Gray Matter: The Best I’ve Seen
While covering the lightweight championship fight between Vasiliy Lomachenko and Luke Campbell in London at the weekend, I got to thinking about all the other pound-for-pound entrants I’d watched down the years and decided to write something. My idea is not to focus on what happened in the fights but offer some anecdotes and personal memories from the events.
Now let me just say, there are scores of scribes that could do a better job of this. Doug Fischer, The Ring editor-in-chief, who I discussed this feature with, could list countless world champions that he’s watched over the past three decades. Colin Hart, who I interviewed recently, covered “The Rumble in the Jungle” and “The Thrilla in Manila” live. There are fans out there with more shows under their belt than me, I’m just doing this for fun.
The criteria I followed for fighter inclusion is as follows: 1. I must have been in the arena, either as a fan or reporter. 2. The fighter listed must have been a Ring pound-for-pound entrant at some point in their career. 3. The fighter listed must have won the fight. I did attend the first bout between Gennadiy Golovkin and Canelo Alvarez in Las Vegas but that was a draw. I’ve also seen Sugar Shane Mosley and Miguel Cotto fight live in separate bouts but they lost. I decided against including Nonito Donaire because his opponent, Ryan Burnett, suffered an injury and the victory was a bit of a non-event.
OK, here we go:
Opponent/ Date/ Location: Lou Savarese/ June 24, 2000/ Glasgow, Scotland
A young prospect I knew well, Gerard Murphy, was on the undercard, as was Zab Judah, who I really enjoyed watching at that time. Prior to the show, a few of my friends and I got into a bit of trouble due to a heated restaurant complaint but – luckily – the police took our side and we headed for Hampden stadium. “Iron” Mike took out Savarese in 38 seconds. In hindsight, a night in the cells may have been more rewarding. Being honest, though, I wouldn’t change it.
Result: Tyson TKO 1
Oscar De La Hoya
Opponent/ Date/ Location: Felix Sturm/ June 5, 2004/ Las Vegas
Oscar was my favorite fighter for several years, but when my friends and I finally got the money together to hit Las Vegas, “The Golden Boy” turned up for work without his usual shine. Sturm, who signed an autograph for me at the airport the next day, was “very” unlucky not to leave Sin City without his WBO middleweight title. Afterwards, a friend and I spent the evening talking boxing to a bunch of guys from Compton, who were packing heat – and I don’t mean matches.
Result: De La Hoya UD 12
Opponent/ Date/ Location: Robert Allen/ June 5, 2004/ Las Vegas
Although Hopkins is one of the fighters I most admire, back then “The Executioner” was the enemy. He was already scheduled to face De La Hoya that September, and I didn’t fully appreciate the opportunity I had to watch him. Looking back, I’m delighted that I got the chance to see an all-time-great in action. “Ex” scored an easy decision over Allen, decking him with a big right hand in the seventh. Three months later, he took out Oscar with a body shot in Round 9.
Result: Hopkins UD 12
Opponent/ Date/ Location: Kostya Tszyu/ June 4, 2005/ Manchester
The fight would begin at 2 a.m. local time to accommodate U.S. TV but nobody with a ticket really cared. In what was the night of his life, Hatton wore Tszyu down to a frazzle for an unforgettable victory. A standout memory was pre-fight ring introductions for Winky Wright (coming off the Felix Trinidad win), the late Diego Corrales (coming off the Jose Castillo win) and Russell Crowe, who was booed incessantly for being Australian… and well… for being Russell Crowe.
Result: Hatton RTD 11
Opponent/ Date/ Location: Jeff Lacy/ March 4, 2006/ Manchester, England
I picked Lacy. Normally I wouldn’t disclose that but being that I picked Mikey over Errol a few months back, this slipup – on what was a 50-50 going in – is relatively tame. Calzaghe comes of age with a punch-perfect display that vaulted him into any pound-for-pound list worth reading. I also had the pleasure of seeing him against Mikkel Kessler the following year, and I won’t be forgetting that one either. My friends and I couldn’t get a hotel room, our wheels got locked inside a multi-story car park and we ended up sleeping outside in freezing cold temperatures.
Result: Calzaghe UD12
Opponent/ Date/ Location: Ricky Hatton/ May 2, 2009/ Las Vegas
After dropping Hatton twice in the opening round, Pacquiao closed with a spectacular left-hand knockout at the end of Round 2. Afterwards, I sat in the MGM Grand casino floor staring into space – flabbergasted – by what I’d just witnessed. As vicious a punching display as this was from Pacquiao, his foot speed and use of angles was also unforgettable. Absolutely breath-taking and arguably the finest performance of his career.
Result: Pacquiao KO 2
Opponent/ Date/ Location: Shane Mosley/ May 1, 2010/ Las Vegas
I’m there with the future wife and two rounds into the first undercard bout, she turns to me and says, “I’m bored!” She’s lucky I married her! After being badly hurt in Round 2, Mayweather put on the best technical boxing display I’ve seen in my life. My partner and I got married in Las Vegas two years later on Mayweather-Miguel Cotto fight week. I went alone… to the fight I mean.
Result: Mayweather UD 12
Opponent/ Date/ Location: Ricky Burns/ March 1, 2014/ Glasgow
Ricky’s a friend of mine and if he’s fighting God, then I’m still not going to pick against him. I knew coming in that Crawford was one of two things; a flashy prospect destined to get found out by a top opponent, or a future multi-weight champion with the world at his feet. It turned out to be the latter. Crawford was brilliant up-close.
Result: Crawford UD 12
Opponent/ Date/ Location: George Groves 2/ May 31, 2014/ London
I covered Froch a few times, but his final career triumph was one of the most impressive mic drops in boxing history. To check out on your biggest night against your biggest rival in front of your biggest crowd with your biggest punch is unheard of. One year later, I met Froch during Mayweather-Pacquiao fight week and he asked me if I thought he should fight again. I simply said, “You’ve done it all. You can’t go out any better than that!”
Result: Froch TKO 8
Opponent/ Date/ Location: Chris Avalos/ Feb. 28, 2015/ Belfast
I’ve covered “The Jackal” in much bigger fights, but this one was standout for a couple of reasons. First, the hotel I was meant to stay in double-booked, so my ex-boss graciously put me up for the night. Second, the atmosphere inside the Odyssey arena would rival any venue in the world. Frampton fighting at home is one of the most prodigious occasions a boxing fan will come across in today’s game, and his fifth-round destruction of Avalos wasn’t the last fight I seen that night. As I waited for a taxi, I watched two girls slug it out on the concrete. During the action, one of them intentionally projectile vomited on the other.
Result: Frampton TKO 5
Opponent/ Date/ Location: Tony Bellew/ Nov. 10, 2018/ Manchester
“The Bomber” boxed very well early, but Usyk went through the gears as the bout progressed and that left-hand finish was pound-for-pound quality. While presenting Usyk with his Ring Magazine belt at the pre-fight press conference, legendary announcer Michael Buffer handed me the mic in front of at least 100 media members and a TV crew. The only problem? Nobody told me that he was going to do that. One of the most unnerving moments of my entire life, but I managed to wing it on the spot… I think.
Result: Usyk TKO 8
Opponent/ Date/ Location: Emmanuel Rodriguez/ May 18, 2019/ Glasgow, Scotland
After a tight opening round, Inoue slipped into monster mode, flooring the unbeaten Puerto Rican three times en route to a shuddering second-round stoppage. I’m a self-confessed Inoue super freak and having the Japanese star compete just 30 minutes from my front door was a surreal experience. I also transported The Ring Magazine belt – which Inoue won that night – to the arena. One of the very best performances I’ve seen live. Absolutely clinical.
Result: Inoue TKO 2
Opponent/ Date/ Location: Luke Campbell/ Aug. 31, 2019/ London
I covered Campbell’s pro debut in Hull, England in July 2013, and the quick-fisted lefty has developed into one of the best lightweights in the world. Styles make fights and, despite the one-sided scorecards in his favor, Lomachenko was made to work very hard for victory. It was a pleasure seeing “Hi-Tech” fight live from ringside, some of his moves bordered on the phenomenal.
Result: Lomachenko UD 12
Tom Gray is Associate Editor for The Ring. Follow him on Twitter: @Tom_Gray_Boxing