- Dan Rafael, ESPN Senior Writer
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Last summer, I decided to put together a column to answer in one place many of the questions I am most frequently asked in my weekly chats, on Twitter (@danrafaelespn) and on Facebook (Dan Rafael ESPN). But there are so many recurring questions that I figured it was time to answer another round of some of the common queries I get.
As new recurring questions present themselves, I will update this FAQ.
How do you rank the three great Mexican fighters of the era, Marco Antonio Barrera, Erik Morales and Juan Manuel Marquez?
All three, who fought mainly in the same weight classes, will be clear first-ballot Hall of Famers when the time comes for them to be eligible, and I've had great fun covering many of their fights. For a long time, Marquez lagged behind the other two, mainly because it took him a lot longer to get the opportunities that Morales and Barrera received, including against each other, in major fights. But Marquez has since leapfrogged them both. Given Marquez's longevity -- Morales and Barrera are basically done even though neither has officially announced his retirement -- the fact that he has won titles in four weight classes (from featherweight to junior welterweight), beat Barrera head to head and gave Manny Pacquiao hell in all four of their fights, including the massive one-punch knockout in their fourth bout, I rank him the best of the trio.
In second place, I have Barrera. A three-division champ, he and Morales, a four-division titlist (with the one at junior welterweight being totally bogus), fought three times during their primes -- with Barrera getting two close wins and Morales winning the epic first fight. Barrera also got the fight with Naseem Hamed and beat him cleanly. Morales has a close but clear win over Pacquiao (in their first fight) and Pacquiao routed Barrera twice -- but Morales also was knocked out by Pacquiao in their second and third fights.
Who would win between great middleweight champions Marvelous Marvin Hagler and Bernard Hopkins?
I change my mind all the time on this fight, but I -- and this might be blasphemy to some -- more often than not find myself thinking that Hopkins would find a way to win. Hopkins idolizes Hagler, and Hagler has told me of his enormous respect for Hopkins. And in many ways, they are kindred spirits whose careers are somewhat similar because of how long it took them to earn public acclaim.
Hopkins has the longevity. He is entering his 25th year as a pro and will, at age 48, fight for a light heavyweight title in March. He also made a middleweight division-record 20 title defenses before eventually winning the light heavyweight title twice. When he regained the light heavyweight crown in 2011 by beating Jean Pascal, he became, at 46, the oldest man to win a boxing world title. Hagler fought for only 14 years and made 12 successful defenses (including beating Roberto Duran and, in an epic war, Tommy Hearns) before losing to Sugar Ray Leonard and retiring.
If versions of Hopkins and Hagler in their prime could meet, I would expect that Hopkins, a more patient fighter, would frustrate Hagler, who could be thrown off his game plan. Just look at the Leonard fight. Hopkins, a slightly bigger man, excels at getting opponents to fight his fight, and I think he would have been able to do that against Hagler. Hopkins is a master at inside fighting, too, and would have been able to tie up the more offensive-minded Hagler. Hagler is the better puncher, but Hopkins has one of the all-time great chins and rarely gets hit cleanly. Hagler? Nobody had to look all that hard to hit him. I don't think it would have been a great fight, but I do think Hopkins would've figured out a way to grind out a tight decision in a fight that featured spurts of action.
How about a winner between Sugar Ray Leonard and Floyd Mayweather Jr. at welterweight?
You're talking about two of the greatest fighters in boxing history, but I definitely go with Leonard. No disrespect to Mayweather, but Leonard was just that great -- maybe one of the top half-dozen fighters in boxing history. Mayweather says he is the best ever, but just because he says it over and over doesn't make it true. As a natural welterweight, Leonard -- who never ducked anyone -- would be the bigger man. Mayweather was at his absolute best as a junior lightweight. Leonard was a far superior offensive fighter. That is inarguable. Their speed would be about the same, with Mayweather maybe possessing a slight edge. Defensively, Mayweather would have the edge for sure, although Leonard's defense was above average.
Leonard also had a supreme chin. He took the best from Marvin Hagler and Thomas Hearns (and I'm not talking about in the second Hearns fight, when an old Leonard got dropped twice). Leonard wouldn't even blink at Mayweather's best punches. I happen to think that, because of Leonard's hand speed, he would be able to land heavy shots on Mayweather (unlike, for example, the powerful Diego Corrales, who had the power but not nearly enough speed against Mayweather to find the target consistently). A shot Shane Mosley badly rocked Mayweather. A prime Leonard would stop Mayweather in the late rounds of a competitive fight.
What time does the pay-per-view main event start?
It never ceases to amaze me: I get hundreds and hundreds of people who ask me this every Saturday evening of a big pay-per-view fight. The main event starts at the same time as virtually every other HBO or Showtime PPV main event: generally between 11 p.m. and midnight ET (8 p.m. and 9 p.m. PT). There are times here and there that it might take place slightly earlier or later, but if you're in front of the TV during that hour, you will see the start of the main event. For every single pay-per-view.
What's the story with Bob Arum giving you the finger?
When Top Rank's Arum made a match between then-junior middleweight titlist Daniel Santos and Yuri Foreman, putting it on the undercard of the Manny Pacquiao-Miguel Cotto HBO PPV card in November 2009, I was critical of the fight. I didn't think it would be a good fight. Santos had been in a lot of bad bouts, and so had Foreman. In my view, their styles wouldn't mesh well, and I wrote and said as much. Arum wasn't happy about it and let me know how he felt.
So when Foreman, who was Arum's fighter, outpointed Santos (in a fight that wasn't very good, by the way), Arum, who is Jewish, was ecstatic that Foreman had won the belt to become the first Jewish world titleholder in decades. After the scores were announced, I was writing my story when one of my ringside colleagues began tapping me on the shoulder and pointing to the ring, along with other writers at ringside. When I looked up, there was Arum, with both hands, vigorously giving me the bird and yelling at me (although I couldn't hear what he was saying). I wasn't thrilled to see it, but Arum seemed quite pleased with himself. Neither of us held a grudge. About two hours after the show was over, we and a few others had dinner together.
What's your favorite boxing movie?
There are so many great ones. I love the "Rocky" series. (Well, except for "Rocky V." Does anyone like that one?) "Raging Bull" and "Cinderella Man" are also terrific. But my favorite is "Rocky III." The opening montage is so perfect and so well done, I could watch it on a loop. "Eye of the Tiger," the theme music, is an all-time great song and has become iconic walk-in music for fighters. Mr. T's Clubber Lang is one of the best film villains ever and has so many memorable lines. As a wrestling fan, I loved Hulk Hogan's cameo as Thunderlips. Mickey's death right before Rocky and Clubber fought was high drama. The plot twist of Apollo training Rocky, his rival, for the rematch with Clubber was genius. Anyway, all I know is that I love the movie.
What's your favorite venue for a fight? I've been fortunate to cover hundreds of fights in five different countries, including all across the United States. I've been to many great sites, such as historic Madison Square Garden in New York, Cowboys Stadium in Dallas, the Bell Centre in Montreal (one of the best fight cities in the world), Staples Center in Los Angeles and even Yankee Stadium. In Las Vegas alone, I've covered fights at about a dozen different venues. For my money, though, nothing beats covering a big fight at the MGM Grand or Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas.
Can you explain how a purse bid works?
When there is a mandatory fight ordered by a sanctioning organization (whether a title defense, vacant title bout or title elimination fight), the fighter camps are ordered to negotiate with each other. If the allotted time for the negotiation ends without the sides agreeing to terms, the organization will call for a purse bid. In other words, the sanctioning body will auction the promotional rights to the fight to the highest bidder. Any registered promoter with the organization can bid to gain promotional control of the fight under the purse bid rules. The promoter who offers the most money wins the rights to the fight. The amount of the winning bid serves as the total purse for the fight and is split between the fighters on a percentage basis. The split of the money often depends on various scenarios, but generally, it's 50-50 for a vacant title or eliminator, although there are rules that allow for the percentages to be tweaked. In title bouts, the champion generally gets 70 or 75 percent, depending on the organization. In some cases, it could be 60-40 in favor of the champion.
Who is the fastest fighter you've covered?
A prime Roy Jones Jr. Floyd Mayweather Jr., Manny Pacquiao and Shane Mosley at their best also had speed to behold.
What are some more all-time mythical matchups you would have wanted to see (that weren't covered in Part 1)?
Ricardo Lopez-Mark Johnson (at flyweight), Sugar Ray Leonard-Aaron Pryor (at welterweight), Pacquiao-Aaron Pryor (at junior welterweight), George Foreman-Larry Holmes, Juan Manuel Marquez-Erik Morales (at featherweight), Evander Holyfield-Roy Jones Jr., Julio Cesar Chavez Sr.-Alexis Arguello (at junior lightweight), Mike Tyson-Joe Frazier, Thomas Hearns-Felix Trinidad (at welterweight or junior middleweight).
What are some all-time mythical matchups you would have wanted to see?
Sugar Ray Robinson-Sugar Ray Leonard (at welterweight), Roberto Duran-Pernell Whitaker (at lightweight), Duran-Pacquiao (at lightweight or welterweight), Muhammad Ali-Joe Louis, Marvin Hagler-Bernard Hopkins, Leonard-Mayweather Jr., Mike Tyson-George Foreman.
Who is your favorite fighter?
As a kid, my No. 1 guy was Sugar Ray Leonard. In the late 1980s, when I was in high school, I was a huge Mike Tyson fan -- like everyone else. My two other favorites are the late Arturo Gatti and Acelino "Popo" Freitas.
Is it true that you have cats named after fighters?
Yes, it's true. My wife and I have two cats. The older one is named Popo (after Freitas) and the younger one is named Thunder -- although his full official name is Arturo Thunder Gatti.
What did you think about referee Richard Steele's stoppage in the first Julio Cesar Chavez-Meldrick Taylor fight?
From the time I first saw their epic 1990 junior welterweight unification fight, I always felt like Taylor was robbed of the victory. There were two seconds left, and he deserved to finish the fight -- he was on his feet with no time left for any more punches to be thrown, with Chavez on the other side of the ring -- and earn his greatest victory. I know many say that there was no way Steele knew how much time was left, but he was an elite referee; he had to have known instinctively that there was very little time left, not to mention that he was able to refer to the flashing light in each corner that indicated fewer than 10 seconds were left in the fight. It was a great comeback for Chavez -- one of the most dramatic in boxing history -- but Taylor deserved two more seconds after easily beating the count. Steele should have let the fight continue.
Who did you think won, Sugar Ray Leonard or Marvin Hagler?
Every time this fight comes up, boxing fans could spend hours arguing the decision. I thought this in 1987, and I still believe it today: The two judges who had it for Leonard got it right. He deserved the decision, no matter how much it upsets Hagler.
Who is the better brother, Wladimir or Vitali Klitschko?
I had a conversation with Vitali once when I was with him on the set of "Ocean's Eleven" years ago, and I asked him that very question. Maybe he was just being a protective older brother, but he said Wladimir was the better fighter. His reason, he said, was because Wladimir had only trained as a boxer and was a natural talent, while he had spent years training as a kickboxer, so boxing didn't come as naturally to him. But if they ever did fight -- and they have said over and over that they won't -- I would probably have to pick Vitali. There's just something about the psychology of the little brother/big brother thing. Big brothers usually handle little brothers, so I'd go with Vitali if there ever were a showdown.
What is the best fight you ever covered?
Hands down, the first Diego Corrales-Jose Luis Castillo fight in 2005, at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. There were high stakes (it was a lightweight unification bout and for supremacy in the division), both were at the top of their games, and it was an enthralling epic slugfest with one of the most dramatic endings in sports -- not just boxing -- history. Even before the incredible ending, it was already a lock for fight of the year and one of the best of all time. And then came the 10th round. All of us at ringside thought the fight was over after Castillo knocked Corrales down for the first time in the round. After Castillo dropped him for a second time, we knew the fight was over. When Corrales survived and rallied for the knockout win a few seconds later, it was as shocking and amazing as anything I've ever seen. I vividly recall pushing my chair away from the ringside table for a minute or two and taking a few deep breaths to collect myself and process what had just happened before I could write my story.
What was the first fight you covered?
The first professional fight card I covered was headlined by Buddy McGirt's 10-round unanimous decision against George Heckley on Aug. 12, 1996, at the Saratoga City Center in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. I was working for The Saratogian. When we got word that the show was going to take place a block from the office, I asked my editor to assign me to it. Covering that card changed my life.
How did you score [fill in the blank] fight?
Here is a list of scores I've tallied for fights I covered that I'm asked about most often.
Manny Pacquiao-Juan Manuel Marquez I: Marquez, 114-111
Pacquiao-Marquez II: Marquez, 114-113
Pacquiao-Marquez III: Draw, 114-114
Jermain Taylor-Winky Wright: Draw, 114-114
Taylor-Bernard Hopkins I: Draw, 114-114
Taylor-Hopkins II: Taylor, 116-112
Joe Calzaghe-Hopkins: Hopkins, 114-113
Paul Williams-Sergio Martinez I: Martinez, 114-113
Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Oscar De La Hoya: Mayweather, 116-112
Miguel Cotto-Shane Mosley: Cotto, 115-113
Here are my scores for two fights that I'm often asked about, fights I didn't cover in person but scored while watching on TV:
Felix Trinidad-Oscar De La Hoya: De La Hoya, 116-112
Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Jose Luis Castillo I: 114-114
What do you think about MMA?
Read this story about my experience attending a UFC card for a detailed answer.
Have you ever seen a fight live at ringside and then watched it on tape later and changed your opinion?
Not often, but it's happened. Watching a fight from ringside can be a lot different than watching it on video. The one that stands out to me is the John Ruiz-James Toney heavyweight title bout at Madison Square Garden in 2005 (my first fight for ESPN after leaving USA Today, by the way). I scored it for Ruiz and blew it. I rewatched it later and had Toney winning, as the judges did (although the result was later overturned to a no-contest because Toney tested positive for a steroid).
How do you rank the top 10 heavyweights of all time?
1. Muhammad Ali
2. Joe Louis
3. Jack Johnson
4. Larry Holmes
5. George Foreman
6. Jack Dempsey
7. Lennox Lewis
8. Joe Frazier
9. Rocky Marciano
10. Evander Holyfield
What do you think about open scoring?
I despise it. For 100-plus years, we've found out the scores after a fight. It still works, as far as I'm concerned. For those who suggest that open scoring somehow improves judging, I couldn't disagree more. It only makes the poor judging known ahead of time and wouldn't do anything to change a bad score. Open scoring also saps much of the drama from the announcement of a decision.
Should a super heavyweight division be added to boxing?
Absolutely not. Seventeen divisions are more than enough. In fact, rather than adding a division, I'd like to see a few eliminated. Adding another division isn't the right move, even if there are some really big guys at heavyweight. Either fight at cruiserweight or deal with the big men.
Of all the fighters you have talked to, who gives the best interview?
There are several. In no particular order, I'll go with Mike Tyson, Bernard Hopkins (as long-winded as he might be) and Hasim Rahman.
Who will win if they ever fight, Pacquiao or Mayweather?
When -- if -- the fight is ever made, I will make my pick the week of the fight. I'll say this, though: the opinion I have has never wavered. From the moment the fight was contemplated, I have had a strong opinion on who would win.
What was your best fight pick?
I picked Hasim Rahman by knockout over Lennox Lewis in their first fight.
What was your worst pick?
I picked Hasim Rahman by knockout over Lennox Lewis in the rematch.
Who do you think is the best referee?
There are plenty of good referees, but there are two who stand out to me as the best of the best and, when I see they are assigned to a fight, I have a good feeling about it: Kenny Bayless and Steve Smoger.