For me the year 1972 marked some milestones – especially the magic month of June. In the first three weeks of that month I became a candidate for the draft by turning eighteen. I graduated from high school and I took on my first bride. To be honest with you, the most exciting day of the month was the 26th. On that date in Madison Square Garden, Roberto Duran captured the lightweight championship of the world by stopping the vastly talented Ken Buchanan.
At that moment a star was born.
Later in the year, on October 18, my first son was born. A month later Duran suffered the first loss of his career by dropping a decision to the great but widely overlooked Esteban DeJesus. Roberto would not lose another fight – including two subsequent knockout victories over DeJesus – until the night he said “no mas” in 1980. To me, Duran was without a doubt the greatest boxer of the 1970s.
In retrospect, 1972 stands out in regards to boxing for a variety of reasons. The quietest division was the heavyweights. It was the letdown after the frenzy created from the March 8, 1971 classic between Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali in which Joe emerged victorious. It was a grueling affair and Frazier and his manager Yank Durham decided to take it easy and not just jump right back in with Ali. Joe took on a couple of lower ranked white contenders. First he blasted out the totally overmatched Terry Daniels. Then he cut up and halted the dead game Ron Stander. Joe would lose his title in early 1973 to the thumping fists of George Foreman. Two months later Ali would suffer a fractured jaw in losing to Ken Norton. The stage was now set for “The Rumble in The Jungle” and “The Thrilla in Manila” that would entertain us in the mid-1970s.
The light heavyweights were ruled by one of the greatest of all time, Bob Foster. Bob probably hit his peak in ‘72. First he unified the title with a two round massacre of WBA pretender Vincente Rondon. Then he landed one of the most brutal punches in boxing history when he nearly decapitated Mike Quarry. Next he wore down and halted Chris Finnegan. Bobby ended 1972 with an ill advised foray back into the heavyweight division and was halted by a former heavyweight champion named Muhammad Ali.
Carlos Monzon was the “King” of the middleweight division. 1972 was the year that proved his greatness. Carlos opened the year by halting veteran contender Denny Moyer. Next he turned back the challenge of the very formidable Jean Claude Bouttier. Then he halted Denmark's Tom Bogs. Carlos closed the year outscoring the feared “Bad” Bennie Briscoe.
Jose Napoles was one of the greatest welterweights of all time. He was coming off a big year in 1971 when he regained the title from Billy Backus. He also turned back the challenge of top contender Hedgemon Lewis. He took it a little easy in 1972, fighting off the challenges of Ralph Charles and Adolph Pruitt. He closed the year with a non-title KO of Edmundo Leite.
It was in 1972 that the great Antonio Cervantes won the junior welterweight title. He had failed to dethrone the slick Nicolino Loche in 1971. Loche then lost his title to Alfonso Frazier and Cervantes got a second shot and defeated Frazier. Antonio would go on to have a legendary career.
The featherweight division was in a transition period. The great little southpaw Vincente Saldivar retired champion in 1967. He returned in 1969 and reclaimed his crown in 1970 by beating Johnny Famechon. He would lose the title in his next fight to Kuniaki Shibata. In 1972 Clemente Sanchez blasted the crown from Shibata's head. Soon after, Sanchez would lose his title to the scales. Jose Legra also halted him and no one was quite sure who the champ was as the year ended.
The bantamweight division was also in a state of confusion. As 1972 was ushered in, the power puncher Ruben Olivares was holding the crown. Rafael Herrera came along to upset him. Then Rafael was upset by smooth boxing Enrique Pinder. The new champion would outscore former titleholder ChuChu Castillo in a non-title bout to close out the year.
The flyweights were also in a state of chaos. Erbito Salvarria was the rightful claimant based on his 1970 KO of the outstanding Chartchai Chionoi. In 1971 he would struggle but still remain champion. In five 1971 encounters he went 3-1-1. He lost a non-title go on points to Halimi Gutierrez. He also drew with Betulio Gonzalez thus keeping his crown. In 1972 the WBC withdrew its recognition of Salvarria as champion and matched Venice Borkorsor with Gonzalez for the vacant title. Borkorsor would win by a tenth round stoppage. Borkorsor and Salvarria would meet in 1973 to unify the title with Borkorsor winning a decision.
It was a simple time then. There were a lot less weight divisions and fewer split titles. It was a time when in most cases the champions ruled their respective divisions with an iron fist. Some of the most feared and respected boxers of all time reigned supreme. Foster, Monzon, Napoles, Cervantes, Olivares and Duran were the stars of the class of 1972.
What a knockout year!