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When 3 Great Boxers Defeated 3 Past Their Prime Great Boxers!

Joe Louis, Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Robinson boxing photo

By Ken Hissner: This writer recalls when three great boxers were past their prime like too many boxers but continued boxing for whatever reasons only to lose. Knowing if they hung around too long, inferior boxers would possibly defeat them; they accepted these fights usually for “the money!” In these three cases, I’m not saying the winners were inferior or not.

The first that comes to mind was back in October of 1951 at Madison Square Garden in New York. In one corner was a former champion many considered and still do one of the two if not the greatest heavyweight champion of all time. He went by the name of “The Brown Bomber.” Yes, Joe Louis, who at the time was 66-2 with 52 stoppages.

Though Louis was on an eight-fight winning streak since his loss to Ezzard “The Cincinnati Cobra” Charles, 66-5-1, by decision in September of 1950 at Yankee Stadium, Bronx, New York, losing his world title, he was past his prime back then at age 35.

Louis had wins during those eight previous fights that night in October, with only two of them ending in stoppage over such opponents such as Argentina’s Cesar Brion, 29-3, by decision on two of those occasions.

The three stoppages were over Freddy Beshore, 28-10-1, Andy Walker, 17-8-1, and Lee Savold, 104-44-4 (who the British Board still recognized as world champion). In his previous fight before this one in October, Louis defeated Jimmy Bivins, 78-20-1, who was considered the “temporary champ” when Louis was in the Army while still world champion but not defending his title.

On that night in October, Louis faced an unbeaten Rocky Marciano, 37-0 with 33 stoppages, from Brockton, Mass. His biggest win prior to this night was knocking out Rex Layne, 34-1-2, in July.

After seven rounds, Marciano was ahead on the scorecards by 4-2, 5-2, and 4-3.

In the eighth round, Marciano dropped Louis with a left hook for an 8-count by referee Rudy Goldstein. Upon rising, Louis met a barrage of punches from Marciano, knocking him through the ropes forcing referee Goldstein to call a halt without a count. This would be the last bout for Louis. It was rumored Marciano cried in the dressing room after defeating “his hero” Joe Louis.

Five fights and eleven months later, Marciano being behind in his first title fight 7-4, 8-4, and 7-5, he knocked out the world champion “Jersey” Joe Walcott, 49-18-1, in the thirteenth round, and the rest is history finishing his career at 49-0 with 43 stoppages in September of 1955 stopping light heavyweight champion Archie “Old Mongoose” Moore, 149-19-8, in the ninth round after having hit the canvas himself in the second round.

Another match was in October of 1980 when WBC World heavyweight champion Larry “The Easton Assassin” Holmes, 35-0, at Caesars Palace, in Las Vegas, Nevada, in his seventh title defense met 38-year-old WBA World champion Muhammad “The Greatest” Ali, 56-3. Ali hadn’t fought since regaining his title, defeating Leon Spinks, 7-0-1, some twenty-five months before this night.

This writer remembers being at Ali’s training camp in nearby Deer Lake, PA, looking at him sitting there after a sparring session simply looking “fat!” Not wanting him to take this fight, I said, “look at the shape you are in. You and Max Baer had the greatest physics among the heavyweight champs but look at you now. Why are you taking this fight?” He padded his fat stomach and said, “I like my ice cream!”

Though coming in 3 ½ pounds lighter than in the Spinks fight, Ali was certainly but a shell of himself. For ten rounds, Holmes gave Ali mostly a body beating well ahead 100-89 and 100-90 twice on the scorecards. It would be the only time in his then sixty-fight career Ali would quit in the corner.

Though Holmes would at time motion to referee Richard Green to stop the fight, he continued going to the body and head of the defenseless Ali. Ali’s career cut-man Dr. Ferdie Pacheco had refused to work the corner for Ali after the Spinks fight saying he should never fight again.

Unlike Marciano showing regret after defeating Louis, Holmes proclaimed he now was “the greatest!” The arrogance of Holmes was quite different than that of Marciano’s. Ali would fight one more time, losing to Trevor Berbick, 19-2-1, in December of 1981, by decision. Ali ended with a record of 56-5 with 37 stoppages at the age of 39.

In January of 1988, Holmes, 48-2, after a pair of losses to light heavyweight champion Michael “Jinx” Spinks, some twenty-one months previously in his last fight, was destroyed by “Iron” Mike Tyson, 32-0, in four rounds after being chased down being dropped twice. The second knockdown had Holmes feet up in the air as he hit the canvas onto his back, causing referee Joe Cortez waving it off at 2:55 of the round.

The third match-up, though, this writer isn’t saying the winner was better overall than the loser who, having held three world titles though an ex-champion that night, was undoubtedly one of the greatest of all time. But the winner, in this writer’s opinion, was the greatest boxer pound-for-pound of all time.

The former champion was Henry “Homicide Hank” Armstrong, who was 132-17-8 that night, having only been stopped twice in his career, once at the beginning of his career and another losing his welterweight title to Fritzie Zivic 103-24-6, some three years previously than on that night.

In their previous fight is when Armstrong lost his title to Zivic. On that night, on the undercard making his debut was none other than “Sugar” Ray Robinson.

After stopping Joe Echevarria, 4-17-4, in the second round that night, he hurried out to see “his idol” Armstrong lose his title to Zivic and vowed someday to beat Zivic. He never got that opportunity, but Armstrong did defeat Zivic in their third meeting in October of 1942 when both were former champions.

At Madison Square Garden in New York, Armstrong, on a seven-fight winning streak at the age of thirty-three, he met a future world champion named “Sugar” Ray Robinson, 44-1, age twenty-two. Robinson would win all ten rounds and admit afterward at times allow his idol Armstrong to clinch with him, not wanting to go for a knockout.

It wouldn’t be until December of 1946 when Robinson, 73-1-1, would get his chance at a world title when he came off the canvas in the second round to win by defeating world welterweight champion Tommy Bell, 39-10-3, whom he knocked down in the eleventh winning by scores of 8-6 and 10-5 twice, at Madison Square Garden.

Robinson would end his career in November of 1965, losing to light hitting Joey Archer, 44-1, with eight stoppages, over ten rounds at the Pittsburgh Civic Arena. Robinson would finish his career at 174-19-6 with 109 stoppages.

Armstrong would end his career with a 149-21-10 record with 99 stoppages in February of 1945, losing to Chester Slider, 37-18-12, at the Auditorium in Oakland, CA, though the crowd booed the decision.




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