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Starling and Breland Win Titles, Now They'll Meet Again

February 05, 1989|EARL GUSTKEY | Times Staff Writer

LAS VEGAS — A couple of former welterweight champions became champions again at Caesars Palace Saturday night, one in a near-classic brawl that looked like something out of boxing's bygone years and the other in a disgraceful mismatch.

The bell-ringer was Marlon Starling's come-from-behind, 9th-round technical knockout of England's Lloyd Honeyghan, giving Starling the World Boxing Council welterweight title.

The mismatch was Mark Breland's one-round destruction of an inept South Korean, Lee Seung-Soon, giving Breland the vacant World Boxing Assn. title.

For reasons that remain part of the confused business of professional boxing, the WBA consistently ranks South Korean boxers higher than the sport's two other organizations. And almost every time a South Korean comes to the United States to fight for a championship, he loses.

Breland had Lee on the deck in 40 seconds, and finished him in 54 seconds. For that, Lee made $85,000.

For Breland (23-1-1), who earned $125,000, it was easy redemption. He had lost his WBA title to Starling in 1987, then had a disappointing draw with Starling. His original opponent Saturday was to have been WBA champion Tomas Molinares of Columbia, who withdrew--and was stripped of his title--because of "severe depression."

Starling-Honeyghan was a memorable bout between two tough fighters.

Starling (44-5-1) seemed to have won the first two rounds, when both fighters were throwing bombs. Both started fast, and Starling rocked Honeyghan with left hooks and short right uppercuts in the early going.

He staggered Honeyghan early in the second with a long right hand to the forehead, but Honeyghan danced away from danger.

In the third, Honeyghan suddenly caught fire. On the attack, he chased the unorthodox Hartford, Conn., boxer all over the ring. In the third and fourth rounds, Honeyghan was throwing about a hundred punches a round, a tiring pace. The most effective of the punches were thumping right hands to Starling's ribs.

At that point, it was difficult to see Starling holding together. But that was the ebb. Then came the flow.

Honeyghan seemed to have tired badly by the fifth, and he looked it. His right eye was closing, a big lump was growing over his right cheek and his nose bled.

Starling, sensing Honeyghan was fading quickly, turned up the heat in the fifth. He worked him over on the ropes, and with a left hook knocked Honeyghan's bloody mouthpiece into the second row of the press section.

In the sixth, Honeyghan was running and holding. Now the British champion was taking a brutal beating. His distorted face and the roar of the 4,069 in Caesars Pavilion evoked an earlier era in boxing, when fights such as these were held behind locked warehouse doors in the middle of the night, or on barges in the Hudson River.

In the 7th, 8th and 9th, the beating continued. The end came at 1:19 of the 9th. He simply crumpled over, not, seemingly, from any one punch, but from the accumulation of Starling's crisp blows.

After the eighth, the ringside physician, Dr. Flip Homansky, checked to see if Honeyghan had a broken jaw. Satisfied that it wasn't, Homansky let him continue.

Nonetheless, Honeyghan (33-2), who earned $650,000, went to the hospital for X-rays afterward. Starling made $250,000.

Honeyghan, 28, must sit on the sidelines and watch Breland and Starling meet for the third time, a match Breland's co-manager, Dan Duva, began talking up immediately.

Starling was asked whether the much-described bad blood between he and Honeyghan had now softened.

"Well, I'm not going to sleep with him," Starling said, straight-faced.

He simply wanted to demonstrate who the champion was, he said.

"I wanted to show the world that there is only one welterweight champion in the whole, wide world," he said. "I went in there to get respect from Lloyd in the ring. He was ready to quit in the fifth round, I knew then it was only a matter of time."

The battered Honeyghan, stopped by the interview tent to make a short statement, took no questions, then left for the hospital.

"Marlon gave me a great fight. . . .I wish him the best. He'll be a great champion. He beat me, so he has to be the true champion."

At that, Starling stood up and hugged the former champion.

Breland, who was 110-1 as an amateur, thinks he has acquired the fire many in boxing felt he lacked as a pro.

"Things were easy for me for so long," he said, "I had to learn that you have to get mentally pumped up for this sport every time. Tonight, I felt real nasty in the dressing room, like an animal. I felt great."

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