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In 1927 former heavyweight champ Jack Dempsey had his rematch with Gene Tunney, after losing his title the previous year. It was the first time a fighter was required to go to a neutral corner after scoring a knockdown. Behind on the score cards, Dempsey floored Tunney in the 7th round and stood over him like he had always done in the past. Precious seconds passed while they tried to get Dempsey into the neutral corner to pick up the count. Tunney was down anywhere from 14 to 17 seconds (depending upon the source), but he managed to get up at the count of 9. He recovered and went on to win a decision and retain his title. The debate has raged ever since. If the new rule had not been in effect, could Tunney have gotten up in time? Shouldn’t Dempsey have really deserved the win? Today’s referee might have stopped the fight saying Tunney was in no condition to continue. Too often we hear referees say that they would rather stop the fight too soon than too late. What about stopping it at the right time–not too early or too late. The “long count” would not have been the controversy, stopping the fight too soon would have been.
In 1941, light heavyweight champ Billy Conn challenged Joe Louis for the heavyweight title. He completely dominated Louis for the first 12 rounds, hurting Louis in the 12th. He decided to try to finish Louis in the 13th round and got stopped himself instead. Today there would be no round 13 and Billy Conn might have become the first light heavyweight champ to successfully win the heavyweight title, rather than Michael Spinks when he dethroned Larry Holmes four decades later.
Rocky Marciano retired in 1956 with a professional record of 49-0 with 43 knockouts. He is in the Hall of Fame as the only retired undefeated heavyweight champion and considered to be one of the greatest champions. Today’s rules would have been unkind to him. Hopelessly behind in his 1952 title fight with champion Jersey Joe Walcott, Marciano landed the perfect right hand in the 13th round to stop Walcott and win the championship of the world. It was the thirteenth round, but under today’s rules he would have lost a one-sided 12 round decision and Walcott would have retained his title.
Marciano later defended his title against the ancient Ezzard Charles. Marciano’s nose was literally split in two, an injury that would have caused the fight to be stopped today. As it was, Marciano stopped Charles in the 8th round, successfully retaining his title. Had the fight been stopped, Charles would have become the first two-time heavyweight champ, rather than Floyd Patterson, a few years later. Fighting under today’s rules Marciano might never have won the title, never been enshrined in the Hall of Fame, nor have been considered one of the all time greats. What a difference the rules make.
In 1958 Archie Moore found himself flat on his back, motionless, in the first round against Canadian Yvone Durrelle. Somehow he managed to make it up before the count of ten. Eleven knockdowns later, Moore stopped Durelle in one of the most exciting fights. The fight would have been stopped in that first round today, with Durrelle becoming the new champion.
In 1980 Big John Tate was way ahead on the scorecards defending his title against Mike Weaver. Suddenly in round 15, with only 42 seconds remaining, Weaver landed a left hook and we had a new heavyweight champ. Of course, that would not have happened today. Tate would have outpointed Weaver over 12 rounds and retained his title.
In the last 15 round title fight, held in Mexico, Silky Calvin Grove was knocked down three times and lost his title in the 15th round to Jorge Paez, and the clown prince of boxing became a champ. Of course, today, Grove would have retained his title with an easy 12 round decision.
After this fight, championship bouts were changed to 12 rounds for “safety reasons.” It is interesting that a 12 round fight will fit into a one hour television broadcast, and a 15 round fight won’t. Twelve rounds of action is more likely to produce a draw (6 rounds each), than an odd number of rounds like 15. We have had our share of unsatisfying 12 round draws that probably could have been decided over 15 rounds. When the three knockdown rule came into effect there was a big outcry. How could three knockdowns automatically stop a fight? It should be up to the discretion of the referee. Today we see fights stopped with no knockdowns. It must be the new “hard punch for safety purposes rule,” which means that the first hard punch that lands, usually by the promoter’s fighter, stops the fight. When is the last time you saw a ten count? Most fights are stopped without a count.
Let’s look at some of our old time fighters. Archie Moore lived to be in his eighties and was mentally sharp until he died. Gene Fulmer and Carmen Basilio engaged in countless wars against each other and other leading fighters as well. They are both in good mental condition. Kid Gavilan fought everyone in both the welterweight and middleweight divisions, was never stopped, and was mentally sharp until he died of a heart attack at the age of 76. The Raging Bull, Jake LaMotta, another veteran of some tremendous wars is “all there” mentally, at an old age.
Today, the excitement is gone in boxing. There can be no “rallies,” no come from behind knockouts in the championship rounds (11-15), no more getting off the canvas a couple of times to knock out your opponent. Instead, we usually have a boring boxing match until someone begins to exert his dominance and then the fight is immediately stopped.
Fortunately, the fates have allowed us to have a few great fights today, including Marco Antonio Barrera vs. Erik Moralez, Arturo Gatti vs. everyone, Mickey Ward vs. everyone, Ezra Sellers vs. Carl Thompson, but these are the exceptions. These are the fights where the referee didn’t panic and stop the fight too soon. Sadly, we don’t see enough of these fights anymore, and that’s why boxing is in the shape it is in.
They keep talking about cleaning up the sport, having it federally regulated. Government control, and commissions are much of the reason boxing is in the bad state it is in now. To have someone, or an agency, who has no financial interest or risk, to have no knowledge of the sport, and no experience in the sport, is not conducive to properly supervising the sport. We need to go back to where it was when boxing was a major sport. When we had fifteen round title fights, 12 round regional title or title elimination fights, when fights were allowed to go to their natural conclusions, not prematurely stopped. We need to bring the excitement back to the sport and that will bring the fans back, the media back and the sponsors back. Boxing will be like it was.