Remembering the First Marquee Victory of Every Boxing Superstar

Kevin McRae@@McRaeWritesFeatured ColumnistJune 27, 2013

Remembering the First Marquee Victory of Every Boxing Superstar

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    Everyone has to start somewhere.

    It's hard to imagine that some of the biggest names in boxing today—Floyd Mayweather, Andre Ward, Manny Pacquiao—were once nothing more than prospects, or in some cases, complete unknowns before they burst onto the scene.

    Sometimes it's fun to dig into the past, and revisit some of the great, or even interesting, moments in a sport. To look back on where we were, and where we came from to get here. So get ready for "before they were stars," boxing edition.

    These are the first marquee wins of each boxing superstar's career.

Bernard Hopkins

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    In the late 1990s up to about the turn of the century, the middleweight division was fractured. Three different men held the three main championships, and they never seemed particularly interested in fighting each other. 

    But then Don King came along, with the idea of a middleweight tournament that would crown the first unified 160-pound champion since Marvelous Marvin Hagler held the distinction from 1979-1987. 

    In first round matchups, IBF champion Bernard Hopkins easily defeated his WBC counterpart Keith Holmes to unify their belts, and Felix Trinidad captured the WBA title by knocking out William Joppy.

    Most felt the 36-year-old Hopkins would be (insert punchline here) too old to handle Trinidad's pressure and punching power. But what played out instead was one of the most dominant, and masterful performances of Hopkins' career. 

    He beat, and beat up, Trinidad, knocking him out in the 12th round. This was his first marquee win, and would start something of a trend in his ageless career—beating up younger fighters.

Manny Pacquiao

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    Manny Pacquiao entered his fight with Mexican icon Marco Antonio Barrera as a heavy underdog. At just 24-years old, and with a babyface to match, the Pac-Man entered the bout with an impressive, though unproven, record of 37-2-1, with 28 knockouts. 

    Barrera on the other hand came in off the most impressive stretch of his career, which included recent wins over "Prince" Naseem Hamed, Johnny Tapia and Erik Morales. It would seem, at least on paper, that Barrera would run over his younger opponent.

    But that's why they make 'em fight. After Barrera scored a phantom first round knockdown, Pacquiao seized control of the bout. He dominated his foe, and broke him down en route to an 11th round stoppage. It was, and remains, the first loss for Barrera inside the distance, and allowed Pacquiao to emerge as a star.

Andre Ward

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    Undisputed super middleweight champion Andre Ward was a hot prospect, pretty much from the moment he turned pro back in 2004. 

    During his rise to the top, he scored some impressive victories over decent, but not great, fighters. It was during Showtime's Super Six tournament to determine an undisputed champion at 168-pounds that Ward truly established himself as not only the best super middleweight in the world, but one of the sport's top pound-for-pound fighters.

    In Ward's first bout of the round robin tournament, he faced off with once-beaten WBA super middleweight champion Mikkel Kessler. Kessler was considered by many to be the favorite to win the whole thing.

    But Ward turned in, what was to that point, the performance of his career. He thoroughly outboxed the Dane to win a wide 11th round technical decision.

    With the win, Ward established his bonafides at 168 pounds, and has never looked back.

Sergio Martinez

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    You'd never know it by looking at him now, but WBC middleweight champion Sergio Martinez was a late bloomer. He spent most of the first 13 years of his career in relative obscurity, developing something of a cult following, but little mainstream success.

    His first attempt at a marquee win ended in a hotly-disputed majority decision loss against Paul Williams in late 2009. But when the Williams camp declined an opportunity to face middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik, Martinez jumped at it and cashed in.

    Martinez, despite being much smaller, used a brilliant technical gameplan to outbox Pavlik in the early rounds. But things got a little dicey for the Argentine in the middle rounds. Pavlik dropped him in the seventh, and appeared to be pulling ahead, when Martinez opened a huge gash above his right eye in the ninth.

    From there it was off to the races, as "Maravilla" focused on the eye relentlessly. Pavlik never recovered, and Martinez took the fight, the title and his first big victory.

Wladimir Klitschko

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    Wladimir Klitschko, particularly earlier in his career, was known as an immense talent with two fatal flaws—his chin and his conditioning.

    Given those two problems, signing up to face Nigerian knockout artist Samuel Peter might not have been the wisest course. But after dropping stunning knockout losses to Corrie Sanders and Lamon Brewster, you have to build yourself back up to the top. 

    When he met Peter at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, Wlad was desperate for a marquee win to get back on track. Early on it looked like he was headed for another stoppage loss.

    Peter dropped him twice in the fifth round, and had him in deep trouble, but Wlad survived. For long stretches of the fight he controlled the action with his jab. He was knocked down again in the 10th round, but again survived.

    The unanimous decision win was a huge boon to Wlad's career, and it showed he had the heart and smarts to survive knockdowns at the hands of a huge puncher.

Saul "Canelo" Alvarez

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    Saul "Canelo" Alvarez might be heading toward the biggest fight of his career and the biggest fight in boxing, but there are many still not sold on his in-ring accomplishments. 

    His talent is clear. He's a big, strong fighter who, at 22 years old, has accomplished a lot in a short period of time. But he lacked a true marquee win until he met fellow junior middleweight champion Austin Trout this past April in San Antonio.

    Up to that point, most of Canelo's big wins had come against smaller or shopworn fighters that had names but were past their best. By beating Trout, a legit 154-pounder in his prime, he answered many of his critics. By not only beating Trout, but going the distance and knocking him down, he secured a win few could criticize.

    And it might just have landed him the opportunity to silence even more of his critics, when he takes on Floyd Mayweather Sept. 14 in Las Vegas.

Juan Manuel Marquez

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    As crazy as it sounds, Juan Manuel Marquez lacked a true marquee win for most of his career. 

    He's always been one of those fighters that was considered too good, too dangerous and too unrewarding for most of the big boys to consider fighting.

    Marquez had tried, and failed, three times to defeat his rival Manny Pacquiao. Each of their three fights had been close, controversial and could've legitimately gone either way. Most observers expected much of the same when the two met for a fourth time this past Dec. 9 in Las Vegas. 

    That notion was dispelled early. Marquez put Pacquiao's back to the mat in round three, and Pacquiao returned the favor in the fifth, also breaking his foes nose. With blood gushing out of his nose in the closing seconds of round six, Marquez landed a shot for the ages, knocking Pacquiao unconscious and shocking the world, and finally capturing that elusive big victory.

Nonito Donaire

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    People tend to forget that that there was a time when Vic Darchinyan was one of the most feared punchers in all of boxing, and Nonito Donaire had every reason to be wary walking into the ring with him.

    In his previous fight, Darchinyan had beaten Victor Burgos so badly that he needed surgery to remove a blood clot in his brain, and was placed in a medically induced coma to relieve swelling. The Australian-based Armenian entered the fight sporting an impressive record of 28-0, with 22 knockouts.

    But Donaire burst his way onto the map, using his superior technique to blow through Darchinyan in the fifth round. The problems started for Vic about midway through the round when he was floored by a crushing left-hand. The gritty, if crude, Darchinyan attempted to beat the count, but stumbled across the ring, forcing his corner to halt the contest.

Carl Froch

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    "Who is he?" That's what Jermain Taylor recalled being asked when he told fans of his plans to fight Carl Froch for the Brit's WBC super middleweight title. 

    It's safe to say that Taylor, his fans and the world knew who "The Cobra" was after their 2009 bout. 

    The contest was close and competitive for much of the way, but Taylor who scored a third round knockdown appeared well ahead going into the final round. Froch knew he would need to pull out something dramatic, and he certainly did just that.

    Taylor took a ferocious beating in the final round, and was dropped with just over 40 seconds to go. When he rose to his feet, Froch poured it on, unloading heavy shots on a defenseless Taylor, forcing the referee to step in with just seconds to go. 

    It announced the Brit's presence as a legit 168-pound champion, and it's a good thing, since he was way behind on the scorecards.

Floyd Mayweather

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    There are a few you could choose from if you wanted to nail down the first marquee win of Floyd Mayweather's illustrious career. You could go with the late Genaro Hernandez, from whom he won his first title, or even the rugged Angel Manfredy, who he slugged out in two rounds.

    But, perhaps even this day, there has been no more impressive performance by Floyd Mayweather as the night he dominated the late Diego Corrales.

    Many observers felt that Corrales' physical advantages—he was freakishly tall and strong for a super featherweight—would propel him to a win over the smaller, but quicker, Mayweather. And boy, did everyone who picked "Chico" have egg on their face afterward. 

    Mayweather didn't just win the fight convincingly, he won every second of every round, and did whatever he pleased to the bigger man. Corrales was dropped five times before his corner finally saw enough to stop the bout in the 10th round.

    If you didn't know Floyd Mayweather before this fight, he became impossible to ignore afterwards.