Charlie Goldman (trainer) on Marciano’s lack of talent: “They all look better than Rocky when they’re doing their job, but they don’t look so good on the canvas”.
- It’s surprising really that from the time during the transitional period from bare knuckles to gloves, up to the present time, only nine men in professional boxing, out of the thousands who have held world titles, have retired as world champions, with unbeaten records.
The first in the group to achieve this feat was a transitional champion as pugilism entered the gloved era. Jack McAuliffe was born in Cork, Ireland in 1866. After moving to America he reigned supreme as world lightweight champion from 1885 to 1896. However, McAuliffe is a little lucky to be a member of the exclusive club, for when the British champion Jem Carney sailed to the States in 1887 to challenge him for his title he not only had the champion to contend with, but also his ‘backers’. To avoid police interference the match was held in a huge barn in Massachusetts. Carney was in the lead by the 70th round as McAuliffe showed signs of fatigue, and the fight appeared to be all over when the Englishman scored a clean knockdown that looked like a finisher. Only interference by McAuliffe’s friends saved him. Some sort of order was restored and the fight continued until the 74th round, until once again it appeared as if Carney had again delivered a knockout punch, and it seemed as if McAuliffe couldn’t continue. However, the Irishman’s backers rushed the ring again, and there were appeals to the referee to call a halt before the police arrived. The referee agreed and declared the contest a draw, to save the local bets!
Jack McAuliffe, ‘The Napoleon of the Prize Ring’, as he was called, fought on, unbeaten for another 10 years until retiring with not a loss in 52 fights.
Jimmy Barry from Chicago was another fighter to mix bare knuckle and gloves contests. Unbeaten in 68 fights from 1891 to 1899, when bantamweight king, he was an outstanding ring technician. Sadly there was a tragic ending to the contest he fought with the British titleholder Walter Croot in London in 1897. Barry knocked Croot out in the 16th round, the challenger died of a brain injury the following day and Barry was charged with manslaughter but was cleared. Of the nine fights Barry had after the tragedy only one was recorded as a win, while the eight all ended in draws! Barry had preserved his unbeaten record when retiring from boxing in 1899, and it would be some 56 years before any other fighter in any weight division would equal the feat.
As it turned out it would be the first, and to this day the only, heavyweight to join the elite band in the shape of the ‘Brockton Blockbuster’, Rocky Marciano who retired in 1955 with his unbeaten record of 49 wins still intact.
He may have not been the most scientific boxer in the world by a long way, but fortunately, nobody tried to coach him, and his punching power and rough and ready style paid off. His 49 winning fights included 43 stoppages and the scalps on his belt included a number of legends in the fight game, the likes of Joe Louis, ‘Jersey’ Joe Walcott, Ezzard Charles and Archie Moore, who may have been a bit past their ‘sell-by’ date when he fought them, but if boxing records were worked out like cricket batting averages, Marciano would be top of the table.
During his career he seemed indestructible. He could absorb punishment for round after round and still keep punching. If ever boxing produced a Jekyll and Hyde it was Marciano, for outside the ring apparently he was the quietest most softly spoken man you could wish to meet. Yet when he stepped into a boxing ring, it was organised murder, it was war. Unquestionably Marciano is one of the immortals.
It would be 1986 before another world champion retired unbeaten. Ji-Won Kim won the IBF world title in 1985, but he had a short career, being involved in only 18 contests. However, he defended his title successfully on four occasions. The South Korean departed when he was aged just 26 and still champion in the super bantamweight division.
The only English boxer in the pack is Stepney-born light welterweight Terry Marsh who won the IBF world title four months later, before retiring after the revelation that he had epilepsy. He had never lost a fight in 27 contests, but controversy was seemingly never far away from this talented boxer. After his retirement he became involved in an attempted murder charge on promoter Frank Warren, but was later acquitted of the charge. It seems a little spooky, but the one in line to challenge Marsh for his title at the time of his illness was the American fighter called…. Frankie Warren!
Next on the list is the Romanian-born fighter, Michael Loewe, who captured the vacant WBO welterweight title in 1997 in his 27th fight, but he made only one defence, a win against Ireland’s Olympic hero Michael Carruth. Unfortunately he had to retire from the ring aged 28 after seriously injuring his left hand. Leaving the game without a blemish on his boxing record, he would later become a trainer.
Another who retired with a clean slate on his record with 24 straight wins was Thailand’s Pichit Sitbangprachan, and if you find that name difficult to pronounce, try the name he was born with, which was Supap Hanwichachai. He won the IBF world title in his 14th contest in 1992. He had ten more wins and then retired undefeated in 2000.
The Mexican, Ricardo López, was without a doubt one of the greatest fighters of the 1990s, yet his name won’t mean a thing to anyone but the most dedicated fans, because he fought in the lowest weight division in boxing. If he had been in the higher divisions, with his immense talent he would have earned a fortune. After winning the WBC minimum weight crown in 1990, he defended his title 21 times over the following eight years, before moving up in weight to light flyweight to lift the IBF crown, then made two defences and retired in 2002, having been unbeaten in 52 professional fights, and previously undefeated in 37 amateur contests. Some record for the Tom Thumb of boxing.
Sven Ottke was never beaten in his 34 fight career, but had very little exposure outside Germany, the reasons being that all but one of his fights took place on home soil. There was also the fact that he was a dull fighter who rarely excited anyone except his own supporters. Ottke was approaching 30 when he turned professional, after an extensive amateur career. With leaving it late to join the paid ranks, he didn’t have much time to mess around with opponents picked to pad his record. Within 18 months he had taken the IBF world title belt from America’s Charles Brewer in 1998, in only his 13th bout.
The German icon defended his super middleweight title, 17 times and then captured the WBA belt after a hard fought encounter with Byron Mitchell. He defended this belt four times and then retired in 2004, with not a blot on his record.
Ottke may have lacked charisma and had a less than electric style, but his technical abilities as a boxer saw him through. One thing which taints his career is his excuses not to fight WBO champ Joe Calzaghe, who also retired unbeaten, but is not on the elite list because he didn’t hold a world title belt when he retired.
By George Reed
This article appears in the print edition 604 of Island Connections