Best I Faced: Greg Haugen
As an underdog, Greg Haugen won world titles in two weight classes in the late 1980s and early 90s. And he wouldn’t dream of backing away from a challenge during a professional career that spanned 17 years.
Haugen was born in Auburn, Washington in the summer of 1960. He was one of six children and started boxing at five years old to protect himself from bullies. Life was difficult when his father left a couple of years later, leaving only his mother to take care of the family.
Although Haugen never won a national title, he was still prolific on the amateur scene. At 19 years old, he took bronze at the Olympic trials in 1980 and captured countless regional belts. Haugen estimates that he won roughly 300 of 320 amateur contests.
Later, however, when he moved to Alaska, the eager young fighter switched to a new combat sport.
“They had these tough guy fights. You’d go in the bars and I was fighting guys 225 pounds and I was 135 pounds,” recalled Haugen. “They’d ask, ‘How much you weigh?’ and they’d find another guy. They’d say, ‘He weighs this much. Do you want to fight him?’”
Haugen won all 24 of his Toughman contests before returning to boxing. He turned professional in November 1982 and over the next couple of years advanced to 17-0. Haugen would defeat Freddie Roach, the future Hall-of-Fame trainer, as well as Chris Calvin, who came close to inflicting Haugen’s first professional defeat.
After outpointing Edwin Curet for the vacant NABF belt, Haugen, in what he views as his proudest moment, upset Jimmy Paul by 15-round majority decision to capture the IBF lightweight title.
In his first defense, Haugen ventured to Providence, Rhode Island, to face popular local hero Vinny Pazienza. It was the first of three fights between two men who disliked each other intensely. Haugen lost a close 15-round unanimous decision and, 30 years on, remains bitter about the result.
“I didn’t lose it, they robbed me,” said an impassioned Haugen. “It was an out and out robbery. He knows it, I know it and everyone that watched the fight knows it.”
The rematch followed and Haugen was able to turn the tables on his rival: “I turned around and got in better shape. I beat him up in the rematch even worse,” he said.
After regaining his title, Haugen made successful defenses against Miguel Santana and Gert Bo Jacobson. His next opponent, however, was Pernell Whitaker, who proved to be too much for the fighter known as “Mutt”.
“He was the better man,” said Haugen, who lost a wide 12-round unanimous decision in Whitaker’s home state of Virginia. “I’m not afraid to say that. He was a great fighter and he beat a lot better guys than me.”
After 13 months off, Haugen moved up to junior welterweight. Following two tune-up contests, he met Pazienza in their rubber match and dropped a 10-round unanimous decision.
“He knows I kicked his ass all three times,” said Haugen, who still maintains real animosity towards his former nemesis. “The third fight, he ran for 10 rounds and they gave it to him.”
Haugen would soon encounter a new antagonist – the equally bombastic Hector Camacho. They met in February 1991 at Caesars Palace, Las Vegas, in what was seen as a tune up for Camacho, who would be defending his WBO junior welterweight title.
“Macho” was already looking ahead to a showdown with Julio Cesar Chavez, but Haugen hadn’t read the script. The fight was close on the scorecards, so close in fact that one moment of madness cost Camacho his unbeaten record.
“I talked to him the whole fight and had him so frustrated cause he couldn’t hit me. Every time he threw the left hand, I wouldn’t be there,” recalled Haugen.
“I was laughing at him and it pissed him off. At the start of the 12th round, Carlos Padilla (referee) was telling us to touch gloves and I said, ‘No I don’t want to touch gloves’. (Camacho) jumped in and tried to hit me. That’s when Padilla took a point.”
The point deduction proved pivotal, costing Camacho – a 7-1 betting favorite – a draw. Haugen believes that it was his career-best win.
A rematch took place three months later and this time it was Camacho who was awarded a split decision.
“He got his ass kicked in the second fight and he knows it,” Haugen said. “In the 11th round they took a point away from him, ‘cause I was taunting him and laughing again. At the end of the fight, he ended up walking out of the ring. He was so sure he’d lost. The promoter, Dan Duva, had to talk him back into the ring. He was as shocked as everyone else that he won.”
The next big bout came in April 1992 against Ray Mancini.
“He was acting at the time and I told him that the best acting job he ever did was acting like he was gonna beat me,” said Haugen. “That was one of my easier fights. Ray was slow and he telegraphed everything.”
After stopping Mancini in seven rounds, Haugen stayed active with a couple of wins to set up a bout with Julio Cesar Chavez in Mexico City.
In the buildup, Haugen was up to his old tricks. He upset locals by saying many of Chavez’s victories “came against Tijuana taxi drivers that my mom could whip.” Ahead of the fight, Haugen required round-the-clock security after receiving death threats.
On fight night, a record 132,247 fans turned up at the Azteca Stadium for what turned out to be a public flogging. Chavez easily took apart an ill-prepared Haugen in five rounds. Afterwards, Haugen famously said, “They must have been very tough taxi drivers.”
The Chavez fight is one of Haugen’s biggest career regrets.
“If I had been in better shape (and hadn’t been going through) a nasty divorce it would have been a lot different,” said the former champion ruefully. “I was training on cocaine and vodka. I had no chance in that fight. I got hit early in the first round and it took my legs away.”
Haugen, who is now 57 years old, never fought for a world title again and retired with a (40-10-1, 19 KOs) record. He has four children and two grandchildren and is thankfully free from the cocaine habit that once threatened to destroy his life and career.
“Sat on my ass! (Laughs),” Haugen said of how he spends his time. “I’ve worked with some fighters. There’s not many quality fighters around here. It’s sad because we used to put some of the world’s best fighters out of this area but we haven’t done that since me.
“I ain’t rich, but I’m alive. I can’t complain.”
Haugen kindly agreed to speak to RingTV.com about the best he fought in 10 key categories.
Julio Cesar Chavez: It was pretty quick but it was also hard. I had a stiff jab. When you have a good jab that adds one more punch to your arsenal. Most guys just throw it out there to keep you away from them, whereas other guys will throw it with intentions of landing it and it becomes a weapon. If you have a good, stiff jab it’s gonna make guys a lot less brave coming in on you. I’d have to say Julio’s was the best cause it was hard.
Pernell Whitaker: Oh, Whitaker by far. He was the quickest fighter I fought. His defense was good. He didn’t like to get hit; he wasn’t one of those guys who’d trade punch for punch with you. He was too smart to do that. His thing was get in, get out and not get hit. When you’re fighting a good southpaw, it’s a nightmare. The jab doesn’t usually work; it’s more right hands and left hooks. And if you miss one of those right hands, you’re wide open for a counter.
Whitaker: Whitaker was the fastest by far. He had good handspeed. He didn’t hit very hard, but he was a pin-point puncher. Hector Camacho was always known for his fast hands. He didn’t really like to stand in front of you and get hit. You (could) hit Camacho with a good shot but two or three shots together? Not gonna happen. He was always moving. I think that I fought Pernell (when) he was coming up. He was earlier in his career, whereas I fought Camacho at 30. Whitaker was in his prime; he was a little quicker.
Hector Camacho: That’s a tossup between Hector and Pernell. They both had good footwork. Like I said, when you fight a good smart, southpaw it’s a nightmare cause everything you’ve been taught as an amateur pretty much goes out the window. The jab really didn’t work as good on Pernell as it did on Hector. Hector was more of a target. He squared himself up a little more than Pernell did. Both had supreme footwork. If you do hit them, you only usually do it once and they’re moving. That’s a tough call. Flip a coin (laughs). It’s like splitting hairs. They were both world class. I’d probably give the call to Hector.
Chris Calvin: I wasn’t known as a one-punch knockout guy. I just went out and tried to tag ’em and tag ’em until they quit. I just tried to keep landing. If someone took my best shot, I never thought about it because I wasn’t a real big puncher. I’d say Calvin. I didn’t hit Chavez enough to test my power. I was tagging Calvin continuously and he wouldn’t move or go down. I hit him with a few big shots in the sixth, which I believe is the round I stopped him in. I knocked him through the ropes and he finally went down.
Whitaker: If he got hurt, he’d tie you up and if he wasn’t hurt, he’d move and a moving target is a lot harder to hit than a stationary target. If you’re pulling away from a guy who’s punching, there’s a good chance you’re not going to land flush. He was the type of guy who never really got hurt. He’d get real low in front of you and he shrank the target.
Chavez: He was pretty strong, plus he was coming down from 150-160 pounds to make 140. By fight time he was close to middleweight.
Calvin: The guy he fought before me, (Shawn Thomas, died from injuries sustained in the bout). He was a real hard puncher. He was 17-3-2 with 16 KOs. I remember he tagged me in the first round and it was the first time I blacked out. I was basically knocked out on my feet. I was conscious enough to know I got hit with a right hand and I had to bang into him and grab him because he was going to throw the left hook. Sure enough, on the tape of the fight, we just missed that left hook. That probably would have finished the fight. I grabbed him and shook it off and came back and hit him with my own hard one-two at the end of the first round. Over the next four or five rounds, I just continued to tag him and he wouldn’t go down. Chavez hit pretty hard. but I wasn’t in any kind of shape for that fight. I wasn’t in a position to where I could take any shots.
Whitaker: He was just so hard to hit. He was such a good technician. He was quick and whenever you face a southpaw, it’s a whole different game.
Whitaker: I fought a lot of good fighters. Hands down, Pernell was the best by far. He was fast. He was hard to hit. He had great defense. He didn’t square himself up. He was the smartest guy. He had fast hands and fast feet. He won the gold medal (at the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984). He was a very polished southpaw.
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