On the Subject Of First Round Stoppages



On the Subject Of First Round Stoppages

Ismael Barroso's one-round win over Ohara Davies on Saturday had me thinking about first-round finishes.

That type of early ending is probably the result that fighters and their connections dread more than any other.

For want of a better way of putting it, a fighter can get hit before he is ready to get hit. They call it “getting caught cold.”

It almost seems unfair.

Sometimes, fighters recover from first-round knockdowns and rally to win. But, often, when a fighter gets caught cleanly in the first round there’s no coming back.

Ismael Barroso got his revenge, stopping Ohara Davies in one round in Las Vegas Saturday. Photo: Cris Esqueda, Golden Boy Boxing

Ismael Barroso got his revenge, stopping Ohara Davies in one round in Las Vegas Saturday. Photo: Cris Esqueda, Golden Boy Boxing

Even fighters we think of as having reliable chins can get dropped and stopped in the first round. Abner Mares vs Jhonny Gonzalez, say.

Some excellent fighters have lost in the opening round. Abner Mares was just one of many.

For instance, the great Thai flyweight Pone Kingpetch got banged out in the first round of his title defence against Japanese southpaw Hiroyuki Ebihara.

Pone simply got caught early by a big shot.

Grainy black-and white footage shows a left hand blasting Pone to the canvas.

Although Pone got up, he was out of it, and Ebihara didn’t let him off the hook. Another left hand absolutely flattened the Thai boxer and the referee went through the formality of counting him out.

But Pone made sure he kept his hands up and stayed alert in the rematch.

Sometimes the better fighter gets knocked out in the first round. Eddie Machen was a skilled heavyweight craftsman. More skilled than Ingemar Johansson, surely.

But Johansson could hit with the right hand and he knocked out Machen in the first round.

The German heavyweight left-hander Karl Mildenberger would have to be considered a better all-around fighter than rugged Welshman Dick Richardson. Mildenberger was a legitimate contender. He troubled Muhammad Ali.

But Richardson knocked out Mildenberger with a big right hand in the first round.

There was no rematch. I doubt if that first-round finish would have happened again, no matter how many times Richardson fought Mildenberger.

Michael Nunn was something like a -500 favourite to beat Sumbu Kalambay in their middleweight title fight, but I don’t think anyone expected a first-round finish.

Nunn threw a looping left hand from his southpaw stance and Kalambay dropped as if he’d been shot.

Al Bernstein, doing commentary duties, noted when the fight started that “some expect a chess match.” Kalambay, as Bernstein observed, was “great at slipping punches.” Until he wasn’t.

Nunn’s one-punch KO triumph was, in Bernstein’s words: “A shocking turn of events.”

It was Kalambay’s only stoppage defeat in a 64-fight career.

“If they fought 50 times that [a one-round ending] would never happen again,” the late, great matchmaker and manager Mickey Duff opined during one of our discussions.

Sometimes, though, it has appeared that no matter how many times two fighters met, a one-round conclusion would alway be in the cards.

Sonny Liston vs Floyd Patterson springs to mind. Liston knocked out Patterson in two minutes, six seconds to win the heavyweight title and he crushed Patterson in two minutes, 10 seconds in the return fight.

Poor Floyd. He was a much better fighter than the Liston results indicated.

Actually, I don’t think it’s a stretch to suggest that Patterson was haunted by the outcome of the two fights with Liston.

“Oh, I would give up anything to just be able to work with Liston, to box with him somewhere where nobody would see us, and to see if I could get past three minutes with him. I know I can do better,” Patterson confided to author Gay Talese for a 1964 profile in Esquire magazine.

Then we turn to Emile Griffith. He was a great fighter. But Rubin “Hurricane” Carter nailed Griffith in the opening round.

That always looked a bad match for Emile, though: A welterweight champion moving up in weight to meet a young, hungry middleweight known for early rounds firepower (five first-round knockout wins before meeting Griffith).

These sudden finishes can be misleading, however. One such fight was the 1971 surprise in Australia when an ageing Luis Rodriguez knocked out Australian middleweight Tony Mundine in the first round.

Allow me to elaborate.

Mundine had what Australian writer Michael C. Ryan called “a dangerously attractive stance”. That is to say, he kept his hands low, a style that “makes him so electrifying — and such a risk.”

The Mundine-Rodriguez fight attracted a 17,000 crowd to the Melbourne Oval.

Mundine was the younger man, boxing at home. Rodriguez, meanwhile, was closing in on his 34th birthday, not “old” as such. But he’d had a long career — a veteran of 113 fights — and Rodriguez had lately been having close fights with opponents he once would have figured to beat comfortably.

Mundine was much younger than Rodriguez — the Australian prospect was, unbelievably, still two months’ short of his 20th birthday.

It always looked like being a tough fight for Mundine although he was a narrow (6-4 on) betting favourite.

Mundine’s connections rolled the dice — and crapped out. All over in 52 seconds.

And this is where one-round KOs can be misleading. Rodriguez’ startling success seemed to indicate that the great Cuban ex-welterweight champion was back to being the fighter he used to be. Not so.

Just six weeks after the stunning victory in Melbourne, Rodriguez was lacklustre in losing a 10-round decision to the British champion, Bunny Sterling, at the Royal Albert Hall in London.

“Rodriguez has gone back so far it is unbelievable,” the UK publication Boxing News noted.

So, it seems fair to say that one-round knockouts aren’t always all they seem to be, not always for the fighter getting KO’d, not always for the fighter who does the knocking out.

Ohara Davies’ one minute, 53 seconds defeat on Saturday probably falls somewhere in the middle.

Davies had blown hot and cold in previous bouts but he had never shown a chin problem as such.

He simply walked on to a perfect punch. For Davies, it was the left hand from hell.

In the unlikely event of the two men meeting again, Davies might not win but he probably wouldn’t get dusted inside two minutes.

He would surely keep a tighter defence and be more defensively aware. But that’s what he should have done on Saturday. As with so many one-round KO victims, it’s too late now.