The Pugil List: Ten best light heavyweight fights
In anticipation of a match-up featuring the best 175-pound boxers today, I thought it would be a good idea to see what our current favorites would need to do in order to match some of the most exciting memories in light heavyweight history. It is satisfying that I can use tonight’s fantastic pairing between Sergey Kovalev and Andre Ward (HBO Pay-Per-View, 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT) to extol the virtues of, and look back upon, a division with a long history of the elite facing each other down. The history of the light heavyweight division spans 113 years and, with the exception of a period between 1905 and 1914, it has been considered a premier weight class for that time span. The intriguing part of this showdown is that Kovalev and Ward seem to employ distinctly divergent styles, which, if you reflect upon this list, makes for a greater probability of this clash becoming a classic!
10. Prince Charles Williams TKO 9 Bobby Czyz (Oct. 29, 1987) – The intelligent and affable IBF titleholder Czyz was built up as the next Ray Mancini or Sugar Ray Leonard and was in line for a unification fight with Thomas “Hitman” Hearns when he ran into a very undervalued Charles Williams. In fact, many thought it was only a “showcase fight” and it looked that way early as Czyz knocked Williams down and had him out on his feet in both the first and second rounds. Perhaps a mental letdown was inevitable from the usually intelligent boxing Czyz and he let Williams off the hook, coasting in order to get some of his zip back after exerting a lot of energy early. Williams must have been filled with relief, surviving the next two rounds, then dramatically turned the tables on Czyz, beating him to the punch at every opportunity and gaining another advantage, closing Czyz’s left eye. By the eighth round, it was a forgone conclusion that the fight was out of Czyz’s hands, as Williams showed the dominance he would later hold over the entire division mixing power with smooth boxing. The calm ring sense Williams showed to box his way back into the fight, behind a great jab, would become the hallmark of his reign.
9. Battling Siki KO 6 Georges Carpentier (Sept. 24, 1922) – May not rate as high on excitement scale as others on this list but more than makes up for it through intrigue and plot twists. It starts with Siki (who entered with 42-1-1 record from 1920 until 1922) initially agreeing to take a dive against beloved Georges Carpentier but Siki got aggravated when Carpentier consistently hit him too hard for a fight Carpentier was assured to win. Siki later admitted, “He thought he could beat me without our deal and kept on hitting me.” So Siki turned the tables and aggressively stalked the shocked French national hero around the ring, scoring a sixth round knockout. Ironically, Siki agreed to go at least five rounds, so enough film footage could be produced to sell. What Siki lacked in finesse, compared to Carpentier, he made up for in strength, aggression and infighting. Round three was frenetic with Siki rebounding from two knockdowns to score a knockdown of his own, with seconds left in the round. Often forgotten is that Siki overcame early punishment and legitimate knockdowns to batter a Hall of Fame-level Carpentier, whose face became so badly swollen, his corner called a halt to the fight. Both men were never the same after this bout.
8. Iran Barkley SD 12 Thomas Hearns II (March 20, 1992) – This was a marginally post prime “Hitman” Hearns yet he was still a considerable favorite to defeat what many saw as a crude plodder in Iran Barkley, who managed to beat Hearns in their first meeting “on a lucky punch.” Since that first loss, Hearns re-established his credentials beating Virgil Hill and scoring what most saw as a win over Sugar Ray Leonard adjudicated a draw. Meanwhile, Barkley had lost three fights to Roberto Duran, Michael Nunn and Nigel Benn. Despite that, every round was fought passionately with both men looking on the verge of defeat, at times, but the majority view was that the fight was going Barkley’s direction, given all the infighting. When Hearns broke away to the middle of the ring and established range, he got back into the fight, only to be dragged back into battle by his ego. Barkley fought through a broken left hand and swollen eye from the fourth round on, while Hearns’ legs again looked shaky and his nose was badly broken. A fourth round knockdown for Barkley proved pivotal, as the duo fought on even terms for most of the rounds, securing the margin of difference in scoring of 114-113 for Hearns and 115-113 and 114-113 for Barkley.
7. Matthew Saad Muhammad TKO 12 Marvin Johnson I (July 26, 1977) – Muhammad was one of the most exciting fighters to ever lace up the gloves, absorbing remarkable punishment before staging miracle rallies as bewildered foes crumbled from exhaustion. Incredibly, the duo were each only paid $2,500 for a fight Hall of Fame promoter J Russell Peltz said was the best fight he ever witnessed. As was his tendency, Muhammad started slow, soaking up jabs and hooks while trying to time Johnson with wide hooks. It appeared Johnson was just too smart, moving and jabbing his way around the charging Muhammad and landing potshots. Johnson’s movement was sapping his strength though and Muhammad began to land more power shots as the rounds wore on and both men engaged with vigor. But time was running out and Johnson was going to win a tight decision when Muhammad landed a huge right hand that dropped and stopped Johnson with 1:48 left in the final round. Muhammad said, “It was like ‘Rock ’em, Sock ’em Robots.’ I’d bang him and he’d bang me back.” Muhammad went on to prove the win was no fluke, halting Johnson in the eighth round to win the WBC light heavyweight title nearly two years later.
6. Bob Foster KO 14 Chris Finnegan (Sept. 26, 1972) – An aging Foster, making his 11th defense of the title, was thought to be collecting an easy payday risking his title in England against solid but beatable Finnegan. A pro-Finnegan crowd cheered every time its man managed to time Foster from the outside and land tricky southpaw blows but, overall, Foster looked more comfortable for the first three rounds. In the fourth, Finnegan was cut over his left eye, which seemed to flip a switch as he attacked more and took over the fight to the seventh round. It was a back-and-forth affair, with both men landing well. Foster’s blows were harder but did not land as often as Finnegan’s multiple replies. Going into the 10th round, Finnegan had the lead but was dropped by a bomb of a right hand, only to see him regain his footing and finish the round strong. Foster made the mistake of taunting with movement and potshots for the next three rounds, allowing the Englishman to steal rounds. When it did look like Foster may have hurt Finnegan, he rallied harder. It impressed the judges and was a tossup fight going into the 14th when Foster landed a clean right hand that ended a taut affair voted THE RING’s “Fight of the Year” in 1972.
5. Tomasz Adamek MD 12 Paul Briggs I (May 21, 2005) – Too often, bouts not involving Americans are overlooked but this one makes any list, given the inspirational Australian and Pole’s fighting spirit. The volume-punching Briggs was favored over a undefeated and then-unknown Adamek, who left bettors biting their nails to the very end. Adamek took the initiative, landing stinging and well-timed jabs with lead rights mixed in from a distance. That advantage looked even better when Briggs’ eye was cut. It never ceased flowing, though Briggs continued to race forward, landing to the body and any other unprotected part of Adamek. Briggs rocked Adamek in the third round and the damage began to show as Adamek’s right eye swelled and he bled through a broken nose. It was an even affair entering the eighth round, though Briggs looked worse for wear, bloodied and with facial swelling. The eighth was a candidate for “Round of the Year,” with both men noticeably wobbled but refusing to hit the canvas. Every round afterward was an even battle, with plenty of heavy artillery landing but neither giving ground. The judges rewarded Adamek’s crisper and more noticeable punches with one bad 117-113 card, while the others read 115-113 and a 114-114 draw.
4. Matthew Saad Muhammad TKO 14 Yaqui Lopez (July 13, 1980) – A bold battle by any measure, as both men showed they were great fighters with indomitable hearts and vast reserves of energy that masked failings in classic boxing skills. Muhammad stands alongside Muhammad Ali or Jake LaMotta for punch resiliency and recuperative powers, while Lopez resides among the best boxers to never win a world title. It looked like Lopez was going to win a title on his fourth attempt, taking the fight to the champ effectively in the first half, though that decision played into Muhammad’s comeback playbook more. Everyone knew Muhammad was a second-half fighter but he had not been in with someone as tricky and experienced as Lopez. In a remarkable eighth round, Lopez had Muhammad on the ropes and landed what seemed like 30 blows while Muhammad endured, only to have Muhammad dishing out the punishment by the end of the round. Lopez looked dejected at his inability to finish Muhammad; maybe that was the turning point as Lopez reverted to reacting instead of initiating. Muhammad surged forward with mauling tactics, as Lopez became an exhausted lump of flesh by the 14th round. Muhammad went in for the kill and finished his foe with four knockdowns in the 14th stanza. Had this fight happened today, Lopez would have won a 12-round decision.
3. Jeff Harding MD 12 Dennis Andries III (Sept. 11, 1991) – The last of a stirring trilogy, this was a fight between men who knew each other’s strengths and weaknesses but ignored that insight in favor of seeing who was tougher. As in other trilogies, the pair had beaten a lot of talent out of each other, so this fight was about courage and ability to withstand pressure. For the first two rounds, Harding actually tried something new, attempting to move and weave away from Andries’ looping punches. When Harding understood that would not work for 12 rounds, as he was getting tagged regularly, the Aussie switched back to his aggressive self, shoving Andries backward into the ropes and corner. A strategy that got Harding back in the game and held until the seventh round, with a lot of uppercuts and strategic shoulder-work, until the inevitable Andries rally when he caught a second wind first. While Harding’s work rate did not diminish, Andries dealt with it better and saw shots coming, slipping and countering them with thudding hooks. The difference was Harding’s stamina that allowed him to battle through Andries’ counters to land harder blows, sweeping the championship rounds, winning by one and two points on the cards while the third read a draw.
2. Victor Galindez KO 15 Richie Kates I (May 22, 1976) – The always-combative Galindez again chose to neglect undervalued boxing skills to give the world his version of Argentine “Macho,” against a less-experienced Kates, who was a considerable underdog but had the defensive nous to give Galindez trouble. That looked the direction of the fight, with Kates’ jab dictating the action, followed by straight rights that matched the straight lines Galindez took. Things looked even worse for Galindez when an accidental headbutt opened a horrible cut over his right eye but seemed to fuel Galindez’s will with the propulsion of anger. Showing his forgotten boxing skills, Galindez moved more, not to evade but to bore inside, making it a phone-booth fight. It worked a charm, as Kates’ legs became less effective with each round and his jab not strong enough to halt Galindez’s bull rushes. Kates was not without power and both men landed crisp shots. The turning points came in the seventh and 10th rounds as Galindez dropped Kates with uppercuts. Kates went into survival mode, making sporadic stands with flurries but was unable to protect himself. Referee Stanley Christodoulou stopped the fight in the final second of the 15th round after three consecutive hooks dropped a Kates, who had valiantly held out in the face of a merciless beating.
1. Archie Moore KO 11 Yvon Durelle I (Dec. 10, 1958) – The venerable Moore carried a film of this fight with him whenever he talked to troubled youth, so he could show them that no setback is too big to overcome. The kids surely believed in “Old Man Moore” after witnessing the tenacity he showed recovering from three knockdowns in the first round and another in the fourth. Adding to the intrigue was Moore fighting in Durelle’s hometown of Quebec, where the scoring was certainly not going to be in his favor. Before the fight, Moore had complained that the arena was too cold and it seemed that Moore had indeed been caught cold. The first round was hot as hell for Moore, put on the canvas three times by the Durelle’s powerful punches. Moore was lucky that former heavyweight champ, toughman Jack Sharkey allowed the fight to continue past the first round. Moore looked like he was getting back into the fight, when he was knocked down again in the fourth round. Later, Moore said he did not remember any of the fight until the sixth round. In the seventh, Moore rallied, putting Durelle down and only the bell saved Yvon in the 10th round. Two more knockdowns in the 11th round capped the greatest comeback in light heavyweight history. After the fight, Yvon complained that he had a mental lapse, thinking the fight was over after his first-round dominance. For Archie, only days away from his 45th birthday (depending on whom you ask), this was one sweet present.