Boxing fans love the upset, seeing the underdog surprise the heavy favorite and take the fight to him, winning over the fans and - perhaps even more important - the judges. Sylvester Stallone mined that emotion through his long series of Rocky films. Rocky is fiction, however. The men in Rocky Lives! are real. David E. Finger, a writer for top boxing website FightNews.com, presents chronologically seventy-five heavyweight boxing upsets of the 1990s. Some involve boxers still fighting today; others contain a cautionary tale of once-great boxers chasing one last payday. There are also the early-round disasters of wannabes and athletes who switched to boxing in midstream. From the Tyson-Douglas, Foreman-Moorer, and Lewis-McCall top-dollar fights to low-level curiosities like former New York Jet Mark Gastineau getting embarrassed or Eric Butterbean Esch taking to the ring, David Finger presents the best heavyweight upsets the 1990s have to offer. You'll read about crooked promoters drugging opponents, a convicted felon hoping victory in the ring will win him leniency, and a forty-five-year-old preacher looking to exorcise a two-decade-old demon. Rocky Lives! brings all the knockouts and slugfests right into your home. Boxing by no means has a monopoly on the upset. The upset is something that transcends sports as a whole, it is what made Super Bowl III so memorable, it is what made the Miracle on Ice a miracle, it is what makes every graduate of a tiny school in Hawaii smile whenever they see a college basketball game on Christmas Eve. But in boxing, upsets often tell a story that could never be duplicated anywhere else, a story of one man's courage, one mans belief in his own ability. There is probably no place lonelier in the world than in the ring when you are an underdog, and the upset often becomes a reflection of the boxer himself, and a reflection of his struggle...against his opponent, against his critics, against the adversity of his life, against himself. As professional sports changed in the 1990s, so did the upset. Professional sports transformed form being a national diversion and pastime into a national corporation of sorts, a merchandising empire, where skill often took a back seat to marketability. But skill was still a necessary element of the equation, even if it became secondary in many ways. Nike's attempt to pass off Harold Miner as a new, baby Jordan failed about 10 games into his rookie season, and Brian Bosworth's persona didn't keep him in the NFL any longer than his poor performance could justify. But in boxing in the 1990s, skill soon would become a mere optional attachment, something that by no means needed to derail a marketable fighter. Boxing provided a ripe environment for misrepresentation. We knew Harold Miner was no Michael Jordan from week one. We never got the opportunity to find out Gerry Cooney was no Rocky Marciano until he had already fooled nearly everyone into earning one of the biggest paydays in boxing history. Gerry Cooney's 1982 fight against then heavyweight champion Larry Holmes would prove to be significant, we knew it as soon as the fight was signed and shamelessly promoted as a black vs. white fight. Its impact was felt all over boxing, but it would continue to influence boxing for years to come. Suddenly businessmen all over the world realized something. There was money to be made in a white heavyweight, and the fighter didn't have to take a particularly hazardous road to reach that payday. With that realization an explosion of white heavyweights emerged, each less skilled than the one who preceded him, and each trying to earn the undeserved payday. Few insiders paid much attention to the phenomenon, after all Gerry Cooney was at least a legitimate contender when he got his title fight, and a good fighter to boot. What he was not was a great fighter who deserved such a large payday against such an established champion as Larry Holmes. But when Peter McNeely earned nearly a million dollars (more than most champions made in their entire career) everyone realized that boxing was a different sport than it was just 15-years prior. Suddenly managers and promoters were working hard to keep untalented fighters undefeated, a recipe than would often produce countless upsets over the decade, most in boxing's money division: the heavyweight division. But an even bigger even took place in 1991, that also would change the face of boxing forever. It would prove to be one of the most uplifting and memorable moments in sports history, but would lead to a tragic trend in boxing that would discredit the sport. A middle-aged overweight preacher from Texas, nearly two decades removed form his last title fight, gave the undisputed heavyweight champion one of the toughest fight of his career up to that point, loosing a close decision. George Foreman had walked into that fight the recipient of one of the largest paydays in boxing history, and walked out of it with the guarantee of even bigger paydays. All over the world former champions and contenders were suddenly given the motivation to do what George did. But Foreman was the exception, and each comeback ended without a belt, and all except that of Larry Holmes ended without a million dollar payday. Still, the fighters kept fighting, hoping to find lightning in the bottle, just as George had. No matter how many times one lost, there was still that hope, that unrealistic hope that kept fighters fighting on. When Rocky Marciano knocked out Joe Louis, there was no question that Joe had to retire. But in the 1990s, a former champion could loose, and loose again, until it became nearly a meaningless statistic to have a former champions scalp on your resume. Boxing had become the arena of the upset, and the heavyweight division was this arena's Super Bowl.
|Publication date:||31st March 2005|
|Author:||David E. Finger|
|Publisher:||Brassey's US an imprint of Potomac Books Inc|
David E. Finger is a former amateur boxer who writes for FightNews.com, one of the world's largest Internet boxing sites. He has written more than one hundred articles for FightNews.com, as well as several freelance articles on boxing. He lives in Denver.More About David E. Finger