Ranking the 10 Greatest One-Hit Wonders in Boxing History
Referring to any fighter who manages to win a world title as a "one-hit wonder" is misleading. To even get into position to challenge for a title, a boxer has to beat other ranked opponents, usually over a number of years.
But, there is a boxing equivalent to the music industry phenomenon. Just like certain artists manage to rocket up the charts from obscurity and become ubiquitous for a few months, only to never be heard from again, sometimes an unlikely contender will have a night for the ages, capture the belt, then lose his first defense and fade back to the level of journeyman, or perhaps, even vanish from the sport.
The term "one-hit wonder" has negative connotations that I frankly don't really understand. Most of the world is comprised of no-hit wannabes and spectators.
It's true that a few of the names on this list are guys we might have expected more from. So part of their story is tragic: they showed that tantalizing glimpse of true greatness, but for whatever reason, couldn't hang on to it.
But for even more of these fighters, that one night of glory was a real-life Rocky Balboa moment, the one time they rose up over their heads and did what almost nobody thought they could do. No matter what came after, it's still a moment that can never be taken away.
And I know a lot of day-job working musicians who would be thrilled to have some one-hit wonder residual checks coming in.
It is possible that this choice is premature. The former WBA 154-pound champion only turned 32 this month, and he certainly has the skills, and more importantly, the name recognition, to find himself challenging for an alphabet strap again sometime in the future, should he desire it.
But by all outward appearances, he seems to be retired. He has not fought since March of 2011 and reports surfaced immediately following his last bout and throughout the following summer, according to Mitch Abramson of BoxingScene.com, that he was mulling retirement.
For a little while, the "Fighting Rabbi" was among the hottest names in the sport. He rode an undefeated record into a November 2009 title bout against Daniel Santos. Foreman won the belt by unanimous decision, 117-109 twice and 116-110.
The nation of Israel had their first world champion, and a glut of articles and comments appeared on the web, making the probably inevitable comparisons of Foreman to all-time great Jewish fighters from the old days, like Barney Ross.
Foreman's first defense was a high-profile clash in Yankee Stadium against superstar Miguel Cotto. Foreman fought courageously on a badly injured knee, finally going down by TKO in nine. But even before the joint gave out, he had appeared out of his depth against Cotto.
After surgery and rehab, Foreman came back in March 2011 to face the extremely rugged Pawel Wolak. Wolak's power exposed Foreman, as the Raging Bull pressured him relentlessly and brutalized him inside, stopping him in six.
Fighting in his native England, Randy Turpin took a unanimous decision and the world middleweight title from the legendary Sugar Ray Robinson in July 1951. Two months later, Robinson took it back, brutally KOing Turpin in 10 at the old Polo Grounds in New York City.
Still, to call Turpin a one-hit wonder, you have to qualify it a little bit. The Leamington Licker's musical equivalent would be a band like the Grateful Dead. Sure, the Dead only topped the charts one time, with "Touch of Grey," but beyond that, they had an enviable career and a loyal and devoted fanbase.
Turpin won several European and British Commonwealth titles during his career and to even get a shot at the middleweight belt in the 1950s, you had to be a high-quality fighter. But, Turpin's time at the top was extremely brief, and it ended in an explosive flurry.
He never regained quite that level of glory, but continued to have a very respectable career throughout the rest of the decade.
Unfortunately, his life descended into a type of tragedy all-too familiar among boxing stars. Financial troubles plagued him in retirement, and he took his own life in 1966.
Sonny Boy Jaro
Prior to March of this year, Sonny Boy Jaro had put together a respectable, if unspectacular, career as a journeyman in the junior flyweight and flyweight divisions. Twice, he had fought for world titles at 108, losing a decision to Edgar Sosa in September 2008 and suffering a first-round KO against Giovanni Segura in November 2009.
Even world titlists at the lowest weight classes struggle for recognition. So very few boxing fans in this part of the world had any idea at all who Jaro was when he faced pound-for-pound top-10 rated Pongsaklek Wonjongkam last March.
That changed in a hurry. Jaro took it to the legend in a relentless fashion, dropping Wonjongkam in the first, third and twice in final sixth round.
Last month, he lost in his first defense against Toshiyuki Igarashi of Japan.
It's possible that Jaro has another big-time win in him, but I'm more inclined to think he caught lightening in a jar against a great fighter in decline.
Coming into the fight with Jaro, his last four opponents had a combined record of 43-63-8. The last fighter with a winning record he had beaten was 23-12-2 Armadon dela Cruz back in May 2010.
Billy Backus is the nephew of all-time great Carmen Basilio. Despite the bloodline, nothing in his early career indicated that he would ever get close to sniffing a world-title shot. After his first 20 fights, he was 10-7-3.
But the Canastota, N.Y., native battled on, and by 1970, he was a ranked contender and a big-time ticket seller at the War Memorial Auditorium in nearby Syracuse. The great Jose Napoles picked him as an opponent for the welterweight world title in December 1970.
Backus rose to the occasion and shocked the boxing world. He cut Napoles over both eyes and forced a stoppage in Round 5.
After two non-title fights Backus dropped the rematch in June 1971. He fought for most of the rest of the decade, compiling a 17-8-1 record.
Backus' career has a special legacy. The creation of the great International Boxing Hall of Fame in Canastota was inspired by the affection his hometown has for him and his more famous uncle.
In October 1993, the WBO heavyweight title was a very new belt. Tommy Morrison had won it by beating George Foreman via unanimous decision, after Michael Moorer had vacated it to challenge Evander Holyfield for the more highly regarded IBF and WBA versions.
In my opinion, Morrison is an underrated fighter. He had a terrific offensive game, and his resume makes him one of the legitimate top heavyweights during a very good era for the division. He was a solid B-level fighter.
Michael Bentt was a 10-1, slowly developing prospect. He had lost his pro debut in 1989 and then won 10 straight against opponents with a combined record of 57-101-12. He hadn't faced anybody close to Morrison.
So when Bentt annihilated Morrison in one, it was a serious shock to the boxing universe.
In his first defense, Bentt was steamrolled by Herbie Hide. He lost every round before getting KO'd in the seventh. A post-fight brain scan showed alarming damage, and Bentt retired.
Fortunately, this is a more happy post-career story than fight fans often get to hear. After retirement, Bentt turned to acting and has had parts in 29 movies and television shows, most notably as Sonny Liston in Ali.
Big John Tate won a bronze medal as part of the legendary 1976 U.S. Olympic team, losing only to Cuban Teofilo Stevenson, the greatest amateur heavyweight of all time.
He moved into the professional game at the tail end of the greatest era in the division's history and fought during what remained a very strong era. In October 1979, he went to South Africa and won the vacant WBA title by unanimous decision over Gerrie Coetzee, in front of 86,000 of Coetzee's countrymen.
In his first defense five months later, he was winning on all the cards in the 15th round when Mike Weaver dramatically knocked him out. His next time out, he was KO'd in nine by rising prospect Trevor Berbick.
Tate never again faced world-class competition, though he stayed active the rest of the decade, while battling drug addiction. He died of a stroke in 1998 at only 43 years of age.
Tate has to be viewed as one of the sport's tragic what-ifs. He clearly had the tools to accomplish more than he ultimately did.
When it comes to one-hit wonders, you've got different categories of them. Some one-hit wonders are Dexy's Midnight Runners or Young M.C. Sure, they only topped the charts the one time, but when they did, it was in a way that would enter pop culture consciousness and change lives.
Just to hear "Come on, Eileen" or "Bust a Move" makes millions of people smile. It reminds them of their senior prom or of the night they met their future spouse.
But then, you have the one-hit wonders like "The Macarena." I suppose there are a few people who still enjoy hearing that song—drunk people at weddings, maybe.
But for most of the world, it's now greeted with nothing but a wince and a groan. It's the one-night stand they would like to forget.
I'm being a little hard on Griffin, of course. He was a talented contender and twice beat James Toney while working his way up through the ranks.
But his one-time winning championship gold came by a fluke. In March 1997, he handed Roy Jones Jr. the first loss of Jones' career on a disqualification when Jones accidentally struck him when he was down in round nine.
Five months later in the rematch, Jones KO'd him in the first.
Griffin continued to compete. He managed to work himself back into a title fight against Antonio Tarver in 2003, which he lost by unanimous decision.
Since then, he's devolved into a journeyman. His last fight was an eight-round unanimous decision victory at an Indiana Casino just over a year ago.
In July 1988, Tomas Molinares of Columbia was 23-0 with 20 knockouts. He met Marlon Starling for the WBA welterweight belt.
Trailing Starling on the cards, Molinares connected with a vicious left hook just after the bell had rung for the sixth round. Starling went down hard, spraining his ankle in the process.
Referee Joe Cortez ruled it a legal punch and counted Starling out. Molinares left the ring as the world champ.
The New Jersey Athletic Commission later overturned the bout, though the WBA upheld the decision and let Molinares remain as their champion. However, he was hospitalized for severe depression and vacated the belt in December.
He fought twice more and was knocked out both times.
Maybe it would be more accurate to speak of Leon Spinks as having two hits. But, they happened so close together and the following descent was tragic enough to warrant a high spot on this list.
Along with his younger brother Michael, Leon Spinks was a gold medalist for the great 1976 Olympic squad. He then turned pro, and in just his eighth professional fight, did the seemingly impossible by capturing the heavyweight championship of the world via split decision over Muhammad Ali.
This was Ali at the end of his greatness, and it was a fight he did not seem to take seriously. He trained hard for the rematch, and seven months later, beat Spinks by wide margins on all three cards to regain the crown.
Even so, Spinks' success in the first fight was among the biggest sports stories of the late 1970s, and even after he dropped the rematch, many fans still expected he was at the beginning of a promising career.
It was not to be. In his very next fight, he was TKO'd by Gerrie Coetzee in the first. After three wins and a draw, he received another title shot against Larry Holmes in 1981 and was TKO'd in three.
Spinks stayed active until 1995, but after his first bout with Ali, his record was just 18-17-2.
James "Buster" Douglas
In February 1990 James "Buster" Douglas traveled to Tokyo, Japan, and pulled off the greatest upset in boxing history, handing the seemingly invincible Mike Tyson his first loss, knocking out Iron Mike in 10 and capturing the undisputed heavyweight championship of the world.
Tyson had recently fired Kevin Rooney as his trainer and was at the start of a series of personal problems that would lead to one of the steepest declines in the sport's history. He was ripe for an upset, and Douglas was primed to hand it to him.
Douglas was a talented athlete and had legitimate boxing skills. He came to Tokyo, having just beaten Trevor Berbick and Oliver McCall. For his big shot against Tyson, he trained himself into the best shape of his career and prepared mentally to stand up against Tyson's brutal attack.
It wasn't just a matter of one lucky punch. He took the best Tyson had to give him that night and broke the champion down.
Alas, Douglas' brush with greatness truly was a one-night stand. Eight months later, he came in 15 pounds heavier, flabby and out of shape, for his first defense against Evander Holyfield. The Real Deal pounded him like a baker working over a lump of dough, KOing him in three.
Douglass retired after that fight. He attempted a comeback in 1996, beating six club fighters before getting knocked out in the first by Lou Savarese.
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