I probably haven’t done any favors by starting with a Star Trek quote but hear me out. There are lots of boxers out there who often times, don’t get the fair shake. Whatever the cause, when things go bad for them it was clearly obvious that it wasn’t supposed to happen that way. So right now I’m going to go over a list of “Hard Luck” fighters and give them their due.
1) Glen Johnson (54-19-2 37KO)
The Road Warrior has never been afraid to go into his opponent’s back yard to do battle. Too bad that sometimes the judges in that back yard were afraid to give Johnson victories that he probably deserved. This didn’t hinder Johnson who kept going forward in his career and eventually won a vacant light-heavyweight title in his opponent’s back yard of all places. He went on immediately afterwards to knock out Roy Jones Jr. and become the 2004 Fighter of the Year by Ring Magazine.
2) Pernell Whitaker (40-4-1 17KO)
You’re probably looking at this and thinking, “The man won an Olympic gold medal, multiple world titles and is regarded as one of the best fighters of all time! What hard luck are you talking about?”
Valid point. But that doesn’t make Whitaker’s 1987 robbery loss to Jose Luis Ramirez any better. There were rumors floating about that Don King was trying to make an all Mexican unification bout between Ramirez & Julio Cesar Chavez and that some sort of trickery was played but no evidence ever surfaced.
Whitaker eventually got revenge over Ramirez and a chance to face Chavez himself. But after 12 rounds, Whitaker was left with a draw that clearly should have been a victory for him.
He would continue to have success at welterweight until he ran into a young Oscar de la Hoya and lost a unanimous decision that is still disputed to this day.
Despite those setbacks, Whitaker is regarded as one of the best pure boxers of the last 50 years and regarded by some as the greatest defensive fighter of all time, even getting praise from Floyd Mayweather.
3) Ronald “Winky” Wright (51-6-1 25KO)
Wright holds victories over two of the most elite fighters of his era but every once in a while his career would get stalled by victories that he should have had. Also what probably held Wright back was the fact that no one really knew who he was. He signed with the French based Acaries brothers and fought mostly in Europe. After breaking from the brothers in 1999 he faced off with Fernando Vargas and lost a controversial majority decision.
He would eventually win two fights against Shane Mosley which brought him face to face with Felix Trinidad. In shocking fashion, Wright dominated Trinidad from the first bell to the last, prompting the Puerto Rican superstar to retire. But after earning only a draw against middleweight champion Jermain Taylor, Wright’s career never reached the heights it had in the past. He lost a decision to Bernard Hopkins at light-heavyweight and then took almost two years off before coming back only to be dominated by Paul Williams. Wright’s final fight was a loss to Peter Quillin in 2012.
However if you were to ask someone who was the best 154lb champion of the past ten years, chances are they would name Winky Wright. Ring Magazine felt the same way and declared him the best 154lb fighter of the decade.
4) Frankie Randall (55-18-1 42KO)
Go through any list of the greatest upsets in boxing history and you’ll see names like Antonio Tarver (vs Roy Jones), Cassius Clay (vs Sonny Liston), Gene Tunney (vs Jack Dempsey) and Buster Douglas (vs Mike Tyson).
Almost always notably – and somewhat criminally – absent from those lists is Frankie Randall for his upset victory over Julio Cesar Chavez. Going into the fight, Randall had an impressive record of 48-2-1 yet was mostly unknown. I’d heard a rumor that Emanuel Steward advised Chavez not to take the fight with Randall but never got it confirmed. It would make sense as Randall was able to take all of Chavez’ punches (including the low blows) and knocked Chavez down for the first time in his career.
After 12 rounds he was the new light-welterweight champion and signed a rematch with Chavez. After an accidental clash of heads brought the fight to a halt, it went to the judges scorecards where Chavez was awarded a technical decision. You would have thought that they would have a rubber-match to finally determine who would win these series of fights between them and it did happen. The only problem was that it happened 10 years after their first fight and neither man was what they used to be and Randall lost a wide decision.
But a lot of people seem to forget that after that technical decision lost to Chavez, Randall went on to win two more titles at 140lbs. Yes, he probably went on longer than he should have but that does not mean we should ignore or downplay his victory over Julio Cesar Chavez.
5) Marvelous Marvin Hagler (62-3-2 52KO)
“You’ve got three strikes against you,” Joe Frazier told a young Hagler early in his career. “You’re southpaw, you’re black and you’re good!”
That wasn’t about to stop Marvin Hagler even if it did seem at times like the entire world was against him achieving greatness. A decision loss to Bobby Watts and a draw with champion Vito Antuofermo and made Hagler meaner, stronger and more determined. Ten months after the draw with Antuofermo he met new champion Alan Minter in England. After Marvin battered and bloodied Minter over three rounds, the fight stopped and a riot erupted with beer bottles rained down on the canvas.
In 1985, Hagler got the victory he always wanted when he stopped Thomas Hearns in the third round of the middleweight title fight, regarded as one of the greatest fights of all time. With the respect of the general public and recognition as a truly great fighter, Hagler went on to pummel John Mugabi and in 1987, faced off with Sugar Ray Leonard, an opponent he had always wanted to face.
I always have a hard time with the Leonard fight when it comes to judging because I’ve watched that fight multiple times, sometimes with sound, sometimes without, sometimes in a different language and each time it always comes back different. Marvin Hagler lost a decision to Sugar Ray Leonard and immediately retired, never putting a pair of gloves on again.
However we shouldn’t forget the dominance of Marvin Hagler, the ferociousness he brought to each fight and the determination that made him one of – if not the-greatest middleweight of all time.