Forgotten Legends: Tracy Harris Patterson

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By: Steve Gallegos

To be the son of a legend in boxing has it’s up’s and down’s. Some fighters get opportunities and breaks that they wouldn’t have gotten or don’t deserve because of their famous name. There was however one fighter who created a name for himself by coming up the hard way. That fighter was former two-time champion Tracy Harris Patterson.

Standing at only 5’5 1/2, Patterson was a little big man with excellent skill and power and he was a fan favorite amongst fight fans in the 1990’s. Tracy Harris was born in Grady, AL and his family would later relocate to New York. It was in New Paltz, NY that an 11 year old Tracy Harris would walk into a boxing gym operated by former two-time Heavyweight Champion Floyd Patterson. Patterson would get down on his knees so that he could work the mitts with young Tracy. Three years later Floyd Patterson would adopt Harris, thus becoming Tracy Harris Patterson.

The former Heavyweight champion guided his son through an outstanding amateur career in which he twice won the New York Golden Gloves championship. He would turn pro in 1985 at the age of 20 and would go 44-2 with 33 KO’s over the next seven years while claiming the North American Boxing Federation Jr. Featherweight title in 1990. Despite his excellent record as well as having his legendary father in his corner, Patterson didn’t get a shot at a world title until his 47th pro bout when he faced the tough Frenchman Thierry Jacob.

They met on 06/23/92 at the Knickerbocker Arena in Albany, NY and it was for the WBC Super Bantamweight title. Patterson came out throwing bombs in the first round, rocking Jacob and dropping him just before the bell. Jacob got up but was badly hurt. Patterson wasted no time in the second round as he went for the kill, putting Jacob down again, causing referee Arthur Mercante Jr. to stop the bout. Tracy Harris Patterson was finally a world champion and it was the first time that a son of a former champion would claim a world title.

Patterson would get a stiff test in his first title defense 5 1/2 months later when he fought the legendary Daniel Zaragoza of Mexico to a draw. Patterson would successfully defend his title three times over the next year, which included a technical decison win over Zaragoza in a rematch after the fight was stopped in the seventh round due to cuts. It was in his fifth defense of his title that he would suffer his first setback in five years as he dropped a close split decision to Hector Acero-Sanchez.

After the loss to Acero-Sanchez, Patterson made the very difficult decision to cut ties with father Floyd Patterson, who had trained him since he was a teenager. He then hired world class trainer Tommy Parks and after winning his next two bouts, he was back in line for a title shot, this time against undefeated Eddie Hopson.

The two met on 07/09/95 at the Reno-Sparks Convention Center in Reno, NV and it was for the IBF Jr. Lightweight championship. Many were wondering if Patterson had brought his power up to 130 lbs. Patterson would quickly answer that question as he blasted Hopson in two rounds. Just as his legendary father had done before him, Tracy Patterson was now a two-time world champion. The glory would however be short lived.

In his first title defense, Patterson faced a young, determined slugger named Arturo Gatti. They met on 12/15/95 at Madison Square Garden and it was on the undercard of Oscar De La Hoya’s lightweight title defense against Jesse James Leija. Patterson got off to a slow start in this bout and was dropped in the second round by a  right uppercut. Throughout the middle rounds, the fight heated up and turned into a exciting, back and forth slugfest. Patterson would rally late, putting together good combinations while causing both of Gatti’s eyes to swell. Despite a strong finish, Patterson would come up short, losing a unanimous decision.

The fight was one of the most exciting bouts of 1995 and a rematch wasbinevitable. After winning his next three bouts, Patterson would get another crack at Arturo Gatti when they met on 02/22/97 at the Atlantic City Convention Center in Atlantic City, NJ and the IBF Jr. Lightweight title was once again at stake. Towards the end of the first round, Patterson rocked Gatti with a short right hand and he began to let his hands go. During this rally, Patterson landed a hard left hand to the body that put Gatti down. Gatti was clearly hurt and looked like he might stay down; however referee Rudy Battle ruled the punch a low blow instead of a knockdown.

Tracy was furious as he knew the blow landed cleanly. Television replays clearly showed the punch landed clean to the body. Rudy Battle didn’t realize at the time that he robbed Tracy Patterson of a possible knockout. Gatti recovered from the shot and the fight continued. With the exception of a brief Patterson rally late in the fight, Arturo Gatti dominated the bout by boxing smart. The end result would be a unanimous decision win for Gatti.

Patterson was humbled in defeat, not blaming the referee for the bogus low blow call. He gave credit to Gatti as he said he was in the ring with a young, hungry warrior. Many felt that Tracy Harris Patterson’s career was done, despite only being 32 years old. Patterson would continue fighting on, determined to get back in the world title hunt by winning his four bouts, however that quest would come to a screeching hault in July of 1998 as he was dominated and stopped by Goyo Vargas in six rounds.

Although he lost to Vargas inside the ring, he gained an even bigger win outside the ring as he reconciled with his father Floyd, whom he didn’t speak to very much in the last four years. He would go 2-2-1 from 1999-2001, retiring with a record of 63-8-2 with 43 KO’s. He was one of the tougher, more exciting little big men of his era. He was a hardworking, blue collar type of fighter that didn’t rely on his father’s name as some fighter’s do today. He instead made his own name and we hope to someday see him inducted into Canastota alongside his legendary father.

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Forgotten Legends: Vassily Jirov

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By: Steve Gallegos

For many in boxing, the Cruiserweight division is known as the waste land before the promise land which is the Heavyweight division; however there was one fighter who put the division on the radar in the early 2000’s. That fighter was VassiliyThe Russian TigerJirov.

Jirov was an exciting, aggressive power puncher with knockout power in either hand. Jirov was born and raised in Balkhash, Kazakhstan and was a decorated amateur who took the gold in the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta as well as winning the award for the most outstanding boxer at the olympics. He would turn pro in early 1997 and would go 20-0 with 18 KO’s over the next 2 1/2 years.

He would get his first shot at a world title in 1999 when he met Cruiserweight champion “King” Arthur Williams. They met on 06/05/99 in Biloxi, MS and it was for the IBF Cruiserweight Championship. It was also the first Cruiserweight bout to ever be shown on HBO. Jirov was impressive as he broke Williams down, particularly to the body en route to a seventh round TKO. Vassiliy Jirov was now a world champion.

He would close out the millenium on the undercard of the “Fight Of The Millenium” between Felix Trinidad and Oscar De La Hoya and he would score an impressive 10th round KO over “Cowboy” Dale Brown. Jirov would go 9-0 with seven KO’s over the next two years and would successfully defend his title five times, which included a big KO win over the very tough and durable Julian Letterlough.

Jirov would then face the toughest challenge of his career when he faced James “Lights Out” Toney. They met on 04/26/03 at the Foxwoods Resort and Casino in Mashantucket, CT and it was one of the most anticipated bouts of 2003. Unfortunately for Jirov, Toney’s experience and technique would be the story of the fight as Jirov was dropped in the 12th round and would lose a lopsided unanimous decision.

Jirov would bounce back with two KO wins to close out the year and would move up to Heavyweight. His first bout at Heavyweight was against unbeaten top prospect “Baby” Joe Mesi, who at the time was considered the future of the division. They met on 03/13/04 at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas. Mesi was dominant throughout the bout and appeared to be on his way to an easy decision, however Jirov showed he had Heavyweight power as he dropped Mesi once in the ninth and twice in the 10th. It was a great way for Jirov to close the show and he would come up just a hair short on the judges scorecards as all three judges had the fight scored 94-93 for Mesi.

The shots from Jirov in that fight did further damage to Joe Mesi as he suffered two hematomas on his brain which sidelined him for two years. After proving he had pop at the Heavyweight level, Jirov elected to stay in the division and he would challenge former two-time Heavyweight Champion Michael Moorer. They met on 12/09/04 at the Pechanga Resort and Casino in Temecula, CA.

Jirov boxed well and dominated Moorer for 8 1/2 rounds, however Moorer learned 10 years earlier against George Foreman, that any fight can be changed with one punch. In the ninth round, Moorer landed a big left hand that put Jirov down. He was able to get up, however he was on wobbily legs and referee Pat Russell would stop the bout. It was a crushing defeat for Jirov and his hopes for potentially fighting for a Heavyweight Championship were crushed.

Jirov would go 5-0-1 with three KO’s from 2005-2009, however he would not challenge for another world title. His record as a professional stands at 38-3-1 with 32 KO’s. His all action style and power brought luster to a very lackluster division in the Cruiserweights. Did his first loss affect him negatively? Did his move to Heavyweight hurt his career. In the end it was a career that had high expectations, only to come up just a tad bit short of meeting or exceeding those expectations.

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Forgotten Legends: Ricardo Lopez

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By: Steve Gallegos

In the sport of boxing, it is very difficult to be dominant and remain dominant. To retire unbeaten is a great accomplishment in itself. Former heavyweight champion Rocky Marciano retired with an unbeaten record of 49-0 and Floyd Mayweather is very close to matching or breaking that record. There was however another fighter who has already accomplished that feat that many have forgotten about. That fighter was Ricardo Lopez. Nicknamed “El Finito” which means “The Finisher“.

Lopez truly lived up to his moniker as he was probably the most dominant champion during the 1990’s as he dominated the smallest weight class in boxing; the Strawweight division. He was a devastating power puncher with a finesse left uppercut. Lopez was born in Cuernavaca, MX and he had an outstanding amateur career in which he did not lose a bout, going 39-0. He would turn pro in 1985 at the age of 20 and would go on a hot streak, going 26-0 with 19 KO’s over the next five years.

He would get his first crack at a world title when he met Hideyuki Ohashi of Japan. They met on 10/05/90 at Korakuen Hall in Tokyo, Japan and it was for the WBC Strawweight Championship. Lopez dominated from the opening bell and would win the title via fifth round TKO. He was now a world champion and it was the start of one of the most dominant reigns in boxing history.

He would successfully defend his title nine times over then next three years, seven by KO. Hungry for national exposure, Lopez would sign with promoter Don King in 1994 and he began fighting on major cards in the U.S. 1996 would be a big year for Lopez as he began to appear regularly on Showtime televised cards, scoring 4 big knockout wins. Two of those knockouts made Showtime Championship Boxing’s top 10 knockouts of 1996.

Talks began for a major fight with Light Flyweight champion Michael Carbajal, however the fight never came to fruition. Instead Lopez decided to unify the 105 lb division and would score an impressive fifth round TKO over Alex Sanchez at Madison Square Garden to claim the WBO Minimumweight Title in August of 1997. It would be in his 48th bout that Lopez would experience the only blemish on his record when he met WBA Minimumweight champion Rosendo Alvarez of Nicaragua.

They met on 03/07/98 in front of a huge crowd at the Plaza De Toros in Mexico City, Mexico and it was the co-feature for the huge Super Lightweight clash between the legendary Julio Cesar Chavez vs fellow forgotten legend Miguel Angel Gonzalez. Alvarez came in with an unbeaten record of 24-0 and would prove to be a tough challenge for Lopez. In the second, Alvarez would land a hard straight right hand that put Lopez down for the first time in his career. Lopez would get up off the canvas and weather Alvarez’s relentless pressure to make it out of the round.

The fight would turn into an exciting back and forth war over the next five rounds. Showtime commentator Bobby Czyz said that the fight was a 105 lb version of Leonard vs Hearns. In round seven, both men collided heads, causing a huge cut over Lopez’s right eye. Due to the WBC rule, the uncut fighter gets deducted a point when a headbutt occurs, therefore Alvarez would lose a point.

In between rounds, the fight would be stopped by the ringside doctor, causing the fight to go to the scorecards. One judge had the fight scored 67-64 for Lopez. Another judge had it scored 68-63 for Alvarez and the final judge had it scored 66-66, making the fight a technical draw. The difference maker in this bout was the point deduction in the seventh round for Alvarez. It was an unpopular decision and the fans began throwing debris into the ring. It was a disappointing end to a great fight and it was the toughest test of Ricardo Lopez’s career. A rematch was inevitable and Lopez and Alvarez would meet again eight months later in Las Vegas.

Alvarez was not able to make the contracted weight of 105 lbs and would lose his title on the scales in what was one of the first times that a title was lost on the scales. The fight would still take place and Lopez would exact revenge on Alvarez, winning a 12 round split decision, claiming his third world title. With nothing more to prove in the Strawweight division, Lopez would move up to the Light Flyweight division and 11 months later would claim the IBF title with a 12 round unanimous decision over Will Grigsby.

He would successfully defend his title twice over the next two years and would then call it a career. His record as a professional stands at 51-0-1 with 38 KO’s, having never been defeated as an amateur or professional. He remains tied with Joe Louis for the most successful title defenses without a loss at 26. Lopez would be inducted into the International Boxing Hall Of Fame in Canastota, NY in 2007.

What would it have been like had he fought some of the elite in the smaller weight classes such as Michael Carbajal, Johnny Tapia or Mark “Too Sharp” Johnson and did his loyalty to promoter Don King prevent these bouts from happening? Did the fact that he fought in the smallest weight class prevent him from getting the notoriety that he deserved. In the end it was the most dominant career in boxing that the world has forgotten about.

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