by Fox Doucette
It’s Old Vs. New Week on Historical Fight Night, as Marcel Cerdan gets a 67-year push forward in time to take on none other than Gennady Golovkin in the main event. In keeping with the theme, the co-feature also involves a current fighter against a historical fight figure, as Sergey Kovalev takes on Virgil Hill in a light heavyweight contest.
For Cerdan, much fun was had around San Dimas during the eight-week training camp; one cannot bring a great French warrior to town without taking him to the water park for some excellent waterslides. Between that and the ice cream and bowling, it was a French California treat fit for an emperor. In between, however, he was given all the best benefit of a 2015-style training camp, with modern strength equipment, sports nutrition (getting a little piggy with the ice cream was his one indulgence in an otherwise rigid regimen from our registered dietitians), and even some training help from Freddie Roach to work on tightening up those wild hooks of his that he used to such great effect against Tony Zale in the 1948 contest from which the time machine grabbed him after he scored an 11th-round TKO. Cerdan weighed in at 157¼ pounds and looked in the best shape of his life as the fighters prepared for fight night.
Meanwhile, speculation abounded about the co-feature. Kovalev, for his part, said he wasn’t worried even a little bit; “he hits like a flyweight and moves like a heavyweight” was the most trenchant of the criticisms the Krusher leveled at his opponent ahead of the fight. Kovalev promised an aggressive fight plan; we’ll see if that plays out during the actual fight.
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.
Virgil Hill (9/5/1987, 19-0, 13 KOs) vs. Sergey Kovalev (9/25/2015, 28-0-1, 25 KOs)
When this fight was announced, some folks were a bit confused—was Kovalev going to fight a 51-year-old, and was he moving up to cruiserweight? After all, Hill isn’t technically a “historical figure” insofar as his recent “comeback” fight against Jimmy Campbell in February proved he’s not yet retired.
Luckily for the integrity of the action at HFN Arena, that’s not the case; this is a 23-year-old Hill, pulled from the day he won the WBA light heavyweight belt for the first time with a four-round stoppage of Leslie Stewart, put into a time machine, and his youth preserved.
The Temporal Commission is very clear on this stuff; 1987 Hill is not allowed to make contact with 2015 Hill, and the 51-year-old has been kept as far away from the arena as possible.
Against that backdrop, Kovalev is under no such temporal restriction, since for him this is real time. He knows his history and what he’s up against and has trained for just such an occasion; his fight plan is right out of the Roy Jones 1998 playbook, where Jones used the right hand to devastating effect in handing Hill a fourth-round stoppage.
Hill came out looking to establish the jab and possibly land a right hand of his own if Krusher got too aggressive early. This turned out to be a mistake. Right out of the gate, Kovalev, showing no respect for his opponent, simply tried to walk Hill down, eating a jab and a right hand on the way in, and Kovalev went straight downstairs with a right hand to the body.
The commentators noticed; Hill did not in that initial exchange have enough pop in his fists to keep the Russian off him. Hill’s problem in his title fights was that he was never able to land the big shots that would have forced his opponents to fear his power. Sure, he won plenty of wide decisions against whatever the WBA could find to put in there with him, but the simple fact remained that his fights never looked in danger of going any less than the scheduled distance unless the opponent was either cut by a freak accident with a television camera or just plain worn down from being out-boxed.
Kovalev was having none of that; he’d fought Bernard Hopkins and broke the old boxing master down, he’d steamrolled Gabriel Campillo and Cornelius White on the way up, and in his six title fights so far, he’d won five of them by decisive stoppage, much like his middleweight counterpart in the main event.
Kovalev showed no inclination toward wasting time here; he was going to wreck Virgil Hill by just plain out-muscling him.
Hill’s defense broke for the first time a minute into the round, as Kovalev bull rushed Hill back to the ropes with a good forearm shove that referee Steve Smoger simply let go for spectacle’s sake, and when Hill was off balance, Kovalev crashed a left hook straight into his liver.
Sergey Kovalev may not be Micky Ward, but when a left hook lands in just the right spot, that opponent is hitting the deck and possibly looking for his lunch. Hill beat the count, but he was visibly hurt and in a world of trouble.
Kovalev kept up the attack, coming upstairs with a left-right combination that forced the guard of Hill upward. The Russian then went downstairs, landing a straight right that did not hit with the full force but Hill’s reaction had the fans believing he’d been hit in the stomach with a baseball bat. Smoger looked to see if he needed to stop the fight, but all of that was just whistling in the dark when another left hook came in mere seconds later, hitting just as hard and right on the same spot as the first.
Hill went down the way he’d gone down against Jones, having been straight-up overpowered; his glove and one knee held firm to the canvas as if the former had been glued and the latter nailed to the floor. Smoger counted ten, but in reality he could have counted to sixty and the result would have been no different.
Sergey Kovalev came in looking to crush an opponent lacking the power to force him to the defensive, and that’s exactly how the fight went down. No amount of craftiness on Hill’s part could change the simple fact that against a big puncher, you need to force him to respect you, and you can’t outbox someone who made even a 50-year-old Bernard Hopkins look utterly foolish when those two men stepped into the ring. When a guy is battle-tested, that’s often well enough.
RESULT: KOVALEV KO2 HILL.
Marcel Cerdan (9/21/1948, 109-3, 63 KOs) vs. Gennady Golovkin (9/25/2015, 33-0, 30 KOs)
Now here’s a case of where “battle tested” has never been applied to the modern fighter. The biggest criticism of GGG is that he hasn’t fought anyone; no fighter has ever pushed him and given him a fight he had to overcome any sort of adversity in order to win. Sure, Martin Murray was game and tough and went rounds before finally suffering his fate in good order in the 11th, and Willie Monroe Jr. even got a few good licks in as Golovkin later admitted to taking his foot off the gas to give the fans their money’s worth rather than send them home in four minutes when he had Monroe in trouble in round two.
But this is Marcel Cerdan we’re talking about here, a guy who went his first 114 fights without being stopped, who only finally tasted that flavor of defeat when Jake LaMotta got to him in what tragically ended up being Cerdan’s last pro fight before he died in a plane crash while flying to the States to train for what would have been the rematch. This is the guy who beat the snot out of a legend, clobbering Tony Zale in the 1948 Fight of the Year, the guy for whom two of his three losses to that point in his career had been by disqualification for reasons lost to history, who had avenged the third loss against Cyrille Delannoit for the European middleweight crown that got him that title shot against Zale.
Put simply, Marcel Cerdan was probably headed for the chance to be a very credible opponent for Sugar Ray Robinson. This has been said about exactly zero opponents Golovkin’s ever faced.
GGG, to his credit, knew what he was up against, and decided on a cautious, defensive fight plan in order to feel out Cerdan’s strengths and weaknesses and try to land one big shot in hopes of making up for lack of comparative experience with pure lightning-strike power.
It is in that mind that the first round…simply didn’t have much in it. Cerdan threw his trademark left hook, he threw a right cross that was much tighter than the wide, looping punch he’d thrown against Zale, he even put a straight right or two over the top, but for the most part, Cerdan was probing GGG’s defenses as much as GGG was sizing up what was going to be coming at him. Sure, Cerdan did most of the actual work, but the simple fact of the matter is that neither man gained an advantage from the exchanges.
Golovkin came out of the corner feeling far more ready for what was coming at him, and tried to use the adage of “straight punches beat round ones” to his advantage. Cerdan continued to fight the fight he came out of 1948 to bring to the table; his looping shots had, after all, hurt Zale and beat the fight out of him.
As Cerdan came in with a left hook, he found himself beaten to the punch, and like Jackie Gleason on The Honeymooners, Golovkin’s straight right hand went pow, right in the kisser. The Frenchman went down like he was back in World War II and stepped in front of a tank.
Referee Tony Weeks picked up the count, instructed by the temporal commission not to engage in a quick stoppage; he would referee the fight like it was 1948, and Cerdan, despite landing hard on the canvas, was allowed the full nine to get to his feet and beat the count.
For the rest of the round, Golovkin, knowing the difference between a hurt opponent and one who had merely been stunned, was subdued in his attack; he didn’t want to get caught with a left coming back at him lest he suffer the same fate he had inflicted, and Cerdan, fighting effectively despite the cobwebs, survived the round.
Onward the fight went, Cerdan quickening the pace as his legs continued to steady underneath him. The best defense is a good offense, it has been said, and it was time to stop letting GGG get comfortable and wait out what was coming at him.
Cerdan opened up first with a beautiful little feint like he was going to throw the hook, and when Golovkin threw another right hand, Cerdan deftly sidestepped it before unleashing a monster of a four-punch combination. Golovkin backed up, clearly bothered by the swift and ill-intentioned shots peppering him, and Cerdan, seizing the moment, continued to pour on the punishment.
Eight punches without reply landed out of the roughly twenty thrown before Cerdan finally brought a meaty right hand right over the top that caught Golovkin right between the eyes, and this time it was the Kazakh’s turn to try to beat the count.
Tony Weeks got as far as the count of seven, finishing the mandatory eight count with Golovkin having risen back to his feet.
Cerdan pursued…and that was the wrong idea. As he came in and again began to open up, Golovkin caught him with an uppercut that stopped him right in his tracks. It didn’t drop him, and GGG was still too concerned from the fall he had taken to get too aggressive, but it ensured that this fight would go at least one more round, as Cerdan, bothered by the landed shot, backed off the pursuit and fought a more cautious style for the rest of the round.
At some point a fighter has to be what he is, and Cerdan, reminded by his corner men that Golovkin was bothered by the attack, went once again to the one-two left-right combinations, mixing in feints and misdirection, keeping a watchful eye on anything coming back at him, and just generally using the combined experience of 112 fights and 735 professional rounds to the point where he got in the time machine to flummox the man whose experience amounted to only 33 pro bouts and 146 rounds.
Golovkin may very well have shot his wad in round two, and Cerdan gained confidence as he continued to press forward, Golovkin steadily losing steam on his punches as Cerdan put on what started to look an awful lot like the Zale fight. Another knockdown in the fifth and what could easily have been a 10-8 round in the sixth but for the lack of his opponent obliging him by hitting the floor, and the rout was on.
It finally came to a head a minute and a half in. Another knockdown led to another count, and even Tony Weeks knew that the only reason he was counting was that directive from the Temporal Commission. In point of fact, the fight had become a slaughter, and it finally fell to Golovkin’s corner to save a tough and game fighter from himself, the cornermen occupying the equal and opposite position to so many of Golovkin’s victims over the years.
The towel hit the floor at 1:37 of the seventh round, and at last Weeks could do what his instincts had told him several rounds prior. The fight was over; a historic, all-time great had done what he’d been brought forward in a time machine to do, and it was time to spend the weekend going on some excellent waterslides before going back to his own time to suffer what would ultimately be his tragic fate.
RESULT: CERDAN TKO7 GOLOVKIN.
Well, we’ve seen that sometimes the new beats the old; other times, history comes forward and shows those young bucks in the present how the fight game was in its glory days. One for the old, one for the new, you could say it was a draw.
We return to history—true history—as Tony Zale gets his turn on the show, this time off of his demolition of Rocky Graziano on June 10, 1948. He takes on Gene Fullmer, fresh off the 1959 Fight of the Year, a 14th-round TKO of Carmen Basilio in the main event.
Your co-feature brings two welterweights together from a generation apart, as Jose Napoles takes on Felix Trinidad in a 70s vs. 90s showdown. Will Tito get the better of Mantequilla, or will Mexico triumph over Puerto Rico in those countries’ great boxing rivalry? You’ll find out next week.
And hey, if you just can’t get enough of Historical Fight Night, or if you just want to support a writer trying to make a living from his passion for boxing history, why not throw a few bucks my way on Patreon? For the low price of only three bucks a month, you get access to the weekly Let’s Make History column, where I go behind the scenes to bring you a bunch of cool insight into how the sausage is made around here. Bigger donations get you access to help choose what fights get made, and someone with deep pockets can even get the arena named after them (or, you can promote your business.) Click that link and help a writer out.
As always, thanks for reading, and see you next week, 6 PM Eastern, 3 PM Pacific, Friday, October 2, for another episode of Historical Fight Night!