Remember When: An Upsetting Night in Buffalo
By Lyle Fitzsimmons,
Contributing Boxing Editor
It was our first fight...and the end of two eras.
When old pal Phil MacDonald and I hopped in my dad's Chevy Caprice for a trip from hometown Niagara Falls to the Memorial Auditorium in Buffalo 26 years ago this week, the consensus around town leaned more toward prolonged reigns than title-shifting storms.
The city's first major boxing show in decades was intended as a dual showcase for high-profile incumbents and TV staples Johnny Bumphus and Ray Mancini -- "Bump City" and "Boom Boom" -- against less-accomplished suitors Gene Hatcher and Livingstone Bramble.
Hatcher and Bramble were just recognizable enough for cameos on ESPN and entertaining bluster at mid-week press conferences, but neither had measured up in the ring to a bejeweled pair that entered with 51 wins and four title defenses in 52 fights.
Hatcher's biggest pre-Bumphus moments had arguably been a pair of losses -- to eventual lightweight title challenger Tyrone Crawley in Atlantic City and longtime 130-pound champion Alfredo Escalera at Madison Square Garden -- while Bramble, though he'd lost just once in 22 fights, had beaten little better than the Kenny Bogners and Rafael Williamses of the world.
HBO boxing staple Harold Lederman, who was ringside as a judge for the Bumphus fight, recalled the night in an e-mail this week.
"I brought my daughter, Julie, to Buffalo, since she was a huge fight fan and had never been on the Maid of the Mist, which all the officials visited two days before the show," he said. "On fight night, Julie wound up with a seat so high up that before the show I could hardly see her sitting in the rafters.
"But you can't keep a smart fight fan down, so the next time I turned around she had come downstairs and was sitting in the third row ringside with Rick James and his huge entourage, who had the entire third row. The ushers thought she was part of Rick's crew, so she stayed there all night, and had a great seat for the fights."
The purses reflected the pre-fight contrasts in significance, with champions Mancini and Bumphus making $1 million and $175,000, respectively, while sacrificial challengers Bramble and Hatcher received the comparable pittances of $125,000 and $75,000.
But within a couple hours, the castes dramatically changed...financial and otherwise.
Far ahead on scorecards through 10 rounds, Bumphus abruptly ran short of gas in round 11 and was on the losing end of a controversial stoppage by referee Johnny LoBianco at 2:35.
A post-fight melee did nothing to change the result and the Lou Duva-groomed southpaw never again held a title -- in fact lasting less than four minutes in a challenge of welterweight Lloyd Honeyghan in his final pro fight less than three years later.
Hatcher fared little better, winning and losing the WBA 140-pound title in two bouts with Argentine veteran Ubaldo Sacco within 13 months of coronation, and also falling to Honeyghan at 147 pounds -- in just 45 seconds -- six months after Bumphus' failure in 1987.
All told, he dropped five of 15 fights before retiring in 1995.
As it turned out, the main event never really came close to chalk.
An accomplished counter-puncher, Bramble continually exploited Mancini's porous defense and sliced up the Ohioan's face before registering the TKO and snatching the WBA lightweight crown little more than 90 seconds into round 14.
He performed a similar bloodletting en route to scorecard supremacy in a rematch nine months later in Reno, but managed just one more defense -- against Crawley -- before a second-round KO by Edwin Rosario violently ended his reign in 1986.
A lapse into prolonged mediocrity followed his title change; with Bramble playing out a 16-25-2 string over 43 fights until calling it quits in 1997.
Mancini never won again, dropping a vacant WBO title try to Hector Camacho via split decision in 1989 and retiring for good after a seventh-round loss to Greg Haugen in 1992.
* * * * * * * * * *
It's not yet everyone's sanctioning cup of tea, but it'd be hard to claim the International Boxing Organization didn't add a prominent jewel on May 20 in Australia.
Armenian-turned-Aussie Vic Darchinyan became the IBO's first three-division champion at the Leagues Club in Parramatta, where his unanimous 12-round decision over Filipino veteran Eric Barcelona earned him a title hardware trio at 118 pounds.
Darchinyan swept scorecards by 120-103, 118-105 and 116-108 counts to win the belt and add to a stash that had already included championships at flyweight -- which he won in 2005 and defended five times -- and super flyweight, which he captured in 2007.
The 34-year-old slugger still holds both the WBA and WBC crowns at 115 pounds and will be given "reasonable time" to determine which division he'll continue to rule, according to IBO President Ed Levine.
Darchinyan joins unbeaten light heavyweight Chad Dawson as a marquee IBO-only title-holder in his weight class. The world's consensus No. 1 heavyweight -- Wladimir Klitschko -- is also an IBO champion, in addition to recognition from the IBF and WBO.
The IBO was the only organization to recognize Manny Pacquiao as world champion at junior welterweight following his two-round KO of Ricky Hatton in May 2009. Pacquiao defeated Miguel Cotto six months later and chose to relinquish the IBO belt to stay at 147.
* * * * * * * * * *
This week's title-fight schedule:
SATURDAY Vacant IBF cruiserweight title -- Neubrandenburg, Germany Steve Cunningham (No. 1 contender) vs. Troy Ross (No. 3 contender) Cunningham (22-2, 11 KO): Fifth title fight (2-2, 1 KO); Held IBF title in 2007-08 Ross (23-1, 16 KO): First title fight; Champion of "Contender" TV series in 2009 Fitzbitz says: "Cunningham's beaten, or at least nearly beaten, far better than Ross." Cunningham by decision.
IBF middleweight title -- Neubrandenburg, Germany Sebastian Sylvester (champion) vs. Roman Karmazin (No. 1 contender) Sylvester (33-3, 16 KO): Second title defense; Unbeaten since 2008 (4-0, 2 KO) Karmazin (40-3-1, 26 KO): First title fight at 160; Held IBF title at 154 in 2005-06 Fitzbitz says: "Superior Karmazin adds a second weight-class belt to the trophy case." Karmazin by decision.
WBA super welterweight title -- Bronx, New York Yuri Foreman (champion) vs. Miguel Cotto (No. 5 contender) Foreman (28-0, 8 KO): First title defense; No stoppage wins since 2006 (8-0, 0 KO) Cotto (34-2, 27 KO): Seventeenth title fight (14-2, 11 KO); First fight above 147 Fitzbitz says: "A title-worthy return to prominence with new trainer and new weight class." Cotto by decision.
Last week's picks: 3-1 Overall picks record: 200-70 (74.0 percent)
Lyle Fitzsimmons is an award-winning 21-year sports journalist, a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America and a frequent contributor to sports radio talk shows throughout the U.S. E-mail him at email@example.com, follow him at twitter.com/fitzbitz and read more at fitzbitzonfights.wordpress.com..