Dougie’s Friday mailbag (the best I’ve seen, Michael Nunn, Mike McCallum, mythical matchups)
THE BEST OF MY LIFETIME
Many happy returns on your Birthday. I have been a long-time reader and really enjoy the Mailbags. I also enjoy the Best I Faced series so I’m interested to know how you would rate fighters from your lifetime in these categories.
Best boxing skills
Keep up the great work. And stay safe. Cheers. – Andy McAleese
These categories are always difficult to fill out. As soon as I think of “the one,” two or three other worthy fighters pop into my head, so I’ll include “Runners up” as I have before with these lists, and I’ll also remind readers that I was born in 1970 and didn’t pay any attention to boxing until the last two years of that decade. So, I can’t really include my hero Muhammad Ali because I definitely did not see him at his best. Likewise, with legends such as Carlos Monzon, Joe Frazier, George Formean, or the prime version of Roberto Duran. Sugar Ray Leonard is the first elite-level boxer that I watched develop from prospect to contender to champion (and it happened pretty quickly with him, the evolution almost entirely took place in 1979). Leonard at his best vs. Wilfred Benitez, Thomas Hearns and, of course vs. Marvin Hagler, remains imprinted in my mind. Other elite-level standouts from the 1980s, such as Alexis Arguello, Salvador Sanchez, Aaron Pryor, and even Hector Camacho, were not on my radar when they were at their best (or alive in the case of Sanchez). So, I don’t mean to diss any of them, but it is what it is.
Many exceptional fighters get left out of categories like these because while they’re all-around technical fighters with excellent skill, savvy, resolve and adaptability, they’re either not elite-level in any one category or they lack dynamic athleticism. Many of these standouts were, at one time or another, in everyone’s mythical pound-for-pound rankings (including some of my favorites)
and are some recent hall of fame inductees – Canelo Alvarez, Aleksandr Usyk, Roman Gonzalez, Andre Ward, Guillermo Rigondeaux, Carl Froch, Shane Mosley, Marco Antonio Barrera, Juan Manuel Marquez, Erik Morales, Winky Wright, Joe Calzaghe, Kostya Tszyu, Felix Trinidad, Vernon Forrest, Fernando Vargas, Jose Luis Castillo, Stevie Johnson, Joel Casamayor, Ricardo Lopez, Michael Carbajal, Chiquita Gonzalez, Simon Brown, Chris Eubank, Mike McCallum, Michael Nunn, Donald Curry, Azumah Nelson, and Michael Spinks. The standout “left outs” also include some of the best of the heavyweight champs and titleholders of their eras: Tyson Fury, Wladimir Klitschko, Lennox Lewis, Riddick Bowe, Michael Moorer, Foreman (in his 40s), and Chris Byrd.
Talented-but-flawed fighters (some of whom are hall of famers or will be) who had elite-level talent or attributes in one or two categories (speed, power, stamina, heart/spirit, etc.) but sorely lacking in others (dedication/consistency, chin, fundamentals, versatility, etc.) – Nonito Donaire, Jermain Taylor, Vince Phillips, Zab Judah, Terry Norris, Naseem Hamed, Andy Lee, Tommy Morrison, Diego Corrales, Rafael Marquez, Israel Vazquez, Arturo Gatti, Rocky Juarez, Edwin Valero, Ray Mercer – also get left out of a category list like this one.
Anyway, here are my choices and my runners up:
Best Jab – Thomas Hearns
Runners up: Larry Holmes, Ike Quartey, Oscar De La Hoya, Floyd Mayweather Jr., Gennadiy Golovkin
Best defense – Pernell Whitaker
Runners up: Wilfred Benitez, Roberto Duran, James Toney, Mayweather Jr., Lomachenko
Best hand speed – Meldrick Taylor
Runners up: Leonard, Roy Jones Jr. (160-168), Shane Mosley (135), De La Hoya (130-135), Manny Pacquiao
Best footwork – Vasiliy Lomachenko
Runners up: Leonard, Sumbu Kalambay, Jones Jr., De La Hoya, Pacquiao
Smartest – Bernard Hopkins
Runners up: Leonard, Whitaker, Mayweather, Antonio Tarver, Lomachenko
Strongest – Evander Holyfield
Runners up: Marvin Hagler, David Tua, Vic Darchinyan (112-115), Jones, Golovkin
Best chin – James Toney
Runners up: Oliver McCall, Julio Cesar Chavez, Antonio Margarito, Hopkins, Golovkin
Best puncher – Julian Jackson
Runners up: Hearns, Mike Tyson, Nigel Benn, Deontay Wilder, Naoya Inoue
Best boxing skills – Leonard
Runners up: Benitez, Whitaker, Toney, Mayweather Jr., Lomachenko
Best overall – Leonard
Runners up: Whitaker, Toney, Mayweather Jr., Mark “Too Sharp” Johnson, Lomachenko
Before any of you Comment Section Warriors get too pissed off at me for leaving out or undervaluing your favorites from the 1980s, ’90s, ’00s and the present, why don’t you channel that silly outrage into an email to the mailbag that includes YOUR picks but also asks me my choices in more specific/creative categories, such as “Best technician,” “Best ring generalship,” “Most natural talent,” “Best timing,” “Best combination puncher,” “best body puncher,” “Craftiest/Most Cagey,” “Dirtiest,” “Most awkward/unorthodox,” etc.
GOOD TIMES AHEAD?
Hope you are had a great birthday or at least as good as possible in the current circumstances of a global pandemic. Although being a hopeless optimist as far as this sport is concerned I’m wondering if the COVID-19 crisis could have a silver lining for boxing. Sounds mad? Please hear me out.
Boxing was booming in the early 80s and I believe part of the reason was an abundance of TV space due to a baseball strike. Given the likelihood that team sports could take a while to get going do you think that it’s possible that boxing can fill the void for a month or two? I know the superstars won’t be taking fights on short notice but the opportunity must be there for lower profile boxers to take advantage of TV networks desperate for content. They do say fortune favours the brave and given that a boxer’s prime can be short I’m hoping to see some gloved action sooner rather than later. Right now I’d be happy to stump up for a PPV featuring a Tyson-Holyfield-Brigss-Butterbean round robin featuring headgear, 20oz gloves and fought over three 2 minute rounds!
One mythical matchup and I’ll let you get onto the rest of the mailbag:
Sugar Ray Leonard (’87) Vs Michael Nunn (’89)
Take care Dougie. Keep up the good work. – Steve Done, Connah’s Quay, United Kingdom
That’s an interesting mythical matchup, Steve. There was pressure for Leonard to face Nunn in what many viewed as a “pass-the-torch” fight in 1989 when many sports writers believed (probably correctly) that he was too far past his prime to serve as the face of boxing and only jeopardizing his health by sticking around. Leonard suffered three knockdowns in his bouts with Donny Lalonde (1988) and arch rival Thomas Hearns (1989), a controversial draw that most observers scored for the Hitman. Nunn, by 1989, was the undefeated IBF titleholder, who had scored stoppages against Frank Tate, Juan Roldan and Sumbu Kalambay. I was still a huge Leonard fan in 1989 but I would have favored Nunn to win had they fought that year. However, the sharper 1987 version of Leonard may have had a shot against the lanky southpaw who sometimes lost his focus in the ring.
Nunn, who, like Hearns, had a light heavyweight’s frame, was all wrong for Leonard in terms of stature and style. He wasn’t just
tall and rangy, he was fast, mobile and agile, and he could be downright skittish at times. Nunn, who could bend and lean away from punches like a rubberband man, would have the decided edge in reflexes/flexibility. However, Leonard would bring elite experience, confidence and much better technique to the dance. For all of Nunn’s talent, he was often a “slapper” in the ring. He
had flaws that a novice could point out (he was comfortable leaving his hands by his beltline, kept his chin up in the air, and relied on leaning straight back too much to avoid punches). As crude as Iran Barkley could be, “The Blade” was able to reach Nunn with jabs, left hooks and right hands during their often sloppy 12 rounder.
However, I think Nunn would be way more dialed in and motivated for Leonard. I know Joe Goossen would have him in the best shape of his life and while I’m sure Leonard would have his moments (maybe even stunning or wobbling the younger man) I think Nunn would box a careful and frustrating bout (for the veteran and for the fans) and would deftly outmaneuver the living legend to a close and unpopular decision.
Given the likelihood that team sports could take a while to get going do you think that it’s possible that boxing can fill the void for a month or two? Only if boxing can get on a regular schedule by June or July at the latest. There are major promoters working on this as we speak (Top Rank, Golden Boy and Matchroom among them) but there’s a lot to workout between them, the fighters and the fighters’ teams, the state commissions and the state/regional governments. It looks like Top Rank is on track to getting it on first next month. If those shows go through without a hitch and do decent ratings on ESPN, I think the rest of the industry will be emboldened to get back to work and schedule some major events by September. But there’s still a lot of IFs, Steve.
I know the superstars won’t be taking fights on short notice but the opportunity must be there for lower profile boxers to take advantage of TV networks desperate for content. Oh, for sure. They’ve been training as much as they can on their own, and as soon as gyms are allowed to open in their regions, they’re getting back to a more serious grind in hopes of being called up from the bullpen. Those who have stayed in shape and are willing to fight solid opposition at market value will be the first to return. Although it should be noted that Team Canelo is talking about the superstar, who has remained in training, returning in September and December this year. We’ll see.
They do say fortune favours the brave and given that a boxer’s prime can be short I’m hoping to see some gloved action sooner rather than later. Yeah, I’m hoping some of the fighters (such as Vergil Ortiz Jr.) and fights (such as Regis Prograis vs. Maurice Hooker, Daniel Dubois vs. Joe Joyce) that were scrapped in March and April can be rescheduled as soon as possible, maybe by August.
Right now I’d be happy to stump up for a PPV featuring a Tyson-Holyfield-Brigss-Butterbean round robin featuring headgear, 20oz gloves and fought over three 2 minute rounds! OK, I’m not quite THAT hard up for live boxing.
It is almost midnight here in Australia and I am enjoying an old copy of Ring magazine, December 1994 (with James Toney on the front).
There is a story about Mike McCallum inside and it implies he was ducked by Leonard, Duran and Hearns in the 80s. I have heard this before, is it correct? The story also states Emanuel Steward felt McCallum would have beaten Duran and Leonard.
How good was Mike McCallum and how would he have fared vs those 3 at 154?
I only ever saw him fight in real time when he was well past his best against Jones, I recall Foreman criticizing him for having “nothing on” his right hand.
Billy Conn vs Andre Ward
Tommy Burns vs Toney at 175
Ike William’s vs Mosley
Duran vs De La Hoya at 135 (I know Duran wins, but I feel Oscar gives a good account of himself)
Usyk vs Marciano
A final thought. Do you remember the persisting view that idiots had in the late 90s/early 2000s that Tyson was still the best heavyweight around, he just didn’t train properly? After a 6 second video of him on the pads, those idiots are back. Thanks mate. – Will S.
Tyson fans made bookmakers and smart bettors a lot of money with the 2002 showdown with Lennox Lewis. Those fools bet their houses on Tyson. They just couldn’t accept what Tyson had been telling the world for years with his declining performances and crazy behavior – he was sick of boxing and too far removed from his prime to beat an elite heavyweight. You figure Tyson followers would be older and wiser now, but I think maybe we’ve got a new generation of fanatics. What’s that famous line from P.T. Barnum?
Your mythical matchups:
Billy Conn vs Andre Ward – Conn on points (at 168 and 175 pounds) in a hotly contested boxing match.
Tommy Burns vs Toney at 175 – Toney was not at his best at light heavyweight, and if 5-foot-7 Montell Griffin could outhustle him at that weight, I think the 5-foot-7 Burns, a pioneer of the couching bobbing weaving style who could also crack, would get the better of Lights Out in a distance fight. Being used to fighting 20-rounders and having a good left hook only helps Burns chances.
Ike William’s vs Mosley – Williams on points in a very good lightweight scrap.
Duran vs De La Hoya at 135 – Duran by late stoppage.
Usyk vs Marciano – Usyk on points in a bout that goes a bit like the Gassiev fight but more competitive.
There is a story about Mike McCallum inside and it implies he was ducked by Leonard, Duran and Hearns in the 80s. I have heard this before, is it correct? The WBA stripped Roberto Duran of their belt when Hands Of Stone tried to unify titles against WBC king Tommy Hearns in 1984. McCallum fought Sean Mannion for the vacant title, so you can say that McCallum was the mandatory or top contender for Duran to face (or maybe Mannion was – ha!), but that doesn’t mean the Panamanian veteran “ducked” the Jamaican up-and-comer. McCallum was 21-0 at the time, a little better than a prospect but far from a world-beater. The best name on his pro resume was former junior middleweight titleholder Ayub Kalule. Honestly, I don’t think he was on Duran’s radar at the time. I don’t think Duran feared him or gave a rat’s ass about him, which doesn’t mean that McCallum couldn’t have defeated the Latino superstar at that time.
Hearns would have known about McCallum from The Bodysnatcher’s time training at Kronk Gym, but I’m still hesitant to say that the Hitman ducked McCallum during the mid-to-late 1980s. Hearns had already won a major 154-pound title (vs. a future hall of famer in Wilfredo Benitez) and was looking to make history as the first boxer to win world belts in four divisions. He was looking at the middleweight and light heavyweight titles, and beyond belt collection, he was aiming for legacy fights vs. Marvin Hagler and Sugar Ray Leonard, who was retired or semi-retired in the mid-‘80s (so I don’t think we can accuse him of avoiding McCallum).
Although McCallum scored impressive stoppages vs. dangerous challengers, such as David Braxton and Julian Jackson in 1985 and ’86, he didn’t really turn the heads of U.S. insiders or causal fans until he beat Milton McCrory and Donald Curry in junior middleweight bouts in 1987. By that time Leonard had come back for Hagler and then (briefly) re-retired, Hearns was bouncing from light heavyweight to middleweight, and Duran was considered a middleweight fringe contender trying to rebound from a close points loss to Robbie Sims.
If McCallum really wanted to take on three of the Four Kings, he would have had to leave the junior middleweight division and make some noise at 160 pounds to get their attention. He would eventually do that, losing a close bout to Sumbu Kalambay in his first middleweight title bout in 1988, but would later establish himself as a major beltholder and force in the division in ’89 and ’90. But in order to get Duran, Hearns or Leonard in the ring, he would have had to make his middleweight move a few years earlier and REALLY beat the drums via the media for those showdowns.
The story also states Emanuel Steward felt McCallum would have beaten Duran and Leonard. I respect Steward’s expert opinion, and I know he was well aware of McCallum’s ability having worked with the Jamaican at Kronk and also from working the corners of Braxton and McCrory, but I think Leonard would have outpointed the technician. I do believe the junior middleweight version of McCallum would have had a shot at beating an unsuspecting Duran in ’84, but I can see the 1989 middleweight version of Hands of Stone that outpointed Iran Barkley giving the ’89 version of McCallum that narrowly got by Herol Graham a run for his money.
How good was Mike McCallum and how would he have fared vs those 3 at 154? McCallum had an ATG chin and was a very good counter puncher, so he had a shot at clipping Hearns, but I favor the junior middleweight version of the Hitman to win a close but clear UD. I think Leonard would get up from a mid-rounds knockdown to outhustle and outpoint McCallum in a close UD or MD. And I think McCallum could outjab and outwork Duran to a close UD in a good fight at 154.