Baptism Under Fire: Frazier, Holmes, Hearns, Arguello & De La Hoya

larry holmes19.4.07 - By Jim Amato: There is a point in the boxing career of almost every world class fighter in which he must test his skills against the elite of his profession. It is when they find out if they have what it takes or are they going to fall short of the mark. Recently, Peter Manfredo Jr. failed in his baptism under fire when he faced the talented Joe Calzaghe. There will surely be other fights for young Manfredo and maybe he will again face a stern test in what could be a career defining fight.

Several past greats have had that pivotal fight. That all important win that shaped their fistic future. Evander Holyfield was baptised into the upper level by a brawling, in your face boxing champion named Dwight Muhammad Qawi. Their first encounter was a toe to toe, I'll hit you, you hit me brawl. That day Evander out fought the dogged titleholder and showed the world he was destined for greatness.

Larry Holmes faced the same type of test when he met WBC heavyweight champion Ken Norton. It was give and take all the way and in the end Larry pulled it out of the fire to win the title. It was a great exhibition of courage by both men.

Wars of attrition prove the greatness of boxers as we look back to days gone by. Many of us felt Joe Frazier was destined for greatness but we did not realize how great he really was until March 8, 1971. That night, Frazier took everything Muhammad Ali had to offer but he kept marching into fire unloading his own heavy ammunition. In the end Frazier's hand was raised in victory. Joe may have never been the same after that night but his stature as a fighter will never be questioned.

One fighter that made a habit of coming back from the brink of defeat to salvage victory was Matthew Saad Muhammad. Fans loved him for his blood and guts battles with the likes of Yaqui Lopez and Marvin Johnson. It was his first meeting with Johnson that baptised Saad to the big time. As his career continued, he was to take his fans to the edge over and over again until finally a buzzsaw named Qawi proved to be too much.

Thomas Hearns was involved in his share of terrific fights. To me, the one fight that defined his ultimate courage was his slugfest with James Kinchen. It was not the most important win of his career but that day Hearns survived a Pier 6 brawl with a very under rated Kinchen in an entertaining battle.

Alexis Arguello was pushed to the limit by a fine champion named Alfredo Escalera. In their first fight, Alexis dealt out severe punishment to Escalera but the "Snake Man" refused to wilt. He kept coming back making Alexis fight to the limit of his abundant talent. Finally the bout was halted due to Escalera being severely cut. Alexis had passed to the next level.

These are just a few examples of special fighters who reached within themselves to weather a storm and rise to the top of their sport. Greatness embodies more then just having blazing speed or a devastating punch. Many felt that Oscar De La Hoya was a media prima donna on his rise to multiple titles. Any questions about De La Hoya's heart were answered when he met Ike Quartey. In a truly outstanding fight, Oscar pulled out all the stops with a big twelfth round rally to eke out the decision. That was Oscar's baptism under fire. Floyd Mayweather Jr. has yet to have his heart really tested. Will Oscar provide the exam? We will find out May 5th.

Article posted on 20.04.2007

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