By Lyle Fitzsimmons
Against my better judgment, I looked at it again.
Even though every previous viewing – whether in connection with an anniversary or not – has yielded a subsequent hour’s worth of muttering and slack-jawed disbelief, I still lingered online after the close of Saturday night’s Froch-Johnson fight to take yet another look.
And even though I’m now up to about 1,000 viewings in what’s now been 23 years and 24 hours since the in-ring version of D-Day, the result hasn’t changed one friggin’ bit.
No matter how strong and sound and superb Thomas Hearns looks through 2½ rounds of his June 6, 1988, middleweight title defense against Iran Barkley, the right hand still arrives.
He still collapses to the floor when it hits his jaw’s left side. He still wills himself to stand one tick before the count reaches 10. And he’s still far too unfit to continue when Richard Steele humanely intervenes with 21 seconds remaining in the third.
The guy was my favorite for 20-plus years. I saw all the big fights – wins and losses – he ever had.
I even had the chance to meet and interview him in a Detroit casino in 2005.
But no moment in those two-plus decades ever packed, or still packs, the “holy sh*t, did I really just see that?!?” wallop created by that 30-second stretch at the Hilton in Las Vegas.
I was lured into watching it again when the Internet feed of HBO’s Chavez-Zbik fight went cold after five or so rounds. I was still buzzing from Froch’s performance via Sky Sports an hour earlier, and wasn’t quite ready to call it a night or reduce myself to either Saturday Night Live wannabes or the insidious smugness of Harvey Levin and his TMZ smart-asses.
As it turned out, it became something of a theme night.
First, Hearns-Barkley I. Then, Foreman-Moorer.
And ultimately, Jones-Tarver II.
The three most stunning moments I’ve had in 30 years as a conscious boxing fan.
And fights like Tyson-Douglas don’t count quite the same to me, because by the time the 10th round arrived in Tokyo, the ultimate result was hardly in doubt… except to Don King and his minions.
For my money – both in terms of underdogs winning and complete reversals of up-to-that-moment momentum – nothing tops that trio.
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But it was a tough-to-watch night for reasons beyond just Hearns.
By the time 1 a.m. rolled around, while watching the Jones-Tarver rematch, I again saw the last great round fought by probably my second-favorite fighter… and the one punch that did more to alter an all-time great legacy than any other I can recall.
For the first three minutes of their second go-round at Mandalay Bay, “Superman” was pecking, flurrying, defending and doing all the other things that made him a convincing winner over Hall of Famers and traffic cops in 49 of his first 50 fights.
Then the left hand came. And history changed.
Before it landed, he’s among the best fighters ever.
Since, he’s the poster boy for hanging on too long.
And rightly or wrongly, every account of the Jones career from here forward will include as much space covering what he’s done in the last dozen fights – 5 wins, 7 losses (four by KO) – as it does those first four dozen plus two.
To me, it’s a shame. Because as cocky and off-putting as he could be at times, Roy seemed to be a decent guy at heart. And whether you’re a true believer in his list of opponents prior to 2004 of not, it’s clear he was near impossible to beat when operating at his highest level.
As he crossed his arms and looked out at the crowd before stepping through the ropes, I wished I could click the mouse and make it all go away. And though I’ve never been one to encourage retirement when guys are still in the upper percentiles of the profession, I hope I don’t see any more.
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In terms of live action, my Saturday highlight was the aforementioned Froch.
I’d seen footage of the brash Englishman before, but had never seen him in real time and felt pretty strongly that Johnson would retain enough of the quality – even at a smaller size – he’d long shown against bigger, better men at 175 pounds.
Needless to say, I was way off.
I came away impressed enough with Froch’s ability to control the action from the outside, but far more so with the mettle he showed in taking Johnson’s best shots and almost without fail immediately responding with momentum-changing counter flurries.
It not only altered the game on the scorecards, but played a role in sapping the resilience of the 42-year-old, who looked far more like a beaten man at the final bell than in any of his recent losses.
And while I haven’t changed my stance that Andre Ward is the best fighter both in this tournament and in the weight class – sorry, Lucien – it occurs to me now that the cable TV finale between he and Froch will be a far better clash than I would have believed going in.
Congrats, Mr. Hershman, you’ve got me for at least one more.
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This week’s title-fight schedule:
IBO middleweight title – Kiev, Ukraine
Avtandil Khurtsidze (champion) vs. Dionisio Miranda (No. 31 contender)
Khurtsidze (24-2-2, 14 KO): First title defense; Unbeaten in Ukraine (16-0, 9 KO)
Miranda (21-6-2, 18 KO): First title fight; Three wins in seven fights since 2008 (3-4, 1 KO)
Fitzbitz says: “Hometown favorite stays unblemished on backyard turf.” Khurtsidze by decision
WBO junior bantamweight title – Buenos Aires, Argentina
Omar Narvaez (champion) vs. William Urina (No. 14 contender)
Narvaez (34-0-2, 19 KO): Third title defense; Held WBO title at 112 pounds (2002-09, 16 defenses)
Urina (17-1, 14 KO): First title fight; Lost only fight outside Colombia (0-1, 0 KO)
Fitzbitz says: “Long-time flyweight king extends reign on next ladder rung.” Narvaez by decision
Last week’s picks: 2-1
Overall picks record: 209-74 (73.8 percent)
Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at [email protected] or follow him at www.twitter.com/fitzbitz .