I’d like to kick things off this evening by saying that every fighter included in the following list had very long and fruitful careers.
This is not a list of fighters that never lived up to their potential, or guys who retired too early.
Many of the guys on this list were unfortunate to have died as young men, or worse yet; via unnatural causes, however the point I’m trying to make here is this:
Boxing is a violent sport that has the potential to permanently damage or injure it’s participants.
Regardless of how many fights a boxer engages in, whether it’s 1 or 100; serious injury or loss of faculties are a risk one always faces in stepping into the ring.
For what it’s worth, this is me saying that I understand it’s silly to ask more, even in jest; from men who already gave so much.
That being said, the following is a list of 5 fighters who I could watch forever; and thusly wish I could’ve seen in action just a few more times.
#5. “Baby” Joe Mesi
Despite retiring undefeated, Joe Mesi was never the best fighter around.
He was relatively small for a heavyweight.
He was more than little pudgy.
More importantly though, he never really got around to fighting anyone of note.
On paper, he sounds like kind of loser, doesn’t he?
Well, despite the fact that “Baby” Joe made his livings chewing up guys from the bum of the month club; he was in fact at one point the #1 contender in the heavyweight division.
He never won a legitimate world championship, but he made it all the way to Wladimir Klitschko’s doorstep; and gooddamnit, that counts for something.
“Baby” Joe was the Rocky Marciano of his day.
Sure, he didn’t have power, grit, or tenacity of The Brockton Blockbuster; but he was a short white guy in a division packed with… well, really tall white guys from Europe.
As it continues to slip out of the mainstream, boxing is always in need of a people’s champion, and for the American public (or at least Buffalo, New York); “Baby” Joe fit the bill.
I’d never claim him to be a great fighter, but I’ll never deny how much fun I had watching him climb the ranks and come away with inexplicable win after win.
Half of the fun of watching “Baby” Joe, was having to come into every fight knowing it completely possible that he’d get flattened.
Every time he’d get in trouble, my brother and I would scream with mock passion: “BABY JOE! NOOOO!!!!!”
“Baby” Joe effectively made his exit from the sport in 2004 when he suffered a subdural hematoma at the hands of former cruiserweight champion Vassiliy Jirov.
Many speculate that the current state of the heavyweight division would be considerably more colorful had “Baby” Joe not been forced into retirement prematurely, and I’m inclined to agree.
While I’d never wish for him to fight on after his injury, (note: he did anyway, though only in small venues due to difficulty finding licensing) however after watching his climb through the ranks, I wish I could’ve seen him challenge for a title.
#4. Edwin Valero
Underneath the surface though, it becomes evident that Valero was far more talented than the events of his career might have suggested.
Forced to fight out of Japan due to licensing issues associated with spotty brain scans, the vast majority of the buzz in U.S. surrounding Valero’s career was generated via internet streams of his fights.
Originally from Venezuela, Edwin Valero was a Southpaw fighter possessed of an uncanny punching power that would ultimately cement his place in boxing history.
In 27 fights, Valero managed a 100% KO ratio, with his first 19 bouts all ending inside the first round.
While it could be argued that the vast majority of his opposition was indeed severely over-matched, none can deny that Valero legitimately achieved this world record feat.
Coming across as a brick-fisted brawler utterly devoid of any sort of technical skills, it’s interesting to note that Valero was in fact a supremely talented boxer.
The truth of the matter is, that Valero was so in love with his incredible power; that throughout the majority of his career he simply chose to swing for the fences all the time because he knew he could get away with it.
Though in his later fights, against more solid opposition; inklings of Valero’s brilliant footwork and jabbing skills would begin to shine through, for the most part, the guy was perfectly content to leave his bag of tricks in the gym.
Sadly, Valero committed suicide just last year shortly after going to prison for murdering his wife.
Clearly possessed of some serious personal issues, it nonetheless makes me sad that Valero would never get a chance to test his mettle against top flight talent, particularly Manny Pacquiao; who he shared weight classes with for much of his career.
#3. Salvador Sanchez
Salvador Sanchez is one of my favorite boxers of all time.
His entire career took place years before I was born, but everything I’ve seen and read about him has me convinced that he was a truly special fighter.
Hell, when I was a kid I used to think he was cool purely because of his poofy hair.
A technical fighter if ever there was one, Sanchez nevertheless showed all of the grit and toughness that Mexican fighters are known for around the world.
Not exactly that big of a puncher, his expert footwork and extraordinarily fast-paced rhythm allowed him to befuddle his opponents; often luring them into KO traps by way of the disparity in their technical competence.
Despite having a very fruitful career, Sanchez ended up dieing in a car crash while still in possession of the featherweight title.
He was only 23 years old, and a had one of the brightest futures in boxing that one could imagine.
#2. Rocky Marciano
Oh give me a break, you knew this was coming; right?
Rocky Marciano represents one of the greatest stories in boxing history.
I love him to death, but it’d be foolish of me to claim that he was the best of the best.
It feels weird saying it, but I’m one of those guys that, in the Muhammad Ali vs. Rocky Marciano simulation; would definitely be rooting for Marciano, but ultimately expecting Ali to win.
He was a tough son of a bitch, he trained twice as hard most of the people he fought, and he could punch like a mule kicks; but in the end Marciano was just a tiny heavyweight with a lot of guts.
Nevertheless, he was a tiny heavyweight that never lost, and rarely failed in knocking the fuck out of his opponents.
In the current age of sports science and giant heavyweights, I don’t think Marciano would do to well; but in his time, he was the king of the castle.
When Marciano retired, and abdicated his title; there were a handful of guys that likely would’ve wanted a crack at him.
Archie Moore, who was Marciano’s last opponent; still had a few good fights left in him.
Tommy Jackson was a solid competitor who held Floyd Patterson to a split decision.
And of course, Floyd Patterson himself would ultimately be the one to claim Marciano’s vacant title; which of course would be the biggest (and most plausible) “what if” match I wish we’d seen in Marciano’s career.
Of course, Marciano would retire, and stay retired in 1956; only to tragically die in a plane crash in 1959.
I’m pretty sure The Rock made the wise decision in retiring when he did, however I don’t think I’m alone in wishing that he turned that 49-0 record into a 50-0 one.
Records are always easier to remember when they’re in multiples of 10…
#1. Arturo Gatti
I didn’t even need to think about this one.
Arturo Gatti was singlehandedly responsible for converting boxing from a sport I used to watch to spend quality time with my dad, to something I obsessed about and became emotionally invested in.
Boxing writers and commentators like to throw around the term “blood and guts” warrior when talking about fighters that lay it all the line every time they step into the ring.
Everyone who was fortunate to have seen Gatti in action during his prime knows that he is the man these people are thinking of when they use this term.
In the ring, Gatti was the definition of toughness and heart.
Originally from Montreal, but adopted by Jersey City, New Jersey, he’d take 1,000 to give you 1, and more often than not; he’d ending up beating you in the process.
My brother and I used to joke that Gatti’s face would start swelling on the ramp, before ever stepping into the ring.
That’s just the way he was.
While his epicly poor weight management was likely the culprit responsible, if Gatti wasn’t cut or swollen by the end of the night; then it wasn’t a Gatti fight.
That’s like a Steven Seagal movie without an instance where he doesn’t flip some poor son of a bitch by the wrist.
It just doesn’t happen.
While I know it sounds like I’m some immature fuck who’s into boxing for the blood and violence, when it came to Gatti; the real reason we all watched was just that:
We wanted to see him, win or lose.
He was that guy that always seemed to have the cards stacked against him, yet somehow he’d always come behind a surprise us all with something magical.
Even when he didn’t win, there was just something about him that made us love him.
When he lost, there were no feelings of disappointment or anger.
We were just happy to have seen the (no doubt, spectacular) show that he put on.
I’ll never forget what he said when asked why he was going to win his ill-fated match with Floyd Mayweather:
“Because I’m a nice guy!”
Even though I’ve read plenty of reports to the contrary of that statement, it was stuff like this that made Gatti one of the most endearing fighters of his time.
The last few years of his career were less than stellar, in fact it was kind of sad; but you better believe I tuned in regardless.
Such was the power of Gatti, that he could continue to show up, a complete shadow of his former self; but still draw hopeful crowds regardless.
When Gatti was utterly broken by Alfonso Gomez in his last fight, everyone knew that was how it had to end.
He was starting to look pretty bad by then, but short of dieing in the ring; I don’t think anything could’ve stopped Gatti from slipping on the gloves one last time for his fans.
As I’m sure everyone is aware, Arturo Gatti was murdered in Brazil, allegedly by his wife; in 2009.
In leaving boxing, Gatti left a void that I scarcely believe will be filled in my lifetime.
HBO likes to call every tough fighter with heart the “second coming” of Gatti.
That’s bullshit and they know it.
4 Fights of the Year and countless classic battles are not something achieved by just any bum with a chin.
The sad part is that you can tell that they want a Gatti for their network so badly; that they callously throw his name around any time a decent fight starts to brew.
That’s how much boxing misses Gatti.
That’s how much we all miss Gatti.