Sometimes a fighter’s shelf life is so short that we don’t really have enough time to appreciate how good they really were. Other times, they’ve been around so long that we have plenty of good and bad to choose from before rendering a final verdict. Then there are those times when we have a fighter (or five) that had their chance in the spotlight, but didn’t get the appreciation that they deserved.
Whether they had a short prime, were downright ugly to watch, overshadowed by other fighters or buried by mismanagement, it doesn’t take away from the bottom line that these fighters were ultimately pretty good and we didn’t have a chance to recognize that when they were around.
These are five fighters who were ultimately better than advertised
5. Chris Byrd
Being an undersized fighter in the Heavyweight division is a terrible thing. It’s the only division where fighters can be routinely outweighed by 20-30 pounds BEFORE weighing in and if you aren’t built for the task, you’re not going to survive. We’ve seen all-time greats like Bob Foster and Archie Moore had legendary runs at Light Heavyweight before floundering where the big boys play and most recently, Tomasz Adamek and Steve Cunningham both could only find middling success after solid runs at Cruiserweight, which makes Chris Byrd’s run in the early 00s all the more impressive.
The former Olympian who won a silver medal at Middleweight in the 1992 Olympics stood at 6’1” but had tremendous boxing ability. During his time as a pro, Byrd twice captured the Heavyweight title becoming the second southpaw champion in the history of the sport and compiled wins over the likes of Vitali Klitschko, Evander Holyfield and David Tua. Of course, Byrd’s small size as a Heavyweight did him in when he would be downright battered by Ike Ibeabuchi and twice by Wladimir Klitschko.
By the time Byrd retired, he did so after an ill-fated attempt to move down to Light Heavyweight where he fought only once, a one-sided stoppage to Donovan George, and retired. Byrd’s final career record stands at 41-5-1.
4. Chris John
Indonesian Chris John attained notoriety after winning a controversial decision over Juan Manuel Marquez and in effect killing the first rematch between Marquez and Manny Pacquiao, but John’s body of work was remarkably impressive otherwise. John defended his WBA Featherweight title 18 times over the course of nine years and while most of those defenses came in his native Indonesia, John had the goods.
The Marquez bout may have been what put him on the map, but John’s wins over Rocky Juarez (when it meant something), Derrick Gainer and Daud Yordan showed that he was a hidden gem brought into the spotlight too late in his career. Though John tried to land higher profile fights once he established a global identity, time caught up to him and following a draw to Satoshi Honoso and first career loss to Simpiwe Vetyeka, John called it a day and retired for good.
John’s final record stands a respectable 48-1-3 and a Hall of Fame nomination would not be out of the question of one the Featherweight division’s longest reigning champions.
3. Kelly Pavlik
When Kelly “The Ghost” Pavlik defeated Jermaine Taylor for the Middleweight title in 2007, he became the champion HBO had longingly hoped Taylor to become. He was exciting, hard hitting and had a strong fan following that ensured he would be a network staple for years to come. While Pavlik’s prime only lasted a few years, many of them troubled, Pavlik’s roller coaster ride outside of the ring overshadowed his work inside of it.
Pavlik defeated Taylor in far easier fashion in their rematch and was a pulverizing Middleweight champion with the beatings he gave Gary Lockett and Marco Antonio Rubio showing his dominance in the division. Pavlik would later move up to Super Middleweight after taking losses to first Bernard Hopkins in a Light Heavyweight clash and losing his title to Sergio Martinez and re-established himself as a top contender at a time the division was deep with talent, accomplishing this all the while dealing with personal demons that plagued his career.
His resurgence was about to cap off with a chance to face Andre Ward for all the marbles back in 2012, but Ward suffered an injury that pushed the fight out indefinitely and Pavlik opted to retire instead. The Youngstown puncher had a short, but extremely meaningful run that often gets overlooked by the runs that proceeded it. Pavlik has recently re-emerged on the scene as an analyst, hosting his podcast along with James Dominguez which is actually quite good. Check it out here.
2. Antonio Tarver
Forever remembered as the man who killed Superman, Antonio Tarver held the Light Heavyweight title on multiple occasions and had memorable runs at Cruiserweight and Heavyweight well into his 40s, but was unable to live past his shocking second round knockout of Roy Jones Jr. Tarver’s problem was that he wasn’t consistent with his success, having several peaks and valley along the way and controversy mucked up what was otherwise a fantastic career.
A former silver medalist in the Atlanta Olympics and getting a late start in the sport, Tarver holds wins over Jones, Eric Harding, Montell Griffin, Clinton Woods, Glen Johnson and Danny Green as well as a starring role as the antagonist in Rocky Balboa. The extremely well skilled Tarver managed to fight well beyond his sell-by date, but was unable to shake the controversy generated by not one, but two instances of testing positive for banned substances. Though not officially retired, Tarver has been on the shelf following the second of those penalties and may not have much to offer at 48.
Despite all things, Tarver was a great talent during his prime years and positively contributed to the game by being one of the best fighters ever behind the mike and a boisterous personality to boot. Though Tarver may not have been consistent enough to ever be considered great, his accomplishments cannot, and will not, be ignored.
1. Cory Spinks
Never has one fighter accomplished so much with so little as was the case with Cory Spinks. Spinks, coming from the same championship family as father Leon and uncle Michael, was a two-division champion with unparalleled boxing ability and an almost hypnotic style that could put anyone to sleep. Spinks was so light-fisted, it is debatable if he could knock a glass of water off the table, but he was at one time considered to be the best pure boxer in the sport.
Spinks unexpectedly defeated Ricardo Mayorga to become the undisputed Welterweight champion of the world and successfully defended his title against Zab Judah before losing the title in their rematch. Not to be deterred, Spinks moved up to 154 and defeated then top-dog Roman Karmazin and very nearly ended the reign of Jermain Taylor at Middleweight before Kelly Pavlik did in a detestable and nearly unwatchable bout. Though Spinks would lose, then regain the title following the Taylor clash, he would remain champion until Cornelius Bundrage ended his run as a top fighter in 2010.
Honestly, Spinks spent his entire career as an unlikely underdog who always rose above the expectations many had of him. While his boring style made sure he’d be forgotten with time, made easier with him burning out at the end of his career, he was still something to see if you could stomach it.