Ruined: When one fight implodes a career – part two
In part one, we covered the career collapses of Jeff Fenech, Gabe Ruelas, John Tate, Davey Moore and Oba Carr. I also threw out some conjecture on why their careers took an irreversible downward spiral from which they could not recover. We will never really know the cause for certain but it remains an engrossing subject on which to speculate. The randomness of life and seemingly trivial influences that combine to unhinge psyches are, of course, too complex to put into a couple paragraphs. Their stories make for intriguing life puzzles and I have five remaining cases that have confounded me for years. Their dance partners played a large role in the downfalls and are not to be dismissed as innocent bystanders. They are vital cogs but equally unwilling participants when it came to the post-fight declines of their victims.
Case study No. 6: Meldrick Taylor (vs. Julio Cesar Chavez Sr. I)
Almost every boxing fan knows of or has heard chatter about this timeless clash. What a divergence of styles this fight featured and the manner it displayed how either style could overcome the other. For pure theater and speculation, you cannot beat this fight. Did referee Richard Steele make the right decision? Why didn’t Taylor run in the last round? Did Lou Duva distract Taylor during Steele’s instructions? Could Chavez have even landed a follow-up punch? Could Taylor have continued? What we do know is Chavez showed us, in this fight, that those who would later question his heart have it all wrong. So often, Chavez could have walked away like Roberto Duran did against Sugar Ray Leonard. Instead, “El Gran Campeon” soldiered on, walking through combination after combination. The fight was rightly billed as a superfight and this one actually turned out to be a super fight. Early on, it was the speed of Taylor that dominated, landing at a three-to-one clip at center ring. Chavez could not trap Taylor on the ropes or back him up in straight lines with any regularity. Sure, in retrospect, we see the body shots were landing but, at the time, most were blinded by the Taylor’s hand speed. A funny thing happened with three rounds left however, the incredible damage Taylor had actually endured appeared on his face and he began to swell grotesquely. Taylor’s orbital socket was fractured and he had swallowed over two pints of blood from a cut in his mouth. Yet going into the final round, Meldrick was ahead with scores of 108-101 and 107-102, while one judge turned in an absurd 105-104 card for Chavez. Even the last round was looking good enough for Taylor until a wicked right hand landed with 20 seconds left in the fight. Taylor was in obvious trouble and stumbled back into a corner, where Chavez landed another right hand with even more force. Taylor’s legs and body went limp and dropped to the canvas. Taylor valiantly pulled himself up using the ropes and stood before Steele at the count of five. After counting to nine, Steele looked into Taylor’s eyes and asked Meldrick twice if he was OK. Taylor’s eyes and lack of reply indicated to Steele that he could not allow the fight to continue. So how much time separated Taylor from victory? Two seconds! No matter what Taylor did, the thrillingly close defeat to Chavez came up. When he was not asked about it by a reporter, Taylor would bring it up. For the rest of his career – and probably life – that fight plays on in Taylor’s mind.
Davey Moore might have suffered more physical damage but Taylor comes in a close second and was undoubtedly changed forever. Perhaps worse was the mental trauma of knowing that all the suffering he went through ended up getting him to within two seconds of victory. Two seconds! It’s a double whammy of mythical proportions. Taylor was already out of touch after the bout stating, “I’m 24 and I’m definitely gonna last longer than [Chavez].” Instead, Taylor lost their rematch even worse. Taylor did show flashes of his old self but when subsequently faced with pressure fighters, he would hit a mental or physical wall.
Case Study No. 7: Donald Curry (vs. Lloyd Honeyghan)
Fans forget just how highly Curry was thought of in his prime. We are talking about a welterweight, whom many boxing experts gave a serious chance of outboxing Marvin Hagler for the world middleweight title. Curry was believed to be the best pound-for-pound boxer on Earth but pound-for-pound was also his problem…namely when it came to making weight. At 25, Curry was in his prime and had amassed outstanding amateur and pro records. This bout was not a case of Curry looking good early on then falling apart; Curry never looked good at all. Honeyghan plowed through Curry’s jab and hooks, banging Curry’s body with left hooks from the opening minute. The awkward, bullying style of Honeyghan and, most notably, his straight right hand visibly wore on Curry from round three on. The corner and referee Octavio Meyran stopped the beating at the end of the sixth, and Curry’s face had to be put back together with 20 stitches.
Most hypothesize that years of making weight cut into Curry’s stay at the top and, at the very least, it caused his fall in this monumental upset. Compounding the weight issue was Curry taking Honeyghan lightly and paying the price for it the second the bell sounded. A Curry that was neither mentally nor physically 100% ran into a buzzsaw who proved to be much better then he and the American press corps gave him credit for. Curry immediately jumped up in weight but the damage had been done. A spectacular amateur as well as pro, the way he lost the Honeyghan fight must have effected the way Curry saw himself later. After years of dominance, this was a feeling Curry never experienced before and did not know how to recover from.
Case study No. 8: Hector Camacho Sr. (vs. Edwin Rosario)
Camacho’s slide to mediocrity can be traced to the exact punch. It was in the 11th round, when a left hook shook Camacho to his toes and left the “Macho Man” reeling for the remainder of the round. His seven-year-old son told him after the fight, “Daddy, you are lucky you’re alive.” Yes, he was but his life as a thrilling boxer/puncher ended that night. Hector told us what was to come in an interview soon after the Rosario fight, “I fought a war and I can tell you right now, Hector Camacho don’t like no damn wars.” Hector was brilliant in the ring with his fists and a media darling outside of it with his mouth, persona, and charisma. After the Rosario fight, Hector scored wins over good names like Ray Mancini, Howard Davis, Jose Luis Ramirez, Cornelius Boza-Edwards, Vinny Pazienza and Greg Haugen…but the magic was gone. Where Hector used to thrill, he now bored. Only in a loss to Julio Cesar Chavez, in which he took a beating, did Camacho earn a modicum of redemption with fans.
There was physical damage here but no more so then thousands of other boxers endured. The shot that rocked Camacho did so in the very pit of his soul. Camacho showed in subsequent fights that he could and would take punishment…but only when he absolutely had no other choice except to quit. The focus for Camacho shifted from punching between opponents’ punches to constant movement and defense after the Rosario fight. Every offensive move seemed to be analyzed as to how it would leave Camacho vulnerable to counters. It worked for him…but not fans.
Case study No. 9: Tyrell Biggs (vs. Mike Tyson)
Biggs was a tough-as-nails Philly fighter with a evenly proportioned 6-foot-5 frame that employed a extensive amateur pedigree and athletic ability to maximum effect. The 1984 Olympic gold medalist was fighting 10 rounders in his ninth fight and beating better then average boxers like James “Quick” Tillis in his eighth pro bout. Renaldo Snipes was beaten decisively in Biggs’ 13th pro fight. Many point to Mike Tyson’s 90-second destruction of Michael Spinks as the pinnacle of his career but Tyson was probably at his destructive best against Biggs. The pre-fight trash talk was heavy on both sides and Tyson entered the fight with more fire, if that is possible, than for any other opponent. Simply put, Tyson tortured Biggs. He had opportunities to stop Biggs before the seventh but backed off and went to the body instead of looking for a finishing combination to the head. Tyson admitted to the press afterward, “I could have knocked him out in the third round but I wanted to do it slowly, so he would remember this night for a long time.” After two knockdowns in the seventh round, referee Tony Orlando mercifully stopped the slaughter with one second remaining.
This was a case of rushing a heavyweight into a big-money fight instead of letting him amass some seasoning before the big dance, the African-American Gerry Cooney, if you will. Biggs had not even competed in 20 fights yet; it was his 16th and was against a prime 31-0 Tyson. Lou Duva saw the boxer/puncher’s skills and went after Biggs hard after the Olympics but put him in too deep against a vicious slugger. How ruined was Biggs? Two average European heavies (Gary Mason and Francesco Damiani, whom Biggs easily beat at the Olympic finals) Biggs under eight rounds after Tyson had softened him up. The speed, the reflexes and defense were literally beaten out of Biggs.
Case study No.10: Naseem Hamed (vs. Marco Antonio Barrera)
“Embarrassing” is the best way to describe the loss Hamed suffered at the hands of the Mexican great. Not only did Hamed not win two consecutive rounds at any time, lunging and spinning wildly off balance, in the 12th round, Barrera put Hamed in a headlock and had piledriven his forehead into the turnbuckle. It is easily forgotten that this was Barrera’s first fight at featherweight and many saw Hamed as a shoo-in to kayo the smaller challenger. Instead, Barrera boxed rings around Hamed and saw punches well in advance of their arrival. The more Hamed grew frustrated, the more he threw ineffective blows of the one-punch kayo variety. It became a vicious circle. Experts thought Barrera would need to apply pressure on Hamed to win; instead, he gave Hamed room to make mistakes and capitalized on them.
There are as many theories on why Hamed left boxing (he scored a boring, 12-round win over Manuel Calvo and retired) after the Barrera bout as there were fans who disliked the cocky Englishman. Yes, millions. Most involved Hamed’s massive ego and that he could not handle the loss mentally. Or that Hamed had gotten too rich, refused to train and make the sacrifices to return to the top. Maybe it was a recent marriage? While Hamed did put on a great arrogant act, he was more down to Earth than given credit for. This loss can be traced to one thing (and one thing alone, in my opinion): the firing of his original trainer, Brendan Ingle. Even before the Barrera debacle, Hamed seemed stylistically lost. Caught between the influences of two new trainers, Emanuel Steward and Oscar Suarez, who had no idea how to harness the ungodly power Hamed’s freakish ring style could deliver when harnessed correctly. Looking back at it now, the Wayne McCullough fight is where Hamed and Ingle had their falling out. Afterward, Hamed was never the same again.