by Fox Doucette
With Thanksgiving so recent an event that many a reader of this feature has a turkey sandwich at the ready, some leftover cranberry sauce, and a piece of pie to sit down and enjoy the show, it’s time for the first-ever Historical Fight Night Pay-Per-View…and, since Black Friday is all about great deals, we’re giving you the doorbuster price of 100% off!
So what makes it a pay-per-view? Well, besides the fact that we’ve got not our usual two but an amazing FOUR fights for you tonight, as indeed this is the longest piece in Historical Fight Night history by a fair margin, but the fights are especially potent matchups.
In the main event, Marvelous Marvin Hagler, a man who back in 1981 many said had a case to be the greatest middleweight of all time, takes on…the greatest middleweight of all time, and the man for whom Muhammad Ali gave us the phrase “pound-for-pound” to acknowledge his greatness.
That’s right…it’s Sugar Ray Robinson.
The co-feature is a battle between aggrieved combatants, each with a legitimate beef against the Temporal Commission for past treatment on this show, as Roberto Duran gets another chance to fight at lightweight, this time taking on Alexis Arguello, in his first time back on the show since his reader-driven twin bill against Arturo Gatti. The fight is at lightweight, Duran at his young 1970s best.
Also, we’ve got Meldrick Taylor, still undefeated and still the junior welterweight champion of the world, taking on Ricky Hatton in a styles-make-fights special between a fast-handed boxer and a heavy-handed puncher. Who will win? Well, you’ll have to wait to find out.
And, opening the show, the late Bob Foster, by fortuitous coincidence for history lovers, takes on Michael Spinks in a battle between guys who might just be as well-known for their heavyweight losses as for their 175-pound glory. The fight is at light heavyweight; the men are at their best for an emotionally fraught performance for the man from the earlier era.
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.
Bob Foster (6/27/1972, 48-5, 41 KOs) vs. Michael Spinks (10/18/1980, 14-0, 9 KOs)
The two tallest light heavyweight champions in history square off to open the show, as the 6’3″ Foster, in from his win over Mike Quarry, and the 6’2½” Spinks, put in the time machine after disposing of Yaqui Lopez, do battle. Both men have something else in common besides being tall; they were both transcendent light heavyweights who had more limited success against heavyweights.
Spinks pulled the Upset of the Year in 1985 against Larry Holmes to gain the lineal heavyweight title, a lineage that could be traced back to Joe Frazier…and Frazier was one of the many heavyweights who gave Foster problems during the golden age of boxing’s glamour division.
Spinks, however, learned what happens when you get in against the very best in 1980s heavyweight competition, best known to a few too many fans as being the victim of Mike Tyson’s greatest triumph, one of the most vicious first-round beatdowns in the history of the sport.
Foster, meanwhile, never lost a fight to a light heavyweight; all eight of his career losses were against guys who weighed in above the 175-pound limit, in many cases substantially over that limit, when Foster made his forays into the heavyweight division. The trouble, of course, is that he lost eight times against heavyweights, himself becoming best known for getting beaten silly by the likes of Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali even as he was maintaining his own title reign further down the scale.
There was a rare breach of temporal protocol this time around. During the training camp, and just within the last week, someone made Foster aware of his timeline counterpart’s death; Foster did not know how to process this. On the one hand, it was somewhat comforting to know he had 43 good years left in him and that he would live a long, full life. On the other hand, no man should read his own obituary. Foster decided that he would come out and fight for his own memory, the crowd in attendance fully aware of what was going on…and when the slip-up became public, opinion in that crowd was overwhelmingly on Foster’s side.
Spinks, in general throughout his career and in particular in the Lopez fight, was a slow starter; this was a dangerous thing to be against a man seemingly possessed by his own ghost. Foster went immediately to the attack, and while most of the shots were blocked, the crowd loved it, roaring as if Foster were beating up a dummy in the middle of the ring.
Spinks was content to weather the storm, try to figure out the timing on Foster’s left hook and right cross, and occasionally fire back a jab to remind referee Mills Lane that he was still paying attention in there.
Still, after the first round, Foster was ascendant.
Things settled down in the second round, as Foster began to pace himself and Spinks went to work. The jab was on display, and Spinks was able to put it inside the hooks of Foster and land cleanly, scoring points if not doing damage.
Still, Michael Spinks was not Willie Pep or Harry Greb. He was a lot easier to hit than either of those two men, and as good as his defense was overall, Foster was still able to find him. A left hook landed and staggered Spinks midway through the round, as one of the hardest punchers in the history of the light heavyweight division showed off his abilities.
Spinks continued to fight defensively, countering and flicking the jab out, and this time he was largely able to keep the stronger man off him. Back and forth they went for another three rounds, Spinks clearly winning the third, Foster winning the fourth behind a barrage of punches that hurt Spinks late and which might have stopped this fight but for the fact that the attack came so close to the bell, and the fifth a toss-up as Foster initially pressed his advantage before breaking off the swarming tactics after Spinks clearly appeared to have recovered.
Spinks went back to boxing, but the effects of those punches earlier in the fight were starting to show. Foster had something extra on his left hook, and he landed it with a bit more regularity.
Spinks also lost the ability to control range purely based on the fact that he was fighting a taller man; the vast majority of the Jinx’s opponents had been against guys closer to six feet even, guys Spinks could keep on the outside. Foster’s best range was out there, as he so often caught guys coming in and put a hook right on the head like a baseball player hitting an incoming batting practice fastball.
The fights still had their share of exchanges that confounded the judges, but Foster began to seize the advantage, a doubtless display of effective aggression coupled with an increasing number of punches that landed as the man in front of him approached. Foster’s hook landed cleaner and cleaner as the ninth round approached with Foster building a lead on the cards.
Spinks began to open up in the hopes that he could break Foster down a little, trying to make a fight of it, trying any way he could to turn the fortunes of battle back in his favor. He came in behind the jab, and led with an uppercut a few times. Nothing landed solid.
Finally, Spinks put a right hand over the top…and got beaten to the punch, eating a left hook that could have felled a heavyweight. Spinks went down, groggy and bashed senseless, but he rose, as if animated by a spirit of his own, at the count of eight, and survived the round.
The trouble was, the left hook of Foster had knocked the fight if not the consciousness out of Spinks, and Michael was in survival mode for the rest of the fight. Foster, his dominance established, continued to chase Spinks back, leaving no doubt as to who won the last four.
When the scores were announced, Judge Dave Moretti had it 118-109, and judges Harold Lederman and Steve Weisfeld had it 117-110, all for your winner, by unanimous decision…
RESULT: FOSTER UD12 SPINKS.
Ricky Hatton (6/4/2005, 39-0, 29 KOs) vs. Meldrick Taylor (1/21/1989, 21-0-1, 12 KOs)
Meldrick Taylor had some of the best hand speed of any fighter, especially early in his career. Ricky Hatton beat guys with great hand speed by swarming them and overwhelming them with his power. With the notable exception of Floyd Mayweather, Hatton beat all the true “skill guys”—guys who relied more on their speed than their aggression—he ever faced. He knocked out Kostya Tszyu, which earned him the time travel trip.
Taylor was on the road to greatness before his career got derailed in the twelfth round against Julio Cesar Chavez; Taylor ended up 13-8 after his 25-0 start, susceptible to cuts, knockdowns, and generally getting blasted out of the ring by higher-caliber fighters. Will that late-career tarnish be on display here, or will the young Taylor reach his full potential in the arena?
Taylor’s hand speed was the major narrative point in the first round. Hatton went looking, hunting for Taylor, but he got a jab in his face for the trouble. Taylor beat Hatton to the punch, he slipped what was coming in at him, and he generally flummoxed the British fellow for six solid minutes; for the first two rounds, the CompuBox stats told the story.
It was a bit like the Buddy McGirt fight for Taylor, the one immediately prior to the fight against John Meekins from which Taylor stepped into the temporal contraption; Taylor’s punch output was 24 punches landed out of 77 thrown, including 15 out of 54 jabs in the first round. Hatton, frozen by the superior speed of his opponent, found himself handcuffed, and landed only 7 of 37 shots, including zero jabs out of only eight that he threw.
The second verse was same as the first, a little bit louder and a little bit worse.
Hatton finally started to land cleanly in the third. Taylor, as fast as he was, lacked the defensive prowess of a Floyd Mayweather or Pernell Whitaker; his hand speed was all for his offensive benefit. You don’t end up at 38-8-1 for a career without some kind of critical weakness, and Taylor got offended when you missed him.
All this is by way of saying that Hatton went back to the style he knew best, pressing forward, forcing Taylor into uncomfortable places, and unleashing a left hook. The exchanges were close; there wasn’t much in it one way or the other to bring the judging of the round out of the realm of objective counting of punches and into the realm of which way the judges preferred their fighters, the age-old question of rewarding aggression or rewarding clean punches.
Taylor was still getting the better of Hatton often enough to make that a question, but Hatton did land the harder shots.
Taylor’s chin betrayed him midway through the fourth. Hatton caught him with a hook, then he caught him with a right, then he caught him with another hook, and that last did the trick. Taylor went down and found himself hearing the voice of Tony Weeks while he was on the ground marking the time until the fight would be over.
There would, however, be no such glory for Hatton in round four; Taylor rose to his feet, survived well with his quick jab and with the clinch, and made his way to the corner with a 10-8 round counted against him and potentially breaking the fight open.
Hatton attacked, leaping in, looking to land another big shot to finish this fight…and that’s when it happened. That wild movement combined with Taylor’s tendency to cut easily, and a big gash opened up over the right eye of Meldrick Taylor from an accidental clash of heads.
It was no ordinary cut. Taylor looked a bit like Rafael Marquez did when Israel Vasquez cut him in their fourth fight, the tissue above his eye looking like a butterflied shrimp, blood pouring from the wound like the Black Knight from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
There was no choice available but to stop it, and with four rounds complete, under the Unified Rules, we go to the judges’ scorecards.
Judge Harold Lederman scores it 38-37, Taylor. Judge Chuck Giampa scores the bout 38-37 for Hatton. And judge Steve Weisfeld scores the bout 38 to 37, for your winner, by split decision…
RESULT: HATTON W-TD5 TAYLOR.
Roberto Duran (9/8/1973, 38-1, 32 KOs) vs. Alexis Arguello (11/21/1981, 69-5, 56 KOs)
Regular readers of Historical Fight Night know this is a battle between two guys who have been given short shrift in the eyes of the fans. Of all the fan feedback we’ve ever received here at HFN HQ, none has been more vociferous than the cries of “go home, you’re drunk” that accompanied Arturo Gatti’s win over Arguello at 140 pounds, and it was a grievance hardly assuaged by Arguello’s demolition of Gatti at 130 with a different temporal destination.
Meanwhile, your columnist was well and truly excoriated for invoking “no mas” in Roberto Duran’s misadventures at middleweight against Carlos Monzon, while all the match with Manny Pacquiao at lightweight accomplished was to get fans remarking on authorial grasp of the obvious.
So why not put these guys into a grudge match and let them duke it out? The taller Arguello comes into this fight off his smashing of Roberto Elizondo in seven rounds, while Duran comes in from beating the snot out of Guts Ishimatsu, part of an eight-year, 41-fight winning streak that featured 29 stoppage wins, and an overall 72-1 start to his career marred only by the lone loss he ever took below 147 pounds, to Esteban De Jesus, twice avenged.
Trainer Ray Arcel’s fight plan was essentially “succeed where Ray Mancini failed”. Mancini had done a lot of damage to the body of Arguello in their fight, faltering only in the very late rounds, getting stopped in the 14th. This is a 12-round fight, however; if nothing else, Arcel might be banking on Arguello just flat-out running out of rounds.
Arguello was hoping for more of a Tommy Hearns type of result with his five-inch reach advantage, and it was with that advice from Eddie Futch ringing in his ears that the fight begins:
Duran wasted no time. He was going to walk through hell itself if it meant that he could get inside and work at the only range that gave him a better-than-level shot at winning the fight. If he let Arguello control range, he was dead meat, destined to death by a thousand cuts at the end of the Nicaraguan’s jab.
Duran was an elusive creature at lightweight, his small frame, which was more in line with the height and reach of a bantamweight, slipping and dancing like a cat, and he used Arguello’s height against him.
Arguello tried to keep Duran off him, but Roberto was determined, and the assault on the body began. The sheer ferocity and determination in the attack took the taller man by complete surprise.
Given a minute to think things over, Arguello came out with a bit more composure and discipline, making Duran pay for the space he was trying to close en route to the attack down low. Still, Duran may have had “hands of stone”, but his chin wasn’t bad either. This was a guy who took everything Marvin Hagler could throw at him and kept coming back for more, becoming one of the very few men to take Hagler the distance, and that was at middleweight. A puffed-up featherweight who never fought effectively above 140 wasn’t going to do any damage.
This was getting ugly. All his height managed to do for Arguello was to give his opponent a long, lean body to hit at will.
Arguello landed a solid left hook on Duran as he came in; Duran shook it off and kept coming. The Nicaraguan hit the Panamanian with a straight right; Duran didn’t even bother to laugh at him. Jim Watt had gone the distance in surrendering his lightweight title to Arguello, the last fight of a career in which the man had been stopped three times including two KO losses on the club circuit on the way up.
The commentators noticed. One of them cracked the joke that maybe the guys in the time machine should go get Tommy Hearns so maybe we could see something a little more challenging for the 1973 version of Duran.
Arguello wasn’t a light puncher most of the time, but this was simply a case of a guy fighting someone who would go on to stand up to the heaviest shots dished out by guys who would eventually hold their own at light heavyweight. Duran simply didn’t respect Arguello’s power, and he kept going to the body, digging in and taking more and more steam off the punches coming back at him in a vicious circle.
At last, all that chopping felled the tree. Every body shot for the first three rounds was a swing of the ax, and when Duran at last landed a honey of a hook right on the liver of Arguello, the man whose best days had come at feather and junior lightweight went down, his lunch stirred and struggling to stay down while the man who had eaten the lunch struggled to get up.
In the sturm und drang of man vs. lunch, the lunch won, and referee Steve Smoger reached the count of ten. The fight was over, and at least one fanbase could be placated at the expense of the other.
RESULT: DURAN KO4 ARGUELLO
Marvelous Marvin Hagler (1/17/1981, 51-2-2, 42 KOs) vs. Sugar Ray Robinson (5/1/1957, 140-5-2, 91 KOs)
Marvelous Marvin Hagler comes in off of what was perhaps the single most utterly dominant victory of his career, a fight where he was at the height of his powers, the first knockout victory over Fulgencio Obelmejias at the Boston Garden. Sugar Ray comes in over his knockout of Gene Fullmer, and boxing historians could debate for the rest of recorded history whether and when Robinson was truly past his prime and whether 1957, when he was 36 years old, was that time in his life.
All we know here at Historical Fight Night is that the furious debates are never settled in the writer’s ring, but that’s not going to stop this main event. Michael Buffer shouted his catchphrase, the San Dimas crowd went bonkers, referee Mills Lane gave his instructions and his catchphrase, and now the fight can start in earnest.
Some folks before the fight speculated about whether two guys whose natural inclination to counter punch would be a style matchup problem for the fans. Robinson danced laterally, trying to find a spot where he could potshot without getting either crossed up by Hagler’s southpaw style or caught in an engagement with Marvin’s legendary power. This was the version of Hagler whose days of hearing the final bell were long behind him; from the decision loss against Willie Monroe that would be his second setback and the decision loss against Sugar Ray Leonard that would end his career eleven years later, Hagler heard the scored announced only five times in those 37 fights in between. Of the 36 fights he won in that span (not counting the draw with Vito Antuofermo), that gave him 32 knockouts.
Robinson didn’t want to get caught by that. So the first round was a feeling-out process; it had to be, and the crowd’s anticipation built rather than waned as they knew that something was, soon enough, about to happen.
It didn’t take long. The Petronelli brothers followed Marvelous in that time machine from 1981, and they’d seen Robinson before. They knew that at middleweight, a good puncher could get to him; Rocky Graziano had dropped him in 1953, Rocky Castellani had put him on the floor in 1955, and even in his athletic prime, Artie Levine and Tommy Bell had floored him.
Hagler came out orthodox, looking to lull Robinson into a false sense of security, but all it did was get him in trouble. A left hook from Hagler flew wide and the man walked himself into a counter right hand from the towering fellow born Walker Smith Jr. Hagler staggered back, but resuming his southpaw stance, he was able to apply much more effective pressure.
Robinson did not crack, however; Hagler’s assault resulted in plenty of clean landings, but Robinson himself did not fall. The crowd roared its approval as the bell rang to end the second round.
Hagler continued the pressure, but this time found Robinson on his bicycle, trying to circle away from the lead right hand of the southpaw fighter. Using his footwork and cutting down the ring, Hagler was finally able to land the big shot, an overhand left that caught Robinson rotating straight into it after slipping the jab that had set up that left hand.
Robinson backpedaled into the ropes and Hagler once again let loose. Early in this fight, things were not looking good for Sugar Ray. Might the man from 25 years in Robinson’s future be getting the better of the whole affair?
Robinson went back to pure boxing. No longer would he allow Hagler to push the pace. As he had in the first round, he went straight to the counter, and for the next three, Robinson was able to control the pace, closing the points gap and catching Hagler almost at will with the jab and the left hook. It wasn’t spectacular, it wasn’t glorious…but it was effective. As the fight reached the halfway point, the main question on the minds of press row wasn’t who had won the second and third—that was Marvelous Marvin. It wasn’t who’d won the second quarter of the fight—that was, with no controversy at all, Robinson. That first round was the sticking point, and depending on who you asked, it was either 57-all or 58-56 for Sugar Ray.
Once again, Pat Petronelli implored Marvelous to apply pressure. “You’re not gonna out-box this guy!” he shouted. “You gotta put pressure on him! Get that right hook in there!”
Hagler responded. Boy, did he ever respond. He knew he could freeze Robinson with the jab, using his defense against him, because Robinson didn’t want to engage and turn the fight into a slugfest.
With that in mind, Hagler started leading with the hook, trying to land it when Robinson got too wrapped up in trying to stop the second punch to focus on the first one. One such punch landed flush halfway through the round, and over the top came a brutal straight left. Robinson again staggered, Hagler again gave chase, and this time it worked. A right hook, right over the top as the third punch in a combination, briefly dropped Robinson.
Sugar Ray rose well inside the count, but Hagler had made his point clear; if Robinson was going to counter, he’d better make damn sure he caught every one of the incoming shots before they reached the target or it was going to be heavy bag practice.
As the round ended, Robinson went back to his corner…and back to the drawing board.
It seemed like whenever Hagler’s pressure got anywhere, Robinson had an answer, and the answer always seemed to come from his defense. One of the oldest axioms in boxing is that straight punches beat round ones, and if Hagler was going to lead with that left hook, there was a simple counter for that.
Robinson uncorked one hell of an overhand right, the “southpaw killer”, and if it had been just an inch or two closer to dead center, he might have stopped the fight with one monster shot.
As it stood, there would be no one-punch knockout, only a stunned Hagler moving back the way he would against Tommy Hearns when Hearns got a good shot in during the first round of their contest, but as we have seen, without the net result of a third-round KO victory.
Robinson pressed his advantage, but as always, fearful of Hagler’s power coming back at him, he fought only as hard as he had to in order to keep Hagler off him. It seemed a recurring theme in this fight that Hagler’s power was setting the pace, and even though Robinson won the eighth, the ninth was an impossible-to-score round in which Hagler landed the cleaner shots but Robinson controlled the pace. On the TV broadcast, their guy had it five rounds to four for Sugar Ray, even when the knockdown was counted among the points, but that was the roughest of guidelines.
Hagler came forward, going back behind his jab once again to take away the counter punching. Here we see something else that had become evident; Hagler’s shots were hurting Robinson, but Robinson’s shots weren’t having an equivalent effect on one of the most durable fighters in history, a man who was never knocked out and only debatably even so much as knocked down one time—when he hit the floor against Juan Roldan in 1984, a damn strong argument can be made that it was a slip.
Hagler uncorked a big left hand behind the jab, and he once again caught Robinson flush. Sugar Ray staggered back, and the left hook, which had been holstered for a couple of rounds, found its home once again. Down went Robinson, taking six on the floor and two more on his feet to bring Mills Lane to the mandatory eight count. If Hagler was going to lose this fight on the cards, he was going to force a couple of extra nines out of the judges to go up against the pair of eights he’d put on the table for this one.
It was another impossible-to-score round. Hagler again pursued Robinson, looking to keep that pressure up. Robinson stayed behind his counter punch, using it to great effect when he could stagger Hagler back and take the steam out of the forward charge. Once again, the judges’ scorecards could well have been decided by a coin flip, or by a 10-10 round, or by reading tea leaves, because the round was by no means decided in the ring.
Whether Hagler had punched himself out or whether he simply did not want to risk getting knocked out after everything he had done to get to this point, he came out a little tentative. Maybe he thought he had the fight won, or maybe he just wanted to be done with things after twelve of the most impressive back-and-forth rounds in the history of the middleweight division. In any case, the point is that he gave the round away, letting Robinson control the pace without letting the Georgia-born fighter pull out any miracles. The final bell rang, the crowd went mad with joy at the quality of the spectacle that had been put on for them…and the judges tallied their scorecards.
Judge Dave Moretti scored the bout 113-113, a draw. Judge Harold Lederman scored the bout 114-112, and Judge Dalby Shirley scored the bout 115-111, for your winner, by majority decision…
MARVELOUS! MARVIN! HAGLER!
RESULT: HAGLER W-MD12 ROBINSON.
We have another Here’s To The Losers event for you next week, with a bit of a common-opponent theme. In the main event, two Michael Spinks victims square off, as Yaqui Lopez takes on Dwight Muhammad Qawi. The co-feature is a pair of Mike Tyson’s vanquished foes, as James “Bonecrusher” Smith takes on Bruce Seldon.
It’s the holiday season, and we’ll have presents for you all December long, every Friday at 6 PM Eastern/3 PM Pacific, right here on Historical Fight Night.
Thanks for reading, and see you next week!