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Wednesday, June 16, 2010
Memorable fights at 168

By Graham Houston

Andre Ward and Allan Green
Can Andre Ward-Allan Green live up to other great 168-pound battles of the past?
Andre Ward meets Allan Green on Saturday in the second stage of the Showtime "Super Six" tournament in the super middleweight division. Thus far, the tournament has given viewers excitement, drama and controversy.

Before Super Six, though, the 168-pound division had produced its share of memorable fights. Here's a look at 10 of them.

10. Nigel Benn KO10 Gerald McClellan, New London Arena, London, Feb. 25, 1995


It is debatable whether a fight that saw one of the participants seriously injured can be called great, but the Benn-McClellan contest was sensational and dramatic. McClellan's plight -- living out his life in a severely compromised condition -- will always cast a shadow over what might be considered one of the most exciting fights in ring history. Knocked through the ropes and almost stopped in a wild opening round, Benn rallied to give and take heavy punishment. Britain's "Dark Destroyer" was knocked down in the eighth but came back to hurt the American challenger before the round was over. A weary and disoriented McClellan took a knee in the 10th round to be counted out, and then collapsed in his corner. Both men were taken to the hospital. Benn was suffering from exhaustion, but McClellan was in desperate trouble and required emergency surgery to remove a blood clot from his brain. "Many experts at ringside said it was the most ferocious and pitiless contests they had seen," reported Paul Hayward in Britain's Daily Telegraph newspaper.

9. Sugar Ray Leonard KO9 Donny Lalonde, Caesars Palace, Las Vegas, Nov. 7, 1988

Sugar Ray Leonard
Donny Lalonde, left, admitted he lost to a great fighter in Sugar Ray Leonard.
Two titles were at stake when Leonard fought Lalonde -- the vacant super middleweight championship and Lalonde's light heavyweight belt. Lalonde was required to come in at 168 pounds, nine under the light-heavy limit, but he made weight with a pound to spare. An upset looked possible in the early rounds, especially when a right hand spilled Leonard to the canvas in the fourth. Gradually, though, Leonard's greater experience and class began to give him control of the contest, and he knocked down his Canadian opponent twice in the ninth. Referee Richard Steele waved off the count when Lalonde went down the second time. The win technically made Leonard a champion in five weight classes, although he never intended to defend the light heavyweight championship. Leonard officially weighed 165 pounds but revealed afterwards that he had stepped on the scales with weights in his pockets and was really 159.5. "I lost to a great fighter," Lalonde said afterward.

8. Thomas Hearns W12 James Kinchen, Hilton Hotel, Las Vegas, Nov. 4, 1988

Tommy Hearns & James Kinchen
Tommy Hearns, right, fought back from the brink to edge James Kinchen.
A boxer can seldom have such a close brush with calamity and come back to win as Hearns did in his fight with Kinchen. A right hand dropped Hearns in the fourth round, and badly hurt, he held on tightly to Kinchen after taking the eight count. Referee Mills Lane told the judges to deduct a point from Hearns' score, but the Hitman survived. Hearns came back to pile up points with his left jab, but he was never completely out of danger. His right eye was swelling and closing by the end. "You could almost feel the relief in his corner when the fight was over," I reported from ringside for the U.K. weekly Boxing News. The majority decision in Hearns' favor was unpopular with the crowd. "I had to reach way down, way back to when I started in 1977," Hearns told the postfight news conference.

7. Joe Calzaghe W12 Jeff Lacy, M.E.N. Arena, Manchester, England, March 4, 2006

Jeff Lacy, Joe Calazghe
Odds off: The pundits got it wrong when they pegged Jeff Lacy, left, to overcome Joe Calzaghe.
Amazing as it might seem considering what happened in the ring, Lacy was a slight betting favorite to defeat Calzaghe. The fight proved to be a mismatch, though, with Calzaghe winning every round but being deducted a point in the 11th when he held Lacy's head down and hit him with a cheeky punch thrown from behind Calzaghe's back. By this stage, Calzaghe was having fun; Lacy was beaten up and barely surviving. A knockdown in the final round sealed the seal on Calzaghe's dominant display. "The last three rounds made for uncomfortable watching as Lacy stumbled 'round like a mortally wounded bull," John Rawling reported in Britain's The Guardian newspaper.

6. Roy Jones W12 James Toney, MGM Grand, Las Vegas, Nov. 18, 1994


Everyone anticipated a close, compelling contest between unbeaten rivals, but Jones made it look easy as he coasted to a unanimous and widely scored decision victory. Toney, considered to be a consummate ring mechanic, was made to look lackluster. "On a night when a cold wind blowing in from the desert brought an uncharacteristic chill to the neon-lit gambling mecca, Jones was a study in coolness and composure," I reported from ringside for Boxing Monthly. Toney, who was push-punched to the canvas for an eight count in the third round, was humbled and humiliated.

5. Chris Eubank D12 Nigel Benn, Old Trafford Stadium, Manchester, England, Oct. 9, 1993

Nigel Benn and Chris Eubank
Three years later, Chris Eubank, right, and Nigel Benn didn't quite deliver the same action they had in their first fight.
The fight itself was somewhat disappointing, but the occasion was huge, as more than 40,000 fans attended the Eubank-Benn outdoor promotion at Manchester United's soccer ground. There was live TV in the U.K. and delayed same-day coverage on Showtime. Eubank had stopped Benn in nine thrilling rounds three years earlier when both were middleweights. As often happens, the sequel wasn't as good as the original, but the eccentric Eubank and menacing Benn provided a tense and tactically interesting fight, with the British boxing writers divided on the decision. Benn would have won had he not had a point deducted for low blows. "The bout was not as violent as the first meeting, when neither man wanted to give ground," Srikumar Sen reported in Britain's The Times newspaper. "This time they were three years older and wiser and realized that they could not fight at the old pace anymore."

4. Sugar Ray Leonard D12 Thomas Hearns, Caesars Palace, Las Vegas, June 12, 1989

Ray Leonard and Thomas Hearns
Just like old times: Ray Leonard, left, and Thomas Hearns again made for an exciting fight in their rematch.
Eight years after their classic welterweight championship fight in the same arena, Leonard and Hearns fought a long-overdue rematch. Although older and heavier, they provided another exciting contest. In the first bout, Leonard, trailing on points, had overwhelmed a tiring Hearns in the 14th round. Again, Leonard was stronger at the end, hurting and almost stopping Hearns with a storming last-round offensive. It was a remarkable rally considering that Leonard had been knocked down in the 11th round, the second time he had been dropped in the fight. "The bout had the ebb and flow of a classic match," Phil Berger reported in the New York Times. "Both fighters repeatedly fought back when hurt, taking turns controlling the action."

3. Joe Calzaghe W12 Mikkel Kessler, Millennium Stadium, Cardiff, Wales, Nov. 3, 2007

Joe Calzahhe and Kikkel Kessler
Standing tall: Joe Calzaghe turned in the performance of his life to take out Mikkel Kessler.
The undefeated champions provided a fight that lived up to expectations, with Calzaghe coming back from a shaky start to win a unanimous decision. It had seemed in the early part of the fight that Kessler was going to send the 50,000 Welsh fans home unhappy. The strong, precise Danish fighter rocked Calzaghe with a right hand in the second round. He was in front on two judges' cards after five rounds in the HBO-televised fight. Calzaghe turned the fight around from the sixth round, however, as he began to use his superior mobility while piling up points with the right jab from his southpaw stance. He hurt Kessler significantly with a right hook to the body in the eighth. A desperate last-round rally by Kessler was much too little, much too late. Calzaghe had outboxed, outgeneraled and outworked him. "I don't think his power is really, really hard, but it confuses you when he hits you 20 times," Kessler told the postfight news conference.

2. Lucian Bute W12 Librado Andrade, Bell Centre, Montreal, Oct. 24, 2008

Librado Andrade and Lucian Bute
Down, not out: Despite being knocked down in the 12th, Lucian Bute's early work helped him earn the edge against Librado Andrade.
It wasn't one of the great fights at 168 pounds, but the first meeting between Bute and Andrade was surely the most controversial. Weary and wobbly, Bute looked out of the fight when he went down in the final round. The ensuing events have been well chronicled, with referee Marlon B. Wright interrupting the eight count to order Andrade to stay in the neutral corner from which he had strayed. The vital extra seconds enabled Bute to hear the final bell, and the Montreal-based southpaw had piled up so many points in the earlier rounds that the unanimous decision in his favor was a formality. Bute's title and unbeaten record had been hanging by a thread, however. "I wasn't upset at all," a remarkably forgiving Andrade said in a subsequent interview with Boxing Monthly. "I was satisfied. I did what I went to do, and that was to finish him. I just didn't do it where I was rewarded with the world championship."

1. Byron Mitchell KO11 Frankie Liles, Shriner's Auditorium, Wilmington, Mass., June 12, 1999


Mitchell and Liles are not among the elite 168-pound champions, but their fight, televised on Showtime, produced one of the most vivid, if largely forgotten, comeback wins of recent years. Mitchell, who was hopelessly behind on points, caught a tiring Liles to floor him three times in the 11th round. Although Mitchell had scored a knockdown in the second round, he failed to press his advantage, and Liles, a tall, rangy southpaw, outboxed him from the third round onward. Mitchell said he had never been past eight rounds, so he felt he had to conserve energy. "I knew I was losing," he said when I interviewed him in 2002. "If I gave it all that I had, and I lost, then I could live with that. So I said to myself that in the last few rounds I'd have to give it everything that I'd got -- and that's what I did."