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Dougie’s Monday Mailbag (Rocky Marciano, Caleb Plant, heavyweight rankings)

A reader asks Dougie how he ranks hall-of-fame-enshrined former heavyweight champs Rocky Marciano and Sonny Liston.
22
Jun

RATING MARCIANO AND THE ‘SMALL’ HEAVYWEIGHTS

Hi Doug,

First time writer, but longtime reader. Thanks for providing bright spots during the virus-caused boxing drought.

In Friday’s mailbag, discussing cut-prone fighters, you said you didn’t consider Marciano an ATG. And I know some have mistakenly viewed his perfect record as transferable to other eras.

Is your opinion based on potential MMs with naturally bigger greats of more recent times? (e.g.-Ali, Holmes, Lewis, the Klitschkos, etc.)In your view, how does he rate with the smaller greats of yesteryear? (e.g.-Dempsey, Tunney, Johnson, prime Walcott, etc.) I’m kind of considering Joe Louis the ‘cut off’ at a bit over 200. And we know Rocky would not match up with a prime Joe Louis; few would.

While many of us consider Rocky great at 185, we’re glad he retired when he did. A few years later, Liston would seem to be far too much. By the way, where do you rate Sonny? He sure had a wait for his title shot. All the best to you and yours, Doug. – Terry, Warren, Pa.

Sonny Liston. Photo from The Ring archive.

Sadly, Liston peaked a couple of years before receiving his much-deserved shot at the heavyweight title in 1962. Still, he looked invincible scoring back-to-back opening-round blowouts against the undersized and high-strung Floyd Patterson (in ’62 and ’63).

I don’t rate Liston in my all-time top 10 heavyweight champs. However, I do consider him to be one of the most formidable heavyweights of all time. The late, great boxing historian Hank Kaplan once told me that Liston was the best heavyweight he’d ever seen, which is saying something.

I put Liston into a very special category of heavyweights who could have competed with and/or defeated the best big men in history while they were at their peaks. These heavyweight champs don’t rate alongside giants, such as Joe Louis or Muhammad Ali, because their prime years and title reigns were comparatively short. But in my view the prime version of Liston, the monster that terrorized the heavyweight top 10 in 1959 and 1960, would have given Louis, Ali, or any other standout heavyweight between those eras a real fight.

Other heavyweight champs I place in this category, include Joe Frazier (1969-’71), Mike Tyson (1987-’88) and Riddick Bowe (1991-’92). The night Frazier beat Ali March ’71 gives any big man in history hell. Same with the version of Tyson that annihilated Michael Spinks in June ’88, and the version of Bowe that dethroned Evander Holyfield in November ’92. For one night those men were nigh-unbeatable.  

Rocky Marciano

In Friday’s mailbag, discussing cut-prone fighters, you said you didn’t consider Marciano an ATG. No, I don’t. But I’m talking about pound-for-pound all-time greatness, a distinction that three men he defeated – Louis (for his dominance and longevity), Ezzard Charles and Archie Moore (for their body of work at middleweight and light heavyweight) – attained in my opinion. Marciano’s six heavyweight title defenses pale in comparison to Louis’ record title reign, and The Rock did not face the high quality of opposition Charles and Moore did in the lighter weight classes. Still, beating even the faded versions of Louis, Charles, Moore and Jersey Joe Walcott merits Marciano’s inclusion in my personal all-time great heavyweight champ rankings (anywhere from No. 5-8).

Is your opinion based on potential MMs with naturally bigger greats of more recent times? (e.g.-Ali, Holmes, Lewis, the Klitschkos, etc.) Not at all. It’s based on Marciano being a tough, overachiever who took a long time to develop into a world-class fighter. He didn’t face a Ring-rated contender until his 26th pro bout, vs. undefeated Roland LaStarza in March 1950 and he was fortunate to get the decision in that hotly contested 10 rounder. After that scare, it took nine bouts before his management felt confident putting him in with another legit (and Ring-rated) contender (Rex Layne). Trainer Charley Goldman had corrected Rocky’s foundational flaws and polished up his technique enough by then that he was ready for Layne and the faded Louis one bout later. Still, he wouldn’t face back-to-back contenders until he beat Harry Matthews (KO 2) and then beat Walcott (come-from-behind KO 13) for the title in September ’52. Once he had the title, he took on the best, including a savage late stoppage of LaStarza in 1953 and Charles in brutal back-to-back fights in 1954. But by the time he was ready for the best of the division, he was also beginning to break down physically (bad back) and was ready to retire. And he was fighting twice a year after winning the title, something perfectly normal these days, but considered active during the ’50s.

In your view, how does he rate with the smaller greats of yesteryear? (e.g.-Dempsey, Tunney, Johnson, prime Walcott, etc.) Honestly, I think the smaller heavyweights you mentioned would all beat Rocky in their primes. I see Tunney, Johnson and Walcott outpointing Marciano (hell, 38-year-old Jersey Joe almost pulled it off) and Dempsey stopping him on cuts in a wild shootout. I think Dempsey was a more gifted athlete and the harder puncher. However, it’s possible that Marciano’s chin could take Dempsey’s best shots, and my hunch is that Rocky was better suited for going the distance. I can see Marciano grinding Dempsey down to a late stoppage or decision.

I think Marciano makes for very competitive mythical matchups with the other “smaller” heavyweight champs. I think Frazier would stop him late (cuts again) in a sensational battle of attrition, but I favor Marciano’s chin, stamina, workrate and heavy hands vs. Jack Sharkey, Max Schmeling, James Braddock, Floyd Patterson, Ingemar Johansson, Jimmy Ellis and Leon Spinks.

I’m kind of considering Joe Louis the ‘cut off’ at a bit over 200. And we know Rocky would not match up with a prime Joe Louis; few would. Prime Brown Bomber was all wrong for Rocky.

 

CALEB PLANT, MYTHICAL MATCHUPS

Hi Dougie,

I hope you are well. I want to start off by saying I loved your Boxing Life story with Tris Dixon, it was a great listen!

I’d like to know your opinion on Caleb Plant. I, for one, feel he is vastly underrated. I think he has such natural movement and seems very comfortable throwing shots whilst backing up, which I feel is a chink in the armour of many champions in boxing today, not just at 168. He has such a high boxing IQ, can throw to head and body in combinations mixing straight and wide shots and can go 12 rounds, as he proved against Uzcategui. If Caleb was to get a few fights in against good opponents in the next 18 months, would you give him a live chance against Canelo Alvarez in the back end of 2021?

I also have some mythical matchups for you!

Oscar De La Hoya v Terence Crawford @ 147

Gerald McClellan v Saul Alvarez @ 160

Vitali Klitschko v Tyson Fury @ HW

Michael Nunn v Gennadiy Golovkin @ 160

Ike Quartey v Errol Spence @ 147

Terry Norris vs Floyd Mayweather @ 154

All the best. – Jake

Thanks for sharing your thoughts and questions with the mailbag, Jake, and thanks for the kind words on the interview with Dixon.

Your mythical matchups:

Oscar De La Hoya v Terence Crawford @ 147 – De La Hoya by close, maybe split decision.

Gerald McClellan v Saul Alvarez @ 160 – Canelo by late stoppage or close unanimous decision.

Vitali Klitschko v Tyson Fury @ HW – (What other weight could this fight be at?) Big Bro by close unanimous decision.

Michael Nunn v Gennadiy Golovkin @ 160 – Golovkin scores a knockdown to edge the southpaw stick-and-mover by close, maybe majority or split decision.

Ike Quartey v Errol Spence @ 147 – This is a very entertaining, even matchup that ends in a draw.

Terry Norris vs Floyd Mayweather @ 154Terrible Terry by late stoppage or close unanimous decision.

IBF super middleweight titlist Caleb Plant (left) vs. Jose Uzcategui. Photo credit: Ryan Hafey/Premier Boxing Champions

IBF super middleweight titlist Caleb Plant (left) vs. Jose Uzcategui. Photo credit: Ryan Hafey/Premier Boxing Champions

I’d like to know your opinion on Caleb Plant. I like watching him box. He’s very talented, blessed with quick hands as well as fast and nimble feet (which is his real edge in most fights). He’s focused, poised and he knows how to control distance and tempo. I think he’s got a world-class jab and I like how he goes to the body with that left stick. He’s definitely one of the best 168 pounders.

I, for one, feel he is vastly underrated. I don’t know about that. He just won his first world title last January and he’s already No. 2 in The Ring’s super middleweight rankings, behind only champion Callum smith and No. 1-rated David Benavidez. He’s No. 3 in ESPN.com’s and the Transnational Boxing Rankings Board’s 168-pound rankings (again, behind only Smith and Benavidez).

I think he has such natural movement and seems very comfortable throwing shots whilst backing up, which I feel is a chink in the armour of many champions in boxing today, not just at 168. Agreed.

He has such a high boxing IQ, can throw to head and body in combinations mixing straight and wide shots and can go 12 rounds, as he proved against Uzcategui. Plant (who had a solid amateur career) has got ring smarts, slick moves and a deep toolbox; no doubt about it, he’s gonna be a handful for any super middleweight, including the two men ranked above him (Smith and Benavidez). There’s been a lot of talk about a showdown between Plant and Benavidez, which is a tremendous matchup and title unification bout. I hope it happens in the next six to 12 months.

If Caleb was to get a few fights in against good opponents in the next 18 months, would you give him a live chance against Canelo Alvarez in the back end of 2021? I give Plant a shot against any 168 pounder, including Alvarez, but I’d have to favor the vastly more experienced and tested Mexican star in that matchup unless Sweet Hands was to dominate a dangerous fighter like Benavidez or unseat The Ring champ from England. As it stands now, Plant’s only been in with one Ring-rated fighter (Jose Uzcategui) in his 20 pro

Canelo, only 23 years old, digs a body shot to Lara during their 2014 showdown. Photo by Josh Hedges / Getty Images

bouts. Canelo is just two years older than Plant, but he’s got 36 more pro bouts under his belt and he’s been fighting at the world-class level since before the Tennessee native turned pro in 2014. (Alvarez fought Erislandy Lara two months after Plant’s pro debut. Think about that.) Could Plant make up for that deficit in experience in just 18 months? I don’t know. But I do know that Canelo has faced former elite amateurs, fast and mobile boxers, bigger fighters, technicians, pressure fighters, punchers, counterpunchers; regardless of the stature, stance or the style, he’s seen it. Canelo’s got an answer for almost everything. His skill, confidence and experience is a tough combination to beat.

 

THE RING’S HEAVYWEIGHT RANKINGS

Hi Dougie,

I was wondering how you are actually determining the heavyweight ratings and what compelled you to put Dillion Whyte as #2? His last outing vs Mariusz Wach he looked severely overweight, slow, and he got away with more low blows than I’ve ever seen.

Do you agree with this decision? Kind regards. – Nils

I do agree with it, but it wasn’t my decision. It was the consensus choice of The Ring Ratings Panel. Nobody was “compelled to put” Dillian Whyte in the No. 2 spot. It was just the logical decision following the result of the Wilder-Fury rematch. Tyson Fury, who was Ring’s No. 1 contender, going into the February return bout regained The Ring heavyweight title by besting the No. 2-rated heavyweight, Deontay Wilder. Fury left a vacant No. 1 spot when he was elevated to champion status. So, who takes over No. 1? It can’t be Wilder. He got his ass handed to him vs. Fury. Whyte, as you pointed out, looked like deep-fried dog s__t in his last bout. Anthony Joshua, who regained three world titles with his lopsided unanimous decision over Andy Ruiz Jr. in their rematch, was the only heavyweight worthy of the top spot. He’s got victories over Wladimir Klitschko, Alexander Povetkin, Joseph Parker, Ruiz, Whyte, Carlos Takam, Charles Martin and Dominic Breazeale (when those two Americans were unbeaten and Ring rated).

Should Wilder have remained at No. 2? I don’t think so. The only time the Panel votes to have a fighter hold his ranking following a loss is when it was close and controversial (see Gennadiy Golovkin after the Canelo rematch) or when the fighter that lost put up a tremendous fight and almost had the winner out a few times (see Nonito Donarie vs. Naoya Inoue). GGG and the Filipino Flash remained No. 1 following losses. Wilder’s loss was not controversial (despite what a few YouTube Boobs claim) and it was not competitive in the slightest. The American puncher had to drop. He probably would have dipped farther than No. 3 had Luis Ortiz not been at No. 4.

So, Whyte, who is on an 11-bout win streak since his lone pro loss to Joshua was the logical choice to fill the No. 2 slot. Yeah, he

Seems like some fans have a problem with Dillian Whyte’s No. 2 Ring ranking.

was out of shape and sluggish vs. Wach, but he’s also got victories over a former beltholder who is still top 10-rated (Parker), the toughest gatekeeper in the division (Dereck Chisora – twice), a dangerous contender (Oscar Rivas), and a veteran spoiler (Robert Helenius). And before the COVID-19 pandemic cleared the boxing schedule, Whyte was scheduled to face veteran former beltholder and top-10 rated Alexander Povetkin.

I think Whyte is worthy of his Ring ranking.  

 

 

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