Thursday, March 19, 2009

Mark's Top 40 at 40: (25-21)

It's time for another installment of the Mark Lyons Top 40. If you've been following along, you know that Mark was born 40 years ago, and in honor of reaching the big Four-O, he's counting down the 40 favorite fighters of his lifetime.

If you aren't up to speed, make sure to check out Mark's previous countdown entries: Intro, 40-36, 35-31, 30-26.

This week, we're down to numbers 25 through 21.

25. Marvin Johnson

Career Record: 43-6 (35)

Three favorite fights: Matthew Saad Muhammad KO by 8 & TKO by 12, Victor Galindez KO11

Marvin took on all comers and took part in some of the more memorable fights of my lifetime. The two wars with Saad were as barbaric as Boxing gets. Among the best fights I have ever witnessed. His left cross that separated Galindez from his senses and his title was among the most brutal one punch knock outs I have ever seen. The beating to the body he took from Eddie Mustapha Muhammad was possibly the most vicious body beating I have ever seen.

What I am getting at, is the man was memorable.

He had hand grenades in his gloves and grape fruits in his trunks. The man won a piece of the Light Heavyweight Title three times during a Golden age for the division. Quite an accomplishment. The main chink in his armor was stamina. And while Marvin may not go down as one of histories greatest fighters, on Saturday and Sunday afternoons it was always must see TV when he was in the ring.

24. Chad Dawson

Career Record: 27-0 (17)

Three Favorite far (you know Chad's going to give us a lot more): Tomasz Adamek UD12, Glen Johnson UD12, Antonio Tarver UD12

My story on Chad from January: The Future P4P King

Photo © Ray Kasprowicz

23. Azumah Nelson

Career Record: 39-6-2 (28)

Three Favorite Fights: Salvador Sanchez TKO by 15, Wilfredo Gomez TKO11, Jeff Fenech TKO8

Ah, The Professor, this guy could do it all. He is acknowledged as a great, but I still find him to be underrated.

Pushing Sanchez to the brink after a handful of fights was an amazing sight to behold. I can’t help but like his chances if a rematch ever would have happened. Then we got to watch the transformation from crude brawler to brilliant tactician. Using whatever style suited him best for that evenings work.

The rematch against Jeff Fenech was one of the most violent displays of revenge I can recall. After the dubious draw it was a pretty consensus opinion that the Aussie bad ass was going to take his title. Nothing could have been further from reality however as Jeff found himself in the lions den from the opening bell. Very reminiscent of Mosley/Margarito for the shocking way he completely destroyed a high caliber opponent.

A glossed over win is Pat Cowdell. The Englishmen had pushed Sanchez the distance in split verdict that wasn’t quite that close, but still highly competitive. 'Zumah turned out his lights inside of a round.

From fighting Leija four times to taking on Fenech, Gabriel Ruelas, Mario Martinez & Marcos Villasana twice each. You never had to look long to secure a fight with the Professor and if it was close he was more than willing to do it again and do his best to leave no doubt. Honestly, that’s as high a compliment as can be given to a fighter from where I sit. This man would have fit right in at any era in history.

22. Michael Moorer

Career Record: 52-4-1 (40)

Three favorite Fights: Bert Cooper TKO5, Alex Stewart TKO4, George Foreman KO by 10

Double M was a baaad man.

His place in history is a strange one. I find his work at Light Heavyweight to be overrated and I think he is severely underrated as a Heavyweight. He was a staple on Tuesday Night Fights early on and early was the operative term for the latest Kronk knockout artist. He could never have stayed at the weight long enough to do much more than he accomplished there.

HBO was the stage for his first big Heavyweight fight and he and Alex Stewart exchanged bombs like Roman gladiators. Moorer nearly closed the show in the first before a spirited rally from Alex. In the fourth a series of uppercuts nearly landed Stewart’s head in the fifth row and a new player was born.

The war with Bert Cooper can best described as epic. If Heavyweight scrapped like that now, I wouldn’t have to drink a pot of coffee to endure one of their tickle fests that is passed off as Boxing.

Michael’s critics point to his chin and desire as weak points. This is Heavyweight Boxing - guys that come to fight will get rocked from time to time. One thing you can never say is that Moorer didn’t go out on his shield. Many fighters would have paid the same price for standing in front of Big George. I was cheering for Moorer the whole fight. But when he hit the canvas a room of about twenty of us erupted in unison. Since George isn’t on my list. I wanted to give him some love.

The sport could never have enough Michael Moorer’s. The next time you’re watching Wladimir Klitschko make love to a man, flip in a tape of Moorer/Cooper.

21. Larry Holmes

Career Record: 69-6 (44)

Three favorite Fights: Ken Norton SD15, Gerry Cooney KO13, Ray Mercer UD12

After reading about Ali’s former sparring partner for quite some time my first viewing was an eliminator against Earnie Shavers. Holmes put on a beautiful exhibition over twelve rds. Shavers couldn’t land a glove on and though he labored to get out of Ali’s shadow. He found a 10 year old fan right then and there, and his title winning effort over Norton a few months later is still one of the greatest Heavyweight fights I have ever seen and I think it always will be.

Holmes had the best jab in heavyweight history, sorry Muhammad, it carried the power of a cross and was deadly accurate. The most overlooked quality of the Easton assassin was his balls. Go back and watch the shot he took from Shavers in their rematch. That would be among the greatest one shot KO. punches in history, if not for one small fact; Larry got up and won.

The Cooney fight was HUGE. Those were different times, grade school and high school kids talked about Boxing then. Big fights were truly big sport, they were covered on the local news. I had several $5 bets with other kids in my eighth grade class on Larry Legend. My pop and I went to the Baltimore Arena and watched it on closed circuit TV. Cooney was good that night, but not nearly good enough.

My best friend and I used to get a case of beer and watch the comebacking Holmes on TNF with regularity. Sue me, I’m a sucker for watching old greats apply their craft. The ray Mercer fight was poetry in motion. I had bragged for weeks that Holmes was going to win and seconds into the fight he was almost floored. Then he put ray through a crash course in Boxing genius. That was larry’s last great moment, but well into his 40’s he still had enough to give Holyfield & McCall tough fights.

When you rank the top Heavyweights, I can’t see a Top 5 without Holmes in it. The man had it all and was quite a character outside of the ring. People just didn’t want to give him a chance and many still don’t want to give him his due. From “ I aint no Tommy Morrison”, to the glorious leaping kung fu kick off of the car hood at Trevor Berbick, Holmes never failed to entertain me.

In closing, Larry probably could have chosen a more tactful phrase to proclaim his superiority over Marciano, but I believe he was right. Rocky Marciano was no Larry Holmes. Few fighters were.

Check out the previous installment of Mark's Top 40 at 40: 30-26

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