When Boxing Had a Soul

By Ted Sares on March 26, 2012
When Boxing Had a Soul
The fight between Rigby and Ayers had all the ingredients for a classic British dust-up

“It was almost as though Wayne and myself had communicated through telepathy. Somehow he got it across to me that he’d taken enough and I stopped…”

One of the most unique happenings in a boxing match occurred in Monte Carlo, Monaco, in 1985 when Chicagoan Lee Roy “Solid Gold” Murphy (the IBF cruiserweight titleholder) and rugged Zambian Chisanda Mutti participated in a brutal simultaneous double knockdown in the waning moments of the last round. A badly hurt Murphy barely beat referee Larry Hazzard’s count while Mutti remained down and was counted out. The crowd was up and roaring in disbelief. Mutti then had to be helped from the ring.

This was no Rocky movie; this was real and unforgettable and it came after an 11th round that had to be seen to be believed. In fact, the entire fight involved seesaw exchanges that were of the career ending type. Because of its ending, this ended up being a cult classic.

Neither fighter would ever be the same after this grueling fight. “Solid Gold” would lose his title by TKO to tough Ricky Parkey a year later. Mutti would go 2-4-1 before retiring in 1989. But for 12 rounds on October 19, 1985, in Monte Carlo, these two would provide fireworks the likes of which have seldom been witnessed in the square circle.

July 1, 2000

On July 1, 2000, a bout occurred at the Bowler’s Arena, Manchester, UK, that also involved unique events. This one had all the ingredients for a classic Brit dust-up. The participants were late-substitute Wayne Rigby (17-5) from Manchester and Michael “Shaka” Ayers (28-3-1) from London. “Shaka” was the International Boxing Organization lightweight titleholder.

On paper, Ayers, an accomplished stylist, looked to be the strong favorite. In fact, the skilled Ayers had stopped the highly rated Colin Dunn in 1996. But the Mancunian challenger Rigby came to fight and fight he did.

The Fight

“It landed clean on my chin and I was unconscious for a couple of seconds…Wayne whacked me again and I went down. I think hitting the deck actually woke me up.”— Michael Ayers

“I’d run out of gas, but I’ve got no regrets. My eyes were closing and I didn’t want to get knocked out. This is a scary sport and one punch is all that it takes.”—Wayne Rigby

Early going

Rigby started fast showing surprisingly fast hand speed and a punishing right uppercut that he landed repeatedly. Things heated up in the third round as both men exchanged bruising shots, but Rigby was dictating the action to this point.

Rounds 4-6

In the 4th round, Ayers fought back using a variety of punches behind a good jab and tightened things up. Then, in the 6th, Shaka put the lad from Manchester down with a beautiful straight right, but he couldn’t use the knockdown as a platform to close matters.

Round 7

Rigby came storming back strong in the 7th as both men engaged in mutual savagery, but Ayers managed to get in two crunching blows just before the bell that probably won the round for him. Rigby was fortunate the bell rang.

Round 8

Showing great recuperative powers in the 8th round, Rigby drilled Shaka with every punch in the book and finally landed two hammering left hooks that sent the Londoner to the canvas like he had been hit with a sap with. Somehow, someway, the tough champion, who was in danger of being stopped for the first time in his long career, got up and signaled to Rigby at the bell that he had indeed been rocked. Mutual respect and uncommon sportsmanship was now in play. What else was in play was that Ayers was at risk of losing to a man, albeit a former British champion, who had taken the fight on short notice.

Round 9

Ayers also showed his ability to recuperate between rounds as he came out fast, but the ninth round was Rigby’s as he forced the action with straight rights, hooks and uppercuts to the loud approval of his hometown fans. However, he expended valuable energy in the process. Both men continued to engage in malefic violence. Ayer’s mouth was bleeding and Rigby’s eyes were badly bruised.

The 10th Round

“Squinting at features even more battered than his own, Michael Ayers could tell from the look of resignation in Wayne Rigby’s eyes that his opponent was finished. The fire which raged fiercely for 10 rounds had been doused. Then, with Rigby helpless and American referee Arthur Mercante Jr. hesitating, came a moment unique in boxing.”—Mike Lewis, February 24, 2001, The Telegraph

The first half of the round was even as both combatants continued to engage in what had now become a classic. Ayers then began to use effective stinging right crosses and right leads. He took control with 1:26 left and accelerated his assault until the gallant Wayne found himself out of gas. With only 29 seconds left, Ayers signaled to Mercante Jr. that the fight should be stopped, but for some inexplicable reason he was not responsive. Ayers then pummeled his helpless and badly bloodied opponent until both men signaled that enough was enough, touched gloves, and headed back to their corners. This occurred with just 14 seconds left. It was a rare moment of poignancy that made those who witnessed it feel their spines tingle.

Mercante finally put his arms around Rigby to officially halt the fight, but the two noble warriors had wrested that important responsibility from Mercante. Indeed, Mercante’s potentially dangerous hesitation could well have resulted in Rigby taking unnecessary and damaging punishment.

As Mike Lewis writes, “Dropping their hands, Ayers and Rigby decided there and then that this memorable bruising battle was over. They touched gloves, nodded at one another and headed back to their respective corners. An extraordinary finish to an extraordinary contest. Hardened Manchester ringsiders had never seen anything like it. “Barry Hearn, my manager, said it was eerie,” recalls 36-year-old Londoner Ayers of his remarkable victory which was deemed to be a stoppage. “It was almost as though Wayne and myself had communicated through telepathy. Somehow he got it across to me that he’d taken enough and I stopped.”

But the best quote came from Jerry Storey, Ayers’ Irish trainer when he said, “Those two guys showed boxing still had a soul.”

Footnote: Like many fans, I keep my own list of favorite fights. This one has a prominent place on it. July 1 2000

Follow us on Twitter@boxing_com to continue the discussion

Michael Ayers vs Wayne Rigby (part 1)

Michael Ayers vs Wayne Rigby (part 2)

Michael Ayers vs Wayne Rigby (part 3)

Michael Ayers vs Waybe Rigby (part 4)

Lee Roy Murphy Vs Chisanda Mutti Rds 1 2 & Prefight

Lee Roy Murphy Vs Chisanda Mutti Rds 3 4 5 6 7

Lee Roy Murphy Vs Chisanda Mutti Rds 8 9 10 11 12 & Postfight

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  1. pugknows 07:29pm, 04/04/2012

    Here is my two cents. Mercante is the worse ref in boxing.

  2. the thresher 06:26am, 04/04/2012

    Guy, Politics play a big part with Mercante. Somehow, he has an in with Lathan. I don’t get it. He has botched several fights and yet he is allowed to get plum assignments.

    Texas is criticized for being a bad place vis-a-vis boxing, but the New York Commission does not come out smelling like roses. Ever since the Sypion-Classen tragedy, I have been very sceptical about NY. The Gatti-Gamache weigh-in scandal did nothing to ease my concerns. Then Bee Scotland and then Margo-Cotto. It gets worse and worse.

  3. Guy 05:19am, 04/04/2012

    Ja, sure seems like it. Pity that they allow a guy like this to officiate. But then again in life you get a lot of incompetent people that are are allowed to carry on plying their trade despite being unfit for their jobs. Guess we just have to live with it. Part of living in a fallen world I guess.

  4. the thresher 05:27am, 04/03/2012

    Guy. Mercante is a dangerously bad referee.

  5. Guy 03:29am, 04/02/2012

    Maybe Mercante Jnr is just an out and out bad referee. Boxing needs refs who have the courage to step and stop a fight when a fighter is unable to defend himself. However, the question has to be asked why Rigby’s corner didn’t throw in the towel when he started to absorb truckloads of punishment and was clearly a beaten man. They are often part of the problem. An exception would be Buddy McGirt who always ensures that his fighters don’t ship unnecessary punishment.

  6. the thresher 07:30am, 04/01/2012

    Guy, Mercante’s record on late stoppages is a bad one. No, make that a TERRIBLE ONE.

  7. Guy 04:30pm, 03/31/2012

    Watched the last two rounds of Ayers-Rigby on You Tube and was stunned that Mercante Jnr allowed Rigby to take so much unnecessary punishment in the last 30 seconds of the fight. All credit to Ayers for allowing Rigby to retire from the fight wih dignity. Had Rigby been up against a merciless opponent of the nature of a Tyson or a Liston etc. he could have been killed when he stopped fighting. As far as Mercante Jnr is concerned, well, I’ll let the footage speak for itself…

  8. the thresher 04:16pm, 03/31/2012

    Kind words Norman

  9. Norm Marcus 09:47am, 03/30/2012

    Ted: These were some tough guys. I learn a lot about the crafts, boxing and writing when I read your stuff. Glad to be on your team!

  10. the thresher 07:11am, 03/30/2012

    Good question. Ask Ms. Lathan. I suspect favoritism and politics are involved. His record is not very compelling. He DOES have the right last name, however.

  11. pugknows 12:18pm, 03/29/2012

    He almost got Hurtado killed and his antic during the Foreman-Cotto fight were bizzaro. Why is he allowed to referee?

  12. the thresher 05:09am, 03/28/2012

    Pug, thanks. Mercante Jr. had/has a history of late stoppages and weird conduct. Why he gets prime fights remains a mystery to many boxing people.

  13. TEX HASSLER 03:59pm, 03/27/2012

    Another fine, well thought article by Mr.Sares. Thanks for your hard work and time.The referee should have stopped the fight sooner.

  14. pugknows 02:51pm, 03/27/2012

    However, that referee was bad news. What in God’s name was he doing in there? Rigby was done. Why didn’t he know that?

  15. pugknows 09:28am, 03/27/2012

    Ted, you are at the top of your game. Keep them coming. These great reads keep me riveted.

  16. the thresher 08:15am, 03/27/2012

    The guys here are willing to do the hard work, the reserach, and not put out the typical puke that spreads like rancid peanut butter over many of the other racists-ridden sites.

    You feeling me on this?

  17. the thresher 08:12am, 03/27/2012

    Some articles are more fun to write than others. Sometimes you set up the video footage and write while you are watching it. That’s a pure blast because you can replay it until you nail it down. This was such a piece and I enjoyed writing immensely because it tapped my memory bank and once written, it’s there for as long as people keep these things.

    What a blast to write on Boxing.com—clearly the very best on-line site in boxing. And I mean that not because I write on it but because of the other writers who are here.

  18. Don from Prov 07:14am, 03/27/2012

    War time—-
    Funny, someone was just talking to me the other day about double knockdowns.
    Another good Boxing.com read!

  19. Pete The Sneak 04:56am, 03/27/2012

    Great Stuff Thresh on what was indeed an extraordinary boxing match. In a sport where you get paid to literally render your opponent unconscious, this was both a brutal and humane ending by 2 guys who got it, and in the middle of a war no less. Yes Virginia, boxing does have a soul. Keep em coming my man, keep em coming. Peace.

  20. the thresher 04:28am, 03/27/2012

    De nada me amigo

  21. EZ E 12:37am, 03/27/2012

    UNCLE TEDDY, What a GREAT way to go to bed!! It reminded me of when my trainer uncle would come into our room and tell us a great ‘bedtime boxing story’ before we’d go tp sleep. Sometimes they were so good we’d wish he’d tell us another one. Thiswas one of those times. GREAT STUFF!! Muchas gracias!!

  22. Carlos Gallego 10:04pm, 03/26/2012

    Great fight and story. It demonstrates the humanity of a sport that is too often simplistically labeled as brutish. Boxing does have a soul indeed.

  23. Dan Adams 06:33pm, 03/26/2012

    Ted, I’d never seen the Ayers-Rigby fight; thanks for that!  Wow, what a class ending to a fantastic battle.  Mad respect to Ayers for showing such compassion for Rigby, who simply had nothing left and could have been seriously hurt had the fight gone on.

  24. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo 04:20pm, 03/26/2012

    Damn! What a story teller….O. Henry is smiling down on you!

  25. mikecasey 01:28pm, 03/26/2012

    Terrific fight, Ted. I saw it at the time and it just kept getting better. It was a shining example of the old fight game at its noble best.

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