You can always count on the old guys.
The purists. The traditionalists.
The types who suggest boxing would be made great again if we could simply return a few generations back to the time when fighters were in it for the fans and competition, not the money and fame.
It’s easy to recognize them.
The gray hair. The wrinkled features. The slowed gait.
All dead giveaways. But not the only reason they’re easily identifiable.
It’s also a cinch to pick them out because they’re frequently full of sh!t.
Though I’ll always be nostalgic for a time when Hearns, Hagler and Holmes topped pound-for-pound lists and posed front and center for posters hung around my room, to suggest there’s nothing worthwhile these days simply because guys fight less and are paid more is presidential tone deafness.
And it’s a slap in the face to guys like Terence Crawford and Naoya Inoue, who comprise a modern P4P power duo that would have beaten a memorable tune on several decades’ worth of high-end contenders in their respective divisions.
Crawford is and has been the world’s best welterweight for much of the time since Floyd Mayweather Jr.’s retirement, and it’s surely no stretch to suggest he’d have competed evenly with – and let’s face it, probably beaten – at least two of the three Hall of Famers that Ring Magazine listed as the No. 1, 2 and 3 annual contenders to “Money’s” 147-pound preeminence 10 years ago in 2013.
That’s Timothy Bradley, Juan Manuel Marquez, and Manny Pacquiao, by the way, and I’d love to hear the argument that the “Bud” we saw in late July would be way out of place against any of them – or Floyd.
Roll back another decade to when Cory Spinks ruled a division that boasted Ricardo Mayorga, Vernon Forrest, and Antonio Margarito in 2003; or another to 1993, when it was Pernell Whitaker, Felix Trinidad, and Crisanto Espana, and it’s hardly hyperbolic to consider Crawford as an even-money bet.
Make it an even 40 years, in fact, and it was Milton McCrory, Donald Curry, and Marlon Starling at the top of a class in which Crawford certainly could have found top-end success, meaning you’d have to go back another three years – all the way to 1980 – to finally make a claim that Crawford would be no better than fourth, placing him behind Ray Leonard, Hearns, and Wilfred Benitez, in a star-studded division that also had Pipino Cuevas and Roberto Duran before falling off to Randy Shields.
Think it’s any different for Inoue at 122? Think again.
One fight in the division and he’s already as good as there’s been there in years, and, similar to Crawford, a look back to 2013 would put him in a series of winnable fights against The Ring’s then-top trio of Guillermo Rigondeaux, Carl Frampton, and Leo Santa Cruz.
A prime “Rigo” would have been a fascinating style task for Inoue and troubling if the Cuban could maintain distance, but Frampton didn’t have the pop to keep from being walked down, and while Santa Cruz surely would have been willing, he was too slow and hittable to stand up in a firefight.
A stroll back to 2003 puts the unbeaten Japanese star in with the interesting but perfectly beatable likes of Paulie Ayala, Oscar Larios, and Mahyar Monshipour, and it’s a similar story in 1993 – where Kennedy McKinney, Tracy Harris Patterson, and Wilfredo Vazquez were solid fighters who had enviable careers, but were never once mistaken for the guys residing far higher in the P4P stratosphere.
Inoue’s likely the top junior featherweight/super bantamweight dog for much if not all of the 1980s, too, with only Puerto Rican legend Wilfredo Gomez leaping off the page as a truly worthwhile foe.
Forty years of champions and contenders and neither Crawford nor Inoue would be overmatched.
That’s called greatness, folks. Modern fighters with all-time skills.
“They are both historically significant,” ex-HBO blow-by-blow man Jim Lampley told Boxing Scene. “Inoue is all craft. TC is craft plus venom. All craft lasts longer. Venom can at some point be satiated.
“But not yet.”
Inoue’s comprehensive slaughter of reigning and unbeaten two-belt 122-pound champ Stephen Fulton put him atop the pound-for-pound mountain on a late July Tuesday.
And it took an equally preeminent performance from Crawford four days later against Errol Spence Jr. to keep him from locking it down for the rest of the year.
Crawford’s reply might as well have been captioned: "Hold My Beer."
And as for his future, a stay at 147 could mean rising contender Jaron Ennis gets his turn, though a rise to 154 to take on whatever's left of a post-Canelo Jermell Charlo is awfully intriguing for a guy intrigued by the prospect of a fourth weight class title.
"Little kid from Omaha, damn," he said at an Omaha parade celebrating his accomplishments.
"Little kid from Omaha. Overachiever. I always say I'm an overachiever because my dream was just to win one title. Now I'm on top of Mount Rushmore."
Enjoy the view, folks. Optics this good don’t come around very often.
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This week’s title-fight schedule:
No title fights scheduled.
Last week's picks: 1-1 (WIN: Rodriguez; LOSS: Valdez)
2023 picks record: 27-11 (71.1 percent)
Overall picks record: 1,277-419 (75.3 percent)
NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body's full-fledged title-holder – no interim, diamond, silver, etc. Fights for WBA "world championships" are only included if no "super champion" exists in the weight class.
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@example.com or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.