Monzon, Hagler And Hopkins Probably Knew Their Limitations

09.09.04 - By Frank Lotierzo - - In the last 50 plus years, the Middleweight division has witnessed some of it's greatest and longest reigning Champions. Since Sugar Ray Robinson won the Middleweight Championship from Jake LaMotta back in 1951, there have been three Middleweight Champs who set themselves apart from the others, Carlos Monzon, Marvin Hagler, and Bernard Hopkins. Since Robinson, it is these three who have been the standard bearers at 160. Not to mention the fact that they rank 1, 2, & 3 in most successful Middleweight title defenses, (Hopkins-1, Monzon-2, Hagler-3).

In a little over a week, Middleweight Champ Bernard Hopkins will make the 19th defense of his title against Oscar De La Hoya. Since Hopkins-De La Hoya reminds everyone of Hagler-Leonard, because of the similar circumstances surrounding both fights and fighters. Much has been written comparing and contrasting the two smaller fighters who moved up in weight, (Leonard & De La Hoya) and the bigger established Champs who were both unbeaten in more than 10 years, (Hagler & Hopkins).

Debating Leonard and De La Hoya is as polarizing as Bush and Kerry. Hagler and Hopkins are not quite as polarizing. Which explains why Leonard made more money than Hagler and De La Hoya will make more than Hopkins. However, Hagler and Hopkins have both been on the receiving end of one common dart. That dart questions how come they never moved up in weight and fought the Light Heavyweight Champ or a bigger fighter. Which is actually a tough question and very hard to answer.

Since 1952, only Sugar Ray Robinson challenged the Light Heavyweight Champion as Middleweight Champ. Robinson lost when he couldn't come out for the 14th round versus Champ Joe Maxim, due to heat exhaustion. Although Robinson was a trend setter, he certainly didn't set the trend for Middleweight Champs fighting Light Heavyweight Champs. However, many of the top Middleweight Champs since Robinson made at least one defense versus a former or current Welterweight Champ, but never fought the Light Heavyweight Champ.

Carlos Monzon, Marvin Hagler, and Bernard Hopkins have been the most dominant Middleweight Champs since Robinson last wore the Crown. Staying in stride, all three of them fought their share of smaller Champs who moved up to challenge them. Monzon defended the title versus Emile Griffith twice and Jose Napoles. Hagler defended it against Roberto Duran, Thomas Hearns, and Sugar Ray Leonard. De La Hoya will join Felix Trinidad and Simon Brown for Hopkins.

How come a Carlos Monzon - Bob Foster fight was never made? They were both champ at the same time from 1970-74 in their respective divisions, and were universally recognized as the best fighter in the division. I have no definitive answer as to why Monzon-Foster was never made, and can only speculate. In speculating, I can only come up with a couple thoughts. During the title reign of Carlos Monzon, I always had the feeling that he knew his limitations and had no interest in taking on Foster. As great as Monzon was, I never thought he was a threat to beat Bob Foster. Regarding Foster. I think he was much more interested in beating the reigning Heavyweight Champ or former Champ than the Middleweight Champ. Evidenced by his fights with Joe Frazier in 1970 and Muhammad Ali in 1972.

Like Monzon, Marvin Hagler was Middleweight Champ during a time when the Light Heavyweight Champ was also an all-time great. During the first five years of Hagler's reign, 1980-85, there were three Light Heavyweights who dominated the division, Matthew Saad Muhammad, Dwight Muhammad Qawi, and Michael Spinks. In the early to mid 1980's, all three of them trained in Philadelphia. Saad, Qawi, and Spinks happen to be three fighters who I know well. Only because I trained with them at one time or another from 1979-84 in Philly.

Qawi and Spinks I know for a fact tried to get a fight with Hagler. Both Michael and Dwight spoke loud and often questioning why Hagler never mentioned them and was always talking about Leonard and Hearns during the early to mid eighties.

I used to pick up Dwight and drive him to Frazier's Cloverlay gym in North Philly to train. As a Middleweight I used to try and take him out while sparring, something I paid for more than once. On the way home he would sometimes talk about Hagler being the only huge money fight for him outside of Spinks. Believe me, Dwight wanted to fight Hagler bad, and had not a morsel of a doubt that he could've taken him apart.

Michael Spinks also wanted a piece of Hagler. Especially after he decisioned Dwight in March of 1983 to unify the Light Heavyweight title. After Spinks beat Qawi, he knew there were no more big fights for him at 175. In 1983, the thought of him one day fighting Larry Holmes wasn't even mentioned as a joke. Spinks saw Hagler as a big money fight and was always on Butch Lewis to earn his money and make the fight. Just as Dwight had no doubt that he could beat Hagler, Spinks was equally as sure. In fact a few times he said Hagler represented the most money out there for him, and he wouldn't be nearly as tough a fight as Qawi was.

As to why Hagler ignored the challenges of Spinks and Qawi, I can't say. But I do know that he heard them and was quite aware that they wanted to fight him. Spinks and Qawi both went out of their way to get Marvin's attention and tried luring him with the prospect of huge money when they would see him. Something at the time Hagler hadn't realized.

Some may infer that Hagler feared Spinks and Qawi, I won't go there. I feel the same way about Hagler as I do Monzon. I think Hagler also knew his limitations and thought he may have been in a little over his head versus either Spinks or Qawi. In fairness to Monzon and Hagler, they weren't close to being a Light Heavyweight. Foster was clearly bigger than Monzon, and I don't recall anyone thinking Monzon was a serious challenge for him. And the same applies to Hagler. Spinks and Qawi were clearly bigger than him, and nobody ever suggested Hagler as a possible stumbling block for either one of them. I know one thing for sure, had a Monzon-Foster fight been made, I would've picked Foster every time. The same applies to a possible Hagler-Spinks or Hagler-Qawi bout. Had those fights been made in the mid eighties, my money would've been on Spinks and Qawi, without having to think for a single second.

When it comes to Hopkins facing bigger fighters, who was there other than Jones? No way do I believe he was afraid. I can see his rational the same as I see Monzon and Hagler. Maybe Bernard also knew his physical limitations. There can be no denying that James Toney and Antonio Tarver are clearly bigger than him. On top of that, Toney and Tarver weren't even in the mix as a possible opponent for Hopkins until the last year. I also can't see Hopkins being motivated by the top Super Middleweights in the World. Not when the names Trinidad and De La Hoya represent so much more money. Roy Jones is thought by many to be the best fighter below Heavyweight during the era in which Hopkins fought. In his first shot at the Middleweight title, Hopkins fought Jones and lost a decision. I don't buy Hopkins feared fighting Jones the Light Heavyweight, as I know some do.

Monzon, Hagler, and Hopkins never left the Middleweight division to challenge a Champion in a higher weight division. I think it was simply a case of them just knowing their own physical limitations. They were natural Middleweights, and that's were they stayed and built their legacy.

Up until fairly recently, there was never any sense that a fighter's career wasn't totally fulfilled if he didn't move up in weight. I admire fighters who fight at one weight throughout their careers -- they seem like true professionals to me. Obviously, there are many fighters whose bodies grow as they get older, so they outgrow their original divisions. That's totally legitimate. But too often fighters simply lose their work ethic and expand out of laziness.

Writers Note

I don't know how big Carlos Monzon was when he died, but I never heard of him getting real heavy. As Champ he never blew up in between fights. He was a true Middleweight. I talked to Bob Foster in March of 2003. He weighs around 200 as a man in his early sixties. That tells me he was a definite Light Heavyweight. Too big for Monzon, but not big enough for Ali or Frazier.

Everyone has seen Hagler recently, he still looks like a Middleweight. I saw Spinks and Qawi at the Hopkins-Joppy fight this past December. Spinks says he's around 210, which is less than what he was for Tyson in 1988. Again, too big for Hagler, but not a legitimate Heavyweight. Dwight is around 230, and making Light Heavy was never a walk in the park for him. Qawi like Spinks is a bigger man than Hagler.

Hopkins is almost 40, and makes Middleweight easy. I've heard Tarver walks the street around 200 or better, too big for Hopkins. And Toney, do I really need to go there regarding him being too big for Hopkins? Toney is probably too big for David Tua and Vitali Klitschko.

Article posted on 10.09.2004

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