How Much Can Change in Three Years?

by Eric Raskin

Mikkel Kessler, Carl Froch

When Carl Froch and Mikkel Kessler renew hostilities on March 25, it will have been three years, one month, and one day since they first fought. In that initial affair, Kessler won a close, unanimous decision in his native Denmark. But a lot can change in three years, and with the rematch set for London’s O2 Arena, Englishman Froch is listed as about a 2-1 favorite.

Standard rematch protocol following a very close, entertaining first fight, which is what Kessler-Froch I was, is to arrange an immediate rematch. That wasn’t an option here because Kessler-Froch I took place as part of the “Super Six” tournament and both men were pre-committed to other future fights. So this could never be like Arturo Gatti-Micky Ward or Israel Vazquez-Rafael Marquez, classic rivalries in which three bouts were crammed into just 12 or 13 months. If there was going to be a Kessler-Froch rematch, there would be time for the rivalry to breathe first.

Maybe that’s not boxing’s standard protocol, but it does happen. There have been plenty of famous fights throughout history that led to a rematch three or more years later.

Probably the most well known case is Sugar Ray Leonard vs. Thomas Hearns. In 1981, they met to unify the welterweight championship. It wasn’t until 1989, when they were super middleweights, that they shared the ring again. Though both were somewhat diminished as fighters by the time they rematched in their 30s, the product was similar: a close, dramatic, action-packed fight. In the first fight, Leonard rallied late to win by 14th-round TKO. He might done the same in the rematch—but it was only scheduled for 12 rounds, so Sugar Ray ran out of time and the bout was ruled a draw.

If the eight years between Leonard-Hearns fights sounds like a lot, that’s nothing compared to the 17 years separating Roy Jones’ 1993 win over Bernard Hopkins and the revenge Hopkins exacted in 2010. When that much time passes, it’s almost certain that circumstances will be wildly different by the second go-round. In this case, Jones was all but spent and coming off a first-round knockout loss just four months earlier, and the rematch was an embarrassment all the way around.

In most cases, however, the result doesn’t change from the first fight to the second. History repeats itself, often more quickly and less memorably.

Julio Cesar Chavez defeated Meldrick Taylor via controversial 12th-round stoppage in 1990 in arguably the best fight of the decade. Four years later, Taylor was no longer an elite boxer and was dispatched in eight one-sided rounds.

When Billy Conn challenged Joe Louis for the heavyweight championship in 1941, he led on the cards before Louis caught up with him in round 13 of a legendary duel. World War II got in the way of a rematch and forced them to wait until 1946, by which time Conn was rusty, old, or both, and Louis dominated the eight rounds that the fight lasted.

Joe Frazier’s first fight with Jerry Quarry, in the summer of ’69, was not exactly summer-of-love-appropriate, as Frazier won on cuts in seven rounds in a bruising Fight of the Year. When they fought again in ’74, the battle was almost as violent as their first but a bit shorter, ending with Frazier’s hand raised in the fifth.

If Frazier had Quarry’s number, so too did George Foreman have Frazier’s. In the iconic “Down goes Frazier!” fight in 1973, Foreman stomped Smokin’ Joe in two rounds to capture the heavyweight crown. Frazier lasted longer when they went at it a second time in ’76, but he was no more competitive, getting wiped out in five rounds.

The general perception is that Froch is closer to his prime right now than Kessler is, which is why the man who lost the first time is favored on May 25. But sometimes time changes nothing and the style matchup assures the same type of fight no matter how many times they do it. If that turns out to be the case with Kessler and Froch, no fight fan will complain.

Remembering Famous Trainers Angelo Dundee and Goody Petronelli

By Kieran Mulvaney

The principal focus of last Saturday’s World Championship Boxing broadcast was, of course, on the televised bouts, which in Nonito Donaire and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. featured two of the most popular of the current generation of pugilists.

But between the two contests, the emphasis shifted, and sadly so; because even as a young wave of fighters – the likes of Donaire, Adrien Broner, Gary Russell Jr, and others – prepares to assume its role in the spotlight, the past several months have seen one member after another of one of boxing’s golden ages leave the stage.

Joe Frazier, one of the greatest heavyweights of all time, died in November in the same week that one of the greatest lighter-weight fighters of all time, Manny Pacquiao, prepared to meet his nemesis, Juan Manuel Marquez. Smokin’ Joe was joined shortly afterward by another of the great crop of 1970s heavyweights, Ron Lyle, whose slugfest with George Foreman was the first fight at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas and remains one of the best.

And now, we have lost two heavyweights among trainers, with the passing of Goody Petronelli and Angelo Dundee.

Petronelli helped steer, at various times, the careers of fighters such as former middleweight and super middleweight Steve Collins, and unlikely Mike Tyson conqueror Kevin McBride. But, with his brother Pat he was best known for managing and training Marvelous Marvin Hagler, one of the very best middleweights ever to lace up the gloves (and one of the best southpaws to do so, which was directly attributable to Petronelli, who took the naturally right-handed fighter and turned him lefty). Hagler earned a middleweight shot later than he should have done – as Petronelli lamented, Hagler’s problem was that he was left-handed, black and good – and when his opportunity finally arrived, against Vito Antuofermo in November 1979, he had to be content with a draw. Ten months later, his turn came again, against new champion Alan Minter, and this time he would not leave his fate in the hands of the judges. Hagler bloodied Minter’s face over three rounds to annex the middleweight crown, a title he kept until he lost it in the final contest of his career, on April 6 1987.

His opponent in that fight was Sugar Ray Leonard, and Leonard’s trainer on that night, as throughout his career, was Angelo Dundee. If Petronelli was especially famed for his involvement with one great fighter, Dundee was forever celebrated for training two – Leonard and, before him, Muhammad Ali. When both had retired, he steered the second career of George Foreman, and was in his corner when Foreman shocked Michael Moorer and the world in 1994.

Hagler described Petronelli, a gentle and universally-loved figure, as an “unbelievably great human being”; much the same has been said repeatedly of Dundee, and with good reason. To speak with Dundee, even as he approached 90, was to speak with a man of genuine humility who seemed forever surprised and grateful that anybody would want to hear what he had to say. He loved boxing and everyone associated with it, and would not hesitate to help anybody – fighter, writer, trainer or spit-bucket carrier – who needed or wanted assistance or advice.

Twenty-five years after working in opposite corners, Petronelli and Dundee were united again, Petronelli leaving us on January 29 and Dundee passing away three days later. The world of boxing mourns their departure, but their achievements and their gentle personalities shall not soon be forgotten.

The Fighters Who Follow in the Fathers' Footsteps

By Kieran Mulvaney

Photo Credit: Chris FarinaOn February 4, HBO's boxing year begins with a bang when World Championship Boxing is live from the Alamodome in San Antonio, Texas. The double-header features two sons of famous boxing fathers: In the main event, Julio Cesar Chavez Jr., son of the namesake Hall-of-Famer, defends a middleweight belt against Marco Antonio Rubio; and, preceding that, another child of the ring, junior featherweight Wilfredo Vasquez Jr., takes on the daunting task of pound-for-pounder Nonito Donaire.

Here's a look at those father-son pairings, and a select few other famous boxing family pairings:

Julio Cesar Chavez/Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.: The father was a first-ballot Hall-of-Famer, a world champion at 130, 135, and 140 pounds, and a participant in epic battles including an enthralling, last-gasp victory against Meldrick Taylor in 1990. Junior, still only 25, has been brought along slowly, but has shown improvement in recent fights under the tutelage of trainer Freddie Roach. Rubio is widely considered his toughest opponent so far.

Wilfredo Vasquez/Wilfredo Vasquez Jr.: Another three-weight world champion, the elder Puerto Rican fighter held titles between 118 and 126 pounds for the best part of nine years between 1987 and 1996. Wilfredo Jr. won a 122-lbs. title in 2010 and made two successful defenses before losing to Jorge Arce in a fight-of-the-year candidate last May.

Floyd Mayweather/Floyd Mayweather Jr.: “Big Floyd” was a welterweight contender in the 1970s and '80s, who lost to future champs Sugar Ray Leonard and Marlon Starling. His frequently-estranged son is perhaps the finest boxer of his generation, a titleholder in five weight divisions, and one of the few modern fighters to transcend the sport and cross over into mainstream public awareness.

Leon Spinks/Cory Spinks: Leon shocked the world in 1978 when he defeated Muhammad Ali to win the world heavyweight championship. Ali reversed the decision in a rematch, and after a three-round stoppage by Larry Holmes, Spinks never fought for the heavyweight crown again. He finished his career with 26 wins and 17 losses. His son Cory is a stylish boxer who has held titles at welterweight and junior middleweight, but has fought just once a year, going 2-2, since falling short in a 2007 challenge of then-middleweight champ Jermain Taylor.

Joe Frazier/Marvis Frazier: Smokin' Joe was one of the greatest heavyweight champions of all time, losing only to fellow greats Ali and George Foreman. His son, Marvis, lost only twice in a 21-fight career, but they were emphatic, one-round knockouts to Larry Holmes and Mike Tyson.

Muhammad Ali/Laila Ali: 'The Greatest' was reportedly less than thrilled when his daughter elected to follow in his fistic footsteps. But “She Bee Stingin'” went undefeated in a 24-fight career that included an extension of the Ali-Frazier rivalry when she outpointed Joe's daughter Jacqui in 2001.

Boxing Fans Have Much to Be Thankful For

By Kieran Mulvaney

Photo Credit: Will HartIt seems reasonable to assume that there a lot of people involved in boxing in Mexico, Las Vegas, New York and elsewhere feeling extremely thankful this holiday weekend. At the front of the line: Antonio Margarito, who received a belated go-ahead from the New York State Athletic Commission to fight Miguel Cotto at Madison Square Garden on December 3rd; Bob Arum of Top Rank, who is promoting the bout and who was prepared to move it elsewhere at the last minute until being confronted with a Cotto ultimatum that it had to be in New York or nowhere; officials at the Garden, who assuredly did not want what promises to be a huge event snatched away from under their noses; and the thousands who had bought tickets to the fight and made travel plans to the Big Apple.

This has been a year of highs and lows in boxing – at times, seemingly more of the latter than the former – but even so, there has been plenty for which the rest of us can be thankful, as well. For example:

Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao: Each may be loathed by the other's fans, but for neutrals it's a rare treat to have two such outstanding and contrasting practitioners at the top of the game. Here's hoping in 2012, they give us something to make us truly thankful.

Andre Berto and Victor Ortiz: For what is still probably the leading contender for Fight of the Year.

Pawel Wolak and Delvin Rodriguez: For giving us another Fight of the Year candidate - one so good, in fact, that they're going to do it again, on the Cotto-Margarito undercard.

Freddie Roach and Ann Wolfe: Freddie Roach is the number one trainer in the sport, an always-accessible and engaging interview, and the subject of his own upcoming reality show on HBO. But if Freddie's is the most interesting story among active trainers, Ann Wolfe's is right there with him. Plus she gave me the best quote ever.

James Kirkland: For three minutes of boxing action that still has me breathless.

Joe Frazier: Because although he may be gone, he will never be forgotten.

Happy Thanksgiving to you all. May your beagle make you a memorable holiday dinner of buttered toast and popcorn. 

Larry Merchant Remembers Joe Frazier

By Kieran Mulvaney

Former heavyweight champion and Hall-of-Famer Joe Frazier died on Monday night, age 67. InsideHBOBoxing’s Kieran Mulvaney spoke to HBO boxing analyst Larry Merchant, who began his career as a Philadelphia newspaperman, for his thoughts and recollections on the man who was surely the greatest fighter ever to come out of the City of Brotherly Love:

Joe Frazier was simply a terrific fighter. He fought in an all-out, aggressive, everything-on-the-line, pressure style that is rarely as successful as he was with it, at the level to which he brought it. Only two previous heavyweight champions, Jack Dempsey and Rocky Marciano, were as successful in that style, because it’s the hardest style to be successful with. Basically you’re putting your will, your nerve and whatever else you bring in terms of skill against another man’s, and taking the kind of enormous risks that invite disaster. You have to be able to walk through the fire to beat elite opponents. He was one of the rare ones who could do it.

Certainly, a reason he fought that way was his physical stature. I think it’s fair to say that how a man is made physically is a major part of how he fights. Dempsey and Marciano weighed between 180 and 190 pounds, and he fought in the low 200s at a time when heavyweights were getting bigger. He was relatively short, and to be successful, he had to fight in the hardest way there is to fight. Those kinds of fighters, especially when they are successful, are greatly admired. They take the biggest risks and they create the most excitement and drama. It’s a rare ability to be able to dedicate yourself in a way to be able to fight that way, to be able to take the punishment and keep going.

I have always likened fighting Joe Frazier to having an argument with someone who won’t stop talking. How do you answer? How do you reply? You’re on the defensive all the time. In the ring, the instinct for self-preservation often kicks in. When he fought Ali the first time, I called him ‘The Truth Machine.’ He would find out the truth about you, what you really had inside of you. If you were a boxer, did you also have the intestinal fortitude to stay in there with that man and try to cope with this force coming at you? If you were a puncher, were you able to trade shots with him and see who the better man was in that regard?

I would not have remembered this, but someone called me today and read me the lede I had written for the Ali-Frazier fight: “You can’t con Joe Frazier. He won’t allow it.” And if you couldn’t con Joe, Joe also wouldn’t try to con you. I said Joe was a truth machine, and that was the case outside the ring too. He basically told the truth about the way he felt about Ali, whatever the reasons were that he had those feelings. But everyone knew him as a good guy, as much as we can get to know a public figure.

I always thought of him as this fellow whose parents were sharecroppers, who came out of the poorest farm community, and who understood that you reap what you sow in terms of the effort you put into things. He came to Philadelphia to be a fighter, as many others – including, at some point, Ali, did – to learn his craft, and he learned it well.

Somebody once asked me: What would have happened if Frazier fought Mike Tyson? Because Tyson was a guy who tried to fight that same way as Frazier did. And I said the difference between them was that Mike Tyson was a mile wide and an inch deep, whereas Frazier was a mile wide and a mile deep. It seemed that Joe Frazier had a bottomless reservoir of courage, determination and will.

HBO Remembers Joe Frazier with an Encore Airing of 'Thrilla in Manilla'

HBO will pay tribute to the legacy of heavyweight great Joe Frazier, who passed away Nov. 7, with a special encore play of 'Thrilla in Manilla,' the award-winning 2009 documentary chronicling the competition between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, widely considered the greatest rivalry in boxing history.  The 90-minute film will be seen Thursday, Nov. 10 (6:30-8:00 p.m. ET/PT) and will be available on HBO On Demand through Nov. 27.


Pacquiao-Marquez: Another Classic Modern Trilogy?

By Eric Raskin

We often think of upcoming fights in terms of what’s at stake for each individual boxer. Rarely do we think about them in terms of what’s at stake for the two opponents collectively. But in Pacquiao-Marquez III, if these two rivals can produce a fight as competitive and compelling as their first two bouts, they will have done something truly special together: author arguably the best boxing trilogy of an era absolutely loaded with classic three-fight series.

Marco Antonio Barrera and Erik Morales got the fun started in the year 2000. Then Arturo Gatti and Micky Ward battled similarly spectacularly over 30 epic rounds. In the mid-2000s, Morales engaged Pacquiao in another unforgettable trilogy. And though they technically fought four times, the first three fights of the Israel Vazquez-Rafael Marquez series were as jaw-dropping as any of the aforementioned group. Just how unique has this “golden age of trilogies” been? In the previous three decades combined, there were only two trilogies that would legitimately fit in with those listed above: Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier and Riddick Bowe vs. Evander Holyfield.

Now Pacquiao-Marquez is poised to join that list, and perhaps stand atop it.

As a survivor of one of these legendary series, Ward insists that being a part of something like that serves as a source of everlasting pride.

“Whenever someone says Arturo’s name, they say my name with it. That’s really something,” Ward said. “It makes all the hard training and all the cuts, the stitches, the bruises, it makes it all worthwhile when you’re remembered like this. As bad as it was when I was in there, when I look back now, I’m glad I went through it. Being part of a great fight, that might get you remembered forever. But being part of a great trilogy takes it to another level.”

That’s what Pacquiao and Marquez are working toward together (even if that’s not either man’s primary goal). Through two fights that went the 12-round distance, on the six official judges’ cards combined, Pacquiao leads by a score 679-678. That’s right: One point separates them after 24 rounds.

We can only hope the third chapter of the Pacquiao-Marquez rivalry will be as competitive as the first two. Some predict Pacquiao will be too big and too strong for “Dinamita” now; others think that Marquez’s style will always cause Pac-Man problems, thus creating another classic triple.

No matter what, this has been the greatest era for trilogies that fight fans have ever seen. And it doesn’t necessarily have to end here. Maybe Miguel Cotto and Antonio Margarito will go from their December rematch to an eventual rubber match. Maybe if Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather fight once, they’ll go on to fight three times.

As fans, we’re all blessed when a great trilogy comes along. And that extends to ex-fighters who are now in the role of fan.

“I don’t know which of these trilogies is the best. I just know that I like watching them,” Ward said. “You sit back, you watch—and you’re just glad it isn’t you in there.”