On the eve of what should be a memorable welterweight showdown between standout American 147 pounders Errol Spence and Terence Crawford, I decided to look back through the pages of boxing history.
I was searching for other welterweight battles which featured two rivals from the USA going toe-to-toe. A great matchup is a great matchup, but something extra is added to the equation when two compatriots are about to do battle.
Throughout boxing history, the welterweight division has been regarded as one of the marquee weight classes. Featuring the speed and skill of the lower weights married to the devastating power of the higher divisions, the old money ten-and-a-half-stone weight class has hosted plenty of the all time greats of the sport.
From the sweet coated skills of “Sugars” Robinson, Leonard and Mosley, to multi-division champions like Mayweather Jr., De La Hoya and Henry “Homicide Hank” Armstrong, elite American boxers have enhanced the welterweight division in most eras of its history.
Some of these names will feature below.
As Spence and Crawford ready themselves to produce a welterweight classic for the modern day, here are five superb all-American welterweight tussles, presented in historical order, from over the years.
I hope the walk down memory lane further whets your appetite for what is to come at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on Saturday night.
Henry Armstrong vs. Fritzie Zivic, October 4, 1940, Madison Square Garden, New York
Jumping back almost 83 years, the list of US vs. US welterweight brilliance kicks off with an upset victory.
Henry Armstrong was the defending welterweight champion, making the 20th defence of the title he won by defeating Barney Ross at MSG in May 1938. Armstrong’s win over Ross came at the time he was in scintillating title winning form – his effort against Ross was sandwiched in-between him winning the featherweight title in October 1937 and then picking up the lightweight crown in August 1938.
With his pedigree not in doubt, Armstrong was the heavy favourite to defeat the talented, yet inconsistent Zivic.
Zivic arrived for what would remarkably be his first title shot with a ledger of 100-24-5. For the record Armstrong was 109-12-8.
The two battle-hardened fighters combined to produce a hard fought contest which Zivic was able to edge – winning by one round on two scorecards and by three on the third at the conclusion of 15 rough rounds. Rough being the operative word.
Known for being masterful in the dark arts, Zivic used a lenient referee to his advantage against Armstrong that October 1940 night at the Garden. Elbows and head-butts were mixed in with uppercuts which gave Zivic the upper hand.
Armstrong suffered considerable eye damage as Zivic wasn’t shy about using his thumb and the laces on his gloves to gain the upper hand over the champion.
An exhausted Armstrong tried everything to retain his title, but on the night Zivic was the stronger fighter. Armstrong ended the bout on the canvas but the final bell rang before any attempt could be made to beat a ten count.
Zivic had underlined his dominance, whether by fair means or foul. His methods worked and a famous upset win was recorded by the unfancied Pittsburgh born master of the dark arts.
Sugar Ray Robinson vs. Tommy Bell, December 20, 1946, Madison Square Garden, New York
Another classic at the Garden.
Robinson had patiently waited for a shot at the welterweight title for five years. When it arrived he needed to dig deep to get past Tommy Bell.
Bell, 39-10-3 coming in, also had the opportunity to win the title as it had been vacated by Marty Servo in September of 1946.
The two men knew one another well as they had boxed a ten rounder in Cleveland, Ohio the prior year. Robinson won that fight via unanimous decision.
Arriving for the title fight, Robinson had a sparkling 73-1-1 record. He was fancied to win against Bell, who boxed out of Youngstown, Ohio.
In the end the fight did go with the form book and the opinion of the experts of the day, but it was an almighty battle.
Robinson was on the canvas in round two thanks to a left hook; Robinson levelled the knockdown count by dropping Bell in the 11th session.
Accounts from the day portray the fight as being back and forth, with great action and momentum swings.
When the final bell sounded, Robinson had his arm raised. Sugar Ray finally had the welterweight title in his possession. He won by five rounds on two of the cards, and a narrower two rounds on the third card.
Bell had put in an almighty effort, but just like in his first fight against the great Robinson it wasn’t enough to emerge with victory.
Sugar Ray Leonard vs. Thomas Hearns, September 16, 1981, Caesars Palace, Las Vegas
Two prime American welterweights met in a unification bout which turned into one of the greatest fights ever to take place on American soil.
Leonard brought a 30-1 record and the WBC title while Hearns was unbeaten at 32-0 and the holder of the WBA 147 pound crown.
The battle for welterweight and pound-for-pound supremacy started with Hearns dominating with his jab. Leonard was finding it difficult to overcome the reach advantage Hearns enjoyed.
To make matters worse for Sugar Ray, there was swelling under his left eye after the opening 15 minutes of action.
Leonard turned the tables in the sixth round by hurting Hearns and remained aggressive in the following round.
Hearns reacted by boxing smartly behind his jab. He was adding to his lead on the scorecards.
With the fight seemingly slipping from Leonard’s grasp his trainer Angelo Dundee rallied him before the thirteenth round with the now famous pep talk, “You’re blowing it now, son! You’re blowing it!”
The words had the desired effect as Leonard came out all guns blazing, dropping Hearns twice in the session.
Would Hearns survive the final six minutes to win on the cards? The answer was no as Leonard, sensing victory, went for the kill. Hearns was hurt again from an overhand right and as Leonard was unloading on his struggling rival the referee stepped in to halt the bout.
It was a dramatic ending to an incredible contest. Sugar Ray Leonard was on top of the welterweight division, and the boxing world.
Donald Curry vs. Marlon Starling, February 4, 1984, Ballys Park Place Hotel Casino, Atlantic City
This one was similar to Robinson vs. Bell in that it was a rematch of a non-title fight which took place between the two combatants earlier in their careers.
Curry, at the time highly regarded in pound-for-pound lists, had won the first encounter between the two via split decision in a 12 round encounter.
By the time the rematch rolled around, Curry was the WBA 147 pound title holder. The newly recognised IBF title was also on the line.
Starling, from Connecticut, 31-1 going in, was looking to avenge his only career defeat.
As well as his title, Curry had his unbeaten record to defend. The fighter who hailed from Fort Worth, Texas, and was known as “The Lone Star Cobra” was 17-0.
Unlike their first encounter, this bout, with titles on the line, would be contested over 15 rounds.
It was an absorbing affair with both men showing the other respect. Curry started well, establishing his jab which presented some opportunities to land several right hands on the defensively gifted Starling.
Starling staged something of a mid-point comeback as he opened up his offense a bit more, notably connecting with some uppercuts.
As the fight wore on, Curry re-established his authority and was able to find some gaps in Starling’s defense.
The Lone Star Cobra’s work impressed the judges and he took the decision by margins of five points (twice) and two points on the official scorecards.
Oscar De La Hoya vs. Sugar Shane Mosley, June 17, 2000, Staples Center, Los Angeles
As the century turned, two Californians put on a superb showing for boxing fans around the world in LA.
De La Hoya, 32-1 came into the duel as the WBC title holder and favourite to win. Mosley, 34-0, had made the jump from lightweight and was looking to become a two weight world champion.
What transpired was an incredible display of boxing skills. Both men brought out the best in one another.
The bout was fought at a fast pace, as the two gifted champions displayed their hand speed and combination punching abilities.
Great defence was also on show as purists and casuals alike were mesmerised by what they were watching unfold.
After building an early lead, De La Hoya’s level seemed to drop a little and this was the invitation Mosley was waiting for.
Sugar Shane, whose speed had travelled up from lightweight with him, dominated the second half of the 12 round bout and got the nod on two of the scorecards to record a split decision victory.