Fres Oquendo Will Never Be Heavyweight Champion

fres oquendo03.05.07 - By David J. Kozlowski: Fans at Florida’s Grove Isle Hotel were witness to a less-than-thrilling bout between Fres Oquendo and the lightly regarded Damian Norris on Wednesday, May 2. In a fight that ended in a two-knockdown TKO in the sixth, and saw Norris on his knees in the final second of the third round and again at the beginning of the fourth, there was surprisingly little excitement. Oquendo improved to 27-4, Norris dropped to 9-3.

Oquendo made a name for himself by rising to 22-0 in the late 90s and early 00s, beating the impressive looking (if nothing else) Duncan Dokiwari, the then undefeated and now incarcerated Clifford Etienne, and the fairly respectable Obed Sullivan along the way to a third round TKO of David Izon. It was then Oquendo hit a wall in the form of David Tua, once described as the litmus test of the heavyweight division. Oquendo failed the test.

However, hopes for an Oquendo title shot were not dashed. Lennox Lewis’s 2003 retirement created a void in an already weak division, and allowed Oquendo two consecutive title shots in a period of eight months. He lost both—the first to Chris Byrd and the second to John Ruiz (by TKO!). Despite claiming "I was fine; I wasn't even hurt; it's not fair; I wasn't even knocked down; I'm a gladiator," Oquendo walked away from boxing for a time.

It was almost two years before Oquendo began his comeback. After two victories over lesser opponents, he stepped into the ring late last year with a well-past-his-prime Evander Holyfield. Oquendo lost a controversial unanimous 12-round decision in lackluster fashion. Which brings us to Wednesday night, and why Oquendo will never be heavyweight champ, even in this talent-deprived division.

First, Oquendo was not sharp against Holyfield or Norris. All but one of the Norris knockdowns were from flurries of punches and glancing blows. Without clean hits, Oquendo never stops any top-tier belt-holder. Second, Oquendo is well out of his prime. Four years ago he was not able to beat top opponents (Tua, Byrd, Ruiz), and while 34 is generally not old for a heavy, his two year layoff and recent fights point to 34 being old for him. Third, Oquendo did not establish a jab against Norris, something he would need to do to have a chance of beating a better opponent. Fourth, Oquendo seemed to have trouble closing the door against Norris. After scoring a knockdown at the end of round three, Oquendo floored Norris almost immediately after the bell in round four. Norris got up, but did not throw a punch until the round’s final minute. With a skillfully inferior and dazed opponent in front of him—one who was not even making a pretense at fighting back—Oquendo spit the bit and could not finish the job for two more rounds, even while head-hunting (Oquendo threw 214 head shots to only 26 body punches).

Oquendo is still a fairly recognizable name, especially to Puerto Rican fans who had embraced him. Expect to hear his name and possibly see him turn up fighting for a belt somewhere, but don’t expect for him to win. Oquendo’s days as a major player in the heavyweight picture are over. Is anybody surprised?

Article posted on 03.05.2007

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