A look at the upside of nontitle bouts

July, 14, 2010
7/14/10
6:23
PM ET
Timothy Bradley's welterweight fight with Luis Carlos Abregu on Saturday (HBO, 9:45 p.m. ET) has echoes of the past. It is something one doesn't see anymore, a world champion boxing in a nontitle bout. When junior welterweight champion Bradley steps up in weight to meet Argentine Abregu in a 12-rounder he is treading in the footsteps of great champions of the past.

Nontitle fights were once frequent, back in the days when boxers fought often -- unlike today, when a champion might box only two or three times a year.

A nontitle bout kept a champion active as well as earned him money. Today it seems that every main event has to be billed for some sort of title. Once upon a time, the important thing was the fight itself.

The nontitle (or "overweight") bout was often more than merely a stay-busy fight for a champion. Some nontitle bouts were big fights in themselves, pitting a champion against a contender -- often in the next weight class up.

Upsets occurred regularly in nontitle fights. A champion might underestimate his opponent or perhaps enter the ring without the same competitive edge that he would have had were the title on the line. This would give the champion's sometimes unheralded opponent a golden chance to pull off an upset and perhaps in the process earn a rematch with the title at stake.

Fans in foreign countries got the chance to see top American champions against the local favorites. For the champion boxing abroad, the purse money was good, and, should a loss occur, at least the champ would go home with the title intact and could always complain about biased local officiating.

With many fights from which to choose, here is a look at 11 nontitle bouts (we include a two-for-one show in London) to whet the appetite for Saturday's Bradley-Abregu contest.

10. Carlos Ortiz W10 Maurice Cullen; Sugar Ramos TKO2 Sammy McSpadden: Wembley Arena, London -- Oct. 22, 1963


Legendary promoter Jack Solomons gave British fans the chance to see world champs Ortiz and Ramos on the same show in 10-round nontitle bouts. Lightweight champion Carlos Ortiz, from New York via Puerto Rico, proved too strong for Maurice Cullen, a stylish jab-and-move boxer from northeast England, winning on points and dropping his game opponent in the last round. Ramos, the featherweight champion from Cuba (but a resident of Mexico City), stepped up in weight to stop Sammy McSpadden, a London-based Scottish lightweight, in the second round. "Both Ramos and Ortiz looked the part of a champion, for all the nonchalance with which they went about their tasks," reported Britain's venerable The Times. "From Ortiz we had some flashes of genius -- a left hook to the body which seemed to go in to the elbow, some perfect side-stepping and a left hand that, when he chose, was far faster than anything Cullen could produce."

9. Giordano Campari W10 Joe Brown: Milan, Italy -- Dec. 7, 1960


Italian lightweight Campari used the left jab and hook to excellent effect in outscoring world champ Brown. Campari scored a knockdown with a left hook in the second round. Brown, 34, seemed to have been beaten fairly. "Brown was too slow against the fast-punching Italian," the Associated Press reported. "He often found his own punches ineffective as Campari stepped aside with fancy footwork." Perhaps Brown was simply unmotivated, because he twice successfully defended the title the following year; Campari never got a world title opportunity.

8. Armand Savoie DQ3 Sandy Saddler: Montreal Forum -- March 3, 1952


Featherweight champion Saddler lost several times to lightweights, none more controversially than when he was disqualified at the end of the third round of his scheduled 10-rounder against local favorite Savoie in Montreal. Saddler was known to be an exceedingly rough customer, and referee Tommy Sullivan told the judges to take the second and third rounds away from the New York boxer due to repeated infringements. At the end of Round 3, Emile Gauthier, chairman of the Montreal Athletic Commission, climbed up on the ring apron and instructed the referee to disqualify Saddler. "He was fouling continually -- heeling [rubbing the heel of the glove into his opponent's face], holding and hitting, hitting on the breaks and sending in low blows," referee Sullivan told the Montreal Gazette afterward. The crowd of 8,334, unhappy with the abbreviated ending, "cut loose with a roar of disapproval" when the bout was terminated, the Gazette reported.

7. Orlando Zulueta W10 Jimmy Carter: Washington, D.C. -- April 20, 1955


Carter's veteran manager Willie Ketchum admitted to reporters that the lightweight champion was inclined to underrate some opponents and didn't train too seriously for them, which could account for losses in both championship and nontitle bouts. There was always a good possibility that a motivated and competent opponent could defeat Carter, which is what happened when the Cuban contender Zulueta won a split 10-round decision in their nontitle bout. "Carter really didn't seem to have it," the Associated Press reported. "Time and again the clever Zulueta had the champion missing and looking bad."

6. Carl "Bobo" Olson W10 Joey Maxim: San Francisco -- April 13, 1955


Middleweight champion Olson, seeking a title shot at light heavyweight champion Archie Moore, cemented his claim with a surprisingly one-sided, unanimous 10-round decision win over ex-champ Maxim -- who had lost on points to Moore in three title fights -- before a crowd of 13,276 at San Francisco's Cow Palace. "Battering the 175-pound Maxim around the ring with ease, the 169-pound Olson was in complete charge throughout," the United Press news agency reported. Olson knocked down the bigger man in the second and ninth rounds, while Maxim suffered a cut over the left eye in the third round. The fight created the illusion that Olson stood a realistic chance of defeating the much bigger Moore. He didn't, of course -- Moore knocked him out in the third round of their light heavy championship bout two months later at New York's Polo Grounds.

5. Sugar Ray Robinson No Contest 2 Gerhard Hecht: Berlin -- June 24, 1951


The great Robinson was touring Europe as middleweight champion and knocking out a series of opponents in nontitle appearances when he fought the heavier but outclassed German boxer Hecht before an estimated crowd of 25,000, outdoors in Berlin. In one of the ring's bizarre endings, Hecht collapsed theatrically in the second round when Robinson landed right hands around the side of the body, the sort of blows he was accustomed to landing in the States. Hecht, however, claimed he had been hit in the kidneys, which is illegal in European boxing. With Hecht writhing on the canvas and clutching at his back as if in agony, the German referee disqualified Robinson, who needed a police escort to escape the arena as the crowd booed and threw debris into the ring. The next day the German commission changed the verdict to "no contest."




4. Tom Bethea TKO8 Nino Benvenuti: Melbourne -- March 13, 1970


In a huge upset, middleweight champion Benvenuti, who had a following in the large Italian community in Australia, retired after the eighth of a scheduled 10-rounder against New Yorker Bethea, claiming a rib injury. Bethea, who had lost five of his 15 bouts, seized his big opportunity and "scored continually with smashing blows to the stomach and ribs," the Associated Press reported. Benvenuti went down in the seventh round and seemed to have had enough in the eighth. "The ring was bombarded with beer cans when the fight ended," AP reported. In a rematch two months later with the title at stake, Benvenuti knocked out Bethea in the eighth round.

3. Giulio Rinaldi W10 Archie Moore: Rome -- Oct. 29, 1960


Great light heavyweight champion Moore came in five and a quarter pounds over the 185-pound match weight limit for his bout with Rinaldi, paid a $1,000 forfeit and lost a unanimous 10-round decision with the scores of the Italian judges not disclosed. Moore, 43, was clearly the superior craftsman but the 25-year-old Rinaldi staged a strong finish, with Moore given a standing eight count in the last round. "A barrage and a push sent Moore staggering into the ropes," the Associated Press reported. Moore protested as referee Marcello Tinelli gave him the eight count. The crowd of 14,000 "shouted and screamed in jubilation" when Rinaldi got the decision. "I would say the fight should have been a draw," Moore said afterward, but he graciously complimented Rinaldi for putting up "quite a fight." In a rematch at Madison Square Garden nine months layer, this time with the light heavyweight title at stake, a much better-prepared Moore easily outpointed the Italian fighter.

2. Kid Gavilan KO10 Walter Cartier: Madison Square Garden, New York -- Dec. 14, 1951


Welterweight champion Gavilan fought in a number of stirring nontitle bouts, sometimes against middleweights, but none was more thrilling than his win over 160-pound contender Cartier, from Greenwich Village. Gavilan was behind on two judges' scorecards after nine rounds but he hurt Cartier in the last round and overwhelmed the bigger, heavier man. "Cartier made a courageous effort to fight back and stem the tide," James P. Dawson reported in The New York Times, but the New York boxer "staggered all over the ring, acting at times like a man on rubber legs" until a right hand sent him down. Referee Ruby Goldstein waved the finish, after one minute, 31 seconds of the round, without bothering to count, "for when Cartier went down it was evident that he was not going to get up."

1. Rubin "Hurricane" Carter TKO1 Emile Griffith: Pittsburgh, Penn. -- Dec. 20, 1963


In one of the most dramatic of all nontitle fights, middleweight contender Carter overwhelmed welterweight champ Griffith in two minutes, 51 seconds, scoring two knockdowns. The referee intervened when Griffith got up unsteadily from the second knockdown. Carter came in just three and a half pounds heavier than Griffith but looked huge against the welterweight champion. "They ain't got no business putting welterweights in there with me," Carter was quoted as saying by United Press International. Griffith, disappointed but defiant, said: "This isn't going to get me discouraged. I'm still going to fight middleweights." Indeed, Griffith went on to become a two-time middleweight champion; Carter never won a title.
Graham Houston is the American editor of Boxing Monthly and writes for FightWriter.com.

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