Matadors And Bulls: A Love Story (Sort Of)

Before Marcos Maidana’s majority decision loss to pound for pound king Floyd Mayweather, Jr. in May, very few people gave him a chance to win. In fact, your fearless team here at TQBR discussed whether Maidana would even win a round during our preview round table discussion. I was generous (read: slightly less wrong but still wrong) and figured he might steal a couple early. Our reasoning was sound, Maidana does everything wrong. He doesn’t throw a single straight punch, he’s easy to hit and often off balance. Even at 37, Mayweather possesses the reflexes of a jungle cat on Adderall. Easy fight to call, or so we thought.

Maidana, ever the barbarian, fought to his own strengths. He bull rushed, he crowded, he fouled. He hit Mayweather wherever, whenever, and with whatever he could. Mayweather has played the matador throughout his career; maneuvering his opponents into his counter shots and escaping their offense at the last possible moment. Maidana happened to be a bull that wouldn’t play along. Maidana didn’t win the fight, but he made his point.

Defensive fighters can be hard to appreciate. They are few and far between because the style requires a level of physical talent that most fighters do not possess. They are usually not exciting, but when they have the talent and the technique, they are incredibly effective. A great defensive fighter can make a talented opponent look like a complete fool. Every once in a while, though, they run into someone they can’t get away from.

Presented here is a completely unranked list of five times that a skilled boxer met a rampaging opponent who overwhelmed their defense.

Ivan Calderon Vs. Giovani Segura

From 2001 to 2010, Calderon used his balletic grace and otherworldly reflexes and speed to befuddle opponents. Though he possessed punching power that makes Paulie Malignaggi look like Earnie Shavers, Calderon dominated the 105 and 108 pound divisions, running his record to 34-0-1. Despite being 35 years old (geriatric for such a small fighter), Calderon appeared to have retained his prodigious physical gifts. Enter Giovani Segura. The rugged Mexican had scored 20 knockouts in his 24 victories, looked gigantic next to Calderon, and was always willing to take three punches to land one. The question was not if he could hurt Calderon, but if he could catch him. Employing a vicious body attack and relentless pressure, Segura gradually broke Calderon. With no answers and no escape, Calderon took a knee in the 8th round and stayed there, having admitted defeat.

Cristian Mijares Vs. Vic Darchinyan

Undefeated for the six years prior to meeting Darchinyan in 2008, Mijares had matured into a fluid counter puncher and excellent defensive fighter at age 27. Many believed that Darchinyan was damaged goods following his one punch flattening at the hands of Nonito Donaire in 2007, and that he would not be able to keep up with the speedy Mijares. They (I was one of them) were wrong. Very wrong. In a preview of things to come, Darchinyan floored Mijares with an uppercut in the 1st round. Never able to get into a rhythm thereafter, Mijares was confounded throughout the fight by the Armenian axe murderer’s jerky movements and unorthodox lunges. With just seconds remaining in the 9th round, Darchinyan surged forward with a series of punches, landing a brutal left cross squarely on the chin of the back pedaling Mijares. Referee Lou Moret stopped the fight with Mijares flat on his back.

Wilfred Benitez Vs. Mustafa Hamsho

You don’t get a nickname like “El Radar” without a preternatural ability to avoid punches at the last moment. You also don’t win a title belt at 17 without being ridiculously talented. Wilfred Benitez was ridiculously talented. Despite his disdainful attitude toward training, in 1983 Benitez sported a record of 45-2-1 (the losses coming to Ray Leonard and Thomas Hearns.) After dropping his junior middleweight belt to Hearns, Benitez moved up to middleweight. In his second fight in the class, he challenged Syrian Mustafa Hamsho, with the winner set to be on the short list to fight champion Marvelous Marvin Hagler. Throughout the bout, Benitez attempted to use his favorite trick, which was to back into a corner and make his opponent miss before countering and spinning away. Hamsho followed Benitez willingly, missing more than he landed, but scoring consistently with body shots (many of them straying low) and short hooks, as well as physically manhandling the Puerto Rican when they grappled. Hamsho outworked, outmuscled, and outfought Benitez throughout the fight, especially down the stretch, to earn a wide unanimous decision.

Willie Pep Vs. Sandy Saddler

Willie Pep, one of the three greatest fighters of all time according to Bert Sugar, is also the fighter we most associate with defense. A virtuoso so brilliant that he called his own shot (so to speak) by vowing not to throw a punch during the third round of his 1946 fight against Jackie Graves. “Pep moved; Pep switched to southpaw, mimicking Graves; Pep danced; Pep weaved; Pep spun Graves around and around again; Pep gave head feints, shoulder feints, foot feints, and feint feints,” wrote Sugar in Boxing’s Greatest Fighters. Long story short, Willie Pep was a friggin’ genius in the ring. Nearly untouchable for the first eight years of his career, Pep was to find his greatest rival in Sandy Saddler, a spaghetti thin mauler who could (and often did) separate a man from his senses with either hand. Initially, Pep didn’t think much of Saddler. He was to find out how wrong he’d been on October 29, 1948. Saddler dropped Pep in the 3rd round and then stopped him in the 4th. Though Pep was able to spin, dodge, and feint-feint his way to a unanimous decision in the rematch, he would lose the 3rd and 4th bouts to Saddler, retiring on his stool both times. Saddler used his superior reach, a maniacal work rate, and no small number of less than legal tactics to force Pep into submission.

Gene Tunney Vs. Harry Greb

Tunney is somewhat of an anomaly on this list. He was not a slick defensive fighter, but instead the consummate boxer-puncher. He moved around the ring tunney
with great agility, keeping opponents at bay with a quick and assertive jab, studying and timing his opponent before opening up with vicious counter punches. His style and his great ring intelligence served him well in a career that saw him win the heavyweight title by defeating the legendary Jack Dempsey. Tunney was known to be a reserved, analytical person. In March 1922, he was to meet his polar opposite in defense of the American light heavyweight title, the hard drinking, even harder fighting Harry Greb. Known as the “Pittsburgh Windmill,” Greb fought in a style not dissimilar to a steroidal pit bull on bath salts. He stormed out of the corner and attacked until the bell rang or his opponent lost consciousness. Though he was giving up four inches of height and 12 pounds to Tunney, Greb was his usual self: fearless, reckless, and ruthless. He began the fight by head butting Tunney, breaking his nose. From there, the two men traded viciously, with Greb gaining steam as the fight went on and Tunney fading somewhat through rounds 10-15. Greb gave Tunney an absolute beating, handing him his first and only loss to go with it. The pair fought four more times, Tunney winning each, though with the exception of the fifth and final fight, each was a close and hotly contested affair.