By Jim Galiano.
In Boxing, Legends can be born and destroyed with a single fight. A meteoric rise to the top can also result in a meteoric crash back to the earth again. Boxing history is filled with the stories of “unbeatable fighters” meeting sudden and unexpected demises. When you get right down to it, though, would you really want it any other way? Recently, I was reminiscing about boxing in the mid-80’s and the state of the game as a whole. It was a time when Donald Curry appeared to be the heir apparent to Sugar Ray Leonard as king of the 147lb. division.
For a space of time, Donald Curry was as complete a fighting machine as you’d ever hope to see. He was a very solid puncher with fantastic counterpunching skills who threw accurate, pinpoint combinations. He also boasted a near, air-tight defense. A boxing writing at the time occasionally referred to Curry as, “The Secretary of Defense.” Curry had the ability to catch punches on the arms and gloves while tucking his elbows in to protect the body. He always seemed to be in perfect position to counterpunch effectively. Curry was also an outstanding body puncher. Technically speaking, he was sound in every aspect of the game. On the night he won the title, he was knocked down briefly to one knee for the first time in his career, but arose quickly to regain command and win the fight.
Many analysts started considering him a threat to reigning Middleweight King – Marvin Hagler, even when he was still fighting at 147lbs.
Donald Curry won the vacant WBA Welterweight belt with a 15-round decision over Jun Sok Hwang on February 13, 1983. By the time he met top contender Marlon Starling (an outstanding fighter in his own right) for the 2nd time in 1984, he’d really matured as a fighter. During their first meeting in 1982, Curry edged Starling with a close 12-round split-decision victory. The NABF and USBA Welterweight titles were on the line. A stronger, sharper, more mature Curry won a clear-cut 15-round decision over Starling in the rematch. Curry retained his title in the process.
Six consecutive stoppage victories followed the win over Starling included wins over Jr. Middleweights – James “Hard Rock” Green and Pablo Baez.
The Baez win set up a highly anticipated Welterweight title unification bout against the WBC Champion – Milton “The Ice Man” McCrory. McCory was a tall, lean, Kronk Gym fighter under the guidance of Emanuel Steward who guided Thomas Hearns to a WBA Welterweight title back in 1980. At the time, it seemed like Leonard-Hearns all over again. Two young, undefeated fighters were unifying the Welterweight Championship of the world.
Like Hearns, McCrory stood 6’ 1” and possessed a strong jab and good right hand. Although he didn’t generate the same type of power from the right hand as Hearns did, he was still a very talented fighter who fought very effectively from the outside. Most boxing experts predicted it would be take a while for Curry to be able to get on the inside and negate McCrory’s height and reach advantages. Most expecting a grueling fight – similar to the Leonard-Hearns war.
Two rounds and two big punches later, McCrory was counted out and Donald Curry was the undisputed Welterweight Champion of the world.
The sky seemed to be the limit for Curry at the time. His demolition of McCrory elevated his status to one of the very best, if not “the best,” pound-for-pound fighter in the world.
Although there weren’t any rumors of this published at the time, there were sources who later stated that Curry began having drug problems outside the ring. Cocaine use was one of the rumors I heard mentioned over the years that followed. At the time, though, everything appeared to going great for the Lone Star Cobra. Curry defended his unified title with another second round blowout against an over-matched Eduardo Rodriguez, looking unbeatable in the process.
Little did the world know at the time, it would be the last time the top-rated, pound-for-pound version of Curry would ever step into the ring.
His next defense occurred six months later against Britain’s Lloyd Honeyghan. Honeyghan was a brash, confident fighter who was also undefeated at 27-0. When the bell rang, Curry suddenly seemed like a different fighter. Honeyghan was aggressive, physical and used his head like a little battering ram at times. Curry seemed to lack energy, confidence and the snap in his punches that had disposed of some of the best Welterweights in the world up to that time. Gone was the airtight defense and sharp counterpunching skill. It looked like Donald Curry… but it wasn’t the same fighter.
After suffering a bad cut along his left eye and a broken nose (probably from an unintentional butt), Curry remained in his corner after the 6th round.
Pandemonium broke loose in the ring. It was an upset of upsets. Just like that, Lloyd Honeyghan had gone from unknown outside the UK to becoming an overnight sensation. Interestingly enough, it would be Curry’s old nemesis – Marlon Starling, who would later go on to relieve Honeyghan of his title for good via a 9th round stoppage in 1989.
At the time, most of us thought Curry had a off night and the misfortune of getting butted and cut badly over the eye. Most fans and experts alike expected Curry to return at Jr. Middleweight with a vengeance.
Although Curry did return, he only showed flashes of the skills that had once made him the best fighter in the world. Keep in mind, Curry was still only 26 years old.
Two strange disqualification wins followed at Jr. Middleweight in which he won and defended the USBA title. Then came his first shot at the Jr. Middleweight belt against the undefeated Mike McCallum. McCallum could do it all, but he’d never faced a fighter on Curry’s level. McCallum had just stopped Milton McCrory in the 10th round three months earlier and was now facing the man who’d stop Milton in only 2 rounds a few years earlier.
For a few rounds, Curry looked great. It was like the Donald Curry of old had returned. It was a physical fight but Curry was ahead on all the scorecards going into the 5th round.
A year after the McCallum loss, Donald Curry would go on to capture the Jr. Middleweight title with a 9th round stoppage over a very solid Gianfranco Rosi. At the time, I remember thinking that maybe Curry would finally settle in and realize the potential he’d once shown at 147lbs. He had the misfortune of catching a perfect left hook against Mike McCallum and… after all, this is boxing, right?
I think I personally felt this way because I really considered Curry (like many others) to be one of the genuine nice guys in the sport.
Curry followed the win over Rosi with a testing of the waters at 160lbs. His first opponent at Middleweight was against no-hoper, Mike Sacchetti. Sacchetti was dispatched in five rounds. Curry then returned to Jr. Middleweight for his first title defense against Frenchman – Rene Jacquot. Jacquot boasted a modest record of 23-9-1.
Once again, the old curse seemed to have returned. Curry looked tentative and lethargic throughout. It was as though he’d become the same man who stepped into the ring against Lloyd Honeyghan all over again. When the smoke cleared, Rene Jacquot had relieved Donald Curry of his WBC Jr. Middleweight title in 1989’s Upset of the Year (Ring Magazine) by unanimous decision.
Curry would go on to log two more comeback wins which culminated in a shot against Middleweight Champion Michael Nunn. Curry, behind on all three scorecards, was finally stopped in the 10th.
He returned to Jr. Middleweight where he would have one final attempt at a title against boxer/slugger – Terry Norris. Curry was stopped in the 8th.
Curry’s career was like shooting star. It burned bright and brilliantly in the sky for a moment in time… then it was gone. If drug use was the cause of his sudden and rapid decline, it would certainly make more sense than some type of unexplained “phenomena.” It’s difficult to recall such a complete fighter as Curry who fell so quickly and rapidly.
Usually, when an undefeated fighter loses in such a fashion, he falls into the category of overrated or over-hyped. This wasn’t the case with Donald Curry. Curry actually went from being the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world to appearing – shot, in just one fight. Although he regained flashes of his former self – here and there, he would never again regain his status as the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world.