By Ted Sares
Back in the day, work went by faster on Friday knowing that you’d be seeing Danny Lopez, Arturo Gatti or Matthew Saad Muhammad fight on TV over the weekend. On Monday, another one of boxing’s ultimate thrill rides, James “The Outlaw” Hughes, would be the subject of much discussion around the office coffee machine. The common thread of such warriors was their mindboggling ability to snatch victory from certain defeat right up to the last second of the last round, but more importantly, the unwavering faith in their ability to do this.
Danny “Little Red” Lopez’s stoppage of Juan Malvarez was typical of Danny’s come-from-behind dramatics. Danny had been beaten badly for three minutes and forty-four seconds and seemed on the brink of going down for good when he unleashed a right to Juan’s jaw that spelled “Finito.” Time and again, Little Red worked his magic and gave fans something special.
Heck, Danny was Matthew Saad Muhammad before Saad did his incredible thing.
What Saad did against Marvin Johnson, Yaqui Lopez, Billy Douglas and others during the Era of the Great Light Heavyweights could not have been scripted better in Hollywood. But then in December of 1981, all of the wars and a buzzsaw from Camden, New Jersey named Dwight Muhammad Qawi caught up with him and the remaining ride became a tragic one.
Saad, however, was Arturo Gatti before Gatti.
Gatti, an Italian-Canadian nicknamed “Thunder,” launched his career just as Saad was moving down the wrong side of the bell-shaped curve. In three consecutive years, beginning with his come-from-behind knockout of Wilson Rodriguez in 1996, Gatti (pictured) had fights that came to be cited as candidates for “Fight of the Year.” In October of 1997, he sedated Gabriel Ruelas (44-3) with a left cross from hell after having absorbed an ungodly number of consecutive punches. To no one’s surprise, the bout was named “Fight of the Year” by The Ring magazine. He would participate in three more Ring“Fight of the Year” affairs, cementing his legacy as one of the most exciting fighters ever--and the excitement he generated eventually put him into the International Boxing Hall of Fame.
Carl Froch also had the knack and his last second demolition of Jermaine Taylor was a classic illustration of his ability to generate drama in a come-from-behind fashion.
Today’s top fighters seem to be more methodical and predictable in getting their wins with Mikey Garcia or Donnie Nietes being the prototypes of a fighter who will break down his opponent and/or take a knockout if the opportunity presents itself.
Terence Crawford arguably might be an exception—or a potential exception-- as he is capable of making mid-fight adjustments when things aren’t going his way. Undefeated Yuriorkis Gamboa found this out the hard way.
One fight, however, does not make a Saad.
Jarrett Hurd, with his late power, has the makings but needs more time, and a now more vulnerable Roman Gonzalez perhaps meets the thrill ride standard.
Two other names come to mind.
When Francisco Vargas came back to stop Takashi Miura after being decked in the fourth round of their WBC super featherweight title fight in 2015, some said it was the the most dramatic comeback since Chico Corrales’s 10th round stoppage of Jose Luis Castillo in 2005. It was a FOTY type affair.
Vargas, from Mexico City and known as “El Bandido,” delivered another rousing "Fight of the Year" performance in 2016 when he fought to a draw against Orlando Salido.
Vargas was badly cut in both of the aforementioned fights and these cuts reopened against rugged fellow Mexican Miguel Berchelt leading to “El Bandido" being stopped in round 11. He was cut on the bridge of his nose in round three and was cut over each eye in round four, the second a nasty cut from an accidental headbutt making his face a symmetrically bloody mess. He is now on the comeback trail with a record 25-1-2 and with guaranteed thrills whenever he fights.
Deontay Wilder’s performance against Luis Ortiz warrants mention as the kind of comeback fans have come to miss in recent years. And as he proved against Tyson Fury, no matter whom he fights or where he fights, he could win it with one second remaining in the last round. Friday will go by a bit faster waiting on the “The Bronze Bomber” to do his thing again.
Ted Sares is one of the world’s oldest active power lifters and Strongman competitors. He is a lifetime member of Ring 10, and a member of Ring 4 and its Boxing Hall of Fame. He also is an Auxiliary Member of the Boxing Writers Association of America (BWAA).