Get set for the biggest heavyweight championship tournament the sport has ever seen. It is going to be held on SiriusXM Radio and will include everybody—and I do mean everybody!
In a sport in which more fighting is done in boardrooms and on Zoom rather than in the ring, this tournament will include the likes of Tyson Fury, Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder. It will also include Lennox Lewis and both of the Klitschko brothers—Vitali and Wladimir. It will also include Mike Tyson and Evander Holyfield. Even guys like Oliver McCall and Hasim Rahman will be in action. Not one of them balked and wanted to negotiate. It was almost as if they said, “Just put my name on the contract and I’ll sign it. Just tell me where and when to show up, and I’ll be there. I’ll fight any name you put me in with!”
When it’s a Fantasy Tournament, the improbable and even the impossible can happen!
Okay, here’s the story:
Back in December, my longtime radio sidekick, “Gentleman” Gerry Cooney and I, along with our Producer, Andre ”The Giant” Viola,” put together an All-Time Middleweight tournament.
Using the magic of studio sound effects, including bells, crowd noise, reverb and the sound of landed punches, we put together a tournament which included Harry Greb, Marvelous Marvin Hagler, Bernard Hopkins, Mickey Walker and a few dozen former Middleweight Champions. We took the listeners through several rounds of eliminations, down to the Quarter-Finals, Semi-Finals and Finals, which featured Sugar Ray Robinson against Carlos Monzon. When it was announced and produced, Sugar Ray Robinson was awarded a close unanimous decision in a hotly-contested 15-rounder.
The winners of every bout were not chosen by Cooney and me on SiriusXM Radio, at least not by us alone. All-Time, dream tournaments require an All-Star panel. In addition to both of us were seven boxing historians whose knowledge of the history of boxing puts them in the Mensa Society of the sport.
As our Middleweight Tournament was ending, we anxiously awaited 2020, COVID-19 and Donald Trump to go away.
Now that we’ve gotten two of those three wishes, Cooney and I spoke about putting together another tournament. This one, we discussed, will be bigger…more extensive…and include more fantasy blow-by-blow. There will be more production to make it sound as realistic as possible. There will also be more top panelists—all of them boxing writers, an nouncers and historians. There will be a few already in the International Boxing Hall of Fame (IBHOF), along with a few who are unquestionably on their way to enshrinement In Canastota.
This tournament, we decided, will be the All-Time Heavyweight Tournament. We’d take it back to the pre-1900 heavyweights, going as far back as Bob Fitzsimmons, John L. Sullivan and James J. Corbett. Then, last week, my phone rang. It was Thomas Hauser, a 2020 International Hall of Fame inductee. Because of the ongoing pandemic, Hauser’s day of enshrinement was postponed—with the rest of his fellow inductees—from last June until this coming June. Hauser was working on an article for The Ring on the possible outcome of a round-robin Lightweight Tournament between Teofimo Lopez, Vasily Lomachenko, Ryan Garcia, Gervonta Davis and Devin Haney. Hauser was calling to get my thoughts on who beats who in such a tournament.
After we discussed Hauser’s upcoming article, I told him of the heavyweight tournament which Cooney and I were planning.
As we talked, we discussed many of the great heavyweights throughout history. As we did, it was apparent—maybe more apparent than ever—that the heavyweights of yesteryear were different than the heavyweights of today. Extremely different.
One hundred years ago, Heavyweight Champion Jack Johnson was known as the “Galveston Giant.” He was 6’2” and weighed 215 pounds—small by today’s standards. It’s doubtful he would have been called the “Galveston Giant” today.
Following Johnson’s reign came a much bigger man—Jess Willard. A few years later was yet another huge heavyweight champion—Primo Carnera. Willard was 250 pounds and stood 6’6”. Carnera stood 6’6” and weighed 245 pounds. They were considered almost freakish because of their size. Today, neither of them would stand out amongst the rest of the heavyweight division.
As we talked, Hauser said, basically, Why don’t you consider doing two separate heavyweight tournaments? One will take in everyone from wherever it it you intend to start, and end with Floyd Patterson. The second part of the tournament will start at Sonny Liston—being he is always looked at as being the start of what you might say was a “big” heavyweight.
It was a great idea by Hauser, a man of many great thoughts and ideas.
After we hung up, I began typing up a list of heavyweight champions, going back to John L. Sullivan beating Dominick McCaffrey in 1885 to become the first recognized Heavyweight Champion under the Marquess of Queensbury Rules.
From Sullivan to Floyd Patterson, who lost the title to Sonny Liston in 1962, there were 18 heavyweight champions.
It’s no wonder that, when I, as a junior in college, met The Ring’s owner, publisher and Editor-in-Chief, Nat Fleischer, in 1969, and saw his Top 10 All-Time list of heavyweight champions it looked like this:
1. Jack Johnson
2. James J. Jeffries
3. Bob Fitzsimmons
4. Jack Dempsey
5. James J. Corbett
6. Joe Louis
7. Sam Langford
8. Gene Tunney
9. Max Schmeling
10. Rocky Marciano
With so few champions since from Sullivan to Patterson, it is understandable why Mr. Fleischer’s ratings looked like that. Six of the 10 men Fleischer had in his Top 10 were born prior to 1900.
So, Gerry Cooney and I are going to use Hauser’s suggestion and do TWO separate heavyweight tournaments. However, we are going to cut the earlier group (let’s call them Group I, or the Pioneers) after Sonny Liston, not after Floyd Patterson.
The reason is, quite frankly, in a majority of the countless heavyweight polls I have seen and taken part in over the years, Sonny Liston has never won. In the many I have seen where he faces Muhammad Ali at some juncture in the tournament, Ali has ALWAYS been the winner. That’s because Ali probably WAS the better all-around fighter.
In these mythical polls, every entrant is considered to be at his best. So, in head-to-head matchups, most pollsters have chosen Ali over Liston.
Because of that, domination, Cooney and I have decided to keep Liston out of Group II (The Moderns) and put him in with the talent-laden but short-staffed Pioneers.
In addition, Cooney and I enriched the Pioneers even further: We added four of the top African-American boxers of the pre-World War I era not allowed to face any of the top Caucasian fighters of the day. The four who we entered were Joe Jeannette, Sam McVey, Harry Wills and Sam Langford.
We were hoping to get to 32 fighters, in order to have 16 fights, (for a Round of 16), then eight in the Quarter-Finals and so forth. However, even with the inclusion of Liston and the four listed above, we only had 26. We needed to get to a Round of 16. We had to cut 10 fighters. Rather than drop 10 we felt were the “weakest links,” which would have gotten us to our needed 16, we wrote the names of all 26 fighters on file cards. We seeded them. We put the 13 best (the “A” listers) in one pile and the other 13 (the B-listers) in another pile. We shuffled the cards and pulled the names. It was “A” against “B.” We made 10 fights. Six fighters drew byes. The 10 winners would remain and fight on, while the six losers would head back into boxing lore. The matchups, winners and results were as follows:
Floyd Patterson W 12 Jack Sharkey
Jack Johnson TKO 10 Max Baer
James J. Jeffries W 12 James J. Braddock
Jack Dempsey KO 3 Ingemar Johansson
Sam Langford KO 4 Marvin Hart
Jersey Joe Walcott TKO 8 Tommy Burns
Rocky Marciano TKO 5 Primo Carnera
Ezzard Charles W 12 Sam McVea
Sonny Liston TKO 6 Joe Jeannette
Joe Louis TKO 5 Jess Willard
That gave us 16 fighters, and the Round of 16 began. We pulled names, making sure to keep the names of Sam Langford, Jack Johnson, Jack Dempsey, Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano and Sonny Liston in one pile, along with two other fighters, pulled randomly. The two pulled randomly were Floyd Patterson and Ezzard Charles. They became our “A-list.” The other eight became our ”B-list”. Then, we shuffled each pile and began to make matches. One from “A” against one from “B.” The Round of 16 was underway. Here are the fights and the results, with the winners in capital letters:
SONNY LISTON KO 4 John L. Sullivan
EZZARD CHARLES WUD 12 Max Schmeling
SAM LANGFORD TKO 8 Jersey Joe Walcott
JACK DEMPSEY WUD 12 James J. Jeffries
JOE LOUIS WUD 12 Gene Tunney
FLOYD PATTERSON TKO 9 Bob Fitzsimmons
ROCKY MARCIANO TKO 11 Harry Wills
JACK JOHNSON TKO 11 James J. Corbett
Along the way, we added expert panelists. Now, with a panel of around two dozen boxing writers (with NYFights’ esteemd Editor, Michael Woods among them)—and many renowned boxing historians on our selection committee, the Quarter-Finals of the Pioneer Group of heavyweight legends is about to get underway this Friday on SiriusXM’s “At the Fights.”
Later in the tournament, Cooney and I will provide a Fantasy call of the fights, complete with a “ring announcer” and all the trimmings, as I mentioned earlier. Listeners will swear the fight is actually taking place.
As we work our way through the Pioneers, we’ll also begin doing the Modern Group of heavyweight matchups, starting with the Round of 64, taking it down to the finals.
The winner of each fight in the Modern Group will be chosen the same way as the Pioneer tournament is being handled—from the choices of the large and knowledgeable list of expert panelists.
In each matchup, the SiriusXM Championship Selection Committee chooses a winner and how they believe the fighter will achieve victory. We then take a consensus and arrive at both the winner and how he wins.
There has never been a heavyweight tournament quite like this one. For those of you who have SiriusXM, you’re in for a treat. You’re in for something special.
This entire tournament, which will be airing the blow-by-blow of the Finals of each group on April 2, is truly going to be nothing short of (excuse the pun!) a knockout!
The Quarter-Finals of the Pioneer Group begins this Friday, on SiriusXSM’s “At the Fights,” from 6-8pm (ET) on SXM Channel 156.
Here are the matchups:
Sonny Liston v Ezzard Charles
Sam Langford v Jack Dempsey
Joe Louis v Floyd Patterson
Rocky Marciano v Jack Johnson
We hope you can join us for an exciting, mythical trip through an imaginary Fantasyland of some compelling heavyweight bouts. Of the eight men above, who is your pick?