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BOXING / EARL GUSTKEY : Seen Through These Eyes in 11 Years

July 31, 1993|EARL GUSTKEY

Moving day. Heading out. Final boxing column. After 11 years of covering boxing, I'll switch to college football next month.

Final boxing theme: Gustkey's greatest hits.

Here they are, my top 10 fights, 1982-1993--10 to remember, always:

1. Mike Tyson-Buster Douglas

Feb. 10, 1990

An easy No. 1. An outstanding fight, but not a great one. But what dramatics. It may never be topped, not even in fiction.

It was the end of the Tyson reign, on a Tokyo afternoon when a real-life Rocky, James (Buster) Douglas, a hopeless longshot, fashioned one of the great upsets of modern American sports.

Six weeks later, Tyson acknowledged what everyone could see that day: that he wasn't in physical condition to defeat an inspired challenger from Columbus, Ohio.

By the third round, Tyson's knees were trembling with fatigue. Late in the third, Douglas triple-jabbed Tyson, and the champion wobbled backward to the ropes. At that moment, it was clear that the unthinkable was happening--that Tyson was taking a beating. Yet it remained a pitched battle in which both men showed great courage--Douglas in crawling off the canvas after taking a savage uppercut in the eighth round, and Tyson in fighting on through the pain and disappointment of seeing his championship slipping away.

Tyson, too, climbed off the canvas, after Douglas had dropped him in the 10th and final round.

Most riveting memory: Tyson, after decking Douglas, so exhausted he could only shuffle and stagger, not walk, to a neutral corner during the referee's count.

2. Marvin Hagler-Tommy Hearns

April 15, 1985.

Probably the best fight of the 1980s. Hagler-Hearns was like two prehistoric men fighting over a hunk of meat.

Hearns created this fight. He challenged Hagler, the middleweight champion, at first bell. Later, Hearns said that stepping into the ring, his legs felt dead. He decided then, he said, to come out with all weapons firing.

He brought 15,000 at Caesars Palace to their feet in the first seconds.

Hagler fought back fiercely.

In the process, he and Hearns cracked heads and Hagler was left with a deep scalp cut. The blood added an elemental quality to a fight none who saw it probably will forget.

Hagler caught Hearns with an overhand right in the third round and knocked him down. Hearns was counted out.

It was long believed that the greatest fight ever was the 1923 Jack Dempsey-Luis Angel Firpo fight. Said Times columnist Jim Murray moments after this one, "Dempsey-Firpo my . . . ."

3. Sugar Ray Leonard-Hagler

April 6, 1987.

Those who chronicled the boxing career of Ray Charles Leonard wrote or talked about his athleticism, his ring generalship, his quickness and his ability to throw effective punches from almost any position.

Yet on this night, Leonard displayed a level of courage rare even in boxing. Against the bigger, stronger Hagler, Leonard was given little chance, especially considering he had not fought in years.

It was a classic--the powerful, charging Hagler and the darting, counterpunching Leonard. In the fifth round, Hagler hit Leonard at close quarters with an uppercut. Leonard buckled, then quickly regained his equilibrium.

By all rights, that punch should have ended the fight. But Leonard, one of history's great champions on his greatest night, won a close decision.

4. Tyson-Michael Spinks

June 27, 1988.

This was Tyson's night to say, "Any questions?"

Before 21,000 in Atlantic City's Convention Hall, he established himself as the outstanding heavyweight of his era.

Tyson was a heavy favorite, but almost everyone expected a competitive fight. Many believed that Spinks, who had beaten Larry Holmes twice with guile and an unorthodox style, would somehow prove troublesome for the young, raw Tyson.

Spinks entered the ring first and walked about in his robe, showing a small smile. He looked like a beaten man before the fight began. And he fought that way.

Tyson's crushing power was never more impressive. When Tyson landed a right hand on Spinks' chin, the fight was over. It had taken 91 seconds.

Best remembered moment: Tyson's trainer, the squeaky-voiced Kevin Rooney, shouting into the microphone at the postfight news conference: "Whadja tinka dat? Whadja tinka dat?"

5. Evander Holyfield at the Olympics

Aug. 9, 1984.

This moment is forever frozen for the 11,729 in the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena, many of whom were throwing trash onto the ringside boxing officials and shouting an expletive.

Evander Holyfield, America's 178-pound representative, had been the sensation of the Olympics . . . until a Yugoslav referee threw him out of the competition.

In the semifinals, Holyfield was defeating New Zealand's Kevin Barry. With five seconds left in the second round, Holyfield knocked Barry down with a left hook, less than one second after the referee, Bligorjie Novicic, had shouted "Stop!"--the signal for both fighters to break.

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