HBO’s Boxing After Dark series produced its share of memorable fights. What vet fight fan can’t forget the shoot out to open the series between Marco Antonio Barrera and Kennedy McKinney? Or Barrera’s war the first time he faced off against countryman Erik Morales? Or the first fight between Arturo Gatti and Micky Ward? Heck, I could probably write a book on just the epic fights Gatti was involved in on the series.
You get my point. Lots of all-time great action fights occurred on the Boxing After Dark series during its heyday. But over the course of time some fights on the series that were legendary in their own right at that particular moment have gotten somewhat forgotten over the years for reasons I simply cannot explain. As we approach the 25th anniversary of one such fight I wanted to go back in time to relive such a forgotten classic.
On December 21st, 1996 Phillip Holiday and Ivan Robinson engaged in an epic slugfest for Holiday’s IBF Lightweight Title. The bout took place at Mohegan Sun Casino in Uncasville, CT and headlined an aforementioned HBO Boxing After Dark telecast.
Holiday entered the ring with a record of 29-0 with 16 KOs and was making the fifth defense of his IBF title that he won in August of 1995 by stopping Miguel Julio in the tenth round. Holiday was coming off a twelve round unanimous decision victory against Joel Diaz just two months prior and was hoping that a valuable opportunity on US television could catapult him to bigger things down the road.
Robinson, a native of Philadelphia, PA, entered the ring with a 23-0 record with 10 of those wins coming by knockout. He was the IBF’s number one contender and that position was partially earned with a twelve round unanimous decision victory a year earlier against then 14-0 Demetrio Ceballos. Robinson was coming off a ten round unanimous decision in July against Emanuel Augustus.
On paper this fight featured an interesting clash in styles. Holiday (below) was an aggressive non-stop pressure fighter who liked to get in on his opponent’s chest and bang their body.
Robinson was the quick footed boxer with fast hands who liked to work from the outside behind his jab, setting up combinations.
The fight started out at a blistering pace from the opening bell. Robinson was the boxer as expected but Holiday was on his chest seconds into the fight. Holiday would pound away to Robinson’s body and Robinson would tee off on Holiday’s head when he dipped down to throw to the body. The two each threw over 100 punches in the first round and that pattern continued throughout the fight.
The first four rounds were very close. Holiday was consistently pressing forward, banging away at Robinson’s body. These were short, compact, hard punches that were tearing into Robinson’s ribcage. But whenever Holiday took a quick breather, Robinson would fire away upstairs, landing some eye popping combinations. The fighters seemed to split these rounds 2-2.
In the fifth, Holiday’s persistent body attack seemed to slow Robinson just a bit. And in the sixth, Holiday briefly hurt Robinson with a flush right hand to the chin as Robinson held his hands down to protect from the body shots. The tide seemed to be turning fully in Holiday’s favor as we entered the second half of the fight.
But Robinson changed tactics in the seventh. He decided to become the aggressor and met Holiday head on, engaging in blistering toe to toe exchanges. At one point in that round Robinson even appeared to have Holiday momentarily hurt with a left to the head.
The toe to toe action continued into round eight but Holiday seemed to get the better of the exchanges. His punches were shorter and more compact compared to the longer, wider punches of Robinson. And that persistent body attack from Holiday seemed to slow Robinson just a tad to the point where Holiday’s output was just a little higher.
Holiday appeared to control the next three rounds, simply outworking Robinson. This is not to say Robinson’s output was low, it’s just that Holiday had taken things to another gear and his body shots were clearly having an impact on Robinson.
It was much the same in the twelfth round, where the two dug down and threw bombs away at each other but Holiday threw and landed much more. However, when Robinson did land, they were eye catching shots to the head of Holiday. So as we awaited the scorecards there was debate in watchers’ heads as to whether the work that Robinson did would get more credit from the judges.
The judges, though, were unanimous in their verdict in favor of Holiday with scores of 118-110, 117-111 and 116-112.
Per CompuBox, Holiday threw 1,493 punches and landed an astounding 555 of those shots. Robinson threw 1,093 punches, landing 440 of his shots. These are truly incredible numbers for what was a modern lightweight classic.
Holiday was never the same following this fight. In his next outing that following May he was lucky to squeak out a split decision victory in a fight he was heavily favored in against Pete Taliaferro. Then three months later Holiday would lose his title to Shane Mosley. This would be the last title fight in Holiday’s career. Later on he would drop fights to the likes of Colin Dunne, Thomas Damgaard and Hector Camacho Jr., essentially finishing his career as a gatekeeper.
Robinson would return to the ring that following July and get destroyed in three rounds by Pito Cardona. Robinson, though, would be remembered by HBO execs for his effort against Holiday and get rewarded with another crack on Boxing After Dark a year later, against Arturo Gatti. Robinson would defeat Gatti in what was the consensus fight of the year in 1998 and then back up that performance with an even more dominant effort against Gatti four months later.
Though things were looking up for Robinson, the Gatti sequel would turn out to be the highlight of his career. The brutal stretch of fights, beginning with the Holiday war, took its toll on Robinson, who never was able to get back into title contention.