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Thread: Boxing's Greatest Years Parts 1 and 2

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    Boxing's Greatest Years Parts 1 and 2

    Boxing’s Great Years – Part I
    By Lee Groves from Max Boxing

    For the 2007 New England Patriots, this season of triumph and tumult is headed toward heights never experienced in the National Football League. While other teams have amassed undefeated and untied regular seasons, none of them have ever run a table that consisted of 16 games. Should they cap off their run with their fourth Super Bowl title in the last seven years few would argue that at 19-0 they put together the greatest season the league has ever known.
    While boxing doesn’t have a "season" like other sports, it has seen more than its share of dominant performances over the course of a calendar year. They are years from which legends are created, years that vaulted others from obscurity to celebrity and years that represented singular peaks in valleys of mediocrity. No matter what the context may have been, these 12-month performances – listed in chronological order – are still worthy of recognition.

    This two-part feature will cover two distinct eras. The first part will cover fighters who fought before 1950, when non-title fights and bouts between big names were far more plentiful. Next week’s second installment will relive the career years of more modern fighters that campaigned in a far different financial structure that eliminated the need to fight as often to establish security while also making it more difficult to establish a lasting legacy.

    Without further adieu here are – in chronological order – 13 of the best years ever compiled during boxing’s "golden age":

    Joe Gans – 1902: 13-0 (12 KO) with two no decisions

    This was "The Old Master" at his devastating best as he not only out-boxed his competition but also crushed them to bits. He entered the year riding a six-bout knockout streak and he stretched that to eight with wins over Tom Broderick (KO 6) in Baltimore on January 3 and Eddie Connolly (KO 5) in Philadelphia three days later. The one no-decision came in a six-rounder against George McFadden, but the 1985 Ring Record Book said the newspaper decision went to Gans.

    Gans continued to roll on March as he whipped Jack Ryan (KO 3) and Jack Bennett (KO 5), earning him a crack at Frank Erne’s world lightweight title May 12 in Fort Erie, Ontario. Gans avenged an earlier 12th round title fight defeat and won the belt in most definitive fashion – a first round knockout.

    Over the next four months, Gans defended his belt four times against McFadden (KO 3), Ruge Turner (KO 15), Gus Gardner (KO 5) and Kid McPartland (KO 5), mixing in a non-title go with Jack Bennett (KO 2) for good measure. Just one day after defending the belt against McPartland in Fort Erie, Gans fought a 10-round no-decision against Dave Holly in Lancaster, Pa., a bout that Ring denoted as a newspaper decision win for Gans. Gans wound up the year with victories over Charley Seiger (KO 14) on November 14, Howard Wilson (KO 3) on December 19 and Charley Seiger (W 10) on New Year’s Eve.

    Jimmy Wilde – 1916: 15-0 (14 KO)

    "The Ghost with the Hammer in His Hand" was aptly named as he consistently bowled over full-fledged flyweights while often weighing below the modern junior flyweight limit of 108, and never was his power more evident than in 1916. The Welshman, also known as "The Mighty Atom," crushed his first three opponents in seven, 11 and two rounds to set up his Valentine’s Day showdown with world flyweight champion Joe Symonds in London. Wilde ended Symonds’ nearly two-year reign with an 11th round knockout.

    Wilde took a pair of non-title fights in March, stopping Sam Keller (KO 8) and Sid Smith (KO 3) in London before successfully retaining his title on April 24 against Johnny Rosner (KO 11) in Liverpool. Five days later, Wilde decisioned Benny Thomas over eight rounds in Cardiff, Wales and blasted out Darkey Saunders (KO 3), Joe Magnus (KO 2) and Tommy Harrison (KO 8) in non-title affairs.

    On June 26, Wilde passed a stern test – and avenged a 17th round KO loss in 1915 – by knocking out Tancy Lee in 11 rounds to not only retain the world title but add the British and European flyweight belts. On July 31, Wilde stopped Johnny Hughes in 10 rounds and on November 9, he starched Tommy Noble in the 15th. Wilde concluded his best year as a pro on December 18 by halting Young Zulu Kid in 11 rounds to retain his world title.

    Les Darcy – 1916: 10-0 (7 KO)

    A pro since his middle-teens, the native of Woodville in Australia’s New South Wales was in the midst of a magnificent run as the holder of the Australian version of the world middleweight title. He won that belt via foul from Jeff Smith in Sydney the previous May and had defended it five times going into 1916.

    He started the year with a 20-round non-title victory over George "K.O." Brown on January 15, after which he captured the Australian heavyweight belt by knocking out Harold Hardwick in seven rounds on February 19. Thirty-four days later he retained that title by stopping Les O’Donnell in seven rounds and two weeks after that he repeated his victory over Brown in another non-title 20-rounder.

    On May 13, five weeks after the second win over Brown, Darcy stopped Alex Costica in four rounds to keep the middleweight belt. On June 3 he iced Albert Crouse in two rounds to set up a pair of knockout victories over Dave Smith (KO 12, KO 11) in defense of his heavyweight strap on June 24 and August 16. Darcy wound up the year by decisioning Jimmy Clabby over 20 rounds on September 9 and stopping George Chip in nine rounds on September 30 to strengthen his claim to the world middleweight title.

    Darcy, still just 21 years old, was eager to fight Al McCoy for the undisputed title and had traveled by boat to America to finalize the bout. Tragically, Darcy developed pneumonia and died in Memphis on May 24, 1917.

    Benny Leonard – 1917: 16-0 (16 KO) with 12 no-decisions

    Just 21 years old, Leonard was already a veteran of six years and 99 fights when he started the year. From January 23 to March 12, Leonard bounced between Philadelphia and New York City to fight five no-decision affairs – all of which he won according to the newspapers. He then turned up the power against Packey Hommey (KO 9), Richie Mitchell (KO 7), Charlie Thomas (KO 6) and Eddie Shannon (KO 6) to set up his first world title shot against lightweight king Freddie Welsh in New York on May 28. Nine rounds later, Leonard became the new champion but he didn’t let his new status keep him on the sidelines.

    Just one week after capturing the belt, Leonard fought Joe Welsh to a six-round no-decision (another newspaper victory), then stopped Johnny Nelson (KO 3), reigning featherweight king Johnny Kilbane (KO 3) in a non-title go, and Young Rector (KO 5). Leonard notched five wins in September (with four knockouts), added two knockouts and three no-decision newspaper wins in October, slowed to two knockout wins in November and wound up the year with two no-decision newspaper victories and a five-round KO. In 28 fights that year, Leonard emerged with a championship belt and the best statistical stretch of his 211-fight career.

    Jack Delaney – 1926: 14-0 (8 KO)

    A French-Canadian born Oliva Chapdelaine, Delaney entered 1926 off a decision loss to light heavyweight champion Paul Berlenbach on December 11. But Delaney picked himself up quickly by decisioning Bob Fitzsimmons Jr. over 10 rounds on January 15 and following up with a 12th round KO over Tom Roper 10 days later. Three victories over Johnny Risko (W 10), Quinton Rojas (KO 4) and Joe Lohman (KO 10) followed, but his status as a real threat to Berlenbach was bolstered with back-to-back wins over former champions Mike McTigue (KO 4) and Maxie Rosenbloom (W 10). What makes those two wins even more noteworthy is that he defeated McTigue and Rosenbloom in an eight-day stretch in March.

    Delaney continued his surge by decisioning King Soloman over 12 and stopping Martin O’Grady (KO 7) and Tommy Burns (KO 2). Following a 10-round victory over Bob Sage in Detroit, Delaney got his rematch with Berlenbach in Brooklyn on July 16. This time, Delaney got the 15-round nod to win the championship, and he ended the year with a pair of non-title knockout wins over Jamaica Kid and Bud Gorman in December.

    Jack "Kid" Berg – 1930: 11-0 (2 KO)

    "The Whitechapel Whirlwind" blew through every one of his opponents in 1930, a year that saw win and defend not one, but two championships. Berg kicked off the year in fine style as he decisioned Tony Canzoneri in 10 rounds on January 16 and he captured his first belt on February 18 when he stopped junior welterweight champion Mushy Callihan in 10 rounds. On April 4, Berg registered his first title defense with a 10-round nod over Joe Glick in New York and three days later in Toronto he decisioned Jackie Phillips over 10 rounds.

    Berg racked up two more defenses on May 29 and June 11 when he knocked out Al Delmont in four and earned a 10-round verdict over Herman Perlick. Just 28 days after winning a 10-rounder over Henry Perlick, Berg secured his biggest victory of the year by outpointing Kid Chocolate over 10 rounds. The win broke "The Havana Bon Bon’s" 53-fight unbeaten streak from the start of his career – a string that included just one draw.

    Berg concluded his sterling year with three title defenses between September 3 and October 10 – Buster Brown (W 10), Joe Glick (W 10) and Billy Petrolle (W 10). Heavyweight champion Max Schmeling won Ring’s award, which was instituted in 1928 with Gene Tunney as the first honoree.

    Barney Ross – 1933: 8-0 (2 KO)

    Ross, known as "The Pride of the Ghetto," entered 1933 on a 21-fight winning streak that extended back to March 1931, when Roger Bernard grabbed an eight-round decision from Ross in Chicago. As a result, Ross was rising up the lightweight ranks and he consolidated his standing with victories over Johnny Datto (KO 2), Tommy Grogan (W 10), Billy Petrolle (W 10) and Joe Ghnouly (W 10).

    On June 23 Ross fought Tony Canzoneri, who owned both the lightweight and junior welterweight titles. Ten rounds later, Ross was declared the newest dual-title champion as he earned the decision. Ross successfully defended the 140-pound bauble by knocking out Johnny Farr in six and maintained both titles by repeating his victory over Canzoneri on September 12, this time over the 15 round distance. Ross, who relinquished the lightweight belt soon thereafter, finished up his highly successful campaign with a 10-round nod over Sammy Fuller to retain his world junior welterweight belt. No award was given by Ring in 1933, but Ross’ year would have made him a deserving candidate.

    Henry Armstrong – 1938: 14-0 (11 KO)

    "Hammerin’ Hank" was coming off an even better statistical year in 1937 that saw him go 27-0 with 26 knockouts (picking up the featherweight title and Ring’s Fighter of the Year award along the way), but 1938 was more meaningful in terms of quality of opposition and accomplishment.

    Armstrong began the year four fights removed from his annexing the 126-pound belt from Petey Sarron and riding a 20-bout knockout streak. Armstrong stretched the string to 27 between January 12 and February 28, including a third round stoppage of future featherweight champion Chalky Wright (KO 3) on February 1. A 10-round victory over old foe Baby Arizmendi snapped the run, but he got back on the KO track 10 days later with a fourth round KO of Eddie Zivic (a member of the fighting Zivic brothers) and Lew Feldman five days after that.

    Imagine WBC featherweight champion Jorge Linares not only meeting, but beating WBC welterweight champion Floyd Mayweather, then dropping down to annex Juan Diaz’s belt less than three months later. That was the scope of what Armstrong achieved when he decisioned Barney Ross on May 31 and outpointed Lou Ambers on August 17 – and those victories enabled Armstrong (at least for a time) to hold three of the eight available titles simultaneously. Still, Armstrong wasn’t done.

    On November 25, he defeated future middleweight champ Ceferino Garcia over 15 rounds to retain the 147-pound belt and capped off the year with a three-round KO over Al Manfredo 11 days later. As good as Armstrong’s year had been, Ring saw Louis’ campaign as an even better one and bestowed the award upon him.

    Billy Conn – 1939: 7-0 (1 KO)

    Power was never part of "The Pittsburgh Kid’s" game; he was a slick, shifty boxer with terrific hand speed armed with a streak of ruggedness. Although he only scored one knockout in 1939, the quality of his victims couldn't be ignored.

    Conn began the year with a 10-round decision over reigning middleweight champion Fred Apostoli on January 6 and repeated the deed over 15 rounds just 35 days later. On May 12, he furthered his credentials for a light heavyweight title shot by outpointing Solly Kreiger over 12 rounds, a result that netted Conn a crack at newly crowned champion Melio Bettina.

    Bettina was an oddity for the time – a southpaw world champion – and he was accustomed to using his natural advantage to his advantage. But Conn’s speed and skill proved to be too much for Bettina, who dropped the belt via unanimous decision. Conn quickly returned to the ring with an eighth round KO of heavyweight Gus Dorazio on August 14, after which he scored a second decision victory over Bettina to defend his new belt. Conn ended his terrific year with a decision victory over future 175-pound king Gus Lesnevich.

    Joe Louis – 1941: 7-0 (6 KO)

    Few heavyweight champions were ever as active as "The Brown Bomber" was in 1941 – and this was the genesis of the infamous "Bum of the Month Club." Granted, the men Louis defeated during the stretch between January 31 and May 23 had little chance of defeating Louis, but that could be said of anyone who dared to challenge him. Louis played the role of prohibitive favorite to perfection as he bombed out Red Burman (KO 5), Gus Dorazio (KO 2), Abe Simon (KO 13) and Tony Musto (KO 9) while winning via seventh round disqualification over Buddy Baer.

    Louis was also a heavy favorite over Billy Conn when they met in New York on June 18, but the underdog turned another "event" into the fight of both men’s lives. Conn used his speed to build a lead on the scorecards in the middle rounds, but a jolting hook in the 12th convinced Conn he could seize the richest title in sports by way of earth-shaking knockout. Ignoring the pleadings of his corner, Conn gunned for the KO in round 13 but Louis nailed him with a series of devastatingly precise power shots that led to a knockdown – and a knockout – with just two seconds remaining in the round. It was Louis’ most severe test as champion and his performance under pressure further cemented his place among the immortals.

    Louis wound up his campaign with a title defense against Lou Nova, who said before the fight that his "cosmic punch" would finish the job Conn started. No such luck – Nova fell in round six. For his efforts, Louis was named Ring’s Fighter of the Year for the third time in the last four years.

    Sugar Ray Robinson – 1942: 14-0 (9 KO)

    Though Robinson was highly touted when he entered the professional ranks in 1940, this was the year that he established his championship credentials, and after reading this is it any wonder that Ring Magazine named Robinson its Fighter of the Year – as a contender no less? Robinson began 1942 with a bang as he blasted out tough-as-nails former welterweight champion Fritzie Zivic in 10 rounds on January 16. The Sugar Man followed up strongly with knockouts over Maxie Berger (KO 2), Norman Rubio (KO 7), Harvey Dubs (KO 6) and Dick Banner (KO 2) to set up a match with future welterweight champion Marty Servo on May 28 in New York.

    Robinson decisioned Servo over 10 rounds to further cement his status as a title threat, and he added the head of reigning lightweight king Sammy Angott (W 10) two months later. Following a pair of knockouts of Ruben Shank (KO 2) and Tony Motisi (KO 1) that took place six days apart in August, Robinson tested his mettle against dangerous middleweight Jake La Motta on October 2. Robinson outscored the "Raging Bull" over 10 rounds in the first bout of what would become a classic six-fight series, and he followed up just 17 days later by decisioning Izzy Jannazzo. Robinson ended his year with victories over Vic Dellicurti (W 10), Jannazzo (KO 8) and Al Nettow (KO 3).

    After victories over Zivic, Servo, Angott and La Motta, could you blame the various welterweight champions for keeping Robinson at bay until the end of 1946?

    Willie Pep – 1947: 11-0 (5 KO)

    Sure, the man born Guglielmo Papaleo had many better statistical years. He won his first 63 professional fights before losing a decision to Angott, then went unbeaten in his next 73 fights. But what Pep was able to achieve in 1947 was simply mind-blowing.

    On January 8, Pep, the reigning featherweight champion since beating Chalky Wright in November 1942, suffered broken bones in his leg and back when his flight from Miami crashed in Millville, N.J. Several fellow passengers perished, but Pep survived and wore a cast for the next four months. When the casts were removed, Pep had the opportunity to cash in an insurance policy that would have provided for him in case of a career-ending injury. But Pep chose to go back to the gym, where he trained for a month and won a 10-round decision over tough Victor Flores on June 17.

    Pep resumed his normal frenetic fight schedule with five more wins in July over Joey Fortuna (KO 5), Leo LeBrun (W 8), Jean Barriere (KO 4), Paulie Jackson (W 10) and Humberto Sierra (W 10) before putting his belt on the line against Jock Leslie on August 22. Pep was in fine form as he scored a 12th round KO, and he celebrated by giving himself two months off. Pep won two fights in October over Barriere (KO 1) and Archie Wilmer (W 10) and wrapped up the year with wins over Alvaro Estrada (W 10) and Maurice LaChance (KO 8) on December 22 and 30 respectively.

    His strong performance following a tremendously debilitating set of injuries is just another one of the many reasons Pep is considered one of the greatest fighters who has ever stepped between the ropes. In 1947, Pep was able to dodge the Grim Reaper as deftly as he had his opponents’ punches. Though Gus Lesnevich won Ring’s award that year, Pep had as good a year as anyone and conquered a mountain few men could conjure scaling.

    Manuel Ortiz – 1948: 13-0 (7 KO)

    Until Orlando Canizales came around four decades later, Ortiz held the record for most consecutive successful bantamweight title defenses with 15, and eight of those came in 1948. The first came on New Year’s Day against Kenny Lindsay (W 10) and the second occurred just 26 days later when he stopped Georgie Freitas in 10 rounds, but Ortiz scored a quality victory on March 10 when he knocked out Lou Salica in the 11th.

    Ortiz took a brief breather in the form of two non-title fights against Pedro Ramirez (KO 6) and Joe Robleto (W 10), but just two days after beating Robledo, Ortiz put his title on the line against Lupe Cardoza and came out with a sixth round KO. Imagine a champion of today – or even of this era – who would risk a title fight payday by fighting a 10 rounder – against a future title challenger no less – just two days before.

    After beating Cardoza, Ortiz outpointed Robleto over 15 rounds to keep his belt and repeated the trick on July 12 with a seventh round KO 18 only days after knocking out Tony Oliveira in seven rounds. Ortiz scored two more 10 round non-title wins over Leonardo Lopez and Fillo Gonzales before wrapping up the year by knocking out Lopez in four rounds with the belt on the line and decisioning Benny Goldberg over 15 to notch his eighth successful defense of the year. For the record, Ike Williams captured Ring’s 1948 award.

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    Re: Boxing's Greatest Years pt.s 1&2

    Boxing’s Great Years – Part II
    By Lee Groves from Max Boxing

    Last week’s installment (Part I) relived 13 of the greatest years during the age when fighters piled up big numbers against a thicket of difficult opponents, and what made those years special was the fact that each fighter emerged with his record unscathed.
    But in the years since the advent of television, the money elite fighters earned for each outing grew exponentially, reducing the need to step into the ring so often. Today, we are fortunate if the best of the best fight more than two times a year, which makes the task of identifying the best years a far more different – and difficult – chore. In the years beyond 1960, there have been fighters who put together 12-month campaigns that stand out above the rest in terms of quantity, quality and accomplishment and it is here that I present – in chronological order – 13 of the best 12-month segments of the last 50 years.

    Muhammad Ali – 1966: 5-0 (4 KO)

    Ali was approaching a momentous crossroads in his life during 1966: Whether or not to accept military induction during the Vietnam War. Anticipating he needed money – and fast – to finance the turmoil that was to come, Ali produced a two-minute drill of defenses that hearkened back to the days of Joe Louis.

    On March 29 in Toronto, Ali pounded his fists on the concrete-like skull of George Chuvalo, who did plenty of fighting back but still lost the 15 round decision. Next was a rematch with Henry Cooper in London on May 21, the man who nearly knocked Ali out with a powerful hook to the jaw at the end of round four three years earlier. Their second bout was both different and similar in that Cooper failed to threaten Ali as severely and the champion ended matters the same way he did before – by way of cuts.

    Ali returned to London on August 6 and blitzed Brian London into a third round TKO with a blinding flurry of punches along the ropes, and Ali continued his European tour when he stopped difficult German southpaw Karl Mildenberger in Frankfurt in the 12th round. But Ali saved his very best effort for last when he defended against Cleveland Williams in Houston. Though Williams was past his prime and had bullets in his body, his punching power remained a dangerous wild card. In the end, Ali used his blazing hand speed to carve, his "Ali Shuffle" to confound and his combinations to put Cleve away in the third round. It was "The Greatest" at his greatest.

    Ruben Olivares – 1971: 8-0 (7 KO)

    "Rockabye Ruben" piled up spectacular numbers early in his career. He began with 22 consecutive knockouts and his first 59 fights he had 58 victories – 54 by knockout – against a single draw against German Bastidas in 1967. Olivares crushed Lionel Rose to win the bantamweight title and it appeared he would reign for as long as he could make the limit. But in Olivares’ final fight of 1970, Chucho Castillo shockingly lifted the belt via cut-induced 14th round TKO. Because of that, 1971 was to be the happy hooker’s proving ground – and did he ever deliver the goods.

    On March 4 he scored a tune-up sixth round KO over Chung Sul Park in Guadalajara to set up the rematch with Castillo at the Forum in Inglewood. Olivares turned to his underrated boxing skills to build a lead but Castillo showed why he remained a dangerous proposition as he dropped Olivares in the sixth. But Olivares picked himself up and proceeded to pick apart Castillo en route to a lopsided unanimous decision.

    Now a two-time bantamweight champion, Olivares kept himself busy with several non-title affairs with Yoji Mineyama (KO 3), Yambito Blanco (KO 5), former flyweight champion Efren "Alacran" Torres (KO 4) and grizzled 116-fight veteran Valentin "Kid Pasqualito" Galeano (KO 9). "El Puas" wound down the year with a pair of successful title defenses, the first of which was a war with Kazuyoshi Kanazawa in Nagoya, Japan that ended with three knockdowns in round 14. His final fight was against beloved veteran Jesus Pimentel at the Forum. "Little Poison" was a big hitter (69 knockouts in 77 wins) who was finally receiving his first shot at a world title at age 31. Pimentel did his best to stay even in the first half of the fight, but Olivares proved to be too young and powerful and he punished Pimentel on the way to an 11th round TKO.

    Olivares, who started 1971 on the outside looking in, was back on top and looking strong at year’s end.

    Saensak Muangsurin – 1977: 6-0 (4 KO)

    The native of Phetchabun, Thailand holds the record for winning a world title in the fewest amount of fights – three – and he defied the odds by building a more than respectable reign after dethroning Perico Fernandez via eighth-round KO to win the WBC junior welterweight title. The year 1977 proved to be his best as he put up his belt six times against good opposition and came away with six victories.

    On January 15 at Chiang Mai, Thailand, Muangsurin repelled the challenge of the respected Monroe Brooks by stopping him in the 15th round. The southpaw then took his belt to Tokyo to fight freshly defrocked WBC lightweight king Ishimatsu "Guts" Suzuki, who he polished off in six rounds on April 2. Next up was a rematch with Fernandez in the challenger’s home turf of Madrid, Spain on June 17, and though Fernandez managed to last the 15-round distance the result was the same – a Muangsurin victory.

    Muangsurin (who was born Boonsong Mansri) returned home and fought another veteran American challenger in Mike Everett, who he dusted in six rounds. On October 22, Muangsurin took on slick New Yorker Saoul Mamby in Korat, Thailand and from all reports the American did more than enough to lift the belt. But Muangsurin escaped with the belt firmly around his waist and he ended his very busy year on December 30 with a 14th round KO over tough challenger Jo Kimpuani in Chanthaburi.

    The Mamby fight aside, it wasn’t often that a champion put up his belt six times in a year, and that’s why this campaign made the list.

    Ray Leonard – 1979: 9-0 (7 KO)

    Trainer Angelo Dundee spent the first two years of Leonard’s career skillfully matching him with a variety of styles to give his charge a reservoir of experience to draw upon when the level of competition inevitably rose. And 1979 proved to be the year that Leonard transformed himself from a fighter of the future to a dynamic and charismatic part of the present.

    Leonard started the year with a HBO-televised turf war with fellow Maryland native Johnny Gant at the Capitol Centre in Landover on January 11. The 22-year-old was simply too much for the 30-year-old Gant as he stopped him in eight rounds. Leonard then stepped up to junior middleweight to take on French-Canadian Fernand Marcotte, a rugged 59-fight veteran. The bout air on NBC ended with Leonard stopping Marcotte with an explosive right to the jaw in round eight.

    Just six weeks after beating Marcotte, Leonard took another step up when he fought the 56-2-4 (31 KO) Daniel Gonzalez, who began his career with 42 straight victories and had never been knocked out. But Leonard turned out the powerfully built Gonzalez’s lights before ABC’s cameras with a pair of resounding knockdowns and the fight ended just 123 seconds after it began.

    Next up for Leonard was crafty southpaw Adolfo Viruet on ABC, and though he was as durable as advertised Leonard scored a knockdown in round four en route to a 10 round decision. Leonard’s next opponent, powerful middleweight Marcos Geraldo, provided a stern test for Leonard. In the third round, Geraldo stunned Leonard first with a hook to the jaw, then a right that nearly floored the 1976 gold medalist. But Leonard used his quickness, power and resourcefulness to fight his way out of trouble and win a challenging 10-round decision.

    Leonard stepped up his competition even more on June 24 when he blasted out junior middleweight contender Tony Chiaverini in four rounds and used dazzling and explosive combinations to take out NABF welterweight champion Pete Ranzany in four rounds. But Leonard made a giant statement on September 28 when he crushed Andy Price – who held victories over Carlos Palomino and Pipino Cuevas – in a single round.

    Leonard’s development as a fighter became complete on November 30 against WBC welterweight champ Wilfred Benitez, who tested Leonard’s patience like never before by delivering a master class in defensive skill and counterpunching ability. But Leonard closed the show in grand style by stopping Benitez in the final moments of the 15th round, a precursor for the great efforts that would come in future years.

    One of the most important factors for Leonard was that he was seen on so many television platforms, which contributed heavily to the huge purses he would earn.

    Salvador Sanchez – 1980: 5-0 (2 KO)

    Despite his status as mandatory challenger, Sanchez was a largely unknown quantity to American audiences when he fought longtime WBC featherweight champion Danny "Little Red" Lopez in Phoenix on February 2. Sanchez’s brilliant counterpunching, especially with the right, paved the way to what was thought to be a massive upset 13th round TKO. Subsequent efforts throughout this year would prove beyond doubt that Sanchez was no upstart, but a 21-year-old legend in the making.

    On April 12, Sanchez fought top challenger Ruben Castillo, a slick, intelligent boxer-puncher who pushed WBC junior lightweight champion Alexis Arguello before falling in the 11th. Back at his natural weight, Castillo gave Sanchez a stern challenge before Sanchez’s vaunted late-rounds strength kicked in and led him to a 15-round decision.

    On June 21, Sanchez fought a rematch with "Little Red," who managed to build a slight lead after 10 rounds. But Lopez faded and Sanchez strengthened in the late rounds, using his tremendous combination punching to register a 14th round TKO. On September 13, he received another tough challenge from undefeated Guyana native Patrick Ford but Sanchez still earned a majority decision. Finally, "Chava" wrapped up a spectacular year with a 15 round decision over Juan LaPorte, who would give WBA champ Eusebio Pedroza one of his toughest fights the following year.

    From obscurity to pound-for-pound entrant: That’s a heck of a year.

    Donald Curry – 1985: 4-0 (4 KO)

    By now the age of champions fighting three or four times a year had taken hold, but Curry still made the most out of his outings in 1985. Curry was coming off a solid 1984 that saw him beat Marlon Starling, Elio Diaz and Nino LaRocca, but this 12 month segment would move many to declare him boxing’s next great superstar.

    The WBA welterweight champion started the year by beating up – and slicing up – rugged Welshman Colin Jones in four rounds on January 19. Jones had given WBC champ Milton McCrory two tough 12 rounders – a draw and a disputed decision – and Curry succeeded in drawing favorable comparisons between himself and McCrory with his dazzling performance.

    A little more than two months later before a friendly crowd in Dallas, "The Lone Star Cobra" stopped James "Hard Rock" Green in two rounds in a junior middleweight contest, perhaps taken with an eye toward an eventual fight with world middleweight king Marvelous Marvin Hagler. On June 22, Curry stepped back down to 147 and bombed out Pablo Baez in six rounds, but the deal-sealer as far as his pound-for-pound status took place on December 6 when he took on McCrory in a fight that was three years in the making.

    An intense and stone-faced Curry dominated the first round with precise and powerful punches while McCrory had trouble landing cleanly. In the second Curry connected with a spectacular hook to the jaw that sent McCrory sprawling to the canvas in sections. McCrory courageously regained his feet, but the cold-blooded "Cobra" put him down for good with his final punch, a splattering right to the head that left referee Mills Lane no choice but to call an immediate halt.

    Few fighters did it better than Curry in 1985 in terms of establishing superstar credentials, but this next fighter topped even Curry in terms of skyrocketing his profile.

    Jeff Fenech – 1985: 8-0 (7 KO)

    At the start of the year, Fenech was a four-fight pro looking to make a name for himself after being robbed of a medal-round appearance at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. But "The Marrickville Mauler" would quickly make up for lost status in 1985 as he transformed himself from a novice fighter to an established world class presence in the space of 12 months.

    On February 1, Fenech stopped 27-fight veteran Wayne Mulholland in five rounds to grab two regional bantamweight belts and followed up with a four round KO of Rolando Navarro four weeks later. It was here that Team Fenech received an offer to fight IBF bantamweight champ Satoshi Shingaki, a notion that was considered absurd until they looked at tapes of the Japanese. On April 26, Fenech proved his team’s hunch correct as he knocked Shingaki in nine rounds and set a new record for the least number of days needed to capture a share of the world title (196 days).

    Following two non-title wins over John Matienza (KO 6) and John Farrell (KO 9), Fenech proved that the Shingaki win was no fluke as he polished off the former champ in four rounds on August 23, winning each round handily before forcing a corner stoppage. Fenech scored a stay-busy two round KO over Kenny Butts on November 4 and finished the year by beating the highly touted 26-0 Jerome Coffee over 15 rounds on December 2.

    Mike Tyson – 1986: 13-0 (11 KO)

    In 1985, Tyson created a stir in the boxing world by blasting out his first 15 pro opponents but 1986 was the year when the legend of "Iron Mike" really began to take shape in mainstream circles. After Tyson stopped Dave Jaco (KO 1) and Mike Jameson (KO 5), Tyson was featured on ABC for the first time against Jesse Ferguson, who at 14-1 was his best opponent to date. Tyson was nothing short of sensational as his muscular granite-block body produced the perfect blend of phenomenal speed and awesome power en route to a sixth round KO.

    Tyson was featured again on ABC nearly two months after he knocked out Steve Zouski in three rounds, and this time the foe was the savvy veteran James "Quick" Tillis. Tillis provided an early blueprint for future foes by staying on the move and tying up whenever Tyson got close, but Tyson still prevailed by 10 round decision.

    Just 17 days later on May 20, Tyson made his HBO debut against the loquacious Mitch "Blood" Green, who also took Tyson the 10 round distance before losing. But Tyson regained his KO touch against Reggie Gross (KO 1), William Hosea (KO 1) and Lorenzo Boyd (KO 2) and especially against Marvis Frazier on ABC, which set a record for the shortest fight in network TV history at 30 seconds.

    Tyson returned to HBO’s airwaves on August 17 and stopped Jose Ribalta in the 10th, and followed up with another HBO-televised two round blast-out of former cruiserweight champ Alfonzo Ratliff. Those performances earned Tyson a place in HBO’s heavyweight title unification tournament, and his opponent on November 22, 1986 was WBC champ Trevor Berbick. When Tyson stopped the Jamaican in two rounds, Barry Tompkins said it best: "We have a new era in heavyweight boxing."

    Felix Trinidad – 1994: 3-0 (2 KO)

    In 1993, Trinidad established himself as a star in the making by brutally smashing the crown off IBF welterweight king Maurice Blocker’s head, but it was in 1994 that "Tito" secured his place among the elite. On January 29, Trinidad emerged victorious in an all-Puerto Rican showdown with Hector Camacho, but performance against Yory Boy Campas on September 17 stamped him as one of boxing’s best.

    The 56-0 Campas was Trinidad’s mandatory challenger and he had to go to court to force the fight to take place. An impossibly short hook to the jaw dumped Trinidad on his behind in the second round, but once the champion regained his feet he showed why he was a coming great. Trinidad drilled explosive combinations off Campas’ readily available face in a spectacular demonstration of firepower. Referee Richard Steele was forced to intervene after Trinidad’s final punch caused Campas’ head to snap back grotesquely.

    His final fight of 1994 came against the highly regarded 32-0 Oba Carr, who said before the fight he was primed for the fight of his life. Carr proved his assertion correct by decking Trinidad with a heavy right early in the second, but the Puerto Rican superstar regained his feet quickly and rumbled with the upset-minded American, slowly breaking him down in the process. A series of withering rights produced two knockdowns and a referee’s stoppage in the eighth round.

    Oscar de la Hoya – 1997: 5-0 (2 KO)

    "The Golden Boy" was truly golden in 1997 as he maintained an unusually demanding schedule for a fighter commanding seven-figure purses every time out. De La Hoya started the year with a defense of his WBC junior welterweight title against the 41-0 Miguel Angel Gonzalez, a former lightweight king. Using a razor-sharp jab, De La Hoya picked apart Gonzalez en route to a solid decision victory.

    Next up was a showdown with WBC welterweight king Pernell Whitaker, still considered by many among the best fighters in the world despite his struggle against upstart Cuban expatriate Diosbelys Hurtado just a few months earlier. Though Whitaker’s considerable bag of southpaw tricks confounded De La Hoya, he still emerged with the decision and his third divisional crown.

    De La Hoya, discouraged by his performance against Whitaker, fired defensive specialist Jesus Rivero in favor of high-octane trainer Emanuel Steward for his June 14 defense against David Kamau (28-1, 21 KO), whose only defeat was a hotly disputed decision against Julio Cesar Chavez. Following a feeling out first round that Kamau may have won, De La Hoya dropped Kamau with a pair of heavy hooks early in the second and finished the job a couple of minutes later with another powerful hook.

    On September 13, De La Hoya scored a lopsided decision victory over the ever retreating but still relevant Hector Camacho and wrapped up his busy year with an eighth round TKO over Wilfredo Rivera, who gave Whitaker a pair of stirring challenges the previous year. It was a year that saw De La Hoya tackle a wide variety of styles from a gauntlet of credible opponents and emerge with his perfect record intact.

    Shane Mosley – 1998: 5-0 (5 KO)

    The reigning IBF lightweight champion put his belt on the line five times in 1998 and scored five knockouts. Who could have asked for more of the man some were comparing to the two other "Sugars" – Leonard and Robinson?

    Mosley kicked off his campaign with an eighth round KO of the 20-1 Demetrio Ceballos on February 6 and followed with another eight round knockout of former IBF junior lightweight champion John John Molina. Three years earlier, Molina had pushed De La Hoya to the brink of defeat, and he was not a man who was easily stopped. On June 27 at the Apollo Theater in Philadelphia, Mosley added another scalp in Wilfredo Ruiz, who he stopped in five rounds. Then, on September 22 at the MSG Theater inside Madison Square Garden, Mosley polished off Eduardo Morales, who entered the bout with a glittering 26-0 record, in just five rounds.

    "Sugar Shane" rounded out the year in most impressive fashion by beating another tough former 130 pound champion in Jesse James Leija. Mosley used his blurring hand speed and extraordinary power to drop Leija in the sixth, eighth and ninth rounds to force a corner stoppage.

    Floyd Mayweather – 2001: 3-0 (2 KO)

    "The Pretty Boy," despite enduring more than his share of out-of-the-ring distractions, continued to persevere and succeed in the ring, and 2001 proved to be his best year since his Fighter of the Year campaign three years earlier. It was a 12-month segment that featured terrific in-ring performances that both showcased his skills and tested his courage under fire.

    Mayweather began the year with a hastily arranged superfight with Diego Corrales, a bout which would have been a unification showdown had the IBF not stripped Corrales for signing for the bout. It was only Mayweather’s second fight in 10 months as he wrestled with his relationship with his father Floyd Sr. in and out of the ring, but his distractions paled in comparison to Corrales’ who was facing a variety of charges that would eventually land him in jail. Inside the ring, however, Mayweather was razor sharp as he pasted Corrales with combination after combination and registered five knockdowns en route to a spectacular 10th round stoppage.

    Next for Mayweather was a May 26 defense against Carlos Hernandez, a fight that tested his resourcefulness like none other. Late in the sixth round, Mayweather banged the knuckles of his left hand off the top of Hernandez’s head and the pain shooting up and down his arm forced him to turn away and take the only mandatory eight count of his career. Forced to fight outside his comfort zone, Mayweather nevertheless executed an alternate game plan that not only kept Hernandez at bay but also allowed him to continue to pile up the points necessary to leave the ring a unanimous decision victor.

    His final outing of the year took place on November 10 in San Francisco against top challenger Jesus Chavez, a swarming, volume-punching whirlwind who won his last 32 fights by battering them into submission. Though Chavez succeeded in imposing a fast pace, Mayweather willingly engaged him on the inside before darting back to long range and pelting him with pinpoint counters. Several massive uppercuts snapped back Chavez’s head, and the accumulation of punishment moved corner man Ronnie Shields to halt the contest between rounds nine and 10.

    Glen Johnson – 2004: 3-0 (2 KO)

    Few years have ever changed the perception of a fighter more strongly than 2004 did for Johnson. When he began the year, he was the hardscrabble hard-luck "Road Warrior" for whom boxing did little in terms of favors. His final bout of 2003 saw him fight for a title for the third time in Clinton Woods’ hometown of Sheffield for the vacant WBC light heavyweight belt, and the draw that resulted from it forced a rematch on February 6 – again in the pro-Woods turf of Yorkshire.

    Johnson confounded the bettors by winning a close but unanimous decision and finally becoming a champion. But Roy Jones, fresh off a shocking second round knockout loss to Antonio Tarver, still saw Johnson as easy pickings and challenged him for the title. Instead of a Jones coronation, he got crowned. Using a highly effective swarming style, Johnson beat Jones at every turn before knocking him unconscious in round nine. If anyone had doubts about Johnson’s worth before, the Jones result drove home the point in most frightening fashion.

    The Jones victory earned Johnson a fight with Tarver, and though the minor IBO belt was on the line the real prize was recognition as the best light heavyweight in the world. The pair would engage in a see saw fight that was tension-filled throughout, and Johnson emerged with a split decision victory as well as Ring’s Fighter of the Year award.

    "I am not the best out here," the humble Johnson said after knocking out Jones. "Just the one who is willing to fight the best." But in 2004, there was no question which fighter had the best year.

    There were more candidates to profile, such as Juan Coggi’s 1993 campaign that saw him go 7-0 and six title defenses, Julio Cesar Vazquez’s 1994 run of six defenses, Barry McGuigan’s title-winning year of 1985, and the years produced by showmen Naseem Hamed in 1997 and Jorge Paez in 1989. Space considerations prevent me from going into detail, but suffice it to say that they are worthy of consideration. Hopefully the year 2008 will produce several more candidates for a future accounting.

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    Re: Boxing's Greatest Years Parts 1 and 2

    Greb's 1919, 1921, 1922 and 1924 were pretty decent.

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    Re: Boxing's Greatest Years Parts 1 and 2

    bump

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