by Fox Doucette
It’s Fan Week here at Historical Fight Night, and thanks to the good folks at the Mythical Boxing Facebook group, we’ve got a tripleheader—that’s right, when one fight ain’t enough, and two is too low, you need THREE fights for your reading pleasure. The main event pits two guys who were great junior middleweights but a little too vulnerable to the big shot in the form of Thomas “Hitman” Hearns, who as in his previous appearance on the show comes in off his signature win over Roberto Duran in 1984, and “Terrible” Terry Norris, who is brought in from his four-round demolition of Meldrick Taylor in 1992.
Your co-features? A couple of heavyweight throwdowns. First up, we’ve got Larry Holmes, brought in from his ritual slaughter of Leon Spinks in 1981, against Vitali Klitschko, who comes in from the fight where he avenged his brother’s honor in the course of an eight-round beatdown of Corrie Sanders in 2004, a year after Sanders had beaten Wladimir’s professional reputation into putty in two rounds. Can Holmes crack a tough chin with a two-inch reach advantage, or will it be the “chop…chop…chop…TIMBER” so common to the fights of both of the Ukrainian brothers?
After that fight, there’s another slugfest on offer as Sonny Liston, brought in from the second Floyd Patterson fight, takes on George Foreman, who gets into the time machine from the “Down Goes Frazier” fight in 1973. You know what that means…someone’s getting dropped, and if the sports book offers you a KO/decision prop, don’t bet on the distance for all the tea in Ceylon.
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.
Larry Holmes (6/12/1981, 38-0, 28 KOs) vs. Vitali Klitschko (4/24/2004, 34-2, 33 KOs)
Think of the Klitschko brothers and what do you think? If you’re like most knowledgeable fight fans, you think of a range game, a couple of masters of boxing on the outside, using superior length and height to play keep-away and impose their will on the opponent.
So what happens when you get a guy in there who’s perhaps not as tall but has longer arms and can neutralize the reach advantage in order to score points and do damage? Lennox Lewis had a five-inch reach advantage on Vittles and used it mainly to cut Klitschko so badly that the fight was over in six and the Ukrainian needed 60 stitches after the fight.
Holmes, at 6’3”, gives up four inches in height here, but he has a two-inch (81 to 79) reach advantage. He’s also got a long jab and longer overhand right; will that be enough to overcome the precision punching of Dr. Ironfist?
If either Klitschko had a weakness, it was his tendency to get mauled on the inside before he was able to tie up, and referee Mills Lane reportedly told the commentators for tonight’s fight that he’d be looking to separate the fighters rather than let this turn into a huggy bear affair. Holmes was similarly known for resorting to the clinch when things got too close for comfort, and sure enough, the first round was each fighter measuring the other with the jab, Holmes occasionally trying to slip it to set up the right, Klitschko often getting caught falling in when he would use his own right hand, and Lane, true to his words, keeping the men at range.
Fans, still arriving at the arena and anticipating the main event, paid little mind to the action on offer, and some wondered if perhaps this was the kind of style matchup that would demonstrate why the brothers themselves never fought; it’d degenerate into a boring jabbing contest with only the perfunctory power shot, never finding its mark.
More of the same prevailed. Klitschko, respectful of Holmes’ power, stayed outside, doubling up on the jab and getting poor leverage as he leaned forward to try to close range without getting countered, while Holmes, still looking for the right timing on the incoming punches so he could uncork a counter right hand without a face full of leather for his trouble, fought mainly defensively. Some said he was giving away rounds early, but even an overmatched opponent like Spinks took time to break down, and Holmes, ever with a watchful eye, simply learned the patterns of his opponent while fighting cautiously and not overplaying his own hand.
Holmes began to snap out the jab himself, having measured those two inches perfectly, that little sliver of space that would keep his opponent’s punches from having meaningful effect, while Holmes himself torqued the jab so beautifully and snapped it out with such bad intentions that the perception of who was winning this slap fight began to turn.
Indeed, the torque and the scuffing ability of a boxing glove on the face did the job for which Lennox Lewis had so beautifully laid the groundwork, and a cut opened over the right eye of Klitschko. Mills Lane made it explicit; this was no clash of heads, such a thing having been rendered essentially impossible by the range at which the fight was contested. The blood began to flow, a literal red mist descending over the eyes of a man who, the last time he had been in such a situation, was prevented from executing his own fight plan.
The press row scorecard gave Holmes the round for the first time, narrowing the score to 29-28 for the Easton Assassin.
Klitschko, not wanting to suffer a similar fate as was his downfall in the Lewis fight, began to open up and creep forward in hopes of staying in his own prime punching range. A right hand intended for Holmes proved a mistake; Holmes, on the counter and noticing an ever-so-subtle drop in Klitschko’s lead hand ahead of the punch, put a counter left hook right on the same spot where he’d cut the Ukrainian in the previous round, opening a cross-hatch cut that had Klitschko looking like he was going to lose an eye.
Klitschko, blinded, began to protect the cut and try to fight with the right hand, and here it was the superior strength of Holmes, blessed with eight weeks of training in a modern 2015 fight camp, that carried the day. Against Spinks, Holmes was able to use the same hand he was using to block as a ramrod, forcing the hands of Klitschko sideward and taking all the steam off the punches coming in. As the round ended, it became a question of what would happen first—would the granite chin of Klitschko (remember, he was never knocked out, only undone by a shoulder injury in one fight and a cut in another) hold for long enough to turn the fight, or would the skin of the man be his undoing once more?
Mike Tyson was able to stop Holmes by the aggressive application of strength on the inside. Holmes couldn’t handle being swarmed and fell to the assault in the fourth round of that fight.
But that was 1988 Mike Tyson. Nobody could stand up to that. Klitschko simply did not have the temperament to work inside like that, preferring instead to try to put some extra force behind his right while trying to allow the cutman’s ministrations to heal the bloody mess underway on the other side of his face.
Holmes, meanwhile, began to understand his strength advantage and backed Klitschko up, alternating the jab and the hook to keep the Ukrainian on the defensive, and as he backed Vitali into the ropes, Holmes uncorked a series of straight right hands, one after the other, pounding the other side of the man’s face and opening up yet another cut; Klitschko also began to bleed from the nose, prompting Mills Lane to call time and bring in the ringside doctor.
The doctor concluded that Klitschko’s nose was broken, and on that advice, as well as the three cuts which had hardly closed at all, and the fighter in front of him looking like he’d been knifed, all combined with Holmes’ seizure of the initiative and clear dominance of the in-ring action…
…well, it wasn’t as though the doc had to twist Mills Lane’s arm. The referee called a halt to the contest at 1:47 of the fifth round, stopping the fight on cuts. It was probably just a matter of time before Lane would’ve stepped in on one of those barrages of right hands; this was the right call in the minds of most.
RESULT: HOLMES TKO5 (CUTS) KLITSCHKO.
Sonny Liston (7/22/1963, 35-1, 25 KOs) vs. George Foreman (1/22/1973, 38-0, 35 KOs)
Sonny Liston was a freak of nature in plenty enough of the traditional ways, but the one people forget is that the man had the arms of an orangutan. Despite standing only 6’1” tall, Liston had an insane 84-inch reach along with 15-inch fists that looked like sledgehammers. Even with that, however, Liston was nobody’s idea of an outside fighter; his jab was languid and slow, and you could measure the time it took to get his overhead right to the target in geologic epochs. You’d think he’d be just another plodder—Muhammad Ali sure made him look like one—but Liston had one thing nobody would ever have expected from a man of his frame, namely quite possibly the crispest, most out-of-nowhere left hook in the history of the sport. That thing came in like greased lightning and hit like a car.
Foreman, despite enjoying a three-inch advantage in height, nonetheless had arms of a mere mortal man and an impressive reach of 79 inches that nonetheless put him on the short end of the punches in this contest. It was easy enough to impose himself on Joe Frazier, whose reach was only 73 inches on a 5’11” frame. It would be quite another matter to do it to Sonny Liston.
Foreman’s fight plan was to fight quickly, slipping the jab, getting inside, and doing work to the body, and Liston obliged him in the opening stanza. The way Foreman danced to figure out the patterns, you’d have thought he was Ali himself; Foreman clearly watched the tape of those two signature defeats for the man from Arkansas.
Liston’s jab just wasn’t fast enough to slow Foreman down, and Big George unleashed a vicious left hook to the body followed by a right hand up top that set the tone for the fight early. Liston gave him a hard shove, brought a straight right hand behind it, and when George went to dodge the punch, it was a Jackie Gleason moment as pow, right in the kisser, Liston landed his first big left hook of the fight. Foreman staggered, Liston pursued, and finally the whole exchange ended in a clinch wherein Foreman applied what would be known in MMA as an armbar rather than a boxing clinch, using his free right hand to tee off on Liston’s head before Mills Lane could intervene.
Each man enraged by the other’s early tactics, this fight degenerated into a Pier Six brawl. Fists flew, left hook, right cross, jab and uppercut acting in a concert of brutality that had the fans frenzied and Foreman frustrated as he once again attempted to clinch and throw cheap shots—Liston insisted they were rabbit punches.
With mere seconds left to go in the round, Liston, fed up with the free-handed cheap shots, hit Foreman with a huge low blow on the break, a ball-smasher of epic proportions that made the break between rounds six minutes—five for the low shot, one for the ringing of the bell after time in was called—and gave Foreman a 10-9 round by somewhat unusual providence as an even round was broken by a point deduction from Lane.
The action resumed in the center of the ring, a furious Foreman opening up with the straight right and an equally angered Liston chopping with the left hook. All beauty had been abandoned, all hope for the sweetness of the sweet science subsumed beneath the wrath of the devil himself as two men, having developed a disgust for one another that destroyed all chance of sportsmanship, simply whaled on each other. It was the distilled essence of the fourth round of Foreman’s fight with Ron Lyle, stripped of the trappings of a boxing match. This was a fight to the death.
Thirty seconds in, Liston, who had parried Foreman’s straight right and hooked the arm, gave a hard shove to Big George, and when Foreman stepped back, Liston pounced in, landing four straight left hooks one after the other and finishing it with a giant right hand right on the face of Foreman, who tumbled to the canvas, looking very much like Floyd Patterson had after Liston got through with him.
Lane reached the count of eight, Foreman staggered to his feet, but his legs did not hold. Foreman went back down and heard the words of nine and ten yelled in his face, the fight over.
There was something very instructive about Sonny Liston to be taken from this fight; nobody, possibly in the history of boxing, could stand up to his shots in a straight-up street fight. One does not simply walk into Sonny Liston’s punching range. You can slip his shots, work in behind the jab, stay on the outside and land counter shots if you must, but toe to toe? That’s just suicide, son.
RESULT: LISTON KO2 FOREMAN.
Terry Norris (5/9/1992, 32-3, 18 KOs) vs. Thomas Hearns (6/15/1984, 39-1, 33 KOs)
A matchup between one guy who’s one of the greatest fighters of the era, one of the Four Kings from the 1980s along with Leonard, Hagler, and Duran, against a guy who ruled over the junior middleweight division and all but literally grabbed the torch when he carried Leonard in a fight in 1991 that was reminiscent of the Muhammad Ali-Trevor Berbick fight? This one had the fans ready to go before the ring introductions.
Each guy had the same strength—the ability to rough up opponents at any range—and the same weakness, namely a tendency to get caught and stopped by the big shot. Norris got his at the hands of Julian Jackson; Hearns got a similar undoing at the hands of Iran Barkley.
There was some dispute in the ring program as to Norris’s reach; Boxrec has it at 69 inches, while the television broadcast of the Norris-Meldrick Taylor fight from which the time machine retrieved our combatant claimed 74, and the way Norris fought, it is very hard to believe his wingspan was so short. We’re going with 74 inches for tonight’s tale of the tape. Hearns, of course, while not being Sonny Liston by any stretch (even if Liston’s stretch was more of the Stretch Armstrong variety), still had long arms, coming in with a 78-inch reach on his 6’1” frame. Norris, standing 5’10”, is still the shorter man here.
Norris, knowing he’d have to work his way inside, took a page from Hannibal Smith of The A-Team and just came right in the front door, throwing a lunging left hook and coming in right behind it with the right hand, hoping to work his way inside on Hearns to where he could use his lack of height as an advantage.
Hearns would have none of it, and put the kibosh on that strategy from the opening bell, greeting Norris first with a straight right over the top from ideal range, then ducking the hook and coming back to the body with a chopping left hook of his own. It took Norris all of about 30 seconds to realize that unless he wanted to be knocked out as quickly as Julian Jackson had gotten to him, he’d better cut that crap out and find a better way to work his way inside.
Hearns just flat-out looked like he was having fun in there, and he scored with his jab absolutely at will, using his trailing straight right as a scared-straight mechanism to keep Norris from trying to walk him down. The first round looked like a man fighting a boy as Hearns, off the best fight of his career, his lone loss having been the epic 1981 war with Sugar Ray Leonard that felt a million miles away as Hearns prepared to face Marvin Hagler in his own era, simply dominated Norris, looking more like Simon Brown (who shredded Norris like a block of cheese in four rounds in 1993) than like Meldrick Taylor in there.
The onslaught continued. Hearns controlled range. He worked the jab. He jackhammered Norris with the straight right. He lured his opponent in by looking like he was going defensive to conserve his energy then planted a left hook right on the face of Terry Norris. Hearns danced, he punched, he showed a bit of defensive derring-do when a frustrated Norris lunged in after him. It was a clinic, a masterstroke, and even included a knockdown in the fourth, as Hearns carried each of the next three rounds easily, building a consensus 40-35 lead on the scorecards as we entered the fifth round.
The thing was, Thomas Hearns had a weakness. Iran Barkley knew it; Marvin Hagler knew it; Sugar Ray Leonard knew it. If you could catch the Hitman with a clean shot, if you could bring a left hook across to the temple or put a chopping right hand over the top, if you could reverse the dominance that Hearns lorded over you with everything that you had and crash it right onto his mug, leaving his spaghetti legs wobbly and the referee eagerly awaiting the chance to start counting, then there was always a chance you could pull a miracle and stop the fight.
Norris knew it. He never lost sight of using his left hook, knowing it was his best weapon, having seen Sonny Liston do to George Foreman exactly what Norris himself intended to do to Tommy Hearns, having even had the benefit of speaking across what was otherwise an insurmountable temporal divide (Liston having passed away in prime-timeline 1971) to a boxing legend about that punch, having been ready his whole life and eight weeks in 2015 training camp in San Dimas for a most excellent and triumphant adventure through time.
Terry Norris wound up, and with everything he could muster, threw a left hook that may as well have been connected to a nuclear warhead rather than a boxing glove. It sailed through the air, its target only modestly aware of its existence.
Of course, this was because Hearns had a right hand of his own coming over the top and had used his reach and Norris’s tendency to telegraph as his guidance system. The right hand smashed into the chin of Terry Norris, who went down like he’d been shot, his eyes rolling back in his head, referee Richard Steele well convinced that counting to ten was mere pointless theater as he instead waved off the bout without a count. This was a slaughter, and Hearns returned to his own time to face Marvin Hagler and fulfill the remainder of his destiny as a fighter in peace.
RESULT: HEARNS KO5 NORRIS.
Next week, it’s The Old and the New, as a bit of found footage sets the table for a classic fighter against a modern titan of the sport, as our main event is Marcel Cerdan, fresh off the 1948 Fight of the Year against Tony Zale, taking on none other then Gennady Golovkin, who needs no time machine, because for the first time, we’re matching modern fighters against a historical challenger. The co-feature, along the same lines, pits Virgil Hill against Sergey “Krusher” Kovalev in a light heavyweight tilt. We’ve got to keep it fresh around here, right? Tune in next Friday, September 25, at 6 PM Eastern/3 PM Pacific, for another edition of Historical Fight Night!
And while you’re at it, if you liked this Fan Week salute to the HFN community, you can make your way over to Patreon, where for a ten-dollar monthly donation, you can have a voice in what fights get made here—my $10 donors get that as a reward. Or, if ten bucks ain’t your speed, all you need to put up is three bucks to get weekly access to Let’s Make History, the column about how the sausage is made here in the studio. Last week’s episode was a free preview, so if you want to know what you’re getting, a good sample is right there. Enjoy, thanks for reading, and thanks for being a part of the show. See you next week!