by Fox Doucette
Tonight, we pose the question “could anyone at all beat Floyd Mayweather Jr. on the best night of his career?” After all, in his 25th pro fight, Floyd beat Diego Corrales so convincingly, putting on such an absolute doctorate-level class in controlling range and outboxing an opponent, that it boggles the mind to consider the notion of any other man in the history of the 130-pound division rising to such a challenge.
Enter Azumah Nelson, who we’re bringing in fresh off his 1992 win over Jeff Fenech in the Ring Magazine’s Upset of the Year, the fight in which Nelson, despite having held the belt for four years at 130 pounds, was nonetheless regarded as the underdog. The Ghanaian fighter turned the bookies’ expectations on their collective ear with a devastating eight-round knockout that cemented Nelson’s legacy among the all-time greats.
The co-feature here involves the short, chopping punches of Alan Minter, who comes in from his rematch with Vito Antuofermo in which Minter beat the Italian into a bloody pulp en route to an eight-round stoppage, against the wide, looping, low-accuracy, high-damage haymakers of Sumbu Kalambay, who comes in after clobbering Doug DeWitt over the course of seven rounds. Kalambay’s knockout percentage wasn’t exactly going to scare the world (33 KOs in 57 wins), but anyone who got caught flush by one of his shots was pretty well bound to have a bad time of it.
From the Historical Fight Night Arena Presented By You, If You Donate On Patreon, in San Dimas, California, these fights are scheduled for 12 rounds using the Unified Rules of the Association of Boxing Commissions. Scoring is on the 10-point must system, there is no three knockdown rule, no standing eight count, only the referee can stop the fight, and a fighter cannot be saved by the bell in any round including the twelfth and final round.
Now, for the thousands in attendance and the millions watching from around the world…
Let’s Make History.
Sumbu Kalambay (11/8/1988, 46-3-1, 26 KOs) vs. Alan Minter (6/28/1980, 38-6, 23 KOs)
It’s interesting to note that each of these guys lost their next fight by knockout. Kalambay got destroyed in one round by Michael Nunn; Minter got wrecked by Marvin Hagler in three, a stoppage on cuts that was nevertheless pre-ordained considering Hagler’s massive advantage in punching power.
The more intriguing portion of this fight comes from Minter’s tendency to throw much tighter shots. Kalambay knocked out DeWitt on a lead uppercut, a punch he’d missed repeatedly throughout the previous seven rounds, and a great illustration of the dangers of leading with the left hand to throw power shots. Minter is a southpaw; Kalambay risks getting caught with a much tighter right hand counter than he would otherwise face from an orthodox fighter.
Minter and Kalambay are the same height; the Zaire-born Italian enjoys a one-inch reach over the Englishman. Range is not the point of issue here.
That said, Minter’s fight plan was to fight small, using the shorter range of his punches and the over-aggressive moves of his opponent as a means to decide upon a distance. Kalambay needed to stay on the outside in order to get full power on those wide shots, and Minter knew it.
Kalambay would, on occasion, lead with his uppercut, trying to land the big shot while he closed distance to try and bring one of those sweeping hooks in behind the guard of Minter, but Minter was having none of it. Such a wide shot, a true uppercut rather than an up-jab with the lead hand, was wide open for the tight lead southpaw hook, and Minter landed it absolutely at will.
Kalambay, forced onto the back foot, retreated against the pressure, and the rout was on. Minter would go on to control the distance and land a devastating series of power shots that dropped Kalambay in the second, fourth, and fifth rounds; after five, Minter was up on the consensus press-row scorecard 50-42. It’s not often a fighter knows after the fifth round that he needs a knockout, but Kalambay was that far up against it.
Minter went in looking for the kill, trying to bait Kalambay into throwing one of those looping shots so he could land the counter and finish the job.
Trouble was, he misjudged the distance on a counter right hook, and Kalambay, who had led with the left, brought a crushing right hand right on the jaw of Alan Minter. Referee Mills Lane began the count, and as he called out “Eight! Nine!” Minter rose, as the phoenix of legend, barely beating the stoppage and allowing the fight to continue. Kalambay’s effort to turn his fortune on one miracle punch had failed, but only just; Minter would surely have to respect Kalambay’s power now.
The round ended, six rounds in the book and six points’ difference on the scorecard. This was less about divine intervention now and more simply of trying to outfight a guy who’d been getting the better of him all night.
After a minute on the stool and a stern talking-to about keeping his punches tight from his trainer, Minter came back out for Round 7 refreshed and ready to resume his exhibition of counter punching that had so marked the first five rounds of the fight.
Halfway through the seventh, it was academic. Kalambay threw a sweeping right cross, the same punch that had worked to such effect in round 6, but this time Minter saw it coming, ducked back just enough for the punch to whiz by, and before Kalambay could reset himself, Minter uncorked a straight left hand right to the face of his opponent, and Sumbu Kalambay went down like he’d been shot.
Mills Lane didn’t even start the count. His top priority was seeing that Kalambay made it back to his own timeline in one piece, and he waved off the contest at one minute, forty seconds of the seventh round, for your winner, by knockout…
RESULT: MINTER KO7 KALAMBAY.
Floyd Mayweather Jr. (1/20/2001, 25-0, 19 KOs) vs. Azumah Nelson (3/1/1992, 35-2-1, 26 KOs)
Mayweather comes into this fight three inches taller (5’8 vs. 5’5), with a four-inch reach advantage (72 inches to 68), nine years younger (23 vs. 32), and as a guy who was still yet to transition into what looks these days like a natural welterweight frame if not junior middleweight. You know who else was an entertaining pressure fighter who ran into trouble when he tried to close distance with Floyd and who, in fact, is right around Azumah Nelson’s size? Manny Pacquiao (5’5, 67.5 inch reach), that’s who.
After controlling range so effectively against Diego Corrales, who had three inches in height on Floyd (but a two-inch shorter reach, curiously), this must have looked like child’s play.
Floyd had a fight plan here right out of that Corrales fight; he was going to keep his lead hand right in the face of Nelson at all times, although this time he used that left jab more the way Wladimir Klitschko uses it against smaller heavyweights than the way he used it against Corrales.
Nelson never got the chance to get started. He’d come forward looking to close distance behind his jab and get beaten to the punch. He’d try to weave his way in and Floyd would sidestep and duck out before Nelson got set to punch. He’d bull-rush and get clinched. He even came in with a looping left hook hoping to drop it on the chin of Mayweather, only to find a straight right hand put right in his grill, staggering him and nearly dropping him in the first round. Mayweather wasn’t quite as interested in putting the jab into the body the way he was against the taller Corrales, but the principle of using the lead hand to confound and annoy an opponent into being willing but unable to open up the action was on display here and defined the opening stanza.
In his younger, lighter, and faster days, Floyd got the straight right to the target a lot more readily than he does at welterweight, and in the second round, Floyd used the jab to bait Nelson into trying to come forward. He’d throw it out there like a snake sticking out its tongue in the breeze, then drop that left hand just slightly enough to convince Nelson he had an opening before—bang!—right hand up top. Nelson fell for it about four times in a thirty-second stretch, and Floyd won the mind game. On Nelson’s next advance, Floyd dropped the left a touch after pulling back the jab, and Nelson, thinking to avoid getting caught and set up a counter, feinted with the left, but telegraphed it just a little too much, his fear of getting a face full of straight right again just a touch too obvious. Floyd brought in the left hook, threw a straight right behind it after it landed flush, and Mills Lane got to the count of six before Nelson rose, shook off the cobwebs over the remaining two seconds of the count, and set about resuming his course.
For his next trick, Mayweather played a little cat and mouse game, reducing his punch output but establishing with every attack that came at him that one of two things was going to happen. Either Azumah Nelson was going to swing, miss, and get hit with a right hand to the face for his trouble, or Mayweather wasn’t even going to wait for the miss before firing back and getting the winner’s share of the exchange. With thirty seconds left in the round, Mayweather countered Nelson’s advance with a straight right that beat a tentative lead left hook, followed it with a left hook of his own, then threw a doubled-up hook for the third punch of yet another knockdown combination. Again Lane counted; again Nelson rose; again Mayweather enjoyed the benefit of the mind game he was winning going away.
KO percentages aside, Floyd was never one to take needless risk even early in his career, and for nine rounds, his beaten opponent, unable to muster the fortitude to throw for subconscious fear of what was coming back, was hesitant enough that apart from a few jabs and maybe a spirited-but-ultimately-half-hearted flurry, Mayweather was (to steal a line from Teddy Atlas) the dog, and Nelson was the cat, and the dog is gonna eat the cat.
Canine carnivorous cat conjecture aside, the main thrust of Teddy’s argument in this case was sound. Mayweather in his prime could just break a guy with that relentless use of the lead hand from angles that nobody would expect a lead left to come from, and while the punch output decreased round by round, the fight audience knew they’d seen this story before, and recently. This was, to all reasonable observers, both fore- and hindsight (depending on one’s temporal perspective in this tale) for the Manny Pacquiao fight, and it went even worse for Nelson. At least Pacquiao won a couple of rounds.
When the scores were announced at the end of twelve, all three judges had it the same, 120 to 106, for your winner, by unanimous decision…
RESULT: MAYWEATHER JR. UD12 NELSON.
Bit of a mismatch problem lately, huh? No matter. We’ll fix that but quick. Bob Foster is back in the ring at 175, and after a close unanimous decision win over Roy Jones Jr., this time we’re putting him in against Bernard Hopkins, another repeat offender on this show, who got the short end of a split decision against Marvin Hagler at middleweight in episode five.
Your co-feature? How’s about two contemporaries who never quite found themselves at the same weight at the same time? We’ve got a junior featherweight scrap between Erik Morales and Israel Vazquez for your reading pleasure.
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Until next week, 3 PM Pacific, 6 PM Eastern, Friday, September 4th, this is Historical Fight Night, signing off. Thanks for reading!