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Thread: Fighters Who Changed Their Spots: Boxers Turned Sluggers Pt. 1

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    Fighters Who Changed Their Spots: Boxers Turned Sluggers Pt. 1

    Fighters Who Changed Their Spots: Boxers Turned Sluggers
    By Lee Groves from Max Boxing

    In the first installment of "Fighters Who Changed Their Spots," I profiled five fights in which a slugger -turned boxer in order to secure that precious "W" (or "KO") on his record. The five fights that follow here provide examples of a boxer who turned the tables on his more aggressive opponent and came out on top.

    November 15, 1952, Johannesburg, Transvaal, South Africa – Jimmy Carruthers KO 1 Vic Toweel: When a title challenger travels to the champion's hometown, he knows that he must rip the title away if he expects to take it home with him. The film of Carruthers' title-winning victory over Toweel should be required viewing for all future challengers seeking to unseat a home-standing champion because no one did it better than this Australian southpaw on this day.

    Though Carruthers could crack with his left cross, he mostly used his boxing skills to build a 14-0 record, with only two of his nine KOs taking place in his last seven fights. Three of his last four outings went the full 12 rounds and it wasn't expected that he could bowl over the favored Toweel, especially in front of nearly 30,000 countrymen at Johannesburg's landmark Rand Stadium.

    Toweel (26-0-1, 13 KO) had dethroned the long-reigning Manuel Ortiz two-and-a-half years earlier and, incredibly, he continued to defend his South African featherweight title during his 118-pound tenure. In his first bantamweight defense against Danny O'Sullivan, Toweel scored 14 knockdowns before putting the Englishman away in round 10. The South African buzzsaw notched two more defenses against Luis Romero (W 15) and Peter Keenan (W 15) before meeting Carruthers.

    Because Carruthers so badly wanted to become a world champion he decided to roll the dice once the opening bell sounded. The lefty roared out of his corner, drove Toweel toward the ropes with a left cross and ambushed the champion with a ferocious succession of left uppercuts, much like Somsak Sitchatchawal would do against Mahyar Monshipour in the opening seconds of their fight 54 years later. Carruthers was merciless as his assault knocked Toweel completely out of the ring at one point. A final left uppercut put the dazed and overwhelmed Toweel on the canvas for the 10 count. It was a most dramatic coronation and while Carruthers would defend the title three times (including a 10th round KO of Toweel), the Australian never again fought with such uncompromising savagery.

    February 18, 1981, Panama City, Panama -- Hilario Zapata KO 13 Joey Olivo: At 5-6 1/2" Zapata made his mark as WBC junior flyweight champion by picking apart his far shorter opponents from the outside while making them look foolish with his dazzling defensive skills. It didn't matter that his 15-1 record featured only six knockouts as long as his stick-and-move tactics produced the desired result. But when Zapata met Joey Olivo in his fifth title defense, Zapata was presented with a unique physical and stylistic puzzle. At 5-9, the 28-1 (8 KO) Olivo was by far the tallest rated 108-pounder in the world and the fact that he was a native of San Fernando, Calif. inspired ABC to provide live coverage from Gimnasio Nueva Panama in Panama City. The 23-year-old Olivo was attempting to become the first American to break the divisional hammerlock applied by the dominant Oriental and South American fighters, and more than a few experts thought he had the goods to get the job done.

    The nearly 100-degree conditions provided stifling conditions inside the open-air arena that lacked air conditioning, yet the usually passive Zapata was on the attack from the opening bell. His lightning-quick combinations tore through Olivo's defense yet he was still able to elude most of Olivo's long-armed blows. Zapata had been highly criticized by his countrymen for the safety-first nature of his past fights but here the crowd cheered Zapata's every blow. The suffocating heat and Zapata's relentless attack eventually left Olivo exhausted and he was unable to answer the bell for the 14th round. Four years and 11 fights later, Olivo made good on the predictions for his future when he decisioned Francisco Quiroz to capture the WBA junior flyweight title but against this super-aggressive version of Zapata, he had no chance.
    October 20, 1982, Cleveland, Ohio – Saoul Mamby W 10 Monroe Brooks: Less than four months earlier, Mamby lost his WBC junior welterweight title to Leroy Haley in a controversial 15-round decision and his bout with Brooks was the main support to Haley’s first defense against Juan Jose Giminez. Mamby’s stock and trade was his smooth boxing skills that featured a long and educated jab. Many of his fights went the distance and while his safety-first style enabled the 35-year-old to maintain his abilities and faculties, it also stamped him as a boring fighter.

    Against Brooks, whose most notable bouts were wars against then-WBC champ Saensak Muangsurin and future titlist Bruce Curry, Mamby wanted to make a dramatic case that he deserved a rematch with Haley. Though Mamby remained defensively responsible, he was far more willing to take the lead and it paid immediate dividends as he connected with a strong overhand right in the opening seconds. Normally a cautious starter, Mamby began fast and his momentum built with every passing round. His jabs snapped Brooks’ head back and his combinations connected with Brooks’ chin as if attracted by a magnet. In the third, Mamby planted his feet and pasted Brooks with flurries of well-timed blows. In the fifth, an overhand right hurt Brooks and by the seventh was more than willing to trade in the trenches.

    Mamby began the 10th intent on closing the show impressively behind two strong overhand rights to the jaw and followed with two flush hooks and a right to the temple several seconds later. Mamby was fighting like a man 10 years younger as he blasted Brooks with punch after punch, and a left hook in the final minute nearly produced a knockdown. When the unanimous decision in Mamby’s favor was announced, it was greeted with an enthusiastic standing ovation, a sight seldom seen following many of Mamby’s victories. Haley retained the title later that evening and from Mamby’s viewpoint, the rematch with Haley couldn’t have had a better prelude.

    April 15, 1985, Las Vegas, Nevada – Marvelous Marvin Hagler KO 3 Thomas Hearns: If a movie producer wanted to cast a fearsome looking slugger, Hagler would have been a prime candidate. His shaved head, satanic-looking goatee and heavily muscled body projected an intimidating image while his "destruct and destroy" mindset completed a most frightening package.

    But one only has to look at the tapes to realize that Hagler was much more boxer than slugger. Hagler was perhaps the most versatile fighter of his generation; though a natural right-hander, Hagler preferred to fight as a southpaw and he executed his moves out of both stances with equal effectiveness. Hagler operated behind a stiff right jab and constantly kept his opponents off-balance with subtle head, shoulder and foot feints. Hagler was also very nimble as he constantly circled his opponents in search of the perfect angle to strike with his precise punches.

    When Hagler lost a disputed draw to Vito Antuofermo in his first title shot, he vowed to be much more aggressive and he fulfilled his promise by bludgeoning Alan Minter in three rounds. But after he won the title, Hagler returned to his boxing roots as he carved up challengers like Mustafa Hamsho, Fulgencio Obelmejias, Antuofermo, Wilford Scypion, Juan Domingo Roldan and Tony Sibson before putting them away. In his only title defense to go the distance, Hagler was far more the boxer when he fought Roberto Duran and his caution nearly cost him the title as Duran held a slight lead on the cards entering the final two rounds.

    Going into Hagler-Hearns, the conventional wisdom was that each man would box the other. Hearns possessed the greater height and reach while Hagler proved against Obelmejias that he could chop a taller man down while remaining in his boxing posture. But Hagler knew this was his chance to vault himself into the mainstream consciousness and his camp honestly felt Hearns would be vulnerable to a full-frontal assault. So when fight night came, Hagler was truly on a mission of destruction.

    At the opening bell, Hagler tore into Hearns and the "Hit Man" had no choice but to respond in kind. The result was one of boxing history’s greatest rounds as they went toe to toe with an unbridled fury rarely seen in matches between superstars. The multi-skilled Hagler didn’t throw a single jab in the opening three minutes and he kept up the pressure until he drove Hearns to the canvas in round three. When it was all over, Hagler was not only atop boxing’s summit but also at the top of the money food chain – and ironically, he achieved it all by not fighting like his true self.

    June 12, 1982, Miami Beach, Florida – Leo Cruz W 15 Sergio Palma II: Cruz, the far younger (16 years) brother of former lightweight champion Carlos "Teo" Cruz, was challenging for a 122-pound title for the third time. In 1978, the slick-boxing Cruz fell to Wilfredo Gomez in 13 rounds and to Palma via 15 round decision 14 months earlier in Palma’s hometown of Buenos Aires, Argentina. This time, Cruz was challenging Palma on neutral turf and at age 29 he knew it would likely be his last title opportunity.

    Like his older brother, Cruz utilized quick hands and side to side movement to pile up points while Palma possessed superior physical strength and infighting ability. So it was a surprise when Cruz willingly planted his feet and swapped blows at close quarters – and an even bigger surprise when he consistently beat Palma to the punch and nailed him with clean, whistling shots. Cruz opened a cut over Palma’s left eye early in the fifth and worsened the cut by backing up the champion with a furious assault midway through the sixth.

    Every time Palma would mount a rally, Cruz would come back even stronger with volleys to the head and body while never taking a single step back. While Palma was more listless than expected, Cruz was full of energy and drive. Even when Palma stunned Cruz in the eighth, Cruz never retreated and quickly regained control. Ironically, Palma had one of his better rounds in the ninth when Cruz decided to return to his normal counter punching mode. But Cruz realized the error of his ways and returned to the trenches in the 10th and continued to outhustle the champ the rest of the way. After 15 grueling rounds, Cruz became the new champion on a 149-140, 146-143, 147-144 decision.

    There are many more examples of punchers turning boxer than the other way around. By adopting the tactics of a boxer, the slugger takes a smaller risk because he still can end the fight with a single blow should his ploy fail. A boxer, on the other hand, had better be sure his aggression works because should he get hurt in the process he doesn’t have the firepower to easily reverse course.

    One of the beauties of boxing is the endless variety of variables a fight can assume, and this two-part series demonstrates that the only predictable thing about this sport is its unpredictability.

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    Here is the other installment: When Slugger turned boxer

    Fighters Who Changed Their Spots: Sluggers Turned Boxers
    By Lee Groves (Sept 4, 2007)

    When pugilists are asked to describe their own style, the vast majority will say they are "boxer-punchers." They like to think of themselves as versatile athletes who can adjust instantly to their circumstances yet maintain their level of effectiveness regardless of the mode of attack. While it’s healthy to have high self-esteem, the truth is that most fighters can be categorized as either boxers or punchers, though most of them fall between the extremes occupied by pure boxer Willie Pep and pure slugger George Foreman.

    More often than not, a fighter’s style becomes his identity because it often reflects the core of their out-of-the-ring personality. While there are always exceptions to the rule, boxers are usually cerebral types who appreciate the sport’s scientific aspects while sluggers are aggressors who crave contact. Fighters spend years in the gym honing their skills, all the while creating muscle memory and establishing habits that will be brought into actual combat. Over time, those habits are ingrained into the fighter and the images of his efforts in the ring are ingrained into the fans that buy tickets – and into the minds of the other fighters who will eventually compete against him.


    Every once in a while, however, a leopard can change his spots to gain a strategic edge over a specific opponent. That was the story line in "Rocky III" when former opponent Apollo Creed transformed the blue-collar slugger Rocky Balboa into a lightning-fast boxer to help reverse his brutal knockout loss to Clubber Lang. To borrow a phrase from Ring’s Jeff Ryan, real life seldom mimics "reel life," but the "Rocky III" scenario has come to life in the actual squared circle. In this two-part essay, I will present 10 examples of how a pugilist can turn conventional wisdom on its head while doing the same thing to his opponent.


    August 28, 1959, San Francisco, California – Gene Fullmer KO 14 Carmen Basilio I: The National Boxing Association, which would eventually become the WBA, stripped Sugar Ray Robinson for failure to defend and paired Fullmer and Basilio to fight for their version at the Cow Palace. Both men had well-earned reputations as exciting fighters; Basilio had been involved in the last four Fights of the Year by Ring Magazine while Fullmer was regarded as one of the most bruising, physical and punishing of fighters. Though he didn’t possess great single-shot power, Fullmer wore out his opponents with his relentless aggression. It promised to be a whale of a fight.


    But Fullmer had something else in mind. Though he continued to spar as if he planned to slug, he entered the ring with a completely different game plan – to box.


    "I knew how Basilio fought and he thought he knew how I fought," Fullmer said in Peter Heller’s excellent book "In This Corner." "I didn’t figure he could change so I never did train to be a boxer. Even in training camp I trained to slug. Word got back to him, he was all set for me this way. He come out slugging, I moved back and I had just a split second faster timing that night than he did and I just beat him to the punch all night. When we were at a distance at all he’d go to throw a punch and I’d just barely move out of the way and then I’d stick him and stick him and stick him. Kept sticking him and beat him pretty soundly, really for the fight."


    While Fullmer didn’t show the flash of Robinson, he executed his game plan with surprising skill. By the 14th round Fullmer led by nine points on referee Jack Downey’s card and by four and eight points on the cards of judges Jack Silver and Fred Bottaro. A savage right to the jaw sent Basilio staggering toward his corner and shortly after the fight was stopped.


    "Of all the guys I fought, I think he was the hardest guy in the world for me to fight," said Basilio in Heller’s book. "He does everything wrong but it’s right. He makes such unorthodox moves that you can’t get a sparring partner to imitate him. He upsets your timing so badly that by the time you got untracked he’d be on top of you, and once he got on top of you, you couldn’t do anything with him because he was so strong and he could run you right out of gas. This is what happened with me. I got tired with this guy. He ran me out of gas."


    As with most surprise tactics, it never worked as well again. He tried to box in all three fights against Dick Tiger and for that he suffered a decision loss, a draw and a seven round retirement that sent the Utah native into permanent retirement. But for one great night in San Francisco, Fullmer showed everyone he was much more than a face-first brawler.


    January 21, 1978, Las Vegas, Nevada – Roberto Duran KO 12 Esteban DeJesus III: The stakes couldn’t have been higher in this rubber match. Not only were Duran and DeJesus fighting for the undisputed lightweight championship, they were also determining their respective places in history. DeJesus inflicted the only blemish on Duran’s 64-1 (51 KO) record by scoring a 10-round decision in non-title fight in New York November 17, 1972. DeJesus decked an out-of-shape Duran in round one before comprehensively out-boxing him for the rest of the fight. Duran exacted savage revenge in the rematch 16 months later in Panama City with an off-the-floor 11th round TKO win with the world title on the line.


    Between the second and third fights, DeJesus picked up the WBC title that had been stripped from Duran by decisioning Ishimatsu "Guts" Suzuki in May 1976. He defended the belt three times against Hector Medina (KO 7), Buzsaw Yamabe (KO 6) and Vicente Saldivar (KO 11), though this Saldivar wasn’t the same fighter who would go on to the Hall of Fame. Meanwhile, Duran continued to cut a vicious swath through the rest of the 135-pound world as he took down challenger after challenger with his typical white-hot intensity. He destroyed Masataka Takayama (KO 1), Ray Lampkin (KO 14) and Alvaro Rojas (KO 1) while chopping down Leoncio Ortiz (KO 15), Lou Bizzarro (KO 14), Vilomar Fernandez (KO 13) and the slick-boxing Edwin Viruet (W 15) to set up the rubber match with his nemesis DeJesus.


    Going into the fight, most experts expected the volatile Duran to rip through the Puerto Rican. But when the bell rang Duran began circling DeJesus and snapping jabs. At first, Duran’s tactics seemed to be a ploy to avoid suffering a third consecutive first round knockdown to DeJesus. It was also rumored that Duran was weakened after having to sweat off 15 pounds in the final four weeks. But as the rounds proceeded it was clear that Duran’s strategy was the result of a predetermined plan by co-trainers Ray Arcel and Freddie Brown. Except for a few segments, Duran remained within his boxing envelope even when DeJesus tried to make Duran come forward. The Panamanian’s swift jabs and pinpoint blows, especially to the body, gradually wore down DeJesus. By the 12th round, the Puerto Rican was exhausted and Duran finally floored him with a lead uppercut thrown from the outside. A discouraged DeJesus arose, but didn’t stay up for long as a final withering assault left him sitting on the canvas.


    July 19, 1981, Warren, Ohio – Ray Mancini W 12 Jose Luis Ramirez: Few nicknames ever suited a fighter better than Ray "Boom Boom" Mancini. The Youngstown, Ohio native was a 100-punch-per-round buzzsaw who ripped his way to a 19-0 (15 KO) record and the NABF lightweight title. He was defending that belt against Jose Luis Ramirez, a 74-fight veteran whose only losses came to Ruben Olivares and Alexis Arguello – and many believed Ramirez deserved the Arguello decision. The winner of Mancini-Ramirez would likely get a chance to fight Arguello, who recently lifted the WBC belt from Jim Watt.


    More than a few of the fans expected a shootout and one of the signs hanging in the rafters perfectly expressed that sentiment: "Boom Boom, out goes the lights." The 16-foot ring was perfectly suited for Mancini’s aggression but when the fight started both men chose to box one another. Ramirez’s plan was to catch the onrushing Mancini with counters but Mancini never gave him the opportunity. Instead he exercised patience and used his quicker hands to tag Ramirez with quick jabs and well-executed combinations before darting back out to long range. Even when Ramirez nailed Mancini with a left uppercut in the seventh, Mancini did not deviate from the blueprint. Only in the final round did Mancini turn slugger, going chest to chest with the experienced Mexican and finishing with a flourish. In the end, Mancini won a lopsided decision and would go on to fight Arguello in a memorable battle three months later.


    June 7, 1993, Las Vegas, Nevada – Tommy Morrison W 12 George Foreman: Morrison-Foreman pitted two of heavyweight history’s most pulverizing punchers, but they were punchers of a different feather. Foreman’s blows, even at age 44, were of the thudding variety while the 24-year-old Morrison’s was cleaner and crisper. Morrison entered the bout on an eight-fight winning streak – and all of the wins came by knockout – while Foreman’s three-fight skein included two knockouts, the last of which came in eight rounds against Pierre Coetzer five months earlier.


    While most expected an explosive encounter, Team Morrison had something different in mind. Though Foreman remained tremendously strong, he was far slower than even two years earlier when he challenged Evander Holyfield. Because it took so long for Foreman to set after planting his feet, Morrison would take advantage by staying on the move and forcing "Big George" to reset himself repeatedly. "The Duke" possessed by far the quicker hands and he flashed them in the form of double- and triple-jabs followed by jolting hooks and crosses. Foreman was the more accurate puncher throughout, but Morrison’s constant movement prevented him from mounting a consistent attack. Frustrated, Foreman lost a point in the 10th for low blows and he lost a lopsided 117-110, 117-110, 118-109 decision.


    August 3, 1986, Monte Carlo, Monaco – Julio Cesar Chavez W 12 Rocky Lockridge: This was Chavez’s sixth defense of the WBC super featherweight title and in Lockridge he was facing his best opponent since he disposed of Ruben Castillo and Roger Mayweather in his first two defenses. Chavez had knocked out four of his previous five challengers (including Castillo and Mayweather) and his 53-0 (45 KO) record was built on aggression, savage body punching and deceptively quick hands.


    Lockridge, a former WBA titleholder, possessed a sledgehammer overhand right that could dent even the best of chins and many expected him to test it against Chavez’s granite jaw. But Chavez decided to switch gears, keeping his distance behind a darting jab and moving in tight circles in both directions around the challenger. Lockridge, for his part, eagerly accepted the role of aggressor but his punches lacked their usual steam. Only occasionally did Chavez mix in his famous hooks to the body and heavy overhand rights as he instead focused on executing proper technique. His blows were well delivered but rarely did he engage in chest-to-chest combat with Lockridge, a longtime featherweight who was more comfortable at the higher weight. Chavez’s precise punches were heavier and inflicted more damage but the sight of Chavez giving ground was a rare one indeed, especially in light of the bruising, give-no-quarter style he used to win his later fights at lightweight and especially junior welterweight.


    Chavez gradually stepped up the action in each round, and though judge Jean Deswerts saw it 116-116, he was overruled by Giuseppi Ferrari and Miguel Donate, who saw it for Chavez by 119-113 and 116-113 respectively.


    Tomorrow’s second and final installment will recount five boxers who surprised their opponents by turning aggressor – and one of them used the maneuver to capture a world title. To find out that fighter’s identity, log in tomorrow.

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