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The Super Fights Of The Last 40 Years: Part Three

BY Frank Lotierzo ON May 01, 2014
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In Part Three, I'll provide thoughts and insight on Hagler-Leonard, Tyson-Spinks, Tyson-Holyfield I, Holyfield-Tyson II, De La Hoya-Trinidad, Tyson-Lewis and De La Hoya-Mayweather.

In 1987 Sugar Ray Leonard scored the signature win of his career over undisputed middleweight champ Marvin Hagler. Shortly after that Mike Tyson took the baton from Leonard and became boxing's biggest star and draw through the early 1990's.

Oscar De La Hoya became boxing's poster child after Tyson and carried the torch and handed it off to both Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao.

As of 2014 boxing isn't as mainstream as it was during the eras of Ali, Leonard, Tyson and De La Hoya. Today there's only one fight that could be realized that would mostly like be added to this list down the road and that's Mayweather vs. Pacquiao. It's been five years in the making and is at least three years past it's "sell-by-date." That said, I believe it will eventually come to fruition.

Marvin Hagler vs. Sugar Ray Leonard (April 6, 1987) When it comes to anticipation, the only fight that captured my interest more than Hagler-Leonard was the first meeting between Ali-Frazier.

Leonard 33-1 (24) hadn't fought since May of 1984 when he had to get off the deck to stop Kevin Howard. At that time Hagler 62-2-2 (52) had totally cleaned out the middleweight division, and aside from fighting Leonard, he had nothing left to conquer or prove. These two had been on a collision course since they both fought for the middleweight and welterweight titles on November 30, 1979.

On that night Hagler fought middleweight champ Vito Antuofermo to a draw, despite everyone who watched it thinking he won the fight going away. An hour later Leonard stopped Wilfred Benitez in the same ring to win the WBC welterweight title. This would be Hagler's 13th defense of his middleweight title and Leonard's first fight at middleweight. Leonard agreed to let have Hagler have a larger share of the purse, but Hagler consented to let Leonard chose the gloves (10 oz Reyes), along with limiting the fights distance to 12 rounds and the ring to be 20 feet.

ODDS: On the day of the fight Hagler was between a 3/4 - 1 favorite.

Pre-fight Thoughts: I had always thought that Leonard had the style to deal with Hagler, and I didn't believe Marvin had a big enough punch to knock Leonard out. Therefore if they ever fought the fight would go the distance and favor Leonard. In his fight before meeting Leonard, Hagler won a war with John "The Beast" Mugabi, stopping him in the 11th round. Leonard was sitting ringside that night and saw Hagler eat more big shots than he ever did in any other fight. Leonard saw the time was right and issued the challenge to Hagler, fully aware that Marvin couldn't decline the money and stature that beating Ray would bring him. Sensing that Leonard knew something that nobody else did, along with believing he had the style edge, I was sure Leonard would beat Hagler if he didn't get knocked out. Since I didn't think Leonard was going to be knocked out and knew he kept training weekly during his retirement, I bet a bunch of money on Leonard to win and got 4-1 odds.

Result: A minute into the first round it was obvious that Hagler was having trouble dealing with Leonard's hand speed and movement. Leonard clearly won the first three rounds of the fight without ever being touched. Hagler won five of the next nine rounds. There were times during the bout that Leonard made Hagler look like an amateur and he even managed to win more than a few exchanges when they went at. But Hagler kept forcing the fight and after 12 rounds it was close. The officials scored it 118-110, 115-113 and 113-115 for Leonard. The AP saw it 117-112 Hagler, Harold Lederman of HBO had it 115-113 Leonard. Ring Magazine saw it 115-113 Leonard and the NYTimes, NY Post and Washington Post scored it 114-114........I had it 115-113 Leonard. 27 years later fans are still arguing over who really won the fight and every time I've watched it since that night, it gets closer and closer.

Mike Tyson vs. Michael Spinks (June 27, 1988) I never considered Tyson-Spinks a Super Fight, but the know-nothings about fights and fighters media did. The only intrigue in this fight was both Tyson 34-0 (30) and Spinks 31-0 (21) were undefeated and one was a fighter (Tyson) and the other was a boxer (Spinks). That and Spinks ended Larry Holmes' seven year title reign via two close and controversial decisions. Some in the media tried to sell Tyson-Spinks as being the Ali-Frazier of the eighties, which was as Mike Tyson used to say, preposterous. Tyson was at his peak at this time and the desire for him to be part of a big fight was growing. He was clearly the best heavyweight in the world and was the biggest star in the heavyweight division since Muhammad Ali.

Spinks made his mark as being a great light heavyweight and with no one to fight in the division he moved up to heavyweight. Before facing Tyson he stopped a rusty Gerry Cooney, who only fought three times in five years after losing to Homes. This was a manufactured Super Fight because Tyson was a huge star and Spinks fit the role as the perfect foil. At that time Tyson held all the title belts, but Spinks was seen as the lineal champ, which really meant nothing at the time. The biggest reason the fight was made was to insure that there was no doubt as to who the heavyweight champion really was, even though everyone really knew.

ODDS: On the day of the fight Tyson was a 4-1 favorite.

Pre-fight Thoughts: I had no doubt in my mind that Tyson was going to stop Spinks in the first round. For starters, Spinks wasn't a legitimate heavyweight and swarmers bothered him more than any other style. At that time Tyson was the greatest swarmer in boxing and had no fear of Spinks' power - and he knew he was too strong and that Spinks wasn't going to be able to move and box him. I saw Tyson-Spinks as being a replica of Frazier-Foster eighteen years earlier. But since Mike started off faster than Joe did, I was certain he'd get rid of Michael inside the first round instead of the two that Frazier needed to nearly decapitate Foster.

Result: Spinks came out as if to say I know I have no chance to beat you if I try to run and attempt to out-box you, so let's just get it over with. Tyson dropped Spinks to his knee with a body shot a minute into the fight. He then knocked him out with the first big shot he landed after Michael got up. In total the bout lasted just 91 seconds.

Mike Tyson Tyson vs. Evander Holyfield (November 9, 1996) Tyson 45-1 (39) and Holyfield 32-3 (23) had been on a collision course since they first sparred at the Olympic trials in 1984. It was reported back then that the gym wars between Tyson and Holyfield were a toss up, with neither ever really besting the other. For most of Tyson's first title run, Holyfield, the undisputed cruiserweight champ, was the fighter he was always asked about fighting. However, it didn't become a big deal until Buster Douglas knocked out Tyson to win the title in February of 1990, then lost it eight months later when he was knocked out by Holyfield.

Tyson and Holyfield were first signed to fight in November of 1991, but Tyson hurt his rib training for the fight and the bout was canceled. Shortly afterwards Tyson was convicted of rape and went to jail for three years. In November of 1996 Holyfield was coming off his worst two showings as a pro versus Riddick Bowe and Bobby Czyz. His performance was so bad that the Nevada commission demanded that Evander be cleared medically before they'd sanction the fight. Holyfield passed their test and the fight was made.

ODDS: On the day of the fight Tyson was a 6-1 favorite.

Pre-fight Thoughts: Had the fight in 1991 been realized, I was absolute in my thinking that Holyfield had the skill, chin and toughness to be Mike's stumbling block and would stop him. However, in November of 1995, Holyfield was stopped by Riddick Bowe in their third fight and looked awful in stopping Bobby Czyz in his last fight before facing Tyson. Even though I always believed Holyfield had Tyson's number psychologically and the physical assets needed to beat him, I didn't think the relic who'd showed up as in his last two fights in November of 1995 and May of 1996 could beat the once-beaten Tyson who knocked out Bruce Seldon in the first round of his last fight. Against this version of Holyfield, I didn't think it was much more than a formality that Tyson would stop a game Holyfield at this stage of his career.

Result: Evander came right out in the first round and showed Mike he wasn't the least bit awed by him. Holyfield out thought, out fought and out muscled Tyson from the onset. In the sixth round he dropped Mike with a left hook to the chest. Tyson got up but slowly but surely the fight began slipping away from him as Holyfield was bettering him at every turn.

At the end of the 10th round Tyson was out on his feet. In the eleventh round Holyfield picked up where he left off in the tenth and started battering Tyson again, which led to referee Mitch Halpren stopping the fight less than a minute into the 11th round. At the time of the stoppage Holyfield led on all three judges scorecards 96-92, 100-93 and 96-92.

Evander Holyfield vs. Mike Tyson II (June 28, 1997) Due to Holyfield's upset in the first fight the rematch was a natural.

It was easy to sell because Tyson 45-2 (39) claimed he took Holyfield 33-3 (24) lightly the first time due to how he looked in his previous two bouts and the public and media bought it.

This was a huge fight for Tyson being that he never got a chance to avenge his first loss as a pro to Buster Douglas. That changed because this time he knew Holyfield wasn't a walking corpse and he'd have to be at his best. Both fighters also knew that whoever won this fight would be regarded as the greater fighter in the eyes of history. Holyfield was four months shy of turning 35 and Tyson was two days short of turning 31 when they met this time. At the last moment, at the request of team Tyson, referee Mills Lane was brought in as a replacement to work the fight due to Tyson's complaints about how referee Mitch Halpren handled Holyfield's rough housing during the first fight.

ODDS: Despite losing the first fight Tyson was a 2-1 favorite in the rematch. For this fight a poll by the Las Vegas Review Journal had the media favoring Holyfield 39-23-2.

Pre-fight Thoughts: Seeing that Holyfield really got up to fight Tyson, and that he walked through his biggest punches during the first bout, I was pretty confident that unless Mike got lucky in the first two rounds, Holyfield would stop him again only it wouldn't take 11 rounds. I didn't believe Tyson could recover psychologically from the beating he endured in the first fight. Tyson knew that Holyfield could and would stand up to him and I felt that shook Tyson's confidence and Mike knew the longer the fight lasted the less likely his chances were to win it.

I thought he would really be dangerous in the first two rounds, but as long as Evander could survive the early tornado, which I felt that he would, I was positive he'd stop Mike again.

Result: Holyfield again came out strong and backed Tyson up and was handling Mike when he was at his most dangerous in a fight. Tyson complained about Holyfield head butting him, but they didn't look intentional and Lane let it go. Tyson came out of his corner for the third round without his mouth-piece, Lane made him put it in. Tyson began the round in a fury, but Holyfield was no worse for it. With forty seconds left in the round, Tyson bit Holyfield on his right ear and Holyfield jumped up and down in pain. Lane deducted two points from Tyson and after restoring order the fight resumed. Then in the next clinch Tyson bit Holyfield's other ear and was immediately disqualified. For the record Holyfield retained the title via a third round DQ victory.

Oscar De La Hoya vs. Felix Trinidad (September 18, 1999) This was a fight for the WBC/IBF welterweight championship. It was the last Super Fight of the twentieth century and the most eagerly anticipated welterweight title bout since the first Leonard-Hearns fight 18 years earlier.

De La Hoya 31-0 (26) and Trinidad 35-0 (30) cleaned out the welterweight division and had been on a collision course since Oscar started campaigning in the division in 1997. The style clash featured a boxer-counter puncher (De La Hoya) and a hard hitting attacker (Trinidad). The bout was similar to Leonard-Hearns in terms of anticipation, hype, and purses as well as their personalities and skill. De La Hoya had the star quality of a Leonard, whose appeal and draw crossed every demographic.

Trinidad was reminiscent of Hearns in that he saw himself playing second fiddle to to De La Hoya's popularity and was somewhat bitter because he felt that he never was given his due as a fighter outside his native Puerto Rico. Also like Hearns, Trinidad felt that he had something to prove and was fueled by that. De La Hoya like Leonard, knew Trinidad would be at his best for him because everybody he fought rose to the occasion and really raised their game trying to beat him.

ODDS: On the day of the fight De La Hoya was -135 and Trinidad was -105

Pre-fight Thoughts: At the time I thought De La Hoya was the more complete and durable fighter. Trinidad went down early in fights, even though he always came back to win, and that scared me against De La Hoya. Even though Trinidad was seen as the puncher in the fight, for some reason I thought De La Hoya's ability to put his punches together better and quicker would bother Trinidad more than Felix's power would effect Oscar.

I thought Oscar could win the fight by either moving and boxing or if he was forced to, I felt he could also gain the advantage if he was forced to fight it out with Trinidad. Prior to the bout I really thought Oscar was going to beat Felix up and possibly stop him. I thought he'd control Trinidad with his jab and then go in and finish him later in the fight once he had him softened up.

Result: For the first seven of nine rounds, De La Hoya never boxed better or smarter. He had Trinidad following him all over the ring and looked as if he was stuck in the mud. It was shocking how easy De La Hoya was picking his spots and flurrying and then getting out before Trinidad could get set and fire back with authority. But starting in the ninth round he slowed down noticeably. His corner told him that he had the fight won and could only lose if he got careless and knocked out. From rounds 10 through 12 De La Hoya wouldn't engage with Trinidad and tried to run out the clock. Trinidad picked it up and forced De La Hoya all over the ring. Yes, he won the last three rounds but didn't land anything of consequence. The feeling when the bell rang to end the fight was despite losing the last three rounds, De La Hoya won. However, the decision went to Trinidad via a majority decision 115-113, 115-114 and 114-114. The AP scored it 115-113 De La Hoya and HBO's Harold Letterman had it 114-114........I had it 115-113 De La Hoya.

Mike Tyson vs. Lennox Lewis (June 8, 2002) Lewis 39-2-1 (30) had been hunting Tyson 49-3 (43) since he turned pro in 1989. He always said Tyson was the fighter to beat if you want to be recognized as the champ. At that time, Tyson was three weeks shy of his 36th birthday and hadn't lost since the Holyfield rematch five years earlier. He was also in and out of the ring fighting no more than twice a year versus journeymen since the last fight with Holyfield.

Lewis was fighting no less than twice a year and fought Evander Holyfield twice in 1999, getting a draw that he should've been credited for a win, and then earned a unanimous decision when they met the second time. Lewis was the fighter to beat in the heavyweight division at the time and Tyson knew that if he could beat him his career wasn't over. On the other hand Lewis had accomplished everything he set out to do as a fighter except fight and beat Mike Tyson.

ODDS: On the day of the fight Lewis was a 2-1 favorite.

Pre-fight Thoughts: Tyson hadn't looked that terrific in his previous bouts with Brian Neilson and Andrew Golota, although he stopped them both. But the Golota fight was overturned to a no contest when Tyson tested positive for marijuana in the post fight physical. But Lewis had been knocked out with one punch by Hasim Rahman two fights before facing Tyson. Lennox knocked Rahman out in the rematch but I didn't trust his chin against Tyson. I figured that Tyson was faster, hit harder and was a better boxer than Rahman, if he catches Lewis he'll put him to sleep.

So I went on record picking Tyson to beat Lewis.

Result: The first round was terrific with both fighters landing some good shots on the other, but Tyson got the better of it. From the second round on Lewis systematically took Tyson apart from the outside preventing Mike from getting inside to where he could be most effective. Lewis landed the harder and cleaner punches through the seventh round. In round eight Lewis dropped Tyson twice, the second time with a big right hand. Tyson was decisively counted out and his career as a legitimate title challenger ended then and there.

Oscar De La Hoya vs. Floyd Mayweather (May 5, 2007) This was the fight that turned Mayweather into a transcendent star.

De La Hoya represented the best known fighter of Mayweather's career and in spite of Floyd being undefeated, he lacked a signature win and payday. To add drama to the fight, Mayweather's father Floyd Sr. was training Oscar at the time. However, they had a falling out over money and Floyd Sr. didn't work with either fighter for this bout. De La Hoya brought in Freddie Roach and Mayweather, as he had been in the past, was trained by his uncle Roger. The fight was for De La Hoya's WBC junior middleweight title.

This was the fight that HBO introduced it's 24/7 four part pre fight exclusive, which helped build the interest in the bout.

De La Hoya-Mayweather also had a record for 2.4 million PPV buys with De La Hoya earning a reported 52 million dollars and Mayweather banking 25 million dollars.

ODDS: Mayweather opened as a 2-1 favorite but a ton of sentimental money poured in on Oscar and by the day of the fight De La Hoya was a 3-2 favorite.

Pre-fight Thoughts: De La Hoya prior to fighting Mayweather had one fight, against Ricardo Mayorga, after being stopped by middleweight champ Bernard Hopkins back in 2004. And in his last five bouts before taking on Mayweather, Oscar was just 3-2.

In truth Oscar hadn't looked impressive in five years since stopping Fernando Vargas in 2002. Prior to fighting De La Hoya, Mayweather looked sharp beating Zab Judah and Carlos Baldomir over the last year.

At the time of the fight De La Hoya was getting by on his name and Mayweather was starting to mature and fill out physically. I knew Floyd couldn't hurt or stop Oscar, but he wouldn't have to because he'd be a little too quick and sharp for him and it looked like a short bet for Mayweather to win a comfortable decision.

Result: The fight was actually more competitive than what most believed it would be. In the early going De La Hoya was controlling Mayweather with his jab. De La Hoya was the aggressor throughout the fight and in the early going Mayweather wasn't very effective with his counter-punching. However, Oscar started to fade as Mayweather predicted before the fight that he would. Floyd made some adjustments and starting beating Oscar to the punch.

Basically Mayweather was just a tad quicker and better defensively and that was the difference. Two judges scored four of the last five rounds for Mayweather resulting in what would be the deciding factor in a very close fight. When it was over Mayweather pulled it out via a 12-round split decision 116-112, 115-113 and 113-115. The AP scored it for Mayweather 116-112.

Ironically Mayweather's father said after the fight, "I thought Oscar won the fight on points, threw more punches and was more aggressive. My son had good defense and caught a lot of his punches, but I still thought Oscar pressed enough to win the fight."

Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com

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Comment on this article

El Dude says:

The risk that real men take in the ring of boxing is something that cowards will never understand. Win, lose or draw, all boxers are true champion who perform like true warriors when they step in the ring to meet their fate. I respect all fighters for its their bravery and dedication that captures the imagination of all men. The "most" memorable fights from my youth began with the stories of my grandfather who use to tell me word by word and punch for punch the battles of the great-ones. Chavez, Chavez still echoes in my soul and the "Big" wows from Mike Tyson's KOs still rattle in my dome. Thanks to technology we have the capability of revisiting those past time legends who paved the road for all boxing fans who dream of making it in this wonderful sport of Boxing.
by El Dude.

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