Boxing: 2007 v 1907
29.03.07 - By Mark Law: Fantasy match-ups: they’re always a fun, tireless topic of conversation among boxing fans. Legend against legend from different eras. Who would beat who? So many possibilities with so many outcomes. Another topic that crops up from time to time is how boxing “isn’t what it used to be”, how it no longer compares to the “good old days”. I remember back in the 1990’s there were a few writers and fans grumbling about the state of the heavyweight division. Looking back now, that seems incomprehensible! In the ‘90’s, we had Evander Holyfield, Lennox Lewis, George Foreman, Riddick Bowe, Mike Tyson, Michael Moorer, Ray Mercer and Tommy Morrison. That was a hell of a deep division compared to today..
Article posted on 29.03.2007
Talking of today, do we have grounds to complain? For example, how does 2007 compare with boxing 100 years ago? Do today’s champs measure up?
In 1907, the sport sure appeared a lot simpler; there were no alphabet groups to cause chaos, confusion and complications (oh how lucky they were!) and there were only 7 weight divisions! Furthermore, world title fights were generally held over 20 rounds and Nat Fleischer, founder of “The Ring” magazine, rated many of the champions from this age as among the best ever. Was he right? Let’s see……
(All bouts scheduled for 15 rounds)
The world heavyweight champion in 1907 was Tommy Burns, who was from Canada. He was minuscule for a heavyweight, standing only 5’ 7 and usually weighed in at around 185 lbs. He gained general recognition as the champ when he beat Marvin Hart in February, 1906, and lost the crown in December, 1908, when he was pummelled for 14 rounds by the superb Jack Johnson. In between, he made 11 successful defences and beat the likes of Philadelphia Jack O’Brien and Jim Flynn.
There is no universally-recognized heavyweight champ today and the division is as weak as milky tea, but Wladimir Klitschko is regarded as the best we have based on his wins over Samuel Peter, Chris Byrd and Calvin Brock. As Klitschko measures 6’ 6 and a half, and weighed 241 lbs for the Brock fight, he would literally tower over Burns and it’s kind of comical to imagine them in the ring together. Even under the conditions of Burns’ era, with a scheduled distance of 20 rounds, it’s real difficult to see how Burns could win this one. Just how the hell could he pull out a victory? Bigger is not automatically better, but in this case his only hope would be if Klitschko constantly fouls and gets disqualified or suffers a fight-ending cut, but that’s as likely as Cameron Diaz being ignored on a topless beach (i.e. a remote possibility). Anyway, this is a fantasy match-up and so it’s a clean contest with no terrible injuries. Notably, Burns lacked the great equalizer; crushing power.
I don’t wanna take anything away from Burns. He did the best he could and made the most of his opportunities, being sandwiched between the reigns of Jim Jeffries and Johnson. But it’s hard to imagine Burns being as successful at any other stage in heavyweight history. He was essentially a man of his time. Klitschko would have no reason to drag the fight on as long as he could in order to torture and humiliate Burns, the way Johnson did, so this one could be over quickly. But Burns’ gameness and energetic, bouncy style would prevent the inevitable…at least for a couple of rounds.
Prediction: Klitschko KO 4 Burns
The world light heavyweight champion in 1907 was Philadelphia Jack O’Brien who, though not a big puncher, was speedy and elusive. He fought anyone and everyone, and historian Tracy Callis (he’s a guy by the way), rates him as the 5th greatest light heavyweight of all-time. The quality of his opposition is eye-catching: Joe Walcott, Joe Choynski, Marvin Hart, Jack Johnson, Kid McCoy, Hugo Kelly, Tommy Burns, Stanley Ketchel, Jim Flynn, Sam Langford, Jack Blackburn. That’s some list! He won the 175 lb crown in 1905 with a win over Bob Fitzsimmons but never defended it. Actually, it’s not easy to figure out exactly when O’Brien relinquished it, with some sources indicating that he never gave up recognition until Jack Dillon claimed the crown in 1914. He appeared to fear no one and regularly mixed it up with heavyweights.
Currently, “The Ring” magazine lists Bernard Hopkins as the light heavyweight champion of the world and there’s no disputing Hopkins’ place in history. His plaque in the Hall of Fame is already assured. However, this fantasy O’Brien-Hopkins clash is taking place at light heavyweight and Hopkins has only limited experience in this division. His pro debut was as a light heavyweight and he dropped a 4 round decision to Clinton Mitchell and most recently, he gave a masterful performance in outpointing a lethargic Antonio Tarver. Although in some of his early contests he weighed over 160 lbs, essentially he’s been a middleweight throughout his entire career except for his first and last fights.
With both these guys being defensive-minded technicians, this fight could be as dull as dishwater. It could be 15 rounds of feinting, with the crowd nodding off long before the final bell. With O’Brien’s speed, jab and greater experience in the 175 lb class, he’d likely have the edge here, but it’d be close.
Prediction: O’Brien W15 Hopkins
The world championship at middleweight was vacant at the beginning of 1907. The previous champ, Tommy Ryan, had retired in 1906. But at this stage the awesome Stanley Ketchel was bursting onto the scene. Some historians regard Ketchel as the new champ after he beat Joe Thomas in September1907, but others don’t award him this status until he beat Mike Sullivan in February, 1908. But for the purpose of these fantasy match-ups, Ketchel was certainly the best at 160 lbs in1907.
Known as the “Michigan Assassin”, Nat Fleischer rated him as the greatest middleweight ever. He was an aggressive pressure fighter and a hell of a puncher who beat the best of his era, including Thomas, Mike Sullivan, Jack Sullivan, Hugo Kelly, Philadelphia Jack O’Brien, and he won 3 out of 4 against Billy Papke. So how would today’s universally-recognized middleweight champion, Jermain Taylor, handle him? Quite simply, I don’t think Taylor would be able to. Taylor has pretty good conditioning and bundles of enthusiasm. Plus, I like his attitude: he’s willing to take on anyone. And he may yet become a big star. But if he can’t get a grip on an aging Hopkins or shifty Winky Wright, how can he survive the super-strong Ketchel’s onslaught? He can’t.
Prediction: Ketchel KO 7 Taylor
In April 1907, Mike Sullivan won the welterweight title from Honey Mellody (whose name sounds like a “Looney Tunes” character). Sullivan was known as a spirited brawler but not much of a puncher. He scored a newspaper decision over Dixie Kid but suffered losses to Joe Gans and Stanley Ketchel, though there’s no shame in that because those guys are legends. It’s possible that he made 3 successful defences of the welterweight crown, with historians differing as to which of his bouts had the title at stake. However, in October 1908 he had vacated and moved up to middleweight. His record at welterweight is not exactly mesmerizing and he doesn’t get mentioned alongside Sugar Ray Robinson or Jose Napoles but it certainly appears he was the best of his time.
Here and now, the true welterweight champion is Floyd Mayweather. His skills are as stunning as Halle Berry, and that’s saying something. But as good as he is, Mayweather is not an all-time great….at least not yet. If he survives his May superfight with Oscar De La Hoya and then adds a couple more memorable victories over someone like Antonio Margarito, or Ricky Hatton, or Shane Mosley, then it’d be hard not to rate him that highly. Actually, I have a suspicion that he’s gonna lose to De La Hoya, but that’s another story. Anyway, Mayweather has the speed, reflexes, fitness and jab to steamroll a past champion like Sullivan.
Prediction: Mayweather KO 10 Sullivan
Boxing fans of100 years ago were fortunate enough to experience the reign of the brilliant Joe Gans, who ruled the roost at 135 lbs from 1902 to 1908. He was known as the “Old Master” and had fast hands, was difficult to hit and possessed a vaunted left hook. He beat all the best lightweights around and came out on top in his 1906 superfight with Battling Nelson, triumphing by 42nd round disqualification. Nat Fleischer ranked him as the best there ever was in this division. But being a black champion in this era, it’s likely that on a few occasions he had to box to orders. There are strong hunches that his losses to Frank Erne and Terry McGovern were fixed fights.
Today, the “The Ring” magazine has Joel Casamayor as the legitimate lightweight champ. Interestingly, he has never been decisively beaten but remains something of a hot-and-cold performer. Unfortunately for him, even if he is on top form, Gans would have too much of everything. Casamayor would struggle to cope with his quick combinations and slick mobility, and would be worn down and outclassed, though it’s no shame losing to a guy like Gans.
Prediction: Gans KO 12 Casamayor
Ketchel and Gans were not the only legends who were in action during 1907, as king of the featherweights was Abe Attell. He gained recognition as the world champ when he beat Harry Forbes in 1904 and strengthened his claim when he beat Jimmy Walsh in 1906. He finally lost the title in 1912 to Johnny Kilbane but took on anyone and everyone during his peak. It’s noticeable that some of the outstanding opponents he faced, such as Owen Moran and Jem Driscoll, were only in no-decision bouts, and he also wasn’t shy in resorting to an occasional foul if the odds were against him. Despite this, there’s no question that he’s one of the all-time great featherweights.
Currently, the 126 lb division is about as exciting as an accountants board meeting (or should that be bored meeting?). With the departure of Marco Antonio Barrera, Erik Morales, Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez, the division has lost much prestige. There’s no universally-recognized champ, though the top dog has to be Chris John of Indonesia. He’s undefeated and has decisions over Marquez and Derrick Gainer. I’ve seen footage of him and he looks pretty decent, but he’s not in Attell’s league. There’s no surprise about the outcome in this one.
Prediction: Attell W15 John
In most history books, the bantamweight division gets the equivalent of about one sentence for every page devoted to the heavyweight division. In other words, it doesn’t get much attention. The world champ at 118 lbs in 1907 was Jimmy Walsh, hardly a household name. Historians regard him as skilled and crafty, and he did beat Monte Attell (brother of Abe) and Digger Stanley. Typically, he was real busy, sometimes fighting 2 or 3 times a month and he engaged in plenty of no-decision bouts.
Like featherweight, there’s no true champ at bantamweight today. The best in the world is probably Hozumi Hasegawa of Japan. I’ve seen him in action and he was impressive in beating Veerapol Sahaprom last year. Maybe if we all lived in Japan we’d be bantamweight fanatics. But we don’t, so we’re not. In the western world, Hasegawa unfortunately doesn’t get much coverage. But with Rafael Marquez moving up in weight, he could become the dominant force in this weight class. I think he’s one to watch. Unfortunately, I’ve never seen any footage of Walsh, but from what I’ve read about him and from viewing his record, I’m guessing Hasegawa would be able to edge him.
Prediction: Hasegawa W15 Walsh
So with the final results, it’s 3 wins for 2007 and 4 wins for 1907, which is not bad at all considering 1907 boasted Ketchel, Gans and Attell. Maybe 100 years from now, fans will be comparing the champs of 2107 to the likes of Hopkins and Mayweather.
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