I know why the caged bird sings. I liken my growth in boxing to that of the coming of age for the great poet, Maya Angelou. You’ve been here before as well. If you haven’t, let this be the introduction in the coils of debate that will pull you even further than the galaxy you live in. The age old debates of which fighters of the current era can defeat those of the past, what is generally considered modern era.
Admittedly, I used to be confident and stern in my opinion that the fighters of today would easily dispatch of those in the past. Let the boos rain down. To that point I honestly never put much thought into it and based everything on my interpretation on what I could actually see happening in the ring, now. I also took into account advancements in medicine, nutrition, technology, and new training methods. I didn’t care to take the time to actually look into the history of some of the fighters of the past. This was me in my early and younger boxing days. A shame, I know. Something eventually clicked, and I now have a perspective I can call my own.
What needs to be understood is the fact that it’s extremely hard to compare eras at face value. Sure, judgement can be made on the talent that certain fighters possess merely based on the eyesight test. For instance, you don’t need a scribe to convince you that Roberto “Hands of Stone” Duran is one of the greatest fighters of all time. This assessment can be made by simply looking at one of his many fights against elite level competition from his era. On the same topic, you don’t need anyone to convince you of the talent a fighter like Floyd “Money” Mayweather, JR. has. If you’re not convinced at this point then there is definitely something clouding your judgement and nothing anyone can do themselves to change that other than getting you a new set of eyes.
Taking all of that into account, what would take some extreme persuasion is trying to convince me that one or the other would definitively defeat the other fighter. Many from the era of Duran would tell you that Duran ices Mayweather, JR. with few problems. Contrarily, a die-hard Mayweather, JR. supporter would lead one to believe that Duran would likely not even touch Mayweather, JR. had they fought each other in their primes. Many would point to the infamous ‘No Mas’ fight as the definite answer to the question.
The problem there, of course, is that Ray Leonard and Mayweather, JR. are two completely different fighters with almost clashing mentalities. Watch a few videos on your own and you’ll surely come to that realization quickly. While Mayweather, JR. relies heavily on his defense and throwing pot-shots, rarely taking punishment, Ray Leonard is one of the greatest offensive talents and closers that boxing has ever seen. This is not to say that defensively Mayweather, JR. isn’t one of the greatest, though he would convince you that he’s the sole heir to that throne. Styles make fights. Then you have to factor in things like weight and what was the best division for each fighter.
It gets even tougher the further you dig back. Take a guy like Henry “Homicide Hank” Armstrong for example. In this current era of catchweight fights, we see a lot of meeting in between. Armstrong simultaneously held titles at featherweight, lightweight, and welterweight. Yes, you read that right newbies. Not only that, he did it in an era when there was only one belt per weight class. None of these alphabet titles. The true definition of lineal champion. In order to be the man he had to beat the man!
Additionally, he narrowly lost out on winning a title at middleweight in controversial fashion with many feeling as though Armstrong deserved the nod. Oh yeah, he also finished his career having fought 181 times. Armstrong’s run in comparison to today’s fighters can’t truly be quantified. He fought 22 times in 1937 alone. That would be unheard of these days there are fighters today who look like they may have the talent to give Armstrong a run. But, there’s no way to really know. It was a whole different ballgame back then and fighters fought so often because they couldn’t afford months off like fighters today. Those fighters were tough and had much grit.
Fighters adapt to their circumstances. Armstrong’s style suggests he would have adapted well with today’s fighters. It would be a sight to see. Just as it would to be to see Anthony Joshua in with a young and vicious George Foreman. Something would have to give I suppose. Who would win between Carlos Monzon and Bernard Hopkins? That’s a question that’s harder to answer than you think. Picture Gene Fullmer Vs Gennady Golovkin. I could go on forever.
Essentially, this is my opinion on the matter and like me I’m sure that you have your own opinion as well. Depending who you ask, your opinion would be just as valid as mine. The beauty of it is that we can find any random boxing fan and dwell on things like this easily. That’s the beauty of the sport. The greatest sport with the most storied history. The sweet science.Contact the Feature Writers