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Dougie’s Monday Mailbag (Britain’s best, Marcel Cerdan, national rivalries)

01
Jun

BEST OF BRITISH BOXING

Hi Dougie,

This lockdown has given me the chance to review my boxing archives and rewatch a load of fights I haven’t seen for many years.

I first started watching in the UK in the mid 1980s with the likes of Barry McGuigan, Herol Graham and Lloyd Honeyghan. At that time there was no cable TV, satellite TV or the Internet so we had a very limited menu. Apart from very occasional highlights packages from the US (eg Hagler v Leonard, Tyson) all we had was domestic boxing on terrestrial channels.



After much binge watching and contemplation, here are my top 5 performances by Brits in the last 35 years:

5 Frampton v Santa Cruz

4 Calzaghe v Lacy

3 Hatton v Tzsyu

2 Benn v McClellan

1 Fury v Wilder 2

I’ve been considering the best British fighters over that time period (like you did on a world level in the mailbag of 22 May) and would love to hear your thoughts.

Best Jab – Lennox Lewis

Best handspeed – Amir Khan

Best footwork – Herol Graham

Smartest – Lennox Lewis

Strongest – Nigel Benn

Best chin – Chris Eubank

Best puncher – Naseem Haned

Best boxing skills – Tyson Fury

Best overall – Joe Calzaghe

All world class fighters, I’m sure you’d agree, and no place for the likes of Ricky Hatton, Carl Froch, Carl Frampton or Anthony Joshua.

The UK has been blessed with some great boxers over the last 4 decades – with the exception of the US, probably more than any other country in the world.

I’m looking forward to the fight game reopening with a number of Brits at the fore including Joshua, Fury and current Ring Champions, Josh Taylor and Callum Smith. All the best. – Phil, Beverley, UK

Fury’s also a Ring Magazine Champion, Phil.

But, yeah, I’m obviously looking forward to boxing’s return, and Britain’s brightest talents along with it. I still want to see that heavyweight showdown between Daniel Dubois and Joe Joyce if it can be arranged this year.

That’s a good Top 5 Performances by British Boxing in the last 35 years, but since Barry McGuigan’s decision over the late, great Eusebio Pedroza took place on June 8, 1985 it’s just inside that 35-year window, and I would include it on my list of five. Lloyd Honeyghan’s monumental upset of Donald Curry took place in 1986, so I would definitely include it, too. But I can’t really argue with your five choices (I feel privileged to have witnessed and covered your No. 1 inside the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas). However, I would consider Naseem Hamed’s thrilling U.S. debut shootout with Kevin Kelley, as well as Lennox Lewis’ rematch decision over Evander Holyfield, which cemented his place as the undisputed heavyweight champ going into the 21st Century (was privileged to have covered and been there live for that one, too). Those are two very significant performances in terms of boxing history and also establishing UK respect among U.S. sports media and casual fans.

I can’t argue at all with your British fighter choices for the “Best I Faced” categories. That’s a special group, as are the boxers that didn’t make the cut.

The UK has been blessed with some great boxers over the last 4 decades – with the exception of the US, probably more than any other country in the world. Britain has indeed been “boxing blessed” in the last four decades, but I think the great country and culture of Mexico is just as blessed. Since 1980, the following boxers from Mexico have turned pro: Julio Cesar Chavez, Gilberto Roman, Humberto “Chiquita” Gonzalez, Ricardo “Finito” Lopez, Jorge Paez, Raul Perez, Manuel Medina, Marco Antonio Barrera, Erik Morales, Juan Manuel Marquez, Rafael Marquez, Jose Luis Castillo, Israel Vazquez and Canelo Alvarez. That’s 14 boxers that are either in the International Boxing Hall of Fame or will be or are “borderline” at the very least.

 

MARCEL CERDAN

Murat Gassiev is gonna be a better heavyweight than Usyk (yeh I said it)… I’m watchin his fights at CW an I don’t think there’s a better technician at HW… I love his left uppercuts an hooks in rd 6-10 vs Docticos….

Cerdan (right) cracks a faded Tony Zale en route to a sensational middleweight title victory.

But to my real question… Can u give me more info on a great middleweight who is forgotten, Marcel Cerdan… My dad’s homeboy watched him and said he was “fabulous”, seen his fight vs Zale on YouTube but I would love more enlightenment on him since I have few videos. – Jeremy

Cerdan is a hall of famer and one of the greatest professional boxers ever to hail from Africa and Europe. He started his career in the mid-1930s as an aggressive, rugged welterweight brawler but evolved into a world-class middleweight by the mid-1940s. Cerdan was very popular in France and all over Europe, and he was well received when he fought in the U.S. for the first time in 1946. He outpointed two Ring-rated middleweights that year, Holman Williams (a hall of famer and a member of the avoided Black Murderer’s Row) and Georgie Abrams, that year.

Cerdan was a tremendous athlete, agile and powerful. I love watching film footage of him skipping rope and doing roadwork (in which he’d incorporate parkour). He had nimble in-and-out footwork but could employ smart pressure when he had an opponent hurt, which was often because he was a very accurate puncher with good power in both hands. He carried a compact,

How good was Cerdan? Dougie thinks the Algeria-born French icon was great.

high guard and was sneaky and creative with his offense from this “peek-a-boo” style. He was also a good body puncher.

This is probably the highest praise I can give any 1940s-era middleweight, but I think had he fought the best middleweight version of Sugar Ray Robinson in 1949 or in 1950 or ’51 (had he not died in a tragic plane crash on his way to the U.S. for his rematch with Jake LaMotta), he could have given the G.O.A.T. a hell of fight, and maybe even beat the American star on a good night.

 

HUNGRY FIGHTERS, MEXICO-PUERTO RICO BOXING RIVALRY

Hiya Dougie:

Hope everything is well with you and your loved ones.

This is the third time I am writing you since the start of the pandemic lockdown I hope I make it this time.

I have a couple of questions for you:

The Great Depression spawned many great fighters in the US, including emigres and ring campaigners from various parts of Europe and Asia, especially the Philippines trying their luck in a land where the grass was still relatively greener.

Is it possible that a coronavirus induced global economic recession will result to the same in some near future scenario where desperation and literal hunger drive many to excel in the fight game to get out of poverty and destitute?

The present crop of elite fighters are mostly professionals driven by pride and the lure of fabulous fortune and fame. Some of them are even so spoiled that they have imbibed a certain sense of entitlement or of being some privileged diva superstar, able to demand their price and even certain terms and conditions of any fight they will figure in.

I doubt it if many of these would be predisposed to fight at the same level with the same motivation under a new normal regime of drastically reduced fight purse and other perks.

What can you say about this possibility?

In relation to this, do you foresee even fiercer boxing rivalries cropping up including domestic rivalries in such boxing batty countries as UK, Mexico, Japan and Puerto Rico?

Speaking of foreign domestic boxing rivalries that have extended to the US and the global stage, I have long wondered when did they start particularly as far as Mexican and Puerto Rican fighters are concerned.

That of UK and Japan are understandable given their excellent grassroots program and highly competitive amateur and even professional boxing initiation programs where many of their best fighters are discovered and usually pitted against each other engendering rivalries and even real animosities.

But it puzzles me to these days why many Mexican and Puerto Rican fighters over the years have engaged in boxing civil wars, particularly those from a very small boxing country as Puerto Rico that comparatively produces fewer boxing stars.

Is it genuine dislike or is just competition for who gets the bigger share of the US ring market, in terms of fandom and of course the bigger purse and other perks that go to the better fighter and champion?

Kindly enlighten me, Doug please? Thanks and regards from the Philippines. – Teddy Reynoso

Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Teddy.

From what I’ve observed over the decades, there’s a lot of respect between Mexican and Puerto Rican boxers and fans. Sometimes it gets nasty (as it did before the Julio Cesar Chavez-Edwin Rosario clash), but it’s usually just really intense because the fighters come from proud cultures with established boxing traditions and very passionate fans. They generally do not hate each other. They just go for it once the bell rings.

Speaking of foreign domestic boxing rivalries that have extended to the US and the global stage, I have long wondered when did they start particularly as far as Mexican and Puerto Rican fighters are concerned. I think the rivalry was really set off in earnest during the late 1970s and early ’80s when both cultures were producing transcendent talent and stars that occupied the same weight classes (Wilfredo Gomez vs. Carlos Zarate in 1978 and Salvador Sanchez in 1981 and Lupe Pintor in 1982), and there have been countless clashes since that exceptional period.  

The Great Depression spawned many great fighters in the US, including emigres and ring campaigners from various parts of Europe and Asia, especially the Philippines trying their luck in a land where the grass was still relatively greener.

Is it possible that a coronavirus induced global economic recession will result to the same in some near future scenario where desperation and literal hunger drive many to excel in the fight game to get out of poverty and destitute? Once boxing is back to a regular schedule, I think

Andrew and Jason Moloney. Photo credit: Ryan Songalia

hard economic times could spark more activity from some world-class fighters who were comfortable fighting twice a year, and it can definitely inspire up-and-comers and fringe contenders to roll the dice a little more than usual by taking on risky fights for modest paydays. And it could prompt some regional standouts to leave their home regions in search of more work in other parts of the world. An example of the latter two scenarios can be seen in the solid matchups the Moloney brothers from Australia have scheduled this month.

Unbeaten Andrew, No. 6 in The Ring’s junior bantamweight rankings, takes on No. 10-rated Joshua Franco on June 23 in Las Vegas. Once-beaten former title challenger Jason, No. 6 in The Ring’s bantamweight rankings, takes on No. 10-rated Oscar Negrete on June 25. Another potential positive to come out of a big, worldwide negative could be promoters working together more often. The Moloneys are with Top Rank. Franco and Negrete fight under the Golden Boy banner.

The present crop of elite fighters are mostly professionals driven by pride and the lure of fabulous fortune and fame. Well, yeah, boxing is called “prize fighting” for a reason. The legends of this sport were also motivated by money and fame, they just had to work a lot harder and do a lot more to get it.

Some of them are even so spoiled that they have imbibed a certain sense of entitlement or of being some privileged diva superstar, able to demand their price and even certain terms and conditions of any fight they will figure in. Yes, the modern standout boxer certainly has agency. That’s supposed to be a good thing. Don’t most hardcore fans weep and moan in sympathy when fighters aren’t able to name their price and call the shots to their careers?

I doubt it if many of these would be predisposed to fight at the same level with the same motivation under a new normal regime of drastically reduced fight purse and other perks. We’ll see, Teddy.

What can you say about this possibility? Only time will tell.

In relation to this, do you foresee even fiercer boxing rivalries cropping up including domestic rivalries in such boxing batty countries as UK, Mexico, Japan and Puerto Rico? As my example of the Mexico-Puerto Rico rivalry popping off in the late 1979s/early ’80s illustrated, only if these cultures produce standout talents that are willing to face each other. Who knows? Maybe Naoya Inoue-John Riel Casimero will kick off a renewed Japan-Philippines rivalry.

 

EXPERIENCE VS. MODERN TRAINING

Good Day Mr. Fischer,

I wanted to write in regarding the evolution of sports, sport sciences, and athletes. I’ve seen quite a few contributors to the mailbag over the years chime in with some variant of the theory that modern fighters are simply better athletes with more resources at their disposal. This leads to an unprovable conviction that a great boxer today is necessarily better than someone who didn’t have the same opportunities in a bygone era.

Like you, I disagree with the assertion. The greatest boxer of all time is almost certainly Ray Robinson. And if it’s not Sugar Ray, then it’s much more likely to be Harry Greb or Henry Armstrong than someone who’s come along since. In my opinion, this is mostly due to the amount of time these boxers spent actually boxing.

I don’t know if you’ve heard the notion that it takes 10,000 hours to master something (popularized by Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers). It’s a more memorable twist on an old truth: we learn by practice. This is especially true of physical activities. Even Aristotle recognized that “the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them.” Sam Snead said that “practice puts brains in your muscles.”

The point I want to bring to you (and get your opinion on) is that the development of modern sports training has actually diminished the amount of practice that modern boxers actually get at boxing and fighting. It’s made for remarkable improvements to health and athleticism, but it’s come at the detriment to time in the ring.  Precious few modern fighters actually have the ring time (to say nothing of the learned skills) to compete with the all time greats.

Even the most active modern fighters don’t likely have as many sparring rounds as Ray Robinson had ACTUAL rounds of professional prize fighting. Certainly no one who has stepped into the ring in the past 50 years has as much ring experience as Harry Greb. The most active two fighters probably can’t compare. It’s a simple question of how much has someone boxed. The assertion is that the more anyone has boxed, the better a boxer he (or she) is.

As you’ve trained for boxing, you’re well aware of the difference between hitting the bag or the mitts and sparring, to say nothing of the difference between sparring and fighting in earnest. Do you believe that there’s any chance that modern training can replicate time in the prize-ring? I’m not convinced. I don’t see anything, from any modern fighter, that leads me to believe he could go 15 rounds with Robinson. It’s a question of hours.

This is different in boxing than in other sports. Almost every other modern “sport” (from baseball to basketball to football) was once simply a leisure activity. They are games, not sport. The greats throughout the history of these sports was not putting in the same amount of training time as modern athletes, so they weren’t as practiced. Boxing is different, and the trend is reversed. – John

Amen, John. There was nothing “leisurely” or amateur about boxing in the early 1900s and ’20s. The same can’t be said about basketball and football, and even baseball, which is as old and storied as boxing in the U.S.  

What can I say? Great minds think alike. I agree with most of your opinions (well-stated, by the way).

I’ve seen quite a few contributors to the mailbag over the years chime in with some variant of the theory that modern fighters are simply better athletes with more resources at their disposal. And I’ve never denied that today’s boxers are probably, on average, better conditioned for general athletics. I just don’t think they’re in better fighting shape than the boxers from previous decades. Prime Peter Quillin could probably sprint 100 meters faster, jump higher, bench press and power clean more weight than the middleweight version of Sugar Ray Robinson. However, there’s no doubt in my mind that Robinson would outclass and spark Quillin out cold if they occupied the same boxing ring.

This leads to an unprovable conviction that a great boxer today is necessarily better than someone who didn’t have the same opportunities in a bygone era. They don’t seem like the types to bother themselves with proof (or research) but I admire their conviction (sometimes).

Pep carried a 53-0 record going into his first title bout; it was 134-1-1 going into his first title bout loss.

Like you, I disagree with the assertion. The greatest boxer of all time is almost certainly Ray Robinson. And if it’s not Sugar Ray, then it’s much more likely to be Harry Greb or Henry Armstrong than someone who’s come along since. Willie Pep is in the discussion, especially when experience is a significant part of the criteria.

In my opinion, this is mostly due to the amount of time these boxers spent actually boxing. Of course!

I don’t know if you’ve heard the notion that it takes 10,000 hours to master something (popularized by Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers). I love that erudite little nerd.

It’s a more memorable twist on an old truth: we learn by practice. This is especially true of physical activities. Even Aristotle recognized that “the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them.” Sam Snead said that “practice puts brains in your muscles.” Indeed, now imagine the muscle memory of legends like Armstrong, Robinson, Archie Moore, Sandy Saddler, top fighters of that era (‘30s and ‘40s) who had between 75 and 160 pro bouts before their FIRST world title shots. Moore was past his physical prime by this time, but the others were just entering their primes with that much experience under their belts.

The point I want to bring to you (and get your opinion on) is that the development of modern sports training has actually diminished the amount of practice that modern boxers actually get at boxing and fightingI don’t put the blame for that entirely on modern training methods. I think the nature of today’s boxing business is geared toward less activity for a number of reasons (higher paydays and exclusive promotional/broadcast contracts for world-class or potentially world-class fighters). But maybe you can say that the modern strength and conditioning methods have detracted from the time or importance once given to the practical learning of the boxing craft in the gyms and training camps.

It’s made for remarkable improvements to health and athleticism, but it’s come at the detriment to time in the ring. Again, what you’re saying might be true if you’re talking about the ring in the gym, sparring, etc.

Precious few modern fighters actually have the ring time (to say nothing of the learned skills) to compete with the all time greats. This is mostly true, but not entirely true in my opinion. I think Joe Frazier, who finished his pro career with 37 bouts, and Sugar Ray Leonard, who finished his pro career with 40 bouts, could have competed in any era. There are other modern fighters who had less than 40 bouts that I think could hang with the old guard, hall of famers like Frazier and Leonard, fought the best of their divisions/eras while in their primes and made the most of their comparatively short careers. Kostya Tszyu only had 34 pro bouts. Jeff Fenech only had 33. But they were major f__king badasses. Both were also amateur standouts, like Joe and Ray, who were Olympic gold medalists. Vasiliy Lomachenko will probably retire with less than 30 pro bouts, but due to his extensive amateur career, he’s been able to fight at the world class level since his second pro bout.

Even the most active modern fighters don’t likely have as many sparring rounds as Ray Robinson had ACTUAL rounds of professional prize fighting. That’s probably true. It’s definitely the case with Pep.

Certainly no one who has stepped into the ring in the past 50 years has as much ring experience as Harry Greb. Yes, and it seems like boxing fans either embrace his storied fight stats or totally reject it as a mythology. I just wish the nay-sayers would do a little more research and reading on the subject.

The assertion is that the more anyone has boxed, the better a boxer he (or she) is. Yep. That’s pretty much the truth about any endeavor.

James Toney says he learned more from his three bouts with Mike McCallum than from anything done in the gym. Photo / THE RING archives

As you’ve trained for boxing, you’re well aware of the difference between hitting the bag or the mitts and sparring, to say nothing of the difference between sparring and fighting in earnest. Do you believe that there’s any chance that modern training can replicate time in the prize-ring? No, maybe I’ve just been around too many traditional trainers and old-school-minded fighters (like James Toney and Shane Mosley), but to me conditioning is to prepare the human body for the rigors of boxing, floor work/instruction and sparring is to learn and finetune technique and tactics, which prepares the fighter for the prize ring – which is where the real boxing experience comes from.

I’m not convinced. I don’t see anything, from any modern fighter, that leads me to believe he could go 15 rounds with Robinson. It’s a question of hours. I respect your opinion, but I do think there some modern boxers that could have taken Robinson the distance, obviously, I believe that Leonard is one of them. But when fans ask me who would win a mythical matchup involving Robinson, I generally (if not always) lean toward the old legend due to his incredible ring experience (75 bouts – 73-1-1 – going into his welterweight title win; 124 bouts – 121-1-2 – going into his first middleweight title challenge, and he was still in his prime during these years).

 

 

Email Fischer at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter and IG at @dougiefischer, and join him, Tom Loeffler and Coach Schwartz on Periscope every Sunday from UCLA track

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