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In Memoriam: Remembering a Quintet Taken Too Soon

By Lyle Fitzsimmons

I suppose it’s just the nature of the holiday.

Unlike its celebrated brethren in early July, late November and late December, the mandated mood surrounding Memorial Day is, by its very nomenclature, somber and contemplative.

Add the fact that it’s been the time I mark the passing of my own mother – Alice Fitzsimmons – for the past 13 years since May 29, 1998, and it’s a cinch my mind is pondering loss.

So it wasn’t too unusual that I woke up a few mornings ago from another of the dreams I have from time to time, in which news of the passing of a famous person is so vivid I’d swear it was reality.

Go figure, this time around it was a boxing celebrity – Kronk guru Emanuel Steward.

Now before anyone boards the next bus for Detroit to warn the trainer of an imminent demise, keep in mind I once had a very similar dream about another famous Michigander, Gerald Ford.

And not only was the ex-president not really dead that morning… but he lived another 20 years or so before finally cashing it in in 2006 – at the ripe old age of 93.

So instead of undue alarm, file it away as the mindless rambling of the guy who owned an Intellivision game system but not an Atari, preferred Ryan Leaf to Peyton Manning as an N F L draft prospect and insisted cell phones would never be anything but a niche commercial market.

I’m clearly anything but a crystal ball.

But regardless of past accuracy, it’s all still got me thinking of those no longer here.

And rather than scaring the bejeesus out of a bunch more boxing folks whose deaths I could forecast, I’ll instead use the space this week to remember those who I wish were still around.

In no particular order, I miss them all:

1. Duk Koo Kim – I was just a kid when the gutty Korean tangled with Ray Mancini on CBS weekend television and I can’t pretend to have seen him fight prior to that Saturday afternoon, but his ultimate passing after the 14th-round stoppage turned out to be among the most significant events of my boxing generation. Not only was the result was among the dominoes that led to the unfortunate demise of 15-round championship fights, but the trauma was something the beloved “Boom Boom” never truly put behind him – en route to, ironically, losing his WBA lightweight title via 14th-round TKO to Livingstone Bramble in my first on-site title fight 27 years ago this week.

2. Diego Corrales – I won’t pretend I was a “Chico” supporter for the duration of his elite-level run at 130 and 135 pounds. In fact, I was among the loudest voices from a friend’s living room in suburban Philadelphia when he was potshotted into five-knockdown oblivion by Floyd Mayweather Jr. in 2001. But I became an honorary member of his fan club along with the rest of the Showtime audience on May 7, 2005, when he rallied to take out Jose Luis Castillo for the Mexican’s lightweight crown in both the best fight I’ve ever seen… and his last win as a pro. Coincidentally, and perhaps fittingly, he went out on his shield exactly two years later when he was killed in a motorcycle accident. 

3. Billy Collins – As a never-miss watcher of ESPN’s “Top Rank Boxing” in the early 1980s, I was in on the ground floor of the “Irish” junior middleweight from Nashville, and I looked forward with pride to his star turn with Luis Resto on the Roberto Duran-Davey Moore undercard at Madison Square Garden in June 1983. But instead of a name-making burst onto the main stage, Collins came out on the short end of the most heinous in-ring crime on my lifetime – the locker-room conspiracy that led to the removal of padding from the Puerto Rican’s gloves and resulted in a beating that caused permanent injuries and drove Collins from the ring to the car wreck that killed him 10 months later. If boxing has a hanging judge, Resto and Lewis deserve his wrath.

4. Davey Moore – While the main event of that fateful night in Manhattan was spectacular for the resurrection of Duran, it was simultaneously the first nail in the coffin of the 154-pound prodigy whose title the wily Panamanian wrested over eight brutal rounds. Though he was exposed as a not-ready-for-primetime novice against the “Hands of Stone,” it was a sure bet that the New Yorker would have had successful events ahead of him in a loaded weight corridor between welter and middle had he not perished in a freak driveway accident five years later in 1988. Amazingly, though he met Duran and fellow multiple-weight champ Wilfred Benitez among others, Moore’s pro career ended after just 23 fights.

5. Arturo Gatti – Probably the common thread on any similar list of too-soon absentees, the French Canadian-turned-Jerseyite known as “Thunder” was a real-life action hero thanks to an amazing ability to take punishment and rally back to dish it out. The trilogy with Micky Ward made him a household name, and a subsequent title reign at 140 pounds elevated him to world class and let him cash a few checks before the aforementioned Mayweather Jr. beat him down to size when they met in 2005. A would-be return to prominence was derailed by Carlos Baldomir and Alfonso Gomez, and his untimely death in 2009 meant I was in attendance on Jan. 28, 2006 for what turned out to be his last victory – an 11th-round stoppage of Thomas Damgaard in Atlantic City.
 
*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *

This week’s title-fight schedule:

SATURDAY
IBO super middleweight title – Kempton Park, South Africa

Thomas Oosthuizen (champion) vs. William Gare (No. 54 contender)      
Oosthuizen (14-0-1, 11 KO): First title defense; Third title fight (1-0-1, 1 KO)
Gare (27-14, 5 KO): First title fight; Five-fight win streak since 2007 (5-0, 1 KO)
Fitzbitz says: “Rising South African slugger holds on to title here.” Oosthuizen in 9

WBC super middleweight title – Atlantic City, N.J.
Carl Froch (champion) vs. Glen Johnson (No. 2 contender)      
Froch (27-1, 20 KO): First title defense; Held WBC title from 2008-10 (two defenses)
Johnson (51-14-2, 35 KO): Twelfth title fight (3-7-1, 1 KO); Held IBF/IBO titles at 175
Fitzbitz says: “Veteran Johnson continues unlikely resurgence.” Johnson by decision

WBC middleweight title – Los Angeles, Calif.
Sebastian Zbik (champion) vs. Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. (No. 1 contender)      
Zbik (30-0, 10 KO): First title defense; First fight in United States
Chavez Jr. (42-0-1, 30 KO): First title fight; Third fight scheduled for 12 rounds (2-0, 1 KO)
Fitzbitz says: “Unveiling of Chavez coming, but probably not here.” Chavez by decision

Last week’s picks: 0-0
Overall picks record: 207-73 (73.9 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 .

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User Comments and Feedback (Register For Free To Comment) Comment by mingnutz on 05-31-2011

:banghead:Sometimes the sport i love the most does realy suck !!!!!! But if u asked thos fighters how they wanted to go out they would say on my shield. R I P CHAMPS

Comment by Tomasio on 05-31-2011

[B][I]I would add to that list: Alexis "El Flaco Explosivo" Argüello, Vernon "The Viper" Forrest & little known fighters like Colombian Jimmy Garcia & Beethaeven Scottland..Garcia died 2 weeks after he put on a VERY game performance against Mexican ex-champ…

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