by Fox Doucette
‘Twas a week before Christmas, and all through the ring, the leather was flying, a beautiful thing. The punches were thrown to the target with care, in hopes that a TKO soon would be there. The fans were all standing, not snug in their seats for visions of knockouts and dudes getting beat.
That’s right, it’s a festive holiday atmosphere here at the Historical Fight Night Arena, as Christmas, Hanukkah, Festivus, Solstice, Saturnalia, all the festivals to all the gods get honored with some good old-fashioned fistic violence. We’ve got Lennox Lewis in the main event, fresh off his wreck job of Shannon Briggs in five rounds, taking on George Chuvalo, who was getting beaten from pillar to post for a good chunk of his battle with Jerry Quarry before uncorking a left hook—Lennox’s Achilles heel—that ended the Quarry fight in the seventh. Chuvalo was never down in his pro career; can Lennox Lewis be the one to stop him?
Your co-feature? All the presents are just what you always wanted, no socks and underwear in gift wrap here. We put wrapping paper on a stick of dynamite and called it a fight between Carlos Zarate and Johnny Tapia, the latter of whom moves up three pounds from superfly, where he smashed Jorge Barrera in three rounds and proved that Jorge was nowhere near the equal of his more famous brother Marco Antonio. Zarate comes in from a similar squash of a time-machine fight, against Emilio Hernandez, perhaps the most unlikely title challenger in the history of championship boxing.
Zarate, at this point in his career, was 51-0 and had never been on the floor; it wouldn’t be until he moved up four pounds to face Wilfredo Gomez that he suffered that fate. Tapia, meanwhile, had been on the floor once, a flash knockdown way back in his second pro fight, but he was also undefeated at this point in his career at 40-0-2. Whose O must go?
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.
Johnny Tapia (3/8/1997, 40-0-2, 24 KOs) vs. Carlos Zarate (6/9/1978, 51-0, 50 KOs)
Zarate could punch like a pissed-off gorilla in bantamweight fighter form. Of Zarate’s 66 wins overall, 63 were within the distance, and one of those was a four-round confidence-booster fight after his loss to Lupe Pintor.
What’s more, that Pintor fight was the only defeat at 118 pounds of Zarate’s career, and it came after Carlos had long since lost the ability to make the bantamweight limit with regularity; when he fought Gomez, he needed four tries just to make junior featherweight.
But this is 1978 Zarate, still on the rise, still bantamweight champion, his eighth defense of that crown, the most feared little guy in the sport, against a guy who was always a good puncher, a solid puncher, but never a great puncher. Who will win this battle of the bantams?
Tapia came out swinging, looking to impose his will on Zarate and drag the bigger man into a war. Let none say that Johnny Tapia was a great tactician. He wanted you to fight his fight, and he would make you fight his fight if he had to get clocked repeatedly to pull it off.
Zarate shrugged off this wild animal coming at him, going defensive and immediately countering with the jab. Zarate is two inches taller (5’8″ to 5’6″) and may be a little slower, but what he lacks in speed he makes up for in pure explosive punching power. The jab on the counter forced Tapia to respect him, and the smaller man abandoned the reckless advance a minute into the round, turning the round into something a lot more tactical.
The problem with tactical is that Zarate was better at it, and he clearly won the opening frame.
Tapia, trying to close the distance and get inside to work the body of Zarate, started coming in behind his jab, but he leaned in, a lot like Erik Morales used to when he tried to jab to the body, and because of this, Tapia tasted for the first time Zarate’s money punch, the left hook that looks and hits like an uppercut because of the angle from which Zarate throws it. Tapia staggered back, slightly dazed, and Zarate came in with a big combination of hook-overhand right that landed flush and kept Tapia once again on the defensive. Second verse, same as the first.
For three more rounds, this give-and-take all seemed to flow in one direction; Zarate was up after five by a count of either 49-46 or 50-45 depending on how people saw the third round, a round in which Tapia landed a lot of jabs, seemed to control the pace of the round, but ate one hell of a left hook midway through that nearly dropped him. It was the only good punch Zarate landed in that third round, but it was also ultimately the only punch from either man that did real damage to the guy across the ring from him.
Finally, Johnny Tapia landed a shot worth the effort. He feinted in with that jab, and when he got Zarate to miss with a left hook, Tapia came with an uppercut that caught Zarate flush.
The problem was that the naturally bigger man laughed the shot off, as it would take more than a superfly puncher to drop the full-sized bantamweight who to that point in his career had proven so difficult to crack.
Zarate, knowing now that he was in little danger from Tapia’s power, stayed on the outside playing cat and mouse with Tapia. The skill gap was too wide, a top-ten all-timer in an old school eight weight class against a guy who may not be the top-rated guy (depending on how you feel about Gilberto Roman and Alexander Munoz) in a division that didn’t even exist until the WBC created it in 1980.
Zarate continued to dominate, now landing more or less at will.
The only question left was whether Tapia would last the distance. All the steam went out of his shots somewhere around the eighth, and it slowed down his otherwise great hand speed to the point where Zarate started beating Tapia to the punch.
Zarate was frighteningly accurate with his shots, able to put his hands exactly where they needed to be when he threw with bad intentions, and he started battering Tapia relentlessly with the left hook, throwing it from a lower starting point more like an uppercut. Tapia fought courageously, trying at this point to hold on. The ninth went by. The tenth went by. Zarate was up by about a 100-90 or 99-91 count with two rounds to go…
Finally, Tapia’s corner saved him from himself and threw in the towel, alerting referee Richard Steele to call a halt to the slaughter. Tapia never went down, and he’d have gone out on his shield if his corner had only let him. As it stood, this beatdown concluded the way so many knew that it would no matter who won: inside the distance.
RESULT: ZARATE TKO11 TAPIA.
Lennox Lewis (3/28/1998, 33-1, 27 KOs) vs. George Chuvalo (12/12/1969, 56-15-2, 48 KOs)
George Chuvalo was the ultimate journeyman in the ’60s and ’70s. Lennox Lewis is an all-time great heavyweight champion. You’d think this was a mismatch, right?
Well, here’s the thing. Lewis was vulnerable to a well-timed shot, and when he took his eye off the ball and lapsed in concentration, he got rocked. Oliver McCall knocked Lewis out that way. So did Hasim Rahman. Shannon Briggs almost managed to come back from the dead in an underrated fourth round in the very fight from which we’ve grabbed Lennox Lewis in the time machine tonight. Briggs tagged Lewis repeatedly, but he just couldn’t capitalize and get the stoppage before Lewis beat him to a pulp and got the fifth-round KO.
George Chuvalo was never on the floor in 93 pro fights. He’s one of the toughest heavyweights—indeed, the toughest fighters—in history. Can Lewis stop him? Or will the other Big George do the impossible and pull this one out?
It didn’t take long for Chuvalo to get to Lewis. Lennox came out being a little lazy with the jab, trying to set up the right hand, but there was something a little off about his timing. Maybe he was a little under the weather. Maybe something was a little off about the version of Emanuel Steward who accompanied him in the time machine—the Temporal Commission tries its best to avoid letting people know what happened to them in the meantime (it’s one thing to grab a guy from 1948 and have him realize he won’t live another 67 years, quite another to grab a guy from 1998 and have him come in thinking he’s got at least another 17), and everyone gets mind-wiped Men in Black style before they go back to their own time, but in 2015, they get at least a little exposure to the future.
Was Lewis’s corner a little shaken, maybe even a little mournful?
Whatever the reasons, Lewis got rocked by a big left hook from Chuvalo on the counter, and he nearly hit the canvas. Chuvalo pounced, putting up a ferocious attack, but Lewis, after taking a full minute’s worth of punishment, got saved by the bell and got back to his corner.
Lewis came back out with a little more snap on his jab, awakened by the punch that had rocked him. Lewis was always at his best when he pumped out the jab—watch any old fight from his title reign and Jim Lampley of HBO has it as a constant motif in his commentary.
Chuvalo’s right eye began to swell from the blows. It started as a mouse about 45 seconds in, and as the remaining 2:15 ticked down and the jab targeted that swelling, the mouse became a rat. Chuvalo’s eye was in trouble, and Lewis took control of the fight. Chuvalo’s cut man stayed in the past; we’ve given him Al Gavin to work on that swelling and keep it in check.
Even Al Gavin was going to have to pull a rabbit out of his hat with the Enswell for this one.
Lewis targeted that right eye, pumping the jab relentlessly, an unremitting assault, but as Lewis gained confidence from the damage he inflicted, he also started to get a little careless and a little too obvious about where he was going to throw from next.
Chuvalo placed a perfect right hand. It wasn’t a fight ender, it wasn’t even a punch that terrifically hurt Lewis…but when rear end met canvas and Mitch Halpern reached the count of eight with Lewis having returned to his feet six seconds before, all of a sudden we had a whole new fight. Chuvalo took a consensus 29-27 lead on the scorecards as the fourth round began.
Lewis started to mix things up and move a little as the fight moved into its second quarter toward the scheduled distance. He mixed in the right hand to throw Chuvalo’s timing off, kept snapping out that jab, and kept attacking the eye.
One of those right hands found its mark and opened up a cut over Chuvalo’s left eye. George was starting to look like a serious mess. The right eye swelled up to a Pawel Wolak level; the ministrations of Gavin could only go so far. As the fourth and fifth round progressed, what had been a mouse and turned into a rat progressed through guinea pig and beaver and as rodents went was a full-on capybara, but Halpern, like Steve Smoger in that Wolak fight with Delvin Rodriguez, let things continue.
Finally, something had to give, and it came on a Lewis left hook. Chuvalo’s right orbital bone shattered like a bottle made of sugar glass broken by Moe over Curly’s head. The broken bones, the swelling, the battered and leather-scuffed skin, all came together in a perfect and gruesome storm.
It looked like Lennox Lewis had shot George Chuvalo in the face. Blood streamed from the wound, and it was obvious not just to Halpern but to all in attendance that the man might bleed out if he couldn’t get immediate medical attention.
If you thought mind wipes and time machines were implausible, just try to imagine explaining to San Dimas Community Hospital why a man whose birthdate says he’s 78 looks like he’s 32 and has just come out of a boxing match. Never forget that the Temporal Commission’s motto is Clarke’s Third Law:
“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
Anyway, the point is that Chuvalo’s face would be fine, no worse the wear than it had been after Quarry raised that giant welt in that fight in 1969.
RESULT: LEWIS TKO6 (CUTS) CHUVALO.
Archie Moore makes his Historical Fight Night debut, and he does it as a light heavyweight, as he steps forward in time to take on Matthew Saad Muhammad in our main event. Your co-feature? Back by popular demand, it’s John “The Beast” Mugabi (we love the guy around here) taking on Gennady Golovkin in an old-vs-new contest at a 157-pound catchweight.
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Thanks for reading, and see you next week!