Some return stronger
Erickson Lubin’s personal and professional lives were shattered with one punch on October 14. However, a knockout is only the end of one fight and, for most, it is the start of a struggle to earn respect back from fans and peers. If Lubin is able to recover from WBC junior middleweight titlist Jermell Charlo’s devastating first round knockout remains to be seen. Heck, there was a time when an undefeated record was looked upon with skepticism, not with awe or dollar signs dancing in the eyes of a promoter. Lubin can take solace in the fact that boxers have risen from the ashes to win a world title. In some cases, they have done it in Hall of Fame-worthy fashion! Yes, it was a humiliation, given Lubin’s pre-fight trash talk and the subsequent sharing of video showing Lubin’s loss of body control around the world on social media platforms. Still, it should not be seen as the extinguishing of a career.
A bright future in boxing can come to a crashing halt in 10 seconds or less. Rebuilding it, if actually done, can take much, much longer. There are many fan favorites who suffered knockout losses before they won world titles. Alexis Arguello was knocked out in his fourth pro fight. Joe Louis was pounded mercilessly by Max Schmeling and Archie Moore was knocked out four times before he won the world light heavyweight title and went on to establish the all-time knockout record at 132. In those legends’ eras, defeats were not widely televised and viewed as learning experiences…not end stations. It was a more forgiving time, when an undefeated record was not worth more than producing an all-around fighter. They were purposely matched against divergent styles, fighting 20 times a year, instead of 20 times every five years.
For the purposes of this feature, I only traveled back as far as 1980 to find knockout losses, since the amount of bouts in a career increase pretty dramatically before that. This made the odds of being knocked out more probable statistically. All these boxers lost via stoppage, either before getting a title fight or in their first title fight. Beside the 10 most prominent boxers, here are other (not complete. I’m sure I missed some) fighters that emerged triumphantly, winning at least one world title: Luisito Espinosa, Betulio Gonzalez, Pongsaklek Wonjongkam, Jose Luis Castillo, Toshiaki Nishioka, Orlando Salido, Tommy Morrison, Israel Vazquez, David Haye, Katsunari Takayama, John John Molina, Wilfredo Vazquez, Oscar Larios, Hugo Cazares, Jorge Arce, Saman Sorjaturong, Iran Barkley, Celestino Caballero, Sharmba Mitchell, Glen Johnson, Jean-Baptiste Mendy, O’Neil Bell, Orlin Norris, Yoan Pablo Hernandez, Dennis Andries, Manuel Medina, Antonio Esparragoza, Zolani Petelo, Hiroshi Kawashima, Adonis Stevenson, Gianfranco Rosi, Gabriel Ruelas and Amir Khan.
10) Rafael Marquez – The strangest pre-title loss was by Rafael Marquez, in his first pro fight. The 20-year-old slugger didn’t even know he was making his pro debut, believing the fight with former WBC bantamweight champion Victor Rabanales was a glorified sparring match. Marquez said of the fight, “We were stablemates and I saw no harm helping him out in what I understood to be nothing more than an exhibition.” Eight bloody rounds later, Marquez was counted out and starting his pro career with a kayo loss. A dubious dawn of what would become a world-class career and opened Marquez’s eyes to the vagaries of boxing. As an aside, Marquez suffered two more kayo losses before winning his first title.
9) Daniel Jacobs – Of course, this New Yorker’s knockout defeat at the hands of a little-known Russian pales in comparison to Jacobs’ victory over bone cancer. Everything started so well for Jacobs, earning most publications’ “Prospect of the Year” awards in 2009, then came his big step up against Dmitry Pirog in Jacobs’ first title fight. Jacobs was winning 39-37 on all cards before running into a mammoth counter right hand; the blow locked up his entire body, as he dropped to the canvas with his arms stretched in the air. No count was neccessary and referee Robert Byrd waved the match off immediately. The fight never left Jacobs though, as he overcame cancer and won the WBA “regular” middleweight title. Jacobs lost the title in a respectful performance against pound-for-pound rated unfied champion Gennady Golovkin but it would be unwise to think Jacobs not capable of winning a version of the world title again.
8) Badou Jack – Sometimes you need a powerful friend or promoter to prove yourself. Credit Mayweather Promotions with getting its boxer a redemptive title shot, which came only two fights after Jack suffered a first round stoppage loss. Secondly, credit Jack with making the most of the opportunity, winning the WBC super middleweight title against credible Anthony Dirrell and retaining it three times, including an exciting unification fight draw against James DeGale. Jack won a second world title, moving up to the light heavyweight division, with a dominant performance, showing he carried his power up in weight. Still, some are confused at how much punishment Jack has been able to endure, given he was knocked down twice, in the span of one minute, and stopped by journeyman Derek Edwards, in February of 2014.
7) John Ruiz – Most of the boxing world thought 19 seconds was all that they would see of John Ruiz and frankly many wish the spoiler would have kept it that way. Less than 20 seconds is what it took David Tua to eviscerate Ruiz on an HBO “Night of the Young Heavyweights” telecast. One left hook started the process and, before Ruiz could figure out what was happening, Tua had trapped him on the ropes, raining punches down on him. Ruiz was carried out of the ring on a stretcher but the loss refocused Ruiz and, after a string of victories, he took the WBA title from Evander Holyfield four years later.
6) Nigel Benn – “The Dark Destroyer” was destroyed in his first significant step up in competition. Prior to that, Benn had destroyed all 22 of his foes and only one opponent was even able to get past the fifth round. That changed when Benn ran into ill-fated Michael Watson, in a thrilling matchup of knockout punchers, who liked to move forward. In the end, stamina played more of a role than power. Benn dominated the fight early but had no escape route or Plan B, once Watson survived the blistering onslaught. In an interview at Watson’s 50th birthday celebration, Benn revealed, “You were the master; I was just the warrior. You made me who I am today. I was going to try and make it ugly but it never worked. I needed that defeat.”
5) Marco Huck – One of the most exciting boxers of his era, the German made 13 title defenses, which is amazing, given how Huck allowed himself to be dragged into firefights. In his first title challenge, Huck tried to simply overpower a slightly smaller Steve Cunningham. Huck absorbed a lot of punishment, losing rounds closely, but remained in striking distance on the scorecards entering the championship rounds. Huck launched a desperate scramble, winning both rounds but burning up energy reserves. In the final round, Huck mustered his strength and went all out. Cunningham escaped the final assault, initiating a counterattack that left an exhausted Huck nearly lifeless on the ropes. His trainer threw in the towel, understanding Huck had given everything in defeat.
4) Sergio Martinez – Many people believe, in hindsight given the revelations about Antonio Margarito and his illegally-loaded handwraps, that Martinez suffered a worse type of beating than ordinary boxers in his stoppage loss. This was Martinez’s first fight in America, and he was rocked and dropped in the very first round along the ropes. It was more of a flash knockdown but Margarito’s hard hands took their toll as the rounds wore on. Martinez needed rescuing by referee Joe Cortez, after he was rocked by a combination of punches, unable to defend himself in the seventh round. Martinez went on to become one of the classiest champions (at middleweight, specifically), in and out of the ring, of his generation, sporting a distinctive style that fuzzed speed, rhythm, power and movement that befitted his nickname of “Maravilla.”
3) Terry Norris – “Terrible” Terry Norris not only rebounded from his loss to win world titles but entered everyone’s pound-for-pound list, showing mental and physical strength. It takes a lot to return from a knockout out at the hands of one of the most devastating punchers in boxing history. Two rounds and one huge right hand is all Julian Jackson needed to stop a still maturing Norris. It only delayed Norris’ upward trajectory though, as he came back in less than a year’s time to score a spectacular knockout of his own against the once fearsome John “The Beast” Mugabi. The Jackson experience helped Norris more than people knew, as Norris was able to rebound from a second stoppage loss to Simon Brown. Neither stoppage provided a mental hurdle large enough for Norris to jump.
2) Wladimir Klitschko – The Hall of Fame-bound former heavyweight king won 25 pro fights before suffering a shocking loss. Had Klitschko’s bout with Ross Puritty been scheduled for 10 rounds, the Ukrainian giant would have won an easy unanimous decision, despite being exhausted and knocked down in the final seconds of the 10th, but it was a 12-rounder and Puritty came out in the 11th and pounded a defenseless Klitschko along the ropes. Trainer Fritz Sdunek, an overlooked boxing intellect, wisely jumped into the ring to prevent his fighter from absorbing more punishment. Sdunek saved his man in the knowledge that he could win a title on another day and Klitschko proved his trainer right.
1) Manny Pacquiao – The Filipino icon will be remembered as a legend of the game but he seemed impossibly far removed from such a classification in his 12th fight. In the first two rounds, it looked like Pacquiao was going to win his fight handily against an ordinary Rustico Torrecampo. In the pivotal third round, the duo threw left hooks simultaneously. Torrecampo’s landed first and squarely (some claim “Pacman” was actually knocked out by Torrecampo’s shoulder with the follow-through and it is hard to tell from the grainy video footage), sending Pacquiao to the canvas in a heap of boneless flesh. Like Erickson Lubin, Pacquiao struggled on the canvas but was unable to get up before the count of 10. Obviously, Pacquiao was able to push that painful memory aside, going on to win world titles in six divisions and millions of fans in the process.