Sunday, June 18, 2017

Big Fight Review: Andre Ward Vs Sergey Kovalev 2: Controversy As Ward Beats Kovalev In Battle of the Belt

Photo: CDN News

By Peter Silkov

Andre Ward (32-0, 16koes) and Sergey Kovalev (30-2, 25koes) battled last night, June 17,  for Ward's WBA, WBO, and IBF World light-heavyweight belts, at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Nevada.   Yet, it was Kovalev’s own belt-line, which was to become the focus of attention by the end of the contest. What had been brewing up nicely into a intriguing and competitive fight, fought at a good pace, ended suddenly, in a welter of controversy, leaving both fans and each fighter deprived of a conclusive and satisfying conclusion to this bitter 175 pound feud.

While it lasted, Ward vs Kovalev 2 was a better fight than their first encounter last November, with both men throwing more punches, and the action being far more energetic than the tense chess match we saw the first time round.
Kovalev, taking the role of challenger this time, started fast, and got his jab going early to good effect. Ward for his part also started much better than he did in the first fight, and seemed more inclined to fire punches, than he did in their first encounter.  There was less holding, and generally the fight was much better on the eye from the start.
As in their first match, Kovalev took the role of the aggressor, while Ward looked to employ his slippery boxing skills to dodge his opponent's attacks, and come back with his own counters.

Photo: Fight Hype
Again, as in their November clash, the action was close and at times, scoring could be decided by whose work you appreciated the best. Kovalev looked to have won the first 3 rounds pretty clearly with his high work rate and some good accuracy from his jab. Ward again came into the fight the longer it went on.  By the 4th round, he was landing some good counters, yet Kovalev still held the edge with work rate. 

By the 7th round the match was fascinatingly poised, with neither fighter having achieved a clear advantage. The action was physical, with both men taking turns to go to the body, and Ward showing the better defensive skills, while Kovalev was the more active offensively. 

However, the fight took a dramatic, and controversial turn in the 8th round. Early in the 8th round, a borderline blow to Kovalev’s beltline, had the challenger wincing, and claiming a low blow.  Referee Tony Weeks ignored Kovalev’s claim, as he had some previous claims of low blows earlier in the fight. After the action was waved on, Ward landed a hard right to the chin of the still unhappy Kovalev, visibly shaking him.  As he looked to recover his composure, Kovalev was bundled by Ward onto the ropes, where Ward proceeded to land three successive heavy blows that seemed to be quite a way below Kovalev’s beltline.  As Kovalev doubled over in obvious pain, referee Tony Weeks hastily got between the two boxers and called a halt to the fight.

The resulting controversy was immediate. Video of the finish shows that Ward's last blow was indisputably low, and that the previous two punches were highly dubious.  With this in mind, referee Weeks should have stopped the actions and administered a warning to Ward for the low blow or blows. Yet, even discounting the area where the blows might have landed upon Kovalev, the finish seemed highly premature.  Kovalev had not been down and was not taking the kind of punishment that would seem to be a threat to his health (unless you take into consideration the possible damage caused by punches in the balls.)

Photo: Washington Post
Amid much after fight controversy, the overall effect of the premature stoppage is that both fighters have been deprived of a satisfactory ending.While he was awarded the victory, Ward's triumph is once more shrouded in controversy, as was his poin'ts win over Kovalev last November. As for Kovalev, the stoppage deprived him of a victory that might have been his, had he been given his rightful chance to ride out the 8th round. Low blows should not win a fight, and on this occasion, that is what they have done. Ward may well have boxed his way to victory in the end had the fight been allowed to run its natural course. Unfortunately, no one will ever know this for sure, and so once more, these two men have fought to an unsatisfactory conclusion.

At the time of the ‘stoppage’ the three judges all had the fight close, with two scoring it 67 to 66 in favour of Ward, and the other judge having it 68-65 in favour of Kovalev. Once again boxing shot itself in the foot, with a match that started out as a great example of a genuine world title fight, between two world outstanding class boxers, descending into a myriad of controversy and suspicion. Once more the failure of the Nevada commission to supply either neutral judges, or a neutral referee for such an important and divisive contest, has to be called into question. Especially when the controversy always seems to adversely effect the ‘away’ fighter.

Photo: Metro News
In the fights aftermath, a stunned and devastated Kovalev said that he wants an instant rematch with Ward. The chances of this however seem exceedingly slim. It is unlikely that Ward will ever allow himself to be lured again into the same ring as Sergey Kovalev, and ‘The Krusher’ may find his future career path severely hampered from here.  

The truth is that Kovalev needs to take a hard look at the people surrounding him, and working for him in the run up to his fights with Ward, and decide if he needs to make some hard decisions in order to get his career back on track. If rumours concerning his purses are to be believed, Kovalev has been left with the short straw in both of his big matches with Ward, and has gone from being an exciting multi-belted world champion, to a ex-champion and deposed challenger, at a cut price rate.

Kovalev deserved better.

Kovalev’s camp is due to file a protest concerning the fights conclusion on Monday, but their chances of a positive outcome to this protest are probably about the same as Sergey’s chances of getting another match with Ward. 
In what was a night of controversy and chaos, the main supporting fight to Ward vs Kovalev ended in farce is when Guillermo Rigondeaux (18-0, 12koes) retained his WBA world super-bantamweight title, by knocking out his challenger after the bell to end the 1st round.  Rigondeaux had compete control of the short fight right from the start, as he showed some brilliant defensive skills to avoid the lanky Moises Flores (25-1, 17koes)  eager attacks, making his challenger look clumsy and awkward.  As the round approached its end, Guillermo started to throw punches of his own, with a dynamic accuracy. A brief exchange of punches between the two men ended with Rigondeaux landing a left-hook clearly after the bell, and Flores going down flat upon his back. After much deliberation by a dazzling array of officials and the referee, it was finally decided that the final punch was not intentional, and so ‘The Jackal’ was awarded the victory. It was another bittersweet outing for Rigondeaux. 

Photo: Bad Left Hook

As for Flores, his chance at the big time was over almost before it began, and he is probably still trying to figure out what actually happened to him.

Afterwards there was talk of Rigondeaux having showdowns with the likes of Vasyl Lomachenko and Roman Gonzalez.  While the Lomachenko match would be highly interesting, it is hard to see why the much smaller ‘Chocolatito’ should move up another two divisions to face Rigondeaux, especially when he has more than enough worthy opponents to face at his current weight of super-flyweight.

If anything those with ‘Chocolatito’s’ interests at heart might do well to persuade him to move back down to the flyweight division, where he seemed more comfortable and effective than where he is now.

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Monday, June 12, 2017

The Boxing Glove Big Fight Preview: Guillermo Rigondeaux vs Moises Flores... Return Of The Jackal

By Peter Silkov

Guillermo Rigondeaux (17-0, 11koes) returns to the ring next week, June 17, at the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, on the undercard of the much-awaited Andre Ward vs Sergey Kovalev rematch. While Ward vs Kovalev 2 is obviously the main attraction, the true die hard boxing connoisseur will also be eager to see ‘The Jackal’ back in action once more, when he defends his WBA and IBO world super-bantamweight titles against the unbeaten Moises Flores (25-0, 17koes.) It is difficult to find a boxer of recent years who has been more mistreated both by the sports media, a section of the fans, and some of the most prominent promoters. Promoter Bob Arum’s outright vendetta against Rigondeaux, since ‘The Jackal’ humiliated and beat Nonito Donaire back in 2013, has been shameless. Rigondeaux has been effectively blackballed and shunted into the sidelines. He has also had to take a huge amount of abuse, ranging from him being a ‘boring’ boxer to other, far more personal insults. At times, the disparaging remarks aimed at Rigondeaux have carried the unmistakable smell of racism.

Photo: Boxing Insider
For any boxer to have to suffer such treatment in the 21st century is unacceptable.The fact that Rigondeaux is one of the most gifted boxers of his generation, who left behind his family in Cuba, in order to follow a professional career in the USA, makes his treatment even more outrageous.

Rigondeaux has a polarising effect upon most boxing fans. His highly technical counter-punching skills are not appreciated by all. Yet he has a speed and grace which is rarely seen in the ring these days. In addition to his speed, and defensive ability, Rigondeaux can also punch (as witnessed by 2 of his last 3 opponents suffering broken jaws against him). These are the ‘old school’ skills, which those who really appreciate the ‘sweet science’ identify as making Rigondeaux one of the top boxers in the world today, pound for pound. Rigondeaux’s biggest problem, especially since he beat Donaire, has been finding opponents willing to fight him.

Photo: BBC
Since he beat Donaire in April 2013, Rigondeaux has fought just 5 times. He has also endured being stripped of his various world titles for ‘inactivity’ when he couldn’t find top opponents willing to face him. It was ludicrous to see him deprived of his titles by men in suits, and then these titles being bestowed upon fighters who did not want to face him in the ring. Rigondeaux was left to watch as Carl Frampton, Scott Quigg and Leo Santa Cruz, held their own little round robin of fights, eventually all moving up to featherweight, so that they could continue to avoid him.

Now 36 years old, time is running short for Rigondeaux to make use of his exceptional boxing prowess. He will be hoping that Saturday will mark a new beginning in his career, and that being showcased on the undercard of Ward vs Kovalev 2, will finally lead to the kind of big fight which he has been yearning for since he beat Donaire.

Photo: Probox
Standing in his way will be the substantial figure of unbeaten Mexican Moises Flores, who stands 5' feet 9” to Rigondeaux’s 5' feet 4”, and carries a formidable dig in his hands. One that has seen him score 17 knockouts in his 25 victories.

Rigondeaux is a throwback fighter in that, he does not put on huge amounts of weight between the weigh-in and fight time. If anything Rigo looks as if he could make the 118 bantamweight limit if he wanted. On fight night he will be dwarfed by Flores, who is also likely to enter the ring with a substantial weight advantage on his 5” 9”frame. Yet ‘The Jackal’ is a special boxer, who, skills-wise, is leagues above anyone else whom Flores has faced previously in his career. Rigondeaux also likes opponents who come at him aggressively, which is Flores style.

Unless ‘The Jackal’ has slipped physically, due to his encroaching age and enforced competitive activity, he should be able to handle Flores comfortably. It is to be hoped that Flores, when he tastes Rigondeaux’s punching power will not simply go into his shell, like so many of ‘The Jackal’s previous opponents.

Against an aggressive and willing fighter, which Flores has proved to be so far in his career, Rigondeaux is likely to be able to show off his best skills in addition to his punching power. Flores only chance of victory here will be via a stoppage, and he may well start very fast, in the hope of catching the older Rigondeaux early.

If Flores fights, with this tactic in mind, then this could very well be the fight of the night, with Rigondeaux being able to showcase his mix of speed, skill and power, on the way to scoring a late round stoppage of Flores. Look for a victory for ‘The Jackal’ somewhere between the 8th and 10th rounds.

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The Boxing Glove Big Fight Preview: Ward vs Kovalev II: Repeat Or Revenge

By Peter Silkov

In what is undoubtedly one of this years most eagerly anticipated fights, and one of boxing's most intriguing rematches for some time, Andre Ward (31-0, 15koes) meets Segey Kovalev (30-1-1, 26koes) on June 17th, in an effort to prove who is the premier boxer at 175 pounds. This is Ward's first defence of the WBA, IBF, and WBO world light-heavyweight titles that he took from Kovalev last November, after being given a decision, that many think he didn’t deserve. In their first fight, ‘the Krusher’ looked to have won the first 6 rounds pretty clearly (including scoring a 2nd round knockdown) with Ward coming more into the fight in the last half of the contest, but not doing enough to win a decision, especially with Kovalev having strong 10th and 12th rounds.

Photo: HBO
 After the fight, a poll of the media found that out of 63 sources, 46 scored the fight for Kovalev, 16 for Ward, and 1 scored it a draw. It was a match that saw Kovalev score the better more solid punches, while Ward looked to stall and frustrate ‘The Krusher.’ Much of Ward's work was centred around not letting Kovalev work and then countering with some light punches of his own. While it is true that Ward did show some good boxing skills at times, he never seemed to dominate at any part of the contest. In addition to this, Ward's excessive holding, which started after he was floored in the second, marred what was otherwise a good fight, and went a long way to breaking up Kovalev's rhythm as the fight went on. In the end it can be said that, if Ward indeed deserved to win the fight (which this writer doesn’t feel he did), it was more due to what he didn’t allow Kovalev to do, rather than what he actually did himself.

Kovalev has said himself that he was over trained for the first fight, and was fighting on an empty tank after the 5th round. This might well be one of the reasons why he seemed unable to stop Wards spoiling tactics as the fight went past the halfway mark.

 The rematch in seven days time promises to be a fascinating fight. With both men saying that they will do a better job this time, it could well be one of those rematches, which surpass the original. Certainly ‘The Krusher’ will be looking to exert far more pressure upon Ward in this fight than in their first contest. Despite his noted power, Kovalev is more a boxer than an out and out slugger, but in his first encounter with Ward he may well have made the mistake of being too patient, and boxing too much, when more high intensity pressure was what was really
needed. After he knocked Ward down in the 2nd round, Kovalev thought that he had plenty of time to catch Ward again, but ofcourse this didn’t happen. Perhaps partly due to the stamina problems which he has alluded too since. This time Kovalev will be looking to capitalise very quickly if he has Ward hurt at any time. If it is true that Kovalev was overtrained in the first fight, then this could be very bad news for Ward, who had his hands full with ‘the Krusher’ in November. If Kovalev is stronger and fitter this time round then Ward himself will have to up his game quite considerably if he is to retain his title.

For the defending champion, this fight offers a chance to put the record straight and silence the doubters. There are still many who feel that Ward is not a genuine champion as he gained the championship through a dubious decision. For a man who is hailed by some as the best boxer in the world ‘pound for pound’ the controversy surrounding November's match is an embarrassment and annoyance.

Photo: The Independent
The run up to this rematch has seen an increase in the bad blood between Ward and Kovalev, and has included the exchange of various insults and innuendoes on both sides. This is a fight that both men are determined not to lose, perhaps even more so than in their first meeting.

One worry for Kovalev might be that like the first fight in November, the judges, and referee are all from America. With the fight once more hosted in Las Vegas (only this time at the Mandalay Bay Hotel & Casino, rather than the T-Mobile Arena) so once more, Ward will have a distinct home advantage. While one would not like to question the integrity of the officials concerned in this rematch, it is curious that such a big world title fight, between two fighters of such opposite nations, is not balanced by neutral judges. Certainly it is hoped that referee, Tony Weeks, manages Ward's penchant for holding far better than referee, Robert Byrd, did in November.

There are strong indications that this rematch could surpass the first fight for excitement and spectacle. If Kovalev is much improved and fitter than last November he will force Ward to fight harder than he did in the first fight. A more active Kovalev will be much harder to contain than in the first fight, and Ward will be forced to be more active himsel,f and rely less upon his spoiling tactics. The big question for Ward is... can he fight better than he did in November? Ward himself will try to make the fight a carbon copy of their first encounter. Like it or not, if the fight goes the distance, and is close and competitive, then Ward will be a heavy favourite to get the nod of the judges once more. Another close and controversial decision is very possible. ‘The Krusher’ has to try and take things into his own hands and make himself a clear winner. He certainly seems to have the power to hurt Ward, but does he have the power to stop or knockout Ward.

Much depends upon who can improve most from the first fight.

I think this is a fight, which Kovalev needs to win by stoppage, as I just don’t see him gaining a decision over Ward in Las Vegas. Hopefully however, my cynicism is wrong, and if the fight goes the full 12 rounds, then we will see a fair point's verdict, given to whomever it is that deserves it. 

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Sunday, June 4, 2017

Muhammad Ali’s 15 Greatest Fights

By Peter Silkov 

Few will argue that Muhammad Ali was the greatest heavyweight world champion of all time. There were a number of things, which made him ‘The Greatest.’ In his fighting youth, he had blinding speed, the kind that has never been seen before or since in a heavyweight. Some other heavyweight champions were fast, Larry Holmes for example, but none had the sheer speed of the young Ali. On top of this, Ali had deceptive strength, and carried a better punch than he is usually credited for having.  Later in his career, when his speed and reflexes had dimmed, Ali had to rely much more on his physical strength, a great chin (again another aspect which is often overlooked with Ali) and a steely willpower. In his declining years as a fighter these attributes were able to get him victories against fighters who were younger, fresher, and physically superior to him. The fact that Ali dominated the heavyweight division during a time when it was at its most talented and competitive, is the underlying testament to his greatness. His greatest moments during the 70s came largely when he had already passed his athletic peak by some way. Looking at Ali’s career its fair to say that he was in more ‘classic’ matches than just about any other heavyweight champion, again, just one more reason why he can claim the mantle of ‘The Greatest.’  Here is my top 15, greatest fights of ‘The Greatest.’  They have been chosen for a number of reasons. Some were simply great fights; others were great performances by Ali rather than great competitive fights.  Part of Ali’s magic was that he could make the most mundane contest compelling, just as a great film star can lift a film from the mediocre to something special. From the beginning to the end of his career, whenever Ali entered the ring you were bound to see something out of the ordinary. 

1. Muhammad Ali Vs George Foreman:  Oct 30, 1974, Stade du 20 Mai, Kinshasa, Democratic Republic Of The Congo.

In his greatest achievement in the ring, Muhammad Ali regained the World heavyweight title by out-lasting and out-psyching George Foreman. Just as he had against Sonny Liston ten years previously, Ali entered the ring a heavy underdog against a champion believed by many to be invincible. While he had been perceived as a fragile youngster against Liston, against Foreman Ali was considered to be too old and past his prime, to beat the destroyer which was Foreman.  Yet again, Ali proved everyone wrong. With his rope-a-dope, tremendous will power, and almost superhuman durability on this night, Ali allowed Foreman to punch himself out, before coming back to knock out an exhausted Foreman in the 8th round.   

2. Muhammad Ali Vs Cleveland Williams:  November 14, 1966, Astrodome, Houston, Texas.

Making the 7th defence of his World heavyweight title during his first title reign, Muhammad Ali produced a display against big-punching Cleveland Williams, which many today perceive, as his masterpiece. Ali was like a cruel artist in this fight, as he mixed his blinding speed with destructive punching power, with spectacular results.  Williams was floored 3 times in the 2nd round, then again in the 3rd, before the slaughter was ended.  This mix of speed and power gave us an indication of the kind of fighter Ali would have developed into if he hadn’t been banned from boxing a few months later in 1967, due to his refusal to fight in Vietnam. 
This was also the fight where Ali used the ‘Ali shuffle’ for the first time.

3. Muhammad Ali Vs Sonny Liston 1:  February 25, 1964, Convention Center, Miami Beach, Florida.

In a fight that was named ‘Fight of The Year’ by The Ring magazine, and later 'Fight of Decade', and 'Upset of The Decade', Muhammad Ali won the World heavyweight title, in one of the rings biggest upsets. In just his 20th professional contest, Muhammad Ali (then named Cassius Clay) stepped into the ring a huge underdog against the feared champion, Sonny Liston. The 22-year old challenger was expected by many to be blown out of the ring by Liston, but instead, Ali stunned the boxing world with a sensational display. Liston was out-boxed and then out-punched, and finally retired after the 6th round. After the fight, Ali declared to the shocked media at ringside “I am the Greatest! I shook up the world!” 

After this fight, the new champion changed his name from Cassius Clay to Muhammad Ali, and announced that he had converted to the Nation of Islam. It was the start of what would be a legendary reign.  

4. Muhammad Ali Vs Joe Frazier 3:  October 1, 1975, Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines. 

This was Muhammad Ali’s 4th defence of the world title, in his second reign, and nicknamed ‘The Thriller in Manila’ this fight pitted Ali against his archival Joe Frazier for the 3rd and final time. Hailed by many as the perhaps the greatest heavyweight fight of all time, this was a savage contest, which saw both men standing toe-to-toe and ripping merciless punches at each other. While neither man was the athlete that he was in their first contest, with both men a little heavier, and a little slower than in 1971, for sheer non-stop action, courage and intensity this fight has never been surpassed.  After starting fast and confidently, believing that he was in for an easy night with Frazier, Ali tired, and the fight became a battle of endurance and wills, until the 13th and 14th rounds, when Ali suddenly found a new reservoir of energy and battered Frazier round the ring, forcing trainer Eddie Futch to pull Frazier out before the 15th and final round.  Ali was never the same fighter after this match, and after the match, described it as being ‘the closest thing to dying’ he had ever experienced. 

5. Muhammad Ali Vs Joe Frazier 1:  March 8, 1971,  Madison Square Garden, New York, New York. 

This match was called the ‘Fight of The Century’ and was one of the most eagerly awaited fights in boxing history. Ali was having just his 3rd fight in nearly 4 years after being banned from boxing for 3 years due to his refusal to enter the Viet Nam war. In Ali’s absence, Frazier had won the vacant world title, and Ali was desperate to reclaim it as his own. The fight had been built up even further by the needle between the two men, which had intensified during the matches’ build up.

The fight itself was the epic contest, which had been expected, with both men fighting at a pace and intensity that seemed almost superhuman at times. Ali showed the marks of his 3 years out of the ring, as he struggled to find his previous form, and flagged after the first 6 rounds. Yet despite his tiredness in the face of Frazier’s incessant attacks, Ali displayed a fortitude, and courage that he had never needed to call on before, standing with Frazier and fighting back. In the 15th and final round, Ali was floored by Frazier, yet got up, with his jaw swollen, and managed to fight it out to the end of the round. This was Ali’s first defeat as a professional, yet in an ironic twist, his valiant effort in losing served only to enhance his popularity. For Frazier, this was to be his greatest night and his greatest victory, yet he paid a heavy physical price for his win, and had to spend several weeks in hospital recovering. 

For many, the first and third fights between Ali and Frazier, are the greatest heavyweight fights of all time. 

6.  Muhammad Ali Vs Ernie Terrell:  February 6, 1967,  Astrodome, Houston, Texas.

In what was his second to last contest before his infamous ‘exile’ from boxing, Muhammad Ali made the 8th defence of his title against the hulking Ernie Terrell. Ali gave a beautiful exhibition of his boxing skills against the awkward and rangy Terrell, showing the kind of speed and reflexes never seen before from a heavyweight champion, either previously, or since. This was a grudge fight, as Terrell had tried to out-psyche Ali by continually calling him by his ‘slave name’ Cassius Clay. However, this ploy backfired badly on Terrell, as Ali gave him a slow and punishing boxing lesson. Terrell was the holder of the WBA version of the heavyweight title, but from the first bell it was clear who the real world champion was out of the two of them.  The fight went the full 15 rounds, even though it looked as if Ali could have stopped Terrell inside the distance, had he wanted.

7. Muhammad Ali Vs Ken Norton 1:  March 31, 1973, Sports Arena, San Diego, California.

Now an ex-world champion, after his loss to Joe Frazier in their first fight, Ali entered this match with Norton while in the midst of a campaign to gain another shot at the world title, and overlooked the then unknown Norton. Ali entered the ring wearing a robe that had been given to him by Elvis Presley, which had ‘The People's Champion’ embroidered on the back of it. He also weighed a heavy 221 pounds.

From the beginning, Ali found Norton’s crab-like style tough to break, and his long jabs tough to avoid. Added to this, Ali had his jaw broken, perhaps as early as the second round. Lacking the old energy and bounce in his legs, and in constant pain from his jaw, Ali once more showed great courage, despite going down to his second professional defeat. After a dramatic contest, Norton won a split 12 rounds point's decision.  He also won Ali’s NABF heavyweight title.
After this fight many people wrote Ali off as a top-flight fighter, but of course he would return.

8. Muhammad Ali Vs Ernie Shavers:  September 29th, 1977,  Madison Square Garden, New York, New York. 

Deep into his second reign as world champion, Ali made his 10th defence against the huge-punching Ernie Shavers. By this point in his career Ali had little left in the tank, and Shavers was one the biggest punchers in the heavyweight division.  Yet, Ali won this fight with a mixture of guile and courage, allied with his remaining boxing skills, and still formidable durability. This fight is at times painful to watch, as Ali takes punches that he would have avoided a few years previously. It is also a testament to Ali’s greatness, that he was able to retain his title against such a dangerous challenger, at this point in his career. Ali won on points after 15 often hard fought rounds.  Despite his decline as a fighter, it was Ali who finished the fight the stronger man, and at times looked like he could even stop Shavers in the last round.

9. Muhammad Ali Vs Oscar Bonavena:  December 7th, 1970, Madison Square Garden, New York, New York.

In what was his second comeback fight since his 3 year ‘exile’ from boxing, Muhammad Ali took on the strong, and aggressive, Oscar Bonavena. Ali had boxed barely 3 rounds in his previous comeback contest when he stopped Jerry Quarry on cuts, and the rust of almost 4 years of inactivity showed clearly in this fight. Ali was no longer the fleet-footed boxer he had been in the 60s before his exile. He was flat-footed and his reactions and reflexes were considerably slower. This was the fight, that clearly showed  the price that Ali had paid for his ban from boxing. Rather than being able to out-box Bonavena, Ali was forced to go toe-to-toe with him as he was dragged into a brawl. The fight developed into a hard fought contest with both men exchanging big shots, and Ali showing for the first time that he could still beat top fighters even though he had lost much of his old speed and skills. After being hurt several times in the fight, and taking more punches than he ever took in the past, Ali roared back in the 15th and final round to floor Bonavena 3 times and score a technical knockout victory. This was the first and only time that the rock-chinned Bonavena was stopped in his 68 fight boxing career.

Ali would improve in later fights as he got rid of his ring rust, but he would never again be the boxer that he had been before his exile.

10.  Muhammad Ali Vs Ken Norton 2:  September 10, 1973.  Forum, Inglewood, California.

Six months after their first contest, Ali and Norton met for a second time. This time Ali was in prime condition, weighing 9 pounds less than he did in the first fight, and armed with a grim determination to avenge his previous defeat to Norton. Once again it was a very tough fight, with Ali starting fast, and showing a lot of his old speed in the early rounds, but then fading after the first 6 rounds. After Norton took over in the middle rounds, Ali staged a strong finish in the last two rounds to capture a split, 12 rounds point's decision victory. Ali would fight Norton once more in 1976, and win again via a split decision. All three Ali Vs Norton fights were close and for some, controversial decisions.   


11.  Muhammad Ali vs George Chuvalo 1:  March 29, 1966, Maple Leaf Gardens, Toronto, Ontario, Canada. 

In what was the third defence of his first reign as world champion, Ali was taken the 15 rounds distance for the first time in his career, as he beat Canadian iron man, George Chuvalo, on points. Although for most of the fight, Ali out-boxed Chuvalo with ease, he could not stop or floor Chuvalo. The match was one-sided yet entertaining, as Chuvalo bravely kept the pressure on Ali and landed more punches than previous opponents. Ali showed his speed and reflexes, but he also displayed his strength and durability, as he at times chose to go toe to toe with Chuvalo. This fight answered many critics who had doubted whether Ali could fight at his fast pace for a full 15 rounds.

12. Muhammad Ali Vs Henry Cooper 1:  June 18th, 1963, Wembley Stadium, Wembley, London. 

This was Ali’s last fight before he challenged Sonny Liston for the World heavyweight title. Facing the determined British champion, Henry Cooper, Ali  (who was still calling himself Cassius Clay at this point.) Ali toyed with Cooper for much of this fight, cutting him badly in the 3rd round, but then near the end of the 4th, a Cooper left-hook caught Ali and dropped him to the canvas by the ropes. Ali beat the count, but was visibly groggy, only to be saved by the bell. When the bell rang for the 5th the crowd was in uproar, believing that Cooper was on verge of a huge upset win over the young sensation. However Ali showed his tremendous powers of recuperation, and launched a vicious assault upon Cooper, sending several punches into the already badly cut Cooper left eye, until it was pouring blood all over the ring.   With Cooper blinded by his own blood and on the verge of being defenceless, the referee was left with little choice but to stop the fight in Ali’s favour, giving Ali a 5th round TKO win. Prior to the fight Ali had predicted that he would beat Cooper in 5 rounds.  

13. Muhammad Ali Vs Karl Mildenberger:  September 10, 1966, Wladstadion, Frankfurt, Hessen, Germany.

Making the 6th defence of his world title, in his first reign, Ali found the tough and clever Mildenberger to be a tricky opponent. The German was the first southpaw to challenge for the World heavyweight title, and made good use of his awkward stance.  Ali, who was approaching his physical peak at this point, showed an impressive mix of speed and physical strength and slowly broke down his determined challenger.  Mildenberger was floored in the 5th, 8th and 10th rounds, and the referee finally stopped the contest in the 12th round to save the German from further punishment.

14. Muhammad Ali Vs Zora Folley: March 22, 1967, Madison Square Garden, New York, New York. 

In what was to be his final fight before he was stripped of his world title and banned from boxing for over 3 years, Muhammad Ali made the 9th defence of his world title against the clever and experienced Zora Folley. Having been carefully avoided by previous world champions, Folley tried to make the most of his chance against Ali, and started their fight well, landing some good right hands on Ali, while also making Ali miss with his own punches. Yet the champion was taking his time rather than struggling, and when he opened up in the 3rd round, his superiority in strength and speed was visible. In the 4th round, Ali floored Folley heavily and the challenger barely beat the count. After playing a bit more with his challenger in the 5th, Ali finished things in the 6th round with two short rights. This fight showed Ali becoming increasingly stronger as he matured, and this rare mix of speed and power already had people comparing him to the all time heavyweight greats of the past.

15. Muhammad Ali Vs Doug Jones:  March 13, 1963, Madison Square Garden, New York, New York.

Having just his 18th professional contest, Ali faced the toughest opponent of his career so far in the tough and experienced Doug Jones. In a fight, which was one of the toughest of his career, Ali found Jones to be a very tough nut to crack. Ali was caught and rocked by Jones several times in the fight, but replied with hard jabs and lightning combinations. At times, Ali showed his inexperience in this fight and his speed based fighting style was still not fully realised. Jones seemed the stronger fighter at times and on occasions bullied Ali, but Ali showed that he had grit and durability by standing up to the more mature Jones and fighting back. With the fight poised Ali as (he would so often in his career) staged a brilliant finish, out-punching Jones over the last couple of rounds to come out a clear winner after 10 exciting rounds.  This fight would prove to be valuable experience for the still developing Ali.

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