30. Alexis Argüello VS Alfredo Escalera II
February 4, 1979
Venue: The Sports Palace
After their bloody battle of Bayamón a year earlier, I didn’t think Escalera had a shot at regaining his title from Argüello. Escalera had suffered such an immense amount of punishment in the first fight and had lost his last fight before the rematch. Argüello too had lost a fight before the rematch, as he moved up to 135 pounds and lost to the crafty boxer Vilomar Fernandez. Arguello always had difficulty with fighters who constantly moved. Escalera was going to stay right in front of him. My father echoed those same sentiments. As we sat in our living room to watch the rematch, we were rooting for Escalera. We also knew his loss was inevitable.
The first three rounds saw a similar pattern to their prior encounter. Argüello boxed Escalera from the outside and completely dominated him with his jab and combinations. Escalera realized from what occurred in the first fight that he had to press the legendary Nicaraguan, but he just couldn’t get past his opponent’s punches. The same pattern continued in round four. Argüello was now beginning to hook off the jab and dropped Escalera with a left hook off the jab. The same thing happened early in round five, resulting in Escalera going down hard. Escalera got up and was in bad shape. Argüello attacked and trapped him on the ropes. After Escalera was stunned with yet another left hook, a horrendous cut opened above his right cheekbone. Referee Angelo Poletti stepped in and administered a standing eight count. Escalera was now severely damaged and hurt. He went all out and engaged Argüello in a firefight the rest of the round. He survived the round and even briefly stunned Argüello right before the round ended with a hard combination.
Argüello went back to boxing from the outside and opened up a nasty cut above Escalera’s left eye. Rounds seven through 10 saw Escalera force Argüello into a firefight. Escalera began landing double left hooks and he hurt Argüello several times and opened a nasty cut over the Nicaraguan champion’s right eye. Just like their first fight, which was aptly named the “Bloody Battle of Bayamón,” the rematch had both combatants bleeding profusely. My father and I couldn’t believe that Escalera actually had a chance to win. But we both knew that knocking out Argüello was an improbability.
Argüello regained the upper hand in round 11. He jumped on Escalera early in the round and landed several hard shots to Escalera’s battered face. Then he went back to boxing and was landing head snapping combinations at will. Escalera was now vividly tired. He had extended so much energy in slugging it out with Argüello that the effects were taking its toll. Round 12 saw Argüello once again stay outside and control the pace of the fight with his superior jab. Escalera was unable to lure Argüello into another firefight. Finally, in the 13th round, Arguello landed a phenomenal left hook off his jab that knocked Escalera out. Argüello consoled Escalera like the gentleman he was. This fight was the beginning of my idolizing Argüello. He would become one of my five favorite fighters of all-time.
After fighting to a lackluster draw in his next fight, Escalera retired and put on 70 pounds to become a pro wrestler. Two years later, he would shed the weight and make a comeback. In the next two years, he fought 15 times, winning 11 of them. He wasn’t the same after the punishment he endured from Arguello, but he was competitive enough to win most of the fights and not get knocked out in any of his losses. He would retire in 1983 at the age of 31. I will give a comprehensive look at what happened with Argüello’s career later on in the series.
29. George Foreman Vs Ron Lyle
January 24, 1976
Las Vegas, Nevada
Venue: Caesars Palace
After losing his World Heavyweight title to Muhammad Ali in the legendary October 30, 1974 Rumble in the Jungle, Foreman went into seclusion. Instead of attempting to get a rematch with Ali, he instead fought a bizarre exhibition in which he fought five men in one night. That was the only time he stepped into a ring in front of a paid audience until his fight with fellow heavyweight contender Ron Lyle. Lyle also was coming off a loss to Ali. Both men were looking for a rematch with the self-proclaimed “Greatest.” The result was one of the greatest fights in the history of the heavyweight division.
The first two minutes of the fight was Foreman trying to utilize his left jab. Foreman was rusty and it showed. Late in the round, Lyle landed a big right cross that staggered Foreman. Foreman survived the round, but he was in serious trouble. In round two, Foreman seemed to have gotten rid of the rust as he began landing his battering ram of a jab. He then staggered Lyle with a huge left uppercut and had Lyle in serious trouble until the bell rang a minute too early. The timekeeper had mad a major error. If he hadn’t made such a crucial error, it’s my belief that Foreman would’ve knocked out Lyle. Almost the entire next round was Lyle laying up against the ropes in a feeble attempt to use the same strategy Ali successfully used against Foreman; “the rope-a-dope.” Foreman learned from his fight against Ali and didn’t go all out in his assault of Lyle. He calmly jabbed and went to the body in easily winning the round. Then came the fireworks.
Early in round four, Lyle landed a multi-punch combination that knocked down Foreman. Foreman was hurt but chose to engage Lyle in a firefight. Both men landed simultaneously three consecutive bone rattling left hooks. Then Foreman landed a right cross off the top of Lyle’s forehead that knocked him down. Lyle barely beat the count of 10 and was in huge trouble. Foreman had Lyle on the ropes and was bombarding him with one crushing shot after another. Lyle began punching back and staggered Foreman with two right uppercuts and then knocked Foreman down with a right cross at the end of the round. Foreman got up and walked slowly back to his corner. It was one of the greatest rounds in boxing history. Round five was just as good.
The drama and outright brutality in round five was magnified by the fact that these were two huge men who weighed over 220 pounds, hitting each other with sledgehammer shots. Lyle stunned Foreman early in the round with a left uppercut, right cross, left hook combination. Once again, Foreman came roaring back. Both men landed huge right crosses at the same time. Then Lyle staggered Foreman again with a vicious left and right uppercut combination. Foreman came back and landed several right hands that badly hurt Lyle. Lyle was out on his feet trapped in the corner. Foreman was totally fatigued, yet was able to land over 20 consecutive punches before knocking Lyle down and out to win one of the most brutal fights in heavyweight history.
Lyle never had another marquee fight, although he did win 12 of his last 15 fights, including four at the ripe old age of 54 years old. A convicted murder at the age of 19, Lyle was involved in another murder while living in Las Vegas. He was accused of murdering his roommate. Lyle was eventually acquitted by reason of self defense. Foreman would lose a year later to Jimmy Young. Immediately after the fight, Foreman claimed he saw Jesus Christ in his dressing room and that Jesus told him to retire and be a servant to God. Foreman became an ordained minister. In 1987, at the age of 38, Foreman began his comeback. Initially, it was to raise needed capital to fund a community center for underprivileged inner city kids in his hometown of Houston, Texas. The rest, as they say, is history.
28. Roberto Durán Vs Sugar Ray Leonard I
June 20, 1980
Venue: Olympic Stadium
There have only been a handful of times that the consensus two best boxers in the world have faced each other. One of the times occurred back in 1980 when Sugar Ray Leonard defended his WBC Welterweight title against Panamanian legend Roberto Durán. Durán was, in my opinion both the greatest Lightweight and Hispanic fighter in boxing history. Heading into his fight against Leonard, he had an incredible record of 71 victories with only one defeat. Leonard himself was undefeated in 27 fights. There was incredible bad blood coming into this fight on both sides. Durán felt that Leonard was an overrated pretty boy. Leonard was livid at the fact that Duran made several derogatory comments to both him and his wife during the press tour promoting the fight. Duran was the master of psychological warfare. Through his comments, he bated Leonard into fighting his fight.
My father took me to see this fight at the same Puerto Rico Theater in the South Bronx that I mentioned earlier in the series. As usual, for a closed circuit showing at this venue, over 90 percent of the audience were Hispanic. It goes without saying that the place was almost entirely rooting for Duran. What was more amazing was that the site the actual fight took place in, Montréal, and over 40,000 fans in attendance at Olympic stadium, were predominantly in favor of Durán. Leonard had been the darling of the 1976 Summer Olympics that were held in Montreal. Despite this fact, when the bell round, the Montréal fans were firmly behind the Panamanian superstar.
The first round saw both fighters feel each other out. There was almost no lateral movement by Leonard. Leonard’s style was reminiscent of Sugar Ray Robinson and Muhammad Ali. He would dance, move and land rapid like combinations. Against Durán in round one, he stayed in the pocket and tried to box Durán without any lateral movement. In round two, Durán landed a booming right cross, left hook that badly hurt Leonard. Leonard didn’t go back to moving. Instead, he stayed inside and held as much as possible while clearing his head. For the next five rounds, Leonard engaged Durán in a phone booth war, which was Durán’s forte. Durán blasted Leonard with several hard hooks to the body. Durán was also able to smother Leonard’s patented combinations while both were inside.
Round eight was the first round in which Leonard dominated Durán. He used movement for the time which allowed him to land several combinations and keep Durán from smothering those same shots. Leonard was unable to keep the momentum going in the next three rounds as Durán was able to use his jab to get inside Leonard and once again punish him to the body. Leonard was visibly tired, a result of the punishment he had taken the entire fight. My father, who had put big money on Durán to win the fight, told me after the 11th round that the only way Leonard was going to win was by robbery. He reminded me that Durán had a granite chin and his stamina was second to none.
Round 12 saw Durán land several hard hooks to both Leonard’s head and body. The 13th round was the best round of the fight as both men stood toe-to-toe and landed bombs to both each other’s head and body. The 14th was more of the same as it had become an all out war. The Puerto Rico Theater was rocking with people screaming at every exchange. Going into the 15th round, Leonard had to know he needed a knockout. Only no one back then could hurt Durán, never mind knock him out. Leonard easily won the 15th round as he fought in desperation while Durán mocked Leonard as he felt he had the fight in the bag. Durán won the decision and Leonard’s title. The rematch five months later saw the infamous “No Mas” fight, a fight in which Durán quit after being outboxed and embarrassed by Leonard. There will be much more said about both legends later on in the series.
27. Félix Trinidad Vs Fernando Vargas
December 2, 2000
Las Vegas, Nevada
Venue: Mandalay Bay
The last fight my father and I saw together was an HBO telecast of Felix Trinidad’s destruction of Mamadou Thiam on July 22, 2000. Eight days later my father finally succumbed to throat cancer. Trinidad, one of the greatest Puerto Rican fighters of all-time, was at the time of my father’s death, his favorite current day fighter. Trinidad’s next fight, a World Super Welterweight title unification fight vs. Fernando Vargas, would be the first major fight involving a Puerto Rican star that I wouldn’t watch with my father. He would’ve loved this fight, as this fight went down as the greatest fight in the history of the 154-pound division.
Both Trinidad and Vargas were young, undefeated fighters with tremendous power. Trinidad was one of the elite offensive fighters of all-time, as he had every punch in the book. The Mexican-American Vargas was an underrated fighter who hit almost as hard as Trinidad. I didn’t think the 22-year-old Vargas had a chance against the 27-year-old Trinidad because he didn’t have to speed to outbox him or enough power to out-slug him. The first round almost ended as soon as it began.
With about only 20 seconds into the fight, Trinidad dropped Vargas with a wicked left hook. Just seconds after Vargas got up, Trinidad knocked him down again with another left hook. Vargas was game and although badly hurt, he was able to survive a very stressful first round. The second round saw Trinidad land several bombs against Vargas and briefly again had him in trouble. Vargas began landing big shots of his own in the third round. Late in the round, Trinidad landed a left hook south of the border. This resulted in a stern warning from referee Jay Nady. Vargas showed no ill effects of the low blow as early in the fourth round he dropped Trinidad with a chopping left hook. Trinidad was hurt and to bide him some time, landed another left hook below Vargas’s belt. This resulted in referee Nady deducting a point from Trinidad. The loss of the point was worth it as Trinidad was able to clear his head during the brief respite. After four rounds, the fight had been a war with both men having been severely hurt. There was plenty of action still to come.
Round five saw Vargas stay outside and land several jolting combinations to Trinidad’s head. Round six was Trinidad’s round as he out punched Vargas during several heated exchanges. The seventh round once again saw Trinidad land a low blow and lose another point on the scorecards. Round eight was another action packed round as both men landed several hard punches to both the head and body. While watching this fight at my then girlfriend’s house, I was wishing my father was there. Even though Trinidad had been in major trouble and had lost two points for low blows, I still felt there was no way he was going to lose the fight.
Round nine was another unbelievable round of action. Both men hurt each other several times. At the end of the round, Vargas appeared to be more fatigued and damaged than Trinidad. More furious exchanges occurred in round 10, except this time it was Vargas who lost a point as referee Nady penalized him for a low blow. Trinidad’s right eye was swollen as was Vargas’s left eye at the end of the round. The two again engaged in several exchanges in round 11. I was anticipating a round for the ages going into the 12th and final round.
As predicted, both men came roaring towards each other. With less than 45 seconds into the round, Trinidad landed a crushing left hook that dropped Vargas for the third time in the fight. Then seconds later, Trinidad blasted Vargas with another left hook to knock him down again. The fight should’ve been stopped there, but referee Nady let the fight continue. Finally, Trinidad dropped Vargas for the fifth and final time with a looping right cross. Nady didn’t bother to count as Trinidad was now the IBF and WBA Super Welterweight Champion.
Vargas was never the same after this fight. He would suffer more beatings at the hands of Oscar De La Hoya, Shane Mosley and Ricardo Mayorga before retiring at the age of 30. Trinidad immediately moved up to the 160-pound division. He won the WBA Middleweight title in May of 2001 before getting systematically destroyed by the legendary Bernard Hopkins on September 29, 2001 to unify the World Middleweight title. Trinidad was never the same after the brutal beating he absorbed and would retire at the age of 35 after taking severe beatings at the hands of Winky Wright and Roy Jones, Jr.
26. Salvador Sánchez VS Azumah Nelson
July 21, 1982
New York City
Venue: Madison Square Garden
When my father bought tickets for us to see Salvador Sánchez, the man who broke our collective hearts a year prior when he knocked out Wilfredo Gómez, fight an unknown fighter named Mario Miranda, I didn’t want to go. I had never heard of the Colombian Miranda and knew he didn’t have a shot in hell to beat the great Sanchez. My father kept hassling me to go, so I halfheartedly agreed to go. Then, a week before the fight, Miranda pulled out because of an injury. I figured the fight would be postponed to a later date. Instead, legendary promoter Don King brought in a replacement fighter from Ghana, Azumah Nelson, an even less known fighter. Up until the night of the fight, I really didn’t care about attending the fight. An hour before the fight, after being constantly harassed by my father, I decided to go with him to Madison Square Garden to see the fight. It turned out to be the greatest fight I’ve ever seen live in my lifetime.
Not only was Nelson a complete unknown, he only had 13 career fights. I told my father this guy had no business being in the ring with an experienced great like Sánchez. Although at 24, Nelson was a year older than Sánchez, his 13 fights paled in comparison to the legendary Mexican’s 45 fights. Sanchez was also making the ninth defense of his WBC Featherweight title. I was expecting a short main event. My father explained to me that every African he ever saw fight (Cornelius Boza Edwards, Dick Tiger, Ayub Kalule, etc.) were tough warriors that always came to fight. As great as Sánchez was, my father stated that Nelson had one advantage; Sánchez didn’t know what type of fighter he was facing in Nelson. Nelson knew exactly what kind of fighter he was facing in Sánchez.
Despite dealing with the unknown, Sánchez dominated the first three rounds by staying outside and landing several crisp combinations. Late in the third round, Sánchez stunned Nelson with a right cross right down the middle. Nelson, despite losing the first three rounds, kept coming and landed some of his own hard right crosses. Rounds four and five saw Nelson finally cut off the ring and lure Sánchez into a slugfest. Nelson landed several cracking shots to the head and body. Sánchez landed several shots of his own but was unable to keep the relentless African off of him. When the fifth round ended, my father and I both came to the conclusion that Nelson was the real deal.
The furious pace continued in the next round. Sánchez was able to out-slug Nelson in a wild sixth round. Then, at the beginning of the seventh round, Sánchez stunned Nelson with a short left hook. Seconds later, Sánchez knocked Nelson down with another left hook. Nelson got up at the count of five and despite being hurt, continue to engage Sánchez in a slugfest. In the eighth and ninth rounds, Sánchez once again stunned Nelson with several left hooks and completely dominated both rounds. Sánchez was back to staying outside and was landing at will against Nelson. Both Nelson’s eyes were swelling and he was bleeding from the mouth. Despite all the punishment he was taking, Nelson kept coming like a Sherman tank.
The next three rounds saw Nelson storm back. In the 10th round, he out-hustled a tiring Sánchez and kept coming. In the 11th round, he once engaged Sánchez in several exchanges and late in the round stunned Sánchez for the first time with a booming left hook. It was the first time my father and I had ever seen Sánchez hurt. Nelson again hurt Sánchez in the 12th round, this time with a wicked right cross. We couldn’t believe what we were seeing. Nelson had a legit shot at pulling off a major upset.
The 13th round was just an all out war. Both men punished each other with one bomb after another. Then at the very end of the round, Sánchez once again hurt Nelson with a left hook. The action continued in the 14th round at a frantic pace. This time, Nelson landed a huge combination at the bell that seemed to hurt Sánchez. When that round ended, my father had compared this fight to the Thrilla in Manila war between Ali and Frazier. The 15th round was sure to be a great finish to a remarkable fight.
Nelson’s face going into the last round looked like it had been beaten with a baseball bat. He was bleeding from the mouth and both his eyes were almost completely shut. He came out reckless and was getting battered by Sánchez with one hard combination after another. Once again, Sánchez badly stunned Nelson with a ferocious left hook. After a few more hard shots, Nelson went down in the corner. Amazingly, he got back up before the count of two. Nelson was completely fatigued and in serious trouble. Sánchez battered him for another 10 seconds before referee Tony Perez wisely called a halt to the fight. The Madison Square Garden crowd gave both fighters a standing ovation. My father and I left the Garden that night feeling we had seen a piece of boxing history. It was even bigger than we thought.
Nelson overcame a beating that would’ve ended most careers to win world titles at both 126 and 130 pounds. He would go down as the greatest fighter ever to come out of Ghana and the continent of Africa. Exactly three weeks later, on August 12, 1982, Sánchez was involved in a fatal car crash while driving his Porsche in Mexico. At the age of 23, Sánchez was already the greatest Mexican fighter of all-time and on his way to becoming the greatest Featherweight of all time. My father said he would’ve beaten all the great Featherweights that ever fought. In my 40 years of watching boxing, Sánchez’s death was the biggest tragedy to befall the sport I love. Looking back, I’m glad my father was able to convince me to go with him to see that fight. I saw the end of one legend and the beginning of another.