The Greatest Welterweight Era: Leonard, Duran, Pryor, Benitez, and Hearns vs. Cintron, Cotto, Margarito, Williams and Mayweather

aaron pryor15.12.07 - By K. Mensah: The recent resurgence of the welterweight division leads some of us old boxing heads to ponder an interesting question: How would Mayweather, Cotto and the crew have handled themselves against the last great group of welterweights? In about 1981 the sport of boxing’s greatest collection of talent resided at 147 lbs. just as it does today. Sugar Ray Leonard and Thomas Hearns were preparing for an epic #1 vs. #2 pound for pound clash in the fall.

Roberto Duran was 1-1 against Leonard and Pipino Cuevas possessed the premiere left hook in the business. Also at this time a still-young Puerto Rican with the nickname “El Radar” was not far removed from being the youngest titleholder ever at 17 and there was a hawk from Cincinnati who had beaten Hearns and Leonard as an amateur and wanted all of the the big prey just 7 lbs.

My question today is, what if those six could have somehow been transported from the Jordache era to 2008 for a mega- card with belts given for Greatest Welterweight Era Ever*

The scene:

Yankee Stadium, Bronx New York April 1st 2008. The baseball season starts next week, but the heavy hitters here carry Everlast’s not Louisville Sluggers. An outdoor stadium in the city that never sleeps is the only option to house the 50,000 screaming maniacs that want to find out just which era is the greatest in the history of the welterweight division. A velvet rope cordons the ringside luminaries in half in the ring erected over the baseball diamond. One side is reserved for the movers and shakers, politicians, actors, models and businessmen from the 21st. century.

The other for their 1980’s counterparts. George Clinton and P-funk exit the time machine in left field only to lock eyes with 50-Cent and G-Unit. The ultimate funkster is overheard saying “why do those boys have their pants falling off their butts? They look like clowns.

Kareem Abdul Jabbar brushes by Shaquile O’neal on his way to his seat and says to his wife damn that guy is big, what does he do? Marv Albert tells him, “he’s the center for Miami.” To which Kareem replies; “then the Dolphins must be pretty good this year.” The only incident occurs when Ex-President Bill Clinton tries to sneak over the rope to sit next to Olivia Newton John. He reluctantly returns to his seat when the secret service tell him something about “creating an interstellar hole in time that will destroy the universe.

The 1980 team is led into the ring by promoter Bob Arum, while their counterparts from 2007 are represented through Oscar De La Hoya’s Golden Boy promotions. Arum says loudly; “hell, if i’m still around in 27 years, I’ll fleece that pretty boy for everything he has.

The matchups are agreed upon in advance by both sides in accordance with styles and rankings. The first bout is canceled as Pipino Cuevas somehow got trapped in 1999 and left a message in a bottle in the East River saying that he was fine and that he was training for a fight with Felix Trinidad (the fight happened the next year, Trinidad KO-6). This leaves Shane Mosley without an opponent, which works out well because his wife, Jen was steadfast on him fighting Duran!

The Matchups are announced:

Wilfredo Benitez - Kermit Cintron Aaron Pryor - Miguel Cotto
Roberto Duran - Antonio Margarito
Thomas Hearns - Paul Williams
Ray Leonard - Floyd Mayweather

Cintron and Benitez enter the ring quickly and with purpose. This all Puerto Rico civil war has the large contingent from the neighboring South Bronx buzzing with anticipation. They appear to be behind Benitez more than 3-1 as Cintron has not yet cemented his reputation on the island. The bout commences with the noticeably bigger Cintron boring away at the smaller, defense-minded Benitez. “El Radar is able to slip, parry and roll through the early assault and then earns his nickname with quick counter jabs.

Cintron throws the vaunted left hook to the body that has stopped a few fights on occasion for him in the past, but Benitez deftly blocks it with his right elbow, and counters with a left hook of his own. The bell rings to end a spirited first round. The pattern continues in the second and third with Cintron getting frustrated with the battle tested defensive techniques of his older countryman. Benitez seems to be inside of Cintron’s head as he feints, counters and returns fire raising a large welt under Cintron’s eye, and always keeping the fight in the middle of the ring. After the fifth round, Cintron is given instructions in his corner to “pick up the pace, make it a street fight,’” but the advice seems to fall on deaf ears. Benitez takes a break in the seventh and eight round, which Cintron does enough to win, but does not hurt Benitez.

At the end of the eleventh round, Cintron, with his right eye swollen almost shut comes up with a right hand from Bayamon which knocks “El Radar” back into the ropes. Benitez needs all of his skill to avoid a furious followup assault in his own corner. Luckily there are only eleven seconds left and as the bell rings, he wearily takes his seat. The great Wilfredo comes off his stool with a clear head in the 12th round as Cintron seems to have punched himself out. He boxes his was to a unanimous decision by 3, 4 and 5 points. After the fight the comments given to Larry Merchant are telling:

Cintron: “I don’t know, I just couldn’t get off. I threw lots of punches, but he’s a tricky fighter, a lot better than he looks on tape.”

Benitez (through interpreter): He’s a strong boy, he got me with a good shot in the 11th but he doesn’t hit like Leonard. He’s a little raw. If he keeps working he’ll be real good. “

The combatants for fight #2 noisily enter the ring. The sounds of Puerto Rican salsa accompany the all-business ring entrance of WBA welterweight champion Miguel Cotto. He has heard of Pryor’s reputation and claims to have trained harder than ever before. Suddenly, Daddy Yankee’s singing is interrupted by a startling chant:



Aaron Pryor enters the ring like a caged tiger and initiates an icy stare with his adversary. He winds a faux bolo punch that ends with a glove directed 90 degrees directly at Cotto’s head across the ring. The colorful Pryor continues the staredown right through the referee’s abbreviated instructions.

As expected, the Cincinnati Hawk comes out of his corner like a shot hoping to catch Cotto unprepared. He is throwing punches windmill style and immediately batters the slightly taller man back into his corner. He seems to gain the upper hand with a straight right through Cotto’s high guard that knocks his head backwards. Cotto retaliates with a glancing right-left. Neither of these two 140 lb. legends seems to want to go the distance. Cotto is knocked backwards again with a left hook, but he unleashes a right uppercut and a hook of his own that detonates on Pryor’s exposed chin. Boom! he falls as though he were shot, but jumps up a little wobbly at the count of two. The Hawk seems to realize he is with the first guy he’s ever fought that is stronger than he. Pryor nods his head with an evil grin on his face in Cotto’s direction as to say “Ok, you got me, now it’s my turn” as referee Joe Cortez counts to eight and wipes his gloves. He then signals Cotto in but surprisingly Pryor meets him right in ring center as they continue to trade like two convicts over the last container of Jell-O. The bell rings and both men acknowledge a newfound respect.

The second round begins as Pryor is told in his corner to use his jab. He begins to employ the boxing strategy he often employed as a highly rated amateur and boxes his way to 10-9 advantages on all three scorecards in the 2nd and 3rd round, as Cotto is told to ‘pelea mas rapido’, or “pick up the pace” in his corner.

The fourth round begins the same was as the last two until Pryor cranks up a right cross with his feet set and just misses. He is greeted with a Cotto hook to the ribs. He flinches for just a second which indicates that he is hurt. Cotto attempts his patented controlled press trying to place his shots rather than overwhelm his combatant, but Pryor holds to catch his breath. He comes out for the fifth looking as though he is protecting his body as Cotto tries to press his advantage there. Pryor backs up, jabs effectively but does not seem to want to engage in another firefight. The Ohio strongman returns to his corner at the end of the 6th looking spent and seems to indicate to his corner that he has hurt his right hand.

“Vas a terminarlo!” shouts Cotto’s uncle/trainer, an animated Evangelista Cotto in between rounds ‘Go ahead and finish it!’ The fighters come out for the seventh round, and Pryor as he has been known to do summons superhuman strength from nowhere. He comes out guns blazing as though it is the first round again! He fires a nonstop fuselage of lefts and rights battering his bewildered opponent back into the ropes. A Cotto counter right finds it’s mark on the chin, but does nothing to stem the tide, as Cotto is knocked into a defensive shell. He is struck by left hooks to the head and body and tries to box clumsily but the hawk has victory in his talons and is not about to be denied. A right hand and a left uppercut batters Cotto into a neutral corner and fourteen unanswered punches influence Cortez to call a halt without a knockdown at 2:07 of the seventh round.

Pandemonium breaks out in the ring as Cotto takes a seat on his stool to be examined by the ring doctor. He seems to check out OK and comes over to congratulate the winner.

Larry Merchant speaks to both fighters after the match:

Pryor: “He’s a good fighter but I’m the greatest 140 and 147 pounder in the world. Ray, and Tommy don’t want to fight me they know what happened in the amateurs. Duran, any of these new guys, line up and sigh up baby, I’ll come back to 2007 if the money’s right.

Cotto: “He shouldn’t have stop the fight. I feel OK, I not badly hurt. The ref stop the fight to quick, one more round and he is finish.”

The buildup for the third fight has taken a sinister tone all week as Roberto “Hands of Stone” Duran has allowed things to get nasty. He has called Antonio Margarito everything from sellout Mexican to a ‘puto’ and has insinuated that promoter Oscar De La Hoya is his boyfriend prompting a skirmish at the weigh-in. Margarito has tried his best to retaliate verbally, but he seems to be a little unnerved by the antics of the Panamanian toughman. Larry Hazzard is announced as the referee for this doozy and from the opening instructions, the size difference between the 5’7 Duran and the 5’11 Margarito is quite apparent but Duran’s Icy glare seems to burn holes in the Tijuana Tornado’s eye sockets.

Margarito comes out a little more reserved then in his last fight against Golden Johnson he waits 30 some odd seconds before reaching out with a few range-finding jabs. Duran rushes him and tries to bull him backwards. He seems to be attempting to torque Margarito’s elbow in the clinch. This will be a harbinger of things to come for the next few rounds as Duran, one of the most unappreciated technicians in boxing history pulls out every trick, some dirty, in the handbook. Before the fight Duran spoke of how this fight was for Mexican pride, and spoke of his Mexican father in an attempt to get the Mexican fans on his side. He jumps in and out with combinations, holds to break up Margarito’s rhythm and fouls when Hazzard can’t see what he’d doing. Margarito has had his moments in the fight but he seems unsure of how to solve this Rubik’s cube of a welterweight.

Margarito sports a welt under his eye returning to the corner after the fifth round. Trainer Javier Capetillo implores his fighter to ‘use the uppercut’ and ‘rough him up’. The Tijuana toughman goes out for the fifth doing just that, he fires multiple combinations with a few punches connecting, but more often then not eating more leather in the exchanges. The newfound life excites the crowd as the first chant of “Duran, Duran, Duran” is heard. There is a questionable clash of heads with 42 seconds remaining in the round which opens up an ugly gash over Margarito’s right eye. The doctor is called to look at it and in his peripheral vision he spies Capetillo going bezerk in the corner ‘sea intencional’, he says ‘it was intentional.” The referee disagrees signaling unintentional headbutt to t he three judges and with the doctor’s blessing, lets the fight continue. It is only a matter of time however as the blood engages Margarito’s fighting spirit causing him to unload with a stream of right- lefts in self defense. Duran turns sharpshooter with the left jab with assisted by well timed right hands (and a scrape with the laces for good measure). It appears to be the first round that Margarito has won.

To no one’s surprise, Hazzard stops the fight after taking a long look between rounds. This elicits a cascade of boos from the fans in the cheap seats who were just starting to get into this display of Latin machismo. The judges scorecards read 49-46, 49-46, 48-47 all for the 1980’ s legend Roberto Duran. Margarito is visibly disgusted after the fight:

“He was fouling me the entire fight and the ref wouldn’t do anything about it”, he said through an interpreter. “He never hurt me an then he obviously head butts me, he’s overrated, I want a rematch!”

It takes some time to separate Duran from his celebration, after witch he taunts the newly arrived from the locker room Wilfredo Benitez from the ring. “I fought tougher guys on the streets of Panama growing up”, he says. “His punches didn’t do nothing to me, he’s big but he hits like a girl.” On the way out of the ring an ugly incident is averted as security steps between Duran and DeLa Hoya near the scorer’s table.

The antagonism leading up to the Rugged display of machismo in fight number 3 could not contrast any more with the gentlemanly attitude of both Paul “the punisher’” Williams and Thomas “Hit Man” Hearns. The young Williams coming off his career defining decision victory over Margarito is highly respectful of what Hearns has accomplished. He talks of his father’s favorite fight being Hearns powerful 2nd round powerful destruction of Duran. This raised a few eyebrows on the startled 1980 team as the 1984 junior middleweight title fight had not been contested yet! Hearns was never an intimidator, and seemed respectful toward his young, almost star struck opponent, as he was literally having a hard time keeping a maddog expression at the press conference staredown.

The fighters entered the ring looking directly into each other’s eyes, both standing at about 6’2 inches tall. ‘The Hitman’ however sports a much more thickly muscled upper body and looks two weight divisions larger.

Williams comes into the ring with a reputation as a boxer-puncher who is not afraid to give up his height and comes inside to exchange leather. The hit man, as is his custom, looks to keep his opponent outside with the jab in setting up an opening for the poleaxing right hand.

The bobbing and weaving southpaw from Maryland seems a little tentative as he keeps the left hand plastered to the side of his face and comes up short with the jab in the first round. Hearns has the straighter more authoritative jab which he lands 17 out of 31 times in the first round. Neither man lands a significant power punch, but Williams who entered the ring dry seems as though he will need a few rounds to warm up.

The Motor City Cobra remains in command in the second round as Williams seems to be having trouble with his first opponent as tall as he is. Hearns management shrewdly arranged a fight with Caribbean “Fighting” Jim Richards, a 6’ plus southpaw a few months earlier to prepare. He is fighting as though he is out for a Sunday stroll. Williams is accomplishing nothing from the outside and darts inside to land a few glancing blows where he is met by the Hearns jab and walloping left hook to the ribs. At the end of the round, Hearns follows up a double jab with a big straight right to the temple that backs Williams up at the bell. He looks a little unsteady as he returns to the corner.

“You’ve got to get inside on him Paul!” Yells trainer George Peterson excitedly; “move side to side and don’t leave the jab short...come on now wake up.”

“You’re doin’ great Tommy,” Hearns hears in his corner. “He’s not throwin’ a lot of punches. When he jabs make him pay to the body.”

Williams comes out for the third in go-for-broke mode as he meets Hearns in ring center and throws a one-two-three combination. Hearns simply takes a step back jabs and throws another thunderbolt to the body. Williams attempts his own looping right upstairs but it is blocked and counter by a Hearns overhand which deposits him on the seat of his pants. Although the two fighters look fairly evenly matched by appearance, The Hitman seems to have every tangible advantage, speed, power, defense and jab all fall on the Hearns side of the ledger, while Williams generally excepted advantage in stamina has yet to have had enough time to materialize.

Williams shows his inexperience by jumping right up at the count of three on rubbery legs. Referee Richard Steele, known for stopping fight quickly exhorts him to “show me something and lets the fight continue. Williams seems as he’s fighting a whirlwind as he doesn’t know whether to punch back, hold or cover up. The end comes quickly as Hearns pulverizes the Williams midsection with two more left hooks, followed by a an uppercut to the chin and a crackling overhand right. Williams seems to fall into a neutral corner in sections and Steel does not bother to count, the official time is 1:23 seconds of the third round.

Hearns: “I hate fighting southpaws and he’s tricky, his movement bothered me a little in the first round, but I saw that he was dry and my trainer Manny Stewart told me to get right on him. He’s a good fighter though, a true champion.“

Williams does not talk to Larry Merchant after the fight as his cornermen indicate that he may have broken ribs.

Finally the moment this sellout crowd has been waiting for! a few of the upper level fans have prepared for the main event in their own special way practicing their hook-of-the-jab technique on their neighbors. The undefeated four time world champion “Pretty Boy” Floyd Mayweather is going to lock horns with the number one fighter in the world from 1980 the unparalleled “Sugar” Ray Robinson. Ray with his fan friendly businessman’s persona seems unnerved by the sport’s preeminent hip-hop bad boy and his cockiness. The crowd is abuzz as Don King chats up the Klitchko brothers ringside. Britney Spears is seen canoodling
with Leif Garret as Donna Summer sings the national anthem.

A coin flip earlier in the day dictates that Mayweather will enter the ring first, which he does accompanied by his ace, 50 Cent. Mayweather has ruffled feathers on the opposing team with his comments about how the 1980s team would not qualify as good sparring partners for the 2007 pugilists. If the first four fights of the evening bare out the reality; he is going to be eating a lot of crow in less than an hour. Leonard enters the ring to the sounds of Kool and the Gang and looks businesslike and confident.

Mayweather, from the streets of Flint, Michigan weighed in yesterday at 145 and has hydrated only to 147. He started his career at super-featherweight and has worked hard to pack muscle onto his small frame. Leonard weighed in at 147.5 a half a pound over the welterweight limit and had to run around the stadium to lose the weight. The Sugarman is 158 at the time of the fight, and also has a 2 inch height advantage. The size difference is telling to the naked eye in person and on television.

The first round begins with both men circling cautiously at the center of the ring. Leonard who seeks to be the aggressor fires a few jabs and feints from the outside attempting to make the smaller man commit. Mayweather who is now 39-0, and coming off a big TKO win over Manchester, England’s Ricky Hatton possesses excellent balance and continues circling. Leonard jabs again and bulls in with a pulverizing left-right to the body which seems to freeze Mayweather for a second he initiates the first clinch of the fight. That sequence turns out to be the only action of the first round until the ten second warning when Leonard unleashes a flashy 3 punch combination 2 of which are blocked.

“Alright, he comin’ forward, we gon’ do what we planned in the gym,” says Mayweather’s embattled trainer and uncle. ex two-time world champion Roger Mayweather. “jab to the body to keep him off and come back up to the head.”

“You’re doin’ beautiful kid, you’ve got it all over him!” Is the only instruction given by the erstwhile Angelo Dundee in the corner of the 1980 champ. “Just keep doing what we’re doin’.”

Leonard comes out meaning business in the second round as he fires two strong jabs in the center of the ring. Mayweather counters with a right that catches Leonard on the side of the head but does no damage. He then scoots out of the way. The normally evasive Sugar Ray Leonard seems much more ready to mix it up in this one as he cuts off the ring and continues his solid body work. He tries to move back upstairs but Mayweather’s patented shoulder-roll allows him to slip and deflect all of the punches. The fight continues at an uneven pace with Leonard doing most of the fighting and Mayweather trying to cover up. Leonard then allows the smaller man out of the corner and beckons him to the center of the ring. A fast one-two snaps Mayweather’s head back and makes him hold on. There is a slight trickle of blood from Mayweather’s nose coming back to the corner after the second round.

Rounds 3 and 4 feature more of the same as Leonard uses his weight advantage to bully Mayweather into the ropes and fires away. He may be getting a little frustrated at the Pretty Boy’s outstanding defense, but is not facing much coming back either. Mayweather frequently initiates clinches which are broken up by referee Mills Lane and has some success with his jab during the brief moments they are outside but isn’t doing enough to win the rounds.

Mayweather is told to “throw more punches in round 5 and comes out to the center of the ring with a jab and cross to the head and a hook to the body, all of which land but Leonard just mocks him and shakes his head. He then counters with a blistering 5 punch combination and circles to his left. Mayweather is in with someone faster than him for the first time. The two trade punches punctuated by a Leonard double left hook downstairs and up. Mayweather is on his bicycle for the last 30 seconds of the round and returns to the corner looking unsure of himself.

Mayweather has his best round in the fight in the 6th as he comes out with a newfound determination. He fires to stinging jabs to Leonard’s right eye and a right to the body. He seems to stun Sugar Ray just for a second at which time he follows up with a barrage of punches. As has been the case in this fight, Leonard just comes back stronger and more often. His follow up leads to yet another Mayweather clinch for which he gets a warning from Lane. Mayweather does good work off the ropes in the last minute of the round but he has been unable to deter Leonard to this point. Mayweather is bleeding from the nose and the mouth while Leonard looks unscathed.

“Stay off the ropes Floyd, he’s too strong keep the fight in the center of the ring and use yo’ speed” demands uncle roger between rounds. Floyd nods but has a faraway look in his eyes.

“You're breaking him down kid!” Says Dundee “when he bends to his right throw the right uppercut and we’ll finish this thing.

Rounds eight and nine feature many spirited exchanges with Leonard getting the better of them yet suffering damage. round 9 ends with Floyd going to one knee after an uppercut to the body. He complains to the ref, who calls it “no knockdown, low blow. the replays which show a borderline yet legal punch bring a spirited chorus of boos from the crowd. Mayweather enjoys a two minute rest while Leonard gets a warning from the ref.

Round 10 is the best round of the fight as both men are a little tired and eschew movement for a pier 6 brawl. Mayweather wins the first minute of the round with straight stinging jab-cross combos, while Leonard’s bodywork causes Mayweather to clinch at the two minute mark. He receives his second warning from the stern Mills Lane for this infraction “don’t make me take a point” he says as he breaks the fighters. Mayweather scores with his biggest punch of the fight, a haymaker left hook at the bell to seal the round. Leonard does not budge though, he has been hit by harder punchers such as Duran and Davey “Boy Green.

The eleventh round sees both men taking the round off and saving their energy for a big finish. Both men peck away with the jab, as it seems some of the steam is off of their punches. There are a few clinches which Lane easily breaks. With 15 seconds left in the round it happens: Mayweather throws a lazy right hand which is countered by two straight Leonard jabs and bang, and overhand right through Mayweather's dropped hands. He reels backwards and falls on his rear with Leonard in hot pursuit. Floyd looks more exhausted than hurt, and barely beats the count. Luckily the bell ends the round before Leonard has any more chance to do damage.

Although Leonard does not exactly look fresh, he looks as though he’s ready to go on a prom date compared to his opponent. Mayweather has a steady stream of blood running from his mouth and nose as well as a huge welt over his right eye. He has also been tattooed to the ribs and does not look like he has anything left.

“I’m gonna let it continue but he’s got to do somethin’ pretty quick.” Says the erstwhile referee in the Mayweather corner. “Alright get the F*** out of here; let me work on my fighter!” screams the defiant chief second who used to be known as the black mamba.

He pushes his fighter off the stool, and from the opposite corner, one of the best finishers in the history of the sport rushes out to meet him. Mayweather musters up all of the strength he has in throwing a right and a left on unsteady legs. Leonard walks right through them in digging two hard hooks to the body to drive the Pretty Boy into the corner. He throws a left, followed by a right and an uppercut to the head to drop Mayweather in his corner. He is able to jump up at the count of eight, and Lane takes a long look and decides to allow it to continue as it is the last round. Leonard comes charging in and just as he is about to make contact with his soon-to-be-vanquished foe a bloody towel comes whizzing past his head. Mills Lane signals an end to the fight as the losing trainer enters the ring to console his beaten fighter. Leonard ascends to the top rope with his arms raised in a victory posture.

Pandemonium breaks out all over the arena as the fans have gotten the bloody end they desired. The scorecards are announce as calm is restored and Leonard was ahead by two, four and five points going into the final round. He is congratulatory toward his opponent in the post fight interview calling him “the most talented boxer I’ve ever faced”, as well as saying” it feels good to be part of the greatest era of welterweight’s ever”. He announces a possible fight with Marvin Hagler in his future

While Mayweather has lost the fight, he seems to have gained more fans in defeat than he ever did in victory. He is humble after the fight and calls Leonard “a great champion who was just better tonight.” Mayweather also claims that he could beat any of the other guys on the card and “might fight Cotto or Margarito and might retire.”

So the final tally is a 1981 whitewash 5-0. The victors get back into the time machine just before the wormhole closes at midnight. All that is, except Benitez who feels he ‘can be the greatest welterweight in the world by staying in 2007. Oscar De La Hoya makes plans for a comeback, the guys on the 2007 are are disconsolate but in fairly good spirits and spend a few hours talking about “who could beat who, with De La Hoya serving as translator and the greatest fight card in history comes to an end. But hey, no one has seen ex-president Clinton or Olivia Newton John since the Hearns-Williams fight. Permanent destruction of the entire planet be damned, they don’t call him slick Willie for Nothing!

Article posted on 16.12.2007

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