Fres Oquendo (tied for 198)
San Juan, Puerto Rico
April 1, 1973
6’2” / 80” reach / 210-238lbs
37-8-0-0(24) from 05/10/1997 to 7/6/2014 (17y2m)
0-4-0-0(0) against the top ten
0-1-0-0(0) against linear champions
0-1-0-0(0) against hall-of-famers
no fights for the linear championship
Top ten opponents: L-TKO-9 David Tua, L-UD-12 Chris Byrd, L-TKO-11 John Ruiz, L-MD-12 Ruslan Chagaev
-4 total score (0 + -4 + 0 + 0)
Fres Oquendo is the closest thing to an active fighter that I’ve profiled so far. In theory, his ranking could change over the next year or so that it takes to complete this project. But he also hasn’t actually fought since July 2014, around two-and-a-half years before this current writing. So he is technically not active, though there has been some rumbling about a fight with former linear champ Shannon Briggs. If that happens, he may indeed shift in the rankings.
In the meantime, Fres Oquendo is- first and foremost -unlucky. Unlucky in the sense that true fame consistently eluded him as he seemed to always drop the decision against the better-connected opponent.
Oquendo was a fairly slick, fast counter-puncher. He had deceptive power, and was able to turn fights ugly, especially against other counter-punchers. In short, nobody liked fighting him. He was too good to beat with ease, but never attained the popularity to make a fight with him worthwhile. He languished on the fringes of the division throughout the first decade of the 21st century, never quite breaking through. Had a few breaks gone his way, he could be much higher up this list. Instead, he barely sneaks into the top 200, though that’s still not a bad place to be.
Oquendo turned professional in 1997, after an extensive amateur career, including a national Golden Gloves championship at heavyweight in 1993. He fought the usual lower-level suspects in his first year-and-a-half, until taking on fellow prospect Duncan Dokiwari in his 11th pro fight, winning by wide decision.
Better competition followed later that year, with trialhorse Phil Jackson, and former contender Bert Cooper both losing to Fres by decisions.
By March 2001, Fres had compiled a 19-0(10) record, and faced off against fellow 19-0 prospect Cliff Etienne. The Black Rhino was considered a future star in the making by many boxing experts. He had a good redemption story, and had a pressuring, crowd-pleasing style. Fres surprised everyone as he treated Etienne as his own personal basketball, bouncing him off the canvas 7 times over eight rounds. Etienne came into the fight as a 10-1 favorite, and Oquendo provided the audience with a big upset.
Bigger things came for Oquendo for awhile, and he answered with a continuation of his power surge. An 11th-round TKO of former contender Obed Sullivan and a third-round stoppage of David Izon led to a showdown with the comebacking David Tua. For several rounds, Oquendo played matador, moving and countering, not giving Tua a target. Tua was well behind on the cards after 8 rounds, and seemed on his way to a 4th loss and an end to contention. But Oquendo’s movement couldn’t keep the powerful Samoan away all night. In the 9th round, Tua managed to connect with a hard bodyshot while Oquendo was backed up to the ropes. It hurt Oquendo, as did a followup left hook and overhand right. Oquendo managed to clinch, but he was wobbly. After the referee pulled them apart, Tua went to work ripping big hooks and crosses at Fres. With Fres out on his feet in a corner, the referee pulled the plug, handing Oquendo his first loss, and giving Tua’s career a shot in the arm.
Fres took eight months off, and came back that December against Brazillian favorite George Arias, stopping him after 11 one-sided rounds. A 10th round come-from-behind KO of slick fringe contender Maurice Harris followed three months later. That victory propelled Oquendo to an IBF title shot against Ring Magazine 2nd-ranked Chris Byrd. Oquendo and Byrd had somewhat similar styles, relying on fast hands and quick reflexes to befuddle and outbox their opponents. In this instance, Oquendo seemed to get the better of the more-experienced Byrd, countering him well, especially in the middle rounds. When two counter-punchers face off, the winner is often the one who manages to maintain his style, and forces the other to become the aggressor. In this fight, Byrd ended up taking on that role, to his detriment. Byrd came on strong toward the end, but many observers thought Byrd was lucky to come away with the decision. Oquendo was now 24-2(15).
The disputed loss didn’t ruin Fres, however. He was given another title shot seven months later, this time against WBA titlist John Ruiz. The defending titlist was always a troubling opponent, with an annoyingly effective jab-and-grab style that frequently frustrated talented opponents. The fight was a typical John Ruiz fight, with a great deal of mauling and clinching disrupting the action. When Oquendo found a rhythm, he was able to land meaningful punches, but Ruiz was generally able to clinch and keep Oquendo off his game. Finally, in the 11th round, Ruiz landed a sneaky right hand that shook Oquendo. He followed up with a good combination that had Oquendo reeling, and referee Wayne Kelly waived the fight off with 25 seconds left in the round. Oquendo was still on his feet, and didn’t seem terribly hurt, but he also took multiple flush shots and had definitely been staggering. The stoppage was merciful to those watching the rather awkward affair.
With three losses now on his record, Oquendo took almost two years off, not appearing in the ring again until February 2006. Two wins over good journeymen brought Fres into the ring with Evander Holyfield, who was in a comeback attempt of his own. Holyfield was a shell of his former self, and in a bad matchup anyway, as quick defensively-minded fighters always gave him fits, even in his prime. Evander started well, scoring an early knockdown, and also managed to hurt Oquendo in the 7th. Beyond those moments, Oquendo appeared to land more and fight more effectively throughout most of the fight. Most observers saw Oquendo as the narrow winner. But Holyfield got the nod, and his comeback continued. Fres fought well in a disputed loss, and had to move on.
Three more wins against journeymen followed, leading to a showdown with former contender and blown-up middleweight James Toney. Oquendo and Toney fought fairly evenly, but Oquendo generally outlanded the older man, and finished the fight very strong, hurting Toney late and sweeping the last couple rounds. Most observers scored the fight 7-5 or 8-4 for Fres. And yet again, Oquendo’s opponent had his hand raised. Toney’s vast reservoir of skills allowed him to compete at a weightclass he was ill-suited for, but by December 2008, it was clear that even his skills could no longer make up for size disadvantages and diminished reflexes. But his career continued to roll on with a gift decision. And Fres Oquendo went back to the drawing board.
Three more wins, then a highly-disputed loss to former cruiserweight champion Jean-Marc Mormeck. Oquendo won according to almost everyone but the judges. His next fight was what appeared to be a dull and clear decision win over an ancient Oliver McCall, but the judges awarded McCall with the split decision.
Five more wins followed, and finally, in July 2014, a shot at faded contender Ruslan Chagaev. This one was very close, and the majority decision win for Chagaev was not nearly as disputed as other losses suffered by Fres. Nonetheless, Oquendo could have been given the nod by a reasonable judge, and once again was not. Although, after Chagaev, Oquendo tested positive for two different banned substances, and hasn’t been seen in the ring since.
Arguably, six of Oquendo’s eight losses could have gone the other way. This might have meant a vastly different career, had some of those been scored differently. But while close losses don’t advance him far up my list, his solid efforts against good opponents mean he’s still deserving of recognition, and a place in heavyweight history.
And as a postscript, if Fres does end up facing off against Shannon Briggs later this year, expect to see an update, and possibly some movement on this list, since Shannon is a former linear champion.