Commentary

Boxers who went from being prospects to suspects in one fight

Boxing history is full of examples of fighters with impressive records who failed in their first real test. Graham Houston takes a look at 12 of them.

Originally Published: April 4, 2008
By Graham Houston | Special to ESPN.com

Wayne Braithwaite and Pablo HernandezMartin Rose/Getty ImagesExposed! Yoan Pablo Hernandez, right, failed his first test, against ex-champion Wayne Braithwaite.
Last weekend, a prospect stunningly fell from favor when Cuban Olympic representative Yoan Pablo Hernandez collapsed in the third round against veteran ex-cruiser champ Wayne Braithwaite. This weekend, Britain's emerging superstar Amir Khan is expected to continue his rise through the lightweight ranks against Martin Kristjansen.

Khan looks like the real thing, yet all through boxing history there have been examples of boxers with impressive records who failed in their first real tests. Sometimes the searching examinations came early in their careers, sometimes much later. In each case, the boxer's limitations were laid bare. Here are some boxers whose bubbles burst.

12. Jose "The Threat" Baret

Aggressive and hard-hitting, New York-based Dominican Jose "The Threat" Baret blazed his way to 16 wins in a row (15 KOs, all inside three rounds) in the early 1980s. Then came an overly ambitious match with the accomplished and much more experienced Marlon Starling, who later became welterweight champion, at the Sands casino hotel in Atlantic City, N.J.

Baret had shown he could dish it out but he wasn't so good at taking it: Starling knocked him out in the fourth round.

By the second round, Baret was cut and confused, the Philadelphia Inquirer's Thom Greer reported that "he actually reeled back in apparent astonishment." Starling told Greer afterward: "When I seen him look at the blood and back away, I knew he had no heart. He was like an amateur getting in the ring with a veteran." The loss seemed to destroy Baret's self-belief. He boxed four more times and was stopped in three of those bouts.

11. Victor Oganov

[+] EnlargeVictor Oganov and Richard Grant
Craig Bennett/Fight Wire ImagesVictor Oganov, left, appeared indestructible in nearly decapitating Richard Grant.
Australian-based Russian Victor Oganov looked like a force to be reckoned with as he battered his way through everyone put in front of him, with 26 KOs in 26 fights. The 168-pounder was tank-like in his advance as he crushed veteran Richard Grant in two rounds in his U.S. debut.

Promoter Gary Shaw took an interest, matching Oganov with experienced Colombian Fulgencio Zuniga, in a ShoBox main event at the Emerald Queen casino in Tacoma, Wash., last September. Oganov was the betting favorite but the fight proved to be a mismatch, with the Russian outclassed and outpunched before getting knocked out in the ninth round.

Oganov has since won a fight by KO back home in Australia, but he is 31 and unlikely ever again to be taken seriously as a contender.

10. Jack Doyle

[+] EnlargeJack Doyle and Buddy Baer
AP PhotoBuddy Baer, left, had Jack Doyle reeling all around the Madison Square Garden ring.
Heavyweights who can hit always capture the imagination, and Ireland's Jack Doyle captured it more than most. The 6-foot-5 Doyle, dashing and good-looking, was a huge attraction in Britain during the 1930s, knocking out 14 of his first 15 opponents while losing once by disqualification.

Doyle was seriously lacking in durability, however, as was seen in his bout with Buddy Baer -- younger brother of heavyweight champ Max Baer -- when the Irish hope was stopped in the first round before a crowd of 11,547 at Madison Square Garden.

The scheduled six-round main event (New York rules then prohibited a boxer under 21 from taking part in bouts scheduled for longer than six rounds, and Baer was only 20) was thrilling for the 2 minutes, 38 seconds it lasted. Doyle hurt Baer, but was then dropped three times, the first time from a low blow that, according to The New York Times, "did not appear to carry much power." Reporter Joseph P. Nichols noted that Doyle "exhibited unusual courage, and also gave evidence that his right hand carries plenty of power."

Doyle later defeated the colorful King Levinsky, but two one-round defeats against the British heavyweight Eddie Phillips effectively ended the Irishman's career (even though he actually knocked himself out in the first meeting by falling through the ropes after missing with an attempted haymaker in one of boxing's most bizarre endings).

9. Willie de Wit

Canadian Olympic heavyweight silver medalist and world amateur champion Willie de Wit had the blond good looks and pressure-fighting style to become a major attraction. In a New York Times story in March 1984, reporter Michael Katz quoted manager Shelly Finkel as saying: "I think he's going to be a superstar."

The harsh reality, though, was that, as a professional heavyweight, de Wit was a bit too slow, a bit too easy to hit and, as it turned out, not very reliable in the chin department.

An early alarm bell sounded when fellow Canadian Alex Williamson knocked down de Wit on the Marvin Hagler-Thomas Hearns undercard in Las Vegas. He recovered to earn a six-round draw, but an intended showcase fight on CBS against Philadelphia's Bert Cooper turned out to be a disaster -- de Wit was destroyed in two rounds. De Wit's business manager, Rod Proudfoot, told Canada's Southam News: "His parents are putting incredible pressure on him to quit. Like all of us, they thought he was invincible."

De Wit boxed just four more times -- all wins -- and retired to become a lawyer.

8. Rico Hoye

[+] EnlargeClinton Woods and Rico Hoye
John Gichigi/Getty ImagesRico Hoye's career was full of promise -- until he ran into Clinton Woods, right.
The way that Detroit light heavyweight Rico Hoye was knocking people out, he looked like a Motown boxer-puncher in the Thomas Hearns mold. True, Hoye struggled to win a split decision over Montell Griffin, but a charitable observer could have called this a learning experience.

So when Hoye went to Britain to meet Clinton Woods in a title fight in March 2005, he was generally considered to have a very good chance of winning, even though he was meeting a much more experienced boxer on his opponent's Sheffield home ground. Britain's Boxing Monthly reported that Hoye "look[ed] the part of a superstar in waiting during fight week." On the night, though, Woods overwhelmed him in five rounds. Since then Hoye suffered a devastating defeat to Adrian Diaconu in Montreal and his career in top class would seem to be over.

7. Franco De Piccoli

Italy was very excited about Franco De Piccoli, who won the heavyweight gold medal at the 1960 Rome Olympics. De Piccoli, a southpaw, initially looked good with 25 wins in a row. Nine of his 20 KOs came in the opening round. Carefully selected American journeymen were among the victims who fattened De Piccoli's record. It all went wrong, though, when De Piccoli was matched with a step-up opponent -- 30-year-old New Yorker Wayne Bethea. Although Bethea had been beaten 17 times, he had been stopped only once, when the then-fearsome Sonny Liston nailed him in the first round.

A crowd of 15,000 in Rome on March 22, 1963, was stunned as Bethea stood up to De Piccoli's best punches, then knocked him out with a right hand in the fourth round.

The British-based Jamaican, Joe Bygraves, knocked out De Piccoli in his next fight, and although he managed to get a winning run going he suffered two more KO defeats, after which he retired.

6. Shawn O'Sullivan

Canada's Olympic silver medalist Shawn O'Sullivan attracted a lot of attention even before he turned professional. He was an exciting puncher who was willing to take some shots to land his bigger blows. When O'Sullivan captured the Commonwealth Games junior middleweight gold medal at Brisbane in 1982 the veteran British boxing writer Alan Hubbard wrote in The Times, "O'Sullivan looks [the part of] a boxer … He fights much in the manner of his Irish name, has the chiseled features of a seasoned gladiator and throws punches with the facility of a professional one." Stephen Brunt of the Toronto Globe and Mail described O'Sullivan as "a pop star made of Irish choirboy looks and cruel aggression … O'Sullivan is being turned into a star who happens to box, a status denied many of the great champions of history."

O'Sullivan stayed in his Toronto hometown when he turned professional but was managed by the Maryland lawyer Mike Trainer, famous as Sugar Ray Leonard's adviser. Leonard sparred with O'Sullivan and said he "saw something" in him.

All went well as O'Sullivan won 11 bouts in a row, eight by KO. He seemed to be on a fast track to the top, but then came the train wreck, a shocking third-round defeat against Simon Brown, the Jamaican from Washington, D.C., in O'Sullivan's American TV debut. A stunned crowd at Toronto's Exhibition Place and a U.S. viewing audience watching on NBC on June 8, 1986, saw O'Sullivan hurt and humiliated.

Although O'Sullivan injured his right hand in the first round (he later underwent surgery to repair torn knuckle joints) he had been overwhelmed, and things were all downhill after that.

5. Jorge Luis Gonzalez

[+] EnlargeJorge Luis Gonzalez
Jeff Haynes/Getty ImagesJorge Luis Gonzalez, left, was supposed to be the next great thing in the heavyweight division, but Riddick Bowe wasn't having it.
The Cuban heavyweight Jorge Luis Gonzalez certainly had the amateur credentials -- wins over Lennox Lewis and Riddick Bowe -- but as a professional he had an amateurish look, although he was huge and heavy-handed.

At 28, Gonzalez probably started too late as a professional, but he created a certain buzz in winning 23 successive bouts with 22 KOs. The MGM Grand casino hotel got behind Gonzalez, who became its "house" fighter. It all went wrong, though, when Gonzalez met Bowe, his old amateur rival, in the MGM's "Mortal Enemies" main event in June 1995. Gonzalez described himself as a lion fighting a hyena, insults were traded and a scuffle was narrowly averted at a news conference. Bowe, however, was by far the superior fighter and the 6-foot-7 Cuban was chopped down in six one-sided rounds.

"I'm sorry for him," Bowe said afterward. "I'm not mad anymore."

Gonzalez struggled on but he quickly sank to "opponent" status and retired in 2002 after three consecutive stoppage defeats.

4. Duane Bobick

[+] EnlargeKen Norton
AP PhotoKen Norton, left, proved that Duane Bobick was more suspect than prospect.
Although Minnesota's Duane Bobick had been heavily defeated by Teofilo Stevenson in the 1972 Olympic semifinals, he seemed to have the potential for success as a professional. A U.S. amateur champion, national Golden Gloves champion and Pan American Games gold medalist, Bobick was strong and willing and inevitably was considered as something of a latter-day white hope.

Bobick piled up a string of wins in carefully matched fights but never really developed much beyond being an earnest plodder. I saw him from ringside in Munich in 1976 when he overpowered the much smaller Jamaican Bunny Johnson on the Muhammad Ali-Richard Dunn show, and reported for the British publication Boxing News that Bobick "does not look ready to be pitched in with the very top contenders."

Revered trainer Eddie Futch did his best to correct technical flaws and, after 38 wins in a row and just a year after the fight in Germany, Bobick was matched with former champ Ken Norton at Madison Square Garden. It was more a quantum leap than a step-up fight for Bobick, who was demolished in 58 seconds. Bobick was knocked out three more times before retiring in 1979.

3. Billy Fox

Philadelphia's Billy Fox had one of the most spectacular winning runs in ring history -- 43 consecutive KOs -- and he was the betting favorite when matched with veteran Gus Lesnevich for the light heavyweight title at Madison Square Garden in February 1947. All those blowouts had, however, masked the fact that Fox was not technically a very proficient fighter. The tough and battle-tested Lesnevich outclassed the game but limited Fox before knocking him out in the 10th round in front of a crowd of 18,318.

Joseph C. Nichols reported in The New York Times that the outcome was unexpected but added: "Once the fight got underway, though, it was evident that Lesnevich was not concerned with his foe's awe-inspiring accomplishments. The 32-year-old champion went about the task of cutting down his 21-year-old challenger with the thoroughness of a demolition expert."

Fox was given a rematch, largely on the strength of a dubious win over Jake LaMotta that is now known to have been a fixed fight. He faced Lesnevich for the second time on March 5, 1948, but was dropped twice and knocked out at 1:58 of the first round. According to reporter Nichols, "Fox, disappointed to the point of tears after his second futile try for the championship, had not a word to say in his dressing quarters."

Fox retired in 1950 after having won only one of his last eight fights.

2. Billy Arnold

[+] Enlarge'Tiger Bob' Wade and Billy Arnold
Alfred Eisenstaedt/Getty ImagesFight fans were comparing Billy Arnold, right, to Joe Louis -- until he ran into Rocky Graziano.
Billy Fox was not the only Philadelphia flash who fell to earth in the 1940s. Another was the hard-hitting welterweight Billy Arnold, who knocked out 28 opponents in his first 32 bouts.

Arnold's sensational surge drew comparisons with the early career of Joe Louis but his lack of seasoning showed when he lost a disputed majority decision to the vastly more experienced ex-champ Fritzie Zivic. In Arnold's next fight, the 19-year-old prodigy was brutally exposed as Rocky Graziano, then a lightly regarded slugger, battered him in three rounds in front of a crowd of 14,037 at Madison Square Garden in March 1945.

The punching power of Arnold was on display -- he had Graziano hurt in the second round -- but so was his inability to rally after being hurt himself. Graziano knocked him down three times in the third and the fight was stopped at 1:54 of the round with the Philadelphian on the verge of going down again.

Joseph P. Dawson reported in The New York Times: "The beating Arnold absorbed was comparable to the one the sure-thing gamblers took on the fight, for Arnold was a prohibitive favorite to win before the battle started."

Arnold had been shown to be alarmingly vulnerable under fire. He drifted away from boxing in 1948 after five successive losses.

1. Chuck Davey

[+] EnlargeChuck Davey and Kid Gavilan
Joseph Scherschel/Getty ImagesChuck Davey, left, was in over his head against Kid Gavilan.
Of all the big buildups leading to the big bust, that of Chuck Davey might top the lot. The southpaw from Detroit was a TV darling in the 1950s, a college graduate with BA and MA degrees in education administration from Michigan State, and he was unbeaten in 39 fights prior to his unsuccessful challenge against welterweight champion Kid Gavilan at Chicago Stadium on Feb. 11, 1953.

Davey did have some boxing ability, but his opponents had been carefully chosen, with wins over faded ex-champions Rocky Graziano and Ike Williams. He did, however, get a decision over Carmen Basilio before the tough onion farmer achieved prominence. The New York Times described Davey as "fast afoot and with his hands. He punches with damaging effect to the body."

Davey was, however, no match for the formidable Cuban Hawk Gavilan, who knocked him down in the third round and then floored him three times in the ninth before a crowd of 17,450.

The thoroughly beaten, bloodied Davey was retired by his corner before the start of the 10th round and The Associated Press reported: "This match -- or mismatch as ring experts contended since it was first announced -- was a cruel awakening to the legions of TV fans mesmerized by Davey's cute southpaw style."

Davey did win praise, though, for his gameness in a hopeless cause. He retired on a winning note in 1955.

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.