Great Knockout Artists
Great Defensive Boxers
It Was Hard To Stop These Guys
By Bobby Franklin
Recently, I wrote about Tony Canzoneri and argued that even though the stats did not show him to have an overabundance of knockouts, I still consider him to be a harder puncher than Roberto Duran. Of course, people will say if he was such a tremendous puncher why didn’t he have more kayos? The answer lies in the competition from the era in which he fought.
I’ve taken a look back at the Ring Magazine rankings of the featherweight, lightweight, and welterweight divisions during the 1930s. I choose these three divisions because many of the contenders in these weight classes fought in all three divisions during their careers. It is an impressive lot.
What is striking is the amount of all time great talent that was competing at the same time in these divisions. Even more striking is the fact that they did not avoid fighting one another. On top of this, it is amazing to read how often they fought and the total number of fights they had over their careers.
Even more amazing is how rare it was for any of them to be knocked out. You are not looking at the records of fighters who were being fed stiffs. No, these guys were the best and they were consistently fighting the best. When any fighter during that era became a champion, he was truly a champion. Being a ranked contender was a feat in and of itself.
So who were these men? Looking through the rankings the names that show up are incredible. Men such as Tony Canzoneri, Lou Ambers, Henry Armstrong, Fritzie Zivic, Charley Burley, Cocoa Kid, Baby Arizmendi, Sammy Angott, Petey Sarron, Ceferino Garcia, Jimmy McLarnin, Holman Williams, Kid Chocolate, Andy Callahan, Sammy Fuller, Billy Petrolle, Teddy Yarosz, Fidel LaBarba, Johnny Jadick, Lou Brouillard, Battling Battalino, Andy Martin, and Louis Kid Kaplan. While there are a lot of names here, it is only a partial list and only includes top ten contenders and champions. There were also dozens of fighters competing on a level just below the top ten who were incredible fighters. After all, in order to get into the top tier a fighter had to wade through those guys.
Looking at the records of the boxers on the list provides some interesting data. As I have pointed out with Canzoneri, many of these fighters were terrific punchers but did not have stunning knock out percentages the way many of today’s fighters do. Why is that? Because while today’s fighters are being fed a diet of stiffs to build up their records, the fighters from the 30s were fighting each other which meant they were fighting the best talent in the history of the sport.
Another thing they had going for them is they knew how to practice the art of boxing. They had defensive skills, were highly experienced, knew how to keep calm and were able to fight while hurt. These men were professionals in every sense of the word. Even beyond that, that were highly talented artists and craftsmen.
Something else to remember when taking their knockout percentages into account is the fact that these men were rarely kayoed themselves. When you have fighters of such high caliber fighting each other the odds of one stopping another go way down.
In the list of 23 fighters I have compiled above, they have a combined total record of 3,154 bouts. Out of that huge sum there were only 55 fights where they lost by kayo. Boxers such as Barney Ross, Charley Burley, and Fidel LaBarba were never stopped. Others, such as Teddy Yarosz (127 fights), Lou Brouillard (133 fights), Battling Battalino (88 fights), Sammy Angott (131 fights), Petey Sarron (139 fights), Jimmy McLarnin (69 fights), and Canzoneri (171 fights) were only stopped once. The highest amount of losses for a fighter by kayo was 6. One was Johnny Jadick (6 out of 153 total fights) and the other was Ceferino Garcia (6 out of 120 fights).
Henry Armstrong had 183 fights and was only stopped twice. One of those was in his first pro fight. He was stopped one other time, by Fritzie Zivic. Zivic had a total of 232 fights and only lost four times by kayo.
These are astounding numbers, made even more so when you look at the level of competition these men were facing. But if you think more deeply about what was going on, then it isn’t surprising to see these statistics.
To begin with, none of these fighters entered the ring assuming they were going to win by knock out. They were always ready to go the distance. They would score a kayo if the opportunity presented itself, which was rare when facing such talented opposition. They also had great defensive skills. Fighting often, as did Canzoneri when he fought 13 times in 1930 alone, they were always sharp. On top of this, when in the gym they were sparring with seasoned pros. They studied the sport and knew it in depth.
These great fighters also knew how to keep their wits about them in a fight. When hurt the kept their composure. They knew how to tie up an opponent and take time to clear their heads. They also knew not to get wild when they had an opponent hurt as often a hurt fighter could be more dangerous, and getting wild with punches would leave give that opponent an opportunity to land a shot that could turn the fight around.
When comparing fighters from today to the greats of the past it is important to look at more than just knock out percentages. You have to take into account the level of opposition. When you do that there is no comparison. Just spend some time watching these old masters at work and you will see how superior they were.