As air chills and begins to bite, year after year the boxing “season” tends to heat up. Whatever the reason, the last portion of the calendar year tends to be kind to boxing fans. Below are examples of fights that just happened to unfold while the ghouls and zombies were meandering about on Halloween, October 31st.
Joe Gans DQ5 Jimmy Britt, 1904
In 1903, Jimmy Britt initially refused to fight a non-white fighter for the lightweight title, and instead fought Willie Fitzgerald for the “white” lightweight title. Britt and his camp then went on to demand 60 percent of the purse against Joe Gans win or lose, until lengthy negotiations — that included $1000 put forth by the Gans camp to make sure that Britt’s second, Spider Kelly, would be unable to offer audible advice to Britt while he was in the ring — finalized the fight in early October.
Britt had his way during the fight, timing Gans to the tune of four knockdowns. On the final knockdown in round 5, Gans was sent to the canvas by a body shot, and Britt rushed over to swat at him some more as he was down. When the referee moved to stop the fouling and declare a disqualification, insanity broke loose. Said the Associated Press, “Britt was frantic with rage when he realized he had lost the fight, and he rushed at [referee] Graney, striking wildly. Graney, who is something of a boxer himself, fought back, but the police interfered and separated the belligerents.”
John Henry Lewis UD15 Bob Olin, 1935
In this, John Henry Lewis’ light heavyweight title-winning effort, he found himself trained short term by Jack Blackburn, who also handled Joe Louis. Halfway through training camp Blackburn engaged in a fight with a man named John Bowman. During the scuffle a shot was fired that killed a passerby, Tuskegee Institute graduate Enoch Hauser.
Lewis previously suffered cuts to both eyes in his previous bout against Abe Feldman in late July, which explained an uncharacteristic three-month break from the ring. As it turned out, the cut to his left eye essentially blinded him on that side and he fought the rest of his career literally half-blind.
Neither Blackburn’s misdeeds nor Cyclopean vision could deny a 21-year-old Lewis his title, though. John Henry Lewis slowly warmed to task before battering champion Bob Olin, a former New York stock broker. Olin was staggered badly and almost out in both the 5th and 12th rounds, and a tired Lewis coasted his way to the light heavyweight championship.
Ray Robinson UD10 Fritzie Zivic, 1941
More than 20,000 spectators showed up at Madison Square Garden, paying to watch future legend “Sugar” Ray Robinson ply his trade in his 26th professional fight. Fritzie Zivic, an ex-champion, still fought with loads of savvy. AP reports said both Robinson and Zivic let their hands go freely, though Robinson, out-weighed by over six pounds, used his otherworldly hand and foot speed to snag the win.
Though the win all but assured Robinson a crack at welterweight champion Freddie “Red” Cochrane, famed promoter Mike Jacobs immediately approached Robinson and Zivic to stage a rematch, which was held about three months later. It would be five years until Robinson was granted a title shot, as Cochrane’s service in the U.S. Navy meant climbing into the ring wasn’t a top priority.
Khaosai Galaxy TKO12 Kenji Matsumura, 1989
Khaosai Galaxy’s rematch with Kenji Matsumura wasn’t the latter’s first time marching into an opponent’s territory to defend a title. It wasn’t his second or third either. Khaosai Galaxy retained his WBA junior bantamweight belt by stopping Elly Pical in Indonesia and Chang-Ho Choi in South Korea, and he’d already gotten a decision over Kenji Matsumura in Japan.
Once more Galaxy plowed through Matsumura, only this time he made the 12th defense of his belt, putting the challenger down hard in the 3rd and 8th rounds with left hands. Galaxy actually had to fend off a stern attack from Matsumura in round 2 and in spots as the fight progressed, but a pair of lefts ended the discussion just four seconds before the final bell. Galaxy hadn’t lost in over eight years, and he had seven more defenses in him before retiring in 1992.
Lennox Lewis TKO2 Donovan Ruddock, 1992
Future heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis, a 2-to-1 favorite, wasted little time in jumping on Donovan “Razor” Ruddock, who for some reason probed with jabs at the usually-defensive taller man in this WBC eliminator. As the late Pat Putnam put it for Sports Illustrated, “Perhaps because it was Halloween, the 6’3″, 231-pound Ruddock, a slugger, came out disguised as a boxer.”
A right hand nearing the end of round 1 replaced Ruddock’s shoe soles with banana peels, but the bell rang seconds later. This younger, less-coordinated version of Lennox Lewis caught and dropped Ruddock once more not long into the 2nd round, and finally ended the fight with a mid-combination jab that landed just right on Ruddock’s jaw. A few months later, the WBC belt would be transferred to Lewis when Bowe elected to literally trash the trinket.
Naseem Hamed UD12 Wayne McCullough, 1998
Promising to knock out an iron-chinned and strong-willed opponent early in a fight may not be the best idea, but “Prince” Naseem Hamed always seemed full of bad ones. A 5-to-1 favorite, Hamed entered the Convention Center in Atlantic City to a fog machine, a fiery church organ and mannequins, doing his best to overshadow his introduction to bloodshed on American soil against Kevin Kelley the previous year.
But rather than trade knockdowns and insults, Hamed phantomed his way around the ring, staying mostly out of Wayne McCullough’s range and peppering him with shots from the outside, protecting his WBO featherweight title. McCullough could only manage a handful of clean right hands, but he said after the bout, “A few times I said, ‘Come on and fight. You’re the champion. You’re supposed to knock me out.’ If I’d have stood off Naseem, there wouldn’t have been a fight tonight. I could’ve sat in the corner and had a cup of tea. How can you be a world champion and run away? I don’t say stand toe to toe, but at least come to me.”
Hamed later said a slippery ring prevented him from realizing his punching power. The “Prince” would fight thrice more in the U.S., the final time being his infamous loss to Marco Antonio Barrera in 2001.
Yonnhy Perez UD12 Joseph Agbeko, 2009
This first encounter between Yonnhy Pérez and Joseph Agbeko landed on a Don King-promoted card that was the first ever fight show held at the Treasure Island Casino in Las Vegas. It was also the first time King was involved in a Vegas show in four years. King even said before the bout, in his usual faux-eloquent style, “Nevada is going with instant replay tomorrow for these fights, under the circumstances that a referee misses a call.”
As boxing would have it, the biggest moment came in round 10, when Perez clanged heads with Agbeko, and as the latter turned to complain, a hook put him down. Referee Robert Byrd said afterward that he couldn’t be sure if the knockdown was from a punch or a headbutt, so he ruled a legitimate knockdown — without using any instant replay. It was a lively, if tactical fight otherwise, with Perez using an educated jab to control much of the pace in his favor, but Agbeko wasn’t without his moments. The IBF bantamweight strap changed hands, but Agbeko would reclaim it a year later against a somewhat faded-looking Perez.
Have a Happy (and safe) Halloween! Whatever you do, don’t purchase and wear this nightmare-inducing Muhammad Ali costume, which is always watching you, wherever you go: