The Case for Michael Moorer

This past weekend, the International Boxing Hall of Fame inducted three new members in the Modern Boxer category. Michael Moorer has yet to get the call and perhaps never will, but one can certainly build a case for him.

Moorer’s name doesn’t comes up all that much in boxing conversations anymore and that’s a shame given his accomplishments and the remarkable events that shaped his career. Maybe it has to do with the surly aura that always seemed to surround him—the chip on the shoulder—the perceived anger. Here is how he described himself after his career was over: “… the way I was back then was how I was…It was real. In boxing, I had an attitude. I was cocky. I was arrogant. It made me who I was. I had an edge about me that I needed….I was mean, but it served me well…”

Here’s a look at some of the key fights in his extraordinary career.

Ramzi Hassan (Dec. 3, 1988)

In his 12th pro fight, Moorer waxed Ramzi Hassan, stopping him in the fifth round to become the inaugural WBO light heavyweight champion. He defended the title nine times, winning all by knockout, before moving up to heavyweight.

Emmanuel Steward once said that Moorer was the most awesome puncher he had seen at 175 pounds and his power “could make mountains crumble.” The quintessential boxer/puncher, he could be devastating with his heavy hands and yet had excellent technical skills. He also had the heart of a lion, but his chin was not as reliable as it could have been.

Moorer won his first 26 fights by knockout before being extended the distance by 6’10” Mike “The Giant” White at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. Moorer won a lopsided 10-round decision. White was on the floor when the bout ended, but was saved by the bell.

Bert Cooper (May 15, 1992)

In May 1992, he went up against Bert Cooper (27-8) at the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City in what could be considered the first major event of his career. The WBO world heavyweight title was at stake and Moorer stopped Cooper in the fifth round after both fighters were down twice and hurt repeatedly during a bout that featured incredible punching from both men. Head-snapping uppercuts and crunching hooks upstairs and downstairs abounded. Most would have gone down and stayed down. It was Foreman-Lyle all over again.

Evander Holyfield (April 22, 1994)

Moorer (34-0) rose from the canvas to beat Evander Holyfield (30-1) and win both the IBF and WBA world heavyweight titles at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. In so doing, he became the first southpaw to ever capture the world heavyweight championship.

Teddy Atlas, who made Michael stand up, gave this speech between rounds, “…Do you want me to fight? Huh? Do you want me to trade places with you? Do you? Listen. This guy is finished. There comes a time in a man’s life when he makes a decision – to just live. Survive. Or he wants to win. You’re doing just enough to keep him off you. And hope he leaves you alone. You’re lying to yourself. You’re gonna cry tomorrow because of this. Do you want to cry tomorrow? Huh? Don’t lie to yourself. Back this guy up and fight a full round…”

Michael was now at the top of his game and was favored to beat George Foreman (72-4) in his first title defense.

George Foreman (Nov. 5, 1994)

Foreman had just lost to Tommy Morrison in an attempt to snag the vacant WBO title and was not given much of a chance against the KO artist from Monessen, PA, but in a massive upset Big George knocked out Moorer with a right that knocked Michael’s mouthpiece into the upper roof of his mouth. The fight at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas is remembered more for what Foreman did than what Moorer failed to do. And it was an historic event to be sure as George was 45 years old at the time. Sadly, Michael would be known more for this defeat than for any of his accomplishments.

On the comeback trail, Michael then won the IBF crown in 1996 against Axel Schulz in Germany and defended his title successfully against Frans Botha (35-0) and Vaughn Bean (27-0), but he then parted ways with trainer Atlas because too much tension existed. Freddie Roach then stepped in, but MM was beginning to get a reputation of being difficult to manage/train and having a lack of focus. (As an aside, Michael was trained at one time or another by Emanuel Steward, Tony Ayala Sr., Lou Duva, George Benton, Atlas, and Roach.)

Evander Holyfield (Nov. 8, 1997)

In a bit of irony, Michael suffered his second defeat and lost his two heavyweight titles in a rematch with Holyfield (now 34-3) at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas. An aroused and heavily muscled Holyfield decked an incredibly game Moorer five times before it was mercifully stopped by the doctor following the eighth round.

Moorer then took three years off.

David Tua (August 17, 2002)

Upon coming back, Moorer had five fights without a defeat and then went up against David Tua (40-3). A win here would get MM right back into the mix, but disaster struck in just 30 seconds as a Tua right and left caught Michael cold and knocked him cold in Ruiz-like fashion. Michael was often a slow starter and sometimes would enter the ring without being properly warmed up. That might have been a contributing factor here.

Moorer then ran off three wins before losing by decision to Eliseo Castillo (17-0). Five months later he fought heavily favored Kazakh Vassiliy Jirov (33-2).

Vasiliy Jirov (Dec. 9, 2004)

This one was for the vacant WBC Continental Americas heavyweight title. Jirov, an Olympic Gold Medalist, was coming off a controversial loss to Joe Mesi but figured to have little trouble with the aging Moorer despite Michael’s big edge in weight. After losing most of the rounds, Michael caught a tiring Jirov with a crunching straight left in the ninth and that was that. It would be Michael Moorer’s last big win although he went on to win five more fights to end his career with a 52-4-1 record with 40 KO wins.

When referring to Moorer, some have said, “What could have been?” That’s unfair. Perhaps he did not reach his full potential, but he was a world champion in two weight classes and is one of only four men to win a heavyweight world title on three separate occasions. That’s hardly what the expression “What could have been” implies.

In looking back, Michael says, “Really, I had a blast. I’m very, very fortunate. In that respect, I have no regrets.”

Ted Sares is an active full power lifter and will soon be attempting a 4 in 4 (4 meets in 4 months) something never before done by an octogenarian. A member of Ring 4’s Boxing Hall of Fame, he was recently cited by Hannibal Boxing as one of three “Must-Read” boxing writers.

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