Best I Faced: Marlon Starling
Marlon Starling was a perennial welterweight contender in the early 1980s before going on to win two versions of the world title in the later part of the decade.
Starling enjoyed a solid amateur career throughout the 1970s, the highlight being a two-time runner-up at the New England Golden Gloves. He exited the unpaid ranks with a record of 97-13.
The “Magic Man” made his pro debut in the summer of 1979; rattling off 23 consecutive wins – all on the Eastern Seaboard – before he ripped the USBA welterweight strap from journeyman Kevin Morgan’s grasp in a single round.
Two fights later, Starling met fellow up-and-comer Donald Curry, who held the NABF belt. The two fought on near-even terms, only for Curry to eke out a hard-fought split decision.
To his credit, Starling rebounded well, taking Jose Baret’s unbeaten record, besting Kevin Howard to win the NABF and USBA titles and then successfully outpointing another unbeaten opponent Tommy Ayers.
Starling met Curry for the second time in early-1984. The Connecticut native gave Curry a firm examination this time, over 15 rounds. Again the Texan did enough to win, this time by unanimous decision.
Over the next couple of years, Starling beat future world champions Lupe Aquino and Simon Brown but lost a majority decision to Pedro Vilella and a technical decision to Johnny Bumphus, due to a head clash. He exacted a measure of revenge beating Vilella to set up a second world title shot against the supremely talented Mark Breland.
Breland boxed wonderfully, taking a big lead on the scorecards, only for Starling to come on late and stop the 1984 Olympic gold medalist and touted star, in the 11th round, to win the WBA strap.
“My proudest moment was when I beat (Mark) Breland for the title,” Starling told RingTV.com, “but it was one of my worst fights because I got hit so much. I got beat up in that fight but you know what? I got the championship in that fight.
“You know the saying, ‘It’s not how you start; it’s how you finish.'”
Starling celebrated by seeking out the auspicious Eddie Futch to train him. “Moochie” out-hustled Japan’s Fujio Ozaki before drawing with Breland in a rematch most believed Starling deserved to win. He then met big punching Tomas Molinares.
The champion led at the midway point, as the final seconds wound down in the sixth round; the two fighters exchanged punches, the bell rang ending the round, the two fighters were still throwing punches and Molinares landed a devastating right hand.
Starling went down hard and was counted out by referee Joe Cortez.
Starling’s camp protested and the New Jersey commission changed the result to a no-contest. The WBA, however, kept Molinares as champion. The Colombian suffered depression and was forced to vacate the title several months later.
Starling and Lloyd Honeyghan had been on a collision course and met in early-‘89 in a genuine grudge match. The Jamaican-born English resident held the WBC title and was a two-to-one pre-fight favorite.
Starling impressively stopped the Honeyghan in the ninth round in Las Vegas.
“Honeyghan was one of my easiest fights,” Starling said, clearly disdainful of his former foe over 25 years later. “It wasn’t a big accomplishment for me because I knew I was going to beat him. He just didn’t have the tools, he couldn’t outfight me and he couldn’t outbox me.”
After one successful defense, Starling made the surprising decision to jump to middleweight, where he dropped a majority decision to IBF ruler Michael Nunn.
“Michael Nunn didn’t win the fight; I lost the fight.” Starling said defiantly.
He fought for the final time in the summer of 1990, when he lost his WBC 147-pound title by majority decision to Maurice Blocker. He felt he didn’t have anything else to gain other than money and that itself didn’t motivated him.
“I am blessed I’ve got a roof over my head and food in the refrigerator. I drive a decent car,” he said. “I should have accomplished more. I didn’t make a lot of money in boxing but if you’re in the sport for money, you’re in the wrong sport. I had a lot of fun.”
Starling, now 58 years old, lives in the suburbs of his hometown Hartford, Connecticut. He has a longtime girlfriend, three children and three grandchildren. He keeps himself busy training fighters, though not anyone noteworthy as of yet.
RingTV.com spoke with Starling about the best he faced in 10 key categories.
Mark Breland: The point about what was so good about Mark Breland’s jab, is that it hurt! You had to be careful. If you recall, he knocked (Lloyd) Honeyghan down with that jab. I really don’t know if his jab was a range-finder, I think he used his jab for power also. A lot of people looked at Breland, as his right hand was tremendous but, to me, it wasn’t…It was the jab.
Donald Curry: I think it depends on how you fight a guy. In my experience fighting Donald Curry, I think he was harder to hit than anyone else. No one I really had a difficult time hitting; it was just a matter of time.
Michael Nunn: Michael’s speed was faster than I thought. I wasn’t prepared for Michael Nunn. He should have got beat. I fought like I was sparring.
Nunn: He moved pretty good. He was always looking to get out the way.
I really couldn’t answer that because anybody I hit right is going to go. Anybody who gets hit right is going to go. I don’t know who that fighter was. I can’t really pick out a guy who I hit clean and they stood there. I had a good chin. I’ve never been down. The only time I’ve been down was when I got hit after the bell (versus Molinares).
Curry: He was a fighter that hunted you down. He wasn’t an easy fighter to fight. His biggest enemy was himself; he lacked conditioning. He got up for Marlon Starling in the second fight. That particular day when he beat me for the IBF/WBA titles, nobody in the world would have beat me but Donald Curry.
Jose Baret: He was 16-0, 15 knockouts, in ’83. He was strong. He threw punches from downtown; you had to keep your hands up. He was strong but I don’t think he had any condition.
Inocencio De La Rosa: To be honest with you, I couldn’t tell you the guy that really got my attention, when you talk about the name fighters. I fought a guy (Inocencio De la Rosa) who hit me with a shot and I thought I better hold on.
Tommy (Hearns) hit me with a good shot in training and broke my jaw. We were boxing and he was getting ready for (Sugar Ray) Leonard and I was getting the better of that sparring session and he hit me with a good shot and we carried on. That night, my nose was running a lot and I went to the emergency room in (Las) Vegas and they told me my jaw was broken.
Curry: He reminded me so much of me. He did nothing great but he did everything good. I think he had the best skills of anyone I fought.
Curry: He did nothing great but everything good. His eyes, when you’ve got good eyes, you can see everything and that’s what makes you react to another fighter.
You can order the current issue, which is on newsstands, or back issues from our subscribe page.