Three Heavyweights from Ohio

BY Jim Amato ON February 13, 2005
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Since 1982 the great state of Ohio has crowned no less then three men as the heavyweight champion of the world. That's not bad if you consider there are forty-nine other states, plus the territory Puerto Rico, who has given us John Ruiz to contend with. Add Earnie Shavers to the list, another bruiser from the Buckeye State, who never became but was close to being champ, and it's pretty impressive.

Michael "Dynamite" Dokes captured the WBA heavyweight title on December 10, 1982 by halting Mike Weaver in the first round. This was a very controversial stoppage and demanded a rematch. The two met again and this fight was called a draw. Say WHAT?  Weaver pounded the body of Dokes throughout the fifteen round match. The dubious draw enabled Dokes to retain his crown.

On September 23, 1983 Gerrie Coetzee of South Africa met Dokes at the now leveled Richfield Coliseum. In a major upset, Coetzee bombed out Dokes. Coetzee would in turn lose his title by knockout to the vastly underrated Greg Page.

In April of 1985, Tony Tubbs of Cincinnati outscored Page to win the WBA crown. Tubbs lost his title in January the next year to "Terrible" Tim Witherspoon. Tubbs would later meet Mike Tyson in Japan for the heavyweight title, where he was stopped in two rounds. By the time Tyson returned to Japan in February 1990, he dominated the heavyweight division. He had already defeated Trevor Berbick, Bonecrusher Smith, Tony Tucker and Michael Spinks to gain universal recognition as the "baddest man on the planet."

Imagine we’re in Japan. It's 1990. Tyson is very popular here and his opponent James "Buster" Douglas has been brought to Tokyo to be just that . . . an opponent. Buster failed in a 1987 attempt for the vacant IBF title. He was stopped by Tony Tucker in the tenth round. No one gave Douglas a "snowball's chance in hell" of beating Tyson. It ended up being the greatest upset of all time. Everything came together for Buster that night. He dominated Mike Tyson. He owned Mike Tyson. He spanked Mike Tyson.

Douglas won the heavyweight championship of the world. He was a long shot dream and a bookie's nightmare all rolled up into one.

That ended up being Buster's only career highlight clip. In his first defense he was clocked in three by Evander Holyfield. Buster would retire, but a few years later got back in the fray. He ran up a modest win streak, but then was overwhelmed, before being destroyed, in one round by Lou Savarese.

Meanwhile, Holyfield would lose the title to Riddick "Big Daddy" Bowe in 1992. And guess who Riddick picks for a soft touch defense three months later? Michael Dokes. After Dokes lost his title to Coetzee, his career went into a tailspin. To his credit, he cleaned himself up and made a strong comeback. It led to a match with the upstart Holyfield, who was just entering the heavyweight ranks after he had been a dominant champion at cruiserweight. Evander defeated James "Quick" Tillis and former champion Pinklon Thomas in his initial forays into land of the giants.

It was Dokes who tested the Real Deal, in a losing effort that may have been the defining moment of his career. And what a war! That bout may very well have been among the best heavyweight fights of the year. Dokes would return after the loss to Holyfield and meet the streaking Donovan "Razor" Ruddock, the proud owner of one of the most feared and painful punches of his day: the "smash." It was one half uppercut/one half left hook, and it did damage.

In round four they were scraping Dokes off the canvas.

For all intents and purposes, Dokes’ tenure as a legitimate contender was over. But were they? Bowe pulled Dokes off the scrap heap years later and gave him a decent payday to be humiliated in public. If someone offered you big bucks and a shot at the most famous title in sports, would you turn it down?

Ohioan Tony Tubbs is still plugging away. Please don't sell Tony short. No, he'll never rival Ken Norton or Mike Weaver in the body beautiful department, but he was strong, with very quick hands for a big man. He was smart too. Tubbs had a very solid amateur background. A lot of people forget that Tubbs gave Riddick Bowe one of his toughest fights on Big Daddy’s path to glory.

What Dokes, Tubbs and Douglas have in common - other than being from Ohio - is that all three never put training above all else. Could you imagine the heights they might have soared if they had gone that extra mile on the road? How about a couple more rounds on the heavy bag or the speed bag? What about a few more rounds of sparring? These men reached the top of the ladder but couldn’t to hang onto the top rung. They had it all - and then they had nothing.

Buster is doing OK. He hit the cash cow when he met Holyfield. Tubbs is another story. If Tubbs didn't need money, why is he still fighting? As for Michael Dokes . . . well, life has not been kind to Dokes. One thing, however, can never be taken away from Dokes, Tubbs and Douglas. Their names will forever be recorded in the record books as heavyweight champion of the world.

Now how many of us can say that?

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