IBHOF inductee Graham Houston looks at how victory can sometimes be snatched from the jaws of defeat as he remembers some of boxing’s out of the blue KOs.
Kid Galahad’s KO defeat last weekend was a reminder that when a boxer is faced with a determined opponent who has come to win, the fight isn’t over until, well, until it’s over.
It was also a reminder that one punch can change everything, even against the run of play. Galahad seemed on his way to beating Kiko Martinez only to get dropped hard by a big overhand right in the fifth round. Saved by the bell after the eight count, Galahad had nothing left and was flattened by the first punch Kiko threw in the sixth.
The fifth-round right hand Kiko landed was an out-of-the-blue blockbuster. It seemed to me that Galahad was under pressure but still boxing well right up until the moment the blow landed.
These one-punch-changes-everything scenarios don’t happen all that often but when they do they are dramatic.
The fourth fight in the Manny Pacquiao vs Juan Manuel Marquez series is a case in point. Pacquiao was dropped in the third but he came back strongly.
By the sixth round it looked as if Manny had totally turned the tide. He was piling on the pressure and hurting Marquez. The Mexican fighter’s nose was bloodied and he was starting to look beaten up. But Pacquiao got a bit too confident, it seemed. He lunged forward with a right jab before throwing the left from his southpaw stance, and, as the video shows, Marquez beat him to the punch with a perfectly timed right hand. Pacquiao went down face first and there was no need for referee Kenny Bayless to count. “Pacquiao never expected that punch to come back at him,” Roy Jones Jr noted in the HBO commentary.
And talking about a boxer not expecting to get drilled, that’s what happened when Hasim Rahman finished Lennox Lewis with a right hand from out of nowhere in their first meeting for the heavyweight title.
Lewis wasn’t boxing one of his better fights that night in South Africa but by the fifth round he seemed to be finding his rhythm and taking control of the contest.
However, ex-champ George Foreman, commentating at ringside for HBO, didn’t like what he was seeing from Lewis. Foreman felt that Lewis was needlessly putting himself at risk by moving towards Rahman without sticking the jab in the challenger’s face. “If you’re going to walk into them — walk to the man — use your left jab!” Foreman cautioned.
But Lewis was looking supremely confident, as if he felt he had Rahman exactly where he wanted him. Complacency seemed to have set in. Lewis pulled back almost casually, Rahman stepped in with an overhand right, and it was all over.
Then we have a 45-year-old Foreman, behind on the judges’ cards, knocking out Michael Moorer with a right hand in the 10th round to become the oldest heavyweight champion in ring history.
I was ringside that night in Las Vegas and, although I felt Moorer was comfortably ahead, there always seemed the possibility that at some stage in the bout he was going to get nailed.
Trainer Teddy Atlas knew the danger in Big George’s right hand and, as I remember, was imploring Moorer to punch and move, not to stay in front of the much older but much bigger Foreman. But, in the 10th round, Moorer did indeed remain in range of Foreman’s right hand for that split-second too long, and that was that.
Sometimes one mistake is all it takes.
I don’t think Foreman’s KO win over Moorer quite qualifies for the word “miracle”. But a victory that bordered on the miraculous came earlier this year when Gabriel Rosado, down in the first round and losing the fight, landed surely the best right hand he has ever thrown to drop Bektemir Melikuziev flat on his face in the third round. The strong and heavy-handed Olympic silver medallist was bullying the old pro. Melikuziev seemed to think he could walk through anything Rosado could throw at him. He was wrong.
Did Rosado land a so-called lucky punch? I’m not sure there really is a “lucky punch” in boxing, because a fighter is doing his best to land that one blow that can turn the tide in a fight he is losing. But I think a boxer can sometimes be a little unlucky to have one punch wipe out a lot of good work. Such was the case when Julian Jackson knocked out Herol Graham in the fourth round of their middleweight title fight at a Spanish casino in November 1990.
Everyone knew Jackson was going to be dangerous every moment the fight lasted. The southpaw Graham was going to have to box a perfect fight. “Any mistake made by him, I will definitely be there to take the opportunity,” Jackson warned before the bout. But Graham boxed beautifully for the first three rounds and most of the fourth, even backing up the bigger hitter. Jackson was swollen under the left eye.
All Graham had to do was not get caught by one of Jackson’s big right hands and the fight was his. But not getting caught is sometimes easier said than done. Graham perhaps got a bit too adventurous. He took the fight to Jackson in the fourth, looking for all the world a winner — and then Jackson absolutely stiffened him with a right hand from hell (if you were a Herol Graham adherent, that is).
It was stunning and sudden. But Jackson had a plan. He punched with Graham, letting the right hand fly as the Sheffield boxer started to launch a wide southpaw right hook.
“Oh, what a punch!” ringside commentator Reg Gutteridge exclaimed in the ITV broadcast. “I can’t believe that!”
Graham looked out before he hit the canvas but referee Joe Cortez went through the formality of completing the 10 count.
I doubt if very many observers saw that right hand coming — Graham certainly didn’t. However, ex-lightweight champ and ringside analyst Jim Watt felt that Graham had been keeping his chin far too high — “where it has been so often in the past”.
Jackson’s right hand was always going to be a threat, true enough. But he had to land it. And as Gutteridge noted in his post-fight summation, it looked as if Jackson was never going to catch Graham. “It was the only real punch he landed,” Gutteridge said with disbelief in his voice.
But, as Kiko Martinez demonstrated last weekend, sometimes one punch is all it takes.
Main image: Mark Robinson/Matchroom Boxing.