For the past 30 plus years we saw it happen quite a bit, a smaller fighter taking on the bigger fighter when he's run out of formidable opposition in his own division. However, it happened even more so circa the turn of the 20th century, up through the 1950s.
When one first hears of a meeting between an outstanding welterweight and middleweight, they're very intrigued. Of course the onus is on the smaller fighter, supposedly, and it's the bigger fighter who is in a no win situation. The challenge is to see if the legitimately smaller fighter can offset the larger man's strength and power, only it seldom if ever works out that way.
For example, Sugar Ray Leonard, who fought a majority of his career as a welterweight (147) gets a lot of credit for beating Marvin Hagler, who fought his entire career as a middleweight (160). In the main that sounds pretty impressive, except when Leonard and Hagler fought, Leonard weighed in at 158 and Hagler was 158 1/2. If it were a true welterweight versus middleweight bout, Leonard would've weighed in at 146, which was his average weight for his welterweight title bouts and Hagler would come in at his usual 158 range. Had Leonard been able to decision Hagler with Marvin holding a 12 pound weight pull, that would've been really something.
Sure, Leonard deserves a ton of credit for beating Hagler because he didn't force him to come down in weight to win his title. He did that when he stopped WBC light heavyweight title holder Donny Lalonde. In reality Leonard beat Lalonde at 168, the super-middleweight limit, not the 175 maximum that Lalonde was afforded as the light heavyweight title holder. In truth Lalonde was compromised having to come in 5/6 pounds lighter than what his best fighting weight was.
Today, the two biggest draws in boxing, Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao, have won some of their biggest fights via bringing the bigger opponent down a few pounds in order to win his title. In my eyes, this taints their victory, just as I don't consider Sugar Ray Leonard ever being a legitimate light heavyweight title holder. In the last 60 years it's only happened one time, where one champion of a particular division fought a bigger champion for an undisputed title without either fighter moving up or down from their natural weight.
On June 25th 1952, middleweight champion Sugar Ray Robinson (157.5) fought light heavyweight champion Joey Maxim (173) for Maxim's title. There was no catch-weight clause and Robinson entered the ring as a middleweight and Maxim entered as a full fledged light heavyweight. The fight at Yankee Stadium was originally scheduled for the 23rd of June but was postponed two days because of rain. So the fighters actually had to weigh-in twice with the above being the official weights for both fighters.
The temperature on the night of the fight was 103 degrees and referee Ruby Goldstein had to be replaced by Ray Miller after the 10th round due to being overcome by the heat. After building a commanding lead and controlling the fight due to his speed and terrific combination punching, Robinson told Dr. Alexander Schiff after the 13th round, “I can't get up on my feet, I'm all in.”
With that Robinson lost his only bid for the light heavyweight title.
Robinson, fading from the weight he was giving up and the heat, stunned the crowd when the precision puncher missed with a hay-maker right hand and fell flat on his face in the 13th round. After 13 rounds Robinson lead on all three official scorecards (10-3) (9-3-1) and (7-3-3). After the bout Maxim said he had planned to let Ray punch himself out and that Robinson was more undone by his body punching in the second half of the fight and not the extenuating heat and humidity. This was the only time in 200 fights that Robinson was ever stopped. Granted, Joey Maxim wasn't Archie Moore who would relieve Joey of his title six months later. The point is Robinson didn't make Maxim jump through hoops to make the fight. Everyone knows Robinson was a shrewd negotiator and probably wouldn't have challenged Moore if he were the reigning champ at the time. But what if he pulled rank on Maxim and forced him to come in at 168 or 169, it still would've been a light heavyweight title bout?
He still would've been out-weighed by 10 pounds.
On the other hand what would losing those four or five unnecessary pounds have done to Maxim in the 103 degree heat? Would he still have been able to come on in the last three rounds of the fight after getting worked over for a majority of it during rounds one through 10? I doubt it, he would've been drained from having to make the lower weight. Maxim wasn't flashy, but very strong, very durable and very patient. Joey was used to going long in every fight — exactly the kind of guy you don't want to have to go 15 rounds with in 103 degree heat. Had Robinson forced Maxim to come in so far under the light heavyweight limit, he probably would've won the fight. Had that been the case, Robinson would have officially been the light heavyweight champion of the world. Robinson, despite losing to Maxim, is still the gold standard for all boxers, and the debate really begins with who is number two among the greatest of the great pound-for-pound boxers in history.
The gimmick of catch-weight fights today taints the historical record of many fighters, not all, who've won multiple division titles. Let's see what happens when the lightweight champ enters the ring as a lightweight and challenges the welterweight champ without any gimmicks or stipulations that hamstring the welterweight. Same goes for the welterweight challenging the middleweight and right on up the divisions. And if the smaller fighter feels it's too dangerous or too much to overcome, then he should stay in his own division and build his legacy there.
Wouldn't it be something to see the best welterweight in the world, Floyd Maywether, fight Gennady Golovkin with Floyd weighing in at 147 and Gennady weighing in at 160? How about Golovkin at 160 versus Sergey Kovalev at 175?
Bringing the bigger man down in weight isn't who he is as a fighter. Why taint him for one fight and change history, other than for money and the perceived star to build up his legacy via a gimmick?
Sure, it looks good on paper, but it's tainted and isn't a true indication of the smaller fighter versus the bigger fighter.
Today there's a monetary number that can make the catch-weight fight and the terms with each fighter having a say. The smaller fighter has a say in the weight and the bigger fighter has a say in how much money he needs to compromise himself. Don't get me wrong, fighters have the right to fight at whatever weight they want to. However, it's not an indication of a true confrontation between a bigger fighter and a smaller fighter, such as Robinson-Maxim or the first Louis-Conn fight where the announced weights were Conn 174 1/2 vs. Louis 199, although their actual weight was really 169 and 204. Today it's a myth saying that smaller fighters have feasted on beating bigger fighters. What they've done is compromised the bigger fighter and reduced him to less than he is at the weigh-in, and often times defeated him.
Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com