The Evil Empire: Boxing's Best Villains

08.07.05 - By Chris Ireland: "We all seem to need a threat from the outside. The other, who is dangerous and who could hurt us. And we need the champion to save us from that."
-Ralph Wiley

Carried on the shoulders of gladiators, boxing's darkest villain entered the ring to take on its most glorified hero. The raucous, sold-out crowd in Atlantic City set the stage for our savior, Arturo Gatti, to emerge from the fireworks as he entered and put an end to his antagonist's menace. That storybook ending, however, would not be realized. Instead, evil had its way. After six brutal, one-sided rounds of execution and destruction, the champion had his belt torn from his waist.

Picture The Joker walking into the Bat Cave and ripping the cape right off of Batman's back. It was at that moment when Floyd Mayweather solidified his stance as boxing's version of Darth Vader, leading his evil empire of bandits, bad guys, and black hatters to the chorus of boos and hisses..

He, along with his marry band of antagonists have become what they are not only because of their big mouths and bravado, but also because of their ability to back up their sinister smack talk in the ring. So who rides along side the dark knight?

When Bernard Hopkins throws up his trademark Executioner's "X", very few in the stands throw it up with him. In the midst of 20 title defenses and over a decade without a loss, Hopkins was without the respect and superfight status he thought he had earned. So he did what any villain would do: he stole it. Hopkins turned Puerto Rican hero Felix Trinidad into a one-dimensional slugger in 2001 and "Golden Boy" Oscar De La Hoya into an undersized, past-his-prime contender last year. Though Bernard isn't as hated or as sharp-tongued as Floyd Mayweather, rest assured, when the champ is in the house, the walls probably aren't shaking from chants of his name.

Zab Judah has not forgotten where he is from. The undisputed welterweight champion is a Brooklyn native, and embraces the gangster image that is the identity of its toughest streets. Judah was forever stamped a villain in 2001, when he attacked referee Jay Nady after being knocked out by Kostya Tszyu in the second round. Judah not only threw a stool at Nady, but attempted to choke him as well. Following the tough loss and a long suspension, Judah, with his "Ice" and "Bling-Bling" hanging from his neck and glistening from his ears and mouth, nearly clowned away victories over Rafael Pineda and DeMarcus Corley. Some of that was true against Cory Spinks last year, when Judah seemed to mysteriously take rounds off and waive to the crowd instead of inflict damage, resulting in a decision loss. The enigmatic super-talent would redeem himself earlier this year, when he traveled behind enemy lines to knock out Spinks in the ninth round.

Though the heavyweights have yet to produce a character glorified enough to be called a hero, one guy who's done enough to be called a villain is James Toney, who's mouth is in a constant battle with his trunk size to see which is bigger. Toney resurrected his career in 2003 after beating Vassily Jirov in a Fight of the Year candidate. Later that year Toney would dismantle legendary fan favorite Evander Holyfield, effectively ending Holyfield's stint as a heavyweight factor. After a series of injuries and lopsided victory over Rydell Booker, Toney would find himself on the big fight spotlight again on April 30th, this time against John Ruiz for the WBA heavyweight title. Toney would dominate the fight, shaking up the heavyweight landscape by taking Ruiz' title via unanimous decision. A few days after the fight, Toney would go from a Freddie Krueger-esque villain to a steroid using cheater in the eyes of many. James would test positive for steroids, relinquish his title, and serve a suspension. Perhaps the worst kind of villain in the sport of boxing is a cheater, and Toney's run-in with the banned substance, his creative trash talk, and his tremendous ability in the ring make him one of boxing's best villains.

If you've seen John Ruiz' career, you might have noticed that it is very much like watching a horror movie. An example? Consider the 1980 classic, The Shining. Who could forget the memorable scene when Jack Nicholson is chasing his wife with an ax? Now, picture Norman Stone with that ax, as he chases down every television viewer trying to run away from the boredom of a John Ruiz fight. The viewer shuts a door behind him, thinking for a moment that he is safe. Suddenly Stone begins chopping through the door with an ax, and it becomes inevitable that the viewer will be caught. Stone then sticks his head through a hole in the door, smiles sadistically, and says in a chilling voice, "Heeeeeere's Jawny!" Perhaps a fitting character that represents Ruiz' career is Jason from the Friday the 13th series. Why? Because Jason won't die. Ruiz originally won his title after splitting a three fight series with Evander Holyfield that started in 2000. "The Quiet Man" then lost his title to Roy Jones in 2003, but regained his old trinket when Jones vacated the title to move back down to light heavyweight. Last year John defended his title against Andrew Golota, another heavyweight villain. Ruiz would yet again survive, this time escaping two early knockdowns and a point deduction to outpoint his enigmatic foe. Following that defense, Ruiz took on James Toney earlier this year. Ruiz was again beaten by a former middleweight, and again regained his title when Toney tested positive for steroids. Like I said, he doesn't go away.

The final member of the Evil Empire is the wild man from Managua, Ricardo Mayorga. "El Matador" has worn the black hat in every big fight he's been in, and turned himself into the slugger that everybody loves to hate, and hates to love. After shocking Vernon Forrest twice in 2003, Mayorga lost his title to slick southpaw Corrie Spinks. Perhaps the most dramatic Mayorga performance came in defeat, to the hands of Felix Trinidad last year. In front of a packed house filled with screaming Puerto Ricans, Mayorga dropped his hands in the middle of the first round, and dared one of the greatest punchers of this generation to hit him on the chin. Ricardo has showcased such antics in many past fights, and has turned it into a very formidable part of his game plan. You'll never see a fighter with more confidence in himself. Mayorga always seems to be the guy who's there to rain on the hero's parade, stick out his chin, and intimidate the heck out of him in front of a packed house.

Some fighters have a way about them, an attitude that doesn't breed major commercial deals or turns them into marketing icons -- it defies those things. They fight their way to the top with a "me against the world" attitude. They call them the villains, and it's because of them that one thing is certain in boxing: there isn't always a happy ending.

Article posted on 09.07.2005

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