Legendary Fighters of the Past, Present and Future

By Jimmy Krug –

Boxing will have its hero’s. It’s a fact that’s ingrained within the nature of the sport, the business and its fans. It started with John L. Sullivan, the first American sports hero.  Old John L’s exploits made him a household name and a legend in his own time. His larger than life persona captured the imagination of young and old alike. Although Jim Corbett wound up dropping the man for ten, the legend remained standing for a good hundred years to come.

It’s been said that all sports simulate combat in one form or another. I agree. Boxing is one of the few, however, that doesn’t let a ball get in the way.

Boxing’s place in U.S. culture has changed dramatically in recent years. No longer considered to be the mainstream sport it once was, boxing has migrated into the category of niche sport in the USA. The average person can no longer tell you who the Heavyweight, Light Heavyweight or Middleweight Champions of the World are. That wasn’t the case through much of the sport’s storied history. The days of walking into a barbershop almost anywhere in America and talk boxing with the “average Joe” are long gone.

Even so, the sport and its fans continue to support their favorite fighters and are forever on the lookout for this generation’s contemporary legends!

For the last few years, the most recognizable names on just about everyone’s “pound-for-pound” list are Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather Jr. On paper, they have all the makings for creating this generation’s equivalent of Ali-Frazier or Leonard-Hearns.  In some circles, Pacquiao has been compared to triple crown champion, Henry Armstrong, who won world titles at Featherweight, Lightweight and Welterweight.

It was quite a feat winning titles in three weight classes back in the days when there were only eight divisions and one champion per division. It was only a controversial draw that kept him from winning a version of the Middleweight title against Ceferino Garcia (of the Philippines) in 1940.

Armstrong finished his career with approximately 150 bouts. Pacquiao, whenever he finishes, should fall far short of that mark. Nonetheless, Manny Pacquiao will be measured by how he performs in his own era – not Armstrong’s. Mythical matchups aside, a fighter should be judged by how they perform in their respective era, not by mythical “what if” matchups.

As boxing fans, however, we known the real score. This is boxing! Those rules go into the shredder before the ink ever dries on the paper!

You’d better believe that we, boxing fans, judge fighters – not only how they perform historically, but by how well we believe they’d fare against “The Legends” of boxing history. With our sport, it’s all about history. Leave out the process of comparing one legend against the next is like having “half the sport” gathering dust on a shelf.

Boxing is as much an ongoing saga of giants and giant killers as anything else.

Fighters do one of two things.

  1. They capture the imagination
  2. They don’t

They may not be very popular in America, but the Klitschko brothers have captured the imaginations of fans across much of the rest of the world.

Their Legend continues to grow. The thinking is, if they continue to fight “BIG,” using their ramrod jobs as offensive and defensive weapons, coupled with their booming right hands – they are virtually unbeatable. Others believe they are greatly benefiting from fighting in an era when the level of competition in the heavyweight division is very poor.

The same was said of Rocky Marciano. Even so, 49-0 became the stuff legends are made of. Unless one or both of the Klitschko’s suffer Roy Jones-like knockouts… their legend is very likely to remain intact.

I would love to have seen a prime Larry Holmes popping his jab their way. It’s hard to envision either big man settling into a comfortable rhythm against a prime Holmes.

Larry Holmes is an excellent example of how legends are built up and torn down. Holmes came close at 48-0 with 20 successful title defenses. But in September of 1985 the record, legend and aura all took a hit at the hands of Michael Spinks. Holmes also lost a hotly disputed decision in the rematch… but it didn’t matter.

Had Holmes decisioned Spinks and retired (like Marciano at 49-0), I have no doubt that he would have went down in history as one of the greatest ever. The argument would have been – “He always found a way to win.” Holmes earned the recognition he did the old fashioned way. He earned it.

Public perception had Mike Tyson on his way to being the best ever until he spiraled out of control and wound up getting mowed down by Buster Douglas in Tokyo. Even Ali remarked that Tyson looked “awesome” as he sat at ringside for one of Tyson’s early demolitions. That being said, time is being kind to Mike Tyson. Many fans now remember him as the 21-year old monster who terrorized the division during the late 1980’s.

In boxing, one fight… one round… one punch… can change everything.

Currently, the spotlight focuses upon Manny Pacquaio and Floyd Mayweather. Together, the two produce something that’s impossible for them to produce apart. Together, they will create the biggest the biggest fight the sport has seen in the last decade. On paper, the matchup looks that good. The outcome of the fight may very likely cement their place in history as “legends” of ring.

Should either fighter suffer a one-sided loss, however, it’s very likely the loser will be remember as a very good (not great) champion.  Throughout time, history often takes a back seat to legend. There’s no reason to think “this time” will be any different.

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