By Arne K. Lang
NBC will televise Sunday’s match at Coney Island between Errol Spence Jr. and Leonard Bungu. For those residing west of the Missouri River, it’s a mid-afternoon affair (2 PM PST), which makes it a throwback. There was a time when Sunday afternoon fights on one or more of the major TV networks were a common occurrence.
During the first six months of 1983, the three major networks aired 47 weekend fights in the daytime hours. NBC led the way with 18 fights, followed by ABC (15) and CBS (14). Most of these fights were held on a Saturday, but there were Sunday fights too.
The zenith for Sunday afternoon boxing came in the fall of 1982 when an impasse between the NFL Players Union and the team owners resulted in a 57-day lockout. On the last Sunday of October, between 1 and 4 PM Eastern Time, NBC carried two live non-title fights plus taped highlights of a bout held four days earlier between bantamweight titlist Jeff Chandler and an obscure Panamanian, Miguel Iriarte.
Some of the Sunday afternoon fights were classics. Indeed, three were named Fight of the Year by The Ring magazine. In honor of Sunday’s event, let’s take a spin down Memory Lane and revisit these three stirring Sunday afternoon battles.
June 17, 1979, Convention Center Arena, San Antonio, TX (CBS)
Danny “Little Red” Lopez KO 15 Mike Ayala
The younger brother of Ernie “Indian Red” Lopez, an outstanding welterweight, Danny Lopez made his pro debut at the Olympic Auditorium and had 24 of his first 29 fights at the fabled LA sock palace. Raised on a Ute Indian reservation in Utah, “Little Red” (pictured in his Indian headdress) would be making the seventh defense of the WBA World featherweight title he won from David Kotey in Ghana.
The first Ayala brother to make a splash in the ring (nefarious Tony Ayala Jr. became the most famous), Mike Ayala was 21-1 and had the advantage of fighting in his hometown. The attendance, roughly 14,000, was the largest ever to that point for a boxing match in San Antonio.
Ayala started strong and was still ahead on one of the scorecards after 14 frames, but Little Red had more in his tank and ended the contest with a flurry of punches. The referee, by the way, was Carlos Padilla, the third man in the ring for a more celebrated “thrilla.”
July 13, 1980, Great Gorge Playboy Club, McAfee, NJ (CBS)
Matthew Saad Muhammad TKO 14 Yaqui Lopez
Alvaro “Yaqui” Lopez, who fought out of Stockton, California, had four cracks at the light heavyweight title. He came up short each time, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. His bout with John Conteh in Denmark and his two fights with Victor Galindez in Italy were closely contested affairs that went the full 15 rounds. In this match, with Matthew Saad Muhammad’s WBC title at stake, Lopez didn’t quite make it to the final bell, but the bout was a humdinger while it lasted.
They had fought the previous year in Philadelphia, Matthew Saad Muhammad’s hometown, with the Philly fighter winning by TKO 11. In the sequel, Lopez came within an eyelash of avenging that defeat, but he punched himself out while pummeling Saad Muhammad against the ropes in the eighth round. Although Saad Muhammad looked more spent when this grueling fight was over, it was he took command late, scoring four knockdowns in the 14th stanza to force the stoppage.
May 15, 1983, Caesars Palace, Las Vegas, NV (NBC)
Bobby Chacon UD 12 Cornelius Boza-Edwards
Bobby Chacon came to the fore at the LA Forum where he had his first nine pro fights and upset the great Ruben Olivares in their third meeting. His 1974 match with “Little Red” Lopez for LA bragging rights was a smashing promotion. After stopping the previously undefeated Lopez in the ninth stanza, Chacon was the toast of the town, the most popular boxer in these parts since the original Golden Boy, Art Aragon.
Chacon and Boza-Edwards had fought once before. Boza-Edwards was superior. Chacon’s corner stopped the bout after the 13th round. But the rematch figured to be much closer as Chacon was on a roll. Five months earlier he defeated his great rival Bazooka Limon to claim Limon’s WBC 130-pound title. Trailing on the scorecards, Chacon pulled it out with a whirlwind 15th round in what would be named the 1982 Fight of the year.
Chacon-Boza Edwards II at Caesars’ big shed at the back of the property was a see-saw match that came within a hair of being stopped because of bad cuts over both of Chacon’s eyes. From the sixth round on, the ring physician was a constant presence in Chacon’s corner. But Chacon stayed the course and sealed the win with a knockdown in the final round. That gave him the distinction of winning two consecutive fights of the year.
It will be major surprise if the Spence-Bundu fight becomes a Fight of the Year candidate. Despite a 33-1-2 record, the 41-year-old Bundu looks out of his league. But the return of major network boxing on a Sunday, even if a fleeting blip, is a welcome development for fans of the sweet science.