This week, I confess to being a bit of a writer with an agenda, since in my travels around the Internet, and in listening to Teddy Atlas for years rave about him on ESPN2, it always clanged with me hearing Wilfred Benitez spoken of as an all-time great. I lampshade it in the first paragraph because I have seen great defensive fighters, whether it was Mayweather controlling range, Ali making himself hard to find, or Leonard just plain using his quickness to beat guys to the punch. Wilfred Benitez is none of those things. Any fighter who committed to getting inside and applying pressure, especially if that fighter was an all-time great like Leonard or Hearns.
Meanwhile, Mike McCallum is a guy I got crucified for overlooking back in an old episode of my What If show, in which I had Iran Barkley beating him (which, in hindsight, was the first sign I didn't know enough about boxing history to keep that particular series going in the form I was writing it, so you saw me move into other subjects and multi-part series). The criticism was very much warranted. McCallum was incredible during his rise to the top. I do research for this show every week, watching as much fight footage as my schedule allows, and seeing McCallum in the Julian Jackson and Donald Curry fights was eye-opening.
As for the co-feature, I set it up as a challenge for myself. I wanted to know whether I could improve my skill as an all-action fight writer because it's always seemed to me that those are the hardest fights to write. You can only find so many ways to say “the one guy hit the other guy, then the other guy hit back, then the other guy, then the other guy, and boom, knockout.”
Throwing John Mugabi and Iran Barkley into the same ring, and doing it under Here's To the Losers rules, in which they got in the time machine off of losses, was a double-strength, hardcore mode challenge for me.
John Mugabi KO5 Iran Barkley
I have long believed that you can never go wrong by making references to Bugs Bunny cartoons, and I threw the reference to “Rabbit Punch” into the second round for two reasons. One, because Bugs Bunny. Two, because Barkley threw a great hook that was able to hurt a lot of his opponents, especially when he doubled it up against Duran, so why not create the image in the readers' minds of relentless wide shots?
I think it would've been wildly implausible for Barkley to win this fight, though. Mugabi gave Hagler the toughest scrap of Marvin's career even if Hagler eventually won the contest. Mugabi was true to his nickname in his prime.
The challenge became to turn the fight around in a plausible way---having a fighter with an eraser at the end of his arms land the big shot. Fortunately, I got my inspiration from Roberto Duran. Duran was able to nearly swell Barkley's left eye shut, and throw shots Iran never saw.
Easy money to let history repeat. I cocked Chekhov's Gun in the first and fired in the fourth. You're welcome.
Mike McCallum KO7 Wilfred Benitez
I put Benitez in the time machine after the Duran fight, but the fight that really inspired the result was Mustafa Hamsho spending ten rounds battering Benitez around in the corner. I saw no reason McCallum couldn't do the same, and took the same approach, with McCallum's strength as a body puncher thrown in.
Benitez was a great welterweight, when he relied on his natural talent, but that's just it---this was at junior middleweight, and Benitez had thrown away his gifts and his potential. We may see him again if I decide to come back to his career, but everything I saw of him in research suggests he was getting a little too much fan love from a reputation he's gained after the fact. There's a reason he wasn't part of the “Five Kings”. He was a cut below Leonard, Duran, Hagler, and Hearns, and he was too beatable. I tried to convey that in a way that fans wouldn't kill me over, but hey, you never know.
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Next week, we've got Roberto Duran at lightweight for the first time, taking on Manny Pacquiao. And in two weeks, for Halloween? Get your costumes ready for our first Silliness Edition of Historical Fight Night, as Bugs Bunny takes on Animated Mr. T (from Mr. T's cartoon show, we're pulling out all the nostalgia stops!) in a main event that's guaranteed to be utterly Looney Tunes.
Thanks for reading, and see you next week!