Number 177 – Alvin “Blue” Lewis

Lewis_Al_Blue

from boxrec.com

Alvin Lewis (tied for 173)
Detroit, Michigan, USA
1943
6’3” / 205-225 lbs
30-6-0-0(19) from 06/21/1966 to 11/14/1973 (7y5m)

1-4-0-0(1) against the top ten – #142 total and #134 +/-
0-1-0-0(0) against linear champions – #89 total and #58 +/-
0-1-0-0(0) against hall-of-famers – #109 total and #60 +/-
No fights for the linear championship

Top ten opponents: W-KO-2 Hector Corletti, L-TKO-9, L-SD-10 Leotis Martin, L-DQ-7 Oscar Bonavena, L-TKO-11 Muhammad Ali

-1 total score (1 + -3+ 0 + 1)

Alvin Lewis is something of a mystery. There isn’t a lot of biographical information on the man known as Blue available on the interwebs.

What is known is that he was a big heavyweight for his era, standing 6’3″, and weighing around 220 in his prime. He had some boxing skills and some power, although he wasn’t outstanding in either category.  He was also known to be a popular sparring partner, having provided sparring work for Muhammad Ali and George Foreman, as well as several other elite heavyweights of the era.

Blue turned pro in June 1966, and won 14 straight bouts over the next year-and-a half. He was upset in December ’67 by 12-11 journeyman Bob Stallings, finding himself stopped in 7 rounds.

Lewis would bounce back quickly, stopping a clubfighter in 7 rounds, four months later, and then rematching Stallings a month after that. This time, Blue won a 10 round decision, and could move on with his career.

In July 1968, Lewis got his first crack at a real contender, and impressed everyone, blowing away Eduardo Corletti in 2 rounds. He’d win a third fight over Bob Stallings, then take on contender Leotis Martin that November. Lewis started out well, dropping the smaller man with the first punch thrown in the fight. But Martin was a smart and crafty boxer, and gradually worked his way back into the fight. He wore Lewis down, and put him on the canvas three times in the 9th to score the stoppage.

Lewis got a shot at immediate redemption, taking a rematch with Martin just three months later. This time, the fight went the distance, but once again, Blue couldn’t quite get past Martin, dropping a 10 round split nod.

Lewis would spend the next couple years working his way back into contention. He won 7 straight, including a knockout over a faded Cleveland Williams. In October 1971, those wins led to a fight with contender Oscar Bonavena. Blue fought well, and held his own, but managed to lose by disqualification in the 7th round.

His performance was solid enough to merit a shot at his former sparring partner (and former champ) Muhammad Ali. The Greatest was on the comeback trail from his loss to Joe Frazier the previous year, and was doing something of a world tour, facing mostly elite opposition. He picked Blue as his dance partner for a fight in Ireland, of all places. The fight itself was the subject of a fun documentary, When Ali Came to Ireland. It also was relatively one sided. Blue came to fight, and occasionally disrupted Ali’s rhythm with sporadic charges. But Ali was in a different class. He knocked Lewis down hard at the end of the 5th round, and had the knockdown occurred with a bit more time in the round, he might have stopped him there. Lewis would endure for a while longer, but Ali gradually took him apart, and forced a referee stoppage in the 11th.

The loss to Ali ended Blue’s time as a contender. He would score a win in his next fight, but then lose to fringe contender (and future actor) Jack O’Halloran in a bit of a surprise. Blue would follow it up with three more wins to close out 1973, but none were against serious contenders.

After that, as mentioned above, I don’t have much information on Lewis, except that he is considered a respected trainer these days in Detroit. And for a few years in the middle of the heavyweight golden age of the late 60s through early 70s, Al “Blue” Lewis was a significant name and occasional contender. He got to fight Ali, and was one half of a good documentary (albeit one that didn’t spend much time on him). If I discover more about the man as I write these, I will update it here.

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Number 178 – Buster Mathis

Mathis67

from Boxrec.com

Buster Mathis (tied for 173)
Sledge, Mississippi, USA
June 11, 1943 – September 6, 1995
6’3” / 76″ reach / 220-300 lbs
30-4-0-0(21) from 06/28/1965 to 09/29/1972 (7y3m)

1-4-0-0(1) against the top ten – #142 total and #134 +/-
0-1-0-0(0) against linear champions – #89 total and #58 +/-
0-1-0-0(0) against hall-of-famers – #109 total and #60 +/-
No fights for the linear championship

Top ten opponents: W-UD-12 George Chuvalo, L-TKO-11 Joe Frazier, L-UD-12 Jerry Quarry, L-UD-12 Muhammad Ali, L-KO-2 Ron Lyle

-1 total score (1 + -3+ 0 + 1)

Throughout heavyweight history, there have been plenty of fighters who started off as blue-chip prospects, and eventually disappointed. This is inevitable. For every major success, there are a dozen failures. I’ve already covered a handful of promising young fighters who burned out early, or were put in against tough competition before they were ready. Busted prospects will be a recurring theme of this project. Even very successful fighters can be considered underachievers.

Buster Mathis is a great example of this. He was a decorated amateur, selected to represent the US in the 1964 Olympics. Fate did not smile upon him, however. Mathis was injured before he could travel to Tokyo. Instead, Joe Frazier, the man he beat in the Olympic trials, won the gold at heavyweight in his stead.

Mathis was a large man, standing 6’3″, and early in his career weighing well in excess of 250 pounds. This was in an era where the average heavyweight frequently weighed around 200, and sometimes below. He actually turned pro weighing exactly 300 pounds. This was June of 1965. Despite his bulk, he moved well in the ring, specializing in a smooth, long-range style. He had solid power, but worked behind a long jab. As his career got going, he lost weight, working himself into shape. For his sixth fight, against fellow prospect (and future contender) Chuck Wepner, Mathis was down to 267. Three fights later, he was down to 245, where he would consistently remain for more than a year.

By the end of 1967, Mathis was 23-0(17). He had faced numerous journeymen and club fighters, but no serious contenders. Despite his Olympic pedigree, and two-and-a-half years as a pro, Mathis was untested against tough opposition. Chuck Wepner may have been his best opponent up to that point. And yet, despite his limited professional opposition, the former amateur legend was thrown into the deep waters for the first time in March of 1968.

At 19-0, Joe Frazier was already considered the best heavyweight in the world not named Muhammad Ali. The former amateur victim of Mathis had beaten the likes of Oscar Bonavena, Eddie Machen, Doug Jones, and George Chuvalo. He was battle-tested, and already experienced at the elite level. Mathis had beaten Frazier before, but that was practically a lifetime before, in ring terms. They were both different men now.

The fight itself was competitive early on. For about 6 rounds, Mathis boxed well, and made Frazier work for it. As the fight wore on, Frazier grew stronger, and started working over Mathis, especially to the body. Mathis was eventually overwhelmed by the ferocity and power of the smaller man, and Frazier ended matters with his signature left hook late in the 11th. The massive bomb dropped Mathis for the first time in his career, prompting a referee stoppage.

Mathis was devastated by the loss. gaining weight, and suffering from depression. But he would find it in himself to bounce back, winning five straight through the remainder of 1968. In February 1969, Mathis got his second shot at a contender, this time in the form of the inhumanly durable Canadian pressure fighter George Chuvalo. This time, after a sloppy and foul-filled start, Mathis settled down, and beat Chuvalo up from long range. After 12 rounds, Mathis won a wide and brutal 12 round decision. He was now ranked in the top ten by the Ring, and was a legitimate contender.

Just a month and a half later, Mathis would take on his next contender, the Bellflower Bomber, Jerry Quarry. Based on the strength of his competitive showing against Frazier, and his solid win over Chuvalo, Mathis was installed as the favorite. Quarry was known as being talented, but inconsistent. It was thought that the skills, speed, and size of Mathis would prove too much for the smaller Quarry.

Quarry wasn’t listening to the predictions, though, and showed Mathis no respect in what turned into a one-sided beating. Quarry dropped Mathis with a big right hand in the second, and then had his way in the fight from then on. Quarry hurt Mathis repeatedly, especially to the body, and never let the larger man get settled. After 12 rounds, Quarry won a clear decision, and Mathis ended up taking a break from boxing.

A long break.

In fact, Mathis wouldn’t enter the ring again for more than two-and-a-half years. And when he did, it was for a big payday against a comebacking Muhammad Ali. The Greatest was coming off his loss to Joe Frazier, and a comeback win over Jimmy Ellis. After 30 months away, and only a brief run of serious contention before that, Mathis was not considered to be a credible threat to Ali. Instead, he represented a tune up before bigger fights.

It turned out that “tune-up” was accurate. Mathis was rusty and overweight, and Ali took advantage, out-boxing him thoroughly. By the later rounds, Mathis had been beaten up. Ali dropped him twice in the 11th, and twice more in the 12th, coming close to scoring a stoppage. Mathis hung in there, and managed to last the distance. But the loss to Ali halted any possible career momentum Mathis might have had.

Mathis would be out of action for another ten months, before returning to the ring in something of a stunt fight. Mathis had ballooned back up in weight, and at 280 pounds, would face the 260 pound Claude McBride in a fight concocted by referee and promoter Lew Eskin. The idea was to create a “super heavyweight” division and championship, an idea tried in the 1930s, and also discussed at times in the 21st century.

The super heavyweight dream died swiftly, but Mathis did score an easy 3rd round KO win – his first win in three-and-a-half years. This win led straight into a fight just a few weeks later against rising undefeated prospect Ron Lyle. The powerful Lyle was actually older than Mathis, but turned pro in his late 20s after a stint in prison, where he first learned to box. While no longer a contender, Mathis was definitely a competitive step up for Lyle, and represented a potentially stiff test. Instead, Lyle demolished Mathis in two short rounds. Lyle would go on to title challenges and perennial contention for years. Mathis would never fight again.

Buster Mathis would go on to working in trucking. His son would enjoy a modestly successful career as a heavyweight fringe contender in the 1990s. Mathis would suffer from health issues after boxing, in particular due to his weight, which eventually reached 550 pounds. He died in 1995 at age 52.

Mathis is rightly remembered as one of the all-time great amateur boxers. A lack of discipline and consistency prevented him from turning his unpaid success into a lengthy pro career. However, even what amounted to be a relative disappointment of a pro resume still included a win over a top contender, and memorable battles against all-time greats. His failure was still more impressive than most people’s wild success.

 

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Overrated/Underrated – Heavyweight Edition

Risko.Johnny2

From boxrec.com

This past Saturday, former linear champion Wladimir Klitschko did battle with up-and-coming contender Anthony Joshua. Similar size, similar attributes, similar styles, the two heavyweights were like strange mirror images of each other. Except that the old lion was being underrated in many circles, and young Joshua was being somewhat overrated.

Now, this is not a knock on Anthony Joshua. He has talent, skills, and athleticism. He’s built like a superhero, and seems like a nice guy. But he had one win over a fringe contender who probably didn’t deserve his top ten ranking, and a win over a good prospect. And that was it. Anthony Joshua looked like the goods, but he hadn’t proven it yet.

Klitschko had looked awful his last time out, throwing few punches in an awkward decision loss to walking id Tyson Fury. There was some debate after the fight, arguing whether Klitschko’s loss was due more to age and wear, Fury’s unpredictable spoiling style, Klitschko’s overall flaws, or some mix of the three. But it had seemed that many were completely dismissing the style differences between Fury and Joshua, and that Wladimir could only look worse, especially after a 17 month layoff. In many respects, he was being underrated.

Then the fight happened. It’s been covered by many good writers, and I encourage readers to check out those write-ups, as well as the fight itself. But it must be said that Wladimir Klitschko greatly exceeded expectations in a gallant, yet losing effort, and Joshua survived a gut-check to win in spectacular fashion. Both men looked good, both men went down. There were momentum shifts, toe-to-toe action, and plenty of excitement. In the loss, Klitschko still showed himself to be no less than the second best active heavyweight in the world. And Joshua beat a legit contender, as well as an all-time great. It was a great night for boxing, at a time when boxing could use more great nights.

Beyond the substance of the fight itself, the underrated/overrated aspect got me thinking. Boxing books, magazines, broadcasts, and message boards are all filled with discussions of great fighters, of losers, of excitement, of boredom. And many fighters are lifted in esteem, based on the opinions of pundits and fans. And many are basically crapped on, treated as lesser combatants, or even that dirty word… bums.

I enjoy boxing at all weights, but it’s no secret that I have a particular fondness for heavyweights, especially historical heavyweights. My ongoing 200 Greatest Heavyweights list is essentially a research project for heavyweight boxing history. And I have read thousands of pages, and watched hundreds of fights. Among heavyweights, there are several who are treated with esteem among many boxing aficionados, that may not quite deserve the pedestal they receive. And the reverse is true, were many good and great fighters remain unappreciated by those who love the sport.

This list could be made so much longer. There are literally dozens of fighters who have what I consider to be inaccurate public perceptions. But for the sake of brevity – and as you can read below, brevity is not my strong suit – I will restrict this list to four overrated and four underrated heavyweights.

Overrated

I want to emphasize here that “overrated” doesn’t mean bad. It could be argued that the greatest athletes in any sport end up being overrated, even beyond their actual greatness. This list isn’t a knock on the fighter. Indeed, there are some on my “overrated” list that rank significantly higher, historically, than several on my “underrated” list. This is simply a measure of how public esteem can triumph over reality. Anyway, here goes the overrated:

Ken Norton – Ken Norton arguably beat the Greatest 3 times. Right there, that places him on some all-time lists. The problem is, Ken didn’t actually accomplish all that much outside of the three Ali fights. Norton was strong, aggressive, powerful, defensively astute, and possessed a great jab. He matched up well against the post-layoff version of Ali that was less mobile and a bit slower than the lightning-fast 60s version. Norton’s strengths played well against Ali’s weaknesses, and he gave Ali hell three times, winning the first fight outright, losing the second in an either/or sort of match, and being arguably robbed in the third. Norton also gave Larry Holmes hell in a losing effort, fighting evenly with a still-young Easton Assassin in a classic war. He also barely edged past Jimmy Young in a fight that could have been scored either way, obliterated a likely-overrated Duane Bobick, and beat down an old Jerry Quarry. Good stuff. But far from the best resume of his era. Beyond that, he tended to get starched when facing big punchers, getting knocked out early by Foreman, Shavers, Garcia, and Cooney. He’s 4-7-1 all-time against top ten contenders, which isn’t terrible, but it definitely keeps him out of a top ten, or even thirty ranking, among all-time great heavyweights.

Riddick Bowe – I have spent some time recently delving into the 90’s heavyweights, and enjoying how much of an underrated era it was… especially since it was rather underappreciated at the time. I’ve been especially fascinated by the chronicles of Riddick… ahem, sorry,

Anyway, Riddick Bowe really is the 90’s equivalent to Ken Norton. Not in terms of style or personality, but in terms of how strong his reputation is compared with his actual accomplishments. I plan on reviewing his career more thoroughly when I write his bio in my top 200 list, but suffice to say, he is like Ken Norton in that he made his name by having the number of an all-time great, but his actual accomplishments outside of that opponent are pretty slim.

In total, Bowe has 6 wins over Ring-rated top ten opponents, which ties him for 46th all-time among heavyweights. Two of those wins were over Evander Holyfield, and they are certainly impressive. But he also possessed a size and style which always befuddled Evander. Holyfield struggled with taller opponents, and taller opponents with significant athleticism were even tougher. Factor in Bowe’s physical strength and infighting ability, which negated much of Holyfield’s normal advantages, and we have Holyfield Kryptonite. And he still lost one of the three fights, and was badly hurt in the other two. Now, going 2-1 against a prime Holyfield almost automatically signifies a degree of greatness. But I see plenty of people waxing nostalgic about how amazing Bowe was, and how he would obliterate the current crop of heavies. His reputation is almost entirely centered around being a tough match for Holyfield.

Beyond that, he was beaten up badly by a young Andrew Golota. Golota at his best was a pretty good fighter, but a full third of Bowe’s top ten victories came from winning by disqualification in fights he was badly losing, against a good, but not great (and very inconsistent) fighter. His other top ten wins were against Herbie Hide and Jorge Luis Gonzalez. Hide would have been great at cruiserweight, but was always outgunned by good heavies, and Gonzalez was basically just a lazy, failed prospect. Beyond the top ten, the man known as Big Daddy’s best wins came against faded former contenders like Michael Dokes and Tony Tubbs, and against fringe guys like Jesse Ferguson and Elijah Tillery. Bowe’s talent was there, but he was inconsistent, often unmotivated, washed up before 30, and had a surprisingly thin resume. Bowe was a potentially great fighter, but he never quite made it to “great” status in my eyes.

Mike Tyson – I hesitated a bit with this one. Mike is a legit all-time great. His resume is solid, even if his prime occurred during a middling era. But to hear people talk on message boards, he was virtually unstoppable. There are plenty of highlight videos on YouTube that show him looking like a beast against painfully overmatched opposition. Mike had huge power, great hand speed, solid defense in his prime, a very good chin… he was pretty much the ultimate heavyweight pressure fighter. In his prime run, he bested 7 top ten heavyweights, several in impressive fashion. He beat a pair of hall-of-famers during that run, though one was old and rusty (Holmes), the other intimidated into a shell (Spinks). But that run was brief, lasting from late 1986 to 1989. By 1989, cracks were beginning to show in his facade. And then came 1990, his unraveling against Douglas, and his fall from grace. The bad habits he developed in the late 80s and early 90s stuck with him during his comeback from prison in the mid-to-late 90s. His head movement largely disappeared, as did his jab. He tended to load up, looking for a big power shot. When an opponent could handle his power and give it back, he would frustrate and wilt. Even in his prime, he could be put off his game by a spolier using movement and a good jab. James Tillis, Mitch Green, James Smith, and Tony Tucker all lasted the distance, and Bruno hurt him early in their first fight. Tillis caught a still-developing Tyson, but he gave him fits during their 10 rounds, and a handful of observers thought a draw or a narrow win for Tillis wasn’t unreasonable. Mike could be very destructive when in a rhythm, but fans tend to forget his less-impressive moments.

And then, after his prison sentence, he came back still looking the part, but was really a spent force. He walked over three overmatched foes in 1995 and 1996 before running into the brick wall of Evander Holyfield. Those fights have been discussed ad nauseam, but suffice to say, in those fights, an opponent with a good game plan, durability, and patience was able to handle Mike’s initial attack, wear him out, and put him away late. It also proved there was more than one way to beat Tyson, as Buster Douglas did something similar, but using different tactics.

Tyson would win a few more, although he looked bad against Botha, and would eventually be battered by Lennox Lewis, then lose two more relatively meaningless fights to end his career.

This sounds more critical than I mean it to be. Mike Tyson really was a great, powerful, and scary fighter. At his best, he would be a handful for any heavyweight in history. But I see him ranked in people’s top 5 or 10. I also see people claim he would be the best ever, head-to-head… and that really isn’t the case.

I’m not done with my top 200 list, and I don’t want to spoil it, but I can safely say that Mike’s resume doesn’t get him into the top ten. And head-to-head, I think Evander Holyfield beats any version of Mike. So does Muhammad Ali, George Foreman, Sonny Liston, and Vitali Klitschko. In addition, I think it’s possible (though less certain) Lennox Lewis, Riddick Bowe, David Tua, Harry Wills, and Wladimir Klitschko all could have beaten even a prime Tyson. I would be happy to explain why, to those who wish to debate any of those matchups.

It’s a shame that Mike Tyson didn’t face his greatest opponents until he was past his prime. It’s possible that the version of Tyson that dominated the division in the late 80s could have defeated Douglas, Holyfield, and Lewis. But based on his behavior when frustrated by lesser foes, I doubt it. Mike was never a quitter, but he could be demoralized, and frustrated into poor tactics. As much as he could look like a monster against intimidated or outgunned opponents, those who could take it and dish it back eventually found themselves with a significant edge.

Jerry Quarry – This one is directed more at the older crowd and hardcore fans. There is a tendency among certain people to romanticize Quarry’s accomplishments. “If only he fought in a different era, he would have been a great champion!” Ehhh…

Jerry Quarry was a good boxer, with a solid chin, good counterpunching skills, and some power. He also cut easily, could be sloppy and lose focus. He was inconsistent, even in his prime. Quarry’s best performances were excellent. But he mixed them with surprisingly poor showings. Early in his career, Jerry lost a wide decision to a past-prime Eddie Machen, beat Brian London and Alex Miteff (also past it), scored a draw and a win against an old Floyd Patterson – and arguably deserved to lose both fights. He beat Thad Spencer when Spencer was intriguing some fight fans, lost a close one to Jimmy Ellis, and was knocked out (albeit controversially) by George Chuvalo. He also beat Buster Mathis and gave Joe Frazier a good fight, but was ultimately battered. In the 70s, he upset the applecart a few times, winning upsets against sluggers Mac Foster, Ron Lyle, and Earnie Shavers, proving he matched up well against aggressive opponents who relied on power. But he also lost again to Frazier, twice to Ali, and once to Norton – all by knockout. Quarry was good, and sometimes brilliant, but he wasn’t consistently great. Maybe he could have won more fights in another era, but it’s also possible that a 6’0”, 190 pound man with a 72” reach, thin skin, and inconsistent focus also fails to break through in other eras. No shame in that. It should be enough that Quarry was very good in a great era. There’s no need to inflate him or assume he could have beaten (fill in the blank).

Underrated

Like my overrated list, this is not necessarily a claim that these guys are the greatest ever or anything like that. It’s simply that the general consensus of their accomplishments is either unfairly harsh, or just not sufficient. Here you will find greats with flaws, relatively unknown legends, and unfairly maligned, but still very good, fighters. Here we go…

Harry Wills – There was a group of black heavyweights that roamed the division between around 1905 and 1920ish, that were all capable of competing in later and larger eras, and all kept from title shots by racial and economic politics. Sam Langford, Joe Jeannette, Sam McVey, and Harry Wills were all good enough to be a serious threat to the title reigns of Jack Johnson, Jess Willard, and Jack Dempsey. But Johnson consciously avoided most black contenders during his reign, preferring the larger paydays he could receive against white challengers (and possibly having remembered the hell some of these guys gave him before he became champion). Jess Willard was inactive as champion, and only defended his title twice in four years, losing to Dempsey in his second bout. Dempsey himself came along near the end of the era of the heavyweight black foursome, with only Wills as a likely opponent during his reign. Dempsey payed some lip service to fighting Wills, but his promoter wasn’t enthused by the idea, and the fight never came off.

Of those four, Sam Langford was probably the best, but he was not a natural heavyweight, and he is generally recognized as one of the greats by the hardcore fans and experts. Jeanette and McVey were very good, but spent many years fighting mostly each other (and Langford), and didn’t get the opportunity to fight for the world title. Harry Wills came along a little later, reaching his prime in the late 1910s, and posted winning records against all three of them, beating Jeannette once (and drawing twice) while Joe was still a top contender, beating Langford 13 times while he was still viable, and McVey 3 times. Beyond besting his toughest opponents, Wills was also dominant in wins against other heavyweight contenders, beating Jeff Clark, Jim Johnson, Fred Fulton, Luis Firpo, and Charley Weinert. The Ring Magazine didn’t start ranking fighters until 1924, and formal ranking systems weren’t really developed until that point, so a clear record against top ten opponents isn’t possible. However, a thorough analysis of that era allows me to make what I believe is a pretty good estimate. Harry Wills went 22-6-5(5) against fighters who would likely be ranked in the top 10, and 18-5-5(4) against Hall-of -Famers, as part of an incredible 87-10-6-5(54) overall record during a very deep era. Many considered him the best heavyweight in the world after the various champions, for nearly a decade. His 22 top ten wins rank him 4th all time, counting other top fighters before 1924. The politics that kept him from the heavyweight title at least allowed Wills to build his legend against some genuinely great opposition, although it leaves him historically neglected.

Wills, also known as the Black Panther, stood 6’2” and fought around 220 pounds, making him as a big as modern heavyweights. He possessed uncommon physical strength, crushing power, long arms, and good skills. He wasn’t particularly fast, but he had a good sense of timing and distance that allowed him to land on faster opponents.

In a different world, Wills could have been champion as early as 1916… having lost a few in 1915 while still developing, but then bounced back and won revenge bouts the next year. He was arguably Jess Williard’s best contender, and would likely have won, had they fought somewhere between 1916 and 1919. Wills developed into a massive, athletic fighter, outclassing everyone in front of him. After a 19th round knockout loss to the great Sam Langford in February 1916, until October 1926, Wills would compile a record of 58-2-3-3(34), with the only two losses being a fluke injury stoppage and a disqualification that was rematched four days later. He could arguably have remained champion for a decade, had the chance arisen.

To me, it’s a travesty that Wills isn’t included on every single Greatest Heavyweights top ten list – or even top 5.

Floyd Patterson – Floyd Patterson isn’t entirely underrated. He was the first two-time linear heavyweight champion, and helped bridge the gap between the Marciano and Ali eras. But he often doesn’t receive the historical respect he deserves. Patterson is best known among boxing circles as having a terrible punch resistance. Indeed, he did hit the canvass more than any other linear champion. But he also picked himself back up. Every. Single. Time. His recuperative abilities were underrated, and his fighting heart should be unquestioned. But his chin, and his two losses to Sonny Liston are what most people seem to remember. But Floyd Patterson was a lot better than that.

Floyd turned pro in 1952, at age 17, just months after winning the Gold Medal as a middleweight in the 1952 Olympics. He fought his early career as a middleweight, and then light heavyweight, exhibiting incredible hand speed and surprising power. He developed a solid defense, working behind a high guard and good head movement.

In 1954, he lost his first fight, a controversial 8 round decision against the great Joey Maxim, in a fight most observers scored for Patterson.

By the end of 1955, he was dipping his toe in the heavyweight waters, knocking out contender Jimmy Slade in seven. He would narrowly edge Tommy “Hurricane” Jackson in 1956, setting up a fight that November against Archie Moore for the vacant heavyweight title. Patterson won quickly and decisively, blasting out his more experienced foe in 5 one-sided rounds. It was after this point that the criticism started to arrive from the critics. Patterson’s manager/trainer, Cus D’Amato, was notoriously protective of his charge’s career, and often arranged fights against less-than-stellar opposition. Patterson’s first title defense was legit, albeit uninspiring. Floyd took on prior victim Tommy Jackson, and won more decisively this time around.

His second defense was considered a joke by most, coming against 1956 Olympic Heavyweight gold medalist Pete Rademacher, who was making his professional debut. It was derided as a gimmick as soon as it was announced, and almost resulted in disaster, as Rademacher managed to drop the champion in the 2nd round. Floyd turned it around, however, and put Rademacher on the canvas 7 times before the fight was stopped in the 6th.

Patterson would score knockouts over Roy Harris and Brian London, both good, but not great fighters, all while his biggest challenge loomed in the background. By 1959, Sonny Liston was considered the number 1 contender, and many were pushing for him to get his shot. Instead, in June 1959, Patterson would lose the title in a surprise three round stoppage loss to Swedish contender Ingemar Johansson. Patterson would regain the title the next year, and win the rubber match in 1961, capping an entertaining trilogy, but also tying up the championship for nearly two years. One more successful defense against Tom McNeely followed.

By this point, the consensus was that Patterson was ducking Sonny Liston. The truth was more complicated, but his manager was definitely trying to avoid the feared fighter from St. Louis. Patterson was a prideful man, however, and eventually insisted on accepting the challenge of Liston. In September 1962, Patterson was blasted out in one quick and painful round. Ten months later, embarrassed by his capitulation to the much larger man, he tried it again, and only lasted a few seconds longer.

For many, this is where Patterson’s legacy ends. A protected fighter with a weak chin, presiding over a bridge between two stronger eras, losing badly to his first real challenge.

But there’s much more to the Patterson story.

Floyd was humiliated by his losses. He sought therapy. He spent time in seclusion. He felt lost. But at this point, something changed… he stopped having a title to defend. And he actually got better. Just six months after his second loss to Liston, Patterson hit the comeback trail. Only 29 years old, he flew to Stockholm, where he enjoyed popularity thanks to his wars with Swedish hero Johansson, and blasted out Italian fringe contender Santo Amonti, in a reasonably tough comeback fight. Then he stepped up the competition, and outclassed longtime contender Eddie Machen over twelve. He beat tough gatekeeper Charlie Powell in six, outclassed up-and-comer George Chuvalo over twelve, and knocked out Swedish prospect Tod Herring in three.

This surge gave Floyd a shot at the new champion, Muhammad Ali. There was a great deal of animosity between the two, and the trash talk led to a surprisingly brutal fight between two men who ordinarily relied on speed to outbox opponents. Unfortunately for Patterson, Ali did everything a little better. He was bigger, stronger, faster, younger, and was in his absolute prime. Patterson fought well, and bravely, but was stopped on his feet in the 12th round. But the new Patterson wasn’t finished. This loss didn’t ruin him, like Liston almost did.

Floyd fought on, and continued facing top opponents. There were a couple journeymen following a brutal and impressive knockout win over Henry Cooper, and then he took on rising contender Jerry Quarry. It was a close, tactical affair, with most observers scoring the fight for Patterson. But the judges disagreed, and Floyd settled for a draw against his younger foe. Three months later, he would get a rematch, this time facing Quarry in the first round of the WBA Heavyweight Elimination Tournament. Quarry started well, knocking Patterson down twice early on, but Patterson warmed up and closed strong, arguably doing enough to nick the fight on the cards. But again, the judges liked Quarry’s work a bit more, and Jerry would win a majority decision.

Nearly a year later, the hard-luck Patterson was denied victory again, appearing to outbox and outfight the eventual winner of the WBA tourney, Jimmy Ellis, but losing a close decision. That decision was decided solely by the referee.

Patterson was still a top contender, and arguably deserved to be 3-0 in his last three fights. He took two years off, and returned against Charley Green in September 1970. Over the next 14 months, he would win seven straight over journeymen and clubfighters, culminating in a February 1972 match against his first contender in years – Oscar Bonavena. The powerful Argentine was difficult early, and dropped Floyd in the 4th. But the former champ rallied hard, and took the close decision after 10 tough rounds. Some disputed the decision, but it was close and certainly not a robbery. The 37 year old with the weak chin held his own against the 29 year old slugger. Floyd would beat up tough prospect Pedro Agosto over six rounds, and then face his final opponent, old rival Muhammad Ali. This time, the two were more respectful, and Floyd actually fought better than their first fight, landing some shots and making Ali work. But Patterson was cut badly in the 6th, and his eye shut in the 7th, and he was ruled to be unable to continue after that. Floyd would hang up the gloves after this point.

What I want to highlight is how much good work Patterson did after losing his title to Liston. He was written off as a spent force by many, but would compile a record of 17-4-1(11) after the Liston loss, with two of those losses coming to Muhammad Ali, and the other two being fights he likely deserved to win. He could easily have been 20-2(11) during that span. In total, Floyd Patterson would finish his career 55-8-1(40), going 11-7-1(7) against the top ten (14-5 could have been fair), 3-5(3) against Hall-of-Famers, and 8-4(8) in fights for the heavyweight title.  He came back after two devastating losses, and remained a viable contender for several years, despite being consistently outsized, losing clearly only to the greatest of all time.

Yeah, Floyd Patterson is underrated.

John Ruiz – Okay, before anyone complains, I’m not saying that John Ruiz was great by any means. He wasn’t particularly athletic, he didn’t have sublime skills, and he was often unbearable to watch. He also started to reach title contention at the end of a good era, and reached his prime in the beginning of a pretty weak one. Against the best, he lost as much as he won.

And yet… John Ruiz is often mentioned as being a downright bad fighter. When discussions of the “worst heavyweight titleholders” happen, Ruiz is almost always included. But the facts don’t bear this out. His dull persona and ugly style helped perpetuate the myth of Ruiz as a lousy or at least mediocre heavyweight contender. The thing is, he wasn’t. Not at all. If anything, he was very good. After a couple close decision losses early in his career against fellow prospects, he was considered a bit of an also-ran in the heavyweight prospect scene. Then in March 1996, live on HBO, Ruiz was caught by a wicked left hook and obliterated by David Tua in just 19 seconds. The loss was physically devastating, but Ruiz didn’t let it ruin him. He worked his way back, first beating clubfighters, then fringe contender Jimmy Thunder, and former contender Tony Tucker. Four and a half years and 11 wins after the Tua debacle, Ruiz challenged Evander Holyfield for the vacant WBA title. This is where Ruiz made his mark. He lost a narrow (and slightly controversial) decision in their first fight, which was close enough to warrant a rematch. Ruiz then edged Holyfield in the second fight (in which he was arguably knocked out by a body shot, but convinced the referee that the legal punch was below the belt), and held Holyfield to an also-controversial draw in fight number 3. All three fights were ugly, and arguments could be made that Ruiz deserved to lose all of them (though many argued the opposite). But he held his own, and fought evenly with Evander Holyfield for 36 rounds, solidifying him as a top contender, and giving him an alphabet strap – which allowed Ruiz to hold some leverage in getting big fights.

Ruiz would go on to beat the talented (albeit inconsistent) Kirk Johnson via an ugly, mauling disqualification, lose a wide decision to a near-prime (and blazing-fast) Roy Jones, outpoint top-five heavyweight Hasim Rahman, stop awkward and underrated Fres Oquendo in 11, edge a close decision over a resurgent Andrew Golota, lose a decision to highly skilled (and still-quick) James Toney, only for it to be overturned as a no-decision, and then lose back-to-back super-close decisions to Nicolay Valuev and Ruslan Chagaev. I know, that was a hell of a run-on sentence. But it’s also the description of a very solid run. That would mark the end of an eleven fight streak where Ruiz would fight legitimate contenders in every bout. He would officially be 5-4-1-1(1) during that span. However, Ruiz only clearly lost two of those, and only one was upheld as a loss. Against the best of an admittedly weak division, John Ruiz would run through 11 fights against contenders and emerge with a winning record, despite most boxing pundits and fans mocking his abilities and decrying the depth of the division. Ruiz wasn’t pretty, but he was effective. After the two losses to the Eastern bloc, he would score one more good win, a clear decision over fringe contender Jameel McCline. He would lose a little more clearly to Nicolay Valuev, then two fights later, be stopped in 9 against David Haye. Haye was using Ruiz as a step up in class to test himself against heavyweights. This fairly-one-sided loss would end his career. Fight fans breathed a sigh of relief.

Ruiz’s style could charitably be described as “octopus,” where he would plod forward, throw a single jab, then clinch. He would wrestle inside, using his physical strength, and underrated infighting to maul his opponents and stifle their attack. Despite not being exceptionally tall or long-limbed, his opponents would find themselves enveloped in Ruiz’s arms again and again, and only opponents like Jones (who had the footspeed to stay out of range), could avoid the Ruiz tentacle attack. And then, once in a while, he would launch a sneaky right cross, which could do some damage. He was average sized for a heavyweight of his era, had average power, average speed, a solid (but not amazing) chin, and decent skills. But unless a fighter could overwhelm him with speed (Jones, Toney, Haye) or power (Tua), then he would almost always make for a close fight, win, lose, or draw. Ruiz would finish 5-6-1-1(1) against top ten heavyweights, with at least 4 of those 6 losses being somewhat debatable. In a different universe, Ruiz could have been 9-2-1-1(1) against top ten opponents, which would actually put him near the top 30 all-time (on my top 200 list), as painful as that sounds to boxing fans.

Ruiz wasn’t usually fun to watch, he was a bit of an actor anytime a punch strayed near his beltline, and had the world’s most obnoxious trainer through the first 2/3 of his career. But he was a top contender for almost a decade, and beat some legitimately decent opponents. Ruiz wasn’t great, but at his best, he was deceptively good.

Johnny Risko – Who the hell is Johnny Risko? I’m guessing that might be what a reader would be asking themselves right now. Even many boxing experts know little about the man. He was never champion, and he doesn’t come up on many lists of greatest fighters never to hold a title. Before I started my Greatest Heavyweight project back in 2011, I had only seen his name a few times, having heard almost nothing about him.

And yet, Risko is possibly the most underrated heavyweight ever.

The Cleveland Rubber Man turned pro in 1922, fighting as a fairly short (5’11”), stocky heavyweight. He had incredible punch resistance. He started 8-0-1(6), but as his competition improved, he begun mixing in losses with his wins, at a rate which would inspire most modern fans to wash their hands of him as a contender. Boxers fought much more often in those days, however, and a single loss could be shrugged off when they would be fighting again in two weeks. He would also tend to lose to his better opponents, and beat the weaker ones. Early losses were against good fighters like Quintin Rojas, Sully Montgomery, and Jack Renault. He was dominated by Young Stribling in his 23rd fight, and drop a decision to a young Jack Sharkey in his 27th. But all the while, Risko was learning his craft and honing his skills. He lost a wide, but fairly competitive decision to the great Gene Tunney in his 29th fight.

January 1926, in his 31st fight, Risko finally broke through, beating his first top ten contender, Young Bob Fitzsimmons, via a 12 round decision. From then on, Risko became more competitive with the top contenders. He would lose to Jack Delaney, Young Stribling again, Mike McTigue, Tommy Loughran, and Harry Persson, while beating Rojas and Emilio Solomon. Risko finished 1926 with a number 10 ranking from The Ring, and a great deal of valuable experience.

1927 was a stronger year for Risko, with a draw against Jack DeMave, another loss to Tommy Loughran, wins over Sandy Seifert, Quintin Rojas, Jim Herman, Sully Montgomery, and a rematch win over Jack DeMave. After an October points loss to Tom Heeney, Risko would go on a tear, beating Paulino Uzcudun, Phil Scott, Jack Sharkey, and Johnny Squires, all by decision. He would drop decisions to Jim Maloney and Ernie Schaaf to end 1928, but would still enjoy a number 5 ranking at the end of ’27, and a number 7 ranking after ’28.

In February 1929, Risko would engage all-time-great Max Schmeling in the Ring Magazine fight of the year, brawling with the German future champion, and losing in a valiant effort, after being dropped 4 times, and stopped in the 9th.

Risko would beat Otto von Porat, but lose to Emmett Rocco by decision, then start an odd streak of losing 3 of his next 4 fights via disqualification.  He would rebound, beating Jim Maloney and Ernie Schaaf, then lose to Tuffy Griffiths.

As I’m writing this, I realize that I’m still only up to 1930, and I’ve already devoted more than 500 words to less than half of Risko’s career. He seriously fought on relatively even terms with EVERYONE who mattered at heavyweight. A win and a draw against Victorio Campolo, another win over Uzcudun, another loss to Griffiths, a pair of losses to all-time-great Mickey Walker, another win over Jim Maloney, a loss to Stanley Poreda… the list goes on. Risko had a great run in 1931, beating Tom Heeney, King Levinsky, future champ Max Baer, Tony Galento, and KO Christner, before dropping decisions to Loughran and Baer in rematches. He’d go on another good run in ’32, outpointing Christner again, Mickey Walker for the first time, Tuffy Griffiths, and King Levinsky twice. Despite losses to Dick Daniels and Patsy Perroni, he would remain in contention throughout 1932 and 1933, finally getting a win over Loughran, and scoring a rare knockout of Big Boy Peterson.

Risko would begin to show some wear, and would start to fade in 1934. After a decision loss to Charley Retzlaff at the end of 1934, Risko would take almost 3 years off, heading home to work in the family bakery in Cleveland.  Nearly 3 years of recuperation (and presumably plenty of delicious baked goods) would allow him to return to the ring in November 1937 against journeyman Bob Olin. He would fight several more times, alternating between upper and lower tier fighters, beating clubfighters, and losing to the likes of John Henry Lewis, Red Burman, and finally, in his last fight in 1940, Tony Musto.

Risko would finish with a less-than-stellar record of 80-53-8-1(22). He never demonstrated much power, and usually won his fights through pressure and activity. A shoulder dislocation early in his career never healed properly, and he never developed a good right hand as a result, mostly relying on a jab and strong left hook.

However, his limitations and record mask the fact that against top-ten rated opponents, he finished 17-18-2. He would go 2-4 against fighters who held the heavyweight title, and 6-11 against Hall-of-Famers. His 17 wins over top ten opponents tie him for 8th, all-time, at heavyweight. To fight on nearly even terms with the best of his division for a decade, despite being short, chunky, slow, pillow-fisted, and mostly one-armed is impressive. But to do it without any sort of modern recognition is borderline ludicrous. Johnny Risko almost never makes anybody’s list of all-time great heavyweights. That’s a shame, but also allows me to add him to this list over underrated heavyweights.

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Another update for the 200 Greatest Heavyweights

This is a quick one. I have once again rearranged the ranking – both of fighters already listed, and fighters further up the list. I have hemmed and hawed about this topic for years now, but I finally gave in and included a specific metric in my final score – draws. Or, specifically, draws against top ten opponents.

In many cases, draws are virtually wins, thanks to bad or controversial decisions. In others, they represent truly close fights against good fighters. As an example, in 1999, Lennox Lewis famously beat up and nearly stopped Evander Holyfield in their first fight, only to be held to an extremely disputed draw. Almost all of the audience, media, fans, and experts agreed that the scoring was a travesty, and Lewis was denied a major win over the only other fighter with a case for being considered the best heavyweight in the world. The draw remained in the record books, but to ignore a successful 12 rounds against Holyfield was unkind to Lewis.

It seemed to me that many important fights were being neglected. Obviously a draw won’t count as strongly as a win, but they should count for something.

So, in my mathematical formula, I rate each individual win over a Ring-rated top ten contender (or champion) as one point, then add to that the calculation of the plus/minus score of top ten opponents (wins plus losses). Then I add the total number of draws versus top ten opponents and cut the number in half. 4 draws equals a score of 2, 3 equals 1.5, and so on… Then, I add to that number the cumulative total of top ten wins (again), wins over future/current/former linear champions, wins over hall-of-famers at heavyweight, and wins for the linear championship. The new total has shaken up the overall ratings some. The biggest mover was actually my inspiration for this update.

Arturo Godoy, a tough swarmer of the 1930s and 1940s who gave Joe Louis one of his toughest fights, was rated 174, which seemed quite low. I noticed that he had an impressive 5 draws against top ten opponents on his record, and it felt unfair that 5 near-wins against top opposition wasn’t counting in his favor. After the recalculation, Godoy moved up 17 spots in the ranking, on the strength of those draws.

In addition to including draws in my calculations, I also added two additional fighters to the total. One of whom was actually in my master list, but I somehow neglected when putting the final rankings together. The other was a contemporary of that fighter, and they faced off repeatedly.

I am still calling this the top 200, but there are now 204 fighters in the field.

As always, the main starting point for this project can be found here.

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Number 158 – Arturo Godoy

godoy_tears_book

from boxrec.com

Arturo Godoy
Iquique, Chile
October 10, 1912 – August 27, 1986
6’0½” / 74” reach / 168½-207¾lbs
89-21-12-2(50) from 12/21/1930 to 11/3/1951 (20y10m)

2-9-5-0(0) against the top ten – #105 total and #193 +/-
0-2-0-0(0) against linear champions – #89 total and #107 +/-
1-4-1-0(0) against hall-of-famers – #58 total and #129 +/-
2 fights for the linear championship – 0-2-0-0(0)

Top ten opponents: W-UD-12 Roscoe Toles, W-SD-10 Phil Muscato, D-10 Leroy Haynes, D-10 Al Ettore, D-10, D-12, D-12 Roscoe Toles, L-UD-10, L-UD-12, L-UD-12, L-UD-10 Roscoe Toles, L-UD-10 Nathan Mann, L-UD-12 Alberto Santiago Lovell, L-SD-15, L-TKO-8 Joe Louis, L-UD-10 Turkey Thompson

0.5 total score (2 + -7 + 2.5 + 3)

I’ve written before about the weaknesses of my ranking formula, specifically in the bottom 60 or so. I personally believe what I came up with is the best combination of factors that maximizes credit for achievement, while simultaneously acknowledging losses. It’s not a perfect system, and ranking the greatest is inherently subjective. But I still stand by it.

That said, there will be a few head-scratching rankings. This might be one. Based on who he fought in his career, and all of the draws (I may have to modify the rankings to take those into account at some point) against top opponents – Godoy could be 20 to 60 spots higher. Five draws against world-class opposition is quite rare, and definitely throws my formula off. Consider this ranking standing with an asterix. When I finish the capsules, I might redo the formula one more time and take draws into account, which might just bring Godoy up some spots.

Okay, self-flagellation accomplished. On to the biography.

Arturo Godoy started his career sometime in 1930 or 1931. His record is notoriously incomplete, because he had at least 7 fights to start his career in his native Chile, and not all were officially documented into his record. He also may have fought for an additional two years in Chile after his last official recorded fight, 20 years later. So the total number of wins and losses is actually just an estimate with Godoy. However, all of his fights against significant opponents are known, so that helps with this ranking.

Godoy indeed started his career in Chile, with at least seven total fights. He was fighting around the light heavyweight range at that point, only 18 years old, and still filling out. After leaving Chile, Godoy would fight about once a month over the next four years. His level of competition gradually improved as he learned on the job. He fought mostly in Cuba, Florida, and Spain, fighting clubfighters, journeymen, and domestic-level fringe contenders by 1934 or so. After 4 years and around 38 fights, Godoy sported an official record of 34-3-1(20). He developed a mauling, bruising style, centered around volume and a deep crouching stance, which made him a surprisingly difficult target. In many ways, his style was like a proto-Marciano –  a comparison which would come up later… both by historians, and by me later in this piece.

In October 1934, with these 38 official fights behind him, Godoy took on the biggest name (to that point) of his career – future hall-of-famer Tommy Loughran. Loughran had been on the decline, and had dropped out of the heavyweight top ten a couple years before. But he was still a clever boxer, and managed to hold the larger, younger man to a 12 round draw. Two fights and three months later, Godoy met Loughran again, and this time the more experienced Loughran came away with the 12 round decision victory in a close and competitive fight. Two months later, they met for a third time, and this time, Godoy narrowly edged the older man. Loughran protested, but most observers thought the decision was fair. The experience gained in 34 competitive rounds with a legend was invaluable for the young Arturo.

A year and a half and four fights later (three KOs and a draw), Godoy took on another faded legend, this time The Wild Bull of the Pampas, Luis Angel Firpo. The older Argentinian was in the third fight of a comeback – having retired in 1926, but returned to the ring 10 years later. Firpo beat a pair of clubfighters with losing records easily, but when stepping up to a powerful young prospect, his age showed. Godoy dropped Firpo 9 times in just 4 brutal rounds, and retired him for good.

Godoy stepped up the competition from there, facing top ten contenders Leroy Haynes and Al Ettore in consecutive months, fighting to draws on both occasions. This allowed Godoy to end 1936 with his first top ten ranking – exactly at number 10, according the Ring.

After a few more fights, Godoy took on future contender Tony Galento in April 1937 in New York. I had a lot of trouble with this one. Galento was unranked to end 1936, but would be ranked 5th by the end of 1937. Since I didn’t have access to copies of the Ring circa 1937, I had to dig through Galento’s record and figure out when he would have become ranked. He would actually fight and lose to Godoy twice – in April and in June. None of his wins before Godoy were against top contenders, and likely wouldn’t have gotten him ranked. After his losses to Godoy, Galento would fight three more times in 1937, including two dominating knockout wins over legit contenders – Al Ettore and Leroy Haynes. Those wins were certainly what put Galento into the top ten. And considering how close Galento was to contention by that point, and how little difference a few months should make, I struggled whether or not to consider Galento a top ten opponent. Per my rules, he likely wasn’t, so Godoy doesn’t get the credit for having two more top ten wins, which would certainly raise his total score. On the other hand, fudging the rules here would inevitably lead to fudging the rules with at least two dozen other boxers on this list, and they would likely move up as well. It may not make a huge difference in the end. It’s possible that when my capsule bios are completed, and I redo the ranking formula to better include draws, I might re-review some of these close cases like Tony Galento almost being a contender.

But I digress. Godoy would win a ten round decision and a six round decision over almost-contender Tony “Two Ton” Galento, sandwiching a ten round points loss to new contender Roscoe Toles. After the second Galento fight, Godoy would take on Toles again, this time fighting to a 10 round draw. Godoy would close out 1937 with a tough loss to contender Nathan Mann, and a win over gatekeeper Eddie Mader.

Godoy would be out of the ring for 7 months, and would resurface in mid-1938 , with his next 9 fights exclusively held in Argentina, the final three winning, then eventually losing the South American heavyweight title. He would go 6-3(2) in Argentina, losing to Alberto Santiago Lovell and Valentin Campolo, then beating Lovell in the rematch for the South American title. He lost the title in August 1939 to Eduardo Primo, thanks to a disqualification, but that loss would end up leading to his big break.

On February 9, 1940, at Madison Square Garden in New York City, Godoy challenged Joe Louis for the World Heavyweight Championship.

godoy-louis

from boxrec.com

Godoy surprised everybody, most of all Louis. He took it to the champ early and often, rushing Louis, mauling, wrestling, and throwing constant leather. Godoy stayed low, made himself a difficult target, and was rarely deterred by the punches Louis did land. It was a sloppy affair, and Louis was forced into his roughest fight since his loss against Max Schmeling several years before. Neither man went down, and after 15 rounds, they had to go to the cards – a rarity in a Joe Louis fight. It was difficult to score, with the two judges offering wildy divergent scores, 10-5 Godoy and 10-4-1 Louis. Referee Arthur Donovan turned in the final scorecard, 10-5 for the defending champion. There were some that disagreed with the split nod for Louis, though most of the media agreed that Louis won 9 or 10 rounds. Regardless, Godoy acquitted himself quite well, and showed that Louis may have a problem with durable swarmers. Louis was most comfortable operating at mid-range, and he didn’t like being crowded. But Godoy was the first man to really capitalize on that. It was the Godoy fight that have led some historians to argue that Rocky Marciano would have given even a prime Joe Louis a tough fight. But I digress once more…

A moral victory was not enough for Arturo Godoy. He believed he won the fight, and wanted another crack at Louis. Joe, on the other hand, wanted to prove that he was definitely the better man. June 20, a little over four months after the first fight, they did it again. This time, The Brown Bomber did a much better job controlling distance, and landing sharp counters as Godoy came in. After 6 rounds of a tough, but more one-sided fight than before, Godoy was dropped late in the seventh. His face was a bloody mask. He came out gamely for the 8th, but Louis was a great finisher, and ended matters quickly, putting Godoy down twice more. The referee didn’t bother with a count the second time, waving the fight off, much to Godoy’s initial ire. Godoy proved his toughness, but Louis proved his greatness.

Godoy wasn’t ruined by Louis, though, and would fight twice more before the end of the year, outpointing future contenders Gus Dorazio and Tony Musto over ten rounds each. Godoy continued his relatively slow pace in 1941, only fighting three times – a decision loss to Alberto Santiago Lovell, a win over six fight novice Ernesto Carnesse, and a draw against old rival Roscoe Toles – his second draw in three fights with Toles.

1942 was much busier for Godoy. He opened the year with another attempt at the South American Heavyweight title held by Lovell, and once again lost a 12 round decision. He stayed in Buenos Aires and took on Roscoe Toles again, this time losing a decision. A win over gatekeeper Hans Havlicek followed, then two more fights against Toles – another draw, and another decision loss. He knocked out journeyman Antonio Soares in 1 round, then lost in 10 to Toles yet again. Finally, he ended the year with a win over old foe Eduardo Primo. Eight fights that year including 4 against Roscoe Toles.

Godoy would go on a tear in 1943, beating Lovell for the South American crown, scoring wins against regional opponents, and finally getting a points nod over Toles that August, in their eighth fight.  In April 1944, Godoy would take on Lovell in their sixth go-round. I have been unable to find much detail regarding that fight, but apparently it ended after 11 rounds, and was deemed a no-contest. Whatever happened was a major controversy in Peru, and both men were arrested for their actions. If I find out more, I will update this, because I’m quite curious. It has to be a pretty interesting story.

Godoy followed that fiasco up with a 9 fight winning streak from the end of 1944 through to the end of 1945, including a 5th round KO over former contender Buddy Walker. A March 1946 contest with former (and future) contender Lee Savold was brought to a halt and ruled a no contest due to excessive holding, though most observers acknowledged Godoy tried harder than Savold to make a fight of it. Two fights later, Godoy put a prolonged beating on faded former contender Tony Musto, stopping him in 6.

Despite a long ring career, a style which (normally) tends to shorten careers, and reaching age 35, Godoy remained a viable fighter in 1946 and 1947. He would beat fighters like Buddy Knox, and lose to Joe Muscato and Turkey Thompson. In December 1947, Godoy would narrowly outpoint Phil Muscato, giving him his second official win over a top ten contender. That win would be the last hurrah for Godoy, though, as he began to noticeably decline soon after. In late ’48, he would be handily outboxed by 248! fight veteran Alabama Kid, and then beaten just as soundly by future hall-of-famer Harold Johnson.

A 1950 draw with future contender Karel Sys was a solid performance, but the fade was clear and inevitable. Boxrec.com can’t find any official record of a fight past a November 1951 draw against Alfredo Lagay, which stands as his last fight. But Godoy didn’t announce his retirement for another 14 months, and held the South American Heavyweight crown at that point, so he very likely had a few more fights in South America afterward.

As I said before, Godoy is likely underrated by me, and there may be an edit in the near future moving him up the list. He wasn’t an all-time great, but he was a very good fighter, with amazing durability, a difficult style and impressive longevity. I enjoyed watching him, and learning about his exploits.

03/01/2017 update – I gave in. I decided to go ahead and calculate draws. I also added two more fighters while I was at. As a result, Arturo Godoy scoots up from 174 to 158 in the ranking. If I eventually give in again and count the Galento fights as top ten victories, Godoy will move up to around 115. But for now, he’s sitting at 158.

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Number 179 – Cleveland Williams

cleveland_williams06

From boxrec.com

Cleveland Williams (tied for 179)
Griffin, Georgia, USA
June 30, 1933 – September 11, 1999
6’3” / 80” reach / 190-236lbs
78-13-1-0(58) from 12/11/1951 to 10/28/1972 (20y10m)

2-8-1-0(1) against the top ten – #105 total and #184 +/-
0-3-0-0(0) against linear champions – #89 total and #143 +/-
0-3-0-0(0) against hall-of-famers – #109 total and #129 +/-
1 fight for the linear championship – 0-1-0-0(0)

Top ten opponents: WTKO-5 Alex Miteff, W-UD-10 Billy Daniels, D-10 Eddie Machen, L-KO-3 Bob Satterfield, L-TKO-3, L-TKO-2 Sonny Liston, L-SD-10 Ernie Terrell, L-TKO-3 Muhammad Ali, L-TKO-8 Al Jones, L-TKO-5, L-KO-3 Mac Foster

-1.5 total score (2 + -6 + 0.5 + 2)

The Big Cat claimed to have originally turned pro at 14 and had four fights before being found out and banned from fighting for four years. My research has been unable to turn up evidence for those early professional fights. However, Cleveland Williams did turn pro officially at 18 – quite a young age for a natural heavyweight. Even at that age, he was powerfully built, routinely carrying over 200 pounds on a 6’3″ frame. Williams won his first 27 fights, 23 by knockout, but the opposition was woeful. 5 of his first 15 opponents were making their pro debut, and 13 of those first 27 opponents had losing records.

In September 1953, Williams was handed his first defeat, losing a four round decision to journeyman Sylvester Jones. He followed that loss up with four straight knockout wins, the last one being over Sylvester Jones. This led to his first shot at a contender, the explosive, yet fragile “Battlin'” Bob Satterfield. Williams could get little done against his more experienced opponent, and was dropped twice en route to a 3 round KO loss.

After the loss to Satterfield, Williams would be drafted into the Army, and was out of the ring for more than two years. He returned in August 1958, and reeled off five straight knockouts over marginal competition before stepping into the ring with his first tough matchup since Satterfield. John Holman had dropped out of contention a couple years prior, but was still a good fighter. Holman was giving Williams a good fight until a huge left uppercut-right cross combination knocked Holman off his feet and out of consciousness in the 7th round.

Williams kept winning, including a disqualification over Dick Richardson, before running into Sonny Liston in 1959. Liston was considered by many to be the heir apparent in the heavyweight division, and was biding his time until he got his shot at the champ. Liston would not be denied this night, and steamrolled The Big Cat, knocking him down twice in the 3rd, and winning by knockout in that round.

Two more wins led to another shot at Liston, this time in March of 1960. Unfortunately for Williams, Liston was deadlier in the rematch, and knocked Williams out in just two rounds. Williams was only 26 years old, however, and seemed to find another gear after the Liston fights.

Williams took 7 months off, then knocked out three straight opponents. He followed those up with a decision over the incredibly tough Wayne Bethea, a 5th round stoppage over his first legitimate top-ten contender, Alex Miteff, a 7th round KO of future contender Ernie Terrell, a draw against Eddie Machen, and a decision over top-ten contender Billy Daniels, with a smattering of wins over lesser opponents in between. After Liston, Williams would run up an 11-0-1(9), with two wins and a draw against the top ten. This streak would end with a close split decision loss against former victim Ernie Terrell.

The Terrell loss was his 62nd fight, and he was just three months shy of 30. He was still a solid top ten contender, and a force in the heavyweight division. Williams would win five more fights, including wins over Roger Rischer, Sonny Banks, and Billy Daniels.

However, on November 29, 1964, tragedy struck. Williams was pulled over by Dale Witten, a Texas state highway patrolman, on suspicion of drunk driving. Williams himself later stated he was sober, and 2 of his 3 passengers were sober at the time. He was placed in the front passenger seat, and had a meltdown as the police office drove away. He was worried about what the arrest might do to his career, and he attempted suicide by jumping out of the moving vehicle. He opened the door, and after that point, the accounts vary. Witten claimed that the much larger Williams drew back his fist to punch him, so he pulled his gun and fired. Williams claimed Witten drew first, and he punched in retaliation, and tried to grab the gun. Either way, Williams was shot in the abdomen, where the bullet tore through his intestines and lodged in his right hip.

Williams was in surgery for six hours, then had another four operations over the next seven months. He lost a piece of his intestines, as well as his right kidney. They did not remove the bullet from his hip, for fear of causing further nerve damage. He lost 60 pounds during his ordeal, and when he was finally discharged from the hospital, was charged with aggravated assault, driving while intoxicated, and illegal possession of a firearm (from a separate incident). He served two 30 days sentences, and paid 50 dollars.

Cleveland Williams returned to the ring in February 1966, 1 year and 3 months after being shot. He quickly returned to form, scoring four wins in four months. Those wins would provide Williams with a springboard back into contention. Then, the call finally happened.

In November 1966, now 33 years old, and veteran of 71 fights – Williams finally got his shot at greatness. He challenged World Heavyweight Champion Muhammad Ali at the Astrodome in Houston, Texas. The night before the fight, he was visited by Dale Witten, the police officer who shot him two years before. They made amends, and Williams provided Witten with two tickets to the fight.

Unfortunately for Williams, The Greatest tamed the Cat that night. Ali dominated the fight from the opening bell, knocking Williams around the ring, dropping him three times in the second round, and ending matters in a perfunctory 3rd. Williams was never able to get into the fight, and was wiped out with ease. Many consider that fight to be Ali’s greatest performance.

Williams would take another break, and return a year and a half later. He would win five straight over lesser competition, before taking a step up against Canadian contender Bob Cleroux. Williams was finding himself in decline, and would lose a decision. The decline would accelerate, with an easy win over a clubfighter, followed with three straight knockout losses – in 8 to Al Jones, then in 5 and 3 to rising star Mac Foster. Williams would rebound with three wins in late 69 and early 70 against journeymen, but lose badly stepping up against Alvin Blue Lewis.

1971 would bring a win and two decision losses – those to Jack O’Halloran and George Chuvalo. Williams would surprise in a mild upset against Terry Daniels for the Texas Heavyweight Championship. He would win twice more against more limited opponents in 1972, then retire for good after 20 years in the ring.

Life remained hard for Williams, but he persevered. He lost his other kidney in 1988 and required dialysis from then on. He would become diabetic as well, but would live until 1999, when he was hit by a car in Houston. Williams, above all else, endured.

Williams received quite a bit of recognition, making it into the International Boxing Hall of Fame’s predecessor, the World Boxing Hall of Fame (though IBHOF induction still eludes him). In 2003, The Ring Magazine rated Williams the 49th greatest puncher of all-time, as well as the 31st greatest heavyweight in 1998. In 1989, boxing historian Herb Goldman rated Williams as the 22nd greatest heavyweight of all time. I rate Williams significantly lower. Not because he wasn’t a very good – sometimes even great – fighter. But compared to the men above him, he lacked consistency. He had two wins and a draw against top ten opponents, and several more wins over other solid fighters. But he also lost eight times against the top ten – often by knockout.

Cleveland Williams was an extraordinarily determined man, a huge puncher, and very good fighter. He was exciting, explosive, and had excellent longevity during what was arguably the heavyweight division’s deepest era.

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Number 181 – Wayne Bethea

wayne_bethea

from boxrec.com

Wayne Bethea (tied for 181)                                                                                                               Dillon, South Carolina, USA
March 27, 1932 – January 20, 2011
6’0” / 186-217½lbs
28-18-4-0(11) from 8/12/1954 to 10/14/1963 (9y2m)

1-7-0-0(0) against the top ten – #142 total and #184 +/-
1-1-0-0(0) against linear champions – #36 total and #27 +/-
1-2-0-0(0) against hall-of-famers – #58 total and #60 +/-
no fights for the linear championship

Top ten opponents: W-UD-10 Ezzard Charles, L-SD-10, L-SD-10 Zora Folley, L-SD-10 Nino Valdes, L-TKO-1 Sonny Liston, L-UD-10 Eddie Machen, L-UD-10 Henry Cooper, L-UD-10 Karl Mildenberger

-2 total score (1 + -6 + 0 + 3)

Wayne Bethea was a tough, durable heavyweight who came along between the Marciano and Ali eras. He was a legitimate contender, but never quite made it to a title shot. Greatness eluded him, but he was largely able to hold his own against the great and the near-great alike.

Bethea turned professional as a 22 year old in the summer of 1954. He started 6-1-1(3), including a stoppage win over future contender Harold Carter. A draw that was overturned into a narrow split decision loss against experienced veteran Joe Rowan slowed his progress some. Then he rematched Harold Carter over three straight fights – losing two decisions, which sandwiched a draw. The Carter series may have turned out to be positive for Bethea, however. He went into a November 1955 fight with Julio Mederos sporting a 6-4-2(3) record. But he beat the more experienced Mederos by decision, and went on a nice run, winning seven in a row, including scoring an upset decision win over faded but still viable legend Ezzard Charles. After Charles, Bethea outworked Jimmy Slade, forced Joe Bygraves to quit after 5 rounds, and edged Howie Turner.

In December 1956, Bethea’s run would come to an end, when he faced top contender Zora Folley, losing a very narrow decision. They rematched a month later, with Bethea once again pushing Folley hard, but eventually being outboxed in a competitive split decision. Folley later commented that Bethea was one of the toughest men he ever fought.

Bethea rebounded with four out of five wins, the loss being a decision dropped to all-time great light heavyweight (and occasional heavyweight moonlighter) Harold Johnson.

Bethea narrowly lost to fading contender Nino Valdes. Then, in August 1958, Bethea took on rising heavyweight contender Sonny Liston. The durable Bethea as thought to be a good test for the power Liston. Instead, Liston demolished Bethea in just 69 seconds, obliterating him with terrifying combinations. Bethea had the misfortune of running into Liston at the very peak of his powers.

From that point on, Bethea went into either a slow decline, or perhaps his level of competition just caught up with him. He won a couple fights over relative no-hopers after Liston, but would then drop decisions to the likes of Alex Miteff, Eddie Machen, Cleveland Williams, Karl Mildenberger, and Henry Cooper. Sandwiched in there were a couple decent wins, including an upset over then-prospect Ernie Terrell, and a decision over old rival Joe Bygraves.

After beating Bygraves, Bethea spent a couple months in the spring of 1963, fighting exclusively against locals in Italy, going 2-0-2(1) in 4 fights against the domestic Italian talent. Bethea was a well-traveled boxer, and went to Germany that July to lose to Karl Mildenberger once more.

Finally, that October, Wayne was in Baltimore, taking on clubfighter Ernie Knox. The larger, more experienced pressure fighter Bethea was able to gradually overwhelm Knox, and bludgeon him with persistent shots in the middle and late rounds. Knox went down twice in the 9th, and was counted out with the second knockdown. Knox was badly hurt, and died two days later from a subdural hematoma. He came into the fight only 178 pounds, compared to Bethea’s 205. Through exertions in the fight, and general dehydration, Knox ended up weighing only 153 pounds when he died. There were calls for investigations into weigh-ins and medical attention at boxing matches. Some speculated Knox’s death could even lead to the end of boxing, though that obviously did not come to pass.

Bethea himself never fought again after Ernie Knox. He ended his relatively short career shy of the ten year mark. He took on many of the top fighters of his era, and with one exception, was never out of place or overwhelmed, despite being relatively slow and plodding. Bethea proved that toughness and will are often a fight’s best attributes in the ring.

 

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