No backing down, Taylor versus Ramirez could be the best yet

Despite the lingering effects of a global pandemic, it is hard to argue 2021 has been a bad year for boxing. May could yet be the best month of the lot. What began with Sunny Edwards’ flawless wrestling of the flyweight crown, reached its supposed peak with Canelo’s eventual dismantling of a red-hot Billy Joe Saunders, now has its compelling crescendo.

Josh Taylor, the Tartan Tornado, Scotland’s WBA and IBF Super Lightweight champion of the world takes on Jose Carlos Ramirez for the WBC and WBO belts. And for the opportunity to become Scotland’s first undisputed World Champion in half a century. In doing so he faces his fifth unbeaten opponent in a row, a sequence of fights that has included Regis Prograis, Viktor Postol and Ivan Baranchyk.

That trio rank 1, 5 and 10 respectively in Boxrec’s current super lightweight rankings and Ramirez number 2, though it is hard to argue against Saturday’s headliners being the divisions top two.

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Ramirez comes into the contest his own resume glistening. First winning the vacant WBC crown in 2018 he has gone on to outwork Jose Zepeda, be the first man to defeat Maurice Hooker and most recently edge Viktor Postol.

In each of these contests his opponents have enjoyed success, sometimes punishing before being outworked and ultimately made to pay. Ramirez is a Hispanic fighter in the classic mould, his work rate one of the best in the business and his chin so far impermeable to hardened fists and eight-ounce gloves. Against Hooker he took two successive left hooks to the chin at the end of the fifth. Each should have troubled him, neither did. One round later the referee had waved off the contest, Hooker dazed by a flurry of punches that the commentators didn’t see coming.

Taylor has been in dog fights before. You only need look back to his unification bout against Regis Prograis. You have the sense that though we could get the same fireworks this will be a different proposition. Early on in that fight Taylor asserted his physicality, trying to dominate the centre of the ring and outmuscling the American. Against Ramirez such a tactic may struggle. Not only is Ramirez a bigger man but he has already said he won’t allow Taylor the time others have and will be the one applying the pressure.

The Scotsman says to an extent that has given away the game plan and backs his ability to box on the counter. Ramirez will come, Ramirez will miss and Taylor will make him pay. It is a tactic all who have studied Ramirez will have deduced. It is also one none so far have been able to execute, his workrate and power being matched by an unheralded skillset that has always found a way.

It is a contest that could have occurred nine years ago, both fighters hotly tipped and on course to meet each other in the semi finals of London’s Olympic Games. Both fell far short, being defeated in the last 16 and from there their careers went separate ways.

Jose Carlos Ramirez would turn pro that winter, barely twenty years old, making his debut in the MGM Grand and taking on credible opponents right from the off. No easy touches the Olympic disappointment put an urgency into Ramirez’s early years in the paid ranks and it was demonstrated with eight stoppages in his first ten fights.

Taylor meanwhile would stay an amateur, and though eighteen months older would still enjoy success at a young age. After exiting the World Champs of 2013 in the second round to the eventual champion Merey Akshalov he was the poster boy for the Glasgow Commonwealth Games and duly delivered, bettering his 2010 silver at the tender age of twenty-three.

Like Ramirez, Taylor himself grew impatient. A hand injury receiving surgery, bone from his hip was grafted to two joints cut out and a series of staples. One year had passed by and in 2015 Taylor himself turned pro.

With the Scotsman’s win in his tenth professional contest, overcoming Ohara Davies in a fight many saw as a 50/50 before the bell, the paths of Ramirez and Taylor began to converge. As Taylor knocked out Miguel Vasquez, Ramirez did likewise with the unbeaten Mike Reed, earning himself a shot at the vacant WBC belt.

While Ramirez became a World Champion, Taylor disposed of one, outclassing Viktor Postol in a performance which carries even greater weight with Ramirez’s own later struggles.

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Ramirez’s decision to not take part in the World Boxing Super Series drew critics at the time, though by beating Hooker and seizing the WBO crown he answered them as soon as those shots were fired. Taylor’s  own dismissal of Ryan Martin, unpicking of Baranchyk for the IBF title and outhustling of Prograis to unify has put to bed any critics he himself may have had.

What it has done more than that, however, is cement an irresistible clash, one only inevitable due to its two champions inability to back down.

Two fighters, tested but undefeated, the uncontested best in their weight class adamant that by heading to Las Vegas on Saturday night they grant themselves the right to say once and for all, they are the world’s best. Next in line for the victor surely a clash with Terence Crawford, the Super Lightweight’s last undisputed king and an opportunity to label themselves one of the best in the history of the sport.  

Featured image by ESPN/Top Rank.

Reclaiming the narrative, Dillian Whyte stands one win from risking it all again.

Mascalls Lane, Brentwood, Essex. A country mansion, Rolls Royce on the drive and a helipad out back. This was where the deals were made. The home of Matchroom Sport, this was where fighters made their fortune, signing contracts that took them to Madison Square Gardens, Vegas and Wembley.

In the garden, manicured grass and towering willows  a 60 metre walk from the helicopter at the rear to two flights of centrepiece steps and a pebbled patio.

In the centre three ropes above his head, eyes shut, fists by his ears a Brixton boxer back at square one. For three years, Dillian Whyte had been the WBC’s number one ranked contender, a period in which he had beaten three top ten rivals. Dereck Chisora outgunned. Joseph Parker outfought. Oscar Rivas outlasted.

A world title shot was his by right, or as much as such things exist in boxing. Promotion politics, sexier fights, or perhaps more fittingly higher earning fights were there for the WBC. Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder and their tussle for the green and gold belt.

Whyte refused to wait, his consistent gambles earning him a whole host of fans, seeing a boxer with everything to lose put everything on the line. I was and still am one of them. Four headline shows in the O2, one drugs ban and a humiliating public statement from UK Anti-Doping exonerating him six months down the line.

A round too far

For four rounds he hurt Alexander Povetkin, crushing him with body blows and dropping him twice. The world title shot one concussive finish from finally appearing. And yet it never came, the left hook that ripped through his chin knocking him out cold. Doctors racing to the scene, their white masks radiant in a pitch black Essex night, his body adjacent to a label on the floor, Sky Sports Box Office.

A crippling shock but one that delivered the ultimate drama for behind closed doors boxing. The brainchild of Eddie Hearn paying off. The eerie silence, dark night and absent crowd bringing a brutal reality to a sport that thrives off it. Not for the first time, the drama was at Dillian Whyte’s expense.

Whyte has been here before but in far different circumstances. In December 2015 Whyte’s eyes rolled to the back of his head, left arm hugging a bouncing third rope. Anthony Joshua had won the grudge match, stopping Whyte in the seventh. Joshua would fight and win the IBF world title versus an underwhelming Charles Martin in his next bout, while Dillian Whyte was forced to take a few steps back.

Whyte returned six months later in a heavyweight contest against an Ivica Bacurin almost 44 pounds lighter. Impatient, gun slinging, Whyte was an angry man throwing punches in a contest few thought he could lose, looking like a fighter who knew he was now following a different trajectory. It took him six rounds that night in the O2, heavy shots connecting and missing the mark with a consistent regularity.

Of course this time is far different. A rebuild isn’t necessary, there’s a simple truth. Avenge August’s defeat and Whyte can get his title shot, despite the WBC’s contention that Povetkin is not in the mandatory position. Whyte’s body of work, his three-year position as WBC number one contender and his single blip avenged is a resumé Eddie Hearn has to push, and if he can be patient the title fight has to come.

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Far from a shot to nothing

Lose, well losing doesn’t bear thinking about. Whyte cannot afford to rebuild once more. 33 shortly after the fight his age isn’t a problem. It is the battles he has had. Twelve brutal rounds versus Rivas, Chisora, Parker, Helenius. Knocked down four times, two of these final. 160 rounds of professional boxing and an early career as a sparring partner for Wladimir Klitschko and Tyson Fury amongst others. At no stage so far has experience displayed its scars, his speed and power consistent and a maturity more and more evident in each bout. But one day it will and logic would dictate that cannot be too long.

In his corner, Xavier Miller and Harold Knight, the former having worked with the Whyte since 2019 and the latter a former co-trainer of Lennox Lewis. No Mark Tibbs, the successful partnership having separated prior to the defeat to Povetkin. A change of coach indeed but speculating about its effects is an irrelevance. Heavyweights carry power. Povetkin felt it throughout four wearing rounds, two times touching the canvas. Whyte felt it as the contest ended. Elite level boxing is full of fighters with a punch that can change a fight.

Yet as Whyte lines up on Saturday night, his future on the line, it is not a fight he is there to change markedly. More of the same, tighter and perhaps more respectful of the Russian’s power. It is minor adjustments which he seeks to implement. Changing the narrative instead is what Dillian Whyte searches for.

One opportunity to take things back into his hands, to right a wrong and leave his path one he is able to choose, rather than one dictated to him by other parties. What path that may be, whether he risks it all once more, well only time will tell. Whyte will hope to choose.  

Featured image produced by Matchroom Boxing.

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Heavy favourite, where is the ceiling for Lawrence Okolie?

Lawrence Okolie. Grime artist, author, former burger flipper in McDonalds, soon to be cruiserweight World Champion?

Everyone has an opinion on the Hackney man and you are unlikely to find one that sits on the fence. The new generation of British fighter, brought up on the 2012 Olympic success of his now friend Anthony Joshua, critics bemoan a red-carpet treatment that has bypassed the traditional ranks and cite a style which can at times be difficult for the neutral.

Both are perhaps valid criticisms but have their limitations as well.

The hard-hitting east Londoner was nineteen when Joshua won Olympic Gold, a moment he has since said inspired him to take the sport more seriously, only two years on from having first picked up the gloves. Nineteen stone as a teenager, doctors labelled him clinically obese, boxing originally taken as a means of shifting some of it.

Four years later he was in Joshua’s shoes, competing in Rio and lining up against the Cuban, Erislandy Savón. 123 wins and twenty-nine losses for his opponent, Okolie was just ten when Savón made his amateur debut. Experience proved too much for the British boxer but Matchroom Boxing had seen enough. Just six months later Eddie Hearn’s promotion gave him his first professional deal, the Londoner certainly not lacking in ambition.

“I want to be the best Cruiserweight that Britain has seen… David Haye has done great things, so has Jonny Nelson and many others, but I want to cement my legacy, have my name go down in history and maybe follow Haye by winning the Heavyweight crown too.”

LAWRENCE OKOLIE, SPEAKING ON SIGNING HIS FIRST PROFESSIONAL CONTRACT IN JANUARY 2017

Bold claims from someone who had not only been beaten in the last 16 of the Olympics but just a few months prior stopped by the same opponent in the World Series of Boxing. In normal circumstances those comments may have faded out of the collective consciousness as he steadily built up his pro career in small hall shows, but Okolie was thrust into the limelight.

A knockout of a handpicked Geoffrey Cave within twenty seconds on the Crolla-Linares undercard, his debut was in the MEN. Then came the SSE Hydro, another world title card, another first round knockout. A Bramall Lane Spence-Brook show followed, the pattern continuing and another first round stoppage. Okolie had bypassed the path others had been forced to make, his conclusive finishes providing a highlight reel easy to sell and usually much longer to build.

But boxing in the big time from day one isn’t what boxers do, much like when he shared a twenty second clip of a sparring session where he was getting the better of Dillian Whyte. So when he made his first trip to York Hall as a pro his failure to stop Blaise Mendouo was always going to draw criticism, though I can’t concede it told us much about him as a boxer. When the Cameroonian got inside Okolie consistently went to clinch, a theme we’ve seen throughout his later fights.

It might not be pretty but when it negates his opponent’s ability to hurt him when his reach advantage is overcome it is the referee’s prerogative to not allow him to do that. It is one referee Victor Loughlin chose to take up by docking Okolie three points in his win over Matty Askin. A similar scenario in his world championship fight would inevitably lead to a different result and it will be interesting to see the referee’s early approach.

Criticism of the Olympian broadly follows this accusation that Okolie is boring and doesn’t merit the standing he has in the Matchroom stable, his win over Isaac Chamberlain on points dull because it didn’t have the concussive knockout the grudge match deserved. The fact he put his opponent down twice and was never in danger of losing the fight goes unnoticed. Again Okolie outmuscled the Brixton boxer but it was Chamberlain who was deemed to be the worse perpetrator, having a point deducted for holding.

He is where he is because the reality is that for every clinch, every bear hug wearing down his opponent there have been just as many stoppages and a right hand which has carried power at every level at which he’s been tested.

Those are the facts, fifteen fights, thirteen knockouts and now one world title fight. It is why Okolie goes into Saturday night a 1/3 odds on favourite, fighting against a man who has won and then relinquished this exact title.

Krzysztof Glowacki has been here himself. In August 2015, he was the challenger, a 25-0 wrecking ball who had knocked out 16 of his opponents. Marco Huck had been WBO World Cruiserweight Champion since 2009 and had never been knocked to the canvas. In the eleventh round Glowacki did it twice in succession.

And yet in knocking out Marco Huck boxing fans learnt their greatest lesson about the Pole. In the sixth he was within a judges call of the contest being over, an overhand left leaving Glowacki head on the ground facing the floodlights of the Prudential Center, New Jersey. Gloves to his face Glowacki attempted to revive himself, eventually gathering himself just before the count of ten. For the rest of the contest we saw a busy durable fighter, but one down on the cards, his combination that caught Huck clean his only route out of defeat. Huck was quicker, smarter, but in the end defeated.

Glowacki is durable but there are better boxers out there. That is the narrative.

The man from West Poland’s chin has had its limits but has got him far. Oleksandr Usyk outskilling him over twelve and Mairis Breidis most recently taking his title in a contest that was more of a streetfight. Stopped in the third, Glowacki was downed in the second, several seconds after the bell with the referee seemingly oblivious. Two defeats against the undisputed cruiserweight champion and the current Boxrec number 1 may have revealed he is a level short of the top tier but it is one that still makes him a good world champion.

Okolie stands across the ring five inches taller with a seven-and-a-half-inch reach advantage. He faces an opponent almost two years inactive in a fight that has already been rescheduled.

We know about Glowacki. We know the skills the southpaw brings and the supposed weaknesses that can be exposed. The same can’t be said for Okolie. Nowhere has he met an opponent good enough to reveal them. On no stage has he yet fought this level of opponent.

Will Okolie be allowed to keep him at bay and pick off his shots? The first few rounds will be instructive. If hit will Glowacki be able to take his power? What will happen if Okolie is taken deep, will he build able to weather his opponent’s relentless and predictable late onslaught?

Ultimately these are the questions that need answering and for all these we can build up an impression of how we believe it will play out. What level is Lawrence Okolie? Well that’s one question no one can say with confidence. We will find out on Saturday night.

Featured image “Week 2 Group B Match USA Knockouts vs British Lionhearts” by World Series Boxing is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

Reclaiming the narrative, Dillian Whyte stands one win from risking it all again.

Mascalls Lane, Brentwood, Essex. A country mansion, Rolls Royce on the drive and a helipad out back. This was where the deals were made. The home of Matchroom Sport, this was where fighters made their fortune, signing contracts that took them to Madison Square Gardens, Vegas and Wembley. In the garden, manicured grass and towering … Continue reading Reclaiming the narrative, Dillian Whyte stands one win from risking it all again.

First or final? World title challenge calling for Campbell or Garcia.

“Boxing has levels”

A tired cliché, often coined by fighters, trainers and promoters alike, dismissive of the fact that each level itself is not distinct, and a boxer’s range may vary from one fight to the next.

On the surface, Luke Campbell’s career would be a case in point, a man who has twice fallen short at world title level. But his record tells only half the story. In Vasily Lomachenko he was outclassed, by an artist who at the time was widely considered the pound for pound best. In defeat there was no shame, but posterity and Teofimo Lopez’s subsequent unpicking of the Ukranian has shone it in a different light.

Two years before, less than three weeks after the death of his father, against Jorge Linares, Victor Loughlin deemed Campbell to have won the WBA lightweight title. Zachary Young and Max DeLuca felt differently and Linares retained the belt, but it was a knockdown in the second that ultimately proved the difference. What “level” would Campbell have been if he had kept on his feet?

On Saturday night in Dallas, we have a match up between Luke Campbell, the recognised contender versus a young prospect hoping to catapult his way to a world title shot. “King Ry” Ryan Garcia comes with backing. Already the King of boxing Instagram the 22 year old American boasts a following larger than even Canelo Alvarez. Bookmakers make him a 1/3 favourite though how much those odds are skewed by the sheer weight of popularity is difficult to tell.

Champion boxers aren’t made online but in the ring, and in that respect Ryan Garcia has acquitted himself with distinction. The usual resume building knockouts came early for Garcia, but credibility was earnt in his two most recent bouts. In the first Romero Duno drew a right hook to the chin, crumbling slowly and painfully to the canvas, his brain short-circuited.

Francisco Fonseca came next, this time the same punch but from his left. Out cold on the canvas within the first round, the world title challenger’s eyes fell to the back of his head.

Startling to say the least, it is a punch Luke Campbell will be well aware of. A fighter who likes to get in and out, Campbell won’t stand and trade like the two before and how Garcia can figure him out will be the ultimate question. Both supremely technical it’s a combination that intrigues.

Campbell has been in Garcia’s shoes, even if the hype was somewhat more subdued. 10 knockouts in his first 12 contests, in 2015 the Hull fighter was looking to build his way up to world title level. In the O2 Arena that day Yvan Mendy represented the type of boxer Campbell would have to go past on his way to the top. Mendy nullified his strengths, walked him down and didn’t allow Campbell to box at range. How Campbell can frustrate Garcia is difficult to tell. Both Campbell and Garcia have similar skills, can box well on the back foot, make their opponents miss and each possess a good jab. Garcia has age on his side.

Campbell will have to use every ounce of his experience and ring craft that led him to Olympic Gold. 33 years of age this feels like the last chance for Hull’s finest fighter, but one that very much remains an opportunity. Whoever wins does open doors, though which ones they are may be different dependent on the victor.

What’s next?

Devin Haney holds the regular version of the WBC belt and this bout is an eliminator to face him, but Teofimo Lopez is the franchise champion and in effect the real holder. A showdown between Haney and Lopez could be made, but the two have different promoters, DAZN and Top Rank respectively. DAZN’s subscription based model wouldn’t necessarily work for Lopez, a fighter who would be looking to be fighting exclusively on pay per view. Of course this clash would merit that status but different networks does may the deal more difficult.

If as some expect that fight doesn’t come next then Campbell or Garcia could fight Haney for the regular version of the WBC lightweight world title. With all three fighters able to fight on DAZN it’s an easy fight to make. An all-American Garcia/Haney match up would definitely be the biggest fight for DAZN but if Campbell wins, a world title fight should be his reward. Either that will be against Haney or potentially another fighter for the WBO belt where Garcia is ranked highly. WBO holder Teofimo Lopez may vacate if looking for super fights across the divisions and that may create opportunities.

A variety of options and eventualities for both fighters but for Luke Campbell one thing is simple. Win on Saturday and prove himself worthy of one last World title tilt or lose and consign himself to the level of perennial contender. That is the short of it, even though the simple message never tells it all.

Watch on DAZN, Saturday 2nd July from 20.00 UK Time

Featured image from DAZN

Father and son world boxing champions

Boxing is full of dynasties. The Mayweathers are perhaps the most high profile with Floyd Mayweather Sr an opponent of Sugar Ray Leonard, his five weight world champion son needing no introduction and Roger Mayweather, uncle and trainer of Jr being a two weight world champion himself.

Current light middleweight and middleweight kings Jermall and Jermell Charlo have taken the mantle since Mayweather Jr retired from all but exhibition boxing. Back in the UK, in Paul, Stephen, Liam and Callum, all four Smith brothers have fought for world titles, Liam and Callum having been successful. And in all honesty we could go on for days with countless lists of brothers and cousins who have fought at the highest level, the Furys and Selbys being just two names that spring to mind.

Father and sons duos, or successful ones are decidedly more rare. When the criteria increases to having both won world titles the pool gets even smaller. For Chris Eubank Jr that lofty aim will be the ultimate goal and in these footsteps, though distant he will try to add “Eubank” as a name on boxing’s highest pedestal. Years down the line, if he does, these are the names he will join.

Floyd Patterson and son

If Chris Eubank Jr is to become a world champion then it is unlikely his journey will look like anything resembling one of boxing’s most famous names. The “Gentleman of Boxing”, Floyd Patterson fought in an era where there was no debate about what was a world championship belt, there only was one.

From Waco, North Carolina Patterson was diminutive by modern heavyweight standards, and didn’t get a chance at the world heavyweight title until his 32nd fight. By this time he had lost only once and on that occasion in questionable circumstances. If you find yourself with ten minutes to spare watch the below video and tell me how Joey Maxim wins the fight 7 rounds to 1 on one scorecard, even the black and white provides enough colour to reveal a pretty obvious undercurrent.

Facing Archie Moore for the Heavyweight world title, Patterson would knock his opponent out in the fifth, before going on to defeat Tommy Jackson and the 1956 Olympic Heavyweight champion Pete Rademacher in his first two defences. A trilogy with Ingemar Johansson would follow, each ending in a knockout, with Patterson revenging an opening defeat twice in succession.

Sonny Liston would prove too big for him, the first round knockout a major foundation in the legend that Liston created precisely because of the opponent it was inflicted upon. In turn it would make Muhammad Ali’s victory over Liston all the more seismic. Ali himself would fight Patterson twice, once when Floyd was 30 and again at 37 and on both occasions overcome Patterson in knockout victories.

In heavyweight folklore Floyd Patterson deserves his place. Taking up the mantle that Joe Louis and Rocky Marciano had left, before passing it on to Liston and then Ali. Living up to such a legend would be hard for any child.

Tracy Harris Patterson

Tracy Harris walked into Floyd Patterson’s gym as a 11-year old boy, from a family of migrant labourers who picked apples in rural New York. A few years later he was adopted by Floyd and would go on to be trained by the heavyweight king throughout the majority of his career. At 5ft 5 1/2 inches, the younger Patterson managed to avoid contests in which he was the much smaller man, performing throughout his career between Super-bantamweight and Super featherweight.

No easy ticket granted by his illustrious name, Tracy Harris was a professional fighter in every sense. Fighting regularly throughout the country, his resume is a who’s who of provincial small scale shows. Poughkeepsie – New York , Scranton -Pennsylvania, Totowa, New Jersey, Fort Myers – Florida this is just a sample.

It was in Las Vegas he tasted his first defeat in his 21st professional bout, a points loss versus Jeff Franklin, a fighter who never quite fought at world level.

Ten wins later and Tracy Harris was back approaching the top but would lose a split decision to featherweight Steve Cruz. Cruz went on to fight for the IBF world title in his next fight. That setback proved costly and Tracy Harris would have to force the issue.

He quickly amassed 12 knockouts in a row and met Thierry Jacob. The young Patterson was growing old, seven years a pro and with a record of 44 wins and only two defeats but he had enough that night. A second round knockout meant Tracy Harris Patterson was the WBC World Super Bantamweight Champion. The Patterson’s became the first father and son duo to both win world titles.

Patterson would hold the title for two years before a defeat to Hector Acero Sanchez left him stepping up in weight and challenging Eddie Hopson for the IBF World Super-featherwight title. Against a 26-0 prospect in the second round he would knock Hopson down 3 times before on the fourth the ref would waive off the contest. A two-weight world champion and in typical concussive fashion.

His biggest payday would come two fights later against Arturo Gatti in Madison Square Gardens. On the undercard that day in 1995 was a certain Oscar De La Hoya, but in Tracy’s corner, no longer his father, a man with which his relationship was becoming increasingly strained.

That night would prove the crowning of Arturo Gatti, who was simply too slick and powerful against his older, shorter opponent, but his victory would only come after Patterson had genuinely looked capable of finishing the contest. In a final three rounds of boxing even 25 years on it’s a captivating contest and savage in the damage inflicted by both parties.

It was enough to merit a rematch 15 months later, with the follow-up a more conclusive repeat of the first. Tracy Harris Patterson finished his career with a record of 63 wins, 8 losses and 2 draws, and would honour his adopted father with a gym set up in his name. The first father and son duo to achieve the feat, Floyd and Tracy Harris Patterson both gave each other plenty of things to be proud of.

Leon and Cory Spinks

There is a certain fittingness to the next father and son to be crowned world champions, for Floyd Patterson and Leon Spinks had a similar famous opponent.

1976 Olympic Light-Heavyweight Champion, Leon Spinks came to the professional ranks as a dangerous 23 year old with a fearsome reputation. Aided by five knockouts in his first five fights, three of these within a round, Spinks was fast-tracked to essentially an eliminator versus 27-0 Alfio Righetti. It was a fight he won 46-44 on all three scorecards.

Lying in wait Muhammad Ali, 36-years-old but off the back of 11 consecutive title defences. It was a sequence that had started after his Rumble in the Jungle victory of George Foreman and included victories over Joe Frazier, Ken Norton and Earnie Shavers.

In a strange fight, the smaller man in Spinks was allowed to unleash a flurry of shots to the body of Ali, with Ali offering just his gloves over his face in protection. No attempt to throw back just an old pro gaining the measure of his opponent’s power. Onwards it continued, Ali taunting his opponent with an outstretched hand but receiving a dipping head and a jab to his chin in return.

In fits and burst Ali showed his trademark dancing feet and concussive power but this seemed one dance too many. Spinks continued to land scoring shots. On video it’s an image of an icon keen to show he’s in control but backed up by a body finally telling the toll of over 500 rounds of professional boxing. After 15 rounds of boxing, Spinks earnt the nod in a split decision, becoming a world champion in just his seventh professional bout and picking up both the WBC and WBA Heavyweight belts.

For Leon Spinks that night in 1978 would prove his greatest moment. He lost the rematch seven months later. He would fight Larry Holmes for the Heavyweight title in 1981 but would fall short once more. Falling short was perhaps an unfortunate consequence of the era he found himself, being a natural cruiserweight, fighting at a time where that division was only just being established.

Spinks would later fight for the world Cruiserweight championship but not until 1986 when he was knocked out by Dwight Muhammad Qawi. By this stage he was a 33-year-old fighter, who had campaigned for the majority of his career as a heavyweight with all the punches and power that division entails. His record at retirement ranked 26 wins, 17 losses and 3 draws, but is clouded by a late career that became a punching bag for up and coming prospects.

Cory Spinks

Just seven months old when his father had his famous night, Cory Spinks would make his professional debut less than two years after his father had retired, bypassing the amateur ranks as a 19-year-old pro. More slight in size, within a year he had progressed to 12-0 as a super-lightweight before losing a split decision for the IBA (International Boxing Association) World Super Lightweight title.

It’s perhaps fortunate he lost that night because I don’t have to make a call on whether the IBA is really a world title. It would take him another 4 years for his next opportunity, losing a relatively comfortable decision to Michele Piccirillo for the vacant IBF World Welterweight title.

He would get his revenge a year later, picking up a full version of the IBF World Welterweight belt courtesy of a wide points win over the same Italian opponent. From there he would go on to unify the division defeating Richard Mayorga to pick up the WBA Super and WBC belts. Six months later and Spinks was at his zenith, beating Zab Judah and Miguel Angel Gonzalez in succession, cementing his place as the undisputed welterweight champion.

A defeat in the rematch to Judah would relinquish the belts but he would use this to step up in weight winning the IBF World Super-welterweight Title. Stepping up once more he would lose a split decision to Jermain Taylor. Once more defeat would signify change as Spinks would step down again to regain his IBF Super-welterweight title.

Spinks would finish his career with a record of 39 wins, and 8 defeats, becoming a two-weight world champion and only falling short against the highest calibre of opponents. Though Leon’s victory over Ali may remain one of the greatest shocks in boxing history, it is his son who may hold the family title for the most successful career.

Julio Cesar Chavez Sr and Jr

Perhaps the greatest boxer on this list is the same man who heaped the pressure on his son by having him share his own name. Julio Cesar Chavez was born in Sonora, Mexico and made his professional debut as 17 year old in Culiacan in 1980. In the first two years of his career he would fight and win 21 times, knocking 17 of them out.

In 1984 after 43 consecutive wins he would fight for his first world title, stopping a 19-year-old Mario Martinez in the eighth round to capture the WBC World Super-featherweight Title. He would make nine successful defences at the weight, before moving up to claim the WBA World Lightweight Title.

Chavez would defend and unify the division picking up the WBC belt in the process before stepping up once more. Defeating Roger Mayweather for the second time in world title fights he would claim the WBC World Super-lightweight title.

Once more Chavez Sr would unify a new division, picking up the IBF title with a 12th round knockout against the polished American Meldrick Taylor, all whilst the judges had him down on the scorecards, and with only 5 seconds of the bout remaining.

From there Chavez’s reputation would grow and in 1993 he fought Greg Haugen in the Estadio Azteca in front of over 132,000 fans. That same year he would step up once more, fighting to a majority draw for the same title versus Pernell Whitaker.

It was to be the closest Chavez got to being a four weight world champion and he went back to defend his WBC World Super Lightweight title later in that year.

By 1994, 14 years into one of boxing’s most glittering careers, Chavez Sr would defend that same title against Frankie Randall. With a record of 89 wins, 74 by way of knockout, zero defeats and that solitary draw, Cesar Chavez was already one of the greatest that ever lived. Tough and wily, with incredible technical skill and devastating power, it was his chin which was perhaps his finest attribute. For the first time in his career that chin failed him, being knocked down in the 11th round. Of course he got up, but points deducted in the seventh and 11th round for low blows was enough to make Frankie Randall the first boxer to ever defeat the Mexican.

Chavez would regain that crown, defeating Randall in a controversial decision where the American had a point docked for an unintentional headbutt. It was immediately prior to the ringside doctor stopping the fight after Chavez said he couldn’t continue. The deduction was enough to swing the contest and hand Chavez the win via a split decision.

Again Chavez would go on to defend the regained title on another four occasions. On his fifth came Oscar De La Hoya, 10 years his junior, with a three inch height advantage and almost seven inch longer reach. In a changing of the guard Chavez would relinquish his title. Cut savagely above the left eye in the first, the bleeding would eventually stop the fight in the fourth but not before his nose was broken in that same round.

Chavez would come again fighting for world titles at both middleweight in a rematch versus De la Hoya and back down at super lightweight as a 20 year professional against Kostya Tszyu. By the point of his retirement the mantle had been well and truly passed, but with a record of 107 wins, 6 defeats and 2 draws, in his era Cesar Chavez has a claim to be boxing’s best ever.

Then came Junior

With his father’s reputation built on incredible toughness, Julio Cesar Chavez Jr was almost set up to fail. After 42 professional fights, Cesar Chavez Jr was certainly giving it a go. Undefeated his reward was a showdown for the WBC World Middleweight Title. In June 2011 Cesar Chavez Jr achieved something his father never could, winning the Middleweight title via a majority decision win versus a likewise unbeaten Sebastian Zbik. Devastating knockouts would follow, first Peter Manfredo then stopping Andy Lee in a middleweight tear up.

In all his fights it’s difficult to say he isn’t a chip off the old block and against Sergio Martinez no more is this encapsulated. Ultimately outclassed, Chavez Jr, was cut in almost the exact same way as his father had been 16 years before. Both eyes became golf balls but still in the 12th his Argentinian opponent was on the canvas twice. Punched to exhaustion by Chavez Jr and as the seconds ticked down Martinez was clinging on for dear life. Martinez survived and took the title with him.

It is that fight that makes the makes what followed all the more surprising. Stepping up two divisions Chavez Jr would be brutally knocked to the canvas by Polish Andrzej Fonfara in the 9th before not coming out for the 10th, a knee injury cited as the reason. To many he was quitting, though the concussive shot that sent him down seemed to somewhat stifle that accusation. Four years later, a shutout loss to Canelo Alvarez endured along the way, Chavez Jr reached his nadir.

Back down at super-middleweight, his hair peroxide blond with a blue streak, Chavez Jr again quit on his stool. This time against Daniel Jacobs, his nose and hand broken after five rounds of boxing. To a baying crowd the message was clear, Chavez Jr no longer had the heart and with a visibly disappointed Chavez Sr shaking his head for all to see you could not help feel he saw it as a slight on his legacy.

Such is the reputation of his father, Chavez Jr can be seen as a disappointment, though how you can say that of a world champion who defended his belt three times is more testament to just how high the stakes were.

Wilfredo Vasquez/Wilfredo Vasquez Jr

Next on the list are a bantamweight duo from Puerto Rico. Wilfredo Vasquez is the only fighter on the list to lose his professional debut, against fellow debutant William Ramos. His recovery would be impressive and by his first world title challenge he would have a record of 21 wins – one loss – one draw.

On that occassion Vasquez fell short. Colombian Miguel Lora earnt an unanimous decision victory on a night where both men fell to the canvas. With it Lora claimed the WBC World Bantamweight Title. Three years later Vasquez would get a second chance, travelling to Seoul to take the WBA World Title from home fighter Chan Young Park but it was as a Super Bantamweight that the Puerto Rican would start to dominate.

In Mexico City he would knockout Freddy Cruz for the WBA title before making nine successful defences all over the world. Not afraid of travelling to the challengers backyard, like Tracy Harris Patterson he would stop Thierry Jacob, this time in France and would defeat Japanese contenders in Japan amongst defences in the USA and back to Spain.

When he eventually did have his homecoming, he likely wished he had stayed away. After 12 rounds of boxing in Bamayon, Puerto Rico Venezuelan Antonio Cermeno took the title.

Once more Wilfredo Vasquez would use defeat to step up and within three fights had his opportunity at the WBA Featherweight title. Now aged 35 and heavily down on the cards, his eleventh round knockout of Eloy Rojas would win Ring Magazine Knockout of the Year for 1996.

If it was a fluke it was a persistent one, defending the title four times in succession. One last hurrah beckoned and aged 37 Vazquez vacated the WBA belt and boarded a plane to a tenth different country. There could be few bigger challenges waiting than a 24 year WBO Champion Naseem Hamed, in the absolute prime of his life. On what had become his home turf, having outgrown Sheffield’s Pond Forge, Hamed put on a masterclass in Manchester, respectful to the last of the Puerto Rican’s power on the counter.

As the ref called off the contest in the seventh round it would prove Vazquez’s last world title fight but as a three weight world champion his career was up there with the very best. Not yet in the Hall of International Boxing Fame, at the time of writing once more the calls come for that to be amended but with a record of 56 wins, 9 losses and two draws surely it has become a matter of when and not if.

Miguel Vazquez Jr

Vazquez Jr’s career contrasts markedly to that of his father, though there are undoubted similarities. Like his father, Wilfredo Vazquez Jr added excitement to a division where knockouts are often bypassed by displays of technical boxing.

17 wins into his pro-career, he had stopped 14 opponents and it was enough to earn a shot at the vacant WBO World Super bantamweight title. This time the Vazquez family reputation meant his Filipino opponent would be coming to Puerto Rico.

Four rounds later and Vazquez Jr was a world champion, beating the guard of Marvin Sonsoma, before finishing him with a left hook to the stomach. The effects left Sonsoma unable to beat the count. From there Vazquez Jr kicked on, winning the title outright by knocking Zsolt Bedak out and doing the same to Ivan Hernandez.

All indications pointed to Vazquez Jr emulating his father. 16 knockouts in his first 20 fights and already a world chamption. Thanks to the path his father had plowed, excitement reached fever pitch and Jr was avoiding the same endless travels. Next up the MGM Grand and the chief support act to Manny Pacquiao vs Shane Mosley.

Stepping up in weight Jorge Arce had been a world champion at Light flyweight, flyweight and Super flyweight but was 31 and had been defeated on six occasions. Vazquez Jr dropped the Mexican at the end of round 4, his opponent’s face bloody and nose broken. He would survive the count and for the next 7 rounds they would land on each other at will. How two men could take such punishment really beggars belief. Coming out for the twelth the fight was in the balance, whoever won it likely to take the title.

Early in the 12th it was all over, the man to finish the contest not either fighter in the ring, but a father in the corner. Vazquez Sr would throw in the towel with his son having taken a barrage on the ropes but clinging on and with two minutes on the clock. A moment of compassion that perhaps could have come only from a father himself.

Whilst Vazquez Jr would come again, losing a split decision to Nonito Donaire in an attempt to win back his belt, that night in Vegas would prove his peak. A flurry of losses would cloud his record but in his prime Vasquez Jr can be remembered as a slick fighter and a worthy world champion.

Notable mentions

With Vazquez Jr comes our final father and son duo who have both been crowned champions of the world and in omitting the Eubank’s I may take some flack. With Chris Eubank Jr‘s title coming in the form of the IBO I have chosen to ignore it, defining my criteria as one of the four main belts, WBA, WBC, WBO and IBF.We may be updating this list in the months to come.

There are likely others I have forgotten, and for that I apologise. This article is done on my own research through hours of trawling through a combination of Boxrec and the governing bodies websites.

Featured image “Muhammad Ali v. Floyd Patterson boxing ticket” is marked with CC0 1.0th 

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Anthony Yarde – The Rebuild

2020’s been a tough year for all. For Anthony Yarde it could hardly have been tougher. In late March, he lost his father, a high-profile victim in the early grip of the global pandemic, urging people to stay at home to avoid the same fate. Just a matter of days later, tragedy struck once more. His grandmother lost to the same silent killer.

Few can comment on what grief meant for Anthony Yarde. Raised by his mum from the age of 8. His father came back into his life through boxing, and had been in Russia when Anthony had come a finishing punch from a world title versus Sergey Kovalev. No-one but the boxer himself will know exactly what that relationship meant to him.

A rare few will have been with him in the aftermath. Never far away, his trainer and manager Tunde Ajayi has navigated his career from his first days as a professional with little amateur experience, to Saturday night and his 9th title fight in total. An unknown entity 5 years ago, with Yarde he has built his credentials. As a professional boxer himself he was undefeated, though on only 5 occasions and all held in the Elephant & Castle Centre in Southwark. Tongue-in cheek describing himself on social media as a “MASTER GENIUS”, together with Yarde they have birthed the “Lions in the Camp” shout heard constantly from his corner and from Yarde after a number of concussive knockouts. It is a term suited for social media but to some unbecoming in a sport where more often than not the fans like to see the fists do the talking.

A hard lesson for Yarde

On Saturday night 2020 left it’s final stamp on Anthony Yarde with a split decision defeat against Lyndon Arthur, a boxer who won the fight on the power and skill of his jab. Both fighters have their case, and it may just be a case of preference. I had Yarde by 7 rounds to 5, but three down through a quarter. With a few of the later rounds nip and tuck, it is easy to see how two scorers preferred the work of Arthur, who peppered Yarde’s head throughout the night with a popping left hand lead.

Respectful from the off, rarely did we see Yarde get inside and engage. An overhand right tagged Arthur in the 4th, but Yarde seemed to enjoy his success more than seize on it. When the onslaught came in the 12th Arthur stayed on his feet and it proved too little too late. Only just; if Arthur had been knocked down we’d be talking about a majority draw with two of the scorecards flipping.

Yet in a fight of fine margins, its effects could be seismic. Both Yarde and Ajayi have built much of their fame through their active social media presence, with constant eye-catching videos of pad/bag work, skipping or cries of Lions in the Camp. It’s provided Yarde a platform and brought with it sponsorship deals from Maxi Nutrition and a global ambassador role with Adidas. With the latter signed when he had just 16 professional wins, and after an amateur career lasting only 12 fights, it’s a reward rarely seen by boxers at that stage of their career, or indeed by most at any.

Yet with a presence comes a backlash and for Yarde it was clear. Not immune to criticism himself, his trainer bore the brunt. Twice he sent Yarde out without a gumshield and twice the referee called him back. After an opening couple of rounds where Arthur got away his jab and started to release some combinations, all his trainer could offer was that the Mancunian was scared. 4 rounds later his encouragement for Yarde to relax drew criticism from an audience that saw Yarde as significantly behind on the cards.

Yarde’s route back

Some of the criticism if fair, some of it is almost invited, and Ajayi gives little indication it will wear heavily on him. To him there are no losses, only lessons. It is a mantra that he should heed, though no-one can say for sure he won’t. Yarde, I believe, will grant him that opportunity, but the favour should go two ways.

In Yarde’s latest defeat we have learnt little. He moves well, and has the ability to hurt almost anyone on the inside. He has a chin that can sustain that battle and a mentality that can at times resemble a streetfighter. The latter is no criticism if that aggression can be controlled. Nothing in his make-up has been exposed. Most men in the light-heavyweight division will have a bigger reach and those able to keep him away will always land scoring jabs, but when they miss he will be able to hurt them. Even in this fight he showed improvements from Kovalev with his ability to come on strong at the end, where previously he had gassed and faultered.

It is not often you can say as much about a fighter who has tasted defeat twice in his last four fights, but this is what makes it all the more frustrating. The streetfighter needs to become streetwise and make those adjustments. Much has been made of Ajayi’s preference for minimal sparring, but we know as much that he does do some, whether it’s enough is not a call any of us without sight of that facts can say.

Would the backlash be so vocal if the pair didn’t put themselves so much in the public eye? It is a blessing and a curse. Perhaps we would be making more of a fighter still learning his trade, only ten years down the line from first having picked up the gloves. Yarde is raw. It is a fact which made his rise all the more meteoric. No measured approach built on years of schooling as an amateur, just a gunslinging power that showed little respect for those infront of him.

Those days are behind him, and for his legion of fans, drawn from a community wider than the sports traditional support, his next few fights may prove their least interesting. For a purist they will be fascinating. Boxing will have the final say. If Yarde can adapt, if brains can meet braun then don’t bet against that early promise being realised.

2021 Calling

What’s next for him remains to be seen, and he may be advised to take a step back before moving forward. A rematch versus Arthur seems logical but another negative outcome could be defining. A tune-up fight could be likely but there remain a few fights past that. Isaac Chilemba could be an option, a man who has fought for light-heavyweight world titles on multiple occasions, but proved a step short of the highest tier.

Then there are domestic dust ups, the winner of Shakan Pitters vs Craig Richards, neither particularly appetising for Yarde but an opportunity to stamp himself somewhere above British level.

Finally in Callum Johnson there is a fight both men could be up for. Like Arthur a risky fight for Yarde, Johnson has a point to prove. Only defeated once, to a man in Artur Beterbiev some consider the pound for pound king, you get the sense Johnson is a man frustrated at the credit Yarde has enjoyed, and the position he currently finds himself in the rankings. In none of boxing governing bodies top 10, a win over Johnson would nonetheless remain the highest profile win on Yarde’s record, whilst a loss would slingshot Johnson back into world title contention.

Regardless of who it is across the ring in Anthony Yarde’s next fight, the man in his corner will more than likely be familiar. Events outside the ring make my mind up that it is a partnership about more than just boxing. Few will have had tougher 2020s than Anthony Yarde but in the ring 2021 could define the legacy, both of a fighter with precocious talent and a trainer himself up against the ropes.

Crossover appeal means little for world title chasing Joyce

If there’s one sport that seeks headlines or highlights like no other then it’s boxing. Careers buoyed and built on showreel stoppages, slow-motion replays and that final concussive blow. On rare occasions devastating fists bring with it a mouth to match, and a promoter’s dream is built. Muhammad Ali, Mike Tyson and Tyson Fury come to mind, though for the latter this has not always been the case.

The heavyweight division draws its appeal precisely because it is like no other, where the size of each fighter brings a power that more often than not ends with a fallen goliath and a picture for a poster down the line. It’s the reason why crossover appeal, the ability to market a fight to an audience that isn’t necessarily a fight fan, more often than not occurs with these heavyweight giants.

On Saturday night that anticipation was intimated at by the meeting of two unbeaten prospects at differing ends of their careers. Daniel Dubois, a softly spoken 23 year old with the capacity and tendency for night ending hooks, a ramrod jab and quick feet. Frank Warren’s chosen one, Dubois enjoyed the rare distinction of having been picked up by the veteran promoter before he had even had his first professional fight. In the opposite corner lay Joe Joyce. 35 years old, a silver medallist at the Rio Olympics. Many predicted that would be the pinnacle of his career. Eager to come forward, easy to read and predictable in his punches, he started the night as a three to one outsider.

Promoters tried to create a rivalry. Sam Jones, Joyce’s promoter did his best to rile Dubois, to tell him the fight had come too early. Both fighters exchanged petty insults at the various press appearances, but neither possessed the cult of personality blessed by others that have trod their path. This was a fight nine months in the making, cancelled on four occasions, but despite the build up all the anticipation rested on what fans expected in the ring. An early knockout from two fighters who refuse to take a step back and a tilt at a world title shot the gold plated carrot in front.

No confident tongue would provide any weight regardless unless it sits three inches above a granite chin. The first round was cautious, a battle of the jabs with both men catching but Dubois being penned back, and boxing for the first time in his career on the outside of the ring. Forward Joyce came offering a gentle jab which look laboured, before darting in with the same jab twice as powerful some seconds later. On a few occasions both men’s head would wobble but each time they retreated. A tentative start.

The minute on their stools passed by and Dubois attacked, a right hand fizzing over the gloves of Dubois and hitting Joyce flush on the side of his head. His right leg buckles and he takes two steps back. Dubois is used to this. He’s seen it before, a punch caught clean and an opponent soon falling to the canvas. But just as Joyce buckles he strengthens once more, with the young prospect catching him again but Joyce standing firm. A brief exchange and the two are stuck together, Joyce taking a moment to breath. The sequence repeats itself a minute later and Dubois is in control. The concussive knockout just waiting to happen.

Or so we thought, how instructive that round was. Joyce weathered the storm and returns the favour with a left hand padding at the right eye of Dubois. In a round won by the golden-boy, it is the reddening around his eye that leaves the biggest imprint on the fight. Slowly but clearly the eye develops and the pattern continues, but each time Dubois’s attacks grow weaker and his eye larger, peppered by the hands of a 260 pound man.

Each round they dance. Little to separate them, but each round the swelling grows. Intriguing to the last that highlight finish grows distant, and with one knee to the canvas after a non-descript jab it finally submits. Dubois is broken, his eye socket fractured. Blind in one eye, he can no longer see the left hand of Joyce coming towards him, but that’s no reprieve when nerve damage sends a juddering pain to his brain.

No sooner has he taken a knee than commentators are taking their aim. A quitter, boxing’s cardinal sin, not a young man preserving a living from an injury that has ended the career of none too few. For boxing needs its black and white, its picture postcard ending. It’s what draws a peripheral sport into the mainstream even though the reality is far more interesting.

Joe Joyce that night did something he hadn’t done before. ‘One dimensional’, ‘easy to read’, people knew he could take a punch but in Westminster Hall he did much more. He adapted when people didn’t think he could or rather wished he didn’t, targeting Dubois’s eye when it was clear he was enjoying success. No need to come forward and trade punches like he can, instead he did what he should. Ring craft of the highest order.

The aftermath of Saturday and the debate around Dubois’s heart may do Joyce some favours, though the lack of credit may be hard to take. Over the next twelve months or whenever that world title tilt appears, the odds will most likely have him still a distant second. I for one won’t bet against history repeating itself. A chin like no other, a boxing brain built on years of experience and an energy unbecoming of his age. Joyce has all the ingredients.

Featured image “28/02/2013 Weigh-in British Lionhearts vs Ukraine Otamans” by World Series Boxing is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0