I’m as much a fan of nostalgic references as anyone. (photo by Ryan Hafey)
But no, the fighters campaigning to be the man at lightweight these days ought to remind precisely no one of the “Four Kings” era from the 1980s.
Lest anyone without a YouTube account forget, the quartet that campaigned in boxing’s last truly great generation included Roberto Duran, Marvin Hagler, Thomas Hearns and Ray Leonard and won virtually every meaningful fight from welterweight to middleweight from 1980 to 1987.
All four were pound-for-pound elites. All four became Hall of Famers. All four are legends.
So, with all due respect to Gervonta Davis, Ryan Garcia, Devin Haney and George Kambosos, they’ve got a bit more resume-padding to do before anything resembling royal lineage is deserved.
Still, I’ve got to admit I’m entertained.
Though the sport’s perpetually silly signature nonsense poses a real threat to any of the fights being made, there seems at least social media trash-talking interest among the four fighters toward actually getting together over the next few years with an eye on crowning a legit world champion.
The Kings of the 1980s combined for no fewer than nine fights in their unforgettably violent round robin, beginning with Duran’s thrilling defeat of Leonard in Montreal in 1980 and ending with Leonard’s win in a stupefyingly dull trilogy bout with Duran in 1989.
For the record, Leonard won the series with a 4-1-1 record with two KOs to outpace Hagler’s 2-1 with one KO and Hearns’ 1-2-1 with one KO, while Duran brought up the rear with four straight losses after handing “Sugar Ray” the first loss of his career.
Though business and finances were certainly involved, making the fights was the priority.
These days, it’s far more about protecting assets and maximizing profits, but the respectful give-and-take between Haney and Kambosos after the former’s decision over Joseph Diaz was encouraging.
They hold the four meaningful belts at 135 pounds.
And they actually seem to want to compete.
“Come on, Kambosos, let’s do it for all the belts,” said Haney, who defended his WBC title against Diaz. “The real undisputed, let’s do it next. I’ll go to Jupiter if I got to. I think it’s a great fight.
“He put on a great performance against Teofimo Lopez.”
Indeed, the Australian with Greek roots made himself a player when he ventured onto Lopez’s turf in New York City and emerged with a split decision and the ex-champ’s IBF, WBA and WBO titles.
“I think the fans would love to see it,” Haney said. “There would be no more dispute for who is the WBC champion, so let’s do it next. It’s very important.”
Meanwhile, Davis made sure he’d not be forgotten either.
The Floyd Mayweather Jr. protégé defended his nonsensical WBA trinket with a rugged 12-rounder against Isaac Cruz on Sunday in Los Angeles, handling the late substitute while overcoming an apparently injured right hand. Still, once the scorecards were made official, he wasted no time staking his claim to a place in the imminent championship series.
“Whatever the best opportunity is for me, I’ll do it,” he said.
“All of them guys are easy work. I’m the top dog.”
Working the periphery of the mix is Garcia, who improved to 21-0 and scored his 18th KO with a gritty defeat of Luke Campbell last January, before shelving himself to deal with anxiety and depression.
He’s still not gone all-in on a return, but both he and promoter Oscar De La Hoya have begin making the sorts of comments that suggest a re-ascension may be imminent.
De La Hoya suggested before the Lopez-Kambosos bout that his man would be ready for Lopez within a year, while Garcia himself was active on social media after Davis’ struggle with Cruz.
“We all know Luke Campbell is better than all of Tank’s opposition,” he said. “Tank can’t beat me. He knows that and Mayweather knows that. I’m too fast and I got too much accuracy. C’mon Mayweather, you can’t protect him forever. He said it’s easy work. Well, then it should be easy to run it. You can’t and will not do s—t. We all seen that today. You almost lost and they set that up so you look good.”
Those certainly sound like fighting words.
And if the guys talking have the mettle to back them up, it could be an interesting 2022.
* * * * * * * * * *
This week’s title-fight schedule:
IBF flyweight title – Dubai, United Arab Emirates
Sunny Edwards (champion/No. 3 IWBR) vs. Jayson Mama (No. 3 IBF/No. 29 IWBR)
Edwards (16-0, 4 KO): First title defense; Second fight outside the United Kingdom (1-0, 0 KO)
Mama (16-0, 9 KO): First title fight; Third fight outside of the Philippines (2-0, 0 KO)
Fitzbitz says: Truth told, there’s not a whole lot to separate these guys. They’re similar sizes and they’ve beaten similar levels of foes. But Edwards seems to have more tools. Edwards by decision (85/15)
WBA light heavyweight title – Ekaterinburg, Russia
Dmitry Bivol (champion/No. 5 IWBR) vs. Umar Salamov (No. 10 WBA/No. 22 IWBR)
Bivol (18-0, 11 KO): Eighth title defense; Eighth fight in Russia (7-0, 5 KO)
Salamov (26-1, 19 KO): First title fight; Three KO wins in five scheduled 12-rounders
Fitzbitz says: Salamov certainly looks the part of a Russian destroyer, but Bivol is on a far higher plane. He’s skilled and experienced and should elude this challenge easily. Bivol in 11 (95/5)
WBC bantamweight title – Carson, California
Nonito Donaire (champion/No. 3 IWBR) vs. Reymart Gaballo (WBC interim/No. 8 IWBR)
Donaire (41-6, 27 KO): First title defense; Has held titles at 112, 118, 122 and 126 pounds
Gaballo (24-0, 20 KO): First title fight; Fifth fight in the United States (4-0, 2 KO)
Fitzbitz says: The last thing a 39-year-old champ with a lot of miles on him needs is a skilled, hungry 25-year-old challenger. I want to pick him. But I’m gun shy. Donaire survives. Donaire by decision (55/45)
WBO bantamweight title – Dubai, United Arab Emirates
John Riel Casimero (champion/No. 2 IWBR) vs. Paul Butler (No. 1 WBO/No. 55 IWBR)
Casimero (31-4, 21 KO): Third title defense; One decision win in last seven victories (6.85-round average)
Butler (33-2, 15 KO): Fourth title fight (1-2); Held IBF title at 118 pounds (2014, zero defenses)
Fitzbitz says: Butler was a champion several years ago, but his resume isn’t particularly special since. Casimero, meanwhile, is on a seven-fight run and has Donaire on his mind. Casimero in 10 (90/10)
Last week's picks: 0-1 (LOSS: Diaz)
2021 picks record: 46-16 (74.1 percent)
Overall picks record: 1,202-391 (75.5 percent)
NOTE: Fights previewed are only those involving a sanctioning body's full-fledged title-holder – no interim, diamond, silver, etc. Fights for WBA "world championships" are only included if no "super champion" exists in the weight class.
Lyle Fitzsimmons has covered professional boxing since 1995 and written a weekly column for Boxing Scene since 2008. He is a full voting member of the Boxing Writers Association of America. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter – @fitzbitz.