By: Ronald Cameron
One of the many things that make boxing such a great sport is that you can have heated debates among your friends about anything – who’s the greatest fighter in boxing history or who had the best jab? Everyone can have a different opinion and no one would be wrong. A few months back, I wrote an article, listing who I believe were the top “5 Greatest Heavyweights Of All-Time” and I plan on going down the line listing all of the divisions in order. I’m not going to bother with the newer divisions; I’m going to do the main 8 divisions like the old-school Ring Magazines used to do. You may ask, “Why not do the light-heavyweights next?” Normally I would, but since my last article was about two light-heavyweights who I believe belong in the Hall of Fame( Marvin Johnson and Eddie Mustafa Muhammad) I will skip that division and will go to a division that featured several GREAT champions—the middleweight division.
In all of my boxing lists, I have specific formula as to how I rank fighters. Quality of opposition is HUGE to me. If you fought and beat Hall of Fame fighters, chances are you will rank high on my list. Also, the length of title reign is also big, especially if you fought in an era where there were other great fighters. What I’m not so big on is “style points” meaning if you have a lot of impressive knockouts… that’s great but if you did it against mediocre opponents, I won’t rank you as high as if you have a lot of decision wins over some tough competition. So kick back, grab a cold one and let’s begin with the list.
5. Bernard “The Executioner” Hopkins
Professional Record: 52-5-3 with 32 KO’s
Credentials: 20 Middleweight title defenses, Won Light-Heavyweight title
Biggest wins (as a Middleweight): Felix Trinidad (TKO 12), Oscar De La Hoya
This is a tough call because I could have easily put Hopkins in 4th place based on his long middleweight title reign. Most boxing fans are familiar with Hopkins and some of his struggles early in his life bears repeating because of what he had to overcome. Here’s a guy who survived being stabbed in his back (and was thisclose to being paralyzed) and went to prison for 5 years but learned to box while incarcerated. Hopkins was never a one-punch knockout guy—he got the job done by out-smarting his opponents and avoiding punches with his hard-to-crack defensive shell. After losing his first professional fight, Hopkins would not be discouraged as he went on to win his next 22 fights before receiving his first title shot at the middleweight title. In a fight for the vacant IBF title, Hopkins was matched against the supremely fast and talented Roy Jones Jr. Hopkins fought a game fight, but he was no match for the much faster Jones and he lost a clear decision over the future Hall of Famer. After winning his next 4 fights, Hopkins received another shot at the vacant IBF middleweight title, this time against Segundo Mercado in Quito, Ecuador, which happened to be in Mercado’s backyard. After suffering two knockdowns, Hopkins rallied and dominated in the championship rounds and finished strong. The two fought to a draw on this night, but many boxing fans, including this writer thought that Hopkins did enough to win. For those who haven’t seen this fight, it was VERY similar to Hopkins fight against Jean Pascal that took place almost exactly 16 years later. Hopkins regrouped and was granted a rematch against Mercado in Landover, MD 5 months later. This time, Hopkins took advantage of the opportunity and he dominated Mercado and stopped him in the 7th round and Hopkins finally reached his goal and won the middleweight title.
Hopkins wanted to be a fighting champion and that’s exactly what he did, as he defended the title 20 times, beating top contenders John David Jackson, Glen Johnson (who was undefeated when they fought and Hopkins dismantled him and stopped him in the 11th round) and Antwun Echols before he agreed to enter a unification middleweight tournament which would result in one man becoming the undisputed middleweight Champion. In his first fight, he was matched against the WBC middleweight champion Keith Holmes. In a fight that could cure insomniacs, Hopkins was not at his best but he at least came to fight, which is more that I can say for Holmes, who looked as if he just wanted to get out of there without getting hurt and cash his check. Hopkins won a boring decision win over Holmes and he didn’t do much to convince people that he could beat his next opponent.
In the final round of the middleweight tournament, Hopkins faced the former undisputed welterweight champion, former super welterweight champion and WBA middleweight champion, Felix “Tito” Trinidad in the world’s most famous area, Madison Square Garden, two weeks after the 9-11 tragedy. Hopkins was public enemy number one going into this fight because while promoting their fight in Puerto Rico, Hopkins walked up to Felix Trinidad, who was holding his Puerto Rican flag and he took the flag from Tito Trinidad and threw it to the ground. Felix Trinidad was enraged by Bernard’s actions, but Hopkins gained an edge because he tried to play mind games with Tito and it worked.
There was one other incident that took place before the two got into the ring—it’s common procedure that when a fighter gets his hands wrapped, the opponent’s trainer is there to witness the hand wrapping. According to a report, Hopkins co-trainer Nassim Richardson (you may have heard of him) noticed that Tito Trinidad’s left hand was wrapped incorrectly and they demanded a re-wrap. Tito’s trainer, Don Felix Trinidad (Tito’s father), was not interested in re-wrapping Tito’s left hand so the Hopkins camp threatened to cancel the fight. The head commissioner finally stepped in and told the Trinidad camp that they had to re-wrap the hand or else and someone in Hopkins camp had to be there to witness this taking place.
Now before I go on, I’m not accusing Don Felix Trinidad of pulling an “Antonio Margarito”, I’m just stating what allegedly happened before this fight and you the fans can decide for yourself if you believe that Felix Trinidad and his father tried to illegally wrap his gloves. I will just add this… who was the trainer who busted Antonio Margarito and his trainer for trying to illegally wrap his gloves? Nassim Richardson.
Going into this fight, even though Hopkins was had a lot of middleweight title defenses under his belt, he was the underdog against a guy who is not a natural middleweight, but who was a tremendous puncher, especially with his left hook. From the very first round, Hopkins sent a message to Felix Trinidad, letting him know that he was the bigger, stronger fighter and he kept his right hand up high, which took away Felix Trinidad’s deadly left hook. Hopkins was spectacular against Tito, throwing crisp combinations, hard body shots and accurate right hands and Tito had no answer for the Executioner. At the end of the 10th round, Hopkins hurt Tito badly with a right uppercut that wobbled the Puerto Rican power-puncher. Trinidad was lucky to survive the 10th round and he almost didn’t as Hopkins beat on Tito 5 seconds after the bell rang. Not wanting to leave the results in the judge’s hands, Hopkins came out in the 12th and final round wanting to close the show and that’s exactly what he did. Midway through the last round, the champion caught Tito with a mammoth right hand that sent Tito crashing to the canvas. Tito got up, but he had nothing left and his father threw in the towel and stopped the fight. The Executioner was now the undisputed middleweight champion and in the eyes of many of his critics, he now entered the ranks of some of the greatest middleweights of all time. Hopkins went on to have some great wins, but his win over Trinidad might have been his greatest performance.
There was now no question that Hopkins was the best Middleweight in the world, but still something was missing—a big time PPV fight which would give him the huge payday that he deserves. After defending the undisputed middleweight title four times, he finally got his wish… a fight against the biggest PPV draw in the sport, Oscar De La Hoya. Oscar got this opportunity to fight Hopkins by winning a very controversial fight against Felix Strum to win the WBO middleweight title. This was also opportunity for Hopkins to win another title, but at this point title belts were starting to lose their value. As for the fight, the two fought on even terms for the first 6 rounds but Hopkins started to impose his will and he stepped up the pace in the middle rounds. In the 9th round, Hopkins caught Oscar with a short left hook to the body that sent Oscar to the canvas. Oscar was in severe pain as he stayed on the canvas and he could not make it to his feet in time. Hopkins knocked Oscar out with a body shot and there were some boxing critics who believed that punch was not that hard and they questioned whether Oscar could have got up.
Bernard Hopkins successfully defended his title once more before meeting the number one contender Jermaine Taylor. Hopkins got off to a slow start against the young challenger and he lost several of the early rounds as Taylor out-worked him, but Hopkins rallied and won the middle round and fought well down the stretch. The fight went the distance and it was a close fight, but 2 of the 3 judges thought Taylor did enough to win the fight as Hopkins lost his middleweight title via a split-decision.
This was a crushing loss for Hopkins, but he would get another opportunity to regain his title as the two faced each other 5 months later. This time, Hopkins started faster and won some of those early rounds, but Taylor responded and won his share of the middle rounds. This fight also went the distance and was another close one, but this time all three judges awarded the fight to Taylor by scores of 115-113 (I scored both fights 115-113 for Hopkins).
This was the first time Hopkins lost two fights in a row, but as we later would find out, Hopkins had a lot more to accomplish in his career but this was his last fight as a middleweight. Hopkins has had an outstanding career and he earned his place in boxing history as one of the best middleweights in boxing history. He wasn’t fortunate enough to fight in an era where he fought Hall of Fame middleweights in their primes, but he did defend his title 20 times and he was a dominant champion. Not too bad for a guy who lost his first pro fight.
Hopkins vs. Trinidad Highlights: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ygfqXj9pvGA
Hopkins vs. De La Hoya Highlights: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m9AQ_UDOy-A
4. Marvelous Marvin Hagler
Professional Record: 62-3-2 with 52 KO’s
Credentials: Former Undisputed Middleweight champion, who defended his title 12 times.
Biggest wins: Alan Minter (TKO 3), Roberto Duran (UD 15), Thomas Hearns (KO 3)
Much like the previous pick, this is a tough call because Hagler had a long world title reign and was dominant. Hagler was born in Newark, New Jersey and later moved to Brockton, Mass and learned to fight under the tutelage of the famous Petronelli brothers. Hagler was a versatile fighter who could use his jab and out-box you, or he can stand toe to toe and slug it out. A natural right hander, Hagler learned how to fight both conventionally and as a southpaw. He was not a defensive wizard, but he more than made up for it with his granite chin. Hagler turned pro in 1973 and won his first 17 pro fights, 14 by way of knockout before facing the 1972 middleweight Olympic Gold Medal winner, “Sugar” Ray Seales for the second time. In their first fight, Hagler out-worked Seales and won a clear decision, but in their rematch, Seales fought Hagler on even terms and the two fought to a draw. After winning his next 8 fights, Hagler was then matched against Bobby “Boogaloo” Watts. Fighting in Watts’ hometown of Philly, Hagler lost his first professional fight, losing a controversial majority decision over Watts. Hagler rebounded and won his next fight before facing Philadelphia’s own, Willie Monroe at the Spectrum in Philly. The fight went the distance and Hagler lost a unanimous decision over Monroe.
But as many great champions of the past, Marvin Hagler did not let that discourage him, in fact he used the setbacks as extra motivation. Hagler avenged his loss to Monroe by knocking him out twice and he also destroyed Sugar Ray Seales in the first round of their third fight. Hagler was the clear number one middleweight contender in 1979 and in his 50th pro fight, he finally received his long-awaited shot at the Middleweight title against champion Vito Antoufermo on November 30th, 1979, the same night Sugar Ray Leonard received his first title shot with only having half as many fights under his belt. Hagler dominated the early rounds by using his right jab, left leads and short uppercuts when they fought in close. Vito rallied in the middle rounds, but Hagler out-worked the champion down the stretch and when the fight went the full 15-rounds, I was sure that Marvin Hagler would be crowned the new Middleweight champion. To many boxing fans surprise, the fight was ruled a draw and Hagler was extremely upset after the fight, as he should have been. Hagler was robbed without a gun on this night, but there was no doubt in most boxing fans that Marvin Hagler was clearly the best Middleweight in the world, regardless of whether or not he had the title.
5 months after his draw with Vito, Hagler faced the only man who clearly beat him up to that point—Bobby Watts. Hagler took out his frustrations on Watts as he annihilated him, knocking him out in the second round. Hagler had now avenged all of his previous losses and he wanted another shot at Antoufermo, but by this time, Vito lost the Middleweight to Englishmen Alan Minter. Hagler would have to wait to get his hands on Vito, but he would receive another shot at the title, this time against Minter in the champion’s backyard in London, England. Hagler gave Minter a “professional ass-whopping”, as he opened up a nasty cut over Minter’s left eye. In the third round, after a barrage of Hagler right hooks, the referee stepped in and stopped the fight. Hagler finally won the middleweight title, but he could not celebrate his victory in the ring because the angry fans in England threw beer bottles in the ring and other debris and Hagler had to be rushed out of the ring as his trainers shielded him from being hit by flying bottles. It was an embarrassing scene, but it could not take away the fact that Marvin Hagler was now the new undisputed middleweight champion.
Hagler would get his opportunity to settle the score with Antoufermo in his second world title defense and he destroyed Vito, stopping him in 4 one-sided rounds. Hagler had now avenged all of his blemishes and during his first 7 title defenses, he rarely lost a round. In his 8th title defense, he took on the legendary Roberto Duran, who at that time was thought to have been close to the end of his career. This fight was very competitive, as the two legends fought most of the fight in the center of the ring. After 12 rounds, Duran was ahead on most of the scorecards, but Hagler rallied in the last 3 rounds and pulled out a razor-thin unanimous decision over the “Hands of Stone”.
Hagler’s win over Duran was huge, but there was another fight that boxing fans wanted to see… Marvelous Marvin Hagler VS. Thomas “The Hitman” Hearns. In a fight that billed as “The War”, the two warriors produced the best first round in boxing history. In that epic first round, Hearns hurt Hagler with a deadly right hand but Hagler refused to take a backward step. Hearns landed several more right hands yet the Marvelous one absorbed them and responded by hurting the Hitman with some brutal shots of his own. At the end of the round, Hearns was rubbery-legged and Hagler had a nasty cut on his head. The second round was more of the same but Hagler was getting the better of the action, as he out-worked Hearns and barely won the round. Midway through the third round, Hagler’s face was a bloody mess and referee Richard Steele stopped the action so that the ring doctor could take a look at Hagler’s cut. The doctor said that the fight could continue and Hagler stepped up the pace another notch and he rocked Hearns with a vicious right hook, followed by another right hand that sent Hearns crashing to the canvas. Hearns tried his best to beat the count and he did, but he had nothing left and referee Richard Steele stopped the fight. Hagler was now considered the best fighter in the world, but it wasn’t until his victory over Hearns that Hagler started to receive world-wide recognition.
In his next fight, Marvelous Marvin took on the undefeated number one contender, John “The Beast” Mugabi. This fight was an all-out war with both fighters standing in the center of the ring trading bombs. After 10 rounds, the fight was even but the champion stepped it up late in the fight. In the 11th round, Hagler hurt Mugabi with a looping right hand and followed it up with 2 more rights that sent the challenger down. Mugabi could not beat the count and Hagler successfully defended his middleweight title once again.
It looked as if Hagler was unbeatable at this point, but there was a fighter who attended the Hagler-Mugabi who was now convinced that he could beat him: Sugar Ray Leonard. For 5 years, there has been talk of a potential Hagler vs. Leonard showdown, but Leonard retired a couple of times and was working for HBO as an analyst. But finally the two agreed to face each other on April 6th, 1987 in Las Vegas.
Hagler, who fights as a southpaw most of the time, choose to fight the first 4 rounds as a right-hander and he gave away those rounds by doing so. Leonard was out-boxing Hagler, but it would have been tougher to do if Hagler would have fought as a southpaw from the beginning. Hagler came on in the 5th round and he hurt Leonard with an uppercut near the end of the round. Hagler won most of the middle rounds, but after 8 rounds, Leonard was still slightly ahead.
But in the 9th round, Hagler stunned Leonard with a straight left that send Leonard into the ropes. Hagler landed some good shots near the ropes and it didn’t look good for Leonard, but suddenly Leonard fought off the ropes and threw some lighting fast flurries that landed, but Hagler refused to take a backward step. Leonard landed some good counter-shots off the ropes, but Hagler shook them off like rain-water. Hagler clearly won the 9th round, but Leonard showed tremendous courage by coming back after absorbing those vicious shots from the champion. Hagler out-worked Leonard and won the 10th round, but Leonard out-boxed the champion and won the final two rounds.
When the fight was over, Leonard looked like he was in worse shape than Hagler, but still this was a close fight. Hagler lost his Middleweight title via a split decision and I have NO problem with the decision (I scored it 115-113 for Leonard) but I had a HUGE problem with Judge Juan Guerra scoring the fight 118-110 in favor of Leonard. That judge should have been fired on the spot for coming up with such an inaccurate scorecard.
There was some talk of a potential Leonard vs. Hagler rematch, but the two could not come to terms and Hagler retired from the sport and unlike so many other fighters, he stayed retired. The Marvelous one, who had to wait until his 50th pro fight to receive his first title shot, had an outstanding career. He was a rare breed, who fought his entire career as a Middleweight and was quite possibly the greatest southpaw who’s ever lived. Simply put—He was Marvelous.
Marvelous Marvin Hagler vs. Thomas “The Hitman” Hearns—Full fight: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8mILPqwesNE
Marvelous Marvin Hagler vs. John Mugabi—highlights: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jbASFI8z6Lw
**What do you think of this boxing article? Your voice only counts if you use it. Leave a comment with your thoughts. Be sure to tune in this weekend for Part 2 of Ronald Cameron’s Top 5 Greatest Middleweights Of All-Time**
Sunday, November 20, 2011
“3 Things We Learned From Pacquiao Marquez 3” By: Richard Solomon “The Boxing Prophet”