Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Lullaby League - The 12 Hardest Swatters in the Last Dozen Years

It's as though we can't get a solid chunk of good fights lately, and the up and down fluctuation plays hell with a fan's patience and emotions. A more consistent fight schedule would be nice. 

It's part of loving this game though, and sometimes a hiatus from constant action makes the heart grow fonder. Indeed, there have been times when the the thirst for blood long since sated nudges us into viewing a bout in a more positive light than perhaps it really calls for. 

For instance, the one-sided (but solid) Hank Lundy vs. Dannie Williams bout from a few weeks back on Friday Night Fights wasn't bad at all. In fact, a few times the men traded and made for a very fun watch, and there was a knockdown. But it was a mostly one-sided fight, yet it still got a fair amount of attention, and still wound up making for good discussion. 

There will always be jubilant, adrenaline-driven peaks, and heavily depressing valleys. Just like there will always be clinching, as we're painfully and annoyingly aware of after last weekend, there will always be counterpunching. Or guys afraid of getting hit. Or low blows. 

There will always be knockouts, too.


This Ring Magazine online.....article suggests otherwise. However, likely the most spot-on idea in that piece is Joe Goossen's take on the failings of today's amateur boxing system, which slaps swollen pads onto guys' mitts and instructs referees to stop fights at the first sign of danger -- a system that tends to value good, quick-handed athletes rather than fighters. 

But consider that many of the fighters who seem to horde television dates fight with similarly defensive-minded styles, and they don't fight as often, or in front of crowds as big, as many of the known knockout dealers of the past. In general, the frequency issue means (or should mean) fewer fights against out-matched opponents more easily leveled, and the style issue is pertinent in the sense that spiffed up performances with more flash than bang are rewarded with television dates, and guys from other eras often weren't afforded the same luxury.

And some of the big punchers of yesterday didn't have the high KO percentages one might think they sported. Archie Moore: 60%. Jimmy Wilde: 66%. Even the man who produced some of the most shocking one-punch knockouts over exceptional opposition, Ray Robinson, had a relatively low KO percentage of 53. They did actually hit hard, of course, and the factors above can account for much of the discrepancy in stoppage percentages.

It's difficult to reach a valid conclusion on the "old vs. new" issue without a ton of quantifiable data, but the idea that knockout punchers aren't around anymore is a rough pill to swallow. It even suggests that hard hitters are made more than they are born -- another argument entirely. 

So, 'Who are these recent eye-opening destructors?' you say. The following men have proven to carry biting power in at least one of their hands, if not both, since the year 2000.

Mind you, this is not the be all, end all list of recent punchers. Special attention was paid to fighters who were able to grab stoppages at higher levels of the sport, carried punching power with them up in weight, did it over a significant period of time, and did most of their high level work post-2000. In no particular order...


Let's get the no-brainer out of the way first. The most dominant heavyweight of the last decade has gone 19-2 (15 KO) in that span. Sure, his opposition has been generally woeful compared to former heavyweight champions, and his current style isn't much to look at. But earlier in the 2000's, Wlad was an offensive cyborg, more humanoid than human. In 2002, the younger Klitschko snatched the seemingly still iron-chinned Ray Mercer's legs out from under him with a pair of disgusting left hooks in the 1st round, then wobbled him a few times before the ref intervened in 6. A few losses later, and Wladimir's offense eroded as trainer Manny Steward schooled him on the fine art of being taller than almost everyone else and fighting like it, and the aggravating art of clinching. Yet the 6'6" Ukrainian found (and still finds) ways to earn stoppages, even if only after grating opponents down to vulnerable simpletons begging for leather. The Chris Byrd nobody seemed to be able to get rid of found himself a puffy, bleeding heap in the 7th round of their second fight in 2006, and Byrd had fought a couple of nice punchers in the years since his first loss to Wlad by decision. But one of his more memorable semi-recent knockouts was his 11th round dismantling of Tony Thompson in 2008, where a right hand to the temple had Thompson doing likely the best impression of the Parinirvana Buddha that you'll ever see between the ropes. He may be afraid to use it until it's completely safe to, but his power is real. 

MANNY PACQUIAO: 54-3-2 (38 KO)

The most globally popular fighter right now, Pacquiao is constantly the subject of debates about everything from his position among the all-timers, to performance enhancing drug usage. But the root of many fan skirmishes is the Filipino's rise through weight classes and the retention of his surprising speed and punching prowess. He's 29-1 (20 KO) thus far since 2000. Most of those decisions have understandably come in the last few years as his opponents have gotten heavier. And though many feel he deserves to have a few more L's on that record, namely to Juan Manuel Marquez, he was still able to at a minimum rock most of the fighters that went the distance with him. The most shocking of his stoppages happened in 2009 against Ricky Hatton, who Manny treated to a little siesta with the help of a brutal overhand left that plowed into the front of his chin. Hatton, while having hit the deck a handful of times in his career, was known for having a fairly sturdy chin, thoroughly dented only when leaping headlong into a shot from underrated puncher Floyd Mayweather, Jr. Then there's sending the stout Marquez to the mat four times in the span of two fights in 2004 and 2008; ending Marco Antonio Barrera's 8-fight win/comeback streak in 2003; and Manny's title-winning left hand to the mug of a thoroughly overwhelmed Lehlo Ledwaba at 122 lbs. in 2001, which served as his American coming out party. But the tale of Manny's power is told perfectly in his defense against then-unbeaten contender Emmanuel Lucero just prior to beating Barrera. After measuring Lucero for a bit, Pacquiao bounced a thudding left off the poor guy's dome that rendered him leglessly stumbling to the ropes, literally looking like he had no clue what planet he was on. 

JORGE ARCE: 60-6-2 (46 KO)

His trademark ring entrance complete with cowboy hat and lollipop kind of makes him seem a bit innocuous or comical, but this popular Mexican celebrity is a hard, tough dude. And he's on this list, so needless to say, he can bang, and especially to the body. This suffocation specialist's record is 40-3 (31 KO) since Y2K failed to bring forth the apocalypse. It's fair to say that he might not be a puncher on an all-time tip, and many of his stoppages have been due to an accumulation of shots rather than one huge connect, but he can produce scary results when motivated. An entertaining mash up in 2002 with Yo-Sam Choi was all but ended with a cracking hook-right hand combination in the 6th, even though the extremely tough Korean somehow stayed upright. In 2006, he ended very good little man Rosendo Alvarez' night and career with a digging left hook downstairs, again in the 6th stanza. Earlier this year even, Arce crumbled former pound-for-pound outlier Lorenzo Parra in 5 rounds after decking him four times, and this a few divisions north of where he started, at flyweight. He even threatened to steal the shine on the undercard of Erik Morales vs. Manny Pacquiao I, sinking the redundantly-named Hussein Hussein face first to the canvas with a punishing right hand-left hook combo after almost 11 rounds of bloody, bruising action in 2005. His nickname, "Travieso," is the Spanish equivalent of "troublemaker," and that's exactly what he is to every engagement. 


Having lost his first two (and only) fights in 1999 when he was 17- and 18-years old, Jhonny has since rebounded to become a notable and exciting featherweight with the power to end a fight at just about any given moment. The math shouldn't be necessary, but just in case, his 2000-to-now ledger stands at 51-5 (45 KO). Of the five losses there, two came against hard-nosed vet Ricardo "Chapo" Vargas by decision, the others by stoppage against a pair of good punchers in Gerry Peñalosa and Israel Vazquez, and getting caught something filthy against Toshiaki Nishioka. The three men who stopped him tasted his power though. He dropped Vazquez twice prior to being stopped dramatically himself, floored Nishioka early with a right hand before getting dusted in the 3rd with a long left hand, and exchanged with Peñalosa until getting caught up with some body work. In 2004, he dealt former flyweight title challenger Alejandro Montiel his first stoppage loss in over 10 years, dropping him thrice with right hands in the process. En route to stopping popular Thai Ratanachai Sor Vorapin in the 7th round of their 2005 contest, Gonzalez razed the tough former title challenger with a left hook that could've snapped a steel beam in half. But the knockout that seemed to put the little men on notice and prove that Gonzalez couldn't be counted out, was his 4 round drubbing of classy former bantamweight champion Hozumi Hasegawa in 2011. And Jhonny picked up a featherweight belt in the process. Gonzalez may have missed out on a meeting with fellow demolition man Rafa Marquez at 118, but his two-fisted power cannot be slept on. 

VIC DARCHINYAN: 37-5-1 (27 KO)

At the risk of laying on hyperbole a little thick, the Australia-based Armenian basically picked up where "Prince" Naseem Hamed left off -- at least in terms of being an outspoken, overly confident bomber with a very awkward southpaw style. And like Hamed, Darchinyan definitely is not without skill. Movement and energy is wasted, yes, but the reactionary mannerisms and all-angle assault proved to be highly effective. It's tough to predict what an opponent will do when he seems to land from impossible angles while breaking all the rules. Vic has his own career though, winning titles in two divisions, nearly three, since turning pro in 2000. In winning his first title against reigning IBF flyweight champion Irene Pacheco in '04, Darchinyan thumped the undefeated Colombian with a combination that robbed him of his legs and put him down in the 10th, then finished the job with a mugging in the 11th. His third defense of the belt saw him measure Diosdado Gabi to set up left hands for minutes at a time before lowering the boom in the 8th round. Gabi got up, barely, but wobbled under the weight of a foggy head and was stopped before action could resume. Following a damaging KO loss to Nonito Donaire in '07, Vic rebounded one division higher the following year by bamboozling rising Mexican talent Cristian Mijares, then stopping him in the 9th round of their unification match up, again with a left hand. And comically, he's made a few guys turn their backs and quit mid-round. Darchinyan hasn't scored a knockout in over two years, and his move to bantamweight has earned him three of his losses, seeing his KO percentage go from 77% to 62%. He may very well be near or at the end of his career, but at his best, he could nap opponents.


Since turning professional in 2001 and eventually hooking up with Golden Boy Promotions, Ponce's been described as a "brute," a "caveman" and an "animal." All are accurate. Whether he has to set it up with some relatively underrated skills and a high volume southpaw style, or grind it until it fits, Daniel Ponce de Leon wants that knockout. The road he travels to get there often isn't all that aesthetically pleasing, but the destination is worth it. Ponce had just started getting some considerable shine from West Coast boxing pundits when he laid out Emmanuel Lucero in the 3rd round with a ruthless left uppercut in 2004, then his momentum was blunted by a decision loss to Celestino Caballero the following year. But in a 2006 rematch against Sod Looknongyangtoy, who had floored Daniel in their first fight, he unleashed some type of biblical demon of a left hand less than a minute into the fight that resulted in Sod splayed out face down on the canvas for minutes until doctors revived him with an oxygen mask. In '07, Ponce blitzkrieged and dispatched highly touted Golden Boy prospect Rey Bautista in less than a round as well. He's had rough patches since then, and knockouts haven't come quite as frequently against slightly better opposition, but his raw force is still around. In 2010 he ransacked Antonio Escalante's chin with a crushing right hook, and earlier this year Ponce pounded Omar Estrella into submission in the 6th after going down on a body shot in round 2. If it's windy where you're at, there's a good chance Ponce de Leon is shadowboxing somewhere.

EDWIN VALERO: 27-0 (27 KO)

Deceased for nearly two years, the Venezuelan slugger was a polarizing figure. There was a good chance you either watched him fight, awed by his tenacity and primal strength, or couldn't stand that he kept getting knockouts. And he was mean too; when he got hit, it boiled his blood. Turning pro in 2002, Valero encountered a number of stumbling blocks in his career, from being banned from fighting in the U.S. due to MRI irregularities in 2004, to a few domestic issues that landed him in legal trouble. His excommunication led to match ups with slightly lower rent opposition on foreign soil, but Valero was able to break a record for 1st round knockouts that had stood for almost a century by flattening 18 in a row inside three minutes. In his 19th bout in 2006, he won the WBA 130 lb. title, knocking champion Vicente Mosquera down for the second and third time in his career in the 1st round, then muscling through being floored himself in the 3rd to earn a bruising 10th round stoppage. A few fights later, he defended his title by ending tough scrapper Nobuhito Honmo's night and career by smashing his face to bits en route to a stoppage in 8. In stepping up to the lightweight division in '09, Edwin took the vacant WBC title by chopping down the usually durable and retro haircut-sporting Antonio Pitalua in 2 rounds. And in his final bout, in 2010, Valero outclassed and sniped Antonio DeMarco for 9 rounds, forcing the younger man's corner to stop the bout before the 10th. Since the tragic Billy Papke-esque muder-suicide that saw Valero allegedly kill his wife before hanging himself in a prison cell, his in-ring deeds have been downplayed a bit. Right or wrong, the man bowled strikes with his fists. 


There are "Mexican warriors," and then there's Israel Vazquez. Ocular lacerations, broken noses, flayed lips? Piffle. Vazquez did not trifle with such things. Hailing from Districto Federal, Mexico and turning pro in 1995, Vazquez didn't rise to any sort of prominence until fighting regularly in Southern California a few years into his career. By the time 2000 rolled around, he seemed like nothing more than an aggressive, dime a dozen battler with a couple of losses and fortunate close decision wins under his belt. And then it happened: he began bowling foes over with determined wallops. The last 12 years had him going 22-3 (16 KO). Of his first 10 opponents in the 2000's, Vazquez stopped seven leading into his first tangle with Oscar Larios in 2002. The exciting brawl ended with Israel stopped mid-count in the 12th and final round. Granted, Vazquez wasn't always a one-punch banger, but his effort sometimes made him one. In '03 he battered Jorge Julio into retirement in 10 rounds on HBO Latino, all but destroying the Colombian in the process. Julio had only been stopped by a then relatively unknown Manny Pacquiao at that point. In 2003 he TKO'd Jose Luis Valbuena in 12 to win the vacant IBF junior featherweight belt, and in his next fight stopped unbeaten #1 contender Art Simonyan in the 5th with a right hand that had Simonyan reeling and prompted a referee stoppage. In his '05 rematch with Larios, Vazquez' right hands stunned Larios, then opened up a cut over his left eye that halted the match. The following year he overcame two nasty knockdowns and a points deficit on the cards to stop current badass Jhonny Gonzalez in the 10th with a brutal right hand and follow up. From then on, it was all about his quadrilogy with Rafael Marquez, himself a formidable puncher. Five knockdowns and four fights later, both men cemented legacies against one another with pure physics and grit. The fourth bout between the two was Vazquez' last, his countenance transformed from fresh-faced to rubbery from years of punishment and scar tissue -- a badge of honor in this sport. 


The record says it all. Rafa Marquez just doesn't see the 12th round very often. Odds are he's either stopping a fight bloodily, or getting stopped himself. From 2000 onward, he's 22-5 (19 KO). And he began his career with a stoppage loss, too. In fact, he was basically known as Juan Manuel's chinny little brother until Rafa was able to make a name for himself. When he stepped up and was able to hang with future hall of fame entrant Mark "Too Sharp" Johnson in their first bout, winning a thin decision, people noticed. Then he became the first to stop Johnson in their 2002 rematch, sitting him down with a huge right hand in the 7th, then twice more with right hands in the 8th to end the fight with Johnson flat on his back. In '03 he stormed back from being wobbled in the 8th against undefeated and talented southpaw champion Tim Austin to send him through the ropes with a few rights, then swarmed him for the stoppage and his belt. In '04 he took out Heriberto Ruiz in shocking fashion with a picture perfect left hook/uppercut. After twice dispatching African contender Silence Mabuza in consecutive years, he began the epic four-fight war with Israel Vazquez that saw him win the WBC junior featherweight belt in the first, lose it in the second, barely suffer defeat in their classic rubbermatch, and walk through a worn out Vazquez in the final meeting. Never mind the all-time placement; if your man is in the ring with him, worry about the now. So taxing are his fights that he hasn't managed to step through the ropes more than twice in a calendar year for more than 10 years. 


Beginning his pro career in 2001 and undefeated for over 10 years, Nonito Donaire is still wavering about the edges of consciousness for any fans shy of hardcore, and mostly due to inactivity. Still, when the Filipino pound for pound level boxer-puncher steps into the ring, his ambidextrous and free-flowing style has a tendency to produce concussive results. He's not always railroading foes with a shot or two, but he can do that too when he wants, it seems. His first significant introduction to a U.S. audience was a split decision win over Armenian Kahren Harutyunyan on Showtime's ShoBox program in 2006, though he likely should've won a unanimous verdict, and decked Kahran with a jab early in the fight. In his next outing, he unsurprisingly chopped down over-matched opponent Jose Luis Cardenas, but he did it with two knockdowns, both the result of snapping single punches. Then in 2007, he thrust his name into the spotlight by folding Vic Darchinyan like a lawchair with a sinlgle overhand left hook in the 5th, leaving the wonky power-puncher fall all over himself and into the ropes. His level of opposition bounced up and down -- but mostly down -- over the next few years, though he still exhibited fight-ending power in stopping five of his next six opponents. And in 2011, he literally dented the side of Fernando Montiel's head with a huge left hook, and despite referee Russel Mora's woefully bad decision to let the bout continue, halted Montiel with another hook for good measure. It's probably been the highlight of his career thus far. 


Not unlike his little brother Rafael, Juan Manuel's professional debut was a loss. But he cleaned his act up enough to appear to be on a collision course with "Prince" Naseem Hamed when 2000 came roaring in, sitting as mandatory challenger to Hamed's WBO featherweight strap for around two years. A controversial (and particularly difficult to watch) loss to WBA titlist Freddie Norwood didn't exactly offer a convincing argument for deserving a shot at the popular Briton. Thus, Marquez moved on, aided by Marco Antonio Barrera's undressing of the unified champ Hamed, heading home early in six of his first seven bouts in the 2000's, and going 24-4-1 (15 KO) with their inclusion since '00. In a 2002 IBF eliminator against Australian Robbie Peden, after the 10th round he sent the Aussie back to his corner to vomit up an elixir of blood-tinged fluid thanks to some horrible body shots, thereby ending the contest. In '03, he won his first title by persuading ringside doctor Margaret Goodman to advise that light-hitting punching machine Manuel Medina not continue on in the 7th. He made Derrick Gainer run for dear life in their unification match up later that year, and tangled with Manny Pacquiao in 2004, which resulted in Marquez powering through three 1st round knockdowns to repeatedly stun and/or wobble the eminently popular Filipino. He may well be the fighter on this list that doesn't appear to fit, but his excellent opposition over the last nine years has to be taken into consideration, as well as his northward path through a few weight classes. In two more fights with Pacquiao, he managed to stun Manny even more than he had in the previous fight, earning what many felt were two decisive wins rather than rough losses. His 9th round TKO of Juan Diaz via right uppercut was thrilling as it could be, and he even managed to make the larger Floyd Mayweather, Jr. wary of moving in for the kill in his clear loss there. His punch may not be particularly hard in itself, but his delivery, punch selection and technique squeeze every ounce of power out of his swings that he needs, more often than not. 


Despite fighting for fewer years in the time frame given than anyone else on the list, Diego "Chico" Corrales left an indelible mark on the sport with his long-armed punching power, which he wholeheartedly believed in. His initial title-snatching effort against junior lightweight Robert Garcia is just outside the scope of this article in 1999, but his first outing in 2000 was a 3rd round stoppage of southpaw-turned-eyesore Derrick Gainer in defense of his IBF belt, even if Jay Nady called the TKO a bit early. Needless to say, the hits kept coming, to the tune of 10-5 (9 KO). Two fights later, Corrales bumrushed his way to a punishing stoppage in 3 over contender Angel Manfredy, who to that point had only been sent home early in his pro debut, and against Floyd Mayweather, Jr., who was a beast at 130 lbs. Following a rough fight with Mayweather, Jr. that saw him decked five times and saved by his corner in the 10th and a prison stint for domestic problems, Corrales roared back to stop four in a row, which included a one-shot hammering of Damian Fuller on ESPN2. In October of '03, he was halted by talented stylist Joel Casamayor due to a horrific laceration of his lower lip that was caused by his mouthpiece, but not before downing the iron-chinned Cuban with a single left hook. A flip-the-script win over Casamayor in their rematch led to a highly anticipated showdown against the only other man to beat Joel Casamayor, undefeated Brazilian Acelino Freitas. Corrales followed aimlessly for rounds at a time before catching up in the 8th and bouncing a right hand off of Freitas' temple. Again in the 9th Freitas ate a right hand, only this one near sent him airborne before hitting mat. And surviving into the 10th, one more right hand made Freitas think twice about continuing, suffering his first loss as he walked back to his corner waving off the idea. In Corrales' last bout in May of 2005, he and Jose Luis Castillo gifted boxing with one of the more brutal and intense battles in recent memory, absorbing punch after punch, nearly all packed with bunker-busting ordnance. What didn't matter was the two belts on the line. What did, was a beautiful 10th round that had Corrales down twice, and, with the aid of a spat-out mouthpiece, forcing a stoppage moments later by badly hurting Castillo as he moved into finish the fight. Three fights and three losses later, Corrales perished in a motorcycle accident -- but not without providing dozens of hellfire memories. 


We delight in the brain scrambling still, and a few knockouts in recent years have been the kind that would stand up to some of the best in history that we have footage of. 

But there's little doubt that most of these modern day smashers would meet the titans of yesteryear head-on if given the chance. And once they're gone, if they're not already, we just may miss 'em. 



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