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Jones-Hopkins: It might not be too late for a good show

27
Sep

To many, it’s no big news that Bernard Hopkins and Roy Jones have finally come to terms for a rematch to their May 1993 middleweight title fight.

If it had come in, say, 2003, before Jones was sent snoring deep into the night by Antonio Tarver and then Glen Johnson, and when Hopkins was still younger than Methuselah, its reception almost certainly would have been universally positive.

Likewise if Joe Calzaghe hadn’t already shown himself superior to the current versions of both.

But because it comes at least six years after it should have doesn’t inevitably mean the match is undeserving of our interest or that observers of a certain temperament won’t find it compelling and, yes, even entertaining.

Bear in mind that the first match – won by Jones by three scores of 116-112 – was hardly a barnburner. Jones used his preposterous speed and reflexes to out-maneuver and out-land the more modestly talented Hopkins, who, at this stage of his career, was predominantly still a right-hand puncher and not yet possessed of the bottomless bag of veteran tricks he has used to extend his career long past the point of reasonable plausibility.

There is some precedent in boxing for rematches – and rubber matches too, for that matter – that take place long after their supposed expiration date (there’s always precedent in boxing; it’s been around a long time). The results are mixed.

Expectations were high going into the second Joe Louis-Billy Conn fight in 1946. High enough that promoter Mike Jacobs felt comfortable charging a record $100 for ringside seats.

Five years and a world war had passed since their first fight, the memorable struggle in 1941 in which Louis, behind on points, stopped Conn in the 13th round. As soon as the war was over, they were matched again. Except for exhibitions, neither had fought in 48 months.

On June 19, 45,266 fans in Yankee Stadium saw Louis win in eight rounds but witnessed nothing special. The New York Journal described Louis as “heavy-legged and far and away slower than ever before.”

Conn said years later, “It was a stinker. I had nothing. I was out for four years, couldn’t fight no more. You know what to do but you’re not there anymore. That was a bad fight. I was just out too long.”

Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier were both well past their primes when they met for the third time, and expectations varied; many expected a slow waltz despite the obvious animosity the two held for one another, and despite the legendary ferocity of their first fight (and to a lesser degree the second).

Frazier was 33 years old and though still formidable, not near the ball of terror he’d been four years earlier. He weighed 215¾, 10 pounds more than he’d weighed for the Fight of the Century. Ali, at 224¾, also was 10 pounds heavier.

The result? A fight so great it is the standard against which most heavyweight title fights are measured, and The Ring’s Fight of the Year for 1975.

The great writer Mark Kram Sr. observed: “Time may well erode that long morning of drama in Manila but for anyone who was there those faces will return again and again to evoke what it was like when two of the greatest heavyweights of any era met for a third time, and left millions limp around the world.”

Not bad for a couple guys whose primes had come and gone years earlier.

The rematch between Sugar Ray Leonard and Thomas Hearns in 1989 was not the melodrama that was the “Thrilla in Manila,” but it too exceeded expectations.

Most expected it to fall far short of their epic first match, which took place a long eight years and two weight classes earlier, and saw Leonard stop Hearns in the 14th round in The Ring’s Fight of the Year.

“The hype has begun for Leonard-Hearns II,” Phil Berger wrote in the New York Times. “The ÔǪ fighters have been guaranteed big money to have at it again, even though the feeling among most experts is that this time around the fight will not be as competitive as it was in September 1981.”

That was because Hearns appeared much worse for the wear. When he was flattened by Iran Barkley and then barely survived James Kinchen, Leonard saw his chance against what he believed was a shot fighter. The odds makers agreed with him, making him a 4-1 favorite.

For Hearns, the rematch represented a long overdue chance at revenge.

“That little monster has chased me for eight years,” Hearns told the press in the days before the rematch. “I've never gotten over that loss. I think about it every day. Sometimes I think I hate (Leonard). You have no idea how that man has weighed on my mind.”

In the same arena in which Leonard had stopped him in the first fight, Hearns floored his tormentor twice but barely survived a hellacious rally in the 12th to get a draw. Sports Illustrated called it another classic, and it was. It also was the last great performance by either man.

He couldn’t have known it then, but Meldrick Taylor’s last great performance came on St. Patrick’s Day 1990. He boxed brilliantly against Julio Cesar Chavez and led on the judges’ cards going into the 12th round. Chavez stopped him with two seconds remaining. It was KO magazine’s Fight of the Decade.

An immediate rematch seemed a no-brainer, and Lou Duva, Taylor’s manager, tried to make it. But there was no way Don King was going to let the undefeated Chavez, a national icon in Mexico and relatively speaking a box office juggernaut, come that close again to losing. So the rematch didn’t come in 1990.

Or in 1991. Or 1992. Or 1993.

It wasn’t until September ’94 that Taylor got his rematch and by then it was too late; he’d already been stopped by Terry Norris and Chrisanto Espana. He seemed to have aged 10 years.

Chavez was no longer the fighter he’d been in 1990, either; he’d received a gift draw against Pernell Whitaker and lost to Frankie Randall.

He still was too much for Taylor, who in a final attempt at recovery, had returned to Willie Rush, his amateur coach in Philadelphia. It didn’t help. Chavez stopped him in the eighth and it was no fight of the decade. It might not even been the best fight of the night.

Before Taylor’s loss, Duva told The Times that the fight “isn't about who the better fighter is, it's about who's got the least left.”

That might be apropos too for Jones-Hopkins, though we might improve on it, in the interest of accuracy, to say it’s about who’s got more left. Both these guys can still fight.

And for some of us, it matters little that 16 years have passed since the first meeting. A good fight is a good fight, regardless of how long it’s been on the shelf.

Some random observations from last week:

Chris Arreola couldn’t get it done against Vitali Klitschko, but he did manage to drop more postfight interview F-bombs than anyone since David Diaz. Good for him. ÔǪ

New rule: Jim Lampley is not allowed to say “P. Diddy.” ÔǪ

Klitschko proved once again that awkwardness is the most underrated quality in boxing. But the guy is smart and well trained. I don’t think I saw Arreola throw one good straight right hand all night. And it wasn’t because he didn’t want to, it was because Klitschko wouldn’t let him. That doesn’t happen by accident. …

It would be so much easier to believe Klitschko is as good as his record indicates if he didn’t do everything so wrong. ÔǪ

Watching Floyd Mayweather’s win over Juan Manuel Marquez again made me more bewildered than ever by the criticism leveled at Mayweather because he didn’t knock Marquez out. Willie Pep scored 65 knockouts in 229 wins (a much lower knockout percentage than Mayweather’s if my math is right) and he’s rightly considered one of the best ever.

Pernell Whitaker didn't stop Azumah Nelson either. Should we have cared?

When you win every second of a fight against one of the top guys in the world, who the hell cares if you stop him? Mayweather is superb. Period.

That said, I’m on the same page as those who say Mayweather’s next opponent must be Shane Mosley or the winner of Manny Pacquiao-Miguel Cotto. If you’re going to talk as much as Mayweather does, you simply have to fight the best guys available or you’re a fraud. ÔǪ

I’m not sure what to make of the story that Evander Holyfield has become passionate about combating global warming, but I’m willing to bet it has something to do with how much he’s getting paid to have a 40-acre solar energy farm built on his estate in Atlanta. After all, money is greener than anything.

Bill Dettloff can be contacted at [email protected]

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