Sunday, February 24, 2013

He Told Us He Was The Greatest!

By Peter Silkov


Forty nine years ago today Muhammad Ali defeated Sonny Liston for the World heavyweight championship, and almost over night, changed the whole fabric of the boxing game.  No one had ever seen anything quite like Cassius Clay, as he was known then.  He was brash and arrogant in a manner akin only to the legendary Jack Johnson, the first coloured Heavyweight champion of the world, who reigned from 1908 to 1915. Johnson was somehow lucky enough to avoid assassination along the way, despite the depth of animosity felt towards him by white America.

Cassius Clay was no Joe Louis, who was quiet and thoughtful verbally, careful not to antagonize or put a foot wrong in public.  Clay never stopped talking. Unlike Johnson, Cassius had the gift of making people laugh.  He was able to launch into a diatribe of what he would do to his next opponent and in what round, and yet, say it with a twinkle in his eye and a smile not far from his face.  Then there was the poetry, delivered with a deadpan solemnity, which would have done many a comedian proud.

“The Louisville Lip” could walk the tightrope between outrageous arrogance and ridiculous clowning, while making people both laugh and admire him at the same time. Perhaps most important of all, was that as his professional career progressed this lippy young man showed that he could walk-the-walk along with all of his talk.
Sonny Liston was different and the general opinion within the boxing world was that the former convict, now World Heavyweight Champion, was invincible.  While views on Liston ranged from, a kind of righteous repugnance to outright awe, all agreed that the hulking champion was a human wrecking machine who would reign as World Heavyweight Champion for a long time.  Clay’s own management didn’t believe he could win and only agreed to let him go ahead with the fight at his continued insistence.  Cassius had been floored in previous fights by Sonny Banks and Henry Cooper, so the general consensus was how could he possibly survive the bombs delivered by Sonny’s huge hands?  The same bombs that had blitzed Floyd Patterson twice in the one round! 

On fight night, when the forty-six attending sportswriters were polled on whom they picked to win, forty-three picked Sonny.  Considering the atmosphere surrounding the match, perhaps the surprise should be that three writers actually picked Cassius to win.

Clay had tried to get inside the champions head in the run up to their match, constantly taunting and ridiculing Sonny in the manner which would become Muhammad Ali’s trademark in later years.  It was good publicity, but Clay also felt it was good psychology. Clay knew that Liston wasn’t afraid of him, but believed he might be afraid of ‘a nut’. At the medical and weigh-in for the fight, with just hours to go before their clash, Clay worked himself into a frenzy.  His blood pressure when taken was 200 over 100 and his heart rate was 120 per minute.  The doctor examining him declared that the young man was ‘scared to death’. Years later Ali would say that the scene was just another part of his act and a ploy to make Liston believe that he was going into the ring with the most unpredictable of opponents…a crazy man.

When the two men stepped into the ring that night on February 25, 1964, at the Miami Convention Centre, both seemed to be calm and Liston had his normal baleful expressionless look upon his face.  Perhaps after a life often walked upon the dark side it would take more than Clay's comical histrionics to shake Sonny from his solemn belief that he was about to give this upstart the beating of his life.

Over the years many have gained the mistaken belief that Sonny Liston was a lumbering muscle bound plodder of a fighter, with great power but little speed or technique. A fighter who was rendered ridiculous on the night he lost his title to Cassius Clay.  The truth is that Liston was a smooth and fluid mover in the ring and had remarkable hand speed for a fighter of his size and build.  He also had one of the best and most powerful jabs ever seen in the division’s history.  Sonny’s jab was swift and accurate, and numbing.  It was these attributes, allied with his innate strength and power that helped make Liston such a formidable and frightening destroyer in the ring. On this night however, Liston was facing a man with freakish speed for a heavyweight.  Cassius was akin to being a 210 pound Sugar Ray Robinson.  Furthermore, in addition to his speed, Liston would find that Cassius could also match him for strength.

The fight started with Clay retreating and Liston coming forward, trying to land his jabs and follow up rights.  Not only did Cassius avoid the punches, but he peppered back jabs and the occasional right to make Liston sure that he was in a fight.   Clay ended the 1st round with a flurry and the crowd roared and stood on their feet as they realized that the lippy clown wasn’t about to be blown away in a round as many had believed.  In the 2nd round, Clay continued to evade Liston, as the champion came forward trying to tag the challenger with his bombs.  Clay leaned back, moved left and right, and spun off the ropes on the few times he was cornered.  To add insult to injury,  Clay replied with his own lightning jabs and right hands, that penetrated through the pursuing champions defences and cut Liston high on the left cheekbone.  In the 3rd round Clay started to stand his ground and put more weight in his flurries.  Liston was not just being out-boxed now, but out-punched as well.  A ripple now began within the crowd, most of who were on their feet; a sense that something truly extraordinary was happening before their eyes.

In the 4th round, more drama entered the contest as Clay became more cautious and was content to retreat and land the occasional jab.  Between the 4th and 5th rounds, Clay complained of something having gone into his eyes and that he could not see.  When the 5th began, as if aware of his challenger’s distress, Liston literally threw himself on the attack at the nimble taunter in front of him.  Even with little vision, Cassius managed to still evade Liston’s attacks and by the round end, with his vision clearing, had started to fire his jab out into Sonny’s face once more.  Cassius took control again in the 6th round, standing flat-footed now, as he unleashed his jabs and combinations, which were visibly hurting the champion. Liston was cut further in this round and at the end trudged back to his corner with the air of a beaten man.  Despite this, it was still a huge shock for everyone present, when Sonny quit on his stool before the start of the 7th round.  Everyone that is, except Liston and Clay.

As the dethroned ex-champion sat slouched on his corner stool, the new champion Cassius Clay, soon to be Muhammad Ali, did a victory dance in mid ring. He rushed round from corner to corner, his mouth wide open, proclaiming “I am the greatest, I am the greatest, I shook up the world, I shook up the world!” Cassius Clay proved that night that he was no joke or fraud and gave us the first glimpse of the greatness to come.  He was to be an extraordinary champion who would achieve some of his greatest victories when he was already losing the fantastic speed and reflexes that helped him defeat the ‘invincible’ Sonny Liston.  That night he told us he was great and for the first time, we began to listen.

Copyright © 2013 The Boxing Glove, Inc. Peter Silkov Art. All Rights Reserved.
Peter Silkov contributes to and

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Friday, February 15, 2013

The St Valentines Day Massacre

By Peter Silkov

The St Valentines Day Massacre
Sugar Ray Robinson vs. Jake Lamotta…
For The World Middleweight Championship
Feb 14th 1951 Chicago Stadium.

This week while we celebrate with love and affection  St. Valentine’s Day, sixty-two years ago Sugar Ray Robinson and Jake Lamotta had their own particularly violent Valentine’s Day party, when Robinson challenged Jake for his Middleweight championship.  The two men had formed one of boxing’s most potent relationships in a rivalry, which stretched back to 1942 and five previous fierce encounters.
Lamotta had handed Ray the first defeat of his professional career in their second fight, but Robinson had avenged himself by beating Jake three times since then.

On Feb 14th 1951 after being fistically apart for almost six years, the two met for the sixth time, with Lamottas Middleweight crown up for grabs. 

The fight was a classic, one of many littering the 160 pound division’s history, with both men renewing their pugilistic acquaintance with gleeful abandon. This battle would go down in ring history as ‘the St Valentines Day Massacre’.

As in their previous fights Lamotta bored in relentlessly, living up to his moniker ‘the Bronx Bull’ while Sugar Ray played the matador, using his sweet mix of speed and skills, and ballet like footwork, to evade and counter Jake’s persistent rushes.   Sugar Ray chipped away at ‘the bull’ with a rapier jab and bursts of lightning combinations, until a tiring Lamotta was at his mercy. 

In the last three rounds of the fight Robinson handed out a beating of almost sadistic proportions. Lamotta, his face now swollen and distorted, took it with a masochistic courage, as he continued to try and come forward and fight back as much as he could. Right up until the end, when at 2:04 of the thirteenth round, a defenceless Lamotta stood with his back against the ropes, his gloved hands clasping at the top strands, as Sugar Ray raked his head and body with a final fusillade of blows. Finally, the referee stepped between them and ended the bout.

With his spectacular victory over Lamotta, and capture of his second worlds title, Robinson had solidified his reputation as the greatest boxer of his era while ‘The Bronx Bull’ left the ring that night with his grim boast of never having been put down in a fight, still intact. 

Sugar Ray Robinson is now regarded by many as the greatest boxer pound for pound of all time. Jake Lamotta had his life and boxing career immortalised by Martin Scorsese and Robert Deniro in the operatic film “Raging Bull”. Both men will forever be linked within Ring history, and their Valentines Day showdown stands as the epic culmination of their fistic relationship.

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 Copyright © 2013 The Boxing Glove, Inc. Peter Silkov Art. All Rights Reserved.
Peter Silkov contributes to and


Sunday, February 3, 2013

Chasing Shadows

By Peter Silkov

When Roy Jones looks into the mirror today what does he see, does he see himself at 44 years of age or does he still see himself as he was at 25 and in his prime? It is said that athletes die twice. Their athletic selves give way to time far sooner than their mortal selves’. This is perhaps witnessed no more cruelly than in the sport of boxing, where the participants physicality is at its purest and most basic; where the passing of time can be exposed so brutally and painfully.  Most of us struggle in some way to come to terms with our youth ebbing into middle age and beyond, the thinning or greying of hair, and thickening of the waist.  Can it be surprising that an athlete who is used to performing physically at a level which can only be dreamed of by the average man on the street, would find it even harder to accept the onset of time and the stripping away of the special attributes which marked him out from his fellow men.  The very foundations of who he is as a person.  Perhaps we should not be so surprised that boxers so often toil-on in their careers long after their reflexes have started to dim and their speed, punch, and resistance fade away into fanciful memory.
     About ten years ago Roy Jones Jr. stood where Floyd Mayweather, Jr now stands. Considered by most in the boxing game as “pound for pound” the best fighter in the world, regardless of weight.  Jones possessed superlative speed of hands and reflexes that allowed him to disdain anything resembling a conventional defense and enabled him to openly mock the offensive attempts of his unlucky opponents.  Jones won his first world title at middleweight in 1993, beating James Toney, he soon moved up, taking the IBF Super Middleweight crown a year later.  A title he held until 1996.  Jones wasn’t to everyone’s taste.  Some accused him of picking his challengers too carefully and his reluctance to fight outside of America was also frowned upon by some.  Yet, few could deny that Jones was establishing himself as the outstanding boxer of his generation.
During this period in the mid-90s there were a number of possible attractive showdowns against the holders of the division’s other 'world title' belts, including fighters like Chris Eubank, Nigel Benn and Steve Collins. Unfortunately, none of these prospective showdowns materialized. Of the three fighters, Jones came closest to facing Collins, the Irishman who had beat both Chris Eubank and Nigel Benn twice each, in four fights.  Collins made public calls for a showdown with Jones and even went to the extent of traveling over to America and gate crashing one of Roy’s post-fight celebrations to try to provoke Jones into facing him.  Jones joined in the fight talk and grinned when Collins accused him of ducking him, but for whatever reasons, the fight didn’t happen. Collins went on to retire while still holding the WBO Supermiddleweight title, saying at the time that he would only fight again if the opponent was Roy Jones.  The year was 1997.
      As the years passed Jones, Jr. moved up to Lightheavyweight, where he again put together a string of impressive often one-sided defenses; if against sometimes less than outstanding opposition.  Placing opposition aside there was no denying Jones superlative talents in the ring.  A mixture of speed and power which allowed him to perform in that poetic league occupied by a chosen few such as Sugar Ray Robinson, Sugar Ray Leonard and Muhammad Ali.  In 2003 Jones moved all the way up to the Heavyweight division, to out-box the 226 pound John Ruiz for the 'WBA' portion of the title.  Despite facing such a bigger man, and giving away over 31 pounds in weight, Jones made it look almost easy against the strong, but awkward and slow Ruiz.  Despite his victory making him a legitimate player in the division and opening up the opportunity of big fights with the likes of Holifield, Tyson and Lewis; this was to be Jone’s only foray into the Heavyweight division. He chose instead to move straight back down to Lightheavyweight. In his next defense of his Light-heavyweight crown, he would face tall and powerful Antonio Tarver. Jones looked suddenly strangely mortal as he struggled to a controversial point’s win, which many felt should have gone to Tarver. In the rematch months later, those whispers of vulnerability and encroaching athletic mortality, became a sudden scream for Roy Jones after he was shockingly “koed” in the second
round by Tarver.  His aura of invincibility suddenly and irreversibly shattered. Nothing has ever been the same for Jones since his loss to Tarver. 
     Once considered untouchable within the ring, Jones fights, have in the last 10 years, have become a tightrope walk between…victory and disaster. His loss to Tarver was followed by a 9th round “ko” defeat to Glenn Johnson in a fight for Johnson’s Light-heavyweight crown.  There followed shortly after another loss to Tarver, this time a one-sided points defeat in which he seemed afraid of getting hit and spent much of the fight in a defensive shell upon the ropes.  Since these defeats to Tarver and Johnson, Jones, once the receiver of a multitude of plaudits for his pugilistic gifts (whom writers once reached within their deepest resources to find fitting words to describe his skills) has been endowed with another description. A description dreaded by all boxers at any stage of their careers, “chinny.”  Jones now carries with him an air of vulnerability, which has increased with each passing year.  The once razor-like reflexes that he once used to tease and befuddle his opponents, have become dwindling tools to try and avoid being hit upon his increasingly vulnerable chin.  Speed and reflexes are the first things a boxer loses as the years crowd in on him.  For a boxer like Jones, who relied upon an unorthodox speed and reflex based style, such a decline has had a devastating effect.  Like so many before him Jones has carried on.  He has mixed wins over moderate and limited opposition. He has managed brief flashes of former brilliance along the way, with defeats whenever he has stepped back up into higher class. Some of those defeats have been by worryingly violent knockouts.  Jones gets by now with the remnants of what he once overflowed with and the guile of 20-plus years of fighting.  Now he is getting ready to fight Steve Collins in what could charitably be called a fight which has come 17 years too late.
     Some have labeled the proposed fight as a 'freak show'.  When the stories of both men are looked at closely, this does seem to be one of those fights where you worry about the future health of both participants.  If Roy Jones has reached the point in his career where every punch he takes risks disaster to both his reputation and his welfare, what of Collins? Steve Collins has not fought professionally for 17 years and retired, after a punishing career, amid rumors of a collapse during sparring.  48-year-old heads do not absorb punches the same as 28-year-old heads, or ever for that matter, 38-year-old heads.  Ricky Hatton recently found out how hard it is to return to the ring after a mere 3 years away, despite whipping himself into fighting shape and being a modest 34 years of age.  What shape can Collins get himself into at 48, and after 17 years of 'easy' living?  Even in his current reduced state, Roy Jones has the advantage that he has still remained active in the ring and in 'fighting' shape, despite his increasing vulnerability. He still knows what it is to take a competitive punch inside the ring, something that Collins has not done for almost two decades and which can never be replicated 100% in sparring.  Then there are the reasons why Collins retired in the first place. 
     This is a fight where both men stand to lose perhaps far more than they can win against each other.  If Collins were to beat Roy then most will say that Roy was even more shot than it was thought.  If Roy beats Steve then people will just say that Collins hadn’t fought in 17 years.  If the money is right, then the fight will probably go ahead. If the British Boxing Board of Control (BBBC) doesn’t give Collins his license back, as the recent Chisora vs Haye fight showed, if there is enough money at stake, then rules are made to be broken, gone around, and ignored. Why would people want to watch such a fight?  Unfortunately for the same reason so many turn their heads towards a car crash. The hard core boxing fan, the purists of the sport do not want this fight to happen. They would like Collins to stay retired and Jones to finally retire.  Again, unfortunately, boxing today is not aimed at the boxing purist, it is instead increasingly aimed at the sensation seeker, the Friday or Saturday night fan who then forgets all about the sport by Monday.  The only possible silver lining of this fight is the rumour that Jones wants it to be his last fight, hence him seeking out an easy, but high paying 'freak fight' such as this.  However if he were to win what would the temptations be for Roy to try his luck again, perhaps another ‘freak fight’ or even another final shot at a ‘title’ again as he tries to recapture what he had years ago and continues to chase those ever elusive shadows. 
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Copyright © 2013 The Boxing Glove, Inc. Peter Silkov Art. All Rights Reserved.

Round One

Round One

     My first memory of boxing is watching Muhammad Ali in the later part of his career and marveling at his speed, despite his size.
" You should have seen him when he was young!" I remember my father saying. This heightened the feeling within me; that I was watching someone and something special.  A little while after I had seen my first glimpse of Muhammad Ali fighting on TV, I was given my first boxing book for a Christmas present.  The book was A Pictorial History of Boxing (I still have it today!) I remember pouring over the pictures of fighters, past and present, and reading the history of the different divisions, the mini biographical sketches of the Greats, and some of their classic fights. I was already hooked! This was to be the first of hundreds (and still counting!) of boxing books and magazines.   Later, there would be videos and Dvds (still counting!) of classic fights; many fought before I was even thought of... the collection had begun!  I’ve started this blog with the aim of sharing some boxing memories and documenting my ever growing collection of fights, books,  as well as discussing present day boxing, its politics, fights and fighters.  I hope that my fellow boxing enthusiasts will find something of interest here and maybe contribute a comment or two.  This is the first round of this venture and so,  I guess we will have to see which way this particular journey will go...