So we’re all kind of spinning our wheels as January 2021 unfolds. No boxing in the UK with another covid lockdown in effect and not much happening worldwide — and this after a veritable explosion of ring activity to close out the old year.
So, what was I watching 28 years ago, in January 1993? Time to get the loose-leaf folder out and have a look back.
On January 3, Olympic gold medallist Oscar De La Hoya had his third pro bout. The scheduled six-rounder topped the bill at the Hollywood Palladium in Los Angeles. (Red Hot Chili Peppers, The Clash, Tears For Fears, Wham! and Iggy Pop were among those who had preceded Oscar as the main attraction at the Sunset Boulevard location).
De La Hoya’s opponent, a San Francisco lightweight named Paris Alexander, had a respectable record of 15-6-1 (3 KOs). De La Hoya went right through him. It was all over in two rounds. Alexander was down once in the first round, twice in the second, before referee Chuck Hassett waved it off. “Alexander seems to protest — but not too strongly,” I noted.
US Olympic representative Larry Donald was down the bill in a heavyweight four-rounder. It was Donald’s pro debut. He knocked out a smaller, overmatched opponent named Craig Brinson in the second round. ESPN commentator Barry Tompkins noted that Brinson “doesn’t look like he wants to be here”.
Larry Holmes, 43-year-old former heavyweight champion, won a unanimous 10-round decision over 15-loss trial horse Everett “Big Foot” Martin at the Mississippi Coast Coliseum in Biloxi on January 5. “Just a workout for ageing ex-champ,” I noted. “No knockdowns, no real highlights, as Martin does his thing and hangs in there.” Holmes had fun. He dropped his hands and wiggled his hips in the ninth round. The crowd seemed to enjoy the show and chanted “Larry, Larry!” in the last round.
Freddie Pendleton, the No. 1-rated contender, won a unanimous 12-round decision over No. 2-rated Tracy Spann to capture the vacant IBF lightweight title at Harrah’s casino hotel in Atlantic City on January 10. It was a rematch of a two-round technical draw, when Philadelphian Pendleton was cut over the eye. New Jersey southpaw Spann dropped Pendleton in the first round in that fight.
Spann wobbled Pendleton with a left hand in the opening round of the rematch, and hurt him again with the left hand in the fifth. But by the sixth, Pendleton was timing Spann for right-hand shots. Pendleton showed defensive smarts and hand speed as he pulled right away from Spann in the last five rounds to take a comfortable, unanimous decision. Pendleton had lost 17 fights going into the bout but showed that statistics can be misleading.
Although by far the more skilled boxer, Buddy McGirt had to survive a rocky last round when defending his WBC welterweight title against No. 1-rated challenger Genaro Leon, of Culiacan, Mexico, at the Paramount (formerly the Felt Forum, now the Hulu Theater) downstairs at Madison Square Garden on January 12. A million-dollar purse for a fight with Pernell Whitaker hung in the balance, but McGirt weathered the onslaught.
McGirt said afterwards that he was bothered by tendinitis in the left shoulder and couldn’t throw the left hook. But McGirt piled up points with the jab and right hand as Leon, the bigger man physically but somewhat crude, swung wildly. McGirt was showing fatigue in the later rounds. “Leon’s sheer physical pressure makes it a tiring fight for the smaller McGirt,” I noted. I added the observation that McGirt’s chances against Whitaker “didn’t look good”.
Biggest fight of the month was in Reno, Nevada on January 16 when 44-year-old former heavyweight champion George Foreman clubbed South Africa’s Pierre Coetzer into defeat in the eighth of a scheduled 10-rounder. It was HBO’s 20th anniversary show. No one back then could have dreamed that HBO would eventually withdraw from boxing. “Foreman too big, too heavy handed, dominates with the left jab that knocks Coetzer’s head back and even moves him bodily back,” I observed. Coetzer was down in the fourth round but referee Joe Cortez ignored Foreman’s request to stop the fight. But when the bloody, battered Coetzer was dropped again in the eighth the referee had seen enough.
The co-feature at Reno was a thriller between heavyweight contenders, and surely the fight of the month, as Tommy Morrison came back from two knockdowns in the fifth round to stop Carl “The Truth” Williams in the eighth of a scheduled 10-rounder. Williams was down in the first round and again in the third as Morrison landed his noted left hook.
After seven rounds, HBO’s “unofficial official” Harold Lederman had Morrison ahead, 65-64, saying the fight was “as close as you can get right now”. But Williams suffered a cut over the left eye from what referee Mills Lane ruled was “an unintentional butt” in the eighth, and Morrison came on strongly. Referee Lane waved the finish with Morrison belabouring Williams on the ropes. Asked afterwards if he’d like to fight Foreman, Morrison replied: “Not only ‘yes’, but hell ‘yes’!”
On January 17, Mike “The Bounty” Hunter came in at one day’s notice (Tony Tubbs having tested positive for cocaine) and proceeded to bamboozle former contender Tyrell Biggs to win the vacant USBA heavyweight title at the Union Plaza in Las Vegas. The judges had the unorthodox but effective Hunter winning comfortably, 117-110 on two cards, 118-109 on the third card. Biggs had a point deducted for a low blow in the last round, suffered a bloody nose and a cut lip, and really couldn’t do much of anything.
ESPN analyst Barry Tompkins observed in the ninth round that Biggs was “fighting like a beaten fighter”. Hunter was boxing with his hands by his sides and hitting Biggs at will in the 10th round. In the 11th, Hunter held his right glove aloft like a traffic cop and popped Biggs with a left jab. Quite the character.
We saw southpaw Reggie Johnson retain his WBA middleweight title by stopping Korea’s Song Ki-Yun in the sixth round at Boise, Idaho (January 19), while future heavyweight champ Bruce Seldon easily halted an overmatched Russian opponent, Alexander Popov, in two rounds at the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City on January 24. The bout was stopped at the end of the second round “on the advice of the physicians at ringside” due to Popov suffering a possibly broken nose as well as a cut on the bridge of the nose. Needless to say I wrote that Popov’s face was “a bloody mess”. But the nose injury only hastened the inevitable. Seldon was on his way to a KO win, having dropped Popov twice in the second round.
January 1993 closed with Michael “Second To” Nunn retaining his WBA 168-pound title with a unanimous 12-round decision over Panama’s Victor Cordoba in an all-southpaw rematch at The Pyramid in Memphis, Tennessee on January 31. Four months earlier Nunn had scraped home on a split decision against Cordoba in Las Vegas. Oddsmaker Herb Lambeck told me over the phone before the rematch: “The sharps are betting on Cordoba, the squares are going with Nunn.” The squares got it right.
Nunn boxed a much better fight than in the initial meeting with Cordoba and, indeed, almost won the fight in the second round when he dropped Cordoba twice. (The WBA had the three-knockdown rule in effect.) Cordoba had three points deducted for low blows, starting in the first round. Although Cordoba did land the left hand from time to time, I noted that Nunn “twisted and turned his body like a limbo dancer to make Cordoba miss”. It was one of Nunn’s finest performances.