The Most Important Fighter in Boxing History

10.01.06 - By Troy Ondrizek: Sports in general hold us hostage by our addiction to them. The role that sports play in our lives can be monumental; depending on the person. For me and many others boxing is my sports fix. Now in regards to the most important sport to us; I ask you this; who is the most important fighter? Yes it’s definitely a loaded question that has been the discussed in several different forms. I’m not asking about the best Heavyweight of all time. Nor am I asking about who is the best pound-for-pound fighter to ever grace our presence. I am simply asking; who is the most important fighter ever to lace-up the gloves? Several fighters come to mind when thinking about this subject. People will declare that Muhammad Ali was; maybe a vote or two would go to Joe Louis or Sugar Ray Leonard. There are arguments for several dozen fighters spanning a multitude of decades..

So with that being said; I say please forgive for misleading you a little. This topic isn’t really about one sole fighter. It is in all reality about one “unwritten”, but commonly discussed classification of fighter. This type of fighter does the greatest service to us fight fans; as well as fighters a like. They are the difference between truth and speculation. Often they have the most impressive resume in regards to they fight the best fighters of their respective era. Yet these gladiators of the sport receive little to no press, and they are paid a fraction of what their famous counterparts are. I am talking about the indispensable, but often overlooked “gatekeeper”. Yes to those of you who feel liked I fooled you by dragging you through a piece about “journeymen” or “gatekeepers” or whatever label you want to associate them with. Just stop and think for one moment about their true contributions to this sport.

These fighters usually start out their careers with aspirations of one day becoming champions themselves. Until they finally run into other journeymen or they realize that God wasn’t as generous with them and their boxing talents as he was to others. However they came to the conclusion doesn’t matter. What does matter is that they are usually students of the game and love it immensely; otherwise why would they constantly take a beating for little pay. The truth of the matter is without them, we have no easy way to grade other fighters.

These fighters are sometimes former contenders or top ten fighters who just fell short of their dream. These types of “gatekeepers” are big time stepping stones for other proven contenders. This is the most lucrative journeyman position, but it is short-lived and full of ridicule from boxing fans. Examples of this type of gatekeeper are: Jameel McCline or Raymond Joval, or Earnie Shavers. These fighters were top ten talents who just never quite won a title, and were or now are relegated to fight other contenders to boost the contenders stock for a title fight.

As important as those types of journeymen are; the most important are the ones that help figure out the worthiness of a prospect. These types of gatekeepers have long worthy careers. They fight the best fighters of their time. As young fighters embark upon their careers; they build strength feasting on lesser fighters known to us as tomato cans. After devouring several of these weaker opponents; these prospects develop from their larvae state and into a more caterpillar-like contender portion of their evolution. However, for these caterpillars to morph into legitimate contenders in our eyes; they need to prove themselves that they are strong enough to handle the upgrade in competition. It’s at this juncture that a gatekeeper becomes absolutely invaluable. As the gatekeepers are the litmus tests that these contenders will be judged against. These road-warriors that have fought many tough fighters with not so successful results are able to tell us how far along these caterpillars have come. If the fighter is successful in defeating the gatekeeper; then he is able to start his transformation into a legit contender. However, if the gatekeeper is able to cast off the prospect and expose them as frauds; then we as fight fans have one less fighter to worry about. Maybe then at that point another gatekeeper is born. There are exceptions to the rule; for Wladimir Klitschko overcame his loss to renowned journeyman Ross Purity.

Gatekeepers keep a balance for their division. They are integral to the growth of young fighters, and help dispose of over-the-hill fighters too. Much like the insect world, they help clear their division of waste to help it grow. Without them boxing is garbage.
Since many of these gatekeepers get no love from the press, I’m going to give a shout out and thank you to some who have honorably filled this role.

Recognition goes to: Ross Purity, Saul Montana, Willie Chapman, Dennis Bahktov, Robert Hawkins, Friday Ahunanya, Vaughn Bean, Przemyslaw Saleta, Sedrick Fields, and Kenny Craven. I can’t forget the biggest journeyman fighting today: Louis Monaco. Over the past decade Monaco has faced some of boxing’s biggest names. Here is his impressive list: Butterbean, Peter McNeely, Trevor Berbick, Michael Grant, Jeremy Williams, Kevin McBride, Michael Dokes, Buster Douglas, Kirk Johnson, Lawrence Clay Bey, Vitali Klitschko, Monte Barrett, Lamon Brewster, Fres Oquendo, Malik Scott, Eddie Chambers, and Lance Whitaker. He helped usher out Dokes and Douglas. He exposed McNeely and McBride, and he helped the rest prove their worthiness. If any of these aforementioned fighters had resumes like this, then they would be considered the greatest of their era. If I forgot to mention any other journeymen; well you should be used to it by now.

Article posted on 10.01.2006

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