As most know, ballots for the International Boxing Hall of Fame were recently submitted. As usual some of the choices require no thought because a particular fighter, say Evander Holyfield, is automatic. And then there are names that make you scratch your head. A few weeks back I was privy to a debate regarding a fighter whose name has been bantered about the past couple of years but never makes the cut. Which begs the question, what carries more weight; how great a fighter was at his absolute best or his longevity? I have no doubt in my mind that on his best night before he suffered his first loss, the fighter in question would’ve been a stylistic nightmare for Floyd Mayweather and would’ve taken him apart had they met as welterweights. Conversely, there’s no comparing their career accomplishments and longevity, it’s Mayweather in a romp.
The fighter I’m speaking of is former undisputed welterweight champion and WBC junior middleweight champ Donald “Lone Star Cobra” Curry 40-6 (25). In professional boxing, legends can be made in one fight and crash in the next. However, only half of that applies to Curry because he crashed after suffering his first defeat. At one time in the early to mid-80’s, Donald Curry was the heir-apparent to Sugar Ray Leonard. And most boxing aficionados thought Curry would rule the welterweight division until he decided to move up to junior middleweight. In late 1985, as welterweight champ, he was being proposed as a more than worthy challenger to undisputed middleweight champ Marvin Hagler, who months earlier knocked out Thomas Hearns in Ring Magazine’s Fight of the Year.
At the pinnacle of his career, Curry was as skilled as any fighter I ever saw in any weight division. Everything he did in the ring had a purpose. He had perfect form and balance, and because of his subtle pressure, he was always in range and position to punch and score. Curry had power in both hands and his jab was a weapon as a lead punch or a counter. But it was his short power and laser guided accuracy that made him scary. He could punch equally hard to the head and body and his defense, because of his high guard with his elbows tucked, made him nearly impossible to hit clean. He was economical, never wasting any movement or punches. Basically he was a counter-puncher, but it was his deliberate pressure that forced his opponents to lead and that created openings for his explosive short, fast, concise and hard counters to the head and body.
Through his first 25 bouts Curry compiled a record of 25-0 (19) and looked as unbeatable as any fighter who’d come along in years. During that run he defeated notable fighters such as Bruce Finch, Adolfo Viruet, Roger Stafford, Marlon Starling twice, Nino LaRocca, Colin Jones, James Green, Pablo Baez, Jun-Suk Hwang, and Milton McCrory. Moments after he destroyed McCrory in the second round of their unification bout, I turned to one of the guys I had over for the fight and asked “Would Sugar Ray Leonard have beaten Curry tonight?”. That’s how scary good Curry looked in that bout. Circa 1982-85 Curry was beating championship level opposition with ease, barely breaking a sweat and looking oh so smooth in the process.
Then on September 26th 1986 Curry defended his welterweight titles against the WBC’s number-one contender, Lloyd Honeyghan, a 26-year-old Jamaican fighting out of London. Prior to fighting Honeyghan, Curry had only boxed four rounds in his prior two fights over the last year. In addition, Curry was going through some personal and managerial issues and his weight ballooned to 170 pounds. At one point he wanted to pull out of the fight because he didn’t think he was going to be able to make the welterweight limit of 147.
Curry weighed in at 146 1/2 and looked like an empty package in the ring. Honeyghan’s sporadic and unconventional attack had him eating more big shots, especially right hands, than he had in any previous fight of his career. By the end of the fifth round, Curry was fighting as if he wanted to be someplace else. His reflexes were shot and Honeyghan was routinely beating him to the punch. In the sixth Curry was cut over his left eye by an accidental head butt and by the end of the round he was being nailed with hard right hands and left hooks. The fight was stopped after the sixth round due to Curry’s eye cut, which required 12 stitches, and the 5-1 underdog Honeyghan was the new undisputed welterweight champion. And with that Curry lost out on potential blockbuster bouts with Thomas Hearns and Marvin Hagler.
After being stopped by Honeyghan, like some other fighters of the past who seemed to be on their way to greatness, Curry was never close to being the same fighter he was prior to the bout. Two bouts after losing to Honeyghan he was stopped in the fifth round by WBA title holder Mike McCallum, after having him hurt earlier in the fight. In August of 1988 he won the WBC junior middleweight title but lost it in his first defense. Curry earned other title shots against such notables as Michael Nunn and Terry Norris, but was stopped both times. Six years after losing to Norris he attempted a comeback but was stopped in his second bout and that was pretty much it for Donald Curry as a professional fighter.
For the first 25 bouts and five years of his career, Donald Curry was one of the best fighters in boxing during a very deep and strong era. He looked like a sure Hall of Famer during his reign as welterweight champ. However, due to problems outside of the ring and struggling to make the welterweight limit, it all came apart against Lloyd Honeyghan, who turned out to be an under-achiever after scoring Ring Magazine’s Upset of the Year. Perhaps because his reign was ended by a fighter that no one remembers for anything other than beating him, and the fact that his career was on the decline by the time he was in his mid-twenties, Donald Curry gets no HOF consideration, and that’s fair.
When it comes to measuring a fighter’s worthiness as a HOF’er, not everyone uses the same criteria. To most voters, longevity and amount of titles won in different weight classes carry a lot of weight. I don’t think much consideration is given to just how great a particular fighter was during his peak, if the window of his greatness is on the short side.
But, here is what I do know. For three years during the first half of the 80’s, there weren’t many fighters who I’d consider Curry’s near equal. Curry was a boxing textbook — that’s how perfect his form and technique were. He could box and he could punch. He could also fight both inside and outside, and saw everything. If you wanted to teach a beginner how to do things the right way, you’d put on a tape of Curry at his best and make him watch it. Curry was that great and he convincingly beat some outstanding fighters during his reign as welterweight champ. At his best, I would’ve favored Curry to beat the best welterweight versions of Pernell Whitaker, Oscar De La Hoya, Felix Trinidad, Shane Mosley, Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather. In fact, Sugar Ray Leonard and Thomas Hearns would’ve had their hands full with vintage Curry, that’s how highly I thought of him during his prime years.
Based on the tools he bought to the ring during his title reign, he was easily a HOF caliber fighter. However, he never put it together after his first loss and because his window of greatness was moderately short, he may never be enshrined into the IBHOF. But for that three-year window during the 80’s, Donald Curry was the most complete fighter in boxing. If he were around today and in his prime, he’d surely be the top pound-for-pound fighter in the sport.
Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com