40. Arturo Gatti Vs Gabriel Ruelas
October 4, 1997
Atlantic City, NJ
Venue: Boardwalk Hall
Gabriel Ruelas was a tremendous boxer-puncher whose career and life took an unexpected turn on the night of May 6, 1995. That night he successfully defended his WBC Super Featherweight title after administering an 11th round stoppage over Jimmy Garcia. Garcia sustained such a beating from Ruelas that he suffered brain damage that lead to his death two weeks later. Ruelas lost his title by knockout in his next fight against Ghana legend Azumah Nelson. Going into his title shot against Arturo Gatti, Garcia’s death was still hanging over Ruelas like a dark shadow. It was a no-win situation for Gatti. The new darling of the boxing world because of his action friendly style would be criticized if he easily beat a man who had not been the same since the Garcia fight. It would even be worse if he lost to Ruelas. Going into their fight, both fighters had plenty to prove.
The first three rounds saw the 25-year-old Gatti completely dominate the fight. He landed several chopping combinations to the head and body. Although he was getting hit with almost everything Gatti threw, the 27-year-old Ruelas fought back valiantly and landed a few jolting shots of his own. Then in round four, Ruelas staggered Gatti with several wicked uppercuts. Later in the round, Gatti momentarily stunned Ruelas but Ruelas quickly recovered and hurt Gatti again right before the round ended. Ruelas had all the momentum going his way into the fifth round.
The fifth round was another in a career of incredible rounds Gatti engaged in his career. Both men hurt each other with one concussive blow after another. Gatti landed several hard hooks to the body and head. Ruelas landed several hard uppercuts and hooks of his own. After chasing Gatti late in the round, Ruelas walked into a grenade like left hook. He went down like a thud. He got back up but was so out of it that referee Benjy Esteves had no choice but to stop the fight. It was another dramatic win for Gatti. Although he was knocked out, Ruelas earned an immense amount of respect from boxing fans and the media that night. For the first time since the tragic Garcia fight, he fought with hunger and desire. It would also be the last time.
Ruelas would lose three of his last eight fights before retiring in 2003 at the age of 32. Gatti would continue to be his generation’s greatest action fighter. There will be more discussion of him later.
39. Carlos Monzón Vs Rodrigo Valdez II
July 30, 1977
Venue: Stade Louis II
When I was three years old, my father began teaching me how to read by reading the sports pages of newspapers and boxing magazines. Around my fifth birthday, I began reading newspapers and boxing magazines by myself. The magazines always talked about how great a fighter Carlos Monzón of Argentina was. My father seconded those emotions. On the afternoon of July 30, 1977, I sat down in our living room and saw Carlos Monzón fight live for the first and only time on a small black and white television set. At the age of nine years old, I finally had the chance to see the legend in action.
Monzón had defeated Rodrigo Valdez a year earlier to unify the World Middleweight title. Monzón had been stripped of the WBC title and won it back by outboxing the Colombian slugger over 15 rounds. Monzón won the 160-pound championship from Nino Benvenuti back in 1970. He was to turn 35 a week after his rematch with Valdez. My father explained to me that Valdez was a powerful puncher and to not be surprised if he upset Monzón because Monzón was in his mid-30’s, which back then was considered ancient by boxing standards.
Round one began with Monzón boxing brilliantly. Monzón stood 6’ tall and was a boxer-puncher who did everything off his potent left jab. That jab was a thing of beauty, as he kept Valdez at bay that entire first round with it. The second round was much different. Valdez was able to cut the ring off and land his bazooka of a right cross. Valdez was a great puncher and late in the round, he landed his signature right cross right down the middle and dropped Monzón. Monzón got right up and was hurt again by another right cross before the round ended.
Monzón was a cerebral fighter. He always stayed calm and collective in the ring. Rounds three to eight saw Monzón box brilliantly from the outside, landing his jab and right cross several times, yet he was unable to stop Valdez from power shots as well. It was a tremendous give and take because Valdez was walking through Monzón’s offense and all he needed was for one of those right hands to land perfectly and he’d walk away with the title. My father had Valdez winning the fight up until this point. He also explained to me that Monzón was a great second half fighter and that his greatness and experience would still lead him to victory.
Beginning with round nine, my father’s theory was about to be proven correct. Throughout that round, Monzón was finally landing perfect left jab, right cross combinations. These combinations were a thing of beauty. In the 10th round, Monzón landed these same combinations at will. Meanwhile, Valdez was very fatigued and both his eyes were swollen. Valdez couldn’t see well enough to avoid those shots. He was swinging wildly and the perfect target for Monzón’s pinpoint punches. Rounds 11 and 12 saw Monzón continue to batter Valdez and Valdez was almost completely defenseless. I was worried that Valdez still had a puncher’s chance. My father told me the only thing Valdez could do was to survive and go the distance. He surmised that a fighter as great as Monzón would never allow himself to get hit with a lucky shot late in a fight.
The last three rounds of the fight saw a nearly blind Valdez try desperately to land one bomb after another. Monzón boxed safely from outside and smothered Valdez when they were inside. Valdez landed a few clean shots, but they had nothing on them. This was due to Valdez being completely exhausted. Monzón was too fatigued but his ring IQ and experience made sure that he wasn’t going to lose this fight. Monzón won the decision and immediately retired after the fight. It was his 12th successful defense of a title that he had held for almost seven years. In my opinion, he was the greatest Middleweight Champion of all-time. Despite being such a great fighter in the ring, he was a miserable man outside the ring.
Valdez would defeat Philadelphia legend Bennie Briscoe four months later to finally become the undisputed 160-pound champion. He would lose that title in his first defense and subsequent rematch to Monzón’s fellow countryman Hugo Corro. After two knockouts of nondescript fighters, Valdez retired as one of the greatest fighters ever to hail from Colombia. He died of a heart attack in 2017 at the age of 70. Monzón would not be so lucky.
Monzón, throughout his boxing career, was a serial domestic abuser. He beat several of his girlfriends and wives. He had to take time off from boxing in 1973 to recuperate from being shot in the left leg by his first wife, the result of her defending herself from one of his multiple beatings. In 1988, Monzón murdered his second wife Alicia Muniz by throwing her off their second floor balcony. Monzón, realizing what he did, jumped after her but it was too late, she was dead. Monzón was convicted of murdering his wife. In 1995, inexplicably he was given a weekend furlough to visit his family. While driving back to prison, Monzón died when his car was struck by another vehicle; a fitting end to a despicable human being.
38. Michael Watson Vs Nigel Benn
May 21, 1989
Venue: Finsbury Park
From the late-80s to mid-90s, the United Kingdom experienced a glory period in the 160-pound division. Four talented fighters with charisma captured their hearts; Nigel Benn, Chris Eubank, Steve Collins and Michael Watson and all but Watson became champion. That was amazing considering his performance the night he fought Benn.
Going into their fight, the two fighters had a combined record of 43 wins, one defeat, and one draw. Benn was undefeated with all 22 of his wins coming by knockout. He was the British Middleweight version of Mike Tyson and the reigning British Commonwealth Middleweight champion. He was a huge fan favorite of the British fans. At that time, only the power punching Frank Bruno was more popular in Great Britain. This was supposed to be his coming out party, as the fight was also to be televised on NBC in America. Watson had other plans.
Round one saw what most British fans expected. Benn came out roaring like a tiger and battered Watson against the ropes for most of the round. Watson attempted to box but was unable to keep the “Dark Destroyer” at bay. Watson decided to engage in a phone booth war with Benn in both the second and third round. Both men landed incredible combinations on each other. The London fans were on their feet as each fighter landed one big blow after another. It looked like fool’s gold to me while watching the fight on television. While a decent puncher, Watson’s power was no match for Benn. He was fighting Benn’s fight and was playing with the ultimate fire.
Round four was another incredible round of action. Watson staggered Benn twice throughout the round with pinpoint combinations. I realized watching the fight that Watson was using Benn’s wild aggression against him. He was attempting to tire Benn out in his own version of the rope a dope. Benn stunned Watson late in the round with a left hook, but Watson quickly recovered. It was the first round that Watson had won. Benn looked very fatigued going back to his corner. Although he landed several hard power shots in round five, Benn didn’t have the same snap in his punches. Watson, similar to Ali against Foreman, bounced off the ropes and several times staggered Benn with his pinpoint combinations. Benn went back to his corner completely exhausted and hurt. Watson had the fight in his pocket. It was only a matter of time before he’d finish off his fellow Brit.
A minute into round six, Watson landed a crushing right cross that hurt Benn. Benn complained that it was a thumb to his eye, but referee John Coyle told him to fight on. Benn landed a huge left hook, but Watson took it with no problem. Benn then walked into a vicious left hook and was counted out. Watson won this British Civil War by knockout. It would be the defining victory of his brief career.
Watson would get a title shot against the great Jamaican fighter and WBA Middleweight Champion Mike McCallum in his next fight. Despite the fight being in London, Watson was thoroughly outclassed and beaten. He would eventually be knocked out in the 11th round. A year later, Watson engaged in two heated wars with fellow countryman Eubank. In the second fight, despite being way ahead on the scorecards, Watson was brutally knocked out in the 12th and final round. As a result, Watson suffered severe brain damage and was in a coma for six weeks. Needles to say, his career was over at the age of 26. On the other hand, Benn won the WBO Middleweight title the following year and also had two wars with Eubank. He would also capture the WBC Super Middleweight title before a fateful night in London against Gerald McClellan. That fight will be detailed at length later on.
37. Naseem Hamed Vs Kevin Kelley
December 19, 1997
New York City
Venue: Madison Square Garden
In my 40 years of following the sport of boxing, I’ve never seen a fighter come to the United States with more hype than Prince Naseem Hamed. Hamed, a brash British fighter of Yemeni ancestry, in the weeks leading up to his American debut at Madison Square Garden, had his face on several billboards throughout New York City. He had all the charisma in the world and despite being a Featherweight standing only 5’3”, he hit like a mule. I took my father to see his debut that night against a native of the Flushing, Queens section of New York, Kevin Kelley. My father and I were disappointed that Kelley was given no chance and no publicity going into the biggest fight of his life. Kelley was a former World Featherweight Champion and had suffered only one defeat in 50 professional fights. Despite his shiny resume, the boxing media was expecting an easy night for Hamed’s American debut. My father and I knew better.
Hamed was the reigning WBO World Featherweight titleholder. Since he was the champion, his ring entrance was last. Hamed came out to the most incredulous ring entrance I’d ever seen, complete with doing a flip into the ring. The Garden fans were eating it up. Except for my father and I. We weren’t impressed with all the pomp and circumstance. We were there to finally see if Hamed could beat a world class fighter. He had defeated several second rate fighters in England. Kelley was the perfect test to see if the Prince was for real.
Round one started with both men attempting to out finesse the other. With about a minute left in the round, Kelley brought the crowd to its feet by landing a sharp right hook that dropped the champion. Both fighters were southpaws and that might’ve confused Hamed a bit. Hamed got right back and he was more embarrassed than hurt. Early in the second round, Hamed was knocked down a second time by a glancing left cross. The Garden crowd, which at first was behind the brash Brit, was now heavily cheering the hometown native Kelley. Hamed began to move and I thought that was a mistake. I was completely wrong. He was able to lure Kelley, who was going for the kill, to walk into a right hook. Kelley got right back up and the two continued to trade until the end of the round. The Garden crowd was electric and on their feet.
Round three was Hamed moving the entire round trying to outbox Kelley. Kelley won the round by being busier and landing more. Round four was one of the most incredible rounds I’ve ever seen live in an arena. Early into the round, Hamed landed a crisp double left cross that dropped Kelley for the second time in the fight. Less than 20 seconds later, Kelley scored a flash knockdown with a short right hook. Then, almost immediately, Hamed landed a left cross bomb that was the biggest punch of the fight. Kelley went down with a thud. He got up on very unsteady legs. This forced referee Benjy Esteves to immediately stop the fight. Hamed survived a war and was a major hit in New York City. My father wasn’t impressed. He acknowledged that Hamed had inhuman power, but defensively he would be easy pickings for an accurate counterpuncher.
Kelley was never the same after that night. He would lose eight of his next 21 fights before finally retiring in 2009. Hamed would dominate the Featherweight division until he ran into legendary Mexican boxer Marco Antonio Barrera. My father died during the summer of 2000. He didn’t get a chance to see his prediction come true. Barrera totally dominated Hamed that night. He countered Hamed’s unorthodox wild charges all night and easily won a 12 round decision. Hamed fought one more time before retiring at the tender age of 28. Barrera had taken his heart and hunger.
36. Hector Camacho Vs Edwin Rosario
June 13, 1986
New York City
Venue: Madison Square Garden
Historically, Madison Square Garden has been the second home for fighters hailing from Puerto Rico. Beginning in the 1940s, thousands of Puerto Ricans migrated to New York City and its five boroughs. The majority settled in the South Bronx, the East Harlem section of Manhattan and the East New York section of Brooklyn. By the 1980s, there were more Puerto Ricans residing in New York City than San Juan. With all that said, it’s not surprising that Puerto Ricans fighting in the historic Madison Square Garden would be the overwhelming crowd favorite. From Jose Torres to Miguel Cotto, great Puerto Rican fighters are welcomed in Madison Square Garden as conquering heroes. On only one occasion has two great Puerto Rican fighters faced each other in the cathedral that is Madison Square Garden. For my high school graduation gift, my father took me to see that historic matchup.
At the age of 24, Hector Camacho was the darling of the boxing world. He was a flamboyant, good-looking boxer who exuded charisma and in the ring fought like a southpaw version of Muhammad Ali. Edwin Rosario, a year younger than the Macho Man, was a tremendous boxer-puncher who had one of the most devastating right hands in the history of the Lightweight division. Rosario was a quiet man who let his fists do the talking. Camacho easily defeated the man who beat Rosario, Jose Luis Ramirez, to become WBC Lightweight Champion. It was a dream matchup and the fight more than lived up to it.
Camacho easily won the first two rounds by dancing and jabbing. Rosario followed Camacho around the ring and didn’t do much damage. My father and I were both rooting for Rosario because a month earlier Camacho had disrespected my father in the street. My father grew up in the same section of East Harlem and knew many of the same people Camacho did. When my father saw Camacho coming out of Camacho’s mother’s apartment building, he respectively approached Camacho and told him how much he admired how a kid from his neighborhood made it. I sat in the car and couldn’t believe my eyes when Camacho acted like my father was invisible and kept walking. My father came back in the car and told me to never behave like him and act like you’re better than your people. We weren’t in the minority that night rooting for Chapo. A huge majority of the fans were heavily rooting for Rosario.
Round three saw Rosario finally get inside and land his first significant punches of the fight. Camacho dominated the fourth round and landed his hardest punches of the fight. However, Camacho was now bleeding over his left eye. Seemingly frustrated by seeing his own blood, Camacho attacked Rosario at the beginning of the round by landing a hard combination to the body. Then, about 30 seconds later, Rosario landed a vicious left hook that badly hurt Camacho. Rosario chased Camacho and landed at least three crushing right hands. Camacho did all he could in surviving that round. In addition to the cut above his left eye, the bridge of Camacho’s nose was cut as well. Camacho was in huge trouble going into the sixth round.
Camacho was able to clear his head and win the sixth round by using his jab to keep the stalking Rosario off him. Rounds seven and eight were excellent back and fourth stanzas. Camacho would land nice combinations from the outside, then Rosario wound corner him and land hard hooks and uppercuts inside. The crowd was on their feet as the overwhelming amount of Puerto Rican fans in attendance were loud in their approval of such a great fight. The fight was very close as we entered the final four rounds.
Camacho showed intestinal fortitude in rounds nine and ten. In the ninth round, he hurt Rosario early with a nice looking left cross. He landed several left crosses throughout both rounds and was winning the 11th round before Rosario landed a right cross that once again had Camacho in trouble. Camacho held on to survive the round. At that moment, my father predicted that the 12th and final round was going to be nonstop action.
The 12th round was nonstop action only on Rosario’s part. He battered an exhausted Camacho’s head and body for the entire round. All Camacho did was hold and run. When the bell rang, I thought for sure Rosario won. Camacho won a highly disputed split decision. It called for an immediate rematch. A rematch that was never made.
Four months later, both men fought on an HBO doubleheader. Camacho easily defeated Cornelius Boza Edwards and Rosario knocked out Livingston Bramble to win the WBA Lightweight title. A rematch would’ve been huge money and unification title fight. Instead, Camacho moved up to Super Lightweight and Rosario both lost his title and suffered a brutal beating at the hands of Julio Cesar Chávez. Although Rosario would again win world titles at Lightweight and Super Lightweight, he was never the same after the Chávez beating. In 1992, Camacho too would suffer a brutal beating at the hands of Chávez. Camacho had lost his flash inside the ring and became primarily a run and hold boxer. He would also be beaten handily by fellow Puerto Rican legend Félix Trinidad and the legendary Oscar de la Hoya.
Both Rosario and Camacho died tragically in their homeland of Puerto Rico. Rosario died at the age of 34 from pulmonary edema which was caused by his abuse of alcohol and narcotics. Camacho was murdered when he was shot while riding in the passenger’s seat of his friend’s car. His autopsy also showed a significant amount of cocaine in his system. Several bags of cocaine were found in the vehicle at the time of the shooting. Despite their tragic endings, they gave a generation of Puerto Rican fans like my father and me the greatest fight that ever occurred between two Puerto Rican legends.