Battles Of The Ages, For The Ages

By Eric Raskin

Saul "Canelo" Alvarez - Photo Credit: Ed Mulholland

It’s a timeless tradition in boxing: A young up-and-comer looks to elevate his legacy with a win over whatever remains of an aging all-time great. That’s what Saul “Canelo” Alvarez is aiming for against “Sugar” Shane Mosley in the co-featured bout Saturday night, and there’s no shortage of examples over the years of sad spectacles that played out decisively in the younger man’s favor.

But there are also plenty of noteworthy cases where the “old man” rediscovered the magic and, whether he won or lost, the result was a classic fight that delivered drama and thrills.

Surely the most famous case was “The Rumble In The Jungle,” when the world feared for Muhammad Ali’s life against the destructive heavyweight champ George Foreman and Ali outwitted his stronger foe en route to an eighth-round knockout. And that wasn’t the last time ancient Ali took care of business against an opponent roughly a decade his junior. After a shock loss to neophyte Leon Spinks in 1978, Ali, in what would be his final victory, reversed the result to become history’s first three-time heavyweight champion.

Roberto Duran is another legendary fighter who twice pulled off late-career miracles in fights where he was supposed to serve as cannon fodder. His brutal beatdown of previously undefeated Davey Moore in ’83 was a stirring affair, topped six years later by Duran’s shocking triumph over Iran Barkley in The Ring magazine’s Fight of the Year.

Of course, you can’t talk about age-inappropriate warriors excelling against younger opponents without talking about the three greatest 40-and-over fighters ever, Archie Moore, George Foreman, and Bernard Hopkins. Moore’s recovery from three first-round knockdowns to top Yvon Durelle in 1958 stands as the defining fight of his career. Although Foreman’s knockout of Michael Moorer in ’94 was the fight that made him the oldest heavyweight champ ever, it’s his competitive loss to Evander Holyfield three years earlier that stands as the more entertaining cross-generational clash. And though Hopkins isn’t known for making classic fights, his recent victories over Kelly Pavlik, Jean Pascal, and, in both cases, Father Time, were stirring in their own ways.

Two of the best recent examples of classic fights between an aging great and a hungry young gladiator featured modern Mexican legends exceeding the expectations of many observers. In 2009, Juan Manuel Marquez outdueled Juan Diaz on HBO in what would be named the Fight of the Year. And in 2011, Erik Morales bravely ignored a grotesquely swollen eye to give Marcos Maidana all he could handle en route to a narrow decision loss.

It’s been said many times that boxing is a young man’s game. And that statement is 100 percent true. Except when it isn’t.

Eras & Icons: From Ali to Pacquaio/Mayweather

By Eric Raskin

Oscar De La Hoya, Mike Tyson - Photo Credits: Will HartSports fans always want to know who's next. But it's important not to lose sight of who was last.

Through almost the entirety of the existence of HBO Boxing, there has been a clearly defined superstar carrying the sport, a man (or, sometimes, "men") who served as the face of the fight game. Here's a look at the fighters who ruled their eras, in the ring and at the box office, since the first boxing broadcasts on HBO in the early 1970s:

(RELATED: Eric Raskin examines the next generation of up-and-coming superstar hopefuls.)

Muhammad Ali: Arguably the most famous sports figure of all-time, Ali's inclusion on this list should require no explanation, even to the uninitiated. He was never the same as a fighter after 1975's "Thrilla in Manila," but Ali's star status remained unsurpassed up through his final bout.

Sugar Ray Leonard: While Ali was losing three of his last four fights between '78-'81, the Olympic gold medalist Leonard turned welterweight into boxing's glamour division. Undefeated heavyweight champ Larry Holmes played second fiddle to Sugar Ray throughout the first half of the '80s – even when Leonard was largely inactive.

Mike Tyson: There was some overlap with the Leonard era thanks to Sugar Ray's legendary comeback win over Marvin Hagler, but from the moment he won a piece of the heavyweight crown in '86, "Iron Mike" brought the worlds of tabloid journalism and sports journalism together like no one before.

Oscar De La Hoya: "The Golden Boy" began to emerge when Tyson was in jail, and broke through as the man to put boxing on his shoulders around the time Tyson's teeth replaced his fists as his weapons of choice. It's safe to say there's never been a fighter with a bigger female fan base than Oscar. But he also fought every great fighter of an exceptional era.

Manny Pacquiao/Floyd Mayweather: Together—but very much separately—the last two fighters to defeat De La Hoya have replaced him. Pacquiao drives pay-per-view sales with charm and dynamic offense; Mayweather does the same with a persona that many love to hate and a defense that few can penetrate.

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.

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.”