When Fans Go “Oooh and Aaah”

By Ted Sares on February 3, 2012
When Fans Go “Oooh and Aaah”
Jersey Joe Walcott was nothing less than an old master when it came to luring in opponents

Sometimes cuties are flashy or stylish, but more often than not, their calling card is reliance on a crafty persona…

“A ‘cutie’ to me is a guy who has such subtle, and often brilliant, boxing skills that most people who watch him do not even realize it. Guys like Ali, Leonard, and Jones have such obvious skills that even people who aren’t very well versed in boxing technique can see it. It’s the cutie, though, that gets things done without the usual flash and speed and explosiveness associated with great fighters. They are like magicians in a sense that they get the job done and sometimes people who watch it don’t realize it until well after it’s over. They look at the end result and say “How did that happen?’”—“Iceman” John Scully (trainer, friend, and former contender).

“I’ll take his left hook and put it in his pocket.”—Jersey Joe Walcott

As soon as I entered the smoke-filled Hynes Auditorium in Boston (you could smoke back then) and heard the ooohs and aaahs, I sensed immediately what kind of fighter was in there. Then I heard, “Oh my God, he missed him,” and “Did you see that move?” That’s when all doubt was removed.

The guy who was fighting that night in Boston was slick East Boston native Vinnie Curto (43-5-3 at the time) and he was making crafty side-to-side, stick and get-out moves. Slipping and dipping, he was countering well against his ferocious looking opponent. By employing all the tricks, he was nullifying his opponent’s savage style and taking away his game plan. Soon, he would take away his spirit. But this wasn’t just any opponent; it was none other than the late “Bad” Bennie Briscoe (64-20-5 coming in).

Curto, who finished with a 62-10-3 mark, was in the middle of an amazing 29-fight undefeated streak. It would end in Seoul against Chong-Pal Park (then 37-3-1) in a grueling 15-rounder for the IBF super middleweight crown (and I was at the Sports Arena to witness it). He belonged to a fraternity of fighters with a long and proud tradition. Perhaps the first name that comes to mind is the legendary Willie Pep, but a prime Jimmy Young cannot be far behind. There have been many others over the years and there are some out there now. Names like Billy Conn, Jersey Joe Walcott, Nicolino Locche, Chuck Davey, Joey Archer, Willie Pastrano, George Benton, Herol Graham, Tyrone “Butterfly” Crawley, Michael Nunn, Pernell Whitaker, James Toney, Vernon “Iceman” Paris (26-0), Ismayl Sillakh (17-0), and, of course, Floyd Mayweather Jr. quickly come to mind. These are all slick and smooth boxers with outstanding defensive skills. There are many more but space does not permit a full listing.

Speaking of Graham, he often put on “shows” in pubs in Sheffield in which he would invite patrons to try to hit him while having his hands behind his back. He was so quick no one could ever lay a glove on him. Of course, they would go oooh and aaah with a Brit tilt to it.

Sometimes cuties are flashy like Kid Gavilan or stylish like Luis “El Feo” Rodriguez, but more often than not, their calling card is reliance on a crafty persona. They fight in a way that controls the attacking opponent by redirecting his energy, almost like in aikido. Sometimes, they are so relaxed they hardly look like they are fighting. After throwing lightening fast combos, they might move out and kind of evaluate things and then move back in with something different. Sometimes they even look bored, and then all of a sudden cut loose with an offensive explosion that keeps the other guy off balance. At times, they can torment and humiliate their opponents.

Jersey Joe Walcott was a master at luring his opponents to him. Using his patented shuffle, he feinted not only with his hands and feet but with his shoulders as well. Creating effective punching angles, he launched sneaky counters and hooks. Both Joe Louis and Ezzard Charles felt the wrath of Walcott’s cunning.

Crafty Jimmy Young did a number on both Muhammed Ali and George Foreman by making them fight his fight. A prime Young had a skill-set that could best be described as being savvy and unorthodox—and with it he would outbox the boxers and outthink the punchers. He was savvy in that he was difficult to hit, had an educated left jab and straight right hand, and an excellent body attack. He was unorthodox when he bent away and down from an opponent and did other odd—even illegal—things in the ring like putting his head outside the ropes halting the action and giving him time to reassess matters. Jimmy Young had a very high ring IQ.

With this skill-set, Young exploited Ali’s technical flaws like no other fighter, but still lost a highly controversial decision. Ali had no strategic clue as to how to fight Young. While Jimmy’s legacy is a sad one given the circumstances of his personal life, he was nevertheless the quintessential slickster who could well have gone down in history as the only boxer to have beaten Muhammad Ali, George Foreman, and Ken Norton. His losses to Ali and Norton were that questionable.

On Oct. 8, 1999 at the Roseland Ballroom in Taunton, Massachusetts, I heard the fans make those same sounds again, the “ooohs and the aaahs,” as they watched James Toney beat former Cuban amateur star Ramon “Mongo” Garbey by a convincing 10-round decision. The crafty Toney fought off the ropes, and lured the confused Cuban into his kind of in-close fight, putting moves on him that were pure old school in nature. Garbey had almost 400 amateur bouts, but he had no answer for the experienced Toney who would get him to lead and then crack him with sharp and punishing counters. Mongo’s game plan and heart had been snatched away. Toney did the same with Vassily Jirov’s heart four years later. But then, that’s what cuties do.

Vernon “The Iceman” Paris fights out of Detroit, but he has the slickest moves of any young fighter I have seen since a young Pernell Whitaker was doing his thing. In an article dated April 28, 2007 in maxboxing.com, Doug Fischer describes Paris “…as a kid who exhibits good footwork, excellent hand speed and hand-eye coordination, as well as a variety of punches and combinations. He employs shoulder-roll counters with his left hand held low while in close like a poor-man’s Floyd Mayweather. When it becomes evident that an opponent is not going to be blasted out early or easily, he gets on his bicycle and ruthlessly pot-shots until the referee had seen enough.” Vernon’s mettle will be tested on March 24 when he tangles with well traveled Zab Judah in Brooklyn in what could be Zab’s last chance to stay in the mix and Vernon’s big chance to get into the mix. 

Argentinean immortal Nicolino Locche (117-4-14) was renowned for his uncanny defensive tactics, extraordinary reflexes, and incredible ability to feint. His nickname was “El Intocable” (The Untouchable). His boxing style made him a legend with a defense that dodged his opponent’s punches in an almost unbelievable manner. Crowds would burst into song as they watched Locche force his opponents to throw punches as close as possible, but without touching him. He may have been as good a defensive wizard as Willie Pep and should be held in high esteem by those who like to watch a crafty and slick boxer employ the sweet science in almost magical fashion. El Intocable was special.

(Take a tour of the writer’s site at www.tedsares.com and view the new photos.)

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  1. the thresher 12:59pm, 02/12/2012

    Busey is a loon

  2. MRBILL-HARDCORE XXX 05:54am, 02/09/2012

    WTF? Gary Busey has now filed bankruptcy / chapter 7 or something… WTF is going on with the stars???

  3. MRBILL-HARDCORE XXX 10:08am, 02/08/2012

    I’m kinda’ pissed now that HBO is neglecting to air “Klit-Chisora” on Feb. 19… From what I hear now it will be shown via EPIX, the cable channel that only a dozen people across the land have… I wanna see this grudge match… EPIX is obscure… ARGH…

  4. Gajjers 06:49am, 02/07/2012

    Thanks again Ted, for yet another guided tour down diamond-studded memory lane. Whitaker was one my favorite cuties, and I think he may just have ‘borrowed’ a few moves from Nicolino Locche. That was a joy to see. Wow! Such confidence & panache in the face of withering fire! By the way, did an earlier poster refer to Robinson & Leonard as cuties? Do they fit that mold? Especially Robinson; though an undoubted ball of fire in offensive mode, he wasn’t exactly a defensive genius, was he?

  5. Don from Prov 05:56am, 02/06/2012

    The Walcott quote is the best I’ve heard.

    Mr. Jersey Joe = a boxing encyclopedia.  Good article, Ted: I enjoyed it—and I look forward to seeing Paris/Judah in March.

  6. pugknows 09:05pm, 02/04/2012

    Watching that Russian beat the fat slob of a Cuban was enough to make me gag.

  7. raxman 03:17pm, 02/04/2012

    It’s sunday morning here in melbourne but who needs the sunday paper when i have ted the bull’s history lesson to enjoy. that was just a joy to read ted.
    i especially got a kick out of the aikido mention - a martial art i’ve practice on and off the last 7 years since realizing getting punched in the head by younger and much better boxers was no way to stay in shape.  one of the main tenets of aikido is stepping off the line of the attack - its a subtle move that is the first step to executing a throw or take down and i’m sure its something the cuties of your article fully understood if not consciously then instinctively.  anyway i’ve had fun trying to incorporate it into the mindset of some of the young fighters i’ve worked with in recent years.
    its good to be reminded of the fact that the idea is to hit and not get hit. not stand toe to toe and see who has the better punch/chin.
    thanks again ted

  8. MR.BILL-HARDCORE XXX 02:57pm, 02/04/2012

    I think Eddie Miranda is a solid 168 pounder for sure in 2012… That 160 killed him there in his last loss there down that low… 168 is better for him… However, even though 175 might be a smidge too big for Miranda, he is not fat there; just not elite or world class at 175… Last night was the first time in a long-ass time that I sat and taped a boxing card off ESPN’s FNF circuit… 90% of the time ESPN is a waste of time…

  9. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo 12:54pm, 02/04/2012

    Throw a Hail Mary choppy, loopy overhand right from way outside or a round the bend loopy ass hook both short by a mile. Jab your way inside only to throw one choppy ass right which seems to be aimed at the hip…then hug! Over and over and over again! He’s not a Light Heavy or even a Super Middleweight….yet I seriously doubt Chilemba would have lasted the distance with that laceration…he must have given a pint of blood from the third round on.

  10. pugknows 10:38am, 02/04/2012

    You are making a true believer out of me. ESPN does not cut it and I no longer look forward to its venues. I’d rather watch the sunset over Henderson.

  11. MRBILL-HARDCORE XXX 12:21am, 02/04/2012

    Miranda is a “Never Wuz.” He can only KO bums, stiffs and has-beens, etc… He’ll hang around cuz he has nothing better to do in 2012, and I understand all of that these days, but Miranda has gone as far as he’s gonna go in boxing… Let him return again on ESPN—-His Home…... Oh, yes, for the record, ESPN—-SUCKS!!

  12. pugknows 11:45pm, 02/03/2012

    MRBILL, Miranda is dead meat. No power. No pizazz. No nothing. He is shot. Pedro Rodriquez was disgusting to watch. He looked like a schmooo and you have to be over 70 to know what a schmooo looks like. Sickening.

  13. MRBILL-HARDCORE XXX 08:26pm, 02/03/2012

    That Russian prospect via Oxnard needs a lotta’ work…. He is big and strong, but his technique sucks… Too bad I cannot pronounce or spell his name, but he KO’d a Burrito Supreme…. YAWN!! I have Miranda happening right now with Chilemba on ESPN2 taping…... Miranda needs a win or find a new trade at age 31…... WORD!

  14. pugknows 07:00pm, 02/03/2012

    Here is a link to several YouTube’s with Vinny Curto talking about some very timely things like Angelo Dundee. http://www.ask.com/web?q=Vinny+Curto+on+youtube&gct=serp&qsrc=0&o=41647940&l=dis&qid=25C2938972CC57E51BC8A9E8C0E65D8A&page=1&jss=1

  15. pugknows 06:59pm, 02/03/2012

    Bull, wtf, aren’t you posting? MRBILL has called you out.

  16. Dan Adams 06:24pm, 02/03/2012

    Ted, always enjoy your articles.  Nicolino Locche was particularly fun to watch.  Check out youtube for his befuddling of the great Antonio Cervantes.  Cervantes KO’ed Locche the next time round, but jeez, did Nicolino make Antonio look silly in their first meeting!  Keep em coming, Ted.

  17. Irish Frankie Crawford Beat Saijo 04:36pm, 02/03/2012

    Jersey Joe had a good old time against the Brown Bomber for twenty-five rounds…was robbed in the first fight…but jitter bugged one time too many in the eleventh in the return.

  18. MRBILL-HARDCORE XXX 04:13pm, 02/03/2012

    I admired Jimmy Young, but he was too bland and boring for me on the whole. I only paid him attention when he fought a name opponent… And, not to rub it in, Young usually LOST his big fights… Young lived off his points win over Foreman from ‘77 Rico till the day he died… Some will not like this, but I have “Ali-Young” on file here at the crib and I still score for Ali by a point or two based on the fact he was champ and pressing the fight… Young was slick, but also hiding in the ropes and biding his time… Young didn’t go after Ali with any real conviction to “Snatch” the crown away… Ali won…. ‘Nuff said…. I have never seen the whole fight between Young and Norton from 1977… All I know is that Norton got the decision…. WORD! Also, just for added measure, Young was on like age 32 in 1980 when he fought and got cut-up by Cooney… I never understood all the hub-bub over Young…... Peace…

  19. TEX HASSLER 04:01pm, 02/03/2012

    I love watching crafty fighters such as Walcott, Young, Locche, etc. Walcott was a master at bringing an opponent within range. Drawing an opponent in is just about absent from modern boxing and is a skill that seems to be lost almost totally. This is a great article.

  20. MRBILL-HARDCORE XXX 03:58pm, 02/03/2012

    Willie Benitez was great between 1977 to 1982, but once schooled by Hearns and later mauled by Hamsho in ‘83, poor Benitez went to hell in a hand-bag… WORD! However, another cutie who was slick and often gets reamed by the voters is Marlon Starling… The two losses to prime Don Curry and the fluke KO loss to Tom Molinares hinders his resume / credentials… Cheerio…..

  21. MRBILL-HARDCORE XXX 03:52pm, 02/03/2012

    Where we at? Okay, cuties of the ring… My top two gotta be “Ali and Leonard” cuz I saw them fight when I was growing up… I also like an in-shape James Toney all the way, too… But since Toney lost to Sammy Peter in 2007, I have lost interest in seeing the fading old master fight any longer… For old fart history, yes, Jersey Joe Walcott is the man for me there, I just wished he had a better beard… Cheerio…....

  22. pugknows 02:16pm, 02/03/2012

    How about Sugar Ray Robinson and Sugar Ray Leonard? How would you categorize them, Bull? This was an awesome treat by the way and again took me through memory lane like only you and Mike Casey can do. I reckon age does have some advantages. I remember you having written about Mike MaCullum vs. Stevie Collins when they fought in Hynes Auditorium. You seem to have seen a lot of live fights in your day and in other countries to boot.

  23. jofre 01:41pm, 02/03/2012

    I just pulled this off the net. Who are these guys? Anyone heard of Sergio Martinez (a reasonable slickster in his own right).


    The WBA Championships Committee has called off the purse bid for the fight between WBA world middleweight champion Gennady Golovkin and interim champion Hassan N’Dam. According to information from WBA executive vice president Gilberto Jesus Mendoza, there were no representatives from either of the fighters involved. The purse bid was scheduled for Thursday in Panama, however Mendoza announced that the WBA reserves the right to impose regulatory sanctions relevant to this situation.

  24. johnwriter60 12:42pm, 02/03/2012

    I always envied the slick way boxers could move by merely dipping at the waist, standing flat-footed, moving but inches before exploding in their own barrage that would put the final take on the matter. And the opponent. Vinnie Curto was one of those…

  25. "Old Yank" Schneider 12:13pm, 02/03/2012

    Love it! I might say that if every time Jimmy Young INTENTIONALLY ducked under the ropes was counted as a knockdown (as the rules REQUIRE), his near wins would not be nearly as close as they appeared.

  26. dollar bond 11:18am, 02/03/2012

    Fantastic article Ted, keep ‘em coming.  I love these Old School treats.

  27. jofre 11:15am, 02/03/2012

    It’s nice to read an article about the true slicksters of the game. Nowadays there are just too many, as Mike Silver would say, cookie cutter fighters. Thanks for bringing us back to reality. I also remember watching Vinnie Curto. He was a master in the ring and it’s nice to see him acknowledged in this terrific article.

  28. David Matthew 10:25am, 02/03/2012

    Tremendous history here…privileged to have such an inside look into an era that was before my time.  Thanks.

  29. mikecasey 09:54am, 02/03/2012

    These are the kind of stories I love. Terrific article - and the brilliant Nicolino Locche as a bonus!

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