by Fox Doucette
If you’re reading this, you’re probably well enough familiar with the Historical Fight Night series here on the Tribune. If the comments sections are anything to go by though, I think some folks aren’t completely clear about what HFN is. For others who may be curious about how the sausage is made, this article is for you.
So what is Historical Fight Night?
Historical Fight Night was spun off from my What If series (which runs on Tuesdays and is more story driven), when I noticed that a lot of folks on social media enjoyed my fight write-ups during the Excellent Heavyweight Adventure series. It was also a replacement for the old ESPN Friday Night Fights recaps after FNF went off the air in favor of the new PBC on ESPN series.
For as long as there have been boxing fans across eras, there have been questions of who would beat whom in a prime-vs-prime fight. Whether it’s Sugar Ray Leonard vs. Oscar De La Hoya, Bob Foster vs. Roy Jones, Sonny Liston vs. Mike Tyson…folks love a good debate between old and new. The best of those old matchups go down every Friday right here on the Tribune.
Research and Method
For each week’s HFN episode, I go through about 10 hours’ worth of old fight footage from all four fighters in the main event and co-feature, watching them not only in the fight in which they “went into the time machine” (usually a fight of major importance to their career, like when they seized a title belt or won a Fight of the Year-level fight) but in a couple of other fights at the same weight to get a sense not only of their unique style but of their ability to throw and take a punch at that specific weight. Roberto Duran was a different fighter at lightweight against Esteban de Jesus in 1974 than he was at middleweight against Iran Barkley in 1989, or when Thomas Hearns knocked him out in two rounds in ’84.
I’ll also occasionally watch a fighter’s worst losses, especially if they came against a guy with a similar style to the one they’re facing on fight night. If a guy is a counter puncher from the classic era, and he’s facing someone who lost to Floyd Mayweather and Juan Manuel Marquez, watching the Mayweather and Marquez fights will help me to see why the guy couldn’t beat counter punchers. Does he not have fast enough hands? Can he be walked into shots? Or does he have a glass jaw and go down easily from punches thrown at odd angles?
Put simply, there is always a reason, backed up by actual in-ring evidence from an actual fight, why a fighter is winning or losing on any given night.
Of course, if the fighters are incredibly well-matched, that’s usually where you see split decisions.
Remember, the first goal is to tell a good story.
Think about professional wrestling. Their “sports entertainment” involves an athletic “contest” where the result is predetermined, but fans love it because through move and counter-move, the wrestlers work together to create a great show.
In the same vein, I’m trying to create that move and counter-move in a good boxing match, all within the styles of the fighters themselves. I want the fan reading to be able to imagine everything that’s going on during the fight and see it in their head as they’re reading it on the screen.
I also don’t like to get too predictable. As in actual boxing, some fights are blowout mismatches that looked good on paper, some are “it was fun while it lasted” early-stoppage brawls (think Hagler-Hearns), some are just the systematic breaking down of an opponent over multiple rounds before delivering the killing blow or even carrying the opponent the full distance. Good examples of that last are the Duran-Monzon fight on HFN, the Muhammad Ali-Ernie Terrell fight, and a scrap from ESPN Friday Night Fights between Sebastian Andres Lujan and Mark Jason Melligen that is well worth finding on YouTube.
The point is that you never know what you’re going to get, and that’s part of the fun. If this were just “who would beat whom”, I’d run it through Title Bout or some other boxing simulator 10,000 times and average the results. Sometimes crazy things are going to happen.
Speaking of crazy things, sometimes crazy things are going to happen on purpose. Micky Ward’s knockout of Aaron Pryor comes to mind. I lifted it directly from Ward’s fight with Alfonso Sanchez and trusted the reader to make the connection, all while framing it in-narrative as “yes, this is absurd, roll with it.” Whether you think it worked is a matter of opinion, but the comments were generally people laughing and appreciating the joke. Of course Aaron Pryor eats Micky Ward’s lunch every day and twice on Sunday. That’s exactly why the gag worked.
I love a good shout-out, and people who know their boxing history can often catch the reference.
Sometimes I’ll beat someone over the head with it (Duran using the “no mas” phrase—and I will defend that to my last day, since Duran was broken down by Monzon in that fight the same way Leonard broke him down), other times I’ll throw in a “that took me a second” moment (the Ward-Sanchez reference), and still more times I’ll lift a round from a completely unrelated fight and use it as the context for a Round of the Year-type three minutes between two completely different fighters (I’ve done this so far with Ward-Gatti I Round 9, Corrales-Castillo Round 10, and Hagler-Hearns Round 1.)
Part of the “game within a game” of enjoying this show fully is to look for those references and see how I put them into context.
Hopefully this gives you guys a good look into the mindset behind Historical Fight Night. If you want to know more about how I crafted fights in particular, a new blog is launching this Friday on Patreon as a reward for the show’s supporters; I’ll be breaking down just how I got to the result in every fight every week. Donors on the Up-And-Comer level or higher get access; it’s a great way to support the show and get some extra content for the money.
Thanks for reading, and enjoy the fights!