a stupid man and may have figured it was best to get out while he still had his faculties, a decision, sadly, too few fighters make, and one that he should be admired for.

Rocky went on to enjoy retired life, and with only a bit of a tease when he pretended to consider a comeback when made an offer by promoter Jim Norris about a year after the his retirement, he looked to be permanently out of the ring. 

Rocky Marciano Training For a Comeback In 1959

Recently, I got to view some photos of Marciano that were taken in 1959. They show a healthy but bit pudgy former champ hitting a heavy bag under the watchful eye of his trainer Charley Goldman. Was this some type of a publicity stunt? I called the expert, my friend Dan Cuoco of IBRO to ask what he knew about this. He told me that Rocky had indeed contemplated a comeback in 1959. It was to be a one bout deal for in excess of a million dollars, and he would challenge Ingemar Johansson for the title. So, what happened?

There hasn’t been a lot written about this subject, but it does appear the former champion trained for about a month in Florida and that these sessions did receive coverage. Dan sent me a copy of an item that appeared in the Boston Traveler on January 16, 1960. In the short piece penned by Bill Liston, he states that he has heard that Marciano is training for a comeback but hopes it doesn’t happen. Though he believes Rocky would have no problem dispatching the new Champion he thinks Rocky should leave well enough alone. He also theorizes that Marciano was doing this to enhance his marketability for public appearances and refereeing. 

Charley Goldman Tapes Rocky’s Hands

Others have said he was serious about fighting Johansson and only gave up on it when his back, a life long problem he had, started giving him trouble. Mike Silver told me Rocky had met the Swede and felt he would have no problem taking him. I can see how tempting the thought must have been to Marciano. Here he would stand to make over a million dollars, hit the magic 50 and 0 mark on his record, and be on top of the world again. However, Ingo lost the title back to Floyd Patterson and that would lead to a third match between the two, and another year gone by before a bout with Marciano could be negotiated, another good reason not to keep at it.

I think the real reason is a combination of the two theories. There had to be no doubt in Rocky’s mind that he could beat Johansson and he had to have thought seriously, even if just briefly, about taking him on. He also saw how this enhanced his image as so many great athletes are forgotten not long after they leave the spotlight. By doing this, Rocky was able to keep his legend alive and his name in the news. he would go on to host a popular television show and continue to be in demand for public appearances.  In a second item sent to me by Mr. Cuoco, an AP story dated January 15, 1961, once again Marciano teased the public a bit about a possible comeback. When asked about how he would do against Liston or Patterson Rocky states “ I’m not the boasting type, I don’t want to say I could whip them. But then I don’t want to lie about it either.” He seemed to be enjoying tantalizing his fans with the thought they could see him in the ring again.

Rocky would eventually return to the ring in a futuristic and bit eerie way. The Rock and Muhammad Ali sparred a number of rounds together and the footage of that sparring was pieced together to make a computer created match that was shown in theatres across the country. The sparring was filmed in 1969, just a few months before Rocky’s untimely death in a plane crash. It was shown in 1970. It is strange that Marciano’s comeback, such as it was, would happen after his death. The computer had the Rock winning by knock out in the 13th round.

This article first appeared in the Boston Post Gazette on March 20, 2015 in slightly different form.

When Eddie Ran Into Ingo’s Toonder

Machen vs Johansson Took Place 

60 Years Ago

What Really Happened?

By Bobby Franklin

In 1958 Eddie Machen was the leading contender for the heavyweight championship held by Floyd Patterson. Machen was undefeated and held victories over such men as Joey Maxim (twice), Nino Valdes, Bob Baker, and Tommy Jackson. Of course, having a strong claim to a title shot during the reign of Floyd Patterson was a sure way of never receiving one. The leading contenders of the day were routinely bypassed in favor of inferior opposition.

While the top contenders included men named Liston, Valdes, Pastrano, and Folley, Patterson’s manager Cus D’Amato opted instead for bouts with the likes of unranked Roy Harris, Pete Rademacher (he was making his pro debut in his title shot), Brian London (whose ticket to Floyd was a loss to a young Henry Cooper), and Tommy Jackson (Floyd had already defeated him before becoming champion). It was truly a dark time for the heavyweight championship. 

Meanwhile, over in Sweden a young star was making some waves. His name was Ingemar Johansson and he was undefeated. Ingo was scoring knockouts with a lethal right hand that was known as “Ingo’s Toonder”. His record was impressive but not his opposition. He had won the European Heavyweight Championship when he kayoed Franco Cavicchi in the 13th round. 

His other notable wins were a 10 round decision over Brit Joe Bygraves, a one round kayo of Hein Ten Hoff, a 5th round knockout of Henry Cooper, and a decision win over American Archie McBride. None of these opponents were near the quality of Machen, Liston, or Folley. Also, Ingemar had not been seen by fans in the U.S., so he was truly an unknown quantity. On top of this, ever since Tommy Farr had given Joe Louis a very tough go of it in his title challenge, European Heavyweights had not been taken seriously.

What happens next in the heavyweight division is something that is worth looking into. It is 1958 and we have Eddie Machen as the top contender. He is undefeated in 24 fights with 15 knockouts. In any other era he would have received a well deserved title shot. But the title is now controlled by D’Amato and he is having nothing to do with signing Floyd to fight a serious opponent. Machen now signs to fight number two contender Zora Folley, another deserving contender. The two fight to a draw. Meanwhile, Patterson bypasses both men and takes on Harris and London instead. A disgrace.

After the Folley fight Machen is offered a match against Ingemar Johansson in Sweden. The fight doesn’t make any sense for Eddie other than it would be a decent payday, but number one contenders do not look for decent paydays, as the ultimate payday is winning the crown. Why would he take on an unknown quantity such as Johansson in Ingo’s home town and risk everything, while having nothing to gain?

For years it was thought Machen took a dive in the fight. When I was young that was the word among all the knowledgable fight people. The story was that D’Amato’s people, and he had some very shady people around him, had told Machen that if he lost to Johansson they would guarantee him a title shot later on. This was not unprecedented. Jake LaMotta had agreed to such a deal when he fought Billy Fox. He threw the fight and did get a title shot in return.

Why would D’Amato want Ingo to win? In Ingo he saw the potential for a big draw with little risk of Floyd losing. He had heard Johansson was another slow moving European heavyweight who would pose no threat to Floyd. His undefeated record would make good copy for publicity, and a win over Machen would give him number one contender status, a status none of Floyd’s previous challengers had ever come near to having.

The story gets really interesting here. Machen travels to Gothenburg and is knocked out in one round. Word in the States is Eddie took a dive. Movies of the fight were not distributed here so the rumors were easy to believe. It wasn’t until decades later that footage of the bout made its way to the U.S. 

Looking at it you see that not only did Ingemar legitimately kayo Machen, he nearly killed him. At the opening bell both fighters came out tentatively. Machen was standing straight up in a classic boxer’s stance throwing left jabs. Johansson was moving very quickly on his feet and circling Eddie while pawing with his left jab. About a minute into the fight, Ingo landed a tremendous right hand that dropped Machen. Eddie struggled to his feet and was dropped again by an Ingo right. He went down hard but managed to get to his feet. The fight should have been stopped here, but the “courageous” referee let it continue. Machen was driven to a corner and sank half way down while Johansson pummeled him mercilessly. The referee stood idly by. Finally, Machen fell to the canvas unconscious. It was as brutal a knock out as you will see. 

It looks as if this proves the fight was not fixed, right? Well, no. The fight could have been fixed and at the same time Johansson could have legitimately knocked out Machen. You see, Eddie would have been planning on losing a ten round decision. He would fulfill his end of the bargain and eventually get a title shot, though I very much doubt that would have happened. At the same time, Ingo proved to be much better than anyone believed and he was too much for Machen. His Toonder was the real thing. It ends up Machen ws knocked out before he could throw the fight.

Now, another question arises. If D’Amato was so hell bent on avoiding serious competition for Floyd, why would he now agree to have him defend against Johansson? Not only did Ingemar prove he could fight, he also showed he had one of the hardest right hands in heavyweight history. Cus would have taken Floyd and run for the hills to get away from him. If things had followed their usual M.O. it would have been Machen who would have been more likely to get a title shot after having been destroyed.

I believe D’Amato never saw a film of the Machen v Johansson bout. He believed Machen lost as planned, though made his exit sooner than exoected, and still figured Ingemar was an inferior opponent. Looking at how Cus managed Patterson it makes no sense he would have signed to fight Johasson after what he did to Machen. This was one time when Cus outsmarted himself, as Ingo took the title from Floyd in his next fight. Not only did he win the title but he destroyed Patterson in much the way he did Machen, only in this bout it ended in the third round. 

There is one final question that begs to be answered. If Machen was going to take a dive anyway, why didn’t he just stay down after the first knockdown? That’s easy to answer. Eddie was a pro with tremendous heart. He was seriously hurt when he went down the first time. It is likely he no longer knew where he was and began fighting on instinct, and his instincts were those of a courageous fighter. If you look at the film of the fight you will see Machen sitting in his corner after being stopped. He is seen mouthing the words “What Happened?” When his seconds respond you can read his lips again and see him saying “Really?”

And what did really happen? We’ll never know for sure, but I think the evidence backs up my theory.

Marvelous Marvin Hagler’s Toughest Fight

The Night  Marvin Took 

On “The Beast”

By Bobby Franklin

Boxing:Marvin Hagler vs John Mugabi (Orig. Cov. Date 3/24/86)
Credit: Manny Millan
SetNumber: X32793 TK1 R9 F20

Things never came easy for Marvelous Marvin Hagler. Joe Frazier once said to him “You’ve got three things going against you; You’re black, you’re a southpaw, and you are good”. Joe was right. Marvin had to do it the hard way. 

Even before he won the title Hagler was taking on the toughest middleweights in the world, and he was doing it for short money.

Even before he won the title Hagler was taking on the toughest middleweights in the world, and he was doing it for short money. In his fourth fight he took on local rival and outstanding amateur star Dornell Wigfall over whom he won a decision. He would win by a knockout in a rematch. 

In his 15th fight he beat Olympic Gold Medal winner Sugar Ray Seales. In a rematch in Seales’s hometown Marvin would be given a draw in a fight Marvin won easily, and in a third match in Boston Hagler removed all doubt by destroying Seales in one round.

Marvin would go on to beat the undefeated knockout artist Johnny Baldwin. After that fight, promoter J. Russell Peltz invited Hagler down to Philadelphia to try his hand against the best fighters the City of Brotherly Love had to offer. He took on Bobby Boogaloo Watts and lost a highly disputed decision. Next was Willie The Worm Monroe who beat Marvin fair and square though Hagler would come back to kayo Monroe in two rematches.

There were more victories against the likes of the murderous punching Eugene Cyclone Hart, Bennie Briscoe, Mike Colbert, Kevin Finnegan, and Doug Demmings. Remember, these fights were all before the Marvelous One had won the title. 

In fact, it wasn’t until his 55th bout that Hagler finally got a shot at the title only to be the victim of a terrible decision when, after clearly winning over fifteen rounds, the judges called his bout against Vito Antoufermo a draw.

Hagler would have to wait a year before getting another title shot, this time against the new champion Alan Minter. Marvin left nothing to chance by destroying Minter in the third round and finally, finally taking possession of the title.

Marvelous Marvin would successfully defend his title 12 times against the best and only Roberto Duran was able to last the distance with him.

Out of those defenses the one most talked about was his war against Tommy Hearns in which Marvin stopped the Motor City Cobra in the third round of one of the most exciting fights in history.

After that fight Hagler would make one more defense of the title before his showdown with Sugar Ray Leonard in 1987. It is that fight against John “The Beast” Mugabi that has somehow become lost when talk of Marvin’s career comes up. That is a shame because it very well may have been his finest hour. It also may give some clues to why Marvin fought the way he did against Leonard.

John Mugabi, from Uganda fighting out of England, was a natural boxer/puncher. He had incredible power in both hands and was also blessed with a chin made out of iron. He had earned a shot at Halger by beating a number of other up and coming middleweights and doing so in impressive style, knocking out all 25 of his opponents.

The fight took place on March 10, 1986 outdoors on a cool evening in Las Vegas. While Mugabi did not have anything matching Marvin’s experience, he did enter the ring with intense confidence and showed no fear of Hagler. 

It was just short of a year after Hagler’s war with Hearns and from the opening bell looked very much like it would be a repeat of that fight as Mugabi came out throwing bombs. There was one difference though, The Beast could also take the best Marvin had to offer and the grueling match went on for 11 rounds. While there were moments when the intensity would ebb just a bit, this was all out war.

I had seen just about all of Hagler’s fights going back to his amateur days and had never seen him rocked the way he was against Mugabi. The two traded monstrous punches round after round with Marvin staying ahead but at the same time absorbing some unbelievable blows. You saw two things in this fight that were very rare in a Hagler bout; Marvin’s head snapping back from the force of the uppercuts Mugabi was landing, and Hagler being forced to give ground. Also, Marvin’s left eye was almost completely closed by the end of the fight. But, as the saying goes, you should have seen the other guy. 

This was like an extended version of the Hagler/Herans fight.

While all rounds of the fight were exciting, it was the 6th that really stands out. In that round Hagler came out determined to end matters, and it appeared he would do just that as he unloaded with brutal blows to Mugabi’s chin. The Beast was rocked, he was forced back, he looked on the verge of crumbling, but then he came back to life and was rocking Halger with bombs of his own. The crowd was on its feet cheering as the round ended. After that it became a battle of attrition. 

Marvin was relentless in the fashion of Rocky Marciano. He wore Mugabi down and by the 11th round the effects of the punches and exhaustion put Mugabi down for the count. Marvin had dug down and showed what a champion is made of. Hagler survived punches that would have sunk a battle ship yet never was discouraged. Mugabi took monster shots from Hagler and kept coming. This was like an extended version of the Hagler/Herans fight. 

Marvin would next fight Ray Leonard who had said he saw something in the Mugabi fight that told him he could beat Marvin. He felt he could outbox him after that night.

Going into the Leonard fight Marvin was coming off two brutal wars; The battle with Hearns and the war with Mugabi. Hagler had no easy touch in between, but then again, nothing ever was easy for Hagler. 

I have always thought Marvin made a tactical mistake in the Leonard fight by not pressing Ray early. He allowed Leonard to get a rhythm and to gain confidence in the early rounds. I believe that Hagler, having just had two brutal wars, wanted to show the public he could outbox Leonard, beat him at his own game. I think if he had shown the same intensity he had displayed against Hearns and Mugabi he would have stopped Leonard. I still think Marvin deserved the decision in the fight, but once again, he couldn’t catch a break.

I do know one thing. Marvelous Marvin Hagler showed just why he was a great champion the night he stopped John Mugabi. He not only showed his talent, conditioning, punching power, and indestructible chin, he showed that indomitable “will to win” that makes for a very great champion. Marvin ranks high on the list of all time greats, and he earned that designation the hard way. We will never again see the likes of a Marvelous Marvin Hagler. 

Complete Fight:

A World Of Professional Amateurs

A WORLD OF PROFESSIONAL AMATEURS            

By Mike Silver

     A few weeks ago I watched an HBO boxing double header featuring two light heavyweight title fights: Sergey Kovalev vs. Eleider Alvarez and Dmitriy Bivol vs. Isaac Chilemba. The bouts confirmed to me that the art of boxing, as I knew it, is dead and unlikely to be revived anytime soon. 

  

  It’s not so much what I saw but what I didn’t see. As in so many other televised contests the sophisticated boxing skills that were once so common among the top echelon of professional fighters 50 or more years ago are absent from today’s champions and contenders. In the title fights mentioned above less than a dozen body punches were exchanged and there was virtually no infighting. There were no double jabs or combinations and no feints, ducking, parrying, or weaving under punches. Footwork was in two directions—forward and back. Absent was lateral movement or circling an opponent. Other than occasionally stepping back out of range to avoid a punch, defense was limited to the usual gloves in front of the face while standing still and waiting to be hit. No attempt was made to slip a punch and counter. Every round was a repeat of the previous because the fighters did not have the experience, training or ring savvy to know how to change tactics. 

Today the difference between the best amateur boxers and the best professional boxers is negligible.

         With few exceptions the majority of today’s top professional boxers all fight the same way. There is very little variety in their fighting styles. Even several years after turning pro it is basically the same style they used as amateurs. In the past that would have been perceived as a weakness when competing against an experienced professional. Today the difference between the best amateur boxers and the best professional boxers is negligible. And that is why, in boxing’s current culture and climate, it is impossible to produce a world champion who merits comparison to the greatest boxers of the 1920s to the 1970s. 

       One of the sport’s current stars is the former two time Olympic gold medalist (2008 and 2012) Vasyl Lomachenko. This extremely talented boxer won his first title in 2014 in only his third professional fight. Over the next four years he added two more divisional titles to his impressive resume. But we will never know how great Vasyl can become because the talent pool in the lighter weight divisions lacks depth. Where are the great fighters to test him? Answer: there are none.   

     Lomachenko is a rare commodity. He reminds us of the very promising professional prospects who often caught our attention during boxing’s golden age. But even if he had been competing during the last vestiges of that era—the 1960s and 1970s—his rise to the top would not have been as rapid or as easy. And there would be no guarantees he would ever win a title. Despite his amazing amateur record he would not have been ready this early in his career (less than a dozen professional fights in four and a half years) for the likes of Sugar Ramos, Vicente Saldivar, Carlos Ortiz, Nicolino Loche, Roberto Duran or Aaron Pryor.

This used to be known as “stick and move” strategy. It is rarely seen today.

     What makes Lomachenko stand out today is his use of extreme speed of punches combined with rapid and constantly shifting footwork that he uses to confuse and befuddle second rate opponents. This used to be known as “stick and move” strategy. It is rarely seen today. I’m grateful to Lomachenko for reviving it. Hopefully it will catch on. After all, a target swiftly moving to and fro is always more difficult to hit than a stationary one. It is a simple concept that doesn’t seem to have penetrated today’s boxers or their trainers. The best way to neutralize a constantly moving target is to either keep your opponent preoccupied with a busy left jab, make him miss, and then counter, or cut off the ring while applying unrelenting pressure. Luckily for Lomachenko there are no outstanding pressure fighters today in the mold of a prime Manny Pacquiao or Julio Ceasar Chavez. Another was Ray “Boom Boom” Manicini who gave the great Alexis Arguello trouble for 13 rounds. Ray wasn’t ready to take on Arguello but if we were to replace Arguello with Lomachenko I think the result would be a win for “Boom Boom”. 

     Forty years ago another gifted professional, Wilfred Benitez, won the junior welterweight title from the great Antonio Cervantes in his 26th professional fight. It is the same title Lomachenko won by stopping Jorge Linares in the 10th round on May 12th 2018. It was Loma’s 12th pro fight. Linares had a decent amount of professional experience but at best he is a slightly better than average boxer. Yet by using an effective jab and quick counters he was able to keep the fight even through nine rounds. Now what do you think would happen if we were to replace Linares with a prime Antonio Cervantes or Wilfred Benitez?  

 Perhaps a boxer with as much natural talent as Lomachenko may have adapted if he had come along 50 or more years ago. But it’s impossible to say. In years past there were so many terrific prospects who faltered when it came time to make the leap from great prospect to great boxer. 

     I don’t say this to demean the current crop of world champions. (At last count there were over 100 spread over 17 weight divisions!) The best of them possess an abundance of natural talent, are in excellent physical condition, have extensive amateur experience, and usually put forth a tremendous effort. It is not their fault that after turning pro they do not receive the type of quality training and competition that would have a positive impact in improving their boxing technique. 

A major reason for the lack of refined skills is the shortage of qualified teacher-trainers who understand and can teach the finer points of boxing technique.

     A major reason for the lack of refined skills is the shortage of qualified teacher-trainers who understand and can teach the finer points of boxing technique. Nevertheless, despite these drawbacks, I think it is important to make comparisons between today’s best and those of decades past if only to gain perspective and to inform and enlighten us as to what it truly means to be a great boxer.  

          Among today’s fighters there are a few who are not of the cookie cutter variety. Lomechenko, Terrance Crawford and Gennady Golovkin are in this category. They are pleasing to watch because they are capable of performing at a higher level than the sea of mediocrity that surrounds them. They bring back memories similar to the type of young talent we used to see years ago. Golovkin is the most “old school” of the three. But an accurate appraisal of their current level of overall skill and experience indicates they are not as well rounded and seasoned as the top contenders and champions of boxing’s golden past. Through no fault of their own they will never be tested in the same way the best fighters of the 1920s to 1970s were tested. They will never experience the type of brutal competition their counterparts in decades past had to contend with while trying to hold onto a title or a top ten rating.   

     Let’s return to the four fighters mentioned at the beginning of this article, all of whom are either current or former light heavyweight champions. How would they have fared against the best light heavyweight champions of the 1970s and early 1980s? (Comparisons to golden oldies like Loughran, Rosenbloom, Lewis, Conn, Moore or Johnson are unnecessary because the answer is too obvious). Does anyone who has seen the following boxers actually believe today’s champions could defeat Bob Foster, Mathew Saad Muhammad, Victor Galindez, John Conteh or Michael Spinks? And what about Richie Kates, Jerry “The Bull” Martin, Yacqui Lopez, Eddie Mustafah Muhammed, Jorge Ahumada, Dwight Braxton, Marvin Johnson and Eddie Davis? These 1970s era light heavyweights did not build up their records fighting 2nd and 3rd rate opponents, as is the norm today. They did not avoid the hard fights. 

All of the above proved to be tough and seasoned professionals capable of giving any great boxer of the past a competitive fight. Aside from the quality of their training and the seasoning they acquired over the course of their careers these accomplished professionals possessed another very important weapon: psychological toughness. A fighter who could combine that type of resilience with superior boxing skills was very, very tough to beat.   

 Of the four light heavyweights  who headlined the HBO show the best of the lot is Alvarez who won his portion of the title by stopping Kovalev in the seventh round. He did very well considering he hadn’t fought in over a year. (Long layoffs and inactivity is another feature of the current boxing scene). I am impressed by Alvarez but also saddened. He is extremely talented, well-schooled in basic boxing technique and is very determined. Had he been more active (only four fights in the last two years) he could have eclipsed Andre Ward as the star of the division. But at the age of 34 and with only 23 pro fights in 11 years the former amateur champion will never have the opportunity to realize his full potential.   

        Another example of unrealized professional talent is Dmitry Bivol. As a successful amateur boxer he engaged in nearly 300 fights, winning a slew of regional titles before turning pro in 2014. Three years later Dimitry won a portion of the world light heavyweight title in only his 12th professional fight. As an amateur he performed at the highest level. Using those same amateur skills he has attained great success in a very short time as a pro. Dmitry won’t be required to improve much beyond his current skill level because the line that once separated top amateur boxers from top professional boxers has become blurred. In his most recent bout he won a dreary 12 round decision against a second rate opponent whose purpose was just to survive the 12 rounds and collect his payday. It would be nice if the four current champs were to engage in a tournament to determine who is best—but don’t hold your breath waiting for that to happen.  

     Forty years ago Dmitry Bivol would be labelled a hot prospect and maybe in line for a semi-final in Madison Square Garden. But as good as he is Dmitry would not be ready to challenge a prime Victor Galindez, the reigning world light heavyweight champion. At that time 300 amateur fights and 14 pro wins (88 rounds) didn’t make you ready to challenge an outstanding professional boxer whose record showed over 50 pro bouts and 485 rounds.

That futile effort, and his opponent’s stubborn resistance, appeared to dampen Kovalev’s fighting spirit.

        And what of Kovalev—the once mighty “Krusher”?  Three years ago he put up a stirring but losing effort against a very good Andre Ward. That decision could have just as well gone to Kovalev. It was that close. His return bout with Ward seven months later ended in controversy and left many fans puzzled. Slightly ahead on points “The Krusher” took several borderline shots to the midsection. He reacted by draping himself over the ropes. The referee awarded the tko win to Ward. In his recent bout against Alvarez he was also ahead on points. Kovalev tried hard for a KO in rounds five and six but couldn’t put Alvarez away. That futile effort, and his opponent’s stubborn resistance, appeared to dampen  Kovalev’s fighting spirit. He came out for the seventh round looking tired and discouraged. Carrying his left hand dangerously low and moving slowly Kovalev was knocked down by a solid right cross. 

         What surprised me was that Kovalev, after arising from the first knockdown, did not appear to know what to do.  But a quick review of his record explained why. In nine years Kovalev had fought only 143 professional rounds. Seventeen of his 28 knockout victims never made it past the second round. A seasoned pro in the same situation would have known how to tie up his opponent in a clinch or bob and weave his way out of trouble, or at least make the attempt. Kovalev, used to knocking out inferior opposition, didn’t know what to do when the situation was reversed. He remained an open target and was quickly dropped twice more before the referee stopped the fight.

             If the reader is interested additional information related to the topic of this article is contained in the author’s book, “The Arc of Boxing: The Rise and Decline of the Sweet Science” (McFarland Publishing). It is available on Amazon. 

Mike’s other book is “Stars in the Ring: Jewish Champions in the Golden Age of Boxing”, also available on Amazon.  

 

   

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https://youtu.be/PXy3VHC0obY

Sonny Liston Vs Floyd Patterson What If There Had Been A Third Fight?

Sonny Liston Vs Floyd Patterson

What If There Had Been A Third Fight?

By Bobby Franklin

Sonny Liston and Floyd Patterson spent some time in the ring together, but not much. Their two fights combined lasted a total of only 4 minutes and 16 seconds with Liston winning by knock out in the first round on both occassions. The first fight took place in Chicago on September 25, 1962 and Sonny floored Floyd once, with that one knock down being for the ten count. Ten months later on July 22, 1963 in Las Vegas Liston dropped Patterson twice the with the second time being for the full count. 

In the two fights Patterson landed only one blow of any consequence, and that wasn’t much of a one. He grazed Liston with a right hand during the second fight. Other than that it was all Sonny. It is interesting to note that while the fights were blow outs, Liston did not come out swinging wildly. He took Floyd apart methodically, setting his man up with left jabs and solid body shots. Sonny showed fast hands, using an accurate left jab, along with hooks and uppercuts. He had a definite game blame and executed it perfectly. If they fought a hundred times during that period the result would have been the same. 

Patterson won the crown that had been left vacant when Rocky Marciano retired. He fought Archie Moore as the two were considered the leading contenders, and it was agreed the winner would be named the new heavyweight champion. After winning the title Cus D’Amato, Floyd’s manager, steered the new champ clear of any serous contenders. He had him fight second raters who appeared to pose no threat to Patterson. Fighters such as Roy Harris, Brian London, and Tom McNeeley. He even took on Olympic Champ Pete Rademacher who was making his pro debut the night of their title fight. 

Floyd did run into one contender who proved himself to be underestimated; Ingemar Johansson. Johansson won the title by defeating Patterson by kayo in the third round. Floyd would come back a year later to become the first man to regain the heavyweight championship when he flattened Ingemar n the fifth round. The two would meet a third time with Patterson winning again. 

From 1956 through 1961 the top contenders for the title were shut out from getting their deserved title shots. Men such as Cleveland Williams, Zora Folley, Eddie Machen, and Sonny Liston had to sit on the sidelines. It was not a good period for boxing, nor was it a good time for Patterson. It turns out that even though Floyd was making money and winning fights, he felt he was not proving himself as a man. In a high testosterone profession such as boxing that can cause feelings of shame.

It was Floyd who pushed D’Amato to make the match with Liston. Floyd had to prove to the world, and even more so to himself, that he was a true champion. Unfortunately, the outcome of both fights only left Patterson feeling more shame. The losses deeply embarrassed him. You think he might have given up boxing and taken up a more peaceful profession, but he soldiered on. 

Free of D’Amato’s protective hand he started fighting top contenders. He beat guys like Eddie Machen, George Chuvalo, and Charlie Powell. These wins put him in line for a shot at Muhammad Ali and the championship. Ali did not like Patterson and wanted to punish him. Floyd, unfortunately, went into the fight with a bad back and was limited in his movement. The one sided fight was stopped in the 12th round. 

Once again, Floyd did not let this stop him and he continued fighting. It was at this point in his career that Patterson started to really mature has a fighter. He would not lose a one sided fight again for the rest of his time in the ring. He kayoed Henry Cooper in four rounds, Fought a draw with Jerry Quarry in a fight many believed Floyd had won. In a rematch it was also thought he got a raw deal when Jerry was given the decision over him. He  beat Oscar Bonavena. 

Ellis vs Patterson

In a shot at Jimmy Ellis for the WBA Heavyweight Championship Floyd was robbed of a decision after fifteen rounds. He broke Jimmy’s nose in the first round and appeared to have captured at least a portion of the title for a third time. The sole judge, referee Harold Valan, thought differently.

During these same years Sonny Liston was on the comeback trail as well. He was also seeking to prove himself after his two embarrassing and suspicious losses to Ali. And, while Patterson was growing as a fighter, Sonny was taking on mostly journeyman and starting to age. He was hardly leading a life of health and fitness. His got wrapped up in the Las Vegas nightlife and was hanging out with shady characters. If you look at photos of him over these years you can see the aging in his face. In 1969 he took on Leotis Martin, and in the early going was having the better of it. But when Sonny came out for the 9th round he suddenly looked like an old man. It was apparent age and bad living had finally caught up with him. Martin flattened him in that round.

Martin Kayos Liston

Sonny would have one more fight six months later when he stopped Chuck Wepner. Six months after that he would be found dead.

I have heard Floyd Patterson always wanted a third fight with Sonny Liston. He still wanted to prove himself and show he good take the Big Bear. If the two had fought a rematch in, say, 1969 or so what would have happened? Patterson was fit and clean living, Sonny was old and had slowed down. It can be argued Floyd was stronger at this point in his life, though he hadn’t really grown much physically. However, he had grown a lot emotionally. 

I think a solid case can be made that Floyd would have won a third matchup. After losing to Ali in 1965 Floyd had 16 more fights with only three losses. Two of those three losses were considered bad decisions that should have gone in Patterson’s favor. He was not stopped again until his last fight which was against Muhammad Ali, and that stoppage was because of a cut eye. In the rematch with Ali, Floyd was doing much better than in their first encounter. He was competitive and it was too bad his eye was cut. It was an interesting fight.

A third fight with Liston would have also proved to be very interesting. Just imagine the Patterson of the Ellis fight fighting the Liston of the Martin fight. I think Floyd could have pulled out the victory. Now, wouldn’t that have been something!

Harry Greb Won The Title From Johnny Wilson But It May Not Have Been Easy

By Bobby Franklin

Wilson and Greb

On August 28, 1923 Harry Greb won the World Middleweight Championship from Johnny Wilson. Greb gained a fifteen round decision over the reigning champ who fought out of Boston. The fight was held at the Polo Grounds in New York. It has always been believed that Greb won the title in easy fashion over an outclassed Wilson. In fact, the New York Times reported that Harry won 13 of the 15 rounds. The headline said “Wilson, Slow and Awkward, Bewildered By Opponent’s Attack”.

After reading the Times’s report it appears it was only a formality for Greb to take the title. Wilson comes across almost as inept. The reporter from the Times also went on to write that “…the crowd showed its approval with a boisterous shout of acclaim for the-newly crowned champion”.

Six months later the two would meet in a rematch. It seems there would have been no call for the two to step into the ring against each other since the first fight was so one sided. Well, one sided at least according to the New York Times. Could the Times’s story been a case of “fake news”?

Greb vs Wilson

In the early years of the 20th Century, most states made it illegal for decisions to be officially given after a boxing match. Professional fights were only supposed to be exhibitions as the game was pretty much outlawed at the time. People still wanted to bet on the matches and in order to decide who won or lost fans would rely on the opinion of reporters covering the fights. Of course, this led to some wheeling and dealing behind the scenes in order to get a newspaperman to give a decision in favor of a certain boxer so that gamblers could collect on their choice. It was just another way of fixing fights. 

By the time Greb and Wilson fought, it had become legal for official decisions to be given in fights. However, newspaper reporters still liked to pick up that extra cash on the side and would take payoffs from managers and promoters to give favorable publicity to certain boxers. In some cases reporters would write stories about fights they had not even attended. Fake news was just as abundant then as it is today. 

In the case of the first Wilson vs Greb fight, the coverage from the Times has pretty much defined how that fight is remembered. Recently, the great boxing historian Gregory Speciale uncovered another report on the the fight. This one was written by the very highly esteemed reporter Robert Edgren. Mr. Edgren’s account of the fight is quite  different from the New York Times’ piece.

“Nobody felt sure which would get the decision when the fifteenth round was over.”

He begins his story, which was published in the New York Evening World on September 1, 1923, by completely contradicting the New York Times’ reporter who said the crowd shouted its approval of the verdict. Edgren wrote “Harry Greb today is the middleweight champion of the world but when Announcer Joe Humphreys…began his announcement ‘Winner and new champion’ there was no wild burst of applause. It was a victory with no sensational features, and not at all the overwhelming triumph the crowd had expected him to score over Johnny Wilson. Nobody felt sure which would get the decision when the fifteenth round was over.”

That’s quite different from what was reported in the Times. Edgren went on to report that Wilson gave Greb all kinds of trouble and even stated there was a case for Greb being disqualified because of the amount of holding and hitting he did. Wilson’s southpaw style and tactic of going to Greb’s body seems to have made things difficult for Harry. 

Johnny Wilson

Edgren ended his piece by opining how it was not a very exciting fight. He wrote “I’ve seen more excitement at a chess tournament, but it was all right. A world’s championship changed hands as expected.” I think if you read just a bit between the lines you get the message that there was no way Greb was going to lose that night.

I tend to believe the Edgren version over the NYT one as Robert Edgren had an impeccable reputation until the day he died. In fact, the same New York Times wrote in Edgren’s obituary that he was “known for truthfulness”.

There is no doubt that Harry Greb was one of the greatest middleweights of all time, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t have trouble with certain boxers. As I have written before, Greb was the only middleweight champ to both win and lose the title to southpaws. (He lost it to Tiger Flowers). 

Greb and Wilson fought two more times. Their second was a rematch for the title six months later, and according to Boxing Blade it was a close fight. The last fight took place in Boston on April 17, 1925 at the Mechanics Building. This was reported as the most exciting of their three fights with Greb winning a very close decision. 

It appears Wilson’s southpaw style was a problem for Greb, and it is also possible that Johnny very possibly could have been given the decision in any of these fights. 

It is unfortunate that Johnny Wilson is often considered more of a footnote in boxing history and best remembered for losing to Greb. It is also unfortunate that most people think Greb won in a cakewalk over him when it turns out Johnny Wilson gave Harry Greb more than enough to handle. It’s time to reassess Wilson’s talents as a fighter. The man could fight.

INSIDE THE RING WITH TEDDY ATLAS and ESPN 

By

Mike Silver

Timothy Bradley and Teddy Atlas

Considering the level of ignorance, incompetence and sophistry that has taken over virtually every aspect of today’s schizophrenic professional boxing scene it was a revelation of sorts—not to mention a breath of fresh air—to discover the recently televised (ESPN) series of five master classes conducted by world renowned boxing teacher-trainer Teddy Atlas. The program’s title, Inside the Ring, doesn’t do justice to the quality of “insider” information and knowledge that is imparted in each of the five segments totaling 47 minutes. Atlas, a protégé of the legendary Cus D’Amato, is the former trainer of Mike Tyson, Michael Moorer, Timothy Bradley and a slew of other notable champions and contenders. For over 20 years he also served as a ringside commentator for ESPN’s televised boxing cards.

With the premier of Inside the Ring (first televised in May and June) Teddy’s role as teacher, historian and boxing psychologist is fully realized. The program brought together Atlas and one of the best boxers in the world, the undisputed super lightweight champion Terence Crawford whose current record shows 33 victories and no losses. Last month Terence added a welterweight title belt to his already impressive resume. 

With both men seated in a boxing ring they reviewed filmed highlights of five of Crawford’s most important fights and discussed how each contributed to the progression of his boxing skills. At its core this program is an engaging and enlightening conversation between an accomplished boxer and a master trainer as they examine and explain the various technical subtleties and strategies on display.  

What transpires is a wonderful “teacher and student” vibe in which the audience becomes privy to aspects of boxing technique that are seldom revealed or understood.

Inside the Ring makes good use of the fight films, often reverting to slow motion so the audience can more readily see what is being described and analyzed. Atlas’s insightful observations, interspersed with Crawford’s astute comments, are both eye opening and entertaining. The mutual respect each has for the other is obvious. Crawford comes off as personable and intelligent. In explaining to Atlas why he decided on a certain strategy Crawford reveals himself to be a thinking fighter who can easily articulate his methodology. What transpires is a wonderful “teacher and student” vibe in which the audience becomes privy to aspects of boxing technique that are seldom revealed or understood.

Teddy Instructing Michael Moorer

Each episode also includes Atlas and Crawford standing up to demonstrate a significant move or counter move that was utilized during the course of a match. Some of the topics discussed include how timing can nullify speed, how to handle a taller opponent, the importance of footwork for defense, or why Crawford was getting hit by an opponent’s left jab. There is a wonderfully revealing moment during the viewing of Crawford’s breakthrough bout with Yuriorkis Gamboa, a talented fighter with as much boxing skill as Crawford but of late hampered by inactivity and age. A slow motion replay shows Crawford getting tagged with a solid right cross. It was Gamboa’s best punch of the fight. Atlas explains that Gamboa set up the punch with a feint and a “throwaway left hook” that distracted Crawford and left him open. Lesson learned. 

This type of real boxing knowledge is like imbibing a cool glass of sweet lemonade on a hot summer day.

This is as far away as one can get from the mindless “rock ‘em sock ‘em” robotic style of too many of today’s poorly coached boxers. Every moment of Inside the Ring is filled with information that relates to tactics and strategy. Thankfully the overused and simplistic “punch stats” aka “CompuBox” numbers are never mentioned. Atlas and Crawford are less concerned with counting up the number of punches than with understanding and explaining what created the situations for those punches to find (or not to find) their targets in the first place. As opposed to the usual mundane and hyperbolic verbiage that accompanies most televised fights, exposure to this type of real boxing knowledge is like imbibing a cool glass of sweet lemonade on a hot summer day. 

As of today there are no plans to continue the series. That is unfortunate because ESPN is in possession of a treasure that is not being utilized to its fullest extent. That treasure is Atlas’s extraordinary knowledge and teaching skills combined with ESPN’s vast collection of boxing films from the 1890s to the present. 

Not only would such a program improve the boxing IQ of every fan, it would improve the overall quality of the sport!

How great would it be to experience Atlas analyzing and interpreting the boxing techniques, strengths, and weaknesses of the sport’s biggest stars of the past and present in the setting described above? I have no doubt that such a program would do much to revive, or at the very least improve, the lost art of boxing. It would be a shame if this program was just a one shot deal thus depriving us of future insights into the mysteries of the sweet science. Not only would such a program improve the boxing IQ of every fan, it would improve the overall quality of the sport! In other words, it would be a gift that would keep on giving. 

Boxing historian Mike Silver is the author of The Arc of Boxing: The Rise and Decline of the Sweet Science and Stars in the Ring: Jewish Champions in the Golden Age of Boxing. Both are available at Amazon.com

Tommy Burns: Smallest Heavyweight Champ Packed A Punch

A True “World” Champion

By Bobby Franklin

Unfortunately, Tommy Burns is best remembered for being the man from whom Jack Johnson won the Heavyweight title. That fight took place in 1908 in Sydney, Australia with Johnson winning a one sided victory. The fight has been recorded as a stoppage win for Johnson, but in some records it is stated Johnson won on points. The reason for the discrepancy is because an agreement had been made before the bout that if the police stepped in and stopped the fight it would be decided on points. Indeed, the police did put an end to the action, but it was apparent Tommy was not going to last much longer, so a stoppage victory is more the truth.

It has also been reported that Burns went into the fight still suffering from the effects of influenza. This is not to imply he would have beaten Johnson if he had been in top shape, but it goes to show the tremendous courage Tommy showed in standing up to Johnson for 14 rounds. Tommy not only stood up under a heavy physical beating, but also had to endure Johnson’s humiliating taunts. In spite of all this Burns never took a backwards step and gave it his all.

Born Noah Brusso on June 17, 1881 in Normanby Township near Hanover, Ontario, Canada, his family was of German descent and very poor. Tommy was the 12th of thirteen children, five of whom died before reaching adulthood. Tommy eventually landed in Detroit where he began his boxing career. He changed his name to Tommy Burns and began gaining quite the reputation as a small man who would take on opponents regardless of size. Burns had very strong legs from where he got much of his power.

Burns and Philadelphia Jack O’Brien

Tommy’s first major bout was against all-time great Philadelphia Jack O’Brien, and while he lost a decision to O’Brien he gave a good account of himself. He would go on to fight O’Brien two more times, both matches being in defense of his heavyweight title with one bout ending in a draw that most people thought Tommy won and the other in a clearcut victory for the champ.

At 5’7” Tommy Burns was the smallest heavyweight champion to ever hold the title. He was also one of the most active, as well as a true world champion defending the title all around the world and against all comers.

Burns first laid claim to the heavyweight championship with a victory over Marvin Hart. Hart had been designated the champion by Jim Jeffries when Marvin defeated Jack Root. Jeffries, who had retried as undefeated champ, thought he could name a successor, but the public never really accepted Hart. Nor did they accept Burns when he defeated Hart. Tommy knew this and decided to prove his worth by traveling the world and fighting the best fighters different countries had to offer. This took him to such places as London, Dublin, Paris, and Melbourne, Australia. Eventually he would gain public acceptance.

Burns and Philadelphia Jack O’Brien

Because of his small stature Tommy was often the underdog even when defending the title. He proved the oddsmakers wrong time and time again making thirteen defenses of the crown, the 4th most of any title holder. Two of those defenses came on the same night. Eleven of the victories were by knock out with only Jack O’Brien lasting the distance with him which he did on two occasions by running and holding. Burns’s kayo of Bill Squires at 1:28 of the first round is one of the fastest wins in any heavyweight title fight.

It has been widely reported that Tommy was ducking Jack Johnson and was forced into fighting him when Jack pursued him around the world. In reality, Tommy was also a smart businessman who managed himself. He held out for a big payday knowing the fight would be a huge attraction. When his demand for $30,000.00, more than twice the amount ever paid to a heavyweight champ was met, he quickly signed for the fight.

Burns was the first and only Canadian born boxer to win the heavyweight title. He holds the record for consecutive knock outs in heavyweight title fights with eleven. He is ranked 4th highest in heavyweight history for the number of times he defended the title. Jack Johnson was the first man to stop him in a fight and he would only lose by stoppage one more time, in his last fight when he was 39 years old and had been inactive for two years.

Tommy Burns may not have been an all-time great, but in his day he was a force to be reckoned with. Always in shape with an aggressive counter punching style, he packed dynamite in both fists.

Burns retired from the ring in 1920. He engaged in several business ventures including managing boxers and running a saloon. He eventually became a minister. Burns passed away in 1955 at the age of 73.

There is a Youtube clip of him speaking long after he retried. His voice is clear and strong and he shows no effects from having engaged in 58 fights, a testament to his skills. His final record stands at 46 wins (34 by knockout), 4 losses (2 by stoppage), and 8 draws. Very impressive.

Tommy Burns deserves to be remembered for much more than his bout with Jack Johnson. He was a true World Champion.