by Fox Doucette
It’s Go Big Or Go Home time on Historical Fight Night, and we’re not even charging you a hundred bucks for a pay-per-view (although hey, you want to give us a hundred bucks, I’ll name the damn stadium after you, so there’s that.) Not only do we have Floyd Mayweather Jr., coming to you live via time machine from the absolute smackdown he gave Ricky Hatton in 2007, taking on Sugar Ray Leonard, who comes in off of the “No Mas” beatdown he gave Roberto Duran to avenge his first professional loss…
…but we’ve also got Manny Pacquiao! Truly, dogs are lying down with cats, the dead are rising from the grave, it’s the end of the world and there might just be a giant marshmallow dude sighted in the area. Pacquiao, fresh off his dismantling of Marco Antonio Barrera for the lineal featherweight championship of the world in 2003, takes on Salvador Sanchez, who comes in from his first fight with Danny Lopez, a thirteen-round TKO that earned Sanchez the WBC’s version of the featherweight title (the WBA titlist, Eusebio Pedroza, never fought Sanchez, and we certainly might get there in a future episode) scarcely a week after his 21st birthday.
Join together in 21st century boxing rivalry and come along on the magic carpet ride into boxing history as we put on the biggest card we’ve done so far.
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.
Manny Pacquiao (11/15/2003, 38-2-1, 29 KOs) vs. Salvador Sanchez (2/2/1980, 34-1-1, 28 KOs)
Before this fight was announced, pundits were wondering just what we’d get for a co-feature in this week’s extravaganza. The Temporal Commission was quiet on the subject, only saying that “what you get will blow your mind, we’re just working on getting the time machine in and out without incident.”
What could they possibly mean by that? Fishing Joe Louis out of World War II? Shooting down Max Schmeling’s plane over Crete and getting him in a daring commando raid in 1941? Breaking up a fight between Arturo Gatti and his wife?
Turns out, the “incident” wasn’t in the past but in the present, as both Mayweather and Leonard complained that the promoters were trying to upstage them with the co-feature. Hold on to your butts, folks—this is the version of Manny Pacquiao that beat the snot out of Marco Antonio Barrera for the Ring Magazine featherweight title taking on a version of Salvador Sanchez who landed a crushing overhand right so effortlessly that even when he lunged forward to throw it, it landed on the face of Danny Lopez like a jab on steroids.
Then again, the steroid accusations were more often leveled at the other guy in this fight, and then only after he got to welterweight—this is a lean and hungry young Pacquiao in this ring.
And boy howdy, did the audience ever quickly figure out what they were getting. Pacquiao, wasting no time, led off the fight with a three-punch combination that caught Sanchez off guard, a jab-hook-cross that showed off young Pacquiao’s hand speed and power in one fell swoop. Sanchez backed up, raised his hands up to protect against a further barrage, and let Pacquiao try again, this time with an ineffective hook-cross combination, and when Pac finished punching, Sanchez greeted his enthusiasm with the first big overhand right of the fight, the so-called “southpaw killer”, and caught the Filipino fighter smack on the kisser.
This time it was Pacquiao’s turn to retreat, but Sanchez chased him back, jabbing and pressing forward, until he had Pacquiao with his back to the ropes. Sanchez shortened up his left, throwing hook-overhand right combinations, leading referee Steve Smoger to take a closer look to make sure Pacquiao wasn’t getting too badly battered in there.
Sanchez slowed down after three of his shots did not land clean; Pacquiao, given his moment to come out of the defensive posture, went back on the attack, catching Sanchez with one honey of a straight left before bringing the southpaw right hook in right behind it.
Sanchez was on spaghetti legs as the round ticked down past the two minute mark and into the final sixty seconds, and Pacquiao, smelling blood, nailed Sanchez with another straight left, another right hook, and a winging left that didn’t seem to know whether it was a cross or an uppercut but damn near lifted Sanchez right off his feet before depositing the Mexican flat on his ass.
Smoger reached the count of five; Sanchez rose, took the rest of the eight count, and went straight into survival mode as Pacquiao went in for the kill. When the bell sounded, the crowd erupted, delighted at what they had just seen.
Pacquiao wasn’t done. Sensing that he had his opponent right where he wanted him, he charged forward, preparing to throw an overhand left that may just set up the killing blow.
Trouble was, he walked right into an overhead right from Sanchez, and now caught flush, it was the Mexican’s turn to dish the damage. A brutal flurry of punches, power shots all, a left hook, a right cross, an uppercut, another overhand right, two mirror-image looping shots, two jabs, and a partridge in a pear tree sent Pacquiao onto the floor, his turn having arrived to take the count from Double S.
Pacquiao got up, and the 18-foot ring turned into a phone booth as the two men, each cognizant that they could hurt and be hurt by the other, started trading shots in the center of the ring, a show of brutality that turned into a pure contest of will to see who had the ability to seize the upper hand. To hell with the jab; to hell with defense. This was two guys winging shots, one trying to regain the advantage, the other trying to swing the fight perhaps permanently in his favor.
Finally, another overhand right hit home, and once again Manny Pacquiao was the one facing the count.
As Smoger cleaned Manny’s gloves after the eight count, the bell sounded, the crowd whipped into an even greater frenzy.
Pacquiao, knowing that he could not overpower Sanchez, backed off, fighting…if not defensively, then without the reckless aggression he had displayed when he thought he could do to Sanchez what he had done to Barrera and in less time besides. The strategy served him well enough; Sanchez, who came in behind the lunging overhand right looking to land the shot and tee off, walked into enough jabs and right hooks to convince him that the fight would not be as simple as turning it into a brawl.
For three rounds the fighters engaged in a tactical battle, each catching the other with a counter or a well-placed lead from time to time, each fighting a certain amount of their own restraint in hopes of outlasting the other into the late rounds.
Sanchez, seeing that he had the most success off the counter, began to bait Pacquiao, hoping to feint him out of position and using the lead left hook to do the job. Pacquiao, meanwhile, tried to get the southpaw jab over the top, but it was Sanchez’s range to control, getting off first and scoring when Pacquiao opened up.
Sanchez backed up two steps, daring Pacquiao to follow him, and when Manny took the bait, we had our fourth knockdown of the fight, again on a perfectly placed overhand right from Salvador Sanchez. Manny went down face-first; unlike in a certain other case where Pacquiao had been deposited upon his face by a counter shot, however, this time he rose at the count of nine, barely beating the referee’s march toward doomsday.
Sanchez went in for the kill. Three times he had overpowered the Filipino fighter; a fourth may prove decisive. Trouble was, in opening up, Sanchez left himself exposed, his wide shots at the same time missing and leaving his chin a tempting target; Pacquiao, setting his feet, blocking the first two wide shots, gave Sanchez a barely-perceptible shove, and when the Mexican set his feet to throw another punch, he found an uppercut headed right down Broadway that caught him square on the chin and crumpled him on the canvas in a heap.
This time it was Sanchez’s turn to desperately attempt to beat the count, and even though he had to steady himself on the ropes while Smoger marched through the middle portion of the trip to ten, by the time Double S yelled “eight”, Sanchez was, if not recovered, at least not glassy-eyed and in a position where it would have done the referee good to stop the action.
Pacquiao, rather than pursue his prey, let the remaining 20 seconds tick down, seemingly having bought himself his own recovery time; as the bell rang for the midpoint of the fight, it remained only for those in attendance to wonder just how much more either man could take.
What happens when an orthodox fighter and a southpaw come forward at the same time and try to establish the front foot? If you guessed “feet get tangled, fighters stumble around, and heads clash”, give yourself a cookie.
A monster of a cut opened up over the right eye of Pacquiao, likely the result of the scar tissue he’d sustained in a 2000 fight against Agapito Sanchez at junior featherweight, incidentally a fight Pacquiao would have lost but for the two points deducted for low blows from his opponent in that contest.
Bashed and bloody, Pacquiao came forward, wanting nothing left to chance, and poured on the punches, trying to get another knockdown or perhaps even a KO in hopes of avoiding a trip to the cards where his advantage was by no means assured. A fighter who knows he’s behind fights quite differently from one who believes he has the matter to hand, and the seed was planted for a patient Sanchez to let his opponent’s desperation work against him.
What’s more, a guy who can’t see out his right eye has a nasty habit of failing to pick up counter left hooks, and…
Sanchez had done it again. Manny Pacquiao’s greatest weakness was always the counter punch, and while Sanchez was hardly Juan Manuel Marquez or Floyd Mayweather, the simple fact remained that in the heart of every true Mexican fighter flows the blood of the active defense.
Sanchez spent the rest of the eighth round attacking the cut with the jab, and Pacquiao, despite his best efforts to protest and despite the furious arguments advanced by trainer Freddie Roach, had to yield to the professional opinion of the ringside doctor. With eight rounds complete, we go to the judges’ scorecards.
Judge Harold Lederman sees the bout 75-73, and judges Glenn Trowbridge and Dave Moretti have it 76-72, all for your winner, by unanimous decision…
RESULT: SANCHEZ W-TD8 PACQUIAO.
Floyd Mayweather Jr. (12/8/2007, 39-0, 25 KOs) vs. Sugar Ray Leonard (11/25/1980, 28-1, 19 KOs)
What happens when two defensive masterminds get into the same ring together, a small ring at that, with a referee infamous for inserting himself into the action and with both men fresh off KO victories that in many ways defied their usual read-and-react attitude?
Floyd went straight after Ricky Hatton in the fight that proved his penultimate knockout victory as a professional, and it led to a lot more brawling than Floyd was used to, all from a full-on welterweight, while Floyd’s natural fighting trim was at junior lightweight—he’d had two years to grow into that 147-pound body, but at age thirty it was less self-evident that he belonged at the weight.
Meanwhile, a pissed-off Sugar Ray Leonard was a man out for revenge against the guy who had ruined his unbeaten record five months before; the seventh round of the “No Mas” fight lays bare just how charged with an almost sadistic pleasure Leonard’s beatdown of Duran truly was. Transported by time machine to 2015, Leonard heard all the chatter about how Floyd styled himself “the best ever”, and to Sugar Ray’s mind, he wanted to prove by any means necessary that Floyd was not even the best ever at his own weight, and if a certain other Sugar Ray, the one even Muhammad Ali had to acknowledge as an all-time legend, weren’t around to do it, then it would fall on the man from Prince George County, Maryland.
Against the backdrop of referee Joe Cortez blithering about how firm and fair he was, the two combatants stared daggers at each other and had to be dragged by the arm to touch gloves before the fight began.
Before the Hatton fight, it was something of an open question whether Floyd Mayweather knew how to cut a ring down. Mayweather, who so often fought on the outside, dancing circles like Ali or indeed like Leonard, had to chase Ricky Hatton into corners in order to start doing actual work and engaging inside.
Meanwhile, Leonard, who had complained about the small ring and insisted that he wanted the full 24-foot ring in which to work, eventually had to concede the fact that his career was in danger of the Back to the Future temporal retcon if he would not kindly shut his gob about it and agree to the terms. When you’re messing with people who have time machines and a taste for blood sports, it is perhaps better to pick your battles lest you get shuttled off to the Roman Empire for a certain other sort of fight night from history.
It is against this backdrop that not much happened in the first round. Leonard tried to dance; Mayweather tried to chase; Cortez kept inserting himself into the action and breaking the fighters without giving them a reasonable opportunity to engage, not that this was of any particular bother to Sugar Ray Leonard, who tied up as soon as Mayweather got close.
As the bell sounded to end the first round, nobody had gained any sort of clear advantage, but at least Mayweather was trying to get in and move his hands.
Leonard, committed to staying on the outside, sat back and used the counter jab, trying in the process to make use of his two-inch height and reach advantages to control the distance. Mayweather, rather than let himself get countered, began to look for opportunities to slip the jab or, if that failed, eat the light shots in order to get inside to his own best range to land the big left hook.
What’s more, Mayweather was always a master of his own at controlling distance, and if he’d learned anything from fighting other taller guys like Diego Corrales, it was that blinding an opponent with a jab was not simply a question of who had the longer arms to do it. This wasn’t Duran giving up 11 inches in reach and six in height to Tommy Hearns, after all. An inch worth of arm length did not require a lunging lean forward like Erik Morales just to land a jab.
Mayweather got the better end of most of the exchanges. The combination of sticking to his fight plan and using aggression behind the jab put Leonard in the uncomfortable position of having to fight in closer than his pure boxer’s style tended to call for in the recipe.
Leonard, losing his cool at having to fight the other guy’s fight, got a little nasty in trying to regain control of the range battle. Floating out the lazy jab to bait Mayweather into coming forward, Leonard turned the jab into the kind of hook less designed to land and more designed to act as a holding device for the back of the opponent’s head, and when he brought the right hand over the top, the plan was clearly to hit an immobilized Mayweather then release before Cortez could arrive to break the fighters.
That kind of tactic also allows for one of boxing’s nicer bits of plausible deniability, and Leonard’s strategy was laid perilously bare when he hooked Mayweather’s head, shoved him down, and brought the right hand over, landing a rabbit punch that knocked Floyd loopy.
Cortez, who either couldn’t see it or didn’t process it, let the fight continue, and Sugar Ray leaped in trying to take advantage of the foul he had committed. Floyd, however, ever the defensive wizard, was able on what seemed like pure instinct to bob and weave away from the would-be killing blows, and, realizing he had the referee at an angle where he’d be unable to see what transpired, used Leonard’s back as a screen and uncorked a vicious low blow that created a certain other temporal ontological question with regards to Leonard’s offspring.
Sugar Ray howled, jumped back, and motioned to his bruised and battered balls, but all Cortez did for his trouble was to call time then administer a stern lecture to both fighters while practically mugging for the camera in the same stroke.
The fight settled down after that, each fighter trading rounds through the sixth, putting Mayweather ahead four rounds to two on the consensus press row scorecard as the halfway point of the fight came and went.
Floyd Mayweather had at one point attracted the attention of World Wrestling Entertainment for his ability to play the heel, and there’s something to be said for having the ring smarts to know how to handle being thrown around like a wrestler.
This became relevant a minute into the seventh round, as Sugar Ray responded to a clinch in frustration by throwing Floyd off him damn near judo style. Floyd used his momentum to carry him into the ropes, then bounced up and caught a pursuing Leonard with an overhand right that put Sugar Ray on spaghetti legs.
Floyd hammered away to the body and head, trying to create a knockdown out of the advantage he’d seized from his opponent’s frustration, but Leonard was able to grab on and bring Cortez once more unto the breach; the referee broke the fighters whenever things got a little too close for comfort, once again imposing himself on the action.
Leonard survived the seventh, but the fight was starting to get away from him.
Playing the range game, Leonard stayed way on the outside, dancing, clowning, sticking his chin out, trying to intimidate Mayweather the same way he’d cowed Duran into submission in the seventh round of the No Mas fight, but this was not a beaten and frustrated Duran in front of him. Mayweather would have none of that crap, and when Leonard stuck out his chin, rather than try to knock his head off, Floyd leaped in with a combination; sure, Sugar Ray could slip the first punch, but punches two, three, and four landed cleanly, another angle lost to the classic fighter.
Unfortunately for Mayweather, something about the way his antics had failed him finally woke up Leonard, who dispensed from that point onward with trying to be cute and started coming forward in volume. Where before he’d been concerned about giving up his height, this time Sugar Ray came in with four-and-five punch combinations, swarming Mayweather and looking to overpower him. With only four rounds left and the fight in doubt, it was his only and best shot.
Floyd, annoyed now by the onslaught and by Cortez’s tendency to break the fighters unevenly, providing no respite and only pushing Leonard out to his best range for the first punch on the way back in, threw another low blow…and this one, Cortez saw. He deducted a point from Mayweather, gifting Leonard a 10-8 round. Once again, we had ourselves a fight.
Leonard came forward more boldly, and seemed to ignore Mayweather’s jab…had Floyd once again injured his hand, or did something finally register in Ray Leonard’s mind to get him to stop screwing around and start fighting?
Whatever it was, Leonard came in with the hook again, resuming the tactic he’d used in the third round, perhaps thinking that another rabbit punch might regain the advantage for him for good, or maybe just wanting a few free shots at the unprotected side of Floyd’s head.
The pattern was the same—hook behind the head, immobilize the opponent, uncork the big right. It got the job done to devastating effect, as Floyd started to show the effects not only of having clean punches landed on him, but of having the same spot where he’d been rabbit punched repeatedly hit by the cuffing left hook that opened the account on each of these combinations.
Five rounds to four and a point deduction was the consensus on press row, and as the two men traded rounds 10 and 11, Mayweather winning the former as Leonard appeared to take a round off to conserve strength for the final two rounds, Leonard winning the latter with a relentless pressure attack that validated the opinions of those who had seen round ten, we go to the twelfth and final round:
Each man seemed of the mind that he needed something big to win the fight, and Leonard in particular still thought he was losing. Sugar Ray came forward, pounding away with the jab-straight right combination, and Floyd returned fire with the counter left hook thrown with vicious intentions trying to drop his opponent but too often being blunted by the quick, snapping jab of Sugar Ray Leonard.
The ebb and flow went on for three minutes. The commentators ringside seemed to a man convinced that Leonard needed the knockout, and remarked on whether the aggression may be too little, too late. Nothing hit Floyd hard enough to drop him, but nothing coming back put Leonard in any jeopardy, speculation continuing that Floyd had once again damaged his hands.
With three minutes elapsed in the ultimate round and no clear winner having been decided, this one goes to the judges’ scorecards.
Judge Harold Lederman scores the bout 114-113, Leonard. Judge Dave Moretti sees it 114-113, Mayweather. And judge Steve Weisfeld sees the bout 115-112, for your winner, by split decision…
RESULT: LEONARD W-SD12 MAYWEATHER.
It’s Fan Week here at Historical Fight Night, and thanks to the efforts of Dave Siderski’s Mythical Boxing Facebook group, we’ve got plenty of juicy matchups to choose from. So for the first time in Historical Fight Night annals, we’re doing a three-pack. Your main event is “Terrible” Terry Norris against Thomas “Hitman” Hearns, a junior middleweight contest that somehow never got made in its own time but which promises to be a classic. The undercard begins with Sonny Liston taking on George Foreman in a “blink and you’ll miss it” fight between two of the greatest power punchers in heavyweight history, followed by Larry Holmes taking on Vitali Klitschko in a battle of beast-sized heavyweights that may well end up being the second quick stoppage “don’t get up to grab a beer from the fridge” kind of fights. Thanks go out to Keith Palmer and ‘Ste Coughlan at Mythical Boxing—and one other suggestion, which I’ll almost assuredly get to at some point, came from Carlos Ortenblad, who suggested Floyd Patterson and Leon Spinks. Look for that one later on down the road.
If you don’t want to wait for another Fan Week to get your suggestion featured here on HFN, remember that there’s a special tier of donor on the Patreon that gets you an in to get your suggestions featured here on the show, and speaking of the paywall, in about two hours from press time here, this week’s edition of Let’s Make History, the special “behind the scenes” column, is a Free Preview Week for showing all of you why a three-dollar monthly donation, in addition to supporting a starving artist, also gets you a great read to start your weekend.
Thanks for reading, and tune in next week at 6 PM Eastern, 3 PM Pacific, for another edition of Historical Fight Night!