Way More Than A Journeyman – Ross Puritty: The First Man To Beat Klitschko

Sometimes in the sport of boxing, a fighter who is very much seen as a journeyman raises his game when given the opportunity to do so and comes within reach of being a genuine contender, if not world championship material. This is what happened to heavyweight warrior Ross Puritty, a rock of a man from Phoenix. Thrown in tough, often taking fights abroad, and with short notice, Puritty went pro in May of 1989.

After winning his debut by KO, the 22-year-old would lose five of his next eight bouts. It seemed Puritty’s limits had been reached; he would be a journeyman. But Puritty had been beaten only by undefeated fighters; fighters who were expected to go places and had people looking out for them. Puritty was not discouraged by the five setbacks. Nor was Puritty to lose heart after suffering defeat a further three times over the course of his next seven fights.

In fact, Puritty had a ton of heart – as he showed when he was finally given a big fight at the right time. Enter Tommy “The Duke” Morrison. Puritty decked Morrison twice during their July 1994 battle, and he looked to most to have done enough to have picked up the decision win. Instead, Puritty went home with a draw. It was at least a moral victory (and Tommy never went near Puritty again).

Now perhaps more confident in his abilities, and in his granite chin, than ever before, 27-year-old Puritty, calling himself “The Boss,” went on a quite remarkable (considering his bumpy start) ten fight win streak. Puritty wasn’t beating top names, but he was winning, he was earning money, and he was always ready for a big fight when one came his way. Another chance came in March of 1996 as an unbeaten Hasim Rahman signed to fight him. Ten rounds later, Puritty had another decision loss on his record.

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A points loss to an unbeaten Michael Grant followed before Puritty put together another good unbeaten run. This time seeing off decent names in Jorge Luis Gonzalez and, in a battle of guys known as “The Boss,” Joe Hipp. Then grounded by three consecutive losses at the hands of Corrie Sanders, Larry Donald, and Chris Byrd, all via decision defeat, Puritty was sporting a 24-13-1 record. Enter Wladimir Klitschko.

Puritty, who had boxed in Mexico, Japan, and South America, got a call to fight an unbeaten pro, an Olympic gold medal winner, named Wladimir Klitschko, the fight to take place in Ukraine in December of 1998. Puritty hopped on a plane and fought the biggest fight of his entire career. Klitschko was not yet famous in the U.S, but he would, in time, become looked at as an all-time great heavyweight champion. First, Klitschko learned a tough lesson in his fight with “The Boss.”

Hitting Puritty with all he had in the early going, Klitschko eventually, and alarmingly ran out of gas; some said he lost heart. Visibly wilting by the eighth round, Klitschko went down twice in the tenth. The first fall was ruled as just that, but then Klitschko was downed for certain and given a count. Puritty poured it on as he saw his rival reeling around in exhaustion. 18-seconds into the 11th round, Klitschko was rescued by his corner. Years later, the win Puritty pulled off would become genuinely notable. Also, Klitschko never quite learned his lesson, punching himself out in a later fight with Lamon Brewster.

Puritty picked up a couple of low-key wins before he slid back into losing mode. Then came a fight with big brother Vitali Klitschko in December of 2001. Puritty lost that one, but he made Vitali work, the fight in Germany going into the 11th round. A cut eye stopped Puritty, where Klitschko’s KO blows could not. Puritty had one heck of a chin, no doubt.

And when looking back all these years later, a fan has to wonder how much Puritty could have achieved had he had a great trainer and promoter investing in him. Stopped just three times in over 50 fights (by Cleveland Woods in his Puritty’s second pro bout, and by Alexander Miroshnichenko and Klitschko, both on cuts), Puritty’s reputation as one hard man is well deserved.

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Where would the sport be without the Ross Purittys of the world?

Ross Puritty’s record is 31-20 with three draws and 20 knockouts.