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Fights of the Year you probably don’t remember

03
Jan

If you can stomach one more list during this time of the year, when lists are everywhere in the sports and entertainment world, we thought it would be fun to look back at some of THE RING’s less-remembered Fights of the Year. They can’t all be Ali-Frazier, Zale-Graziano or Gatti-Ward, but that doesn’t make them any less great. Here are five we bet you don’t remember.

ROCKY GRAZIANO KO 10 FREDDIE COCHRANE 1945

It is Graziano’s trilogy with Tony Zale that put him in the Hall of Fame and the boxing pantheon, but it was his win over Cochrane and others like it that made him one of the biggest attractions in the sport at a time when the average American boy could name every champion in the game.

“(He) could be losing, and then a right hand to the jaw would change things completely,” legendary fight announcer Don Dunphy told THE RING shortly after Graziano’s death in 1990. “Graziano was a great attraction. He often had to fight outdoors because the Garden couldn’t hold the crowds.”

Graziano and Cochrane met on June 29 in Madison Square Garden in front of 18,071 fans. Cochrane was the world welterweight champion, and, to be frank, an average fighter with reputed connections to the mob. He still had enough skills to outbox Graziano.

“(Cochrane), waging a careful battle, had a lop-sided lead over Rocky for the first nine rounds,” reported the New York Times.

In the 10th, Graziano, in the words of preliminary fighter Bernie Palmer, “grabbed Cochrane by the throat and hit him with the right hand and knocked him out.” It was as dramatic an ending as you could want, and THE RING’s Fight of the Year.

JOE BROWN W 15 DAVE CHARNLEY 1961

If you’ve never heard of Charnley, you’re not British. The great Irish boxing writer Harry Mullan called “The Dartford Destroyer” one of the best lightweights of his time and it was largely the result of his courageous and bloody battle with lightweight king Brown on April 19 that made it so.

It was the second time the two had met; Brown stopped Charnley on cuts in Houston, Texas, in 1959. The rematch, held in London, was Brown’s 10th title defense. It was also his bloodiest.

Charnley, an aggressive, free-swinging southpaw, charged into Brown at the opening bell, much to the delight of the 18,000 at Earls Court Arena. Brown met him head on and his first punch opened a cut over Charnley’s right eye.

In the fifth, Brown opened a gash on the bridge of Charnley’s nose that gushed red all night. In the words of writer Robert Daley, “The fighters, the referee and part of the ringside audience were doused with Charnley’s blood.”

Charnley walked headlong into Brown’s offense non-stop for the full fight, never pausing in his fearless, if futile attack. He even hurt the champion in the second round. Though he was comprehensibly outfought, his spirit and gumption moved the crowd to explode in disbelief when referee Tommy Little raised Brown’s arm in victory.

JOEY GIARDELLO W 10 HENRY HANK 1962

In the long association between great prizefights and Philadelphia, this might be the best. Giardello, a year away from beating Dick Tiger for the middleweight world title, met Hank, whom THE RING ranked fourth, in Philly’s famed Convention Hall on Jan. 30.

It was a rematch to their bout from a year earlier in which the murderous-punching Hank, fighting in his hometown of Detroit, outpointed Giardello over 10 rounds.

At the start, Hank tore into Giardello. As THE RING reported, “Giardello took a frightful pasting in the first round. He was knocked back on his heels by the fury of Henry’s attack. In the second a left hook split open a deep wound in Joey’s upper lip and it bled profusely for the remainder of the contest.”

Giardello stormed back, lancing Hank with hard jabs and rights to the body. His busier work rate and consistency kept him in the fight whenever Hank, who had a tendency to take his foot off the gas pedal, slowed down.

They went back and forth. Giardello was hurt in the second, seventh and ninth rounds, but he outboxed Hank in many rounds. The crowd of 5,867 roared. At the end, the judges favored Giardello, the local boy, by scores of 47-44, 46-45 and 46-46.

DANNY LOPEZ KO 15 MIKE AYALA 1979

What do you get when you put together a fight between one the game’s best TV fighters and a member of the famous fighting Ayala family – who happens to be high on heroin? A hell of a fight, apparently.

Lopez, the hard-hitting WBC featherweight champion, met Ayala on June 17 in the San Antonio Auditorium in Ayala’s hometown of San Antonio. Ayala, the eldest of the fighting Ayala brothers – the others were Sammy, Paul, and Tony – said later that he was a heroin addict and had gone into the ring against Lopez under the influence.

“I shot up the morning after the weigh-in and went into the ring loaded,” he said.

You wouldn’t have known if he didn’t tell you. Ayala built a big lead over the early rounds by luring Lopez to the ropes and countering the bejesus out of him. Lopez, as hittable but as indefatigable as ever, finally caught up to him and dropped him in the seventh and 11th rounds before finally stopping him with a hook at 1:09 of the 15th. It was wonderful.

JORGE CASTRO KO 9 JOHN DAVID JACKSON 1994

If you haven’t noticed, how a fight ends can be more important than what happens before. Jackson was beating Castro in every conceivable way when the two met for the
WBA middleweight title in Monterrey, Mexico on Dec. 10. He was too fast for Castro, too mobile, too well-schooled and had built an enormous lead heading into the late rounds.

Castro, unrelenting but outfought every step of the way, was bleeding from a bad cut over his right eye and both eyes were swollen. Several times referee Stanley Christodoulou
appeared close to stopping it.

When Jackson drove Castro into the ropes and then throttled him in the 10th, it seemed as good a time as any for the referee to end it. Suddenly, Castro exploded off the ropes with a left hook that put Jackson on his back. Two follow-up knockdowns ended it.

“I knew I could do it,” Castro said afterward. “I missed him with one but I hit with the next. I knew it was over. As soon as that first punch landed I knew it was over.”

Some random observations from last week:

Hey, aren’t Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao supposed to fight soon? Anyone heard anything? ÔǪ

Want to appreciate today’s boxing broadcasters? Watch Ferdie Pacheco on YouTube conducting postfight interviews. Yikes! He makes Jim Gray sound like Winston Churchill. ÔǪ

Bad news: Evander Holyfield is fighting Frans Botha in Uganda on the 16th.
Good news: Both guys are so far gone no one gets hurt. Guaranteed. 

How come Tomasz Adamek, who meets Jason Estrada in February, signs for a new fight every 20 minutes, but Steve Cunningham, who gave Adamek a hell of a fight in 2008, is on a one-fight-per-year schedule?

Seriously, I get press releases from Cunningham’s publicist every week. None of them are about him actually fighting someone. ÔǪ

Note to the promoters who have sent me angry email in response to our ranking of the best 100 fighters in the world: thank you. Your derision, poorly expressed though it is, means we are doing our job.

Bill Dettloff can be reached at [email protected]

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