by Fox Doucette
With the 45th anniversary of Ali-Frazier I coming right around the corner on March 8, the Temporal Commission has sent the time machine to Madison Square Garden to grab the victorious fighter for a go on Historical Fight Night. Frazier’s one of the all-time hard-luck kids on this show; back during the Excellent Adventure, he couldn’t get out of the 70s group stage after George Foreman and Muhammad Ali repeated history (later history, in Ali’s case), and in his lone Historical Fight Night appearance back on August 14, Larry Holmes stuffed him in two rounds.
Meanwhile, Evander Holyfield makes his first appearance as a full heavyweight; in each of his previous two appearances on this show, he’s been at cruiser, fighting undersized heavies of the past, first in a losing effort by majority decision to Rocky Marciano, and then by split decision to Ezzard Charles.
So there are two guys in here who invite the question of “what have you got against that guy?” Best to settle it in the ring, right?
Your co-feature? It’s a curious contest between over the hill and over the best weight, as Sugar Ray Leonard takes on Vinny Pazienza.
“You’re out of your mind,” people might say. “Sugar Ray? He’d kill Vinny!”
Well sure, he would at welterweight. But this is 168-pound, old and slow Sugar Ray, closer to his fight with Terry Norris than to his rematch with Roberto Duran. This is the Sugar Ray who BS’d his way to two extra weight classes to claim paper-champion belts in, the Sugar Ray who invented the super middleweight division with the help of the WBC for a joke of a fight against Donny Lalonde.
Paz comes in off a win over…guess who? Yep…a way over the hill Roberto Duran, in 1995. Duran was 43 years old and completely washed up. Leonard, relative to his own time, is a spry 32 and only mostly washed up. After all, Leonard did finish off Lalonde.
Will the more sprightly Pazienza do the job against a legend? Or is Pazienza simply a club fighter and nothing more?
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.
Sugar Ray Leonard (11/7/1988, 35-1, 25 KOs) vs. Vinny Pazienza (1/14/1995, 40-5, 27 KOs)
Roberto Duran, after his second loss to Pazienza in the fight that serves as the time machine moment here, said “He just fight like he got some dope in his body.”
Pazienza always claimed that “excessive weight training” was responsible for the musculature on a frame that had, in Vinny’s younger days, been a lightweight world champion (if only for one fight which Greg Haugen avenged in the rematch.)
Leonard probably still has the advantage of hand speed even with every other factor in play; will it be decisive?
Pazienza tried to attack, working his jab and trying to find a home for his left hook. Leonard, meanwhile, seemed perfectly content to give a round or two away in order to get the timing right on the fists coming at him. Paz was slow enough that a much younger Leonard would have simply countered him and eaten his lunch, but an older Leonard was perfectly content to let this come down to avoiding getting slugged, considering that Lalonde had dropped him in the fourth round of their bout.
Paz decisively won the first round; Leonard sharpened up a bit, landed a few good jabs of his own, and made the second round a bit closer, but the consensus was that this was a 20-18 contest two rounds in.
Finally, Leonard got the timing right, and as Paz cocked to throw the left hook, Leonard beat him to the punch and nailed him right on the kisser with a straight right hand, snapping Pazienza’s head back and visibly stunning the big man from Providence.
Leonard, showing that he had solved the not-terribly-formidable puzzle in front of him, did what some in attendance called a Juan Manuel Marquez impression; every time Pazienza came in, Leonard scared him away with flying leather.
The more Pazienza came in, and the more Leonard outfoxed him with faster hands, the more Paz became tentative on his way in, creating a vicious circle. Leonard didn’t want to be any more aggressive than he had to, knowing very well that he could simply wear down the guy in front of him who was increasingly disinclined to do anything coming back.
Paz was no pushover. He’d suffered three knockout losses in his career; one on the hobo circuit at lightweight, one to Roy Jones, and the last to Aaron Davis when Pazienza was closer to 40 than to his prime.
As the fight wore on, there wasn’t much to tell. Pazienza wouldn’t come forward; Leonard wouldn’t go in for the kill. The crowd may have been bored damn near to death by the time the 12th round came and went, but when the bell finally sounded to put an end to what had become a snoozer, the result was in no doubt.
All three judges scored the bout 118-110, for your winner, by unanimous decision…
RESULT: LEONARD W-UD12 PAZIENZA
Joe Frazier (3/8/1971, 27-0, 23 KOs) vs. Evander Holyfield (10/25/1990, 25-0, 21 KOs)
Count those knockouts, folks. Joe Frazier had one of the best left hooks the hurt business has ever seen. Holyfield had an overhand right that was just as devastating. For one man to land his money punch, he’d have to avoid the signature killer shot coming from the other guy, which could not be defended against while trying to throw his own shot.
Each man could, for his part, try to turn it into a slog, a range game, a mess and a snoozer…or they could see the value of the history and go for the kill. There’s a saying in literature that “if you pull a gun in the first act, you must fire it in the third.” Well, with all respect given to Anton Chekhov, this fight’s pre-fight commentary came down to pulling out an entire arsenal and leaving the home viewer to wonder which of the guns would be the murder weapon. Good luck with that guess, friends.
Holyfield, perhaps inspired by Leonard in the first fight, used his first-rate boxing skill, establishing a jab that the commentators in the Douglas fight remarked they hadn’t seen before out of the Real Deal.
The establishment of the jab served the dual purpose of setting up the right hand and blunting Frazier’s ability to use his left. 12 rounds is a long time, but there were some elements of George Foreman’s strategy here as well; if you could get Frazier on the back foot and set him up, getting that right hand over the top could do a lot of damage.
Holyfield continued to jab, controlling range with his three-inch height advantage and five-inch edge in reach. It wasn’t Hearns-Duran (where the Hitman enjoyed an 11-inch reach edge that had the same effect as a battleship taking on a 15th-century galleon, sitting outside the range of its guns, and turning it into firewood), but if Frazier couldn’t get into his best punching range, this was going to be a short fight.
Frazier slipped the jab and finally got in to do some damage. Holyfield had slipped just a little, raising his hands up a bit too high to throw, and he left his body open; Frazier got a left hook right onto the liver of Evander, sending him back into the corner.
Frazier pursued, cutting off Holyfield’s avenue of escape and doing work on the inside, where he took advantage of being the smaller man. Holyfield tried to grab on, but Frazier’s roughhouse tactics and low profile wouldn’t allow him to be tied up; you can’t jab-and-grab against a guy from the old-school, because back then they knew how to defend it.
The timbre of the fight had shifted. Joe Frazier knew what he had to do, and he stepped out of the corner for the fourth round hell bent for leather on doing it…
…and walked face-first into a straight right hand that detonated on his nose. The commentators, never ones to miss a moment, and especially in the context of the type of show they call, pulled out the obvious Howard Cosell impressions. It was simply too good a chance to miss.
And like the context in which George Foreman had inspired the staccato New York broadcaster’s legendary fight call, Frazier was in trouble. He rose at the count of five, and Holyfield backed him up, using the jab as a keep-away tool and bringing the right over it after he’d blinded a visibly dazed Frazier with the assault. Down, again, went Frazier.
Again, Frazier rose, this time at seven, but when Holyfield dropped him a third time, again with the straight right hand, it didn’t matter that the three knockdown rule wasn’t in effect per the rules. Referee Mills Lane had seen enough, and it was time to send Frazier first to the Place Out Of Time in 2688 for a mind wipe, then back to 1971, where two years later, there was something very curiously familiar in a result that had, in his perception, never happened before. Echoes so often haunt the mind, and while we’re not saying that time machines to 2016 broke history…we’re not not saying it either.
The truth is out there…and the more self-evident truth is much closer at hand. Your winner, by technical knockout, at 2:33 of the fourth round…
RESULT: HOLYFIELD TKO4 FRAZIER.
I want to give a big shout-out to the Mythical Boxing forum on Facebook, and specifically ‘Ste Coughlan, from whom I stole this idea. He asked who’d win in a fight between Ron Lyle and Riddick Bowe, and since I have a little show here that’s dedicated to answering just those sorts of questions, well…at least I cite my sources.
That’s right…next week’s main event is Lyle-Bowe, and we’ve got a pretty good co-feature to go with it, as Matthew Saad Muhammad takes on Sergey Kovalev in an old-vs-new contest.
You want all-action fights? Well, you, friends, are in luck. So we’ll see you next Saturday, and thanks for reading!