By Ted Sares
Like snowflakes, no two boxing matches are alike. Each presents the possibility for spine-tingling drama or mind-numbing boredom. Surprise is part of the equation.
In 1982, Valerie Chacon, the wife of former WBC featherweight champion Bobby Chacon, shot herself to death because Bobby would not quit the ring until after his next fight. When Chacon received word of his wife’s death, he told the promoter that he would go through with the fight against Salvador Ugalde. Dedicating the fight to Valerie, he KO’ed Ugalde in the third round. This was the kind of drama that even boxing movies could not conjure up.
When cagey Archie Moore came back from Hell to take out Yvon Durelle in 1958 In a momentum-shifting, back-and-forth brawl that has to be seen to be believed, the drama was palpable, but no more so than when the late Chico Corrales (pictured) shocked the boxing world with his sudden and unexpected turnaround against Jose Luis Castillo in 2005. Yes, surprise is definitely a part of it but sometimes the drama is part of a bigger picture.
Irish Mickey Ward revived his career in 1997 when, after taking round after round of beat-down punishment from young and undefeated Alfonzo Sanchez, he let loose a signature sizzling body shot that found the highly touted Mexican’s “floating rib.” The referee, the late Mitch Halpern said: “I told Ward, ‘Show me something or I’m stopping the fight…He was one punch away from me stopping it. Then he threw a hell of a punch.” The subsequent significance of that punch for Ward’s career cannot be measured.
Writer Ron Borges remembered Ward’s fight with Reggie Green in 1999 as follows:
“Ward would experience a moment similar to that of the Sanchez fight two years later against fellow journeyman Reggie Green. This time it wasn’t the Thomas and Mack Center, but rather an old ice arena in New Hampshire. …That is what boxing is for most prizefighters: a long walk to an ice arena in Nowhereville. Yet things can happen in such places on the right night. Or the wrong one, depending on where you end up.
“That night, less than 2,000 people, plus an ESPN2 audience, witnessed the kind of savagery one normally only reads about. For 20 seconds short of 10 rounds they had beaten each other half to death because they knew what they were fighting for. Their lives.”
Teddy Atlas added: “That was not entertainment; that was not business. That was fighting. This is a barbaric thing at the core of it. It ain’t always pretty, but it’s real…. that was a real guy up there. It was like the first time your parents took you to the zoo and they said, ‘That there is a lion.’ And you look and he roars and you think, ‘Yeah, that’s a lion!’ Tonight, if you never been there before, that was a fighter.”
It’s rumored that award-winning director Ang Lee soon will be making a technically innovative drama about the legendary Ali-Frazier Thrilla in Manilla, Nothing could be more appropriate, but another fight that caught my fancy took place in 1982. It was the backdrop of carefully orchestrated racial stratification rather than the fight itself that offered up the dramatic effect.
Holmes vs. Cooney
“He’s not the white man, he’s the right man”.-Dennis Rappaport, who along with Mike Jones was Gerry’s managers. The duo were known as the “Whacko Twins”.
“Who the hell is Gerry Cooney….I’ve proved over and over again that I’m the baddest heavyweight in the world. I’ve beaten everyone. He’s the Great White Dope. Who’s he ever beaten? He ain’t never fought anybody. If he wasn’t white, he wouldn’t be anywhere. If he was black, nobody would know who he is.”—Larry Holmes
“This is a white and black fight”. –Don King, Holmes’s promoter.
When WBC Champion Larry Holmes (39-0) met the number one ranked Gerry Cooney (25-0) at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas on June 11, 1982, it was one of the most highly anticipated fights of the early 1980s. Don King had shrewdly orchestrated it as black vs. white and cast Cooney as “The Great White Hope,” but it really was black vs. white equals green. This was all about making money. Still, Cooney was riding the bandwagon, while an embittered Holmes, though the champion, was relegated to second fiddle. The media disrespected Holmes and heaped a load of expectations on Cooney’s back with the racial element fueling a dramatic and edgy backdrop to the event.
Finally the fight came and Cooney, whom many thought would beat Holmes, made the long walk to the ring with an old school green robe and hood covering his head, while an intense and focused Holmes came in, almost like an apparition, to his signature walk-in song (also used by David Haye) “Ain’t No Stopping Us Now” sung by the talented McFadden and Whitehead. The urgency of the rhythm blended well with Holmes’s intensity and the anticipative nature of the fight. Listen to it for the first time again: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VuAZTWGfQTs
Now, are you all ready?
Are y’all ready?
Now we gonna do it with the fever
Yeah, Come on
Ain’t no stoppin’ us now
We’re on the move (yeah-ee-a, yeah-ee-a)
Ain’t no stoppin’ us now
We’ve got the groove
Adding to the delight of the Cooney fans, the ring announcer, Chuck Hull, shamefully introduced Holmes first. This was unprecedented because traditionally the challenger is announced first and the champion last. Many at ringside considered it terribly disrespectful toward Holmes, but Larry kept his cool. In fact, after referee Mills Lane gave the instructions, Larry looked at the big 6’6” Irishman (who kept his eyes downward) and said, “Let’s have a good fight.”
As for the fight itself, while it did not quite equal the drama of the build-up, it was a dandy with Holmes finally bloodying, breaking down, and stopping the courageous but outclassed Cooney in the 13th round. There was one moment when the bell rang ending the gut-crunching 10th round when both men simultaneously made a motion to pat each other on the back in a wordless gesture of mutual respect. Given the nasty context created by the whacko twins, this was a refreshingly marvelous thing to behold.
The movie “Bleed for This” is due out in late November 2016 and is about Vinny Pazienza, who shot to stardom after winning two world title fights but was told he might never walk again after a horrific car accident left him with a severe spine injury. But he did come back and he did win as real-life drama ruled. Of course, in this age of social media, “Drama” takes on a more manufactured meaning but it still sells fights.
Klitschko vs. Fury Number Two will not be Holmes vs. Cooney by any stretch of the imagination. Shannon Briggs reinvented himself as an interesting personality. But he has a phony and totally manufactured –if not bile-inducing–aura about him. On another level, Deontay Wilder is just vulnerable enough to provide the dramatic effect. Had he fought Povetkin, that quality quite likely would have emerged?
Gennady Golovkin always promises a “good drama show,” but he is simply too good to offer up much more than a brutal knockout. His shows are highly entertaining and knockouts sell, but at what point does the predictability get stale? Fighters like Orlando “Siri “Salido are more likely to provide the chills required for a “good drama show.” Arturo Gatti –even in death– was the personification of boxing and drama. Miguel Cotto’s symbiosis with the fans in Madison Square Garden nails it.
In the end, trying to predict drama in boxing can be daunting, as the element of surprise can pop up at any time. An exciting matchup can be boring while a boring one can surprise. Hagler starched Hearns (no surprise that it was during a great fire-fight), but Hearns shocked and waxed Duran in frightening fashion – the same Roberto Duran that went 15 rounds with Marvin Hagler.
Yes, each fight is like a snowflake.
Ted Sares is one of the world’s oldest active power lifters and holds several records. A member of Ring 4’s Boxing Hall of Fame, he enjoys writing about boxing.