Hauser Report – Muhammad Ali fought fifty different opponents in his sixty-one professional fights. Twenty-nine of them predeceased him. As the world celebrates Ali’s life, let’s pause to remember those who died before him.
Tunney Hunsaker (2005)
Herb Siler (2001)
Tony Esperti (2002)
Jim Robinson (date of death unknown)
Donnie Fleeman (2012)
Lamar Clark (2006)
Duke Sabedong (2008)
Willi Besmanoff (2010)
Sonny Banks (1965)
Alejandro Lavorante (1964)
Archie Moore (1998)
Charlie Powell (2014)
Henry Cooper (2011)
Sonny Liston (1970)
Floyd Patterson (2006)
Cleveland Williams (1999)
Ernie Terrell (2014)
Zora Folley (1972)
Jerry Quarry (1999)
Oscar Bonavena (1976)
Joe Frazier (2011)
Jimmy Ellis (2014)
Buster Mathis (1995)
Mac Foster (2010)
Bob Foster (2015)
Ken Norton (2013)
Ron Lyle (2011)
Jimmy Young (2005)
Trever Berbick (2006)
* * *
Top Rank’s fight card at Madison Square Garden on Saturday night was all but lost in the worldwide celebration of Muhammad Ali.
Ali fought in the big arena at the current Garden on five occasions. Against Oscar Bonavena, Joe Frazier (twice), Floyd Patterson, and Earnie Shavers. There were hopes that his spirit would find its way to The Theatre at MSG, where Saturday’s fights were contested. But it never quite got there.
The first co-featured fight of the evening matched Felix Verdejo against Juan Jose Martinez.
Verdejo (21-0, 14 KOs) has been touted by Top Rank as the next Puerto Rican ring icon. He has good skills coupled with speed and charisma. But as of late, Felix has been going in soft and, even then, has failed to close the show.
Juan Jose Martinez (25-2, 17 KOs) was chosen as Verdejo’s opponent with an eye toward making Felix look good. He’s a plodding, straight-ahead fighter without much power. The only issue was whether – and if so, when – Verdejo would knock him out. That occurred at the 2:40 mark of round five.
After the bout, Verdejo said he wanted to fight the best. He hasn’t so far. Given the level of opposition that Felix has faced to date, one wonders whether he’ll peak as a world champion or a beltholder.
The second fight of the evening saw Vasyl Lomachenko move up in weight to challenge WBO super-featherweight titleholder Roman Martinez.
Lomachenko (who entered the ring with a 5-1, 3 KOs professional record) is one of the most decorated amateurs in ring history, having won gold medals at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics as a representative of Ukraine. He turned pro on October 12, 2013, lost a split decision in a championship fight against Orlando Salido in his second pro bout, and impressively conquered Gary Russell in his next outing to claim the WBO featherweight crown. This is known as a fast track.
Martinez (29-2-3, 17 KOs) claimed the WBO super-featherweight title in 2015 via decision over Salido (who’d moved up in weight) and retained the title on a draw against Salido in his most recent fight. A decision loss to Ricky Burns and knockout defeat at the hands of Mikey Garcia plus three draws spotted Roman’s record.
It would be hard for any fighter to live up to the accolades that Lomachenko’s most ardent proponents have heaped upon his shoulders. But he’s a complete fighter and very good. Against Martinez, Vasyl didn’t disappoint, ending matters with an impressive left-uppercut-right-hook combination at 1:09 of round five.
Lomachenko means it when he says he’ll fight anyone.
Both endings were expected. Lomachenko and Verdejo were 15-to-1 favorites. Neither opponent won a round. As a general rule, fights are more entertaining if the audience doesn’t know in advance who will win.
That said; Lomachenko is particularly intriguing. Vasyl lost to Salido in part because of a significant weight differential between them and more so because the referee failed to clamp down on Orlando’s over-the-line roughhouse tactics.
Indeed, Lomachenko recently noted, “The biggest concern coming from amateur to professional was to adapt to that dirty style of boxing. It’s not that there are not dirty fighters in the amateurs. It is that, in the amateurs, the referee will put a stop to it right away.”
Lomachenko has matured as a professional fighter. He would beat Salido convincingly today.
Thomas Hauser can be reached by email at email@example.com. His most recent book (Muhammad Ali: a Tribute to the Greatest) has been published by Pegasus Books in the United States and by HarperUK in Great Britain. In 2004, the Boxing Writers Association of America honored him with the Nat Fleischer Award for career excellence in boxing journalism.