By Lyle Fitzsimmons
I've watched a lot of college basketball.
I've covered Notre Dame, Holy Cross and Florida at regional sites in the NCAA tournament and once watched Niagara University lose an NIT game in a venue that's now a Native American casino.
Heck, I’ve even called Jim Boeheim a mother f***er after he blew me off for an interview.
So I felt like I had a vested March Madness interest in watching the close of Day 2 in the wee hours of Friday night/Saturday morning, and I confess to being as happy with the remarkable UMBC-Virginia outcome as I can remember being with any in recent memory.
And while it wasn’t quite boxing, the pure shock of the result made me remember the few moments in my ring-observing career where my mouth hung open in similar disbelief over what I’d seen.
There are upsets – like Ali-Cotto and Sor Rungvisai-Gonzalez – and then there are jaw-droppers.
In honor of the Retrievers, here’s a look at some of the ones I still don’t believe.
Iran Barkley TKO 3 Thomas Hearns – June 6, 1988
I’m among the world’s biggest “Hitman” fans, so by the time June 1988 arrived I was in a good place.
Marvin and Ray had been off the radar for a year, which left the middleweight domain – finally – under the thumb of Hearns, who’d won/defended titles in a three-year stretch since losing “The War.”
He strafed Barkley to the head and ripped him to the body early, and I still recall turning to my girlfriend at the end of the second round and suggesting it was as good as I’d ever seen him look.
Needless to say, my tune soon changed. And come to think of it, she didn’t make it another year either.
Buster Douglas KO 10 Mike Tyson – Feb. 11, 1990
If the hoops result from Charlotte reminded me specifically of any fight, it was this one.
Tyson, like Virginia, was the darling of the bracket-making set, and his trip to Tokyo – like the Cavaliers' to nearby North Carolina – was the next step in transforming the menace into a global brand.
And unlike each of the other upsets, this was no one-punch phenomenon.
Douglas, like UMBC, won nearly every moment of meaningful competition before finally putting his prohibitively favored foe out of his misery.
It remains the standard to which every new upset is compared.
George Foreman KO 10 Michael Moorer – Nov. 5, 1994
It may be now – as I enter my third week at age 49 – that I fully appreciate what a 45-year-old did.
Though he’d been competitive and brave against Evander Holyfield three years earlier, Foreman had done precisely nothing in the intervening time – including losing to Tommy Morrison – to make anyone believe magic was about to occur.
He was thrashed for nine rounds, beaten into a puffy mess and was about nine minutes from realizing the mistake he’d made in tangling with an unbeaten and talented foe who was 19 years younger.
Until he prompted Jim Lampley into a call that still raises the hair on my arms.
“It happened,” indeed.
Antonio Tarver TKO 2 Roy Jones Jr. – May 15, 2004
I’ll have the argument with anyone who cares to entertain it. In the years in which I’ve been a big fan, a prime Jones is the best I’ve ever seen. He was blindingly fast. He had one-punch KO power.
He’d beaten Tarver six months earlier and looked ready to better his own initial result in the rematch when unfettered with the struggle to drop down from heavyweight to 175.
When Tarver shot his mouth off during Jay Nady’s instructions, I was sure he was doomed. And after Jones appeared the boss through the first three minutes, I was perhaps three times more certain.
To this day, it’s the left hand that took him out that makes me realize anyone can lose.
Juan Manuel Marquez KO 6 Manny Pacquiao – Dec. 8, 2012
I think he won the first one. And I’m sure he won the third one.
That said, had you asked me about Marquez’s chances after the fifth round of their fourth fight, I’d have put them right up there with any one of Tyson's pre-Buster heavyweight challengers.
His nose looked broken. His stamina looked questionable.
But his will was surely still there.
And while I’m very happy that Manny ultimately got up and resumed his winning ways a few months later, I swear for a few seconds I’d seen a man killed with a single punch.
* * * * * * * * * *
This week's title-fight schedule:
Vacant IBO light heavyweight title – Wilhelmsburg, Germany
Karo Murat (No. 10 IBO/No. 20 IWBR) vs. Travis Reeves (No. 22 IBO/Unranked IWBR)
Murat (31-3-1, 20 KO): Second title fight (0-1); Unbeaten since 2015 (4-0, 3 KO)
Reeves (15-2-2, 7 KO): First title fight; First fight outside the United States
Fitzbitz says: Murat has lost each time he's reached for the division's upper tier. But unless he's got nothing left, his foe this time around doesn't represent that sort of obstacle. Murat in 10
Last week's picks: 1-1 (WIN: Yamanaka; LOSS: Imam)
2018 picks record: 23-8 (74.1 percent)
Overall picks record: 944-312 (75.1 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 protected] or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.