Category Archives: Boxing Articles

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


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.  




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.



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

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.

Stop Complaining About The Heat!

Just Imagine What It Was Like Being Ringside

At Toledo On July 4, 1919

By Bobby Franklin

So, now that the long winter is finally a thing of the past and summer is in full swing we are already hearing the complaints about the heat. As people go from there air conditioned homes to their air conditioned cars to their air conditioned offices they can’t seem to resist bemoaning the hot weather. While having dinner in an air conditioned restaurant after attending a movie at an air conditioned theater the topic turns to how miserable they are because of the heat. 

We live in an unprecedented time in human history. Never have so many lived in such comfort; We have indoor plumbing, central heating, cooling, home entertainment centers, and supermarkets with an endless supply of food at our fingertips, and medical care that is beyond what anyone could have imagined just a few years ago. Poor people in the United States today have more comfort than the wealthiest people did as little as a hundred years ago, yet we all seem to be complaining more than ever. It seems human beings react to positive change by looking for more reasons to be unhappy.

A lot of this may be blamed on the amygdala, the part of our brain that plays the primary role in our processing of memory, decision making, and emotional response. The amygdala is programmed to seek out bad news. It does this because bad things can harm us, and in order to be able to defend ourselves from harm we must be alert to danger. With less danger around us the amygdala will become alert to more minor problems. It is one of the reasons we are so influenced by bad news. The more negative things we hear, the more likely we are to think things are much worse than they are.

At a time when we should be counting our blessings we have become a nation of whining children.

At a time when we should be counting our blessings we have become a nation of whining children. It really is tragic that with so much good around us we just can’t seem to stop and smell the roses. We have lost all sight of how tough things used to be. 

As July 4 approaches I think back to an earlier Independence Day. No, not the one in 1776, but one just less than a hundred years ago. I have written about it before, the day Jack Dempsey won the Heavyweight Title from Jess Willard. While it was a brutal fight, I have often wondered what it was like have been sitting at ringside that day in Toledo, Ohio. While the fighters had to deal with the heat, they were in the ring for less than a half an hour, the spectators spent all afternoon there, and what an afternoon it was. 

110 Degrees At Ringside!

When the crowd first arrived the temperature was in the nineties and rose to 110 degrees by the time the main event took place. The fight was outdoors and there was no shade. The sky was clear and the sun was blazing. On top of this, there was a shortage of beverages. The night before, a huge batch of lemonade had been made, but the fighter Battling Nelson mistook the tub containing the refreshing drink for a bathtub and bathed in it. Water was brought in, but not enough, and what there was was warm.

Promoter Tex Rickard had the stadium built just for the fight, and it was put up fast. The lumber used had not had time to season so when people sat down on the boards the sap was leaking out sticking many of them to their seats and ruining there clothing. I guess it was one way to keep people from staying in their seats.

You also have to remember that back then people did not have access to cool clothing. Most were wearing wool pants and jackets. The only protection they had from the sun were the straw hats they were wearing. There was no where to go for relief. Hotels and bars were not air conditioned. They might find a place with a fan or two, but that would mostly just circulate the hot air. It had to be miserable being there, but watching a film of the fight and the reaction to Dempsey winning the title, the heat did not dampen the enthusiasm of the crowd. 

It’s funny, but as tough as things were back then, I doubt many people complained. Daily life even for the best off was something we could not even imagine today. Life was hard and so were the people, but they dealt with it and moved forward. And, in moving forward they continually worked to make things better. Now that we have achieved so much it might be nice if we put things into perspective and stopped complaining for a while and instead, started counting our blessings. 

As hot and sticky a day it was on July 4, 1919, the people attending the Dempsey/Willard fight were actually there to have a good time, and they did. It would soon be back to work for them where things would be even harder. I’ve often thought that Jack Dempsey was possibly the toughest man that ever lived, but those fans at ringside were pretty hard characters too. Next time you complain about the heat while sitting with friends in an air conditioned room, just imagine yourself at ringside in Toledo in 1919. And also remember, those folks were there to have fun.


The Ros Muc Legend

THE MAN WHO WAS NEVER KNOCKED DOWN: The Life of Boxer Sean Mannion.

By Ronan Mac Con Iomaire.

Rowman & Littlefield, June 2018. 240 pages.

Reviewed by Len Abram

Boxing biographies, like boxers in fiction and film, are usually about champions, those who reached the craggy peak of success, a title. This book is about a contender, who missed being champion, by not that much. In the 1980s, although Sean Mannion was a top contender, with many great fights, he never wore the gaudy belts of the WBA or the WBC, arbiters of the sport. For fellow Irishman Ronan Mac Con Iomaire, his biographer, Mannion deserves a second chance for the public to respect the fighter he was, and honor the man he is. The man who was never knocked down is still standing.

Iomaire has already helped produce a documentary about Mannion. In 2017, his “Rocky Ros Muc” was well received by Irish film critics. Mannion’s story begins in the village of Ros Muc in Connemara, western Ireland. Its most notable inhabitants, including Mannion, had to leave to find fame and success. Ireland’s people, it has been said, is its greatest export. The mother of the current mayor of Boston came from the village.

When Sean Mannion climbed through the ropes for every fight, the label on his trunks read “Rosmuc,” for his village of 500. Mannion was once offered thousands of dollars to change the “Rosmuc” to the name of a business or a product, but he refused. He wouldn’t do it for a million, he said. “Rocky Ros Muc” is a reference to the Rocky of the most popular boxing story on film. That Rocky was a thick tongued, Phillie native, who punches his way to glory against all the odds, from lower class to sports aristocracy. The 20 foot square of the ring has its own truth to tell in the sweat and blood of opponents. Pedigree, privilege, and position don’t count a whit once the bell is rung and the fight is on. At its best, the ring is a meritocracy.

In reality, as Iomaire explains, boxing is a big business, where few are fortunate – Sugar Ray Leonard was the first to make $100 million in the sport – and most of the rest, like Mannion, barely make a living. Managers, those who direct the talent and careers of the boxer, make a major difference, the choice of manager a mix of opportunity and luck. Mannion’s best manager, the legendary Angelo Dundee, appreciated his boxers and called each “my guy.” For Dundee, boxers, their well-being, came first. His job was to enhance their physical and psychological health to make them champions.

Dundee finished his career with 15 champions. He considered Mannion as one of his most talented boxers. Dundee noted how tough Mannion was. It was he who remarked that Sean had never been knocked down, the title of Iomaire’s biography. Mannion could take a punch and distribute its force, roll with it, to lessen its impact. Mannion was a natural fighter, and often sparred out of his weight class. Dundee’s regret is that he didn’t manage Mannion when he was 20, instead of 30, nearing retirement.

Iomaire has a convincing example of the other kind of management, where the boxer’s interests do not come first. In the early 1980s, a fight between the highly ranked Tommy Hearns and the unknown Sean Mannion was proposed. Aside from more money, success or even a good showing in the matchup would have elevated Mannion’s career and prospects. NBC commentator Dr. Ferdie Pacheco vetoed the fight because of Mannion’s manager then, Jimmy Connolly.

In June 1981, Connolly had committed Mannion to fight Davey “Boy” Green in London, but Mannion remained stateside for a wedding. Connolly was on the hook for a fighter against Green. He put in Danny Long after Long, just coming off a hard loss against Alex Ramos, had only 10 days of rest. Against Green, Long was beaten in four rounds, and his face, according to Iomaire, looked like someone had taken a baseball bat to it.

Pacheco was furious. Allowing Long only 10 days of rest was abuse, an example of what’s wrong with boxing. To the newspapers, he complained that’s how boxers got killed. Pacheco wouldn’t  allow any fighter managed by Connolly to be on NBC, not because of the boxers, but their manager. So the bout between Mannion and Hearns didn’t happen.  (Pacheco also told Muhammed Ali to retire when Ali’s reflexes slowed, but the champ ignored the advice.) 

Mannion continued his rise in the ranks until he got his chance to fight for the light middleweight crown. On October 19, 1984, in perhaps the most meaningful contest in his career, he went 15 rounds against one of the best of his class, Mike McCallum, whom Tommy Hearns reportedly feared and avoided fighting. A veteran of over 250 fights, a natural warrior like Mannion, McCallum would be his toughest opponent. Mannion, however, was fearless.

Fortune did not smile on the Irishman. Five weeks before the fight, Mannion’s eye was cut by an errant elbow during sparring. The stitches made it impossible for him to spar. The wound had to heal. Mannion trained, hit the bags and pads, and ran the miles, but he lost the sharpness gained through sparring. In the fight, McCallum’s punches reopened the cut and shut Mannion’s right eye. Although he was lucky to last through the 15th , Mannion lost the decision. McCallum went on to defend his title many times after, but never faced Mannion again, his toughest opponent.

The fight at Madison Square Garden, as Iomaire describes it, explains elements of Mannion’s identity, what made the fighter into who he is. South Station ran extra trains to New York to accommodate all the Boston Irish, on their way to attend the fight. Iomaire estimates that 10,000 of the 20,000 in the arena were Mannion fans.

Like the “Rosmuc” stitched onto his trunks, the Gaelic language of Ireland epitomized Mannion’s roots, and perhaps Ireland’s painful history, the poverty, wars, famines, and oppression. Paddy, Mannion’s brother and cornerman at his fights, used to shout at him in Gaelic to lift Mannion’s spirits and remind him who he was. Mannion feared no man, but he was worried that he would bring shame to Ireland and Ros Muc.

That wasn’t the case. When he returned to Ros Muc after his defeat, he was treated as a hero for representing Ireland in a championship bout. Sean Mannion never became champion in any division. He fought until retiring in 1993 at age 36. He worked construction in Boston to make a living. For a while, he trained boxers, but apparently his gym closed, the interest in boxing waning and the interest in property rising, as poorer sections of Boston gentrified.

Iomaire says little about Mannion’s personal life (we learn late he was divorced, remarried, and has a daughter) or his problem with drinking, perhaps those empty calories one reason he struggled to make his weight class. Readers will be fascinated by the episode when Mannion had to lose nine pounds in a day to make the welterweight requirement, or forfeit the fight. Mannion got through that ordeal, as he did through every challenge in the sport of boxing – except winning the title, champion.

Could Joe Louis Beat Today’s Big Heavyweights? He Sure Could.

He Beat Giant Buddy Baer Twice

By Bobby Franklin

Poking around on social media recently I came across a discussion where the “experts” were once again going on about how today’s big heavyweights would be just too strong for the champs from previous eras. There was little disagreement that guys like Wilder, Joshua, and the Klitschko brothers would walk through fighters such as Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano, and Jack Dempsey. One person commented that all of the big heavyweights of the past 25 years would have beaten all of the smaller heavyweights that came before them. These people seem to believe we were living in Munchkin Land until the past couple of decades. Using their reasoning we would have to believe Jess Willard and Primo Carnera were the greatest heavyweight champions of the past century since they were comparable in size to today’s fighters. 

I could go on about the number of “small” heavyweight champs who took apart men much larger in size than they were. I have written in the past that in many of these matchups where the champ was taking on a much larger opponent, not only did the smaller man win, but it was not even close to being his toughest fight.

Since it seems so many of these experts just can’t get past believing size is the most important factor in deciding the outcome of a heavyweight fight I thought I would once again come up with an example of why someone like Joe Louis would have had no problem defeating today’s crop oversized champs.

Buddy Baer was a contender for the heavyweight title in the early 1940s. He was the brother of former champ Max Baer. At 6’ 7” and weighing in at around 250 pounds he was comparable in size to today’s heavyweights. Buddy was also a tremendous puncher scoring 49 knockouts in his 53 wins. He lost only 7 fights and was stopped just twice. Baer was also lean and agile. He had excellent boxing moves to go along with his great strength. Unlike today’s wild swinging heavyweights, Baer threw short, accurate punches.

In 1941, Buddy stopped Tony Galento a win that put him in position to challenge heavyweight champ Joe Louis. The fight was set for May 23, 1941 in Washington, DC. Louis weighed in at 201 3/4 to Baer’s 237 pounds. Buddy, at 6’7”, was also 5 inches taller and had a much longer reach. Seeing the two of them step into the ring together gives you a sense of what Louis would have looked like matched up against Klitschko or Wilder. The one difference being that Buddy Baer was a much better boxer that either Deonty or Vlad.

Boxing experts covering the bout in 1941 were bit more savvy than those around today. They made Joe Louis a ten to one favorite over Baer despite the difference in weight and height. The experts I hear from today would have had Baer a hundred to one favorite based on his size. After all, how could Louis possibly beat someone so much bigger than he was? We all know Wilder and Klitschko would just walk through Louis because of their size and strength. The same would have to hold true for Baer. 

A funny thing happened when the bell rang for the start of the fight. Baer came out aggressively and went after Louis. Baer was not prone to the wild swings such are used by Deonty Wilder. Instead, he used much shorter and well placed punches. He did back Louis up. He even managed to deck Joe with a short and accurate left hook, sending Joe through the ropes. But after that  the fight became pretty much a one sided affair. You see, Louis did something that today’s experts aren’t terribly familiar with; He used his great boxing skills to turn Baer’s size against him. Joe was able to slip inside the big man’s arms and hit him with short and powerful punches that hurt him. 

Buddy Baer was no quitter and did manage to stay in the fight trying his best to overpower Louis, but by the sixth round he was nearing the end. In that round Louis floored Baer three times with devastating and accurate blows. The final knock down finished him off. There was some controversy over the ending of the fight as Baer’s handlers argued the last knock down had come from a punch that was landed after the bell. Baer was protecting himself at the time it was landed, so if the bell had indeed rung before the punch had landed neither fighter heard it. It made no difference in the outcome of the fight.

It did make a difference in how the fight was ruled. Baer was helped back to his corner and was on his stool when the bell rang for the seventh round. His handlers argued he should be given the win because of a foul. Referee Arthur Donovan did not agree and instead disqualified Baer because his seconds would not leave the ring and allow the fight to continue.

Louis v Baer Second Fight

The minor controversy was enough to get Buddy a rematch with Louis, and on January 9, 1942 the two met again at Madison Square Garden. This time Baer came in even heavier for the fight probably figuring the extra weight would work to his advantage. That theory feel apart before the bell could ring ending the first round. Louis was devastating in taking the giant apart dropping him three times in less than three minutes with the final knockdown being for the ten count.

If you can’t seem to visualize Joe Louis handling himself against the overgrown champs of today just take a look at his matches with Buddy Baer. You will see how the old adage “The bigger they are, the harder they fall” applies. 

Joe Louis would have no problem dealing with today’s unschooled giants. They would provide target practice for him. To say a Deonty Wilkder would be too big and strong for Louis is simply laughable. Joe would have had a field day with him.

It should also be noted that when Louis and Baer fought the second time WW II was underway. To help with the war effort Louis donated his entire purse of $47,100.94 from the fight to the Navy Relief Fund. Not only was Joe Louis a great champion, he was also a great American.