Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s first big knockdown? Could be nearer than you think
It can be argued that Floyd Mayweather has yet to be knocked down properly as a professional fighter.
Cold stats would tell us that he has hit the deck officially once (against Carlos Hernandez), and unofficially at least once more (against Zab Judah). But the first one, against Hernandez, allegedly happened after Floyd broke his hand and went down in pain after being caught off-balance by a glancing punch (sometimes even I forget how good I am at coming up with excuses!). The other one, against Judah, was clearly a touch of Floyd’s glove on the canvas after being caught with a legitimate punch. It was ruled a slip by referee Richard Steele but could be interpreted as a knockdown, though not exactly a devastating one.
Whatever the case, boxing fans of the world are still wondering what it would be like to see Floyd visit the canvas in Ali-Frazier I style and then get up to finish the fight after a proper, irrefutable, on-your-butt, old-fashioned knockdown. And boxing history teaches us that Argentina is the place to go when you need someone to drop a high-ranked fighter on the seat of his trunks in memorable fashion.
After giving Victor Ortiz his first two knockdowns, and more recently, after dealing Mayweather box-a-like Adrien Broner the first knockdowns of his pro career (one in the second and the other one in the eighth round), Marcos Maidana is in a unique position to argue that he has the power, the skill and the mojo to be the first guy to produce a solid knockdown against Mayweather. But he is not the first Argentine to produce a first-ever (or at least most remarkable) knockdown against a big-name opponent in a high-profile bout.
Here are five Argentine fighters who managed to buy their highly regarded, pound-for-pound opponents their first (or most memorable) trip to the canvas.
Luis Angel Firpo vs. Jack Dempsey: Obviously, this is not only an early gem or an unforgettable moment in a big fight. This is The Knockdown Heard ‘Round the World. We’re talking history, big time. The towering Firpo was a wild-swinging, crude brawler with dynamite in his hands, and when he caught Dempsey with a sweeping right hand in the first round to send him flying through the ropes in what would later be dubbed “the most dramatic sports moment of the [20th] century,” the world took notice for the first time that fighters from south of the border were not to be taken lightly. As one of the biggest moments in the early history of boxing (the fight took place on September 14th, 1923), the episode quickly became part of the budding boxing lore. The typewriter on which Dempsey landed quickly became the most sought-after (and counterfeited) piece of boxing memorabilia; artist George Bellows immortalized the moment with a painting that now sits at the Whitney Museum of Modern Art; and a legend was born: the Wild Bull of the Pampas would become (as their successors many years later) synonymous with crunching knockdown power. In fact, many people still argue that Firpo should have won the fight by stoppage if the count had been issued properly by the referee, since Dempsey took almost 14 seconds to get back into fighting stance in the ring (in a creepy prelude of “The Long Count Fight” that would take place later between Dempsey and Gene Tunney, where karma caught up with Dempsey to deprive him of a KO victory in a similar situation).
Oscar Bonavena vs. Joe Frazier: Bonavena was a rare case, an Argentine fighter who fought most of his career in New York under the guidance of American managers and trainers, away from his native land. His fame rose quickly after a win over a highly regarded young contender in George Chuvalo, but he finally served notice of his punching power in September of 1966, when he met Frazier at Madison Square Garden for an early crossroads fight. Catching Frazier early with some solid shots, Bonavena stepped up the pace in the second round, where he dropped Frazier twice. The three knockdown rule was in effect, thus Bonavena came very close to scoring an upset stoppage against a fighter who had won the gold medal in the Olympics two years earlier. Frazier had taken a standing eight-count in his second pro bout, but this time he came as close to disaster as he could have dreamed of. “Smokin’” Joe rallied to a 10-round unanimous decision, and two years later he would beat “Ringo” by decision over 15 rounds, with a portion of the heavyweight title on the line, but the memory of those knockdowns never left Joe’s memory, who would later claim that he never really felt like a true champion until he defeated Bonavena more decisively in their rematch.
Juan Domingo Roldan vs Marvelous Marvin Hagler: Compared to the other ones, this may not be as devastating, but it nevertheless remains a source for debate and controversy as the only blemish in an otherwise spotless career. Known for terrific punching power that had earned him the moniker of “Hammer,” Roldan traveled to the U.S. to face Hagler as a mandatory contender on March 30, 1984. Supremely confident, Hagler (who had faced and would later face much bigger and stronger fighters) tried to duck a punch to come up with a counterattack off the crouch, when Roldan glanced a hook on the back of his head and Hagler hit the canvas. Referee Tony Perez fell for it and gave Hagler a protective eight count, thus marking the first and only knockdown in the career of one of the most dominant middleweights of modern times. Regardless of the ensuing tenth-round TKO victory by Hagler and the public outcry by fans and press alike about this being a mere slip and not a knockdown, the achievement still stands, and it remains Roldan’s most memorable moment in a career that lacked any other major achievements.
Alberto Cortes vs. Felix Trinidad: First trip overseas on a 15-0 record built mostly at home against tailor-made opponents? What could possibly go wrong, Tito? Let’s go! Well, he did go. To Paris, first. And down to the mat a little bit later. In a fight you probably never really heard of, but was essential in Trinidad’s career, the Puerto Rican fighter traveled to France in October of 1992 to square off against an unknown Argentine veteran. Soon enough, Trinidad found himself on the receiving end of some heavy artillery, and went down in the second round. Twice. Smelling blood in the water, the 51-2 Argentine went after Trinidad in the third, seeking to end matters quickly. But a fully recovered Trinidad dug deep and came back with a barrage of punches that sent Cortes reeling towards the ropes, where the fight was stopped on a TKO victory for “Tito.” Trinidad would later relive this moment in several of his fights, where he visited the canvas against the likes of Anthony Stephens, Luis Ramon Campas and Oba Carr, only to rise and finish the fight with a solid victory. Almost 20 years later to the date, on October 2012, a similar moment would not end up with the same luck, as Puerto Rican (and one of Trinidad’s heirs-apparent) Thomas Dulorme went down for the first time in his career (also on two occasions, no less) against Argentina’s Luis Carlos Abregu, losing by TKO in seven rounds to put an end to his unbeaten streak and derail his championship aspirations. If Tito was watching, he may have sighed in relief knowing how close he came to suffering the same fate.
Julio Cesar Vasquez vs. Winky Wright: This one has to be in the history books. As a 25-0 (18 KOs) young contender, Wright approached his first title shot with enormous confidence, fueled by an illustrious amateur career and a terrific skill set. But “Winky” wasn’t ready for what he was going to face on Aug. 21, 1994. Julio Cesar Vasquez was a solid boxer known for his punching power, but nobody figured he’d be much of a challenge for the smooth-boxing Wright. He wasn’t, but he did have enough power to send Wright to the canvas not once, not twice, not thrice, not… OK, he went down five times. Or maybe seven, who knows? The fight had as many slips as there were knockdowns, but at least five of those trips to the mat were legitimized by referee Enzo Montero, and the loss of points generated by those knockdowns was responsible for Wright’s defeat. True, Wright’s inexperience (he had never gone past 8 rounds) accounted for something, but it is also true that Vasquez was the one fighter who overpowered Wright so clearly during his entire career, in which he would accumulate only a few more isolated knockdowns in the following 18 years.