by Fox Doucette
Three weeks ago, controversy erupted at the Historical Fight Night Arena in San Dimas, California, as Arturo Gatti defeated Alexis Arguello by 8th-round knockout at junior welterweight. Surely, the fix had to be in. No way could Gatti beat Arguello, the fans claimed. Anyone who’d think otherwise must be mad as a hatter.
The HFN promotional team took notice, and for the first time, we have a rematch scheduled. But this is no ordinary rematch. We’re not rematching the fighters at 140. Instead, we’re pulling the fighters forward in time from an earlier point in their lives; rather than coming from the Micky Ward fight, Arturo Gatti is being brought forward from 1996, when a 23-year-old “Thunder” knocked out Wilson Rodriguez for the IBF junior lightweight title.
Meanwhile, Alexis Arguello gets brought forth at the height of his own powers, namely his first-round slaughter of Diego Alcala when Arguello was 26 years old and, to that point in his career, had scored a KO in better than 80 percent of his wins. Would this version of Arguello fare differently than the older, less powerful man who was nearing the end of his career as a serious title contender? Or would time-travel history repeat itself? The main event seeks to answer the question.
Meanwhile, our co-feature is between two guys for whom the hand of fate cut short not just promising careers, but promising lives. Salvador Sanchez died at the age of 23, just after establishing himself as quite possibly the greatest featherweight of his generation with his knockout win over Azumah Nelson. Meanwhile, his opponent tonight, Edwin Valero, had his life tragically cut short by his own hand as he awaited criminal proceedings in the murder of his wife—did Valero do it? Was some other factor behind his suicide? And what of his boxing career, since at the time of his death the world was clamoring for him to fight Manny Pacquiao (and yes, we will get to that here on Historical Fight Night at some point in the future)?
So many unanswered questions. But for now, there is only one question we seek to answer, and that’s “who would win in a fight?”
As always, these fights are contested using the Unified Rules of the Association of Boxing Commissions and are scheduled for 12 rounds. There is no three-knockdown rule, no standing eight count, only the referee can stop the fight, and the fighter cannot be saved by the bell in any round, including the twelfth and final round.
And now, for the thousands in attendance and the millions watching around the world…Let’s Make History.
Edwin Valero (12/15/2007, 23-0, 23 KOs) vs. Salvador Sanchez (8/21/1981, 41-1-1, 31 KOs)
“If you had a face like mine, you’d punch me right on the nose, and I’m just the fella to do it.” – Stan Laurel
Sanchez moves up four pounds in weight for this fight, since when he was put in the time machine after his eighth-round slaughter of Wilfredo Gomez, he was still a featherweight—indeed, Sanchez fought only four times at junior lightweight in his career, and never for a world title—but as his young life went on, it was clear that there was room on his frame to add weight and move up the scale.
He meets a guy an inch shorter (5’7 for Sanchez, 5’6 for Valero) but with a two-inch longer reach (69 inches to 67), who also happens to be a southpaw. By tale of the tape, this is not a particular mismatch except to note that Valero fought his entire career between junior lightweight and lightweight except for a single fight at featherweight on the hobo circuit in his native Venezuela against an 0-8-1 fighter.
Valero comes forward in time from his three-round domination of Zaid Zavaleta; this will also be, for Valero, a very rare contest in the United States, which frequently gave him licensing problems due to bleeding inside the head due to a motorcycle accident in 2001.
Sanchez came in trying to box; for Valero, his strategy was to swarm his opponent and force the Mexican to respect his power. To let Sanchez carry him into deep water, even in a fight scheduled for 12 rather than 15, would be to play into his opponent’s strengths. Valero had only been even so far as the fourth round twice in his career at the time of the Zavaleta fight; Sanchez had been 15 rounds three times and won two knockouts in the old-school championship rounds twice, once in the 13th and once in the 14th round.
Valero knew that his best shot was to rip combinations from the southpaw stance; Sanchez had, early in his career, fought Juan Escobar, an 8-2 southpaw, to a draw, and in that fight Sanchez had even hit the floor. Against orthodox fighters, he was fine; southpaws could get the better of him.
It was therefore to the surprise of almost nobody when a right hook staggered Sanchez back to the ropes, where Valero squared up and began throwing bombs from every angle, to the head and body, as he had his opponent hurt and looked to move in for the kill. Referee Mitch Halpern (speaking of people whose lives were sadly cut short) refused to step in and stop the fight so soon, and the bell rang with a badly dazed Salvador Sanchez staggering first to the neutral corner before his seconds guided him to the correct stool. This was as ugly a three minutes of boxing as anyone could imagine short of a fighter actually hitting the floor; the press row consensus was that this was a 10-8 round.
Sanchez came out, still without his full strength, looking to tie up his opponent whenever Valero advanced and tried to get inside, but Valero would have none of it, slipping attempts at the clinch in order to be able to work to the body. Valero kept digging the right hook in downstairs, and the punishment left Sanchez in a position where his efforts to tie up progressively got weaker as the round went on.
Finally, two minutes in, Valero got his jab up and over the outstretched arm of Sanchez and held it in place while he kept his left hand free, and it was from there that he pounded the uppercut over and over.
Four…five…six…seven shots in rapid succession without reply crumbled Sanchez to the canvas; this time Halpern stopped the fight without a count. The power of Edwin Valero coupled with the natural size advantage proved decisive, and calls came even louder at the arena for someone to get the 2007 version of Manny Pacquiao into that time machine for a shot at another big-punching southpaw.
RESULT: EDWIN VALERO TKO2 SALVADOR SANCHEZ.
Arturo Gatti (3/23/1996, 25-1, 21 KOs) vs. Alexis Arguello (6/3/1978, 56-4, 47 KOs)
“This guy is slow, my knockout ratio is better than his, I’m faster than him, I’m stronger than him.” – Floyd Mayweather Jr.
Late in his career, Arturo Gatti became more of a tactical fighter, the kind of guy who, against anyone short of Floyd Joy Mayweather, could show you some surprising angles and work off the jab in ways that often caught his opponents during the middle stages of his career off balance.
In his younger days, however, Gatti was a classic brawler with major structural flaws that were exposed first by Ivan Robinson and ultimately by Micky Ward; with all due respect to the man from Lowell, there’s a reason Micky never held a world title.
It is this younger, brasher Gatti who comes into a fight off a third-round clobbering of Wilson Rodriguez. Nobody had yet truly shown him the danger of avoiding a slick boxing style in favor of trying to come forward and do work.
Meanwhile, Alexis Arguello, at the height of his powers, had some of the fastest hands the 130-pound division has ever seen, able to beat guys to the punch and catch them off guard. Something had to give, and…
Arguello knew that he could build a fight plan around not only taking advantage of his size advantage (three inches in height, two in reach) but his ability to use his long, lean body and his hand speed to ensure that Gatti never got close to him.
For Gatti, whose head movement was scarcely better than that of a club fighter, there were shades of a different time machine moment for him—you may as well have put him in the time machine from June 25, 2005, when Floyd Mayweather destroyed him. Arguello landed absolutely at will to the head of Gatti, who was bleeding and swollen almost from the first shot—blood was visible from a cut just below the right eye of Gatti only 30 seconds into the fight. Cutman Joe Souza would have his work cut out for him.
Just what a mismatch prime-vs-prime was compared to “late career champion vs. once-great fighter in decline” became more and more obvious as the round went on, and the CompuBox numbers for Round 1 told the tale. Arguello landed 32 of 50 power shots; Gatti landed only four of 31 total punches, and two of those connects were jabs.
One of the questions asked about Historical Fight Night is “do these fights exist in a vacuum?” The answer to that is “yes, sort of.” The crowd and the press are aware of what has gone on before (so don’t be afraid to leave comments here!), but the fighters themselves get their training camp in “an undisclosed location” (Far future. Holodeck simulation chamber. Memory eraser thingy from the Men in Black movies before they get sent back to their own time. A wizard did it. Don’t ask too many questions. Repeat to yourself, “it’s just a show, I should really just relax.”)
Which is to say that 1978 Arguello doesn’t get to meet 1983 Arguello, and 1996 Gatti doesn’t get to meet his 2002 counterpart either. Neither man is motivated by revenge or belief that “I’ve done it before, I can do it again” or anything of the kind. The commentators are allowed to reference it, but the fighters (and the seconds, and the referee, and the judges) are blissfully ignorant.
All this is ultimately window dressing for the beatdown that continued in the ring. Gatti, visibly stung by the punches coming his way, became progressively less able to find openings to get his own shots off, as he was so frequently beaten to the punch that he lost confidence in his own hand speed. Gatti was lost in there, Arguello continuing to apply pressure and fire absolutely at will, landing a good sixty or seventy percent of his shots.
Another cut opened, this time over the left eye of Gatti, again from a punch, and blood began to flow into the eye and obscure the vision of the defeated-in-all-but-word fighter. Arguello, seeing an opportunity, began to lead with the left hook, distracting the attention of Gatti to his right and leaving things wide open for the straight right hand, which landed repeatedly on that left eye, worsening the cut and swelling the eye to a point where the blood was the least of the issues affecting the vision.
Gatti was nearly blind on one side at this point, and with his vision all but gone, Arguello landed one last combination, a jab followed by a big, looping right hand that caught Gatti right on the temple and sent him down for the count. As referee Richard Steele reached the count of ten, it was clear that Gatti was simply out of his depth against an all-time great junior lightweight at the height of his powers on a night when his punches just seemed to have some extra mustard on them. It was a slaughter.
RESULT: ALEXIS ARGUELLO KO3 ARTURO GATTI.
Our main event features two of the biggest pay-per-view draws ever to fight south of heavyweight, as Oscar De La Hoya, fresh from solving the defense of Pernell Whitaker in 1997, gets in the time machine for another challenge; if Whitaker was his master’s class in fighting a slick boxer, Sugar Ray Leonard will be his Ph.D program. Leonard, for his part, gets in the time machine after finishing off Roberto Duran in the “No Mas” fight.
The co-feature may not be a Canastota classic, but it does promise to be a true action fight, as John “The Beast” Mugabi takes on Fernando Vargas in a 154-pound throwdown between two guys whose fights could be best described as “kill or be killed.” Spoiler alert: It’s probably not going 12 rounds.
We’ll see you Friday, July 3, at 6 PM Eastern, 3 PM Pacific, right here on The Boxing Tribune. Suggestions for future fights and detailed analysis of what I got wrong? Post ’em in the comments!