The cruiserweights have long been the bastards of boxing.
Created 27 years ago to bridge the gap between the light heavyweight and heavyweight divisions, the cruiserweights are forever regarded as boxing's mysterious disappointments. They were the pugilistic cake that didn't rise, though, early, it was easy to see why.
The inaugural cruiserweight title fight was, fittingly, a draw, as Marvin Camel and Mate Parlov fought to a 15-round stalemate on Aug. 12, 1979.
So they did it again, and Camel won a piece of history – and the newly-created WBC title.
Since then, the cruiserweights have flaunted such superstars as Ossie Ocasio (never has the nickname “Jaws” been less terrifying); S.T. Gordon (S.T. didn't stand for anything; that was his name); Alfonso Ratliff (best remembered for the bug-eyed fear he displayed in a 1986 knockout loss to Mike Tyson); Massimiliano Duran (in no way shape or form related to Roberto); Tyrone Booze (really); and James Warring (despite a big punch, his style was frustratingly opposite of his last name).
By in large, that is how the cruiserweights (or, if you're the halfwits at the WBA, the junior heavyweights) are remembered: forever awful. Oh, there have been exceptional fighters. Big names have stopped by for a cup of coffee: Dwight Muhammad Qawi, James Toney and, most notably, Evander Holyfield, but once they left, the division returned to its pathetic form.
Lately, Jean-Marc Mormeck is doing his part to change the cruiserweights' reputation.
The bull-like Frenchman opened eyes back in April, dominating the more heralded Wayne Braithwaite and winning a unanimous 12-round decision, adding the WBC title to his WBA belt. Before that, he blasted multi-division champ Virgil Hill twice.
Mormeck, 31-2 (21 KO's) hasn't lost since suffering back-to-back defeats in 1997, and is on a serious roll heading into Saturday's cruiserweight unification showdown with IBF champ O'Neil Bell on the undercard of the Zab Judah-Carlos Baldomir fight at Madison Square Garden.
Yes, that's how little the public thinks of the cruiserweights. A unification fight is the semifinal to a welterweight mismatch. But, on the positive side, a whole new slew of fight fans will get to see Mormeck's exciting, aggressive style, and against a pretty good opponent.
Bell is 25-1-1 with 23 KO's. Yes, 23 KO's. Which means, he can punch.
What's that? An appealing, and possibly exciting, cruiserweight fight? Surely, you jest.
But the 200-pounders (the limit was once 190, then 195; now it's 200) have surprised before.
Remember the 1987 unification showdown between WBA champ Holyfield and IBF titlist Rickey Parkey? The first two rounds of that fight were fierce. Parkey, a gutsy puncher from Morristown, Tenn., gave the unbeaten and heavily favored “Real Deal” a legit battle. He even rocked Holyfield early, and some experts called it a cruiserweight Hagler-Hearns.
It wasn't that good, but Parkey certainly made it a memorable evening.
Then there was the Oct. 19, 1985 shootout between IBF champ Lee Roy Murphy and Zambia's Chisanda Mutti.
After a seesaw battle, the Murphy-Mutti fight turned surreal in the 12th, when both fighters were dropped by simultaneous punches – a la Rocky Balboa and Apollo Creed in Rocky II. Murphy got up, Mutti didn't – and Murphy retained his title.
No kidding, this happened in the cruiserweight division.
The best-ever cruiserweight fight came on July 12, 1986, when Holyfield out-rumbled Qawi for the WBA title in Holyfield's hometown of Atlanta. It was the last great performance of Qawi's career, who had been a dominant light heavyweight champion and later became a heavyweight trial horse. He damn well almost beat Holyfield on that stifling hot day in Georgia, often out-muscling and outmaneuvering a still-green challenger.
Holyfield won a split decision – then was rushed to a hospital and pumped with fluids after almost suffering kidney failure.
The “Real Deal” went on to a solid cruiserweight title reign before moving on to heavyweight greatness, defeating best friend Henry Tillman (KO 7), Parkey (KO 3), Ocasio (KO 11), Qawi again (KO 4), and Carlos “Sugar” DeLeon (KO 8) to become the first-ever undisputed cruiserweight king.
DeLeon had some ability in his day as well.
He possessed a nice combination of speed and power, and became the face of the division in the early 1980s. But he often seemed disinterested, and his indifference may have cost him some recognition.
He was pasted by the hard-punching Gordon in a 1982 upset, before shutting Gordon out in the rematch a year later. He had good wins over Leon Spinks and Bash Ali, then was upset by Ratliff in 1985.
He regained the WBC title from Jose Maria Flores in 1988, but by the time he met a younger, stronger Holyfield, his best years were long gone.
One of the fastest knockouts in boxing history was recorded in the cruiserweight division, as Warring stopped James Pritchard just 36 seconds into the opening round to win the IBF title in 1991. And Toney's 2003 decision over Vassiliy Jirov was a finalist for that year's “Fight of the Year”, making it perhaps second-greatest cruiserweight fight in history.
Will Mormeck-Bell challenge Holyfield-Qawi I or Toney-Jirov for all-time cruiserweight excitement? Possibly. The elements are there for a great fight.
Whatever happens, the cruiserweights, after a tough start, are finally being accepted as meaningful contributors to the sport.
Hopefully, it won't take another 27 years for them to become more than that.