On Speed: Fifty Years Forward G.O.A.T.—Part One

By Michael Schmidt on January 30, 2014
On Speed: Fifty Years Forward G.O.A.T.—Part One
One could reach out and touch nothing, but what feelings, what emotions. (Getty Images)

He was the poetic embodiment of fluidity. Imagine the human form as a steady but fast fall breeze across an open long grass field…

“But with unhurrying chase, and unperturbed pace, deliberate speed, majestic instancy…”—Francis Thompson

In a few weeks, February 25th, it shall be, fast forward of speed, the 50th anniversary of Cassius Clay winning the Heavyweight Championship of the World from Sonny Liston.

Is there anything more exhilarating in sport than watching the genetically gifted athlete, harnessing speed, intrinsically, to split second finite thought of mind, in the sudden burst of controlled optimal performance?

Images of Speed / Memories Ingrained in Mind

From the “Golden Jet” of the Chicago Blackkawks’ Bobby Hull, turning on a powerful proverbial dime, up ice, slightly over the blue line, and raising stick pointed to the hockey heavens while blasting the hardest shot in hockey…  To the Bruins’ Bobby Orr, winding up behind his own net, and skating past an entire opposing team to score at the other end of the hockey rink. 

To Bullet Bob Hayes of the Cowboys simply outrunning the defense for a wide receiver touchdown or to Devon Hester returning a punt kick off or perhaps to Tony Dorsett, finding a small seam, and like a nitrous fueled street racer, blazing ninety nine yards from scrimmage for the longest touchdown in history…

To basketball’s Allan Iverson and Nate “Tiny” Archibald or to the quick hand magic of Pistol Pete Maravich…

And then, to the exhilaration of punch acceleration and in celebration of the Sweetest of Sciences… 

In celebration of Clay/Ali, and of speed, the following is my list of the ten fastest fighters of all time. 

Ten to Two and Then Came Clay

10. Meldrick Taylor
He was an Olympian at the age of seventeen and as a pro, for eleven rounds, he made the legendary Chavez look as if he was a rubber booted man plotting though thick mud. Spring loaded bouncy, up and down, before the first ring of the bell he had speed in either hand and his early outings with McGirt and the ever-dangerous John Meekins showed what a special talent he was. Unlike many men of speed his Philadelphia blessing was also his sin. He was a fighter who loved to engage, with hand speed, man-to-man, war-to-war. 

9.  Howard Davis
This 1976 Olympic Gold Medallst and Olympic Val Barker Trophy winner, that in a year with the likes of the Spinks brothers and the legendary Sugar Ray Leonard, was cat like quick and often quick enough to shoeshine without getting into trouble. His speed on speed fight with Meldrick Taylor is a perfect example of two objects of lightening on one piece of canvas.

8.  Pernell Whitaker
One of the greatest defensive specialists, in speed, to ever grace the ring and a 1989 Ring Magazine Fighter of the Year. As slippery as a silicon lubricant and the recipient of one of the worst decisions ever in boxing, as cover paged by Sports Illustrated, “Robbed” in his fight with Chavez.

7.  Hector Camacho
In retrospect it seems he was as quickly gone as he quickly came. He retired with a Hall of Fame career mark of 79 wins and 6 losses. His early Felt Forum days up to his fight with Rosario were astounding displays. He was a showman to the end. On a cold November day, down Spanish Harlem Way, a glass carriage with Camacho’s body being pulled by two white stallions lined with the championships belts moved down 106th Street hauling a coffin draped with a Puerto Rican flag. What time is it? Macho time! The fifty-year-old Camacho, shot while the passenger in a Mustang outside a bar in Bayamon, Puerto Rico, was dead on the scene as the bullets sliced his artery, destroyed two vertebrae in his neck and launched into his shoulder. Like or dislike he was a very special talent. He wasn’t quite the same fighter after his fight with “Chapo” but then again “Chapo” had a way of doing that to many fighters didn’t he?

6.  Sugar Ray Robinson
Simply Google YouTube “Reznick Productions Sugar Ray Robinson Knockout Highlights”; from that blazing right hand, mouthpiece flying in the air, knockout of Rocky Graziano to an unlikely European opponent receipted of a double left hook to the body, left hook to the head. Whether skipping rope, hitting the speed bag, shadow boxing, or drilling Randy Turpin with a furious five-punch finishing combination in front of 61,370 fans on a fall night in the Polo Grounds, he was simply human pugilistic poetry. 

5.  Willie Pep
Two hundred and twenty-nine wins and as my good friend Darcy would comment, having had more than his share of whiskey one fine night, “think of a jitterbug dipped into a light vat of nitrox and adrenaline and that would be the jitterbug of Pep style. Watch his fight for instance with Fabela Chavez as Pep lands triple jabs, quadruple plus left hooks to the body, and head to the body, body, head, head, body. “Will o’ the Wisp!”

4.  Floyd Patterson
I don’t know who’s in charge or who does the videos for Resnick Productions but I once again defer, for simplicity of image to a Google/YouTube, Resnick Productions and the best of Floyd Patterson. Stepping, slashing, Patterson’s left hook to the body, right hand to head, and multiple combinations as a Middleweight up to the big man division show blazing hand speed that may be the best of any. 

3.  Sugar Ray Leonard
His knockout of Dave “Boy” Green says it all. Not only did Leonard exhibit astonishing speed but he coupled and refined it with astonishing power. Green’s head could have been a piñata on a slim string, blowing in a strong wind and Leonard would still have found the mark, without a miss, in an array of sudden violent multiple combination.

2.  Roy Jones Jr. 
“Ya’ll must have forgot,” “Can’t Be Touched, Beyond the Glory.” Go take a look for yourselves YouTubers. He may have been the most gifted speed athlete to ever grace boxing. I suspect that if he had retired after his Heavyweight Championship victory over John Ruiz we would most certainly be talking of Roy Jones Jr. as possibly one of the top three or four pound-for-pound fighters of all time. Maybe, he is anyways!

“I’m God’s game Rooster. God sends me out to fight.”—Roy Jones Jr.

Fifty Years Forward—Greatest of all Time

One Day Came Clay—Something Wicked This Way Came, February 25, 1964

He was the poetic embodiment of fluidity. Imagine the human form as a steady but fast fall breeze across an open long grass field. Imagine, in that field, a drop of synthetic oil upon that swaying long grass, sliding ever so smoothly. Mold that image all in one as a cornucopia of seamless rhythm…  “I am the greatest!” It was if Clay was of that steady wind, that silk smooth oil, embodied in human form, ebony smooth, and alabaster hard.

February, fifty years ago, Clay/Ali had arrived! Like the wind, one could reach out and touch nothing, but what feelings, what emotions, stung back the other way. 

In the early 1970s he was polled as the fifth most recognizable person on the planet. He was the Heavyweights G.O.A.T. (Greatest Of All Time). He was of boxing and ended up more and less of it!

Next Week Part II of III… New Wind Blows in—Clay Arrives!

Number One

Side Note: 

Lead in for you Google YouTubers, go to “Muhammad Ali – Amazing Speed” by Gorilla Production and Reznick Production. And if anybody out there has a contact for Mr. Gorilla and Mr. Reznick please provide to me. I would love to talk to these guys!

Follow us on Twitter@boxing_com to continue the discussion

Sonny Liston vs Cassius Clay (Original)

1990 - Julio Cesar Chavez Vs Meldrick Taylor 1 Fight of the year 90

Meldrick Taylor vs. Howard Davis pt1

Meldrick Taylor vs. Howard Davis part 2

Meldrick Taylor vs, Howard Davis pt3

Pernell Whitaker vs. Julio Cesar Chavez

Edwin Rosario vs Hector Camacho

HD Sugar Ray Robinson Knockouts & Highlights

1952-11-19 Willie Pep vs Fabela Chavez

Floyd Patterson Tribute (Reznick Productions)

Sugar Ray Leonard vs Davey Boy Green (High Quality)

Roy Jones Jr vs John Ruiz

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  1. Mike Schmidt 04:14pm, 02/04/2014

    Took me a while but I got it- Panama may be the capital of “satellite” strip mall casinos- all over the place, anyways thanks- If you’re in Central America, South America and Mexico that’s the boxing website to go to for sure- anyways great guys and thanks for the team assist!!!!

  2. Mel 03:01pm, 02/04/2014

    Schmidty take a look at Notifight

  3. Mike Schmidt 07:42pm, 01/31/2014

    Fantastic stuff Jim. Wonder if he taught the likes of Bobby Hull, Mikita and Elmer Moose Vasco. Bobby played some Jr around the corner from our neck of the woods for the Galt, Ontario team- he was pure power and speed and had real star power AND he could scrap big time- major dust ups with the Montreal Canadian enforcer- same with Mikita- people always think of him as a goal scorer and gent as he won the Lady Byng trophy as least penalized - what they forget is that when he first came in the league all he did was scrap-tough little bugger- I could envision him in Coulons gym- great stuff- fantastic memories to cherish on your part- thanks for sharing- they trigger a bunch of my own -can’t beat that!! “THEFIGHTNETWORK” internet is covering GGG’s fight by the by, live, at 12 noon Saturday. Adios and thanks very very much again- brings back a ton of memories of time with my Dad, at the fights, hockey games, and my times as a yoot.

  4. Jim Crue 06:24pm, 01/31/2014

    Yes Mike, Johnny Coulon was born in Toronto. He gave boxing, fighting lessons, to Chicago Blackhawks players!! I was in the gym one day hoping Eddie Perkins or LH Allen Thomas were training and Marie Coulon, Johnny’s wife told me he was giving these lessons boxing. I went in the back room and sure enough he was. He was very spry until near his death. He lived in the Logan Sq. neighborhood in Chicago

  5. Mike Schmidt 10:34am, 01/31/2014

    Jim that is a great memory story- and Clyde was one hell of a fighter. I had the pleasure of watching him win the Commonwealth Title from Eddy Blay some three years later in Maple Leaf Gardens (sat with My Pops- will have a great Chuvalo story on that night coming soon) -Al Sparks, our own Gary Broughton, Gary Summerhays were on the undercard that night and was a great evening with my Dad and my older brother. If I am not mistaken there is a connect on your story as I think Coulon was born in Toronto, Clyde’s hometown. There is a great picture of J. Coulon, old but still looking spry, and a very deferential Ali kidding around with him. Yes, I am told by some lads down Toronto way that Clyde was given a master class education that particular evening. Thanks for a great memory share Sir.

  6. Jim Crue 09:58am, 01/31/2014

    Hey Mike,
    I was at the Eddie Perkins, Clyde Gray fight in Chicago at the Aragon Ballroom on Lawrence Ave. I wish there was a film of the fight. I kid you, not poor Clyde who was a terrific did not lay a glove on him. It was a work of art. There was a walk out bout after he main event which I stayed for. Upon leaving I saw Clyde and his handlers at the back of the auditorium. He was talking to fans and just shaking his head.
    Eddie used to say. The Chicago fans wanted an Ernie Banks and they got a Nellie Fox. He was referring to Banks, the home run hitter for the Cubs and Fox a singles hitter for the White Sox. He was managed by great bantamweight champion Johnny Coulon. I use to take the bus, and elevated to Coulons gym. It was the Chicago version of Stillmans. All the greats had trained there. Eddie was a kind and decent man.
    Besides Clyde another up and comer he derailed was the Austrian Johan Orsolics. They thought Eddie was washed up and would be a good tune up. Eddie knocked him out!!

  7. Mike Schmidt 08:43am, 01/31/2014

    Out of pure selfish spite Jim I can tell you that Eddie will be given zero consideration. As a Canuck I can tell you that in my yoot I simply thought Clyde Gray, who lived down an hour down the highway, was the best darn scrapper out there at 147. A young undefeated Mr. Gray, 20-0, was put in the ring with said Mr Perkins and most certainly was given the number one to his record by the then 33 year old Perkins. The list is 25 total and Mr Perkins is on the list. Any fighter that can win a title in Italy, against an Eyetalian…come now that is surely enough right there Sir is it not!!! All in good fun- thanks for the post and enjoy your weekend. We finished five straight days of minus 22 up here—but we are lucky—it has warmed up today to minus two and we are apparently going to be the lucky recipients of 12 to 15 inches of white stuff Saturday- which will be okay Jim as long as good old Peyton rocks and rolls on Sunday. Adios amigo!!!

  8. Jim Crue 07:31am, 01/31/2014

    Mike, I hope you find room for the elusive Eddie Perkins. You could not hit the guy with a handful of rice. He was a great boxer and great today is an over used word but he qualifies.

  9. Mike Schmidt 06:29am, 01/31/2014

    Mohummad “The Untouchable” is not to be forgotten and is on another list I will be doing on “Mist”—defensive wizards- a few hints for that one, “El Radar,” “Slapsie,” “The St. Paul Phantom” are a few to come. Locche is a joy to watch- unique, creative, and amazing amazing conditioning. Thanks for the post and enjoy the weekend

  10. Clarence George 03:05am, 01/31/2014

    Andrew:  Edwin Rosario.

  11. Mohummad Humza Elahi 02:58am, 01/31/2014

    I think if there’s one man who could match blind speed with even quicker reactions it’s Locche.  Can’t beat a guy if his cognitive abilities are 5 steps ahead of you!

  12. counterpunch 10:48pm, 01/30/2014

    “pretty boy” now known as “MONEY” should be up there…!?!

  13. andrew 08:54pm, 01/30/2014

    Can someone PLEASE tell me who Chapo is?

  14. El Bastardo Magnifico 02:45pm, 01/30/2014

    Hola- one of my all time fav boxing docs- I think Mr Boxing, cutman Varela has my copy for a few years- I love that video- yes black and white and the music I believe was predominantly Julie London and Chet Baker. Andy was The National Golden Gloves and U.S Champ and a favorite to Olympic medal ( he had I think the previous year starched the top Commonwealth and top Yugoslavian fighter in one round. Meldrick came out of nowhere, age 17, his first National tourney for the senior age group- I think yes you are right- it was something crazy for the final Olympic box off. Andy won the first fight, I think on a Friday, and then Meldrick beat him twice on the weekend. Andy was already having huge right hand problems- it was like china- but he was like a mongoose and won a lot of fights basically fighting one handed. He signed with Top Rank and fought out of Vegas but I think he only had about 14 fights, winning 12- basically he was fighting one handed- yep if you are a boxing fan that is a must view for sure. I don’t know if amazon has it but I am sure ebay probably does. VARELA IF YOU ARE READING THIS GIMME MY VHS BACK. AND SAY HELLO TO BOYD, “El Gattoooooo”

  15. Mel 02:31pm, 01/30/2014

    Schmidty since you are in a “video” mood and mention Mel Taylor - “Broken Noses” by Bruce Weber is the story of the great U.S. amateur Andy Minsker.  He fought Taylor three times in one weekend on a box-off for the Olympic team.  Great film done in black and white with background jazz music.

  16. Mike Schmidt 12:35pm, 01/30/2014

    Irish Frankie for those that know me… I am more to liking of pressure fighters of the Duran, Smokee Joe type. Having said that there are some I just love- Pep’s artistry of movement and conditioning to do so -amazing. Robinson all around- beautiful in every way- speed, power, inside, outside, combination punching, killer instinct….

  17. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo aka Gimpel 10:28am, 01/30/2014

    Mike Schmidt- Another side to this which is so often disregarded by followers of this sport are certain physical traits that give some fighters an advantage over others ....for example, there’s no doubt, at least in my mind, that if Mago was genetically blessed with a neck and head comparable to Garrett Wilson’s, he wouldn’t be in the desperate situation he finds himself in today. Or instances like the other night where two fighters competing in lower weight classes against average sized opponents both sported 84 inch wingspans. Or fighters that have long careers and never sustain even a minor laceration while fighters like Frankie Ryff are in fact handicapped by their susceptibility to serious cuts around the eyes. For my part, I am psychologically, genetically and just about every way you can imagine, predisposed to pulling for the underdog, so you can be sure that the fighters in your list above do not rank high on my favorites list.

  18. Eric 09:53am, 01/30/2014

    Patterson might have been a tad slower by the time he fought Chuvalo, Quarry, Ellis, or Bonavena, but he was better all around fighter in those days IMO. I also see Patterson winning that fight against Ellis,  and some think he deserved the nod in one or possibly both of the Quarry fights. I think Jerry deserved the win in their second fight and possibly deserved the nod in the first fight also. Heard at one time while Floyd was champ they were proposing a Sugar Ray Robinson vs. Floyd Patterson bout.

  19. Eric 09:43am, 01/30/2014

    Good call on Tyson. Iron Mike has to be one of the fastest heavyweights ever.

  20. Ezra 08:48am, 01/30/2014

    I wonder how Greb would match up with these guys. It’s too bad we can’t know. Also, how about Tyson?

  21. Mike Schmidt 08:29am, 01/30/2014

    Jim - right on ( no pun intended re that Ray Robinson right hander to Rocky G. ). I was talking to my brother two nights ago and we were watching the Reznick Production compilation and both agreed it was pure science how Robinson moved Rocky into that mouthpiece flying k.o. shot. My brother mentioned that in a reverse, moving backward way, he was reminded how Benitez, on his back foot, back to the ropes, moved Maurice Hope into a thunderous K.O shot- We watched another video that night ( long night- can’t remember who it was) and it was clear, darn near every round, that the Champion ended each round almost spot on near his corner and simply sat down- beautiful.

  22. Jim Crue 08:22am, 01/30/2014

    it’s a pleasure to watch Robinson. Notice the way he maneuvered Graziano where he wanted him then boom. The same with Fullmer. It a real shame for everyone interested in boxing that there are no films of his best days as a welterweight when he fought Gavilan twice and LaMotta despite being out weighed by 15 or 16 pounds. If we were able to see those films the younger folks would not be so enamored with some of our safety first current pound for pound champions.

  23. El Bastardo Magnifico 08:17am, 01/30/2014

    Watching the early Patterson- something amazing for sure Eric. Always thought Floyd got such a bad rap due to the Liston blowouts. Today he would have been cruiser Champ forever!!! As well he went on years later to beat Bonavena, of course had The 65 Ring Mag fight of the year with our George Chuvalo ( record indoor gate at the time) and I still think he should have been a three time champ (albeit WBA)- for the life of me having watched his fight with Ellis over and over I do not see him as losing that fight!! I also like to watch it for the beginning of the fight when they show all those gorgeous Nordic beauties!!!! Adios for now.

  24. Eric 08:12am, 01/30/2014

    If Ali was the fifth most recognizable person on the planet in the early Seventies, who were the top 4? Elvis? Nixon? The Pope?  Patterson may have had even faster handspeed than Ali. Speed of foot goes to Ali but handspeed might just go to Floyd.

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