A Salute to the Razor Ruddock That Might Have Been

 

By BERNARD FERNANDEZ

Donovan “Razor” Ruddock was, nearly everyone agreed, destined for greatness. Twenty-four years ago there was widespread opinion that he was the best heavyweight in the world not named Mike Tyson, whom he already had fought twice, losing both times. But that Tyson, circa 1991, was still viewed as an invincible, almost superhuman wrecking machine, and Ruddock had acquitted himself better than most of Tyson’s previous victims in their two matchups. With Tyson convicted of rape and out of the picture for who knew how long, Ruddock was the logical candidate to emerge as the ultimate winner of a four-man elimination tournament (the other entrants being Evander Holyfield, who had beaten the man {Buster Douglas] that had dethroned Tyson; Lennox Lewis and Riddick Bowe) that presumably would settle the matter of who most deserved to reign over the non-Tyson heavyweight landscape.

The Philadelphia Daily News, my newspaper employer at the time, ran a story in its Aug. 13, 1992, editions that listed the result of a poll I conducted of nine presumably knowledgeable observers as to the identity of the tournament victor. The balloting, now viewed through the prism of history, might seem surprising: former heavyweight champions Larry Holmes, Tim Witherspoon and Ernie Terrell voted for Ruddock, as did future WBO heavyweight titlist Tommy Morrison and longtime contender Earnie Shavers; former heavyweight contender Marvis Frazier and legendary trainer Angelo Dundee went with Bowe, and Holyfield, amazingly, failed to garner a single vote. Another former (and future) heavyweight champ, George Foreman, abstained from picking the survivor of the scrum on the basis that he hoped to fight that person himself, but his comments suggest that he was leaning toward Lewis.

“Nobody can take Ruddock’s punches,” opined Terrell, who picked the Jamaican-born Canadian citizen to knock out Lewis before doing the same to Holyfield in the tourney finale.

Added Shavers, who also envisioned Ruddock whackings of Lewis and Holyfield: “Ruddock is a real big puncher, and you know I’m partial to big punchers. You can never count a puncher out. He’s got a chance to end things with one good shot right up to the last bell.”

But the more optimistic projections of Ruddock’s celebrity boosters came crashing down the night of Oct. 31, 1992, in London’s Earls Court Arena, where Lewis, the 1988 Olympic super heavyweight gold medalist, stamped himself as a superstar-in-the-making with an emphatic, second-round knockout.

I was there not only to chronicle Lewis-Ruddock, but what, in retrospect, also proved to be the last hurrah for a Philly guy, WBA welterweight ruler Meldrick Taylor, who was floored in the third, sixth, seventh and eighth rounds in losing by eighth-round TKO to No. 1 contender Crisanto Espana, a Venezuelan based in Belfast, Northern Ireland.

Not to take anything away from Espana, but it was obvious to me, and to Taylor’s co-trainer Lou Duva, that little remained of the then-undefeated and simply dazzling Taylor that had entered the ring for a 140-pound unification matchup with Julio Cesar Chavez 19½ months earlier. The best of Meldrick Taylor had been drained from him in that brutal war, which Chavez, trailing on the scorecards, won on a controversial 12th-round stoppage with just two seconds remaining in the bout.

“There’ll be some wise guys who’ll try to convince him to keep on fighting, but it’s pretty obvious he’s through,” Duva said of the far-older-than-his-26-years Taylor. “I wouldn’t even put him in there with a four-round preliminary guy. Why? Because it only would take one punch to do it (seriously hurt Taylor).”

In retrospect, perhaps the same could have been said of Ruddock, who, still 51 days from his 29th birthday, should have been in his prime when he was chopped down by Lewis. Had Razor – so nicknamed during his amateur days for his penchant for slicking up opponents with his strong and accurate jab — been irreversibly damaged in his two slugfests with Tyson?  In their first meeting, on March 18, 1991, Ruddock was floored in the second and third rounds, but he rocked Tyson with a big left hand late in round six. But Tyson came out firing in the seventh, prompting referee Richard Steele – who also worked Chavez-Taylor I – to award “Iron Mike” a TKO victory despite the fact Ruddock appeared to be capable of still fighting back.

Was it possibly too quick a stoppage?

“No,” Steele insisted when asked. “I saved a life. The guy was hurt. There was no need in counting him out. It is my job to stop him from being seriously hurt and the next punch would have done that.” Steele also indicated he had “seen surrender” on Ruddock’s face.

The rematch, on June 28, 1991, was just as brutal, and that one went the distance. Ruddock again went down twice and suffered a broken jaw, while Tyson came away with a perforated eardrum.

“Man, that guy was tough,” Tyson said in praise of Ruddock. “He’ll be champion of the world one day if he stays dedicated and doesn’t slip up.”

Ruddock followed up his twin trips into Tyson hell and back with perfunctory stoppages of a faded Greg Page and fringe contender Phil Jackson before the setback against Lewis, from which he never truly recovered. He rebounded somewhat with a 10-round unanimous decision over Anthony Wade, but fell off the big-time radar when he was taken out in six rounds by Tommy Morrison on June 10, 1995, which precipitated a three-year retirement, the first of two times he voluntarily stepped away from the ring wars.

When last we saw Ruddock with padded gloves on his hands, he was a plump 51-year-old savagely knocked out by 29-year-old Dillon “Big Country” Carman in three rounds on Sept. 11, 2015. He has not fought since, and it is doubtful at best that he will ever again step inside the ropes in quest of the heavyweight title he once seemed so assured of attaining.

As for that poll conducted by the Philadelphia Daily News in 1992 … well, four-time former heavyweight champ Evander Holyfield is a shoo-in for induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in June of 2017. Lewis was also a first-ballot inductee in 2009, and Bowe in 2015. Ruddock has yet to appear on the IBHOF ballot, and if he ever does he’d be a longshot to receive enough votes to get a call to the hall.

But when he was at the top of his game, Ruddock inspired near-Tysonesque fear in opponents with his signature punch, which he called “The Smash,” a left-hand bomb that was part hook, part uppercut and completely devastating. Fans who were in Madison Square Garden the night of April 4, 1990, saw him flatten former titlist Michael Dokes in what many still cite as the most chilling knockout they’ve ever witnessed. In the fourth round, “The Smash” clearly hurt Dokes, who stumbled backward into the ropes where Ruddock followed up with an overhand right and another “Smash,” which seemingly left an unconscious Dokes frozen in place. And when referee Arthur Mercante Jr. did not step in to end a fight that by all rights was already over, Ruddock said what the hell and delivered another just for good measure.

Dokes pitched forward onto his face where he remained out cold and motionless for 4½ minutes.

“I knew he was hurt,” Ruddock said of Dokes, “but I had to do my job.”

At 6-foot-3 and 228 carve-from-granite pounds, Ruddock was one of the finest physical specimens ever to grace the heavyweight division. No, he was never a champion, but a case can be made for his being better than some of the former titlists he defeated, a list that includes not only Dokes and Page, but Mike “Hercules” Weaver and James “Bonecrusher” Smith. It would have been interesting to see what he might have done had he ever been paired with Bowe and Holyfield, or, for that matter, Foreman.

If, as it now appears, Ruddock never fights  again, his final record stands at 40-6-1, with 30 KOs and a nod toward 19th century American poet John Greenleaf Whittier, who was writing about a horse, but just as easily could have been summing up Ruddock’s boxing career when he noted:

For of all sad words of tongue or pen,

               The saddest are these: “It might have been!”

COMMENTS

-deepwater2 :

  By BERNARD FERNANDEZ Donovan ?Razor? Ruddock was, nearly everyone agreed, destined for greatness. Twenty-four years ago there was widespread opinion that he was the best heavyweight in the world not named Mike Tyson, whom he already had fought twice, losing both times. But that Tyson, circa 1991, was still viewed as an invincible, almost superhuman wrecking machine, and Ruddock had acquitted himself better than most of Tyson?s previous victims in their two matchups. With Tyson convicted of rape and out of the picture for who knew how long, Ruddock was the logical candidate to emerge as the ultimate winner of a four-man elimination tournament (the other entrants being Evander Holyfield, who had beaten the man {Buster Douglas] that had dethroned Tyson; Lennox Lewis and Riddick Bowe) that presumably would settle the matter of who most deserved to reign over the non-Tyson heavyweight landscape. The Philadelphia Daily News, my newspaper employer at the time, ran a story in its Aug. 13, 1992, editions that listed the result of a poll I conducted of nine presumably knowledgeable observers as to the identity of the tournament victor. The balloting, now viewed through the prism of history, might seem surprising: former heavyweight champions Larry Holmes, Tim Witherspoon and Ernie Terrell voted for Ruddock, as did future WBO heavyweight titlist Tommy Morrison and longtime contender Earnie Shavers; former heavyweight contender Marvis Frazier and legendary trainer Angelo Dundee went with Bowe, and Holyfield, amazingly, failed to garner a single vote. Another former (and future) heavyweight champ, George Foreman, abstained from picking the survivor of the scrum on the basis that he hoped to fight that person himself, but his comments suggest that he was leaning toward Lewis. ?Nobody can take Ruddock?s punches,? opined Terrell, who picked the Jamaican-born Canadian citizen to knock out Lewis before doing the same to Holyfield in the tourney finale. Added Shavers, who also envisioned Ruddock whackings of Lewis and Holyfield: ?Ruddock is a real big puncher, and you know I?m partial to big punchers. You can never count a puncher out. He?s got a chance to end things with one good shot right up to the last bell.? But the more optimistic projections of Ruddock?s celebrity boosters came crashing down the night of Oct. 31, 1992, in London?s Earls Court Arena, where Lewis, the 1988 Olympic super heavyweight gold medalist, stamped himself as a superstar-in-the-making with an emphatic, second-round knockout. I was there not only to chronicle Lewis-Ruddock, but what, in retrospect, also proved to be the last hurrah for a Philly guy, WBA welterweight ruler Meldrick Taylor, who was floored in the third, sixth, seventh and eighth rounds in losing by eighth-round TKO to No. 1 contender Crisanto Espana, a Venezuelan based in Belfast, Northern Ireland. Not to take anything away from Espana, but it was obvious to me, and to Taylor?s co-trainer Lou Duva, that little remained of the then-undefeated and simply dazzling Taylor that had entered the ring for a 140-pound unification matchup with Julio Cesar Chavez 19? months earlier. The best of Meldrick Taylor had been drained from him in that brutal war, which Chavez, trailing on the scorecards, won on a controversial 12th-round stoppage with just two seconds remaining in the bout. ?There?ll be some wise guys who?ll try to convince him to keep on fighting, but it?s pretty obvious he?s through,? Duva said of the far-older-than-his-26-years Taylor. ?I wouldn?t even put him in there with a four-round preliminary guy. Why? Because it only would take one punch to do it (seriously hurt Taylor).? In retrospect, perhaps the same could have been said of Ruddock, who, still 51 days from his 29th birthday, should have been in his prime when he was chopped down by Lewis. Had Razor ? so nicknamed during his amateur days for his penchant for slicking up opponents with his strong and accurate jab -- been irreversibly damaged in his two slugfests with Tyson?* In their first meeting, on March 18, 1991, Ruddock was floored in the second and third rounds, but he rocked Tyson with a big left hand late in round six. But Tyson came out firing in the seventh, prompting referee Richard Steele ? who also worked Chavez-Taylor I ? to award ?Iron Mike? a TKO victory despite the fact Ruddock appeared to be capable of still fighting back. Was it possibly too quick a stoppage? ?No,? Steele insisted when asked. ?I saved a life. The guy was hurt. There was no need in counting him out. It is my job to stop him from being seriously hurt and the next punch would have done that.? Steele also indicated he had ?seen surrender? on Ruddock?s face. The rematch, on June 28, 1991, was just as brutal, and that one went the distance. Ruddock again went down twice and suffered a broken jaw, while Tyson came away with a perforated eardrum. ?Man, that guy was tough,? Tyson said in praise of Ruddock. ?He?ll be champion of the world one day if he stays dedicated and doesn?t slip up.? Ruddock followed up his twin trips into Tyson hell and back with perfunctory stoppages of a faded Greg Page and fringe contender Phil Jackson before the setback against Lewis, from which he never truly recovered. He rebounded somewhat with a 10-round unanimous decision over Anthony Wade, but fell off the big-time radar when he was taken out in six rounds by Tommy Morrison on June 10, 1995, which precipitated a three-year retirement, the first of two times he voluntarily stepped away from the ring wars. When last we saw Ruddock with padded gloves on his hands, he was a plump 51-year-old savagely knocked out by 29-year-old Dillon ?Big Country? Carman in three rounds on Sept. 11, 2015. He has not fought since, and it is doubtful at best that he will ever again step inside the ropes in quest of the heavyweight title he once seemed so assured of attaining. As for that poll conducted by the Philadelphia Daily News in 1992 ? well, four-time former heavyweight champ Evander Holyfield is a shoo-in for induction into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in June of 2017. Lewis was also a first-ballot inductee in 2009, and Bowe in 2015. Ruddock has yet to appear on the IBHOF ballot, and if he ever does he?d be a longshot to receive enough votes to get a call to the hall. But when he was at the top of his game, Ruddock inspired near-Tysonesque fear in opponents with his signature punch, which he called ?The Smash,? a left-hand bomb that was part hook, part uppercut and completely devastating. Fans who were in Madison Square Garden the night of April 4, 1990, saw him flatten former titlist Michael Dokes in what many still cite as the most chilling knockout they?ve ever witnessed. In the fourth round, ?The Smash? clearly hurt Dokes, who stumbled backward into the ropes where Ruddock followed up with an overhand right and another ?Smash,? which seemingly left an unconscious Dokes frozen in place. And when referee Arthur Mercante Jr. did not step in to end a fight that by all rights was already over, Ruddock said what the hell and delivered another just for good measure. Dokes pitched forward onto his face where he remained out cold and motionless for 4? minutes. ?I knew he was hurt,? Ruddock said of Dokes, ?but I had to do my job.? At 6-foot-3 and 228 carve-from-granite pounds, Ruddock was one of the finest physical specimens ever to grace the heavyweight division. No, he was never a champion, but a case can be made for his being better than some of the former titlists he defeated, a list that includes not only Dokes and Page, but Mike ?Hercules? Weaver and James ?Bonecrusher? Smith. It would have been interesting to see what he might have done had he ever been paired with Bowe and Holyfield, or, for that matter, Foreman. If, as it now appears, Ruddock never fights* again, his final record stands at 40-6-1, with 30 KOs and a nod toward 19th century American poet John Greenleaf Whittier, who was writing about a horse, but just as easily could have been summing up Ruddock?s boxing career when he noted: For of all sad words of tongue or pen, ************** The saddest are these: ?It might have been!?
Razor would be champ in today's game. He was fun to watch in there. The smash looks like the ole 45. Speaking of heavies, someone found Sam Peter under a rock and put him back in the ring. Sam Peter is back( not that he was ever really here) An old fat cigar chomping Toney made him look like he never threw a punch before.


-KO Digest :

So enamored of Iron Mike Tyson I was: That I failed to notice how awesome a punch the SMASH really was.


-Kid Blast :

After a breakfast my wife and I had with Tommy Morrison at the Lantana in Westwood, MA, The Duke said he was one punch away from being gassed as he was pummeling Razor on the ropes. This was after his famous left hook that put RR down like he had been sapped. Had Tommy gassed and had Razor come back, his career would have been totally different. You could call it "the difference one punch made". I'll never forget that. Just one in a thousand boxing stories in my memory bank.