By Lyle Fitzsimmons
It’s a pretty slow stretch for boxing these days.
With a series of high-end fights just passed and at least a few more good ones on the way, this year’s month of August is largely left for we opinion-pushers to roust old enemies, take aim at recurring targets or tilt at the nearest available windmills.
Or, if none of those things are readily inspirational… there’s always the Internet.
With neither the proximity to take in any weekend action on site, nor the cable access to glean anything from television, I was instead left this weekend to scour the online landscape for something to trigger a creative flow that might cover 1,000 or so words.
As luck would have it, my muse was Facebook.
While running the gauntlet of political commentaries, life-affirming quotations and people taking pictures of their breakfasts (really?!?), I came across a go-to acquaintance whose occasional boxing-related posts have been sometimes known to wind us up in a good-natured cyber firefight.
This time, while I still hold my nose at his notion that Bernard Hopkins and James Toney ought to rank higher than Roy Jones Jr. on a list of top middleweights since Marvin Hagler – Jones did whip prime versions of both, after all – the presentation did get me thinking about lists of my own.
But rather than limiting myself to a particular division, I’ll tweak his construct slightly and simply go with the best fighters I think I’ve seen – either in person or on live TV – across all weight divisions since I first became a magazine-buying, letter-writing wannabe 30 years ago in 1982.
Here, in no order besides stream of consciousness, are my “10 for 30.”
Ray Leonard – Admittedly, his most consistent days – defeats of Wilfred Benitez, Roberto Duran and Thomas Hearns – were behind him by 1982, but the jaw-dropping nature of his return to beat a high-end Hagler (and yes, he won the fight…) remains vivid enough to warrant inclusion 25 years later.
Thomas Hearns – The “Hitman” had as good a body of work as anyone in his era, winning belts from 147 to 190 before it became as frequent as it is now. Admittedly, he’s known more for losses (Leonard, Hagler) than wins (Cuevas, Benitez, Duran, Hill), but his full career beats any contemporary.
Marvin Hagler – Certain guys are the signatures of certain eras. Like Joe Louis was the heavyweight champ of my father’s teenage years, Hagler was the middleweight champ of mine. Until Leonard actually beat him in the springtime of my senior year, I was convinced the guy could never lose.
Larry Holmes – Some guys like Lennox Lewis. Others tout Mike Tyson. But to me, the man from Easton with the spear of a left jab is No. 1a on the list of the best heavyweights ever, and clearly the top of the heap since the early 1980s. From Cooney through Spinks, he was money in the bank.
Michael Spinks – He may ultimately be remembered for a flameout against Tyson in Atlantic City, but that’s not nearly the whole story. From 1981 to 1985, the guy did nothing less than clean out the light heavies, and his rise to legitimately beat a 48-0 Holmes was nothing short of shocking.
Evander Holyfield – While Spinks mastered 175 and skipped past the cruisers, Holyfield took his Olympic medal and went straight to a division that’s scarcely had as much notice in a generation since. And in moving up to beat heavy champs Douglas, Bowe, Moorer and Tyson, he cemented his greatness.
Roy Jones Jr. – You can quibble over what his best division might have been – 160, 168 or 175 – but you can’t deny that the athletic Floridian took the measure of all three, and whipped a top five heavyweight, in his unfettered 15-year run between 1989 and 2004. Pre-Tarver II, he’s the best I’ve ever seen.
Floyd Mayweather Jr. – Like it or not, he’s the sport’s undisputed lightning rod. But, as competitively dominant as he’s been while cruising without a loss from 130 to 154, the former “Pretty Boy” now known as “Money” could use a career-definer (Pacquiao anyone?) to erase any ATG doubts.
Manny Pacquiao – Those who’ve read me know my views on what’ll happen if he faces the guy preceding him on the list, but only a fool would downplay every aspect of what he’s accomplished between flyweight and junior middle. There are holes to be poked, but it’s been a remarkable run.
Aaron Pryor – It was close, but the more I thought about it, the more it seemed like the “Hawk’s” two wins over Arguello trumped Duran’s post-welterweight scalp collection of Cuevas, Davey Moore and Iran Barkley. My biggest emptiness as a fan is that Pryor never got a shot at the big names at 147.
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This week’s title-fight schedule:
IBF/WBA middleweight titles – Oberhausen, Germany
Daniel Geale (IBF champion) vs. Felix Sturm (WBA champion)
Geale (27-1, 15 KO): Third title defense; Second fight outside Australia (1-0)
Sturm (37-2-2, 16 KO): Thirteenth title defense; Thirty-seven fights in Germany (34-1-2)
Fitzbitz says: “They’re not Chavez or Martinez, but these are two pretty damn good middles getting together. Sturm’s been in with better and he’s home, which should be enough.” Sturm by decision
IBF flyweight title – Panama City, Panama
Moruti Mthalane (champion) vs. Ricardo Nunez (No. 1 contender)
Mthalane (28-2, 19 KO): Fourth title defense; Third fight outside South Africa (1-1)
Nunez (24-2, 20 KO): First title fight; Four of 26 fights have gone the distance (4-0)
Fitzbitz says: “The champion is probably the better fighter from top to bottom, but the challenger is younger, he’s at home and he’s on a roll. Now… he gets a belt.” Nunez in 9
IBF mini flyweight title – Guasave, Mexico
Nkosinathi Joyi (champion) vs. Mario Rodriguez (No. 7 contender)
Joyi (22-0, 15 KO): Third title defense; Held IBO title at 105 (2006-08, three defenses)
Rodriguez (14-6-4, 10 KO): Second title fight (0-1); Four-fight win streak ties career best
Fitzbitz says: “Young Mexican challenger has reignited career after 10-6-4 start, but the step up in class to face Joyi is too big for a 23-year-old, even in his backyard.” Joyi by decision
IBO middleweight title – Verona, N.Y.
Gennady Golovkin (champion) vs. Grzegorz Proksa (No. 8 contender)
Golovkin (23-0, 20 KO): Second title defense; First fight in United States
Proksa (28-1, 20 KO): First title fight; Fourth fight in United States (3-0)
Fitzbitz says: “Those familiar with Golovkin are extremely high on him and claim the HBO date will make believers in his U.S. debut. I’ll buy in until proven wrong.” Golovkin in 10
WBA super flyweight title – Osaka, Japan
Tepparith Kokietgym (champion) vs. Nobuo Nashiro (No. 10 contender)
Kokietgym (20-2, 13 KO): Third title defense; Unbeaten since 2008 (17-0)
Nashiro (18-4-1, 12 KO): Tenth title fight (4-4-1); Two WBA reigns at 115 (three defenses)
Fitzbitz says: “Young Thai incumbent takes to the road to face former two-time belt-holder, but he should have more than enough to handle anything the aging challenger has left.” Kokietgym by decision
Last week's picks: 1-0
Overall picks record: 327-109 (75.0 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 on Twitter – @fitzbitz.