This one was just wild. Wilder than can be.
It might not be the most fitting tribute, to write a piece about a fight the recently departed Johnny Bumphus lost, but the simply incredible battle this deceased champ had with Gene Hatcher in Buffalo, New York in June of 1984 should certainly be remembered. For a number of reasons.
Bumphus, dubbed at the time as “The New Sugar Ray Leoanard,” met big underdog Hatcher in the first defence of his WBA 140 pound title. Slick, tall and gifted, 23 year old Bumphus was also a southpaw, one who was widely expected to have way too much polish for the tough but raw Hatcher, who was a year the older man.
Bumphus was 22-0, Hatcher entered the ring at 21-2 (the losses coming against Tyrone Crawley and Alfredo Escalera, both on points).
The fight was an action-packed affair with an incredible pace set and maintained – and then one of the more bizarre and controversial endings ever seen took place. Oh, and the action was breathtaking.
Slugger Hatcher, knowing he had to make it his fight, did his best in trying to do so. In fact, the massive outsider had a good opening round, getting close to the champion and getting home with some shots. It was a terrific first round, with plenty of drama. In the second, in what was perhaps a foreshadowing of the hell that was to break loose later on, referee Johnny LoBianco, who didn’t have the best of nights, ruled a knockdown as Hatcher clearly slipped to the mat.
To add to the amateurish element on display, the second round was only two-minutes long. The two warriors, though, were willing to go through anything and everything they had to in order to get the win. The fifth saw Hatcher in command, hitting and hurting the switch-hitting Bumphus. Already, it had been some night and some fight.
Back to his slick, on his toes boxing, Bumphus regained control in the later rounds, before he was hurt again in the tenth. At the end of the tenth, the two men punched away after the bell, LoBianco going down as he tried his best to get between the two seemingly possessed fighters. Lou Duva, manager and corner-man of Bumphus, came rushing into the ring at the time.
Then came the 11th round: truly one of the most astonishing in recent boxing history.
Hatcher, sensing he was behind on the cards, came out blazing, giving it his all. Bumphus was right there to slug it out with him. It was relentless, punch-for-punch warfare. Then, as Bumphus was hurt by a “Mad Dog” left to the head, the tide turned again in what had been some helluva topsy-turvy slugfest. Another massive left put Bumphus down, his thin legs utterly gone. Up, on heart alone, Bumphus was soon down again, more bundled over than knocked down from a clean blow, so shot were his legs at this point. But then, a second later, Hatcher was down, falling more from the momentum of his missed shots than anything else. No counts were given, neither fighter had his gloves wiped. Indeed, as commentator Al Bernstein shouted, Lobianco had lost control of the fight.
Then, as Bumphus was wobbling around, the third man wrapped his arms around the soon to be former champ and stopped the fight. As Hatcher’s team piled into the ring and hoisted the victor into the air, Bumphus, in a daze of concussed confusion mixed with blind rage, threw punches at Hatcher, even as the new champ was held aloft. It was total chaos, with members of both teams becoming embroiled in an ugly, nasty brawl in mid-ring.
An incredible fight, one tarnished by the illegal violence that proved to be the talking point of the bout, the Hatcher-Bumphus fight of over 35 years ago really is one that has to be seen to be believed.
Hatcher, who was saddened like the rest of us to hear of Johnny’s passing at age 59, was kind enough to recall the epic fight for this writer:
“Yes, it’s very sad news. Johnny touched the lives of so many people,” Gene said yesterday. “I remember him always having a smile on his face. When it comes to boxing, he really was one of the best. I had heard from many people, before our fight, that he was the next Sugar Ray Leonard – with his hand speed and his skills. I can tell you I agree, because when I fought him, he was very hard to get inside on and fight. I will be praying for his family during this sad time. God bless him.”
Q: Was Bumphus the best you ever fought?
“He was one of them, no doubt,” Hatcher said. “Him and Joe Manley and Alfredo Escalero were very tough, along with Ubaldo Sacco. Lloyd Honeyghan, I guess, was [one of the best I fought] but I didn’t get to find out because he hit me and it was over, ha! (Honeyghan stopping Hatcher in a round). I had some wars in my career, that’s for sure! I have been diagnosed with Parkinson’s, a year ago now, so now I’m fighting another tough opponent.”
Johnny Bumphus and Gene Hatcher: two special fighters.