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Bernard Hopkins, Muhammad Ali, and the Forgotten Fights of Great Fighters

Jesse LewisContributor IIIMarch 3, 2011

Bernard Hopkins, Muhammad Ali, and the Forgotten Fights of Great Fighters

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    Hopkins - Trinidad, Ali - Frazier, Barrera - Morales, and Louis - Schmelling. All significant fights that helped to shape the legacies of some of boxing's all time greats. However, in the long resume of these fighters there are numerous significant fights which fall by the wayside and are often forgotten. Many of these fights are as nearly or even more important than the more largely known victories. Following is the top four largely forgotten important fights of all time great fighters.

4) Joe Louis- Billy Conn II (Why It Is Forgotten)

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    The Joe Louis – Billy Conn rematch is forgotten largely because the first fight is more dramatic and, in a word, better. The first fight saw the light-heavyweight Conn move up to fight Louis for the heavyweight title. Over 12 rounds Conn was able to outbox Louis who is amongst the greatest champion of all time. In the dramatic 13th round Conn, not satisfied with a decision victory, decided to go for the knockout and was, himself, knocked out instead. The rematch held none of the drama of the first fight and ended in the 8th round with the larger Louis battering the smaller Conn.

4) Joe Louis - Billy Conn II (Why it Should be Remembered)

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    This fight represents one of Joe Louis least remembered trait which was his skill in rematches. During his prime Joe Louis was able to adapt in-between fights in order to dominate his foes in the return match. Had Billy Conn not gone for the knockout in the first fight he would have stood a very good chance of winning the title. In the rematch many people took the logic that Conn’s skill would again put him in a position to win the fight and that he’d likely learned from his mistakes. Instead the rematch lasted nearly half as long and ended with another Louis victory.

    Many people remember Joe Louis for his thunderous power and short quick combinations. Very few people remember him for his skill and intelligence in the ring. However, in rematch after rematch Louis showed that he could grow and learn. Billy Conn, Max Schmelling, Buddy Baer, and Joe Walcott would all have varying degrees of success in their first fights against Louis only to suffer vicious knockouts in a shorter amount of time in the rematch. The Billy Conn rematch should be remembered because it showed that even against the most skillful opposition Joe Louis devise a better plan of attack.

3) Marco Antonio Barrera – Enrique Sanchez (Why It Is Forgotten)

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    The Marco Antonio Barrera – Enrique Sanchez fight falls into a difficult place in the career of Barrera. The fight was sandwiched in-between the star making Naseem Hamed fight and a rematch against Erik Morales for Marco Antonio Barrera. In a large part those two fights represent the two styles for which Barrera is most remembered; the high profile exhibitions of skill and the heated action fights. The Enrique Sanchez lacked the star power of many of Barrera’s opponents and he was not able to draw Barrera into a brawl as had Kennedy McKinney.

3) Marco Antonio Barrera – Enrique Sanchez (Why It Should Be Remembered)

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    In short this fight was the culmination of Marco Antonio Barrera’s search to balance skill with power. Although less flashy this fight is comparable to the Muhammad Ali – Cleveland Williams fight in that it allowed Barrera to show everything that he was capable of against a talented and game but ultimately outclassed opponent. Enrique Sanchez was a talented veteran with decent power and only one loss in 31 fights at the time he faced Barrera although almost immediately the fight became a mismatch. Barrera mixed skilled bobbing and weaving with vicious combinations as he repeatedly hurt and knocked down Sanchez. Barrera even began to feint at one point shaking one hand in the air before crashing another into the face of Sanchez. This is Barrera in a showcase fight where he is at his physical and mental peak.

2) Muhammad Ali – Zora Folley (Why It Is Forgotten)

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    Like a number of the other fights on this list Muhammad Ali’s victory over Zora Folley is overlooked because larger events which occurred around the same time as the fight. However, unlike the rest of the fights on the list it is not other boxing matches which overshadow this bout but social and legal issues. This was Ali’s last fight before his refusal to serve in Vietnam. Ali would not fight again for over three years. This event was of huge importance and has been the subject of many books and much debate.

    Although they are both secondary the Ali-Zolley fight is forgotten for at least three other reasons. The first being that Ali’s resume is littered with numerous high profile names including Sonny Liston, Joe Frazier, and George Foreman. The second is the quality of the film. The fight against Folley represents one of Ali’s first fights to be shown in color and the picture leaves much to be desired. The third reason is that, like a lot of Ali’s early fights, the fight itself is not very competitive.

2) Muhammad Ali – Zora Folley (why It Should Be Remembered)

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    This is arguable Muhammad Ali at his prime or as close as anyone will ever see. During the early portions of Ali’s career he was mistake prone, as evidenced by the Henry Cooper knockdown, and often relied primarily on his physical attributes. In the latter half of Ali’s career he would use guile and endurance to win fights as demonstrated in his use of the rope-a-dope against George Foreman. The world never saw the middle of Ali’s career when his mental and physical skills would be simultaneously at their peak due to his three year banishment from boxing. The closest we have to witnessing a prime Muhammad Ali is in the fight against Zora Folley.

    This fight should also be remembered as it is a perfect example of the extraordinary in ring focus of Muhammad Ali. This fight takes place during one of the most turbulent periods in Ali’s life. He was facing the Vietnam draft, was in the midst of heightened religious turmoil marked by the murder of his former friend Malcolm X only two year’s prior, and was also a center piece in the ongoing civil rights debates. With all of this on his mind Ali was facing his best opponent since Sonny Liston. Zora Folley was a hardened veteran with a record of 74-7-4 and was a legitimate threat to any heavyweight. Ali was able to push aside all distractions and dominate Folley.

1) Bernard Hopkins – Howard Eastman (Why It Is Forgotten)

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    There were a number of events surrounding the Bernard Hopkins/Howard Eastman fight that cause it to be forgotten not the least of which is that this fight is sandwiched in between a number of higher profile fights.  Hopkins had just come off of his knock out of Oscar de la Hoya and was looking to fight the man that at one time appeared to be the future of the division in Jermaine Taylor. Also, Eastman, a Britain by way of Guyana had received little exposure outside of Europe and did not excite many American boxing fans. Lastly, Hopkins was in the middle of his record setting streak of title defenses at middleweight and, as often happens with records, the streak becomes more important than the individual events.

1) Bernard Hopkins – Howard Eastman (Why It Should Be Remembered)

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    In many ways this fight is everything to the legacy of Bernard Hopkins. It secured his legacy for years as he reached 20 successful defenses of his middleweight boxing title. Hopkins, then 40, showed that he could continue to alter his style to continue being successful at an advanced age.

    Beyond any of the numerical accomplishments that this fight offered is the fact that Howard Eastman was a credible opponent. Hopkins is often unfairly criticized for having the majority of his most famous wins against smaller men. In Eastman was an opponent who was highly rated, awkward, rangy, a natural middleweight, and who had a history of coming on late in fights. Eastman’s sported a record of 40-1 with his lone loss entering the Hopkins fight being a highly controversial decision loss to William Joppy. A strong argument could be made that Eastman represented the best opponent Hopkins had faced since Felix Trinidad.

    The actual fight followed a now familiar formula for the over 40 years old version of Bernard Hopkins. The early rounds were nip and tuck with Hopkins keeping a slight advantage. In the middle rounds Eastman had some success being able to outwork Hopkins which led some observers to wonder if Hopkins might finally act his age. After that Hopkins began to dominate the fight and by the end had dominated another opponent. 

    In many ways this fight is everything to the legacy of Bernard Hopkins. It secured his legacy for years as he reached 20 successful defenses of his middleweight boxing title. Hopkins, then 40, showed that he could continue to alter his style to continue being successful at an advanced age.

    Beyond any of the numerical accomplishments that this fight offered is the fact that Howard Eastman was a credible opponent. Hopkins is often unfairly criticized for having the majority of his most famous wins against smaller men. In Eastman was an opponent who was highly rated, awkward, rangy, a natural middleweight, and who had a history of coming on late in fights. Eastman’s sported a record of 40-1 with his lone loss entering the Hopkins fight being a highly controversial decision loss to William Joppy. A strong argument could be made that Eastman represented the best opponent Hopkins had faced since Felix Trinidad.

    The actual fight followed a now familiar formula for the over 40 years old version of Bernard Hopkins. The early rounds were nip and tuck with Hopkins keeping a slight advantage. In the middle rounds Eastman had some success being able to outwork Hopkins which led some observers to wonder if Hopkins might finally act his age. After that Hopkins began to dominate the fight and by the end had dominated another opponent.

Conclusion

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    These are a few of the many important fights that are for one reason or another overlooked by many boxing fans yet they each have significant importance.

    I'm considering doing regular follow up articles in the same vein. Please let me know if there is any interest.

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