They used to call the heavyweight championship of the world the richest prize in sport. Then along came Floyd Mayweather Jr.
Last month in Las Vegas, the money man trousered more in ten rounds than Wladimir Klitschko did in ten years – or Muhammad Ali in his entire career.
Mayweather’s $300 million plus pay cheque for his ludicrous mismatch with the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s (UFC) Conor McGregor was at welterweight – but it is the higher division of middleweight where the real boxing riches abound. Not so much in monetary terms but in tradition, talent, unforgettable contests and fistic lore.
Middleweight is the traditional glory division of boxing, with legendary figures such as Sugar Ray Robinson, Harry Greb, Carlos Monzon, Jake LaMotta, Tony Zale, Rocky “Somebody Up There Likes Me” Graziano, Stanley Ketchel, Mickey Walker and Marvin Hagler engaging in epic clashes. The likes of which have been markedly absent in the division in recent times, until now.
Once again the middleweight division is suddenly bursting with excitement and lick-lipping anticipation.
So on Saturday night I will be hotfooting it from London’s Copper Box to the box in my lounge, anxious to catch the exclusive BoxNation telecast from Las Vegas of what could well be the fight of the year – possibly any year. The unbeaten smiling assassin Gennady “Triple G” Golovkin from Kazakhstan and the fiery-fisted Mexican redhead Saul “Canelo” Alvarez will settle their multi-belted middleweight differences.
The preceding World Boxing Organization middleweight title duel at the Copper Box, in London’s Olympic Park, is between a re-honed Billy Joe Saunders and American challenger Willie Monroe Jr. It is an appetite-whetter for the epic feast to follow.
Golovkin, 35, with an 88 per cent knock-out record and the holder of four world titles, puts his undefeated record of 38 bouts on the line against arguably the most outstanding young talent on the planet. The Mexican is the scourge of British fighters with Canelo last seen sending Amir Khan to dreamland.
Canelo, 27, began boxing at 16 and in 50 fights only Mayweather has beaten him – just.
I believe this could be the most gripping confrontation in the 160 pound division since Marvin Hagler and Thomas Hearns fought that brief battle of raw intensity in the same Sin City 32 years ago, though it is likely to last longer.
There has not been a world middleweight title fight to match it in those three decades since.
Having fancied Golovkin from the moment the momentous match was made, I am not about to switch horses.
Canelo may be the smarter boxer but GGG is the stronger man and heavier puncher. He may take one to give two but I have yet to see him wince.
He reminds me so much of Hagler, my all-time favorite fighter outside Ali.
Most of boxing’s middleweight masters are now celluloid images from a bygone age, but I did see Hagler and Hearns in that war of attrition forever etched in the consciousness.
Hagler came from the same boxing backyard in Brockton, Massachusetts, as Rocky Marciano and for a golden spell in the 1980s he, Hearns and Sugar Ray Leonard were boxing’s holy trinity. Toss Roberto Duran into the mix and between them they fought each other nine times.
If there is one fight I could watch over and over again – apart from “The Thrilla in Manila” – it would be Hagler against Hearns.
Their brutal and bloody collision at Caesar’s Palace on April 15, 1985 lasted a mere eight minutes and one second but it stunned the boxing world with its undiluted savagery.
It is said that the first blistering round was the fiercest ever seen. The Ring magazine called it “the greatest round in boxing history”.
Both slammed sickening punches to the other’s head, leaving Hagler with blood pumping out of a deep gash.
Hagler emerged from that early skirmish looking as if someone had ripped at his face with a can opener. At the end of the round the referee Richard Steele, alarmed at the amount of claret cascading down Hagler’s face, asked him, “Can you see?” Hagler snapped back: “Well, I ain’t missing him, am I?”
Just under two rounds later, Steele had to rescue Hearns from being knocked out – or worse.
In the third, immediately after the ringside medic had given Hagler a reprieve, the champion chased after Hearns, catching him with a powerful left and then a right that spun Hearns around and made him stagger back defenseless. Hagler followed him across the ring and landed two more long, solid rights.
Hearns went down and lay unmoved on his back seemingly unconscious, but somehow he staggered to his feet by the count of nine. But his eyes were crossed and his legs were rubbery, and the referee rightly stopped it.
At the weigh-in, Hagler, who had been the undisputed middleweight champion since September 1980, had warned Hearns “you better hope I don’t bleed, it only makes me meaner”.
Hagler subsequently recalled: “Every time I see it, I still get chills up and down my spine. When I look at it, I’m glad it’s over. It was war.”
And war it was – the very word blazoned on his baseball cap as he entered the ring.
Plenty of good judges had thought the gangling Hearns might have too much for Hagler. He stood at six foot and one inch, unusually tall for a natural welterweight who had stopped 26 of 28 opponents before moving up to middleweight.
His trainer, the late Manny Steward, said of him: “Tommy comes into the ring like a leopard, let loose to feed.” But the shaven-headed Hagler was the hungrier beast on that unforgettable night.
Hearns had been beaten only once, when he ran out of gas against Leonard in 1981 and was stopped in the 14th round. Either side of that epic bout, Hearns had knocked out 34 of 40 opponents.
That was Hagler’s 65th fight and the 11th defense of the title he won from Britain’s Alan Minter in 1980 amid a deeply unsavory scenario involving racism.
Minter had made a stupid pre-fight comment which would probably see him banned today. “There’s no way I am going to lose my title to a black man,” he vowed. A furious Hagler demolished him in three rounds, causing a riot outside the ring with bottles and glasses being thrown and Hagler being hustled to the Wembley dressing room by police.
He quit two years and two fights after beating Hearns, controversially losing a split decision to Leonard. He remains bitter that Leonard refused a rematch. Now 63, he is less than a stone over the 11st 6lb middleweight limit.
“I keep my weight down just in case Leonard ever decides to give me that return,” he said.
“I’ve been retired 29 years but people still talk about my fights as if they were yesterday.”
Before Mayweather finally got it on with Manny Pacquiao, Hagler had correctly predicted the “fight of the century” would bore the pants off the punters.
“Mayweather can put you to sleep,” he said. “The way he boxes and moves brings no excitement to the game.”
Unlike the way Hagler and Hearns did.
Marvin Nathaniel Hagler changed his name legally to Marvelous Marvin in 1986, insisting on the singular spelling of the soubriquet. No doubt because he always was one L of a fighter.
To this day boxing fans continue to talk in awe of the night the two H-bombs went to war.
I have a hunch that after this weekend Golovkin and Alvarez will be bracketed in the same breath.
By Alan Hubbard
Republished with permission from insidethegames.biz.