When The “O” Must Go - Fighters Who Were never the Same After Their First Loss

10.10.06 - By James Slater: A solitary defeat can ruin a fighter. Sometimes, no matter how good a boxer is, he is never the same force after suffering his first ever defeat. Whether the problem is mental or physical, the sport has had many top name fighters who never got back to where they had once been after having the 0 at the end of their record replaced with a 1. Some never fought again. Period.

While others tried but quickly realised they simply couldn’t do it any more. Indeed, it is testament to the grit and determination of the fighters who managed to come back even stronger after their first taste of defeat, that they rose higher than they had been before their setback. Not all fighters can do this, however, as the following list, which is in no particular order, goes to show. In many cases in boxing it can be a case of one strike and you’re out. Not three.

Naseem Hamed: (36-1, 31 KO's) The name of “The Prince” immediately springs to mind when thinking of boxers who were all but ruined after being beaten for the first ever time. From even the very early days of his career Hamed told anyone
that would listen he was going to be a legend. Even going so far as to say he merely had to turn up to win at times, the ultra-cocky and sometimes annoying Hamed got what many of his detractors felt he deserved when his April 2001 fight materialised. Matched with the biggest test of his career to date, Naseem was handily beaten on points by a fighter who IS a legend, in Mexico’s Marco Antonio Barrera.

Not only did Hamed suffer the ignominy of losing his unbeaten record in the fight with “The Baby Faced Assassin”, he also had his head unceremoniously rammed into a ring corner post by an angry Barrera who taunted him with the words, “who’s your daddy now?” Marco had had to listen to much smack from Hamed in the build-up to the fight and now he enjoyed their role reversal. The decision, when it was announced after twelve rounds, was a unanimous one for Barrera. Hamed then went into virtual hiding for over a year, before returning with a boring and lacklustre win over Spain’s Manuel Calvo. Since then he has not entered a boxing ring again. A classic example of a fighter ruined by his first setback.

Gerry Cooney: (28-3, 24 KO's) Gerry Cooney was once lauded as the heir apparent to the heavyweight championship of the world. With his undeniable punching power, affable personality, powerful connections and, last but not least, his skin colour, Gerry was a fighter who seemingly had it all. Unfortunately, he didn’t have a fighter’s heart. This is not to say he lacked courage, but as any trainer will tell you, the two are very different things. Pushed into boxing by a domineering father, Cooney was a guy who feared letting anyone down. When he finally met world champ Larry Holmes, in a 1982 fight he had been steered towards with many blow outs over past it names, he did just that. Or so he thought anyway. Despite giving all-time great Holmes a hard fight and lasting into the later rounds, Gerry was beaten for the first time in the thirteenth. He was devastated and all but vanished for two years afterwards. Fighting only sporadically from then on, Cooney managed three more wins before being KO’d by Michael Spinks in 1987, and by George Foreman in a comeback attempt in 1990. He is remembered today as a once promising fighter who ultimately fell like a stone.

Meldrick Talyor: (38-8-1, 20 KO's) Meldrick was different. He had tons of heart and courage. In fact, he maybe had too much. When his first defeat came it wasn’t because he was outclassed, it wasn’t because he was merely a fighter who had been carefully guided to an undeserving title chance, and it wasn’t because he was too cocky. It was ultimately due to his unquenchable desire to win. Taylor wanted to beat Julio Cesar Chavez in their light-welterweight unification match so badly, he refused to alter from his game-plan of fighting hard. This cost him dearly in the dying seconds of the twelfth and final round, when he was sensationally stopped by a desperate “J.C Superstar.”

Okay, the stoppage by referee Richard Steele was controversial, as too were the instructions given to Meldrick by his corner going into the final three minutes - when he was told he needed the round, when in fact he was miles ahead on the cards. But in the end it was Taylor’s desire to fight like legendary Philadelphia fighters from the past that led to his first loss. Physically he was never the same again after the brutal war and today, tragically, he shows the major damage the continuation of his career has done to him. Quite simply, Meldrick Talyor was a badly hurt fighter after his 1990 epic with Chavez.

Michael Spinks and Leon Spinks: I’m putting both brothers together on this list, although their respective careers were vastly different in nearly all respects. Except, however, for the fact that they were both all but finished (or totally finished in the case of Michael) after losing for the first time. Let’s start with younger brother Leon. As a boxer barely out of novice stage he did the unthinkable and after only eight fights defeated the God-like Muhammad Ali for the world title in 1978. But as high as Leon Spinks (26-17-3, 14 KO's) was upon pulling off this amazing feat, there was nowhere to go but down afterwards. And this was indeed what happened. After losing the return fight with The Greatest, Spink’s career very rapidly fell apart. Destroyed in one round by Gerrie Coetzee in his first fight back after the second Ali fight, Spinks was then annihilated by defending champion Larry Holmes in a 1981 bout. Things continued to spiral downwards for Leon thereafter - until at one point he had lodged up over fifteen defeats on his record. It was that first one, however, that sent him down the slippery slope.

As for Michael Spinks, (31-1, 21 KO's) his reputation is one that is far more healthier than his brother’s. His place among the pantheon of all-time great light heavyweight champions is beyond question. The fight for which he is best known just might be his first loss though. Successfully moving up in weight and challenging Larry Holmes for the heavyweight championship in 1985, Michael then made the bad mistake of signing to defend it against a certain Mike Tyson three years later. Just over a minute and a half into the action, the fight, and with it Spink’s career, was over. There was no way back for Michael after such a pulverising defeat, his very first one at that.

Don Curry: (34-6, 25 KO's)“The Lone Star Cobra” was seen by many to be the next Sugar Ray Leonard. He was fast, skilful, dedicated and hit hard. Sure enough, he unified all three welterweight titles in 1985. With the brutal destruction of Kronk fighter, Milton McCrory, who going into the fight held the WBC version of the title, Curry had seemingly vanquished every worthy foe out there. Now sitting pretty atop the pound-for-pound ratings, Donald was a fighter at the peak of his formidable powers. Who could have possibly guessed that he would meet defeat, and with it a steady fall from grace, in his very next outing? Going into his defence with England’s Lloyd Honeyghan, Curry felt no need to worry. After the awesome display he’d given when dispatching McCrory, “The Ragamuffin Man” was not a fighter he was overly concerned with.

He should have been. With his slightly unorthodox and somewhat wild ring style, Honeyghan gave Curry, always a meticulous practitioner, absolute fits. The defending champion just couldn’t get into his groove that night in 1986 and, amid scenes of disbelief, quit on his stool at the end of six hard rounds. Curry’s world had fallen apart around him. Though he boxed on, even winning another world title, the exquisite skills he once possessed never quite returned after the mauling Honeyghan gave him. The battering he took led Don down a path that would eventually lead to another five losses.

Article posted on 11.10.2006

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