How Great Was Michael Moorer?

11/12/2020 - By James Slater - Comments

Michael Moorer – who today celebrates his 53rd birthday – accomplished a lot during his 20-year pro career. Yet it’s fair to say Moorer is by far and away best known for one fight and one fight mostly.

And it was a loss. Heavyweight legend George Foreman made history at the expense of Moorer when, in November of 1994, “Big George” knocked Moorer out in the tenth round to sensationally regain the world heavyweight crown.

All that Moorer had achieved beforehand had been largely eclipsed by a larger than life figure who was (and is) adored by millions. But Moorer really had two careers: one as a ferocious, destructive light-heavyweight, and one as the first southpaw heavyweight champion in boxing history. You couldn’t point to two more wholly different fighting animals.

Down at 175 pounds, with the great Emanuel Steward guiding him, as he had done since the 1980s when Moorer was a fine amateur, “Double M” was crushing guys. Going pro in March of ’88, with a first-round KO, Moorer was rarely extended beyond the second round as he romped his way to a title shot. In December of ’88, in just his twelfth fight, Moorer took out Ramzi Hassan to become the very first WBO light-heavyweight champion. Nine retentions followed each win also coming via KO or stoppage.

But Moorer disappointed some by not attempting to unify the light-heavyweight titles. This was a time when the 175-pound division was pretty rich with talent. Moorer, who declared to one prominent boxing magazine of the time how he “craved violence,” might have been the best of the current light-heavyweight crop, but we never found out. Instead, surprising plenty of people, Moorer moved up to heavyweight in April of ’91, on the Evander Holyfield-George Foreman card.

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Moorer was almost unrecognizable, weighing in at such a hefty poundage in comparison to his 175-pound reign. “What has Emanuel Steward been feeding Moorer on, chocolate-covered pasta?” one writer cheekily asked. Moorer wiped out Terry Davis in short order, and he also engaged in a thrilling slugfest with Alex Stewart that year. But Moorer the heavyweight could also be something of a dull plodder. His points win over Everett “Bigfoot” Martin, for example, was less than impressive (Moorer even went down twice in the fight that took place in 1992).

But then Moorer the action slugger would reappear, as he did in May of 1992 when going to war with Bert Cooper. This thriller has multiple knockdowns, with Moorer winning the WBO heavyweight strap. Then the “dull” Moorer returned; with fights with Bonecrusher Smith and Mike Evans dragging all the way to the final bell. Moorer was very much a hot and cold fighter.

Now trained by Teddy Atlas, Moorer the cautious boxer challenged Evander Holyfield for the world heavyweight title in ’94. It was a memorable night, yet two headlines overshadowed Moorer’s close decision win: Holyfield’s heart attack, and Atlas’ inspirational, motivational work in the corner generating the ink. Still, Moorer was THE man. The unbeaten two-weight king then signed to defend against Foreman. The rest is history. Moorer came back from the KO loss to the 45-year-old he had been convinced he could knock out; Moorer winning back the IBF portion of the heavyweight title with a win over Axel Schulz in 1996.

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But Moorer was then stopped by Holyfield in a return, this Moorer’s last truly big fight. David Tua wiped Moorer out in :30 seconds in ’98 and, aside from a good stoppage win over Vassiliy Jirov in 2004, Moorer never again really performed at top level. Moorer had layoffs at this time, before coming back to have the occasional fight. Finally retiring in 2008, Moorer exited with a more than respectable 52-4-1(40) ledger.

So how great was Moorer? As a light-heavyweight, Moorer was a ruthless destroyer, yet the critics point to the quality of his opposition. As a heavyweight, Moorer could be a vulnerable but always powerful warrior who could get up from a knockdown to win, or he could be a cautious, conservative boxer who was capable of driving his trainer nuts.

As a result, it’s quite tough ranking Moorer. For those title defences down at 175, and for making history as the first southpaw heavyweight champion, Moorer deserves plenty of respect. But is he a true great? Again, it’s a tough one.