By Lyle Fitzsimmons
Virgil Hill knows a good light heavyweight when he sees one.
After all, the Missouri native-turned-North Dakotan was among the world’s best 175-pound fighters for more than a decade across the 1980s and ’90s, while laying the foundation for an International Boxing Hall of Fame induction with a pair of championship reigns and 20 successful title defenses.
So when it came time for last weekend’s get-together matching the division’s current lineal kingpin – Adonis Stevenson – and decorated challenger Badou Jack, the now-54-year-old was certainly plugged in.
Once they completed their 36 minutes in Toronto, though, he was something less than impressed.
The judges ruled the bout a majority draw and prompted both fighters to claim supremacy on the way out of the Air Canada Centre, but Hill insisted neither man has a legitimate right until more work is done.
And that doesn’t mean a rematch, he said.
“No,” he told Boxing Scene.
“(Andre) Ward is the guy. Everybody else is damaged goods. Stevenson has to fight (Sergey) Kovalev or it’s all for naught. They have to fight (to determine) who’s the best light heavyweight, or who cares?”
Ward, who abruptly retired last September, was also an Olympic standout – winning gold at the 2004 Summer Games in Athens, Greece – exactly 20 years after Hill picked up silver at Los Angeles in 1984. He fought just five times as a full-time light heavyweight, though, beating Kovalev to win the IBF, WBA and WBO titles and then defending the cache in his final two fights before leaving unscathed at 32-0.
Stevenson, meanwhile, erased Chad Dawson to capture the WBC and lineal championships in 2013 and had defended eight times prior to Saturday – six times by KO or TKO – though he’d seen public support ebb thanks to a perceived weakness in competition compared to Kovalev’s foes.
Not exactly the stuff of a Superman, Hill said.
“Yeah, he can (claim to be the best), but the volume of fighters and the competition has always suffered in the light heavyweight, the super middleweight and cruiserweight divisions,” he said. “So if you defend one or two or three times you can say that. In my personal opinion, he hasn't fought the best fighters out there or even looked good doing it. He’s difficult because he fights left-handed, that’s it.”
Hill won the WBA title at 175 pounds from Leslie Stewart in 1987 and defended 10 times before dropping a decision to a fellow future Hall of Famer, Thomas Hearns, in 1991. He regained a subsequently vacated belt just 15 months later and racked up 10 more defenses – adding the IBF crown in the final one – before losing the pair to Dariusz Michalczewski in 1997.
It was Hill’s final fight at the light heavyweight limit and led to a decade in which he went 7-5 across a dozen cruiserweight matches before retiring in 2007. A one-fight return in 2015, at age 51, yielded a second-round TKO win and finalized his record at 51-7 with 24 KOs.
These days, he occasionally co-promotes pro-am shows in North Dakota, trains one pro and nine amateur fighters in Los Angeles and doubles as a member of and spokesperson for the USA Boxing Alumni Association.
And 10-plus years past his last title fight, he’s still quite sure how he’d have handled Saturday night.
“That wasn’t enough to win the title,” he said.
“(Jack) had the chance and he let him back in. All he had to do is win one round. If (Stevenson) won all the early ones from one to six, then he just needed one out of five of the later rounds to win the fight.
“Jack crowded himself and took away those long arms of his. He tried to fight on the inside when he should have blasted him from the outside, where he was beating him. Superman was hanging-on on the inside. I would’ve pushed the pace early and stepped on it in the later rounds, gassed him out, then just out-boxed him and made him use his old legs. Game over.”
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This week’s title-fight schedule:
WBC light flyweight title – Tokyo, Japan
Ken Shiro (champion/No. 1 IWBR) vs. Ganigan Lopez (No. 1 WBC/No. 7 IWBR)
Shiro (12-0, 6 KO): Third title defense; Won belt from Lopez (MD 12) in May 2017
Lopez (29-7, 18 KO): Fifth title fight (2-2); Two losses in four fights outside Mexico (2-2, 1 KO)
Fitzbitz says: Their first go-round was competitive, and there’s little reason to believe this won’t be the same. The champ remains 10 years younger. Good enough for me. Shiro by decision (65/35)
IBF super flyweight title – Fresno, California
Jerwin Ancajas (champion/No. 8 IWBR) vs. Jonas Sultan (No. 1 IBF/No. 7 IWBR)
Ancajas (29-1-1, 20 KO): Fifth title defense; Winner by KO/TKO in four title defenses (30 total rounds)
Sultan (14-3, 9 KO): First title fight; Fourth fight outside the Philippines (2-1, 2 KO)
Fitzbitz says: Far be it from me to derail the “He’s the New Pacquiao” hype train, so I’ll go with the chalk and assume an Ancajas win. Still, I see more Bobby Pac than Manny. Ancajas by decision (95/5)
WBA super flyweight title – Fresno, California
Khalid Yafai (champion/No. 6 IWBR) vs. David Carmona (No. 10 WBA/Unranked IWBR)
Yafai (23-0, 14 KO): Third title defense; Second fight outside of United Kingdom (1-0, 0 KO)
Carmona (21-5-5, 9 KO): Third title fight (0-2); One win in five fights outside United States (1-4, 0 KO)
Fitzbitz says: While Yafai hasn’t exactly exhibited pound-for-pound qualities, he’s demonstrated enough skill to make it look like a win over a dubious challenger is a mere formality. Yafai by decision (95/5)
Last week's picks: 2-2 (WIN: Kyoguchi, Russell; LOSS: Selby, Taguchi)
2018 picks record: 34-17 (66.6 percent)
Overall picks record: 955-321 (74.8 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.