LAS VEGAS — In the end, you are left with the image of a stricken Milton McCrory, supine, trying to lift his head from the canvas. Once he tries, drops. Twice he tries, drops.
He appeared puzzled. He must have thought a sandbag had been placed atop his forehead.
He can be forgiven if he thought he had been hit with one, seconds earlier. Barely recovered from a knockdown in that second round, he bounced into the oncoming right hand of Donald Curry, the World Boxing Assn. and International Boxing Federation welterweight champion. McCrory, up to that second the World Boxing Council welterweight champion, dropped faster than even the effects of gravity seemed to guarantee.
It was, as A.J. Liebling once remarked of a Rocky Marciano victim, like watching flour pour out of a chute. McCrory poured to the floor.
Just 1:53 into the second round Friday night and the welterweight title had been unified, in as decisive a manner as could have been imagined. What had promised to be a fight, with two skillful young champions, turned into a solo act. McCrory was an unwitting accessory to Curry's greatness.
With that concussive knockout, Curry, the Lone Star Cobra from Fort Worth, was certainly vaulted into the boxing elite, propelled into Marvelous Marvin Hagler country, closing in on the legacy of Sugar Ray Leonard, the last man to hold the undisputed welterweight title.
And McCrory, the pleasant young man from Detroit? Just where had he been propelled? Well, when Dr. Donald Romeo asked him where he was, right after he got him to a stool, McCrory said, "Some place out West."
It was strange how much this fight, both in buildup and in action, resembled the last welterweight title-unification bout, when Leonard, Curry's idol, dispatched Tommy Hearns, McCrory's stablemate in the Kronk Gym. Hearns lasted into the 14th round, to be sure, but, to be equally sure, was conclusively beaten.
Perhaps with that in mind, it was natural for promoter Bob Arum to proclaim a new star, a la Leonard, a new savior for a distracted and disjointed sport. "This," announced Arum, speaking of the man he hopes to promote right through a middleweight title fight with Hagler, "is greatness."
That is premature. All the same, unless we find that McCrory (27-1-1), 23, had lost all motor control in the minutes before the fight, Curry's performance was as impressive as he meant it to be. "I'm looking for ring history," he said afterward, "to be mentioned in the same breath as my man Sugar Ray Leonard."
Leonard, effusing at ringside in his HBO tuxedo, may have envied the ease with which Curry exorcised his personal ghost. As Hearns had trailed after Leonard, McCrory has followed Curry around for years, certainly the two years since they each picked up the pieces of Leonard's vacated title.
But in the first three or four punches of the night, landed in the sparsely populated (4,185 in attendance) Hilton Center, the fight had been decided. Curry (24-0) connected easily with a pair of overhand rights and just as easily pushed off McCrory's molasses-like jabs.
After turning the tide so quickly, did Curry, 24, see fear in McCrory's eyes? "Not fear," he said, "but I did see something in his eyes; I saw confusion."
It seemed to Curry that McCrory was baffled by his strength. "I don't think he felt I was that strong," he said. "It wasn't so much the impact of my punches, but he felt my strength, how physical I was. He couldn't move me."
McCrory couldn't do anything, as it turned out, but fall. Late in the first round, Curry stepped inside a McCrory jab that was much slower than he had been led to believe, and gave him a left hook. McCrory wobbled from toe to chin, like a stick of Jell-O. "I knew," Curry said, "that the fight was over."
In the second round, the two circled warily for some time until Curry was again able to step inside a McCrory jab. McCrory sank, got up quickly, wobbled to his knees again and got back up, a 6-1 tower of flour.
Referee Mills Lane, who motioned them together after the eight-count, had no regrets, saying McCrory, "though hurt, focused his eyes right on me. It was for the championship; he deserved a chance."
Who needs chances like that. Curry came at him full speed and with a short right hand hit McCrory right on the button. It was funny, but in the week before the fight, McCrory had jabbed at his one-time friend (they used to take walks together as members of the U.S. amateur team), saying Curry's chin was too long. Curry countered that McCrory's chin line was only slightly less pronounced than the Wolfman's. At one point it was suggest that chin size be included in tale of the tape.
In any event, it was McCrory's that kept getting tagged.
McCrory lay on the canvas a frighteningly long time, although he was conscious, somewhat, throughout. He kept asking Dr. Romeo what round it was. But when Romeo asked what gym he belonged to, McCrory seemed offended. "The Kronk Gym," he said, emphatically. Anything less was an insult.