Contenders—Then and Now

By Mike Silver on November 21, 2012
Contenders—Then and Now
“I coulda been a contender, I coulda had class,” laments Terry Malloy in On the Waterfront.

There is so much more to be said about what has been lost. That is why I spent five years researching and writing an entire book devoted to the subject…

“Only a tiny percentage of today’s contenders would have gotten past the better four and six round club fighters of the 1930s, ‘40s, and ‘50s. They would have been crushed by the competition.”—Emanuel Steward

“I coulda been a contender, I coulda had class,” laments the broken down ex-pug Terry Malloy in the classic 1954 movie On the Waterfront. In the 1950s the word “contender” still carried a certain caché. From the 1920s to the early 1960s a boxer ranked among the top-ten in his weight class by either The Ring magazine or the National Boxing Association was considered a championship caliber boxer—a “contender”. The label conferred instant respect and recognition.

Until the integrity of the rating system was compromised, abused and corrupted in the late 1970s by the insidious promoter/sanctioning body cartels, attaining contender status was not easy because it had to be achieved the old-fashioned way—the fighter had to earn it.

If Terry Malloy were fighting today he could easily achieve contender status with one of the four main “sanctioning organizations” currently polluting boxing’s schizoid landscape. He wouldn’t even have to beat another contender to gain entry. For the past 30 years these self-serving rival organizations have recognized their own set of champions and top ten contenders for 17 weight divisions. That means there are 680 contender slots to fill, resulting in a thin talent pool stretched even thinner.

I was reminded of this fact last week upon being notified of the passing of middleweight contender Herbie Kronowitz. Herbie reached his peak in 1947 when he was briefly rated the ninth best middleweight in the world by The Ring. For the sake of comparison let’s check out the magazine’s top ten rated middleweights for November 1947 next to the ratings for November 2012. (I’ve also included each boxer’s won-lost-draw record.)


1.  Rocky Graziano (45-7-5)
2.  Tony Zale (63-17-2)
3.  Bert Lytell (46-12-4)
4.  Marcel Cerdan (102-2)
5.  Jake LaMotta (63-12-3)
6.  Steve Belloise (77-9-2)
7.  Al Hostak (62-8-10)
8.  Fred Apostoli (61-9-1)
9.  Major Jones (30-1)
10. Anton Raadik (20-6)


1.  Sergio Martinez (50-2-2)
2.  Daniel Geale (28-1)
3.  Felix Sturm (37-3-2)
4.  Gennady Golovkin (24-0)
5.  Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. (46-1-1)
6.  Dmitry Pirog (20-1)
7.  Matthew Macklin (29-4)
8.  Peter Quillin (28-0)
9.  Martin Murray (24-0-1)
10. Hassan N’Dam (27-1)

The statistics reveal only part of the story. Although the old-timers averaged twice as many fights as their 2012 counterparts there are other factors to consider. Far more significant is the quality of competition they had to beat to become contenders.

Rating the Competition 

Boxing historian Dan Cuoco, director of the International Boxing Research Organization (IBRO), and the editor of its outstanding Journal, explains the importance of evaluating a boxer’s competition when comparing the top fighters of different eras:

“Let’s say you were to evaluate at random any of the top middleweights from the 1950s—for example Bobo Olson and Joey Giambra—and made a list of their opponents and then gave those opponents a grade based on overall skill level and the type of opposition they faced. Then do the same with Bernard Hopkins, a modern-day champion who many people think is an all-time great fighter. I think the outcome would be a no-brainer. The old-timers’ level of opposition is going to win out every time.  When you take a look at who Giambra and Olson fought—guys like Tiger Jones, Joey Giardello, Dave Sands, Billy Graham, Randy Turpin, Rocky Castellani, Gil Turner, Ernie Durando, Spider Webb—you can see the difference in the caliber of opposition.

“If Tiger Jones were fighting today he would be a world champion. But there are people who will look at his record and say ‘Oh, he had 20-30 losses, he had to be a bum.’ Well, I say take a look at film of that ‘bum’!  The guy was incredibly tough. He was only stopped once in his career and his opponents were a virtual ‘who’s who’ of the 1950s and 1960s…I’m not just saying the fighters from the ‘50s, ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s were better because that was my era—I’m saying it based on the level of opposition. To me that is the bottom line: The level of opposition.”

Bernard Hopkins vs. Holly Mims

Bernard Hopkins was among the best boxers of the past 20 years. Unlike many of his contemporaries he had the advantage of old school training and was able to acquire some sophisticated boxing skills to go along with his natural talent and athletic intelligence. Those qualities enabled him to stand out amid a sea of mediocrity. But would those skills be enough to put him in the mix of contenders from 50 or 60 years ago?

Teddy Atlas has never pulled his punches when giving opinions. This is the ESPN boxing analyst’s take on Hopkins:  “For today Hopkins is a well-rounded fighter…He was a much better fighter than Felix Trinidad, who was much more one-dimensional. Trinidad was made to order for Hopkins. But, having said that, he still doesn’t come up to all those other things. It’s more a matter of the game being so depleted of real fighters today that if a guy tells us he’s just like an old school fighter and he shows us a little something, we automatically close our eyes and say ‘yes’.

“But the reality is that he’s not beating a Holly Mims or a Joey Giardello, or a Gene Fullmer. He’s not beating any of the top middleweights from the 1940s and 1950s. When he would start to move around and do his stuff and they started hitting him in the body, and they started stepping to him and suddenly they were three inches out of range, and then they were six inches into range before he even knew it and he wouldn’t know how to get rid of them. It would have been a different story…Bernard is a good fighter, but in the era that we are talking of he doesn’t stand out. He becomes just another one of those guys that can’t get it on that level.”

Holly Mims, a TV favorite in the 1950s, was stopped only once in 102 bouts, on a cut eye. During his 19-year career he fought dozens of top contenders. Mims defeated Johnny Bratton, Lester Felton, George Benton, Spider Webb, Jimmy Ellis and Henry Hank. He lost close decisions to Sugar Ray Robinson, Rocky Castellani, Bobby Boyd, Joey Archer, Joey Giardello and Dick Tiger. He was past his prime when outpointed by “Hurricane” Carter, Luis Rodriguez and Emile Griffith but kept his record intact of never having been floored.

Holly Mim’s last bout was in 1967. Twenty-eight years later, in 1995, Bernard Hopkins (26-2-1) stopped Segundo Mercado (18-2-1) to win the middleweight title. Mercado, not exactly a household name, lost eight of his next nine fights, including seven by knockout. Bernard defended his title 20 times over the next 10 years. With the exception of Trinidad and a washed-up Oscar De La Hoya, his challengers were either ordinary club fighters or simply too green and inexperienced to cope with his better-than-average boxing skills. All would have been huge underdogs to any of the top fighters faced by Mims during his lengthy career. None of them could have attained contender status in the 1950s or earlier.

Hopkins was 41 years old when he lost the title to Jermain Taylor (23-0) in 2005.  Taylor was still a work in progress when he lost his title to another novice fighter, Kelly Pavlik (31-0) in 2007.

Historical Context

If we ignore historical context Hopkins’s unprecedented 20 title defenses over 10 years appears as an extraordinary accomplishment—not unlike the record-breaking seven gold medals U.S. boxers won in the 1984 Olympic Games in the absence of their toughest competition, the Cubans and Soviet Bloc countries. But when these countries returned to the games the U.S. never came close to matching that 1984 medal count in seven subsequent Olympics.

Bernard Hopkins was an outstanding champion for his time and a credit to the sport. He cannot be blamed for the quality of his opponents. But the fact that he could remain middleweight champion for 10 years and defend his title 20 times says less about his alleged greatness than it does about how much the sport of boxing has declined relative to the skill level of its top athletes. By not evaluating his record in context encourages a revisionist history that diminishes the accomplishments of the great fighters of the past.

Great middleweight champions such as Sugar Ray Robinson, Harry Greb, Mickey Walker, Marcel Cerdan, Freddie Steele and Jake LaMotta could never have defended their titles 20 times over 10 years against the kind of brutal competition that populated the middleweight division from the 1920s to the 1960s. It is also inconceivable that any of these fighters—no matter how great—could have been dominant in their eras they approached their 40th birthday.

Former middleweight contender Wilbert “Skeeter” McLure knows a thing or two about brutal competition, having fought the likes of Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, Jose Torres and Luis Rodriguez. Before turning pro in 1961 McLure had 148 amateur fights and had won seven national and international titles including an Olympic gold medal. A college graduate with degrees in literature and philosophy, McLure also earned a PhD in psychology and was chairman of the Massachusetts Boxing Commission.

“Boxing, in my opinion, is the only sport in which the participants haven’t gotten better since the 1930s, ‘40s and ‘50s,” says McLure. “Football players today are better than the ones who were playing in the ‘50s. It’s the same with basketball and baseball. The fighters of today couldn’t even hold a candle to the fighters of the 1960s and 1970s. They just couldn’t do it. They were too tough, and too strong and too savvy and too skilled. Part of the reason is owing to the fact that they fought more frequently. You have champions today who fight once a year or twice a year. Anybody who applies his craft to any trade or profession and performs it only twice a year can’t be good. You just cannot develop that way.”

Compounding the Problem

While a lack of activity will hinder the growth and development of a fighter, the problem is further compounded by today’s emphasis on maintaining an undefeated record. Many of today’s up and coming boxers are purposely matched against one tomato can after another. Most of the rounds are not even slightly competitive. (Just check out the huge knockout percentages of today’s contenders and champions—the highest ever in the history of the sport). 

Without enough competitive rounds and fights, and with a schedule that allows for only two to four fights a year, the contenders and champions of today do not have the opportunity to work through their flaws. They are not exposed to the kind of bout-to-bout education and seasoning that empowered the great fighters of the past. 

At least, one would hope, they are learning something in the gym. But unfortunately a dearth of good trainers has created an entire generation of “rock ‘em, sock ‘em” robotic brawlers with minimal boxing skills.

Absent an understanding of boxing science and the perspective of an historical frame of reference it is very easy to praise a talented but technically limited boxer after watching him overwhelm an inferior opponent. That is the reason for the inordinate and unwarranted praise for Wladimir Klitschko following his recent shutout of an obscure heavyweight who would have had trouble securing a six-round preliminary bout at the old 50th Street Garden.

Klitschko’s style is very familiar to students of Olympic boxing history. He fights using the cautious, robotic East European Olympic style that in previous decades did not transfer successfully to the pro ranks. But over the past 20 years the line between amateur and professional boxing has become blurred since most Olympic and national champions rarely advance much beyond their amateur abilities. In today’s boxing world an accomplished and dedicated amateur boxer like Klitschko can use his limited professional skills to dominate a piss-poor field of ordinary boxers.

Klitschko, at 6’ 6” and 247 pounds, is a well-conditioned but overly muscular and painfully slow heavyweight with a tremendous knockout percentage. Yet he could not even knock down his less than mediocre foe despite landing dozens of flush punches. Klitschko was also open to a variety of counterpunches that his equally slow but clueless opponent was unable to exploit. In spite of these shortcomings media attention was centered on Klitschko’s dominating performance and not the poor quality of his opponent. Jersey Joe Walcott, at 6’ and 195 pounds, would have taken out the big Russian in two rounds. I even like the faster, more rugged and aggressive Primo Carnera to outpoint him. 

Thirty-two years ago heavyweight champion Larry Holmes dominated the woefully inadequate “Tex” Cobb while winning a lopsided decision over his hapless opponent. Sportswriters and fans did not glorify Holmes’s performance, nor did they consider his win a measure of greatness. Instead they correctly derided the obvious mismatch. The voluble but grating Howard Cosell was so disgusted he told his audience he was through with boxing and would never announce another match. 

Bigger, Stronger, Faster

Up to now I have not addressed the attitude of many fans who hold that comparisons between fighters from different eras are unfair given that today’s athletes are bigger, stronger and faster than ever. 

On a superficial level the “newer is always better” attitude towards athletic excellence appears to be valid, except for one important caveat; a boxer’s performance, unlike that of a swimmer, track and field athlete, or weightlifter, cannot be defined in terms of finite measurement. Boxing’s interaction of athleticism, experience, technique and psychology is a far more complex activity than just running, jumping, lifting or throwing.

To blithely state that today’s top professional boxers are better than their predecessors simply because measurable athletic performance has improved in other sports—whose winners are determined by a stopwatch, ruler or scale—is analogous to suggesting a singer is great only because he is capable of reaching a higher note than anyone else. Of course no reasonable person would agree with this statement because it totally ignores the complex nuances of the singer’s craft, such as timbre, inflection, vocal range and phrasing. Yet many people, without even realizing it, apply this same logic to boxing, oblivious as they are to the complex nuances of the boxer’s craft.

A Lost Art

The finer points of boxing technique that were quite common in decades past are practically extinct today. Punching with leverage, fluid movement, timing, feinting, body punching, drawing a lead to counter, mobile footwork, slipping, ducking, and rolling away from punches are no longer a part of the boxer’s repertoire. Today the most common defensive action is the fighter putting both gloves in front of his face while waiting for his opponent to stop punching.

The left jab, boxing’s most basic and important punch, is not taught or used the way it was intended. Superior athleticism, in the form of speed, reflexes and a sense of anticipation, is often mistaken for sophisticated boxing technique. And let’s not forget the omnipresent “strength coaches” and their misguided weightlifting methods that have negatively affected the performances and physiques of so many boxers. 

Fighters rarely shadowbox anymore. Shadowboxing has been replaced by the ubiquitous “punch pads”—a mostly useless but colorful exercise that has minimal teaching value, develops bad habits, and does not give the trainer an adequate view of the fighter’s balance and punch delivery.

Let’s face it. Ignorance and stupidity have infused every aspect of the sport, both inside and outside of the ring. You can hear it in the meaningless instructions given to most fighters in the corners between rounds. “Throw more punches” is about as sophisticated as it gets. There are a few exceptions but not enough to make a difference or turn the tide.

There is so much more to be said about what has been lost. That is why I spent five years researching and writing an entire book devoted to the subject.

Many of the quotes that appear in this article are from my book, “The Arc of Boxing: The Rise and Decline of the Sweet Science.” My purpose was not to add fuel to the “Old School” vs. “New School” debate—I wrote the book to end the debate. I did not rely solely on my own judgment and analyses but also included extensive interviews with Freddie Roach, Emanuel Steward, Teddy Atlas and a dozen other authentic boxing experts. (The book also contains over 50 photos.)

“The Arc of Boxing” challenges many preconceived notions about the nature of boxing as it exists today. Whether you agree or disagree with its conclusions, of one thing I am certain—no one who reads it will ever look at a boxing match in the same way again.

A Wealth of Boxing Knowledge 

I feel so strongly about the veracity of my thesis that I am willing to offer the book at my cost of $27.50 + postage between now and December 31st, 2012. At that price I will not make a penny from any sales. ( charges between $44 and $55 dollars for the book. A Kindle version is also available directly though Amazon.)

To place an order and to take advantage of the huge discount, contact me via the book’s website: and click “contact” at the top of the page. 

Happy Thanksgiving to all.

Follow us on Twitter@boxing_com to continue the discussion

Rocky Castellani vs Holly Mims W 12

Ralph "Tiger" Jones vs. Charles Humez

Ralph 'Tiger' Jones vs. Johnny Bratton

Primo Carnera vs Jack Sharkey I

Bernard Hopkins vs Felix Trinidad [Full Fight]

On The Waterfront "I could have been a contender"

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  1. Bob 09:54am, 10/13/2018

    Archie Moore ranked Michael Spinks as the top lightheavy , slightly ahead of Ezzard Charles. The Moore interview is on youtube.

  2. nicolas 03:29pm, 09/23/2013

    Tex, yes it can be done, David Haye was outweighed by something like 90 or more pounds when he beat Valuev for the WBA heavyweight title, as did Chagaev a few years before. however, Turner was by no means in the same league as Wladimir Klitschko, and if Eddie Futch is correct, Walcott may not have been as good pound for pound as Burley.

  3. Tex Hassler 05:14pm, 09/19/2013

    Charley Burley at 151 pounds KO’d J. D. Turner a heavyweight who outweighed Burly by over 50 pounds. Middleweight Harry Greb regularly beat heavyweights and beat good ones. Jess Willard outweighed Jack Dempsey by 58 pounds and was nearly 6 inches taller but Dempsey KO’d Willard. Joe Louis beat some very big heavyweights, and it can be done. Mike Silver like myself is not nor does claim to be infallible. Mike does know boxing like few men alive today. Benny Paret was finished when Gene Fullmer beat him. Watch the film that was one of the most brutal fights I have ever seen. I make no excuse for Ruby Goldstein. Many fights were not stopped quick enough in the old days.

  4. nicolas 12:54pm, 09/19/2013

    TO BOTH TEX AND ANDREW: Walcott might have been a better fighter pound for pound that Wladimir or Vitali, but the later fighters 50 pound weight advantage I think would have been a little bit too much for Walcott, mixed in with there skill level. He might have beaten an Arreola. ANDREW: Your comment about ‘Owens leaving Bolt in the dust.’ Tracks and shoes were not up to par what they are now. I don’t even think that in Owen’s time they had a starting block. I guess we could only really find out if a Bolt would run in the same kind of shoes that Owens wore, and the same kind of tracks .Also, with Bolt being a true professional, Owens perhaps was really never able to reach his true potential as a great runner, as he had to retire after the Olympics, because there was no money to be made to run like Bolt is able to do in this day and age.

  5. andrew 10:27am, 09/18/2013

    Mr. Hassler, oldtimer, you should accept the passage of time and get into the modern era. You are probably certain Jesse Owens would have left Usain Bolt in his dust!
    BTW (term from this millennium meaning ‘By The Way’) if you think Mike Silver knows so much you probably agree with him that Ruby Goldstein wasn’t really to blame for the death of Benny ‘Kid’ Paret. Watch the video if you have the stomach for it and then read his moronic rationalizing in mitigation of Goldstein’s unfathomable incompetence which resulted in Paret’s tragic death.

  6. Tex Hassler 10:01am, 09/18/2013

    It is hard to defeat the truth but Mike Silver is telling it like it actually is with boxing today. I have been watching boxing for over 60 years now and I have seen skills slowly deteriotate and now nose dive into the present state it is in now. Most of the people commenting on this article do not even know what “drawing a lead” or “rolling with a punch” is much less what it means to feint or parry a punch. All these terms were tools of a boxer’s trade 50 years ago and now are almost totally absent from boxing. Jersey Joe Walcott would have feinted Klitschko out of positon, got him off balance then KO’d him quickly. His skill level was light years ahead of Klitschko.
    Most of boxing today is just a notch ahead of a street fight. I own many boxing books and Mike Silver’s book “Arc of Boxing” is head and shoulders above the rest of them written in the last 50 years. Buy one and read it. You might learn something.

  7. nick 04:12am, 11/26/2012

    Interesting article, though I think that Mr. Silver kind of loses it when he talks about Klitschko getting knocked out by Walcott in two, and losing to Primo Carnera.

    Mr. Silver however also fails to mention that many fighters today have higher percentage of knockouts because fights are stopped quicker than they used to be due to safety concerns.

    His rating comparison is also interesting due to the fact that in 47 8 of the 10 fighters listed were born in the US, now of course only one. The only irony is that like than, only two black fighters. However before we are aware that in decades like the 90’s, Bernard Hopkins whose skills are somewhat minimized in this article was fighting mostly against black fighters. This may not be important to some, but I would point out in Jake LaMotta’s book of Raging Bull written in the 70’s he claimed that many of the top contenders back then who were white would have been blown out of the ring by many of the black six round fighters of that era.

    I would also suggest that perhaps in Europe, where now fighters from Eastern European countries previously communist, are now allowed to turn professional that the boxing there is better than it was some 50 and 60 years ago when the likes of say a Henry Cooper did not have to contend with that competition.

    While at least in the US boxing has certainly declined, I don’t think that Mr. Silver is correct about when it was going in decline. Many of us regard the 70’s as perhaps the greatest era for the heavyweights and light heavyweights, not really any decade before. Other divisions also had there greatest eras past the 60’s, such as the Bantamweight division maybe in the 70’s as well, and the flyweight division in the 60’s, certainly ruined later with the addition of two weight classes below.

    Mr. Silvers contribution to boxing history and the state of which it is now is valuable, and a great resource.

  8. peter 05:26pm, 11/25/2012

    Mike, you make many valid points, however, I have a hard time wrapping my mind around the thought that a former heavyweight champion, Marvin Hart (29-7) or the great James J. Corbett (11-4) could beat a Klitschko.

  9. the thresher 11:11am, 11/25/2012

    Hmm, 147 lbs is 147 lbs, no matter what scale you use. Not so sure about that. Though weight might be constant, body structure has become a varible over the years. Today’s 147 pounde fighters might be bigger and sronger in a certain sense. I’ll reserch this in preperation for the forthcoming debate but will withold my findings until then.

  10. cnorkusjr 10:58am, 11/25/2012

    You’re right Ted, there are quite a few good trainers plying the craft that was taught to them, but in general I don’t think many trainers have the knack for it now either. The cream of the crop rises and they are generally trained by the best that we see in the game like you mention.

    By that I mean, the majority of the top ten fighters are trained by (my estimate) 1% or 2% of the licensed trainers. If a skilled fighter doesn’t attach himself to one of those few—I don’t think he will get the recognition or elevate himself beyond a regional territory. My opinion, of course.

    Also, your point of the “new” breed, who are generally a much larger man in the Heavy division, could probably handily fight and beat heavy champs from years ago. A 6’3 216 lb. Charlie Powell was just example of a “Large” heavyweight back in the day, and who would no doubt, crumble under a Holmes or Klits. Eric has it right, the lighter “controlled “weight classes can be compared because 147 lbs is 147 lbs, no matter what scale you use. I feel its really a shame that the 8 division weight scale went out years ago. Matching various weight fighters into each of one’s division,would definitely see who comes out reigning supreme; and also when a fighter moves up to another weight would provide interesting match-ups, many with regrets, but titles equal money, and more titles means bigger billings. It’s a shame that a periodical doesn’t list a fictional 8 division rating system and see where all these jr.wts stand with each other.

  11. Eric 12:07pm, 11/24/2012

    Personally, I agree with the writer of this article that boxers of today aren’t as talented as fighters of yesteryear, BUT his assessment of the Klits is ridiculous. The Klits find themselves with the same problem that faced Marciano, Holmes, and later Tyson, in that they are dominating against a relatively lackluster crop of fighters. All a fighter can do is fight those people who are fighting in his era. Does anyone truly think either Klitschko brother couldn’t have dominated Joe Louis’s “bum of the month club,” or past prime versions of Charles, Walcott, Louis, and Archie Moore?  Can you imagine Wlad going against a 5’10” bloated 205lb Don Cockell? Would either Klitschko brother not decimate some of Joe Frazier’s opponents like an aged Eddie Machen, Scrapiron Johnson, or a Mel Turnbow? What about some of Frazier’s title defences? Manuel Ramos? David Zyglewicz(not sure about spelling?) Ron Stander? Terry Daniels?  The Klits would have been successful if not champions in any era. However, overall I would have to say that boxers in general, especially in the lighter classes where the weight stays constant and a 147 pounder is a 147 pounder regardless of what year it is were much better and certainly better trained in the past.

  12. andrew 09:59am, 11/24/2012

    I agree with Mike (02;17am 11/22/2012) when he says:

    Calling Klitschko painfully slow just shows total bias and ignorance. Talking about Klitschko, Ronnie Shields, the great trainer who trained Tyson and Klitschko, “his hands are faster than Tyson’s was.” Lennox Lewis, “ I’ve always said that Wladimir has great footwork.”

    This article is just another nostalgic wishful thinking reverie down memory lane. The author makes it painfully obvious how old he is by harping back to the legendary names of his generation and elevating them to timeless super athlete status. The fact remains there is no other sport anyone doubts is played at a higher level than a generation ago and there is no objective basis for asserting the old timers could have beaten today’s boxers.

  13. the thresher 08:02am, 11/24/2012

    Charlie, I would not take today’s trainers with that many grains of salt. There are some damn good ones out there who are constantly teaching their stuff to new and younger trainers.

    Their stuff” is what no one ever takes the time to define. Eddie Futch gave it to Roach and Roach is giving it to younger guys who are patient enough to learn it.

    Garcia and the two Hunters are pretty good as well, and John Scully is coming on fast.  Garcia has been able to remake fighters and that is an incredible task. Nacho is doing his thing in Mexico and Martinez is handled by a young guy.

    My point is that when a kid goes into a gym, I think his chances of being picked up by someone who knows something are a tad better than what you imply.

    I try to blend my Old School bias with New School changes. For example, the new norm in the heavyweight division features Euro monsters and Wilder who is 6’7”. It’s what it is. and a guy like Wlad would tower over a shorter heavy like Frazier and beat on him—club him if you will until he submits. Just my opinion.

    With respect to Charlie who does know what he is talking about.

  14. cnorkusjr 05:16am, 11/24/2012

    Good Article, Mike. You give some strong points on competition differences from today and past. It’s been said in comments below “Is boxing dying ?” with a reply by Archie Moore. Archie Moore stated it right as the question has been looped around the sport each era of its existence. In the 40’s and early 50’s-the context was referring to Boxing’s demise at live gates. With TV boxing taking a strong hold at neighborhood gin mills, less and less live attendees were showing up in the many arenas. Boxing promoters then switched out to “theater showings” for the Championship bouts to capitalize on the mighty dollar not claimed in the arenas.

    “Contenders “is a term in which its context changed each era also. When you have a sport that has a plethora of competition laid at your feet and the “Champion” title is only bestowed upon a handful—you will have a higher degree of contenders and a bigger pool to choose from. Famed Trainers picked from a lot of fighters who they saw had skill and potential and formed them into gladiators back in the day. Today—you walk into a gym, you say you want to fight and there are six trainers that say “I’ll take ya” and unfortunately—more chances than not—you go nowhere in improving your talent and basic skill, but will eventually wear a title belt issued by a quack org. and no-one to defend it against. Just last week, I witness a so-called boxer fight it out on a local card near me. A very “Local” hero with enough family and friends to fill half the auditorium. The promoter, a friend, confided in me that he offered up the kid to 5 opponents to choose from that had a slightly better record so he can improve on his talent record—the local hero turned them all down and fought a tomato can he handpicked from the Midwest in the Main Event.

    The opponent gave the local a run for his money but lost a UD, though many in the crowd including me, saw it another way. The local was then awarded a JR-wt schmuck IBA Championship belt afterwards.

    Somewhere Joe Miceli is spinning in his grave.

  15. the thresher 04:39pm, 11/23/2012

    George Mikan runs LeBron off the court!!!!!!!!!!

    And the Monsters of the Midway slaughter the New Englan Pats!!!

  16. the thresher 04:16pm, 11/23/2012

    4- Marcel Cerdan UD-12 Gennady Golovkin 116-109 x2, 117-10”

    Yeah right!! Look Anton Raadick had Cerdan down 3 times in the last round of their fight.

  17. Mark J. 04:01pm, 11/23/2012

    The following result were simulated with the Title Bout Boxing Simulation:
    1- Sergio Martinez UD-15 Rocky Graziano 143-142, 144-141 x 2.
    2- Tony Zale Ud-12 Daniel Geale 120-105, 118-107 x 2.
    3- Bert Lytell TKO-8 Felix Sturm (cuts)
    4- Marcel Cerdan UD-12 Gennady Golovkin 116-109 x2, 117-109
    5- Jack LaMotta SD-12 Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. 111-112, 113-110, 115-108
    6- Dmitry Pirog KO-11 Steve Belloise
    7- Al Hostak KO-1 Matthew Macklin
    8- Freddie Apostoli TKO-8 Peter Quillin
    9- Major Jones KO-3 Martin Murray
    10- Hassan N’Dam N’Jikam KO-10 Anton Raadik

    1947 (7) 2012 (3)

  18. Eric 03:58pm, 11/23/2012

    Wladimir decision 15 over Ali
    Wladimir tko 10 over Joe Frazier
    Foreman tko 4 over Wladimir
    Wladimir tko 6 over Norton
    Wladimir tko 14 Larry Holmes


  19. the thresher 02:43pm, 11/23/2012

    Mike (not Silver), I lmfao

    We could do it in Montreal. Russ Anber could be a judge!

  20. the thresher 02:40pm, 11/23/2012

    When I was a kid, I saw Anton Raadik fight in Chicago. He`was a tough hombre from the Estonian area of the Windy City.

  21. mike schmidt 01:57pm, 11/23/2012

    Great idea—annnnnnd we put it on YouTube broadcast live thru website—I will provide the steak and beer for the two combatants—if you want I will gladly offer to be one of the judge-s-I am completely neutral even though I think Jersey Joe would have completely smashed Dr. Ironfist and company, Tony Zale would have beat the piss out of Sergio Martinez etc etc etc etc. But I am neutral hee hee hee

  22. the thresher 11:49am, 11/23/2012

    I hereby challenge MS to a face-to-face debate on this subject in a venue TBD preferably (not NYC or northern NJ as the judges may be tainted), CT, RI, or`MASS works for me. Pehaps IBRO or one of the Rings 4, (8 or 10 could host it). Maybe even a boxing gym or a library.

    The average age of the judges must not be over 60. Jethro Tull seems good choice for a judge.

    I am prepared to travel by car.

    Let’s get it on. Let’s get ready to rummmmmmblllllllle!



  23. Jethro Tull 10:21am, 11/23/2012

    “Then I got attacked for my “Johnny Risko” piece where Risko used to fight 20 xs a year instead of 2 or 3 three like today”

    How good was the opposition if he could fight 20 times a year?

    “But when I think of Dempsey, Louis, Baer and Risko “

    ““The game of boxing is dying today because the boys do not know how to box. There is no one to teach them how and they won’t work anyway”.
    LA Times, 1940

    “Professional boxing is dying a natural death“
    LA Times, 1913

    “As it is, the school of boxing is rapidly dying out, and when the professors of the present day have passed away it will be hard to say where the new ones are to come from.”
    Professor Ned Donelly, The art of boxing, 1879”

    Has any sport, other than boxing, got worse continually since the 40s?

  24. norm marcus 08:56am, 11/23/2012

    Loved this article on the contenders then and now. You know when I wrote my story “Klitschko- Schmeling, the German Connection” here a ways back I was jumped on for contending that the heavyweight division was weak compared to what it was in the 30s and 40s. Then I got attacked for my “Johnny Risko” piece where Risko used to fight 20 xs a year instead of 2 or 3 three like today.  There are 2 schools of thought here and I don’t think that one group will ever be able to convince the other that they are right.
    But when I think of Dempsey, Louis, Baer and Risko I know which side is right! Can I prove my case? Probably not but I know the real deal here. Enough said.

  25. the thresher 08:47am, 11/23/2012

    Guys like Sergio Martinez, Gennady Golovkin, Peter Quillin, the Klits, Mayweather, Broner, Pac, JJM, Rios, Mikey Garcia, Ward, Froch, Kessler, Calzaghe, etc, etc, etc etc. are pretty darn good technique-wise again in my humble opinion.

    omg, a friend’s son just had a seizure. I’m gone

  26. THE THRESHER 08:38am, 11/23/2012

    I am on the road and cannot respond but I will with an article down the road titled “New School.” Suffice it to say that GGG is as good as any fighter I have ever seen in my 76 years of life. IMHO.

    Some of the Eastern European guys have had hundreds of amateur fights as have the Cubans.

    SUFFICE KIT TO SAY “Jersey Joe Walcott would not be allowed to step in the ring with either Klitschko “

    Get ready Mike, a fit and ready Bull mis on the way and is seeing RED.

  27. Jethro Tull 11:14pm, 11/22/2012

    “Had they been born in 1940, they would not be 6-foot-6.  They would have been closer to the size of Walcott and Marciano and, based on skill, they would have been ordinary.”

    The same could have been said about George Foreman. It’s not as if size wasn’t an advantage for him.

    Size was an advantage for a young Muhammad Ali as well.

    And as for the 1940 argument, if the Klitscko’s aunts had balls, they would have been their uncles.

    The 70’s were indeed a great era. One undisputed champion had one eye, another had Parkinson’s and was clearly shot for the last 2 years of his reign and one other champ was a rookie having his eighth fight.

  28. marvin 06:15pm, 11/22/2012

    There is no comparison.  Fighters up thru the 1970s were so much better because they had so much experience.  If everyone were the same size, the Klitchkos would be prelim fighers.  They have some skill, but size is their biggest asset.  Had they been born in 1940, they would not be 6-foot-6.  They would have been closer to the size of Walcott and Marciano and, based on skill, they would have been ordinary.

  29. Eric 01:09pm, 11/22/2012

    I’m sure that as time goes on the Klitschkos will rise in rankings and the opinions of the so-called “boxing experts” out there. Marciano and Larry Holmes were two ATGs that really didn’t enjoy the lofty status they’re routinely given while they were active. I can well remember the criticism bestowed on Larry Holmes while defending his title in the Eighties against fighters named Randall “Tex” Cobb, Scott Frank, Leroy Jones, Scott Ledoux, and other less than stellar named opponents. One would be hard pressed to even imagine either Klitschko at the same age as Holmes being outpointed by a blown up 200lb Michael Spinks no matter how controversial the decision. At the time of his reign Larry Holmes was regarded as a “poor man’s” Ali who was lucky enough to reign in a time that was at the time considered one of the worst eras in heavyweight history. Remarkably the heavyweight competition Holmes faced in the Eighties, just as Marciano’s competition in the Fifties, has improved in status as time goes on, and remarkably both the oft-criticized Marciano and Holmes became far greater when being examined years later by the so-called “experts.”

  30. Jethro Tull 12:18pm, 11/22/2012

    Question: “Is boxing dying?”
    Archie Moore (multiple title champion and ATG):
    “Yes, it must be. They told me it was dying when I got into it as a professional in 1936. I think it started dying at about the dawn of history. So I guess it is still dying.“

    This shows how long people have been bitching about boxing being on the slide.

    Other quotes:

    “The experts have been saying for years that boxing is dying because kids no longer are hungry, because boxing no longer is the way for a poor kid to get rich quick.”
    LA Times, 1963

    “Boxing is not dying”, said Jack Dempsey sadly, “it’s dead“. Even as the old champ spoke last week the corpse of a one lively sport was just barely twitching… Jack Dempsey was not the only old champ to grieve. Mickey Walker and Gene Tunney were equally mournful… “It’s gone, boxing. Today you show any style and they put you on TV. They’ll take anyone.” Neither Tunney nor Walker knew quite what to do with the corpse.”
    Life Magazine, 1961

    “The game of boxing is dying today because the boys do not know how to box. There is no one to teach them how and they won’t work anyway”.
    LA Times, 1940

  31. Rolling Thunder 11:38am, 11/22/2012

    JT, you do have point with your comparison with tennis players. However I believe that it’s an example that also slightly backfires. I wonder how good Federer and Djokovic would be if they played one or two matches per year. A tennis player who is forced to or opts to stay out of competition for more than a couple of months hardly ever makes it back to the top. Add to that if the top players rarely faced off against each other and instead played guys ranked 50-200. That would be like…wait…today’s boxing scene.

    I suppose that the low fight rate and modest opposition that is characteristic for most top fighters serves them well from a health perspective. Irrespective of one’s view on the old vs contemporary I think that most would agree that it doesn’t benefit their boxing skills and it threatens to kill the sport.

  32. Eric 09:16am, 11/22/2012

    Your article has some good points but saying a Primo Carnera would outpoint a Klitschko makes the good points you make lose a great deal of credibility. I, for one don’t like the direction the heavyweight division is moving with these supersized albeit less talented fighters of today versus the more talented and modest sized fighters of yesteryear. However, the Klitschkos have proved to be more of an exception rather than the rule and I feel both brothers could have competed well in any era and that includes the Ali era. I think a lot of boxing scribes don’t give the Klitschkos their due is because of certain biases against their nationality, their race, and even their size. Americans dominated heavyweight boxing for so long that many people just can’t fathom the idea of Eastern Europeans dominating the most important title in sports for almost a decade now. Despite some people waiting years for a heavyweight White Hope and being disappointed with those who challenged and fell up short like the Chuvalos, the Quarrys, the Bugners, the Bonavenas, the Cooneys, the Morrisons, some for whatever reason harbor the same racial prejudices against a White heavyweight champion that were in the past reserved for Black champions. Of course human nature also has some biases against seeing a much larger man beat a smaller man in a fight and it is totally natural to root for the smaller man or the underdog. In the days past often times the larger man and not the smaller man was the true underdog, but somehow it seems less brutal watching a smaller man beat up a larger man to the uneducated eye. Jack Dempsey and Joe Louis would feast on large opponents who were almost as large or just as large as the Klitschkos but who were a couple notches below the Klitschkos in ring skills. The Jess Willards, Luis Firpos, Gunboat Smiths, Primo Carneras, Abe Simons, and Buddy Baers, who Dempsey and Louis annihilated were large like the Klitschkos but were in no way their equals in ring talent.

  33. mike schmidt 07:56am, 11/22/2012

    Great write and informative—I bought the book and really really enjoyed it—one need not agree with the old vs new fighters comparisons but the trajectory or our beloved sport is bang on. Not enough trainers that know the business—and why would there be—there is not enough $$$$$$$$$$$$ around to pay anybody to learn the trade or pay them enough to survive—Kids don’t learn to fight by fighting because there is not enough $$$$$$ to get fights-‘On my last visit to Gleason’s there where many good-looking young prospects prepared to pay both ends of a fight JUST TO GET A FIGHT and then we come to the Media Prospects who line up inferior opposition fight after fight, learning nothing and then getting destroyed by the first guy that even half-ass knows his way around the squared circle—look at Danny Jacobs and Pirog—not a clue that he was getting set up to get cracked by a big overhand right and no adjustments—BOOM—need we go any further than Seth this past weekend—straight ahead, no head movement, swinging for the trees and not even the rudimentary thought r capacity to tie a guy up and walk him around the ring to get his senses back. The old guys of the forties, fifties knew their trade- they learned it in the gym and the hard way—ten, fifteen fights per year—with various ABC rules now in place it is hard to legally obtain a fight inside of a thirty-day turnaround time—to Mike Silver I salute you- -o not have to even get into debates about who beats who- when you used to be able to go out on a Tuesday, Friday, Saturday, EVERY WEEK,  to perhaps a Sunnyside Garden, Eastern Parkway, The Garden, etc etc and now, not even close—well that says more than you need to know—adios and everybody keep on punching!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  34. Jim Crue 07:07am, 11/22/2012

    Good article Mr. Silver as usual.
    I’m afraid the writer who calls himself “Mike” doesn’t know much. And what is Ronnie Shields going to say? That his fighter is slow and awkward? Ronnie Shields a “great trainer”? Give me a break. The reason this “Mike” sees no supermen among the old fighters is because they are fighting guys of equal skill. Although if he watched the few films of Ray Robinson in his prime that description comes to mind.
    I bought your book when it was first published and value it.

  35. Jethro Tull 06:48am, 11/22/2012

    Mike - the first guy to make a comment.

    Your observations are brilliant.

  36. Jethro Tull 06:47am, 11/22/2012

    “Jersey Joe Walcott, at 6’ and 195 pounds, would have taken out the big Russian in two rounds. I even like the faster, more rugged and aggressive Primo Carnera to outpoint him.  “

    Jersey Joe Walcott would not be allowed to step in the ring with either Klitschko since he is under the cruiserweight limit and there would be no demand for him to do so.

    As for Primo Carnera outpointing either brother, you have clearly taken leave of your senses.

    I wonder what you are like when you watch Olympic sprinting.

    Do you watch the 100m final and yell loudly that Jesse Owens would leave Usain Bolt eating dust?

    Would Rod Laver massacre Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic at tennis?

    As for the men that you describe as greats and contenders of the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s, were these men not slated at the time as being much inferior to fighters of previous decades?

    As it is, both K brothers would defeat JJ Walcott and Primo Carnera by death.

  37. NYIrish 06:26am, 11/22/2012

    Sing it Mike. You know the words.

  38. Matt McGrain 04:22am, 11/22/2012

    I do agree that Wlad is certainly not “painfully slow” and that his speed needs to be viewed in the correct context of his size, anyway. HW’s are a more difficult argument anyway, because of the massively increased size and reach.

  39. Matt McGrain 04:21am, 11/22/2012

    A superbly structured and written article, but it inevitably contains some simplifications that will no doubt be missing from the book, which will contain more detail.

    I should also say I basically disagree, but that doesn’t stop it being an interesting and thought-provoking read.

  40. Rolling Thunder 02:18am, 11/22/2012

    Brilliant Mike Silver, I will definitely order a copy. A question: How do you regard the possibility of anything changing for the better?

  41. mike 02:17am, 11/22/2012

    I’ve watched the films of old time fighters. I don’t see any supermen among them. This is just another american writer filled with sour grapes that america no longer dominates boxing. Mike Silver should get his facts straight before he tries to write about boxing. Calling Klitschko painfully slow just shows total bias and ignorance. Talking about Klitschko, Ronnie Shields, the great trainer who trained Tyson and Klitschko, “his hands are faster than Tyson’s was.” Lennox Lewis, “I’ve always said that Wladimir has great footwork.” Better lower the price again on that book. Maybe if you sell it for toilet paper people will buy it.

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