Old School Fighters of the Modern Era: 33 Noted Boxing Buffs Weigh In

When applied to boxing, the term “Old School” has many meanings. That said, in this, our latest survey, we asked our respondents which boxer of the modern era — active or retired – struck them as most Old School, limiting the choice to just one. Here are their picks. As always, the respondents are listed alphabetically.

MATT ANDRZEJEWSKI–TSS boxing writer: Emanuel Augustus. Augustus was a guy who was literally willing to fight anyone anywhere. He traveled wherever needed and fought whenever the phone rang. He amassed over 600 professional rounds. Look at what he did in 2001. After beating Orlando Milian on February 10th, he accepted a short notice fight on February 16th against Mike Griffith whom he dominated and stopped in Griffith’s backyard of Cleveland. Later that year, Augustus engaged in a fight-of-the- year type bout against Micky Ward and just two months after that brawl he was back in the ring against then undefeated Leonard Dorin. That’s old school.

JIM AMATO–author, writer, historian and collector: I think Mikey Garcia is as close to old school as anyone around today. No frills, just solid in everything he does. I enjoy watching him fight.

RUSS ANBER–trainer, elite cornerman and owner of Rival Boxing Equipment: My choice would have to be Bernard Hopkins. His approach to training, coupled with a disciplined lifestyle which allowed him to stay atop the middleweight hill for a record number of title defenses, clearly makes him the undisputed “Old School” fighter of our modern era.

PHIL ANSELMO–boxing writer and lead vocalist for heavy metal bands including Pantera: My pick is Terence Crawford.  From his attitude to his resumé, the man handles business in a vein similar to Pernell Whitaker, but out of an orthodox stance and with a KO punch. Regarding his attitude, he’s humble but truthful, he’s  always in top shape and he steps up intensity each round with a strategy intact, ready to go from plan A to Z if need be.  Damned good boxer coming into his own, the old school way. If he keeps on track, like I believe he will, he’ll leave a great legacy.

DAVID AVILA–TSS West Coast Bureau Chief: James “Lights Out” Toney best typifies old school for me. He’s the Sam Langford of the 21st century.

JOE BRUNO–former New York City sportswriter, prolific author: Evander Holyfield was a perfect example of an old school fighter. Nothing fancy about Holyfield who came to fight every time he entered the ring. Even though his talent level for a heavyweight was less than the norm for world champions, his great conditioning made each of his fights a gem to watch.

TRACY CALLIS–renowned boxing historian: Bernard Hopkins was old school in attitude, old school tough, and old school in the ring. He possessed the physical tools and the mindset to make things happen, much like an old-school fighter. He was careful, cautious, durable, and well-schooled in solid fundamentals. He studied his opponents, figured out a plan that would beat them, and executed that plan while attacking upstairs and down. He was not flashy, sometimes even boring, but always alert for whatever his foe might try. When he was fighting, it was almost like an old-timer telling the moderns “shut up, anything you can do, I can do better.” 

STEVE CANTON–author and the face of boxing in Florida: Modern boxers, in my opinion, have zero chance against the masters of old. There are no boxing “teachers” today, so today’s boxers have no opportunity to learn the subtle techniques which made the older generation of boxers more complete and versatile. Old School boxers fought more times within a couple of years than today’s boxers fight in an entire career. Today’s boxers don’t have an opportunity to “practice” their craft. If you practice a guitar every day you will be a better guitar player than if you practiced once a month. Today’s generation of boxers don’t exhibit the same hunger, discipline and dedication. All that being said, I cast my vote for Mikey Garcia.

JILL DIAMOND–International Secretary, WBC: To me, this is more of an attitude than a style. I’d say GGG. He never complains. He says nothing negative. He trains, stays focused, gets in the ring and is always aggressive. I’ve never seen him back away. I’ve never seen him on the canvas.  I’ve never heard him make excuses. He just boxes.

CHARLIE DWYER-retired referee and member of the Marine and Ring 4 Boxing Halls of Fame: I would say Bernard Hopkins. He was not great but did a lot of things well. He had a nice repertoire of punches, good defensive skills, and knew more than a few tricks. He lived clean, had no entourage, and was always in top shape.

BERNARD FERNANDEZ–TSS mainstay and lifetime member of the BWAA: “Irish” Micky Ward gets the nod from me, given the parameters for consideration. He should be known for more than those three incredible wars with Arturo Gatti. Fans in Atlantic City and in New England loved the guy well before those fights. No, he wasn’t a precursor to Terence Crawford, but he switched from orthodox to southpaw seamlessly, could hook to the body with either hand and just about always gave as good, or better, than he got.

JEFFREY FREEMAN–TSS boxing writer and the man behind KO Digest: Marvelous Marvin Hagler was a very old school fighter from Marciano’s hometown of Brockton, MA. He competed in only one division and avenged his early losses. He earned his world title shots the old-fashioned way by terrorizing top contenders. He became the undisputed champion in one of the original eight weight classes. He went 15 rounds more than once, defending his crown 12 times. He stayed with the same trainers his whole career. He trained like a Warrior Spartan in the marvelously strong Petronelli Triangle. Greatness mattered to him in the squared circle. He flattened Tommy Hearns in “The War.” He was crushed by defeat when, IMO, the economic politics of boxing favored Sugar Ray Leonard in 1987.

CLARENCE GEORGE–boxing writer and historian: Who was more of a throwback than David Tua? Unlike almost all of today’s behemoth-like heavyweights, he was a fireplug — short, heavy, and built like a barroom brawler. The very antithesis of the body-beautiful physique first introduced by Ken Norton, he was reminiscent of a couple of Depression-era Tony’s — Galento and Musto. He also had more than his share of the rough-and-tumble fights so characteristic of the 1930s. Finesse? What the hell is that, a French dessert? Set ’em up and knock ’em down. That was Galento. And that was Tua.

LEE GROVES–author, writer and the Wizard of CompuBox: I’d say Julio Cesar Chavez in this respect: he maintained a breakneck schedule even during his championship reigns. He fought numerous non-title fights in Mexico so that his most passionate fans could see him in action, which meant he truly cared about the people who paid to see him. He also was an action fighter who went at his opponents and wore them down with pressure and precision.

JEFF JOWETT–longtime boxing scribe and heir to the late Jack Obermayer as an authority on East Coast diners:  Many years back I read a great story about Marvin Hagler…can’t remember who wrote it…about how he didn’t fire anybody, didn’t change trainers every time he lost a fight, didn’t make excuses, etc. I saw him at the Hall of Fame this past weekend. Looked great! He rode a bike during the race and went back and forth encouraging the runners. Old school.

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“Fifty years from now someone will juke twice at different angles with the front foot, then instantly dart to the other side and land two body shots and finish with a jab hand uppercut and a commentator will say “that’s old school.  Just like Vasyl Lomachenko.” – Jim Lampley

 

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BRUCE KIELTY–boxing matchmaker, manager, and historian: Bernard Hopkins. He was competent offensively, defensively, always in shape and ducked no one.

JIM LAMPLEY–2015 IBHOF inductee and long-time anchor of HBO’s boxing team:  So difficult to limit to one because fighters take pride in that identity and you want to pay credit to all who have worked hard to achieve it. I could list ten in short order. But if I must choose only one, it’s Bernard Hopkins and not just because he is doing such magical work on The Fight Game. More because of all those wicked right crosses, perfectly timed check hooks, and carefully chosen transgressions against the rules (but not the code). BHop is the latter-day trademark for “Old School”.

ARNE LANG–TSS editor-in-chief: It’s been my impression that folks that use the term “old school” over-romanticize athletes of earlier generations. That being said, Marvin Hagler jumps to mind. For his fight with Thomas Hearns, Marvin balked at holding public workouts in a Caesars Palace ballroom, fleeing to Tocco’s, a dank and smelly little boxing gym where he felt more at home. That was old school!

RON LIPTON–former fighter, veteran boxing referee, boxing historian, retired police officer: GGG who trains and carries himself in a way that reminds me of the late Dick Tiger. To me, a fighter who falls into the niche of old school adheres to a spartan existence in training, adhering to the old boxing axioms of no sex before the fight, no drinking, hard sparring, not missing roadwork and coming in on time. Also, making weight, running when it is snowing or raining, getting up early, no insulting the opponent at the weigh-in, and staying hard core. I lived and trained as a paid sparring partner with some of the best fighters from the 60’s. The one who was the epitome of old school was Dick Tiger. He was all business; no women, no smoking, no drinking, no trash talk, totally dedicated and in superb physical condition at all times. At his zenith he was a middleweight force of nature and a man that garnered and radiated respect.

FRANK LOTIERZO–former boxer, TSS writer, and lead analyst for The Boxing Channel: I’d say stylistically Mikey Garcia is the closest to an old school fighter. He uses a high guard with his elbows tucked in and his chin down, looks to establish his jab and throws everything tight and concise while stepping in. He guards the center and forces his opponents to pick a side to have to punch around, and none of his movements or punches are for show or wasted. Mostly everything is done to set off the next sequence and he usually answers his opponent right back when they punch first.

ADEYINKA MAKINDE–boxing writer, law school lecturer, author: James Toney. For me, “old school” suggests a breadth and a formidability of a skill-set which is not predicated on one or two overwhelming strengths. Toney was slick, relaxed, and balanced and that melded perfectly with the science of the ring “mechanic” adept at fighting both at long range and on the inside. He was excellent in “the pocket,” utilizing the defensive maneuvers of head movement, body swerves and the shoulder roll, while picking at his opponent with a judicious selection of precision jabs, hooks and crosses. He was also a quite proficient practitioner of the supposed lost art of body punching and a counter-puncher par excellence. The essence of Toney’s art was arguably best encapsulated in his 2003 performance against Vassiliy Jirov.

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Old school was a behavior influenced by the mores and values of another era. If someone calls me a throwback, I kind of like it — Anonymous

 

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LARRY MERCHANT–journalist, HBO boxing commentator emeritus, 2009 IBHOF inductee: “Old School” suggests a certain professionalism and toughness and hard purpose: the boxers could bang  some, the bangers could box some, the givers could  take and the takers could give. Danny Jacobs and Mikey Garcia could be that kind of fighter in this era. And the elites of the last generation, I believe, would have been elite in any era, and vice versa.

FRED ROMANO–author, former HBO researcher, and historian: Since Arguello, Hagler and Duran and that generation were already past their primes during the modern era as defined, going with the 1985 date, I like Julio Cesar Chavez for his number of fights, aggressiveness, body punching, and overall skill. He was a throwback.

LEE SAMUELS–longtime Top Rank publicist: Vasiliy Lomachenko would have been a star performer for sure beginning in the 1920s and 30s against all of the champions in his division.

 TED SARES–TSS writer: Like others, I’ll go with GGG. Treats his sport like a craft, is always in superb shape, and fights anyone – a pleasure to watch, especially when he adjusts to what his opponent has. No diva-like behavior, no PEDSs, very manageable, just boxes—and wins. Why GGG over Hopkins or Toney? Simple. No trash talk.

ICEMAN JOHN SCULLY–former boxer, trainer, commentator, he’s done it all: James Toney is the most “old school’ guy I’ve seen. He was fearless, fought anyone and everyone. Faced and defeated every style — power punchers, slick boxers, strong guys, much bigger guys, didn’t matter. Stood in front of most of them and made them miss and expertly countered them. Moved to heavyweight and didn’t complain about catch weights and glove and ring size. The most old school guy we’ve had in the last 30 years.

PETER SILKOV–writer and manager of The Boxing Glove: My pick would be Bernard Hopkins. He learned his skills ‘on the job’ and as champion ducked no one. His development from an aggressive knockout artist in the beginning of his career into one of the best counterpunchers I’ve seen is ‘old school’ all over IMO.

MIKE SILVER–noted author and boxing historian: There have been very few boxers over the past 25 years who have exhibited the combination of superior boxing technique, seasoning, toughness and quality competition that defined the old school champs and contenders of decades past. In my opinion the one who comes closest is Gennady Golovkin. He is an exciting boxer/puncher whose determination, toughness and extraordinary power is wedded to excellent balance, good fundamentals and superior ring intelligence.

ALAN SWYER–documentary filmmaker, writer and producer of El Boxeo: Though much of his career took place before 1985, the fact that Sugar Ray Leonard beat Hagler, Hearns, and Duran after his initial retirement makes him my choice. Only an all-time great could do justice to the nickname sported by the original Sugar Ray, which he did. A superb boxer-puncher, he headlined the post-Ali era with a rare combination of style, charisma, and power.

BRUCE TRAMPLER–Top Rank matchmaker, 2010 IBHOF inductee: The last of the old school fighters that I knew personally was George Foreman and before him, Marvin Hagler. There may have been others since, maybe GGG, but the two bald guys stand out.

GARY “DIGITAL” WILLIAMS–voice of “Boxing on the Beltway”: He was never a world champion but Darryl “Terrible T” Tyson defined old school. The native of Washington, DC was a multi-time regional champion and was the last boxer from Washington, DC to compete in a scheduled 15-round contest (his IBF world lightweight title bout against Jimmy Paul in August of 1986 in Detroit, MI).  Tyson always had an old school mentality in his boxing and training.  He fought just about everyone relevant in the lightweight and junior welterweight divisions

PETER WOOD–1971 New York City Golden Gloves middleweight finalist and author: Mike Tyson was old school. He cut his hair old school, wore old school boxing attire, studied vintage fight films, and mimicked the mannerisms of some of the great old-time fighters. I’m not certain he practiced the old-time ritual of toughening up the skin of his face by washing it with piss, but I would not be surprised.

BOB YALEN–Director of Sports at Mohegan Sun and former head of boxing for ESPN: I’m going to go with Mike Tyson…Mike worked hard at the basics, respected the game, and fought with intensity because he enjoyed the battle…for Mike it was about the fight itself and not about everything else surrounding it, much like the old pros who fought out of necessity or out of love for the sport. If I put Mike in a room with Harry Greb, Henry Armstrong, Sugar Ray Robinson or any of the other greats it would be a terrific conversation about the sport and all aspects of it…I’m not sure I can say the same for many of the other pros of the modern era.

Observation:

Hopkins, Toney, GGG, Mikey Garcia, and Mike Tyson got the most mentions from this very knowledgeable pool of respondents. No surprises there.

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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