by Fox Doucette
Happy first anniversary to Historical Fight Night, which first ran as a one-off spinoff pilot to replace the old What If series before moving into its new home as a weekly series after ESPN’s Friday Night Fights went off the air. The first episode of the series ran on May 29, 2015…tomorrow marks a year and over 100 fights since it began (and, as with all things, that first episode is cringeworthy to read again—it’s very likely that I’ll revisit those old episodes with possible rematches.)
But that’s then, this is now, and for our Anniversary Special and because it’s Memorial Day Weekend, we’ve got a pay-per-view spectacular! Four fights instead of the usual two, with one monster of a main event, as Larry Holmes takes on Muhammad Ali.
“But Fox,” you might rightly say, “those two guys already fought. Ali was over the hill and Holmes beat him in a fight that was more tragedy than thriller.”
Well yes, that’s true. 1980 Larry Holmes beat 1980 Muhammad Ali. Trouble is, thanks to the wonder of time machines, 1980 Holmes isn’t fighting that version of the Greatest. He’s fighting the 1965 edition, young, fast, powerful, fresh off of kicking Sonny Liston’s ass twice. In essence, we’re making this a fair fight.
The co-feature? The 1987 version of Mike Tyson takes on Smokin’ Joe Frazier. Will Frazier be able to withstand Tyson’s power? Will Smokin’ Joe’s reputation as the hard luck kid of this franchise (he’s lost to Evander Holyfield and Larry Holmes on this show) continue? Or will the Baddest Man on the Planet continue to smash everyone with the ghost of Cus D’Amato revived to train him for this fight?
Also on the docket, Riddick Bowe takes on Lennox Lewis, and Bowe can’t just throw a belt in the trash and duck the big Brit this time—the Temporal Commission has made clear that if Bowe doesn’t like this matchup, he’s not being returned to 1993. Instead, he’s getting shipped to 68,000,000 BC and fed to a T-Rex.
Bowe, upon learning his alternative, readily agreed to the fight.
And finally, opening the show, we’ve got a fun scrap between John “The Beast” Mugabi and David Lemieux (and I may have been taking notes when friend-of-the-show Mythical Boxing, the excellent Facebook community for historical fight fans, featured this fight as part of Dave Siderski’s 1983-vs-2016 middleweight tournament—which, incidentally, correctly named the winner of the overall shindig as Marvelous Marvin Hagler. Funny world, this, when the spiritual sons of Bert Sugar are all over the internet.)
Of course, it would be too easy to just copycat those results, so expect a twist or two along the way.
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.
John “The Beast” Mugabi (3/17/1985, 24-0, 24 KOs) vs. David Lemieux (5/28/2016, 35-3, 32 KOs)
The Beast is a fan favorite in San Dimas. He’s appeared three times on Historical Fight Night; he is 3-0 with 3 knockouts in those appearances, dispatching Fernando Vargas, Gennady Golovkin, and Iran Barkley.
Lemieux, meanwhile, got knocked out by GGG in real life, not some time machine internet show. He has yet to appear on Historical Fight Night, and he steps in tonight against what has been his Achilles heel; a guy who can hit him back and take him well out of his comfort zone. This looks to be a who-lands-the-big-shot-first kind of fight.
Mugabi, in off the Earl Hargrove fight that was his last exit before toll fight before getting smacked by Marvin Hagler, came out for this fight the way he had for that one.
Lemieux, channeling the fighter he was in his youth before Marco Antonio Rubio derailed his hopes for glory on Friday Night Fights in 2011, also came out looking to smash the guy in front of him.
We always hear about the irresistible force fighting the immovable object, but this was just the force fighting the force like a Star Wars movie gone wrong. Lemieux came in throwing his lead left hand from a couple of different angles, one a traditional hook, the other a lead uppercut that functioned as much as a rising jab than as a true power shot.
That uppercut found its mark plenty in the first round; Mugabi seemed to have no reply to it; he merely went on the defensive until Lemieux was forced to retreat and regroup, then the Beast came in laying lumber of his own with the left hook and the overhand right.
While Mugabi landed some good shots, it was the man from Montreal who carried the first round.
Mugabi, seemingly incapable of throwing a jab, instead shortened up his hook in an effort to beat Lemieux to the punch. He threw it downstairs as a tight little uppercut, trying to use Lemieux’s forward momentum against him the way a baseball bat can hit a pitched ball harder than a ball off a tee.
Still, Lemieux was giving angles, and he started to mix in the right hand in an effort to maintain the inherent first-mover advantage for guys who initiate the exchanges. John Mugabi is not Pernell Whitaker; he would have to take the initiative himself if he was going to get back into this fight after getting knocked around early.
Finally, a left hook got there first for Mugabi, and it stunned Lemieux, who was momentarily defenseless as he struggled to regain his equilibrium. Mugabi came over the top with the right hand, mixing in those short uppercuts to the body and throwing wider uppercuts to split the guard when Lemieux went defensive.
Lemieux has never taken well to being genuinely hurt in a fight, and this contest was no exception. Mugabi, less fearful with every punch he landed, laid some lumber with the left and right and might have closed the show but for being beaten by the bell ending the third round.
Another left hook, with an overhand right behind it, managed to fell Lemieux like an oak tree a minute and a half into the round. The hook had Lemieux staggered; the right hand knocked him into next week and turned out the lights on this contest. Referee Mitch Halpern didn’t even need to count. He called a halt to the bout immediately.
RESULT: MUGABI KO4 LEMIEUX.
Riddick Bowe (3/11/1995, 36-1, 30 KOs) vs. Lennox Lewis (10/31/1992, 22-0, 19 KOs)
That’s right, folks. We’ve pulled Lewis from the Razor Ruddock fight; after Lewis knocked out Ruddock in two rounds, Bowe refused to face him, famously throwing his WBC title belt in a rubbish bin, dividing a heavyweight championship that had for the previous four years been unified under Mike Tyson.
Bowe comes in from his brutal slaughter of Herbie Hide, the other notable British heavyweight of the time, who held the WBO belt back when the WBO was seen as a joke by most of the boxing powers that be; at the time, it was considered a minor world title and has only retroactively been recognized by the Hall of Fame.
Bowe had one hell of a punch, but he often relied on his size at 6’5″ and with an 81-inch reach. Lewis is also 6’5″, but his long arms, the kind of arms you see on a basketball player, endow him with an even seven-foot wingspan, 84 inches, three longer than his opponent. The stage is set, and as Mills Lane, refereeing tonight’s contest, says, “let’s get it on!”
Lewis pumped out his jab like a piston, instantly moving to control range and keep the sloppier Bowe, who had a tendency to throw looping punches, off him. When Bowe opened up, he got a jab in his mug for his trouble. When Bowe tried to walk through the jab, besides taking a nasty shot on the way in, Lewis shortened up and got to him with the hook. Still, Bowe was able to do some damage once he got a little closer; Lewis, as good of a defender and counter-puncher as he was, could be found with a tight enough shot.
Still, the Brit got the better of the first round.
Lewis continued to box rather than slug with Bowe, and Bowe’s response was to continue to work his way inside. Trouble was, eating so many of Lennox’s jabs had shorted out Bowe’s sense of smart movement; he relied too much on trying to bob and weave and not enough on coming in behind the jab. He got more hesitant with every jab he ate, and Lewis started getting more bold with his timing, beginning to mix in the overhand right, a punch that thanks to the two men being the same height landed with a nearly effortless thump right on the face of Bowe when it got through the guard.
This was a clinic in frustrating an opponent, and the boxing exhibition on display was a template for teaching young fighters the art of ring generalship.
Finally, Bowe was able to get himself back in the fight. Lewis opened up with one of those overhand rights, which missed, and much like the classic boxing video games, dodge and counter was the order of the day. In those few frames of recovery to the neutral position, Bowe got a left hook up top which staggered Lewis and nearly dropped him. Bowe pursued, landing several shots to the head and body before Lewis was able to tie him up and Mills Lane was able to get between the two men to break them.
The net effect of the exchange was Lewis becoming a bit more vulnerable to overcommitting defensively, which blunted the ferocity of his attack with the lead hand. Bowe feasted on the chance to close distance with less worry and easily won the third round; in the broadcasters’ area, the commentators asked a rhetorical question of the audience whether indeed Bowe had earned a 10-8 without a knockdown.
Bowe continued to press his advantage in the fourth and fifth rounds, having seized the momentum, but Lewis was a guy who you either caught and finished or your moment would pass. Oliver McCall and Hasim Rahman had closed the show; Riddick Bowe failed to do so in the third, and as rounds four and five passed with Lewis re-establishing his jab, Bowe may have clearly won the fourth while the fifth was anyone’s guess, but the moment may well have been lost.
Lewis, back in control, worked the jab and the left hook with precision; Bowe began to show the first signs of his suspect conditioning. You can give a guy eight weeks in a 2016 training camp aided by a time machine, but you cannot force him to be something he’s not, and Bowe was not an endurance athlete. He was a feast-or-famine guy, and the food stores were beginning to run out in the larder of his stamina.
Lewis took command, easily winning the next four rounds, sapping the strength of the man in front of him even further, and most of all ensuring that Bowe would need a knockout to win.
Bowe, his arms weary, his legs holding him up due more to his solid chin at that point in his career than any kind of inherent strength, and grasping the gravity of the situation, made a last stand. He threw more wild shots, trying whatever he could to change the timbre of the fight with one punch.
Bowe caught Lewis with a left hook and tried to pursue, but Lewis was more matador than fleeing prey at this point in the contest. An overhand right from the British fighter dropped Bowe; many in attendance thought the fight was over for sure.
Bowe, however, rose at the count of seven, and the remaining 15 seconds of the round ticked down without incident as Bowe held on for dear life whenever Lewis got close to him.
His work effectively done, Lewis fought cautiously and in a state where he knew he had the win; he just had to make sure he didn’t get knocked out in the championship rounds.
When things went to the judges’ scorecards, judge Dave Moretti had it 118-109 and judges Dalby Shirley and Steve Weisfeld had it 117-110 for your winner, by unanimous decision…
RESULT: LEWIS W-UD12 BOWE.
Mike Tyson (5/30/1987, 30-0, 27 KOs) vs. Joe Frazier (3/8/1971, 27-0, 23 KOs)
We’ve got a special story in this fight. Cus D’Amato’s been brought in via time machine from 1983, and when Tyson saw him for the first time, it was as though a light in the darkness had been rekindled. For two short months in a place in time where neither man belonged, the young Iron Mike and the old mentor would have one last training camp, one last chance to settle the what-if questions about Cus living past the age of 77 into an age where he could have seen his young charge through so much of the trial of life that Tyson so often succumbed to in his rage.
Standing in his way? Smokin’ Joe Frazier, pulled from his greatest triumph, the first fight against Muhammad Ali.
Your referee for this fight is Carlos Padilla, who accompanied Tyson into the time machine from the Pinklon Thomas fight.
Tyson looked to close distance early and often, and he tossed out a snapping, vicious jab, a seeming contradiction in terms of a punch but thrown with such bad intentions that when it landed, it caused Frazier’s eyes to go a little darker, a little less filled with the sparkle of enthusiasm for fistic combat. It was a head-snapping jab, an artillery shelling while the bombers took off from the airfield near the battle.
Tyson, once he had the range, uncorked the uppercut with a ferocity normally associated with his eponymous video game, and 20 seconds into the fight, one of them landed right on the point of the chin. Frazier, always a bit too prone to his legs betraying him when he fought big punchers, fell in a heap on the canvas.
Some in attendance compared it to Tyson’s demolition of Smokin’ Joe’s son Marvis, but unlike Marvis Frazier, Joe was able to rise to the count rather than have the fight immediately stopped.
He was, however, on wobbly legs, and Tyson moved in for the kill, ripping the hook to the body, landing a couple of glancing blows with additional uppercuts, and finally cleanly smashing Frazier in the head with a left hook at the 68-second mark, inciting Padilla to another count.
Again Frazier beat the count, but when with 75 seconds remaining in the round, Tyson again struck gold with the uppercut, Frazier went down for a third time, and Padilla decided he’d seen enough, waving a halt to the contest shortly after looking in the now-vacant stare of the downed fighter.
The official time was 1:48 of the opening round. Tyson and D’Amato shared a final embrace as each was taken first to the Place Out of Time for a mind wipe, then sent back to 1987 and 1983, respectively. But on this night, in this arena, on this occasion, the laws of the universe itself were for the moment repealed, with incredible results.
RESULT: TYSON TKO1 FRAZIER.
Larry Holmes (10/2/1980, 36-0, 27 KOs) vs. Muhammad Ali (5/25/1965, 21-0, 17 KOs)
This is it, folks. The main event. The guys from the Temporal Commission had to watch that “Last Hurrah” fight, and their mood was somber and morose as they returned to 2688 to file their report; the most tragic fight in the history of boxing that didn’t involve someone getting killed in the ring was something nobody needed to see.
Grabbing Ali from the second Sonny Liston fight, on the other hand, that was a spectacle not to be missed by anyone with the time machine to get there. An electric example of “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee” overcame the massive appearance that the fix was in with the phantom punch and the questionable stoppage (at least insofar as Jersey Joe Walcott, acting as referee, had any control whatsoever of the fight; he was a better boxer than ref.)
This Ali won’t stand against the ropes unable to move, kept alive only by Holmes’s pulling his punches and trying not to kill him. This one’s for blood, and Ali should be a lot more lively.
Ali danced around the ring, light on his feet, fast with his hands, a blur of activity, the polar opposite of the man Holmes knocked out without even truly trying to do so 15 years onward. Holmes struggled to keep up at first; as good as he was at sticking and moving, he had a bit of an issue with cutting the ring down, something Michael Spinks was able to exploit at the end of Larry’s title run.
Dance, jab, dance, right hand, dance, jab jab jab, Ali was firmly in control in Round 1.
There was a moment in the second Henry Cooper fight during Ali’s pre-Vietnam prime that showed the one big weakness in the former Cassius Clay’s game. If he came in to throw a shot and his opponent managed to use the moment to tighten the engagement distance and cut off Ali’s retreat, Ali was surprisingly easy to hit, especially to the body.
Holmes took advantage of this, waiting for Ali to come in then mauling him into the ropes and going to work. Referee Arthur Mercante Sr. (whom the Commission had picked up while they were in 1971 grabbing Frazier for the co-feature) let it slide, aware that it would make the fight more fun for the fans if there was less dancing and more action.
Back and forth these guys went for three rounds of this; Ali would potshot on the outside, Holmes would maul on the inside, and the question became one of whether the judges saw and credited the harder punching or whether the control of distance was enough to tilt their cards to the man in motion. After four, the score was anyone’s guess.
It wouldn’t become fully evident until later in Ali’s career, but when he got hit clean, his tendency was to retreat to the ropes; what was a full-fledged strategy when he fought George Foreman and his final undoing when he fought Holmes in his own timeline was a coping strategy with receiving punishment in the days of fighting Sonny Liston.
When Holmes landed a straight right that staggered Ali due to its coming on a well-timed counter to an Ali attack, the Greatest indeed retreated back as far as the ring geography would allow.
Holmes pressed the advantage on the ropes, and this time he wasn’t pulling his punches. Sharp jabs and powerhouse straight rights came in like a carpet-bombing campaign. Sure, Ali’s defense was good enough that most of them didn’t land and those that did couldn’t do too much damage, but from the point of view of the crowd, it looked like Holmes was beating Ali up pretty good.
This went on for two rounds. It would not be until the seventh that Angelo Dundee was able to get through to his charge that he needed to come off the ropes rather than give points away.
Ali began to land the hook, timing Holmes as he tried to throw the right hand. This time it was Larry’s turn to retreat, and Ali, pursuing but never advancing recklessly, controlled distance and threw with pinpoint accuracy to keep Holmes from effectively moving his hands in reply.
Ali didn’t hurt Holmes; what he did was shift the balance of power back to the sturm und drang of one man controlling range and making his opponent miss and the other man using timing and grappling tactics to rough things up on the inside. Again, four rounds passed; again, it was a how-do-you-like-it for whether you rewarded Holmes for his hard punching or Ali for his ring generalship. With ten rounds gone, nobody in attendance had the beginning of a clue how the judges would score it; the only four easy-to-score rounds of the ten had gone two apiece.
This had become a chess match. Ali slowed down a little; all the mauling had done more to him protecting itself than it had to the aggressor using his body as a battering ram. Neither man enjoyed any real weight advantage; Holmes had come in at 213 pounds, Ali tipped the scales at 210.
The best way to think of it is grab a nearby friend who’s about the same size as you are and throw him onto a couch in the living room. Who got the worst of it, you doing the throwing or him being the guy who got thrown? Soft landings don’t matter, if you’re getting mauled, it’s better to be the giver rather than the receiver.
Holmes was able to exploit this just a wee bit more in the 11th round, landing several good shots to the body and slowing the dance of Ali on the outside. With one round left, Holmes had put a point into his own column.
Ali, meanwhile, opened up a little, controlling distance one again and throwing bigger shots. Whether he believed he needed a knockout or whether he just wanted to ensure there was no doubt in anyone’s mind, he poured on the punishment, even unleashing an “accidental” rabbit punch when the two men were in the clinch that Mercante either missed or let slide.
Whatever the means, the point is that Ali won the 12th round handily. With neither man having gained a decisive result, we go to the judges’ scorecards.
Judge Harold Lederman has it 114-114, a draw. Judges Dalby Shirley and Chuck Giampa see it the same, 115-113, for your winner, by majority decision…and STILL the greatest of all time…
RESULT: ALI W-MD12 HOLMES
This was a heavyweight explosion this week; next week, we’re going down the scale to 147 pounds for a pair of fights involving welterweights.
In the main event, Mark Breland takes on Shane Mosley, while the co-feature brings fans Lloyd Honeyghan taking on Wilfred Benitez. That happens next Saturday night, June 4th.
Meanwhile, thanks to everyone who’s been reading and participating in the discussions around Facebook (at Mythical Boxing and Ringside Report and Retro Boxing) for the past year. You guys make all this work on my weekend worthwhile, and I look forward to another year of exciting boxing action right here on Historical Fight Night!