Mayorga-Forrest and the Golden Era

By Thomas Hauser
This weekend's fight between Ricardo Mayorga and Vernon Forrest brings an interesting phenomenon to the fore.

The heavyweight championship is considered by many to be the best barometer of the health of boxing. When Muhammad Ali reigned the second time around, when Mike Tyson was in his prime, the sport was considered alive and well. By contrast, when Frans Botha, Bruce Seldon, and Frank Bruno shared the alphabet-soup titles, boxing was thought to be on life support.

But some fight fans look to a different measure -- great fights between great fighters. By that standard, two decades ago, the sweet science was in a golden age. Sugar Ray Leonard, Thomas Hearns, Marvin Hagler, Roberto Duran, and Wilfred Benitez engaged in 12 memorable fights against one another. Nine of them occurred in a five-and-a-half-year period. Leonard Hagler, Leonard-Hearns II, and Leonard-Duran III were tacked on at the end; the latter two as an afterthought to the era. All 12 of these bouts were waged between 147 and 160 pounds.

Hey, gang; guess what! Oscar De la Hoya, Felix Trinidad, Vernon Forrest, Shane Mosley, Bernard Hopkins, and Fernando Vargas, have ushered in a new golden era. And recently, Ricardo Mayorga crashed the party. These men have fought eight memorable bouts against one another during the past three-and-a-half years. The Mayorga-Forrest and De La Hoya-Mosley rematches will bring that total to 10. Their encounters have been just as exciting as the superfights of 20 years ago. And like their predecessors, these bouts have been, and will continue to be, contested at between 147 and 160 pounds.

Let's take a look at both eras, starting with the records of the fighters from 1980s against one another.

11/30/79 Wilfred Benitez KO 15
6/20/80 Roberto Duran L15
11/25/80 Roberto Duran KO 8
9/16/81 Thomas Hearns KO 14
4/6/87 Marvin Hagler W12
6/12/89 Thomas Hearns D12
12/7/89 Roberto Duran W12

9/16/81 Sugar Ray Leonard L14
12/3/82 Wilfred Benitez W12
6/15/84 Roberto Duran KO 2
4/15/85 Marvin Hagler KO by 3
6/12/89 Sugar Ray Leonard D12

11/10/83 Roberto Duran W15
4/15/85 Thomas Hearns KO3
4/6/87 Sugar Ray Leonard L12

6/20/80 Sugar Ray Leonard W15
11/25/80 Sugar Ray Leonard KO by 8
1/30/82 Wilfred Benitez L15
11/10/83 Marvin Hagler L15
6/15/84 Thomas Hearns KO by 2
12/7/89 Sugar Ray Leonard L12

11/30/79 Sugar Ray Leonard KO by 15
1/30/82 Roberto Duran W15
12/3/82 Thomas Hearns L15

Now let's look at the current elite in the same weight divisions.

Oscar De La Hoya is one of two always-bankable fighters in boxing today. The other is Mike Tyson. Critics complain that De La Hoya has done everything but insist on a clause in fight contracts mandating that opponents enter the ring to the latest CD of Golden Boy love songs. But Oscar can fight.

Felix Trinidad did everything that was asked of him in the ring except beat Bernard Hopkins. If he had done that, his picture would be on the wall next to Jesus in every home in Puerto Rico. Tito may, or may not, stay retired.

Vernon Forrest surprised the world against Shane Mosley. Then he surprised the world again when he got knocked out by Ricardo Mayorga. Now the question is, "How will he do in the Mayorga rematch and against the other elite fighters?"

Sugar Shane lost twice to Forrest. But he's still the only man to have clearly beaten De La Hoya.

Bernard Hopkins has an attitude; and in the ring, he uses it to his advantage. Outside the ring, Bernard also has an attitude. Don King recently explained the difficulty in making big-money fights for Hopkins. "You have to understand," King wailed. "Bernard is crazy. I can't control him. Who ever controlled him?"

Unlike the other-mentioned fighters, Fernando Vargas probably won't be in the Hall of Fame. But he's a superb inquisitor. Emanuel Steward once said, "Guys with tough insides make great fights." Vargas has tough insides. At age 25, he's also considerably younger than De La Hoya and Trinidad (both 30), Mosley (31), Forrest (32), and Hopkins (38). Still, Vargas took bad beatings against Trinidad and De La Hoya and was in worse shape after his fight against Oscar than most people realized.

Ricardo Mayorga is the upstart in the group; a fighter who came out of nowhere. And he can punch.

Here's how the members of today's elite have performed so far against one another:

9/18/99 Felix Trinidad L12
6/17/00 Shane Mosley L12
9/14/02 Fernando Vargas KO 11

9/18/99 Oscar De La Hoya W12
12/2/00 Fernando Vargas KO 12
9/29/01 Bernard Hopkins KO by 12

1/26/02 Shane Mosley W12
7/20/02 Shane Mosley W12
1/25/03 Ricardo Mayorga KO by 3

6/17/00 Oscar De La Hoya W12
1/26/02 Vernon Forrest L12
7/20/02 Vernon Forrest L12

9/29/01 Felix Trinidad KO 12

12/2/00 Felix Trinidad KO by 12
9/14/02 Oscar De La Hoya KO by 11

1/25/03 Vernon Forrest KO 3

There are a lot of dream matches against one another for today's elite if they want them. They also match up nicely in dream encounters against their predecessors. So fight fans, take note. You're witnessing some wonderful history in the making.
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