Try, try again…and again: Most unsuccessful attempts at a world title
Try as they might, some very high-quality fighters aren’t quite able to get over the hump and win a world title.
They’re excellent professionals who are often able to run the best in their respective weight classes very close but can’t quite beat them. A strong showing often leads to another opportunity and so on.
One only needs think back to Oba Carr in the 1990s. The Detroit native was an excellent amateur and was tabbed for future success as a professional.
However, Carr ran into a murders row of tough opposition. He lost in three world title attempts, against Felix Trinidad (TKO 8), Ike Quartey (MD 12) and Oscar De La Hoya (TKO 11), by which time he was worn down to the nub and was never able to achieve what many predicted for him.
There are a handful of men who have had more opportunities than Carr.
On Friday, Martin Murray (pictured above) will make his fifth attempt at a world title when he challenges WBO super middleweight titleholder Billy Joe Saunders.
Saunders meets Murray on Dec. 4; this represents another opportunity for Murray to get over the proverbial hump.
Murray’s not the only one, there are in fact several others who try as they might can’t quite win world titles, no matter how many shots they get. Here we look at fighters who have been give multiple title opportunities.
6 Unsuccessful title shots
strawweight and junior flyweight 0-5-1
Once upon a time, Buitrago was being championed by his Nicaraguan countrymen as the next Chocolatito. This far, he’s been unable to reach that lofty status. He’s toiled in and around the top 10 in the lightest two weight classes, and when given world title opportunities he’s usually given a good account of himself. However, he came up short against Merlito Sabillo (D 12) in November 2013 and against Knockout CP Freshmart October 2014 (UD 12) and February 2016 (UD 12) in strawweight title fights [Editor’s Note: The two fights with Freshmart were interim title fights.] Buitrago stepped to junior flyweight and was stopped by Hiroto Kyoguchi (TKO 8) in December 2017 and Angel Acosta (TKO 12) in June 2018 but recently went the distance against Elwin Soto (UD 12) in October 2020.
5 Unsuccessful title shots
flyweight and featherweight 0-5
The excellent Japanese fighter lost to Pone Kingpetch (SD 15) at flyweight in June 1961. He jumped to featherweight and was stopped by Sugar Ramos (TKO 6) in March 1964. He gave Vicente Saldivar a tough first fight (UD 15) in 1966 but was well beaten in the return the following year (TKO 7). When the Mexican retired Seki was matched with another perennial contender Howard Winstone and stopped on cuts (TKO 9) in January 1968. Seki retired, at just 26, and never fought again.
junior lightweight 0-4-1
The usually durable Venezuelan was stopped by WBC 130-pound titleholder Alexis Arguello (TKO 8) in March 1975. Just six-months later he held WBA ruler Alfredo Escalera to a draw over 15 rounds. Escalera’s fellow Puerto Rican Samuel Serrano had picked up the WBA title and twice outboxed Hernandez to win unanimous decisions in June 1977 and June 1981. In between the Serrano fights, Hernandez went to Japan and narrowly lost to WBA titlist Yasutsune Uehara (SD 15) in November 1980.
light heavyweight and cruiserweight 0-5
The rugged Mexican ran WBC 175-pound titlist John Conteh (UD 15) close in Denmark in October 1976. Lopez gave Victor Galindez all sorts of trouble in two WBA title fights, narrowly losing 15 round unanimous decisions on each occasion in Italy in September 1977 and May 1978. Matthew Saad Muhammad was able to outlast Lopez (TKO 14) in a terrific action-packed contest in July 1980. The fight, a rematch, garnered Ring Fight of The Year. Lopez stepped up to cruiserweight and was well past his prime when he was easily beaten by WBC holder Carlos De Leon (TKO 4) in September 1983.
welterweight and junior middleweight 0-5
Cardona was widely outpointed by WBC 147-pound titlist Pernell Whitaker (UD 12) in April 1994. However, he was able to quickly secure a WBO 154-pound title opportunity against Verno Phillips. The closeness of their first meeting (UD 12) in November 1994, led to a rematch (SD 12) in February 1995. The competitive nature of those fights earned him a shot at the vacant WBO crown, but he was stopped by Bronko McKart (TKO 9) in March 1996. The Puerto Rican dropped back to 147-pounds and gave a good account of himself though he ultimately lost to WBO beltholder Akhmad Kotiev (UD 12) in November 1998.
featherweight and junior lightweight 0-5-1
Juarez represented America at the 2000 Olympics and claimed silver. Much was expected of him as a professional. Juarez was due to face In Jin Chi for the WBC title but two weeks before the fight he was injured and instead Juarez faced wily campaigner Humberto Soto for the Interim WBC 126-pound strap, dropping a close but unanimous decision in August 2005. He lost a controversial decision to WBO 130-pound titleholder Marco Antonio Barrera (SD 12) in May 2006. The two met in a rematch in September 2006 and Barrera edged matters to win a unanimous decision. After Barrera lost to Juan Manuel Marquez, Juarez was selected to face Marquez and was widely outpointed (UD 12) in November 2007. The snake-bitten Texan dropped back to featherweight for a two-fight series with WBA titlist Chris John (D 12/ UD 12) in February and September 2009. Click here to learn more about Juarez. Click here, and you can read what Juarez had to say about some of these fights.
4 Unsuccessful title shots
junior welterweight 0-4
Henrique showed considerable promise with the only blemish on his record a draw against former 140-pound champion Eddie Perkins. However, he was unable to get defensive wizard Nicolino Locche (UD 15) in a WBA title fight, WBC counterpart Bruno Arcari (UD 15/ KO 12) and WBC titlist Perico Fernandez (KO 9) in his four-world title attempts in the late 1960s-1970s. Henrique never lost in Brazil, all four of his title loses came overseas.
Muniz was a very good amateur, who represented America at the 1968 Olympics. As a professional, Muniz’ road to the title was a difficult one. He suffered some learning-curve losses along the way, but by 1975 he had found his stride and challenged unified champion Jose Napoles, giving the legendary Cuban all he could handle in two excellent tussles (TD 12/ UD 15) in 1975. He put up another really good effort against WBC beltholder Carlos Palomino (TKO 15) in January 1977. Palomino also defeated him in a rematch (UD 15) in May 1978. Read this story and learn which of his foes Muniz believes had the best overall skills.
junior flyweight and flyweight 0-4
Vargas was able to give WBC flyweight king Miguel Canto (UD 15/ UD 15) two hard fought fights in 1977. He was stopped by WBA 112-pound titlist Betulio Gonzalez (TKO 12) in November 1978. In one final effort the Chile-born fighter dropped down to junior flyweight, where he was stopped by WBA incumbent Yoko Gushiken (KO 8) in June 1980.
featherweight and junior lightweight 0-4
The Texan gave WBC 130-pound titleholder Alexis Arguello all he could handle before the Nicaraguan great rallied to stop him in 11 rounds in January 1980. Castillo dropped to featherweight and put up another strong showing, losing a hard-fought encounter to WBC titleholder Salvador Sanchez (UD 15) in April 1980. As Castillo showed signs of wear and tear, he was outpointed by WBC featherweight titlist Juan Laporte (UD 12) in February 1983 and then stopped by a rising WBC titlist Julio Cesar Chavez (TKO 6) in April 1985.
junior lightweight and lightweight 0-4
As a teenager, Martinez challenged Julio Cesar Chavez for the vacant WBC 130-pound title and was stopped in eight-rounds in September 1984. Later in the decade he twice gave Azumah Nelson (SD 12/ TKO 12) difficult title defenses. In his final attempt at a world title “Azabache” stepped up to lightweight and was widely outpointed by WBO titlist Dingaan Thobela (UD 12) in March 1991.
Juan Carlos Gimenez
super middleweight 0-4
Gimenez learned his trade on the notoriously tough South American circuit. He claimed the South American light heavyweight title in the early 1980s and stayed active largely in his own continent. A biggest opportunity came against Roberto Duran (UD 10) in September 1987, but he was outpointed. Giminez won his next 11 fights and was finally rewarded with a shot at Mauro Galvano’s WBC 168-pound title, in Italy, in February 1992. Despite a good effort, he lost a 12-round unanimous decision. He also lost against WBO 168-pound titlist Chris Eubank (UD 12) and WBC counterpart Nigel Benn (UD 12) in the early to mid-1990s in England. The seasoned Paraguayan made one final attempt at a world title but was stopped for the first time in his career by WBO ruler Joe Calzaghe (RTD 9) in April 1998.
flyweight, junior bantamweight and bantamweight 0-4
Johnson was a decorated amateur, who represented America at the 1988 Olympics. He retired from boxing but re-considered, and turned professional in May of 1992. After just 20-months as a pro, in his ninth fight, he took on IBF 112-pound titleholder Pichit Sithbangprachet in Thailand. Despite an excellent performance on Jan. 23, 1994, he dropped a 12-round unanimous decision. The following summer, Johnson dropped a majority decision against WBO 115-pound titleholder Johnny Tapia (MD 12). Johnson dropped back to flyweight and earned a third title shot, this time against IBF titlist Mark Johnson, who stopped the weight drained St. Louis resident in one round in February 1998. Johnson moved up to bantamweight where he was widely outpointed by Tim Austin (UD 12) in August 2000.
Joel Luna Zarate
junior bantamweight 0-3-1
After 23 straight wins, Zarate challenged fellow Mexican Julio Cesar Borboa for the IBF title and dropped a spirited unanimous decision in May 1993. He worked his way toward a shot at WBC kingpin Gerry Penalosa in April 1998, however, their fight ended early due to a head clash that rendered the contest a technical draw in the second round. The following year, Zarate traveled to Seoul, South Korea to face Penalosa’s conqueror In Joo Cho and lost a 12-round majority decision. Lastly, Zarate ventured to Nicaragua and made one final attempt, losing to Adonis Rivas (UD 12) in September 2000.
middleweight, super middleweight 0-4
Tate made his way through the ranks before facing big-punching WBC 160-pound beltholder Julian Jackson in August 1992. Tate was on the canvas in the fourth round but lasted the distance; he lost a 12-round unanimous decision. Tate was stopped by the otherworldly IBF kingpin Roy Jones Jr. (TKO 2) in May 1994.The Houston based fighter moved up to super middleweight and was unable to defeat IBF titlist Sven Ottke (TD 11) in September 1999 and (UD 12) in June 2002. See what Ottke thought of Tate’s game here.
junior lightweight and lightweight 0-4
This tough American worked his way up and was stopped by a prime Shane Mosley (TKO 8) in an IBF lightweight title tilt in April 1999. He dropped to 130 pounds and gave IBF beltholder Diego Corrales (UD 12) a solid night’s work in December 1999. Brown met compatriot Steve Forbes for the vacant IBF 130-pound title. He was ahead on two of the scorecards after seven rounds but was cut inside his ear and the fight was stopped in December 2000. In the rematch, Forbes (UD 12) kept his title, in September 2001.
Golota was twice disqualified for low blows against Riddick Bowe. However, his stock went up in losing efforts and he met WBC titleholder Lennox Lewis in October 1997. The Pole froze and was stopped in one round. It took Golota seven-years but he was able to put forth a sterling effort against IBF titlist Chris Byrd (D 12) in April 2004. He dropped WBA titlist John Ruiz twice but was unable to get the win and lost a close but unanimous decision in November 2004. Golota was stopped by WBO beltholder Lamon Brewster (TKO 1) in his final title attempt in May 2005.
junior bantamweight 0-4
Navarro was a 2000 U.S Olympian. He turned professional the following year and won 21 fights to earn a shot at WBC 115-pound titlist Katsushige Kawashima, in Japan, in January 2005. Navarro appeared to do enough to win, however, two of the three judges scored in favor of the home fighter. A year later, Navarro returned to Japan to face Kawashima’s conqueror Masamori Tokuyama, who outboxed him and won a unanimous decision. Unperturbed, Navarro fought his way back into contention and ventured to Russia to face Dmitri Kirilov for the vacant IBF title in October 2007. A third-round knockdown proved pivotal and Navarro lost a unanimous decision. In one final attempt, he lost a split decision to WBC titleholder Cristian Mijares, in Las Vegas, in February 2008.
middleweight and super middleweight 0-3-1
Murray had won British and Commonwealth middleweight titles when he was surprisingly offered a shot at WBA titleholder Felix Sturm in Germany in December 2011. Many people thought Murray deserved the win but he had to settle for a draw. He was able to parlay that into a fight with WBC champion Sergio Martinez in Argentina. Although Murray enjoyed his successes, he was unable to unseat the defending champion (UD 12). The Brit also challenged WBA titlist Gennadiy Golovkin (TKO 11) in February 2005 and WBO 168-pound titleholder Arthur Abraham (SD 12) in November 2015. Friday night, he tries once again to take home a strap.
junior bantamweight 0-3-1
The Mexican was stopped by wily WBO titlist Omar Narvaez (TKO 7) in December 2013. Narvaez conqueror Naoya Inoue was sidelined through injury and Carmona was matched with Warlito Parrenas (D 12) for the Interim WBO title in July 2015. When Inoue returned, he kept his title (UD 12) in March 2017. Most recently, Carmona was stopped by WBA titleholder Kal Yafai (RTD 7) in May 2018.
Bob Yalen helped compile this article. The Ring appreciates his contribution.