By Ted Sares
In my era, Anthony Florian Zaleski, better known as Tony Zale from Gary, Indiana was the first. “The Man of Steel” had the reputation of being able to take fearsome punishment and still rally to win…reinforcing his nickname. Zale was as a fearsome body puncher, who punished his opponents and steadily wore them down before knocking them out. All three of his wars with Rocky Graziano and his brutal one with the great Marcel Cerdan were awarded Ring Magazine fights of the year.
Zale had a certain something that I was just getting to recognize…a certain quality. As fellow writer Craig Parrish states in another piece entitled, “Tony Zale: The Man of Steel.” “…Graziano was quoted once as saying, ‘there’s only one way you can lick Zale—you Gotta kill him’…Tony Zale was a devastating puncher with a granite chin who always gave as good as he got. A fighter who might not have had the best tools, but made up for it…” By the way, Graziano had this quality too.
Rocco Francis Marchegiano (better known as Rocky Marciano) possessed it. Oh boy, did he ever. Always well conditioned, Marciano liked to keep moving forward and attacking, often absorbing much punishment but also handing out more. He just kept boring in relentlessly, kept coming and coming, throwing brutal shots and lethal hooks to any exposed parts of his opponents upper bodies….shoulder, arms, ribs, face….until he broke them down and closed them out.
He refused to lose. He might be bloodied, but he wouldn't be beaten. His ko’s of Joe Walcott in 1952, Roland LaStarza in 1953 (he relentlessly pounded away at LaStarza’s biceps until he could barely lift his arms, then knocked him out in the 11th round) and Ezzard Charles in 1953 reflected this quality, and earned him Ring Magazine’s Fight of the Year.
Jake LaMotta had it too, and while he had a bit more finesse then the Rock, he would still keep charging in like the “Raging Bull” that he was, relentless and unforgiving, until he had his man helpless and bloodied. Laurent Dauthuille found this out at 2.47 of the 15th round in his classic battle with LaMotta in 1950. This too was a Ring Magazine Fight of the Year and had one of the most remarkable endings in boxing history.
Incredibly, from 1955 through 1959, Carmen Basilio was involved in Ring Magazine’s Fight of the Year, and one of the reasons was that he would never stop coming, would not let up, would have to be carried out of the ring before he stopped coming forward.
Joe Frazier was the poster child for this trait. After all, his nickname was “Smokin” and that’s what he did. Kept coming at you like a train, throwing lethal hooks until one connected and that was that. Joe only knew one way, and that was incoming. At times, it cost him dearly but he was willing to pay the price.
Bobby Chacon was another and it later cost him dearly as well, but he was relentless and remorseless and did not know what “backing up” meant. His fights with Boza Edwards and Bazooka Limon were legendary.
Michael Carbajal, Humberto Gonzalez, and the late Robert Quiroga and Kid Akeem Anifowoshe most definitely had this characteristic. They were warriors in the true sense with no quit in them. And my Lord, neither did Arturo Gatti or Irish Mickey Ward have quit.
Marvin Hagler’s’ three rounds of unmitigated fury and savagery with Thomas Hearns placed both in this category. And of course, we must not neglect Chavez and Duran, both raging and savage bulls in their own right.
A prime Iron Mike Tyson could have been the essence of it. When the bell rang, he turned into a wrecking ball until the building was brutally knocked down. It was full steam ahead and he didn’t stop until his opponent lay prone. Regrettably, in one of boxing’s biggest “what ifs,” he just lost it at some point along the way.
And in February 1995, “The Dark Destroyer,” Nigel Benn fought heavy hitter Gerald McClellan in a punch-out that no one will ever forget both for its fury and its tragic ending. These two would have been willing to die in the ring before quitting. South Korean warrior Duk Koo Kim did just that on November 13,1982 against Ray Boom Boom Mancini.
Morales, Barrera, O’Neill Bell, and Pacquiao are modern practioners of the art. Of course, a prime Evander Holyfield was an example of the quintessential dogged fighter. He is one of a few boxers to transcend the sport in these past many years and he did this by winning wars with incredibly tough opposition.
Rugged guys like Dwight Qawi, George Foreman, Larry Holmes, Bert Cooper, Riddick Bowe, Ray Mercer, Michael Dokes, Michael Moorer, John Ruiz, Mike Tyson and many more. He was a warrior, nothing more and nothing less; he was not into boxing theatrics or feigned prefight antics.
Diego Corrales may be the purest form of what I am talking about here. Hopefully, he has not given too much. And hopefully, neither has Scott Pemberton. Heck, anyone watching Vinny Maddalone battle Brian Minto or Courtney Burton go to war with Ebo Elder knows what I’m talking about here. And did you see Matthew Saad Muhammad and Indian Yaqui Lopez go to the brink?
The beating Ricardo Mayorga took against Tito Trinidad was horrific but he just kept getting back up in an incredible display of courage. He was willing to die in that ring that night. In a classic brawl against Ron Lyle, George Foreman was knocked down three times. After returning to his corner, he was asked by his trainer, “Do you really want it?”
Foreman decided that he did and then went out and ko’d the tough Lyle. What he showed that night is what boxing fans admire the most in a fighter…its why they fill the hall to capacity in Atlantic City to see a Gatti or Ward or why they fill the arena in Manchester to watch Ricky Hatton go to war. Fear is not a part of their DNA and pain has no meaning to these men.
The above are representative of those fighters who have the quality I am trying to nail down. They were or are ceaseless aggressors, on-coming warriors who will gladly absorb two or three punches just for the opportunity of landing one. I know I have left many valiant warriors out and I apologize for that (they manifestly have earned an apology), but space simply does not permit their inclusion. Many are legends and many remain under the radar screen. Indeed, many do battle at local clubs and many fight in top venues or on PPV.
Is it courage, athletic prowess, or an urge to brutalize people that sets these title-winning boxers apart from the rest? Most have been engaged in a “Fight of the Year.” None knew or knows the words “I quit.” None refused to stay down and many had to be saved by their corner. All had a doggedness and an uncommon persistent determination. All were tenacious and men of purpose…..that purpose being to beat their opponent no matter what it took….and for some it took too much.
Now I may not know how to measure this quality, but I can recognize it when I see it; I can sure as hell see if a fighter has HEART?
“There’s only one way you can lick [Tony] Zale—you Gotta kill him.” Rocky Graziano
Ted Sares is a Member of the Boxing Writers Association of America and is a boxing historian. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org