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BOXING / EARL GUSTKEY : Seen Through These Eyes in 11 Years

Moving day. Heading out. Final boxing column. After 11 years of covering boxing, I’ll switch to college football next month.

Final boxing theme: Gustkey’s greatest hits.

Here they are, my top 10 fights, 1982-1993--10 to remember, always:

1. Mike Tyson-Buster Douglas

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Feb. 10, 1990

An easy No. 1. An outstanding fight, but not a great one. But what dramatics. It may never be topped, not even in fiction.

It was the end of the Tyson reign, on a Tokyo afternoon when a real-life Rocky, James (Buster) Douglas, a hopeless longshot, fashioned one of the great upsets of modern American sports.

Six weeks later, Tyson acknowledged what everyone could see that day: that he wasn’t in physical condition to defeat an inspired challenger from Columbus, Ohio.

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By the third round, Tyson’s knees were trembling with fatigue. Late in the third, Douglas triple-jabbed Tyson, and the champion wobbled backward to the ropes. At that moment, it was clear that the unthinkable was happening--that Tyson was taking a beating. Yet it remained a pitched battle in which both men showed great courage--Douglas in crawling off the canvas after taking a savage uppercut in the eighth round, and Tyson in fighting on through the pain and disappointment of seeing his championship slipping away.

Tyson, too, climbed off the canvas, after Douglas had dropped him in the 10th and final round.

Most riveting memory: Tyson, after decking Douglas, so exhausted he could only shuffle and stagger, not walk, to a neutral corner during the referee’s count.

2. Marvin Hagler-Tommy Hearns

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April 15, 1985.

Probably the best fight of the 1980s. Hagler-Hearns was like two prehistoric men fighting over a hunk of meat.

Hearns created this fight. He challenged Hagler, the middleweight champion, at first bell. Later, Hearns said that stepping into the ring, his legs felt dead. He decided then, he said, to come out with all weapons firing.

He brought 15,000 at Caesars Palace to their feet in the first seconds.

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Hagler fought back fiercely.

In the process, he and Hearns cracked heads and Hagler was left with a deep scalp cut. The blood added an elemental quality to a fight none who saw it probably will forget.

Hagler caught Hearns with an overhand right in the third round and knocked him down. Hearns was counted out.

It was long believed that the greatest fight ever was the 1923 Jack Dempsey-Luis Angel Firpo fight. Said Times columnist Jim Murray moments after this one, “Dempsey-Firpo my . . . .”

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3. Sugar Ray Leonard-Hagler

April 6, 1987.

Those who chronicled the boxing career of Ray Charles Leonard wrote or talked about his athleticism, his ring generalship, his quickness and his ability to throw effective punches from almost any position.

Yet on this night, Leonard displayed a level of courage rare even in boxing. Against the bigger, stronger Hagler, Leonard was given little chance, especially considering he had not fought in years.

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It was a classic--the powerful, charging Hagler and the darting, counterpunching Leonard. In the fifth round, Hagler hit Leonard at close quarters with an uppercut. Leonard buckled, then quickly regained his equilibrium.

By all rights, that punch should have ended the fight. But Leonard, one of history’s great champions on his greatest night, won a close decision.

4. Tyson-Michael Spinks

June 27, 1988.

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This was Tyson’s night to say, “Any questions?”

Before 21,000 in Atlantic City’s Convention Hall, he established himself as the outstanding heavyweight of his era.

Tyson was a heavy favorite, but almost everyone expected a competitive fight. Many believed that Spinks, who had beaten Larry Holmes twice with guile and an unorthodox style, would somehow prove troublesome for the young, raw Tyson.

Spinks entered the ring first and walked about in his robe, showing a small smile. He looked like a beaten man before the fight began. And he fought that way.

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Tyson’s crushing power was never more impressive. When Tyson landed a right hand on Spinks’ chin, the fight was over. It had taken 91 seconds.

Best remembered moment: Tyson’s trainer, the squeaky-voiced Kevin Rooney, shouting into the microphone at the postfight news conference: “Whadja tinka dat? Whadja tinka dat?”

5. Evander Holyfield at the Olympics

Aug. 9, 1984.

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This moment is forever frozen for the 11,729 in the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena, many of whom were throwing trash onto the ringside boxing officials and shouting an expletive.

Evander Holyfield, America’s 178-pound representative, had been the sensation of the Olympics . . . until a Yugoslav referee threw him out of the competition.

In the semifinals, Holyfield was defeating New Zealand’s Kevin Barry. With five seconds left in the second round, Holyfield knocked Barry down with a left hook, less than one second after the referee, Bligorjie Novicic, had shouted “Stop!"--the signal for both fighters to break.

Barry arose shakily and took a standing-eight count. Then, as everyone watched in disbelief, Novicic abruptly signaled that Holyfield had been disqualified.

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Through the immediate bedlam, through the protests by U.S. officials and the next-day news conference, Holyfield--who had every right to throw an Olympian tantrum--stayed cool.

The boos began all over again at the medal ceremony, when Holyfield was given his bronze medal. He smiled at the crowd and waved--the perfect gentleman.

6. Julio Cesar Chavez-Meldrick Taylor

March 17, 1990.

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Electrifying. No other word adequately describes the final two seconds of the Julio Cesar Chavez-Meldrick Taylor bout.

Taylor, an Olympic champion from 1984, had struggled mightily to make 140 pounds for this fight. At the weigh-in, you could count every rib. Chavez was boxing’s ultimate technician.

For 12 rounds, these two champions from boxing’s middle weight classes unloaded on one another’s heads and bodies. When it was over, two of the three judges and most in the media had Taylor ahead.

But Taylor, tiring rapidly in the late rounds, had been knocked down in a neutral corner by a right hand. There were roughly 12 seconds left in the fight. Taylor got up, and referee Richard Steele began a standing-eight count at roughly the same time Taylor’s trainer, Lou Duva, bounded up on the ring apron and began yelling and waving his arms.

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Steele, distracted, looked at Duva--rules prohibit anyone on the apron during a round--and then back at Taylor during the count. Steele finished his count, looked into Taylor’s eyes and stopped the fight. There were only two seconds left in the bout.

Later, Steele pointed out that he was a referee, not a timekeeper, that he had done what he was trained to do--stop a fight when one participant is badly hurt.

7. Chavez-Greg Haugen

Feb. 20, 1993.

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Easily the worst fight on this list. In fact, it was an awful fight. But on this night, in cavernous Azteca Stadium in Mexico City, boxing’s greatest crowd was the story, not the fight.

Paid attendance: 132,274. Total in the stadium: 136,274. There were 90,000 at 6 p.m., hours before the main event.

Chavez, as everyone expected, easily defeated Haugen, a club fighter from Henderson, Nev., in five rounds.

But Haugen will forever claim a distinction: He’s the only boxer ever to have been booed by 136,274.

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To drum up interest in the fight, in which he had a financial stake, Haugen called most of Chavez’s opponents “Tijuana taxi drivers.” Another time, he said: “I got nothing against Mexicans--everyone should own one.”

Fifty policemen escorted Haugen to the ring. The jeers and whistling were deafening.

And so were the cheers, when Chavez appeared, in his bright green sombrero. The stadium itself seemed to shake when the “WHO-LEE-OH! WHO-LEE-OH!” “MEH-HEE-CO! MEH-HEE-CO!” chants began.

8. Tyson-Trevor Berbick

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Nov. 22, 1986.

In the fall of 1986, not everyone had fallen into line behind Tyson. He was only 20, and his toughest fights had been against journeymen such as Mitch Green and James Tillis.

So when his co-managers, Bill Cayton and Jimmy Jacobs, signed him for his first championship opportunity, some wondered if the kid from Brooklyn and Catskill, N.Y., was being rushed along. The World Boxing Council champion was Trevor Berbick, a tough, experienced fighter.

When Tyson entered the ring, he glared at everyone, from ringsiders to his own cornermen to Berbick. Nobody had looked so intense since Sonny Liston.

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And with one second-round punch, a left hook to the forehead, he knocked down Berbick three times.

Berbick went down at center ring from the punch. Then he pulled himself to his feet and stumbled to the side of the ring and went down again, referee Mills Lane following. Then Berbick got up again and staggered across the ring and went down for the third time. The Tyson era was on.

9. Michael Carbajal-Humberto Gonzalez

March 13, 1993.

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Several years in the making, this battle of 108-pound champions matched a U.S. silver medalist from the 1988 Olympics, Carbajal of Phoenix, and Mexico City’s Gonzalez.

The expectation was that this would be an action fight, because all of Carbajal’s fights are action fights, and Gonzalez has knockout power from either side. Carbajal has never slipped a punch in his life.

But no one was prepared for this. These two never stopped going at each other, not until it ended, with one second left in the seventh round, with Gonzalez flat on his back.

It happened before 6,521, few of whom could believe what they had seen. Carbajal, who had never been knocked off his feet, was down twice and trailed on all scorecards after six rounds.

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But at that point, Gonzalez, who had spent almost all week in a sauna, trying to make weight, came apart. Carbajal caught Gonzalez with a right and a following left hook and Gonzalez landed on his face. Referee Lane counted him out with one second left in the seventh.

10. Riddick Bowe-Holyfield

Nov. 13, 1992.

Eventually, many said, Holyfield would find himself in there with a challenger too big and too strong and he would lose his heavyweight championship.

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That’s exactly how it played out when the 6-foot-1, 205-pound Holyfield took on the 6-5, 235-pound Bowe for the heavyweight championship.

Holyfield-Bowe was that rarest of heavyweight fights--two undefeated heavyweights, fighting for the richest prize in sports. It was only the seventh time in 100 years that an undisputed, unbeaten heavyweight champion had met an undefeated challenger.

Holyfield began the 10th round as he had ended the ninth--in serious trouble. He had been so battered that he couldn’t walk a straight line to his corner. Bowe knocked Holyfield all over the ring to start the 10th, and the crowd, sensing Holyfield’s 25-month reign as champion was at an end, came to its feet.

Incredibly, though, Holyfield battled back. At center ring, Bowe’s upper body shook as Holyfield landed withering body punches. But Bowe’s crisis passed and he won the championship.

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Holyfield landed hard blows in every round but not once did he have Bowe in serious difficulty.

Boxing Notes

Pepe Reilly, the welterweight from Glendale who has won all four of his bouts, will box Fernando Rodriguez (14-8) of Phoenix on Thursday at Corpus Christi, Tex. . . . The 5,000-room MGM Grand Hotel project in Las Vegas is 3 1/2 months ahead of schedule, and the hotel’s projected opening day date is Dec. 18. The Grand will have a 15,000-seat indoor arena.

Michael Moorer, mentioned lately as a possible fall opponent for heavyweight champion Riddick Bowe, might have a legal fight on his hands in his hometown, Monessen, Pa. The 25-year-old heavyweight punched a Monessen policeman in 1991, breaking his jaw. Moorer pleaded guilty to assault last spring and was given two years’ probation. He also reached a financial settlement with the policeman. But the city notified Moorer this week that it plans to sue him, seeking to recover damages.

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It’s being billed as the biggest match in Great Britain’s history--the Oct. 1 bout between World Boxing Council heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis and fellow Brit Frank Bruno. The fight will be held at Cardiff Arms Park in Wales. It will be shown live on HBO, and is expected to generate up to $15 million. Lewis is to earn $6 million, Bruno $1.5 million. Lewis’ American promoter, Dan Duva, said Lewis, if he wins, will fight Tommy Morrison next March in Las Vegas.

USA Boxing, amateur boxing’s governing body in the U.S., is preparing to expand its program to include women’s boxing. To learn how to go about it, USA Boxing President Jerry Dusenberry recently wrote to Canadian officials. Canada already has women’s amateur boxing. Dusenberry asked 11 questions of Stuart Charbula of the Canadian Amateur Boxing Assn. One of them: “What do females wear at weigh-ins?” . . . Herb Stone, manager of junior-lightweight Rudy Zavala, says he will sit down soon with his Costa Mesa fighter and have a long talk about Zavala’s retirement. Zavala was knocked down three times in the third round and stopped by Kennedy McKinney recently in Memphis.

A Washington parking garage attendant is suing Riddick Bowe for $850,000, claiming the heavyweight champion punched him in the chest during a beef recently over Bowe’s car. Said Bowe: “I am beginning to understand Mike Tyson’s warning that the harder you work trying to make money, the harder people scheme and plan to take it away.”


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