Donald Curry: A Lone Star

By Ted Spoon on August 3, 2013
Donald Curry: A Lone Star
“I like to be called an undisputed champion,” said Donald Curry. “There is only one other.”

From the naïve amateur, to the frustrated professional, to the unstable champion; Donald might be a synonym for misfortune…

Emmett Linton marked the end of a bumpy road.

Perhaps half of the crowd recognized the man in the opposite corner. Some may have found it necessary to squint.

Jumping up and down during the introductions, swinging life into his arms, heckling the opponent…he never used to do this. Bravado usually means one thing in boxing and it was no different here.

A bit of chest-puffing can turn the trick in nature, to escape a hopeless altercation. When age begins to niggle, bluster probably comes naturally, but it was time for another reminder that there are no trap doors in the ring. Over six rounds Linton administered a basic kind of mugging; more than enough to do away with a boxer who once had crowds looking at him as they do the handcuffed, water-bound magician.

Back when the sky was the limit, there was something miraculous about Donald Curry.

Success in the amateurs is no professional guarantee, but a pick n’ mix of accolades is not a bad indicator. Most quotes have Donald’s win bracket close to 400 while the loss bracket reads less than 10. If at all accurate, to say Donald Curry had a solid amateur background could be considered offensive.

With its safety measures the amateur circuit is almost a different sport, but a lengthy career can instill coolness in the pros; unmoved by the lack of headgear. Gennady Golovkin has that icy temperament in spades. So did Kostya Tszyu.

Thirty-three years ago Curry was preparing for his own moment of truth, and come fight night a fourth dimension seemed to awaken in him. 

The pinpoint technician was not just comfortable in the pro ranks, he was dangerous. Raised near his broad shoulders, the gloves appeared smaller. Indeed, the way opponents reacted to his punches may have had some believe a little padding was missing. As we know, foul play wasn’t the culprit.

You could say that Curry was a big puncher; certainly his KO percentage suggests this, but leverage wasn’t the reason he did damage. There is a lot to be said for catching boxers at the right time (not just cleanly), when they’re sure an attack has ceased. Even good finishers are guilty of overcooking their efforts, but once Curry got his man going there was little chance of escape.

Pauses allowed him to consider his arsenal, leaving opponents in defensive limbo. Only a brief pause, crisp shots were on the way, to the chin, the check bone, the mouth; all the sweet spots. 

You won’t find a better example of controlled aggression.

Sure enough opponents came along who refused to wilt. If all you can do is punch rugged opponents tend to make for ugly performances. Luckily Donald had a surplus of talent to fall back on.

Adolfo Viruet had gone the distance with Roberto Duran and Ray Leonard. A knockout would have looked mighty fine. After ten rounds the Puerto Rican was still upright; somewhat irked, Curry had still run away with the scores.

Though punishing, Donald was a meek character. He didn’t snarl with his punches, and he spoke of his performances like a kid reciting what he had learnt today in school. Contrary to those who beg for a shot before they can last the distance, Curry was very conscious of his progress. The results were painful. 

The unbeaten, eccentric Marlon Starling didn’t make life easy in Curry’s first twelve-rounder. A split decision wasn’t ideal. Commentating for HBO, Ray Leonard made it known he wasn’t impressed, but we didn’t have to wait long for the welterweight king to change his tune.

Eye trouble parted Ray from his titles in 1982, one of which was the WBA strap, and Curry prepared to pounce. So did South Korea’s Jun-Suk Hwang.

The brick-like build of Hwang did its job in resisting the canvas. The same couldn’t be said for Curry who caught a chopping right in the seventh. Dusting himself off, it was back to business en route to unanimous scores. After fifteen rounds the new champion looked good for a few more.

Those finishing abilities were back on display in his first defense. Roger Stafford wasn’t just a body but that is exactly how Donald treated him, forcing a stoppage after three knockdowns; the fight was 102 seconds old. Wildcat Starling looked forward to his second date. 

In their first encounter Donald was a bit of a sucker for the uppercut. This time he bulled Marlon off balance and found the gaps for his own uppercut. The feisty challenger did his best to make life difficult (Marlon was trouble until the day he retired), but sharper punches and a convincing finish gave Curry the ‘W’. 

In a “fight of subtleties” as Al Bernstein put it, Donald proved there to be another dimension to go with the sharpshooting. He could fight. 

Two more defenses wrapped up a solid 1984.

Having skewered the vacant IBF title in his fight with Starling, only the WBC belt was required for absolute rule, currently in possession of Milton McCrory. One man who had given McCrory plenty to think about was Welshman Colin Jones and he was eager for a shot at the other champion. Curry was good enough to cross the Atlantic. 

In Birmingham it was more hostile than pro-Jones; the challenger was in a good position to deliver a competitive scrap, but Curry’s punches cut through the atmosphere and Colin’s defenses. At the sound of the first bell left hooks and crosses found the mark with amazing crispness. The legs didn’t buckle, but flesh isn’t the most resistant stuff. 

Moments into the fourth Curry let loose with more of the same, lacerating Colin’s nose which was already leaking. A closer looked revealed swelling around the right eye. The ringside doctor’s decision to stop it reduced Jones to tears and a few crowd members to hurtle bottles. Under different circumstances it could possibly have gone on. Unfortunately, Curry was just warming up.

Coming into 1985 Donald continued to entertain the option of climbing a division. “It gets kinda hard for me to make the 147 limit sometimes” said the champion, and he had his doubts about luring McCrory into a unification bout. Exposure was also a problem as half the boxing world anticipated Ray Leonard’s next move.

Two more fights cleared the way for that fight against Milton in which only 4,185 paying attendees half-filled the Hilton Center. Before the fight Curry had disclosed that boxing wasn’t a love affair. Just as he was aware of his progress Curry was becoming increasingly aware of the business side of boxing, the fact Mark Breland received $100,000 for his pro debut, and it was nauseating his good nature. 

Of the reasons why Curry chose boxing, one remark stood out; “because I’m good at it.”

A blinding demo was just around the corner.

McCrory looked fit during the introductions, and he was game when the bell rung, but he looked all too vulnerable during the opener. In the second, with absolute faith in his equalizer, Donald tried for a knockout in his economic way. Overreaching with a right caused him to lose balance. An unusual sight, it was righted by his next one. 

A looping hook lashed out. From a side profile it could’ve been mistaken for a jab, so quick was the punch. Jabs don’t make that kind of thud though, and on the slow-motion replay it dawned on everybody how special Donald must be to deliver such a blow.

To the man with a fair understanding of technique, it was a thing of beauty, but it wasn’t the end.

Gamely, Milton erected his six-foot frame, now quivering like jelly. Mills Lane did the right thing by giving the WBC champion every chance. Currently marching across the ring, Donald’s right hand squashed that chance like a dying mosquito.

“It seemed unreal. I thought I had a steel chin,” said the man with the concussion.

When Ring magazine got round to issuing their annual awards Curry shared 1985’s Fighter of the Year stamp with boxing’s only other undisputed champion, Marvelous Marvin Hagler.

Competition was drying up fast at 147 lbs. and Donald knew it. Further plans had been made to make that overdue step into light-middleweight territory, but the obscure welterweight was suddenly burdened with recognition. It was a burden he was keen to enjoy.

“I like to be called an undisputed champion. There is only one other.”

Potential superfights against the likes of Thomas Hearns and Hagler weren’t overnight arrangements. Donald knew this too. Going down memory lane he had been denied the chance to win that all-important gold medal at Moscow’s boycotted Olympics games. Fighting his way into title contention wasn’t as easy as it looked, and even with a healthy number of knockouts there were often spare seats.

Now embellished with three shiny belts, it was time to make up for a career short on limelight.

How cruel life was that Donald’s plea for acknowledgement prepared his undoing.

1986 was christened with a second round knockout over Eduardo Rodriguez, but England’s Lloyd Honeyghan was furious of the consensus that he would go the same way. It was a fury that he would carry into the ring. Honeyghan was undefeated just like Donald, but even Brits found it difficult to insist that he was in the same class as a fighter. Some refused to give odds. Honeyghan didn’t change his tune. 

“In the first round I knew I wasn’t myself” reflected the ex-champion. A deep gash sat above his left eye, the result of an accidental head-butt. Quite a few things were working against Donald that fateful night, but the main one was his opponent. From the first bell England’s Ragamuffin Man got in Curry’s face and wouldn’t let him be. He got backed up (just as he had Starling) and was rocked in the dying seconds of the sixth.

Discouraged, cut, and feeling weak, the pound-for-pound candidate raised the white flag.

One banana skin led to an awful tumble.

There was another cameo, a glimpse of yesteryear against body-snatching Mike McCallum. Ahead on all three scorecards, Curry was boxing attractively and had even rattled the granite Jamaican with that pinpoint cross. In the fifth he let his arms drop thinking McCallum was out of range. Big mistake.

A second world title was wrangled from Gianfranco Rosi, but losses characterized the remainder of his fighting life. The final chapters aren’t good reading. 

Looking back there is actually a pretty solid run etched into the record books. Seven defenses plus wins over the like of McCrory and Starling aren’t statistics to be scoffed at. All could be forgiven if these were the achievements of your crude, willful type.

There have been a few Cobras down the years, men whose sharp attacks justified the tag, but it’s Curry’s Lone Star title which continues to resonate. Following initial recollections of dynamite n’ poise comes one of isolation, of a legacy helplessly marooned. From the naïve amateur, to the frustrated professional, to the unstable champion; Donald might be a synonym for misfortune. 

At his brightest, perhaps there are only a few others who shone as intensely. Today, lesser stars have retained their splendor while Curry’s just about manages a flicker, but it’s enough to trigger speculation. In this moment Fort Worth’s first world champion is threatening to rewrite history.

Out in Las Vegas, Milton McCrory is on his back and Ray Leonard is full of compliments. The only thing Donald hasn’t mastered yet is breaking a sweat. 

All eyes are on the kid who craved fame, and we can’t take them off him.

Follow us on Twitter@boxing_com to continue the discussion

Donald Curry vs Adolfo Viruet

Donald Curry vs. Marlon Starling I (part 1 of 4)

Donald Curry vs. Marlon Starling I (part 2 of 4)

Donald Curry vs. Marlon Starling I (part 3 of 4)

Donald Curry vs. Marlon Starling I (part 4 of 4)

Donald Curry vs Jun-Suk Hwang [Full Fight]

Donald Curry vs. Marlon Starling II (part 1 of 3)

Donald Curry vs. Marlon Starling II (part 2 of 3)

Donald Curry vs. Marlon Starling II (part 3 of 3)

Donald Curry vs Lloyd Honeyghan Part 1 of 3

Donald Curry vs Lloyd Honeyghan Part 2 of 3

Donald Curry vs Lloyd Honeyghan Part 3 of 3

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  1. Chuck D 09:38pm, 01/25/2018

    Curry at his best, was a nearly flawless technician in the ring. No wasted movement. His punches were absolutely pretty to witness. I think his weakness seemed to be his mental make up, and at times, his conditioning. If he had the mindset of a Leonard, Hagler etc, he would have given any welter or jr. middleweight of his era all they could handle. He was Ring Magazine Co Fighter of the Year with Marvin in 1985. EVERYONE thought he was destined for greatness. Unfortunately, he was never the same fighter after the Honeyghan debacle. Just goes to show how many factors go into being one of the all time greats. He most definitely had as much, if not more talent than most in his prime. But talent alone wasn’t enough. Too bad he’s an afterthought from that era. He was truly fun for any true boxing fan to watch when he was on!

  2. Leigh 01:07pm, 08/06/2013

    One of Lloyds greatest assets was he had no fear, going to America to fight curry it just did not seem to bother him one little bit ,just as it didn’t bother him when he went to Italy and beat up rosi to win European belt. He had unbelievable self belief he’d put a bet on himself against curry and won $30,000

  3. Ted 06:59am, 08/04/2013

    Curry seemed to have a short prime. Maybe I’m wrong about that, but it was just a sense I had. He also could be psyched out. While he had great skills, he also seemed to lack something upstairs though I just can’t articulate it. 

    I do know that he wants to get into the HALL very badly because he has been a guest there for as long as I can recall and that’s always a good indicator.

    Nice article, Ted

  4. Ted Spoon 03:30am, 08/04/2013

    Absolutely. If your plan is to box Curry (and you’re not carrying serious dynamite) then it’s going to be nothing less than a long night. A fight against Mayweather would have been as absorbing as it gets. We’d really see how good a technician Money is, because it would come as no surprise if Donald took the decision. There’d be no prancing about and pot-shotting at his leisure. Tactical warfare all the way.

  5. Gajjers 02:49am, 08/04/2013

    No Mr. Spoon, I wouldn’t put him in there with Marvelous Marvin - the strength & durability factor would weigh heavily in the outcome. Late stoppage, whether it was scheduled for 12 or 15, by Hagler…

  6. Gajjers 02:45am, 08/04/2013

    Thinking about it, I believe Don Curry could have given Floyd Mayweather (at 147 obviously) ALL he could handle, & then some. He was just as quick with both hands, had more power, could counter just as effectively, had an excellent inside game (left uppercut being the most effective) and wouldn’t have had the same concern about the power in the punches coming back at him that he had against Jun-Suk Hwang & Mike McCallum. The size difference (and the attendant reach advantage) would have played into Curry’s hands also , should he have chosen to stay outside, which I doubt. Floyd edges it defensively, but not by that much. It would have been a boxing purist’s delight.

  7. Ted Spoon 02:43am, 08/04/2013

    Donald was great viewing and a special talent, but trying to envisage him last against Hagler is difficult. He could be roughed up.

  8. Lee 02:11am, 08/04/2013

    Agreed, at his best the man was ice cold and deserves his place at the table no question.

  9. Gajjers 11:48pm, 08/03/2013

    Excellent points, Lee - whilst Curry was a superb technician with an excellent blend of speed, defense & power, his fragility (mental, mostly) would have been his undoing against the Marvelous One. Leonard had quite a bit more toughness (and meanness) about him, I think. Shame how Curry’s career panned out - I for one was a firm fan of his. Very pretty to watch when he was at his best, such a paragon of economy and poise he was. I always said that if Barry McGuigan (a contemporary, but shorter-lived champ) could make the HOF, so should Curry. Life ain’t fair sometimes, huh?

  10. Traveling man no longer travelling 05:37pm, 08/03/2013

    Curry, though not as bad as his brother Bruce, was a head case.

  11. Lee 03:17pm, 08/03/2013

    It’s interesting that Curry blamed Leonard for persuading him to stick around at Welter a while longer (in spite of his weight issues)  before making the leap to tackle the Marvelous One, whilst secretly plotting his own challenge. Given Leonard’s well documented Machiavellian shenanigans it is easy to believe. Quite a few people at the time tipped Curry to be the man to end Marvin’s reign although in retrospect it is difficult to imagine him being rugged enough for the task.

  12. The Travelling Man heading south from Quebec 11:42am, 08/03/2013

    One word: Ragamuffin.

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