The last time we spoke, I mentioned the masterful performance that Bernard Hopkins put in the night he beat Felix Trinidad. Talking about that fight got me thinking about other times throughout history that I feel a fighter put in a truly punch perfect performance. The list is long but there are a few that spring to mind.
Firstly, I’m going to say Roberto Duran in his first fight with Sugar Ray Leonard. The key thing that Duran did was make sure that the fight was fought at close quarters. He used his under rated defensive skills and beautiful head feints and body movement and Leonard couldn’t really tee off on him. As we’ve said before, Duran’s such a cunning bastard when getting into range. Leonard had never met anybody as good as himself and then Duran brought all of those attributes to the table. Once he got inside, that was his office.
Pre-fight, I think Duran got into Leonard’s head. When they did eventually get into close quarters, Leonard was never gonna back off. It says a lot about his character that he wanted to have a fight with him but on that night – in the form Duran was in mentally and also confidence wise – having a fight with him, well he was always going to come off second best. Having said that, as Angelo Dundee said, ‘Leonard went into that fight a boy and came out a man.’
Duran got arguably the best win of his career, it was certainly his career defining fight I would say, and Leonard became a better fighter because of that first fight. He got battered for the first five or six rounds. He got hammered. he came through it though. From the third or fourth round, that fight is something special.
For me, Leonard and Duran had the perfect fight symmetry. Their styles just clashed and synched so well. Their styles suited because Leonard showed that although he was never going to be Duran’s master on the inside, he was willing to meet him at close quarters. When Duran was driving Leonard back, Leonard was actually trying to punch Duran off as he was advancing but because Duran had been doing that all day, every day since he turned pro, he was able to adapt. Duran was always finish the exchanges, that’s where he was so clever. I still watch that fight now and I still get goosebumps. For me, it was certainly Duran’s greatest performance. It encompassed much of what he did well as a fighter.
In the second fight, Leonard stuck to his gameplan from the minute he got in the ring. He decided he was going to box and move and make Duran keep resetting his feet. He knew he was a better boxer and had better feet and decided to demonstrate it. The Leonard camp weren’t stupid. If you look at Duran’s body, it wasn’t the same body that he had months earlier. They knew it was the right time to fight due to Duran’s propensity for blowing up in weight. The rest is history. For me, Leonard looked in better condition than he did for the first fight and that was exemplified in the exchanges on the ropes, where Leonard came off the stronger and was also successful in tying Duran up and nullifying Duran’s strengths.
I know Duran wasn’t in the shape he was for their first fight five months earlier but when it comes down to it, he signed a contract for a fight in November and he turned up. I always say that winners write history, not the losers. At that time I was a mad, mad Leonard fan. I woke up in the morning and found out that he’d won and I was elated. As the years go by I developed a manic appreciation for Duran and the circumstances did make me think. That was just Duran though. That was his make up. I think thats why he’s revered. I think it would be disrespectful to use it as an excuse for him losing the second fight. A Leonard that good was always going to be very hard to beat just as Duran was so hard to beat a few months earlier.
Which was Leonard’s best performance? Was it Duran 2 or was it his performance in the first Hearns fight? Considering the magnitude of the man he was fighting and the way he went about employing the gameplan, for me the Duran rematch has to be Leonard’s most impressive fight. He didn’t get hurt, whereas in the Hearns fight they took turns hurting each other. Leonard was also behind in the fourteenth round of that magnificent fight, so from a technical point of view that wasn’t a perfect performance. It was a gut wrenching, balls to the wall performance.
As I said, we touched on Bernard Hopkins beating Felix Trinidad in the last column. Trinidad had been in some great fights but from a technical point of view, it was always going to be a hard fight for him but because Trinidad had gone from welterweight to middleweight and was banging out guys like Joppy, though, peoples thoughts changed going in to this fight. There had been a really good build up and with the Puerto Rican filling Madison Square Garden, Hopkins was the enemy but he put in such a complete performance.
If a kid ever asks me, ‘What is boxing?’’ I tell them to watch Hopkins against Trinidad. He did it all. He took Felix’s left hook away by moving to the left but it was the counter punches that really took hold of Trinidad. Because Trinidad was such a thunderous puncher, he didn’t move his head much after unloading his volleys because he was so used to people going over. Hopkins was nullifying what he was doing but also counter punching. Not necessarily with hard punches but with scoring punches that also had a debilitating effect. As the fight goes on, Hopkins stops moving away from the left hook but slips inside it or blocks it with his own right hand and counters over it. It’s called rolling the right hand over. That was the last shot that dropped Trinidad.
We have to put in Floyd Mayweather beating Diego Corrales. Corrales was on such a roll at that time but this when Floyd was at his best. He was knocking guys out too. For a tall man Corrales loved to work at short to mid range but Floyd never gave him that. Floyd gave him movement. He punched off angles and people always talk about the check hook he caught Ricky Hatton with, but he was using loads of those in the Corrales fight often to get himself out of danger. He also looked strong and in great condition.
Corrales would have him on the ropes and Floyd was able to spin him and take advantage. To beat a good fighter you have to nullify what they do best and that was probably our first real glimpse of Floyd’s defensive prowess as much as what he was doing offensively, because to nullify that Corrales took some doing. It was seen as a close fight going in but it turned into Floyd’s coming out party.
My God, the atmosphere when Salvador Sanchez beat Wilfredo Gomez! Sanchez didn’t let Gomez have any real success at any point in that fight. He was just dominant. Sanchez had wonderful balance, a high workrate, and great timing. He was also a superb body puncher. He had the ability to make somebody miss and he was a wonderful combination puncher.
He punched in fours and fives often which is something you don’t see often nowadays. He was a complete fighter but the one thing that stuck out to me was that wherever he was moving in the ring, he always looked like he was in control.
His performance against Gomez was complete. He was never going to be that good ever again but to have that one night against a noted fighter. Wow. He managed to make Gomez look like a brawler.
No fighter wants to be filled with any doubt. They just want to be enhanced. When Adam Booth had David Haye fighting Jean Marc Mormeck, he told David that ‘Mormeck is small, stocky and will throw punches over the top. He’s all wrong for you.’ so they worked with that in mind.
You don’t often hear that. You hear lots of trainers singing and dancing about what their fighter does well and how confident that are going in to this fight instead of addressing what the opponent does well and what you need to nullify. Once you nullify what an opponent does well, the rest is gravy. You have to accept what an opponent is good at. If you ignore that, then that might just be the end of you.
In all of the fights we’ve just spoken about, the winner nullified what the opponent did well and then they took advantage of what they do well.