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Modern Boxing Trilogy: Part II – Julio Cesar Chavez, Evander Holyfield & More

By Mike Plunkett

This week RSR reviews four modern post-1980 boxing trilogies, three with varying levels of controversy and intrigue and the other perhaps the very best ever produced by its respective weight class. Of the eight men reviewed this week from #14 through #11, three were marquee names, two of which were among the pound per pound best during their heyday and one who will no doubt go down in heavyweight infamy, if not for one reason then maybe another. Ironically, a 9th name looms ominous to three of the four trilogies on this week’s list, one of which should never have gone beyond the halfway point of the first bout, the next a ridiculous case of wash-rinse-repeat and the third, an act of transparent maneuvering for the sake of preserving the viability of a once legendary cash cow. For the hardcore fan, these should be considered mandatory viewing, for the young fight fan looking to take in all that the sport has to offer, I highly recommend a review of each, if not for their historical impact then for the intrigue and drama they offer.

#14 – Evander Holyfield vs. John Ruiz

Some trilogies you just can’t get enough of while others like this one you wish had never occurred. These two first paired up in August 2000 for the vacant WBA heavyweight title. Just shy of his 38th birthday, Holyfield struggled to edge the bullish charges of the much younger Ruiz to win his fourth heavyweight championship by unanimous 12-round decision in an ugly controversial affair. Forget the fact that Holyfield was a decade past his best or that what rightfully should have gone down as a TKO victory in his favor were eclipsed by Ruiz’ bargain basement theatrics. The blown calls in this match-up spawned a rematch nobody except promoter Don King wanted and a rubber match nobody, save King, dared dream of. And it all seemed to drag on forever.

They met again for the rematch seven months later in March 2001. This time Holyfield fought with just one eye open, snoozing through seemingly countless listless exchanges after hurting Ruiz early with his now famous Billy Goat tactics. In round 11 a sneaky Ruiz right hand decked the aging heavyweight great, who by now was two quarts low and doing his best just to survive. The official verdict was a unanimous decision in favor of ‘The Quiet Man’, making him the first Hispanic heavyweight champion in history while providing Don King with the notion somebody wanted to see these two go at it once again. Nine month later in December 2001 ‘The Real Deal’ managed to reach back a few years, manhandling a less than optimally conditioned Ruiz and looking as though he had successfully wrested the WBA title to give him his 5th heavyweight championship, only to have the fight officially declared a draw. The outrage, however minimal, was there all too briefly, but the reality was nobody wanted to see these two dance yet another song.

#13 – Terry Norris vs. Luis Santana

This trilogy has to rank as the most bizarre post-1980. Having at one time possessed the hand speed, reflexes and cat-like agility of a prime ‘Sugar’ Ray Leonard, the man he defeated some four years earlier, ‘Terrible’ Terry had just reclaimed the WBC light middleweight title after a disastrous end to 1993 and was looking to regain the championship momentum he had before the crash and burn against Simon Brown. Amazingly, the vastly inferior Luis Santana, a 38-15-2 journeyman out of the Dominican Republic was chosen to play opposite Norris.

Like the previous trilogy, curious acting skills (hold that thought) altered the course of events necessitating a rematch. As was so often the case post-1992, Norris tore after his challenger looking to score an explosive knockout. Drawn into unnecessary prolonged exchanges, the increasingly vulnerable two-time champion found himself on the deck in the 3rd. Enraged, Norris seemed to pull out all of the stops before having a point deducted in the 4th for head butting. In the 5th, with Santana against the ropes, Norris let loose with a signature two-handed flurry, with one of the punches grazing the back of the challenger’s head. Santana dropped to the canvas seemingly badly hurt by the punch despite the fact most observers felt he had faked the injury. Norris was disqualified and Luis Santana was carried out of the ring on a stretcher as the new WBC light middleweight champion.

Five months after their first meeting Norris and Santana met in a WBC-mandated rematch. As with the first bout, the April 1995 rematch was not without drama. Boxing aggressively, Norris tightened-up his game, eschewing prolonged exchanges and looking to walk the man that had taken his title into something big. Seconds after referee Kenny Bayless broke the fighters as the bell sounded to end the 3rd, Norris landed and explosive power shot, dropping Santana and earning his second straight disqualification loss. Four months after the rematch, and with promoter Don King having engineered yet another opportunity for the more marketable Norris, on network television, no less, ‘Terrible’ Terry managed to do what he had failed to do in the first two battles with Santana; keep his composure, impose his considerable skills on the inferior fighter and emerge victorious with the WBC title strapped around his slim waist.

#12 – JC Chavez vs. Frankie Randall

Although the record books tell us that fringe contender Frankie Randall , 48-2-1, was the first man to hand JC ‘Superstar’ his first career loss in January 1994, the reality was that Chavez, 89-0-1, had been summarily spanked and mugged just four months earlier by Pernell Whitaker. Looking to re-establish the aura he previously had as an unstoppable industrial strength seek and destroy assassin, Chavez found himself increasingly on the short end of several blistering exchanges after a close early going. Boxing smartly and holding his ground, an inspired Randall floored the Mexican icon in the 11th to secure the WBC light welterweight title by split 12-round decision.

In the May 1994 WBC-mandated rematch, Chavez, promoter Don King’s primary money maker outside of former heavyweight Mike Tyson, again found himself on the increasingly short end of a losing battle. Boxing and exchanging briskly, Randall seemed to be lining Chavez up for the stoppage when a sudden clash of heads opened a large cut over Chavez’ eyebrow in the 7th. This is where matters became somewhat hazy and open to interpretation. Refusing to continue, Chavez seemed to surrender when the referee called the ring doctor in to examine the cut, what that point deemed the fighter unable to continue. Deferring the outcome WBC policy, Randall was deducted a point for the head butt, thus giving Chavez the edge needed to emerge as the new WBC champion. Ten years after that inglorious moment, Chavez and Randall met in an anti-climactic rubber match as a sort of goodbye to his Mexican fans. Having slightly more left in the tank by that point, Chavez convincingly defeated his former conqueror, handing Randall a ten-round unanimous decision loss.

#11 – Jeff Harding vs. Dennis Andries

A late substitute for former WBC light heavyweight champion Donny Lalonde, Australia’s Jeff Harding proved to be far more than the limited and inexperienced opponent many expected him to be when he was selected to challenge two-time light heavyweight champion Dennis Andries. Eleven years younger than Andries, 34-7-2, a bruised and cut Harding, 14-0, matched the Englishman in the trenches, outworking and finally wearing him down for a 12th round TKO in a sloppy if entertaining slugfest.
Thirteen months later, in July 1990, the aging Andries defied the odds and Father Time, by returning the favor, stopping the younger, stronger man in seven rounds in hostile territory, becoming for the 3rd time in his career, WBC light heavyweight champion.

Undaunted by the loss and intent on redeeming himself, the ‘Hit Man’ from Down Under matched ‘The Hackney Rock’ punch for punch early to the delight of a roaring crowd at the Odeon Cinema in Hammersmith, London, England. Their September 1991 rubber match easily held-up to their two previous encounters. As the rounds progressed the younger former champion imposed his will, forcing an accelerated pace late. In the end, a battered but unbroken Harding regained the WBC title, ending perhaps the best series of competitive matches ever seen in the light heavyweight division.

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