Commentary

Both fighters take risks in catchweight bouts

Kelly Pavlik's rematch with Jermain Taylor marks the return of catchweight bouts -- fights in which the boxers meet at an agreed weight. Graham Houston takes a look at some of the more prominent catchweight matches in boxing history.

Originally Published: February 13, 2008
By Graham Houston | Special to ESPN.com

Fernando Vargas and Ricardo MayorgaRobert Laberge/Getty ImagesSometimes, fights are arranged at a catchweight out of necessity and other times -- as was the case with Mayorga, right, and Vargas -- they're arranged for convenience purposes.
Saturday's Kelly Pavlik-Jermain Taylor rematch at 166 pounds is part of a recent revival of bouts made at catchweight -- traditionally when boxers in different weight divisions meet in the middle.

In the days when there were just eight weight divisions, catchweight bouts were commonplace.

Each boxer in such a fight was seen as taking a risk.

The smaller fighter would hope that his opponent might weaken himself making the agreed weight. For the bigger man, the gamble would be whether he could get down to the lighter weight and remain strong.

Here is a look, in chronological order, at 12 catchweight contests.

Joe Gans D20 Joe Walcott -- San Francisco, Sept. 30, 1904

Lightweight champion Joe Gans was the master boxer while welterweight champion Joe Walcott was an aggressive fighter whose nickname, The Barbados Demon, had been well-earned.

The shorter, much heavier-set Walcott was required to make 138 pounds at an unusual ringside weigh-in and according to the San Francisco Bulletin "saved his forfeit money by a very slight fraction" although the actual weights were not reported.

There were hints that the boxers might not go all out, but referee Jack Welch visited both men and reassuringly told the Bulletin: "I think the contest will be the best and squarest ever pulled off in San Francisco."

Welch was not far wrong, with the Bulletin reporting: "It was a great fight. Gans was the clever ring mechanic. Walcott was the same old Barbadoes [sic] hurricane. He carried the fight to Gans from the start and didn't seem to mind the facers that would either have slowed up the average fighter or put him out of commission."

When Welch signaled a draw the crowd booed, believing that Gans had won. Walcott, the Bulletin reported, was "tickled to death with the verdict and sprang forward and shook the referee's hand."

Jimmy McLarnin W10 Pancho Villa -- Emeryville, Calif., July 4, 1925

Belfast-born, Canadian-raised Jimmy McLarnin was an up-and-coming featherweight prospect when he faced flyweight champion Pancho Villa in a catchweight bout. Filipino Villa had the experience, but the 18-year-old McLarnin had youth and physical advantages in his favor. McLarnin weighed 122 pounds to Villa's 114 according to the Vancouver Sun (although the online source BoxRec.com lists each man as one pound lighter).

Boxing enthusiasts thought that Villa would win "not so much because of his punching ability or ruggedness but because of his experience," the Sun reported. But McLarnin clearly outscored Villa, with the Sun reporting: "The dark-haired, short-armed fighting demon from the Philippines, the boss of the flyweights, could not penetrate the McLarnin defense. Jimmy smiled through the 10 rounds, fought carefully and didn't let the champion gain an advantage."

Unfinished Business
TV Lineup for Saturday's HBO PPV card (9 p.m. ET) from the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas:

• Junior lightweights: Juan Manuel Marquez (48-3-1, 35 KOs) vs. Manny Pacquiao (45-3-2, 34 KOs), rematch, 12 rounds, for Marquez's title/vacant Ring magazine title

• Featherweights: Steven Luevano (34-1, 15 KOs) vs. Terdsak Jandaeng (29-2, 19 KOs), 12 rounds, for Luevano's title

• Bantamweights: Abner Mares (15-0, 9 KOs) vs. Diosdado Gabi (30-3-1, 22 KOs), 12 rounds

• Junior welterweights: David Diaz (33-1-1, 17 KOs) vs. Ramon Montano (15-4-2, 1 KO), 10 rounds

-- Dan Rafael

Tragically, Villa died in hospital in San Francisco eight days later. It transpired that Villa had been suffering from an infected jaw and had a wisdom tooth removed the night before the fight. He refused to pull out of the fight, not wishing the promoter to suffer financial hardship. The Sun reported that Villa apparently went into the ring with the "jaw nerves deadened by a drug to kill the pain." After the fight, the infection spread. Doctors performed immediate jaw surgery after Villa had been rushed to hospital but he "failed to rally from the effects of the operation."

Henry Armstrong TKO end of 6 Lew Jenkins -- Polo Grounds, N.Y., July 17, 1940

Welterweight champion Henry Armstrong was obliged to weigh in seven pounds under the division limit for his scheduled 12-rounder with lightweight champion Lew Jenkins. This was no problem for Armstrong, a featherweight champion who was small for a welterweight. Armstrong came in at 139 pounds, while Jenkins was just a half-pound over the lightweight limit of 135.

The fight held intrigue because Jenkins, from Sweetwater, Texas, was known to be a terrific hitter. New York Times columnist John Kieran was one of many who felt that Jenkins's big punch gave him a chance. "If he can land that punch on a dodging target like Armstrong he may do well for himself," Kieran opined in a prefight story.

Jenkins did indeed do damage. Joseph P. Dawson reported in The New York Times that Armstrong's left eye was swollen almost shut while his right eye "dripped a blinding flow of blood" after a desperation left hook opened an old cut. Armstrong was winning the fight, though. He took command from the fourth round and Jenkins was down seven times, unable to hold the stronger, superior fighter in Armstrong. Referee Arthur Donovan stopped the fight at the end of the sixth as Jenkins "writhed and groaned on his stool" in the words of reporter Dawson.

Emile Griffith TKO9 Dave Charnley -- London, Dec. 1, 1964

Dave Charnley, a world-class British lightweight of the 1950s and early '60s, was a tough, compact southpaw who could punch hard at 135 pounds. But he was in far over his head when he fought the welterweight champion, Emile Griffith, in a 10-round non-title bout at Wembley indoor arena in northwest London.

Griffith had just soundly beaten the Welsh southpaw Brian Curvis in a title fight in London. The Charnley fight was officially made at a weight of 148 pounds -- a pound over the welterweight limit -- but a private agreement between the parties stipulated that Griffith could not scale more than 145 pounds at the weigh-in on the day of the fight. Griffith looked big for the 147-pound division with his wide-shouldered physique, still making 145 pounds was not a problem for him.

Griffith overpowered Charnley and the referee called a halt to the bout after the smaller man got up from a knockdown. As Britain's The Times newspaper gloomily reported: "Charnley was never in with much of a chance against the champion of the division above him."

Charnley fought two other welterweights at a catchweight, losing a disputed decision against Brian Curvis, whom he knocked down, and stopping the European champion of the time, London's Peter Waterman, in the fifth round, although Waterman was coming to the end of his career.

Ray Leonard TKO9 Donny Lalonde -- Las Vegas, Nov. 7, 1988

[+] EnlargeSugar Ray Leonard and Donny Lolonde
AP Photo/Lenny IgnelziThere wasn't a big enough size advantage to compensate the gulf in talent between Lalonde, left, and Leonard.
Sugar Ray Leonard won two titles in one night when he stopped Donny Lalonde -- capturing the Canadian's WBC light heavyweight title while also winning the inaugural WBC super middleweight belt.

Due to the super middle title being at stake, Lalonde was required to weigh no more than 168 pounds. He talked a great fight, referring to the 32-year-old Leonard as an "old, fat welterweight." While Lalonde fought well early, even scoring a knockdown, Sugar Ray proved to be a different class in terms of talent.

When the boxers weighed in on the morning of the fight, Leonard's weight was announced as 165 pounds, two pounds lighter than Lalonde. He said in the postfight press conference, however, that his true weight was 159-and-a-half pounds. Leonard, who had weighed in wearing a track suit, said he had secretly placed weights in each pocket.

Terry Norris TKO4 Meldrick Taylor-- Las Vegas, May 9, 1992

Welterweight champion Meldrick Taylor faced a daunting task against Terry Norris, the champion at junior middleweight, but his camp negotiated a weight limit of 150-and-a-half pounds. This was three-and-a-half pounds inside the weight limit for Norris' division. The hope was that this would level the playing field.

[+] EnlargeTerry Norris and Meldrick Taylor
Holly Stein/Getty ImagesFighting at a catchweight of 150-and-a-half pounds wasn't enough to tip the scales in favor of Taylor, left.
The clash of champions was keenly anticipated, with columnist Royce Feour writing in the Las Vegas Review-Journal: "The Norris-Taylor bout is one of the most ideal matchups that can be made in boxing today."

Once the fight started, though, the physical advantages of Norris, who weighed 149 pounds, quickly became apparent. Taylor won the first round on two judges' cards but was then overpowered. As I reported from ringside for Boxing Monthly: "Taylor has fast hands, but he seemed physically and psychologically shaken by the rapidity of Norris's punching -- and Norris was hitting far harder."

Paulie Ayala W12 Johnny Tapia -- Las Vegas, Oct. 7, 2000

[+] EnlargePaulie Ayala and Johnny Tapia
John Gurzinski/AFP/Getty ImagesAyala, right, fought Tapia at 124 pounds after beating the Albuquerque native at bantamweight one year before.
Paulie Ayala and Johnny Tapia had staged a sizzling 12-round battle in the bantamweight division in June 1999. Although Ayala won a unanimous decision -- in a big upset -- there were many who disagreed with the verdict. Among them, of course, was the emotional Tapia, who later told me in a telephone interview that he was convinced he had won, "down as far as you can go in my heart."

Tapia had moved up to the featherweight division and Ayala was still a 118-pounder. The two agreed to meet at 124 pounds. Tapia's trainer for the bout, Jesse Reid, told me over the phone before the fight that he thought his man would be "super strong" coming down in weight to 124. But Ayala's trainer, Henry Mendez, said in a phone interview: "I don't think the little extra weight will make much difference. Paulie's very strong, even though he's a little man."

The rematch was just as good as the first bout, maybe better. Once again, Ayala won by unanimous decision, but, much like the previous fight, the decision was disputed. Jesse Reid angrily proclaimed that Tapia had given Ayala a boxing lesson, but it looked desperately close. As I reported from ringside for Boxing Monthly: "Tapia had many good moments, but so did Ayala. Just when you thought one man was getting on top, so the other came back."

Bernard Hopkins KO9 Oscar De La Hoya -- Las Vegas, Sept. 18, 2004

Middleweight champion Bernard Hopkins was so eager to make the biggest purse of his career against Oscar De La Hoya that he was willing to give a little in negotiations. Most significant, was his agreeing to the Golden Boy's stipulation that the match be made at a catchweight of 158 pounds, two pounds inside the middleweight limit. In the event, Hopkins came in at the surpassingly light weight of 156 pounds.

If De La Hoya hoped that reducing weight would affect Hopkins's stamina, he got it wrong. As I reported from ringside for Boxing Monthly: "As he gained momentum, Hopkins actually appeared faster than De La Hoya, and coming out for the ninth, the Executioner from Philadelphia looked as if he could keep going strong for many more rounds than the mere four that remained."

Hopkins was to box in another catchweights bout when, as light heavyweight champion, he agreed to meet leading middleweight Winky Wright at a weight of 170 pounds on July 7, 2007, at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. Hopkins carried the weight far better than a soft-looking Wright and dominated the last four rounds to win a unanimous decision.

Jose Luis Castillo KO4 Diego Corrales -- Las Vegas, Oct. 8, 2005

All of the boxing world eagerly awaited the lightweight championship rematch between Jose Luis Castillo and Diego Corrales after their sensational fight four months earlier, won by Corrales in the 10th round.

Castillo, however, failed to make the 135-pound limit for the return fight. After weighing in three times, he was still three-and-a-half pounds overweight. He was fined $120,000 -- 10 percent of his purse -- by the Nevada State Athletic Commission. The fighters' camps huddled to try to find a way to salvage the fight. Finally, it was agreed that Corrales would go through with the scheduled 12-rounder on the understanding that Castillo weighed no more than 147 pounds at a special, Nevada commission-supervised weigh-in at 3 p.m. on fight day.

[+] EnlargeJose Luis Castillo and Diego Corrales
AP Photo/Jae C. HongA revitalized Castillo, left, enjoyed an enormous weight advantage after a catchweight was negotiated to salvage his fight with Corrales.
Castillo made the weight, and the fight was on -- except that now it was a catchweight bout, with the officially announced weights being 139-and-a-half pounds for Castillo, 135 pounds for Corrales.

The Corrales camp went into the fight believing it had done all it could to make an equal fight, but as I reported from ringside for Boxing Monthly: "The difference in the physical strength, vitality and power of the two men once the fight started was soon evident."

A crunching left hook finished Corrales in the fourth round, but the late warrior told the postfight press conference: "I'm not going to muck up his win by even entertaining the thought that he had an unfair advantage. Whether he made the weight or not is not the point. He came out there and did a good job today."

A rubber match was cancelled after the weigh-in when Castillo again could not make the lightweight limit. This time the Corrales side walked away.

Amazingly, it was Corrales who failed to make weight for a lightweight title bout against old rival Joel Casamayor on Oct. 7, 2006. The bout, at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, went ahead at catchweights, with Casamayor eking out a split decision over a sluggish Corrales.

Henry Maske W12 Virgil Hill -- Munich, March 31, 2007

[+] EnlargeHenry Maske and Virgil Hill
Theo Klein/Getty ImagesMaske, right, took Hill out of his comfort zone of 200 pounds to avenge a previous loss.
Henry Maske waited 10 years before stepping into the ring for a rematch with Virgil Hill, who had handed him his only professional defeat.

Their first fight had been at light heavyweight. Hill was now a 200-pound cruiserweight. Maske negotiated the return fight at a catchweight of 190 pounds.

Although Maske had not boxed in a decade, he trained long and hard and sharpened up his skills with two private bouts -- real fights to which the public and press were not invited. In the fight between two 43-year-olds, Maske looked the stronger man, clearly outpointing Hill to the great delight of the crowd.

Ricardo Mayorga W12 Fernando Vargas -- Los Angeles, Nov. 23, 2007

Fernando Vargas wanted to leave boxing with a win after having been knocked out by Sugar Shane Mosley. He weighed 154 pounds for the Mosley fight but, as was his tendency, Vargas packed on the pounds when out of training. The fight with Ricardo Mayorga, a junior middleweight, was originally made at 162 pounds before the limit was upped to 164 pounds. Vargas looked muscled at the weigh-in, but he seemed bloated by the time he got into the ring and Mayorga won a majority decision.

Roy Jones Jr. W12 Felix Trinidad -- New York City, Jan. 19, 2008

Although Roy Jones Jr. had been boxing as a light heavyweight, he agreed to meet middleweight Felix Trinidad at the middle-of-the-road weight of 170 pounds. Jones, weighing his lightest in six years, looked like the much bigger, stronger man as he dominated the last eight rounds, scoring two knockdowns on his way to a unanimous decision.

Graham Houston is the American editor of Boxing Monthly and writes for FightWriter.com.

Graham Houston is the American editor of Boxing Monthly and writes for FightWriter.com.