Jimmy Young could easily be looked at as the antithesis of the Philadelphia fighter. Though Jimmy was not short on guts and courage, his thing was to box, not go to war in a battle of attrition where a display of intestinal fortitude was the name of the game. Perhaps the finest defensive heavyweight boxer of the last fifty years or so Young, at a time when the heavyweight division was enjoying a golden era, faced top name after top name, and though he never managed to win the world title, Young sure made his mark on the sport.
Less than exciting to watch, Jimmy was capable of delighting the purists with his slick moves, his defensive prowess and his fast hands. Sure, Young could also send a fan crazy due to his often negatively perceived approach – see his one and only shot at the world title, against Muhammad Ali, against whom Jimmy adopted the novel approach of leaning out of the ropes when under pressure, thus forcing an intervention in the action – but at his best, when he was turned on, Young made even the great fighters look bad.
Ali, admittedly an overweight, somewhat tired and less than motivated version of the great man, struggled mightily with Young in 1976, barely eking out a 15-round decision. While George Foreman was forced to disappear for a full decade after succumbing to Jimmy’s bag of tricks in 1977; Big George losing a 12-round non-title decision in sweltering Puerto Rico and then having his famous religious experience in the dressing room as Young was celebrating the biggest win of his entire career.
Stopped just twice during his long (too long) 21-year pro career; once as a young man, by the murderous-punching Earnie Shavers, and once as an old man, by the equally destructive Gerry Cooney, Young otherwise managed to outmanoeuvre all manner of big hitters, all manner of styles. Jimmy actually fought Shavers a second time, on this occasion succeeding in making Earnie look foolish for long periods, only to have to make do with a ten-round draw in 1974.
Among the top names Young beat: Ron Lyle (twice), Foreman, Jose Luis Garcia, and a young Jeff Simms. Okay, that’s no super-impressive resume, but one look at the guys Jimmy lost to, yet could so easily have been awarded the win against, is impressive: Ali, Ken Norton, Ossie Ocasio, Mike Dokes and Tony Tucker all learnt plenty as they won decisions over the Philly master.
So how did Young do it? He was blessed with amazing reflexes, a gift of a boxing brain, excellent balance and hand speed and, for when a punch did get through, a fine chin. Has there been a more-skilled heavyweight of the 1970s not to have won at least a version of the world title? Probably not. In fact, definitely not. Young may not have been every fight fan’s favourite, and he seldom if ever featured in a classic fight, yet Young was a man who could spell Sweet Science with capital letters.
Just ask Foreman: “He beat the devil out of me,” George has said of Young many, many times.
Young passed away at the far too young age of just 56 in 2006, having sadly fallen into a fight he could not win: one with drugs and alcohol. Very much a genius of the ring, Jimmy was clever in the ring, he was smart and he was fearless. Fans should remember him.
Final record: 35-18-3(12). Ten of these defeats coming at a time when Jimmy had long since passed the age of 30. Stopped just twice.