By Lyle Fitzsimmons, photo by Hoganphotos
Move over Iran Barkley. Step aside George Foreman.
And you, Antonio Tarver, please make room for another passenger.
When the looping left hand that departed North Philadelphia finally crash-landed on the Vegas strip within minutes of midnight Saturday, Danny Garcia officially made their trio a quartet.
And while he was at it, he unceremoniously linked Amir Khan with Thomas Hearns, Michael Moorer and Roy Jones Jr. as well.
In the 35 years since my first TV fight – Ken Norton vs. Duane Bobick in May 1977 – there had been three high-profile endings that, to me, stood head and shoulders above all others in shock value.
All three had elements that went beyond a simply jarring upset.
Fights like these are different than the garden variety surprise – like Douglas-Tyson, for one – in which an undervalued underdog shows from the opening bell that he’s better than advertised.
Rather, in these cases, a significant favorite begins a fight in particularly dominant fashion and looks primed for a career-enhancing win, only to have the momentum blunted by one paradigm-shifting shot.
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First on the list comes a Saturday night that I still remember crystal clear, even 24 years later.
Then 29, Hearns was “only” risking the WBC middleweight belt on June 6, 1988, but – in the absence of past tormentors Ray Leonard and Marvin Hagler – he had won five straight fights in three divisions and finally appeared primed to reach lofty heights the notable big-fight flameouts had obscured.
The pound-for-pound stratosphere was waiting.
And through two-and-a-half gruesome rounds against Barkley, the Bronx-based tough guy had been cut, wobbled and repeatedly doubled over from wicked left hands to the body, prompting many to expect that a humane intervention from referee Richard Steele might be imminent.
Instead, after a right hand straight out of the South Bronx and a brief follow-up flurry that viciously drove its point home… history changed in a way that still makes a die-hard “Hitman” fan cringe.
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Shock No. 2 was again in Vegas six years later, when an unbeaten Moorer – who’d taken down Evander Holyfield one fight prior – was defending his WBA and IBF heavyweight shares and seeking a place at the grown-up table with the register-ringing Lewises and Tysons of the world.
And on that November night, based on the ease with which he was punishing a lumbering 45-year-old novelty who’d lost to the likes of Tommy Morrison 17 months earlier, it seemed an audience with those headline acts was merely nine trouble-free minutes away.
Until, that is, “Big George” landed two of the most unlikely right hands of any era, leaving the two-belt claimant in a bloody-nosed, glassy-eyed heap under the MGM Grand lights.
Fast-forward 10 seconds to an impeccable “It happened” call from Jim Lampley on the HBO broadcast and the “Double M” era was stunningly complete before it had begun.
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The last entry on the pre-Garcia rundown was eight years ago this past May – back when Obama was still a candidate, Favre was still a Packer and Pensacola’s Jones was still among those mentioned when it came to modern-day entrants on any list of all-time greats.
All “Superman” had done in the run-up to his second go-round with Tarver was earn top billing in three classes, administer a heavyweight boxing lesson to a foe 33 pounds larger and drop back to 175 to out-tough his fellow Floridian down the stretch of an initial match six months earlier.
He shook off Tarver’s return bout trash talk to control matters in the opening three minutes, and gave no indication through the first third of round two that anything significant would be changing.
Of course, neither he nor Tarver – whose eyes were clearly closed at its launch – could have imagined what a lasting impact the “Magic Man’s” enormous left hand would have on Jones’ legacy.
Now a huge departure from the phenomenon he’d been, Jones has displayed little in 13 subsequent fights – six of them losses – than a decided aversion for combat, all traceable to the moment he was no longer athletic enough to let athleticism be his primary strength.
Even after seeing the replay for what feels like the 10,000th time, I still flinch.
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Asked for their input via Twitter, a handful of fans, friends and colleagues chimed in with their jaw-droppers of the recent and distant past.
Ring Magazine’s Douglass Fischer suggested heavyweight Lamon Brewster’s WBO title-winning TKO of Wladimir Klitschko in 2004, saying “I was so excited when Brew turned it around I was glad to be home. Not sure I could have held back joy on press row.”
Others offered the following:
Jermain Taylor vs. Kelly Pavlik I in 2007, when Taylor had his man seconds away from a stoppage in round two before the challenger rallied for a brutal KO in the seventh.
Junior Jones vs. Kennedy McKinney in 1997, when Jones scored a knockdown and established a big lead through three rounds before being stopped in the fourth.
Frank Bruno vs. James Smith in 1984, when the unbeaten Brit was moments away from a decision win when “Bonecrusher” ended matters in the 10th.
And all the way back to John Tate vs. Mike Weaver in 1980, when the WBA champ led on all cards before going down face-first from a heavyweight left hook with 45 seconds to go in the 15th.
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This week’s title-fight schedule:
WBO junior lightweight title – Cincinnati, Ohio
Adrien Broner (champion) vs. Vicente Escobedo (No. 1 contender)
Broner (23-0, 19 KO): Second title defense; Nine KOs in 10 Cincinnati fights (10-0, 9 KO)
Escobedo (26-3, 15 KO): First title fight; Unbeaten since 2010 (4-0, 1 KO)
Fitzbitz says: “The elite-level jury is still out on the latest HBO sensation, but he should have more than enough to keep the momentum going against an unspectacular foe.” Broner by decision
NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body's full-fledged title-holder – no interim, diamond, silver, etc. For example, fights for WBA “world championships” are only included if no “super champion” exists in the weight class.
Last week's picks: 1-1
Overall picks record: 322-109 (74.7 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.