Pettway may punch up dull Md. boxing history

April 27, 1995|By Alan Goldstein | Alan Goldstein,Sun Staff Writer

In the late afternoon of Sept. 17, 1994, at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Baltimore's Vincent Pettway knocked out Italy's Gianfranco Rosi to claim the International Boxing Federation junior middleweight title.

It would be the first of six world championship bouts on a marathon ring card promoted by Don King that also featured Julio Cesar Chavez, Felix Trinidad and Frankie Randall.

That is one more title fight than the state of Maryland has held in the past 32 years.

On April 30, 1976, King promised to turn the then Capital Centre into "the mecca of boxing" when Muhammad Ali defended his heavyweight title against Jimmy Young in a fight that would end in controversy.

The following year, he promoted the Ali-Alfredo Evangelista match at the Capital Centre, a tepid 15-round affair that got harsh reviews, prompting King to search for yet another boxing mecca.

Saturday night, King returns to Landover after an 18-year absence, with Pettway making his first title defense against former champion Simon Brown in the main event of a show that could have more than 100 rounds of boxing.

Now named the USAir Arena, the venue has put boxing aside since March 31, 1985, when then-welterweight champion Sugar Ray Leonard flattened Davey Boy Green of England in four rounds.

It marked the charismatic Leonard's only title appearance in his home state. Almost all of Leonard's championship matches were staged outdoors in Las Vegas, where gambling casinos easily can outbid sports arenas for major championship fights.

Baltimore has not been host to a title fight in 25 years.

On June 27, 1970, light heavyweight champion Bob Foster stopped an ultra-cautious Mark Tessman in the 10th round at the then-Civic Center before 3,600. Tessman, a Houston schoolteacher, threw fewer than two dozen punches while retreating against one of boxing's most feared punchers.

That fight ended a seven-year championship drought locally, dating to New Orleans boxing master Ralph Dupas' successful defense of his junior middleweight crown against clever Denny Moyer on June 17, 1963.

Of the five Maryland fights, the Ali-Young match in 1976 was the most memorable. Many ringsiders believed Ali benefited from the same kind of charitable judging that marked George Foreman's victory over Germany's Axel Schulz in Las Vegas last week.

Ali was preparing for a major test against Ken Norton at Yankee Stadium, and Young, a defensive, light-punching boxer from Philadelphia, was considered a perfect tuneup. Oddsmakers made him a 15-1 underdog.

"The only way I can lose is by beating myself, selling myself cheap," said Ali. "I'll wear Young down, the same way I did against Foreman and Joe Frazier, and then I'll pick him apart."

But Young's counterpunching style frustrated Ali, who had trouble landing combinations against his retreating foe.

Young made a habit of ducking his head between the ropes, seeking protection any time Ali mounted a serious threat. Referee Tom Kelly failed to penalize him for this repeated action.

Although he won on the scorecards by margins of seven and four points, Ali, 34, said that he had turned in an uninspiring performance.

"Young gave me a better fight than Frazier or Foreman," said Ali, overstating the case. "I didn't know he was that good."

Ali's fight with Evangelista in 1977 was less memorable.

Little-known outside of Spain, Evangelista, 12-2-1 and never having fought more than eight rounds, needed the active imagination of publicist Irving Rudd to become a "contender."

Asked if the challenger had a nickname, Rudd said: "Sure, they call him 'El Durable,' or 'the Durable One.' "

When did he get that nickname, someone asked.

"Just now," said Rudd.

After Ali and Evangelista went through 15 listless rounds, the late Howard Cosell said: "That was one of the worst fights of all time. The only interesting thing was how the WBC phonied up the ratings to get Evangelista in the Top 10.

"Evangelista couldn't fight a lick, and the fact that it went 15 rounds told you Ali was shot."

Leonard's March 31, 1980, match with Green, an English potato farmer, almost ended in tragedy.

Not a single member of the British press delegation gave their countryman, a 6-1 underdog, a chance of winning.

Leonard toyed with the wild-swinging Englishman for three rounds before finishing him with a picture-perfect hook.

Green's head hit the canvas with a sickening thud and his legs twitched. It took several minutes to revive him.

When Green regained consciousness, he told the media: "You've just witnessed a young man named Sugar Ray who may become the greatest welterweight champion ever."

Three months later in Montreal, Leonard lost his title to a former lightweight named Roberto Duran.

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