On the Mark: Bigger Is Not Always Better

(Note: This originally came out on June 3, 2022, in PNM.)

by Mark Lorenzana

For a time, the heavyweight division was the darling of boxing aficionados. With Muhammad Ali, George Foreman, Joe Frazier, Mike Tyson, Evander Holyfield and even Roy Jones Jr. plying their trade in this division and mixing it up with the big boys, heavyweight has always been one of the most exciting weight divisions in boxing. And this is perfectly understandable because, while boxing is also commonly known as the sweet science (hit and don’t get hit, à la Floyd Mayweather Jr.), it’s also known as the hurt business — the bigger they are, the harder they punch (and fall).

There was a time as well when boxing fans would give their opinions — and believe me, boxing aficionados are some of the most opinionated fans in any sport, this columnist included — and list heavyweight boxers as some of the greatest to have ever laced up gloves.

They’d blurt out Rocky Marciano, the undefeated heavyweight champion of the mid-1940s and late 1950s as the greatest. Some would say Ali — heck, Ali said so himself, with the supreme confidence that marked his entire boxing career: “I am the greatest!” A few Iron Mike die-hards would say Tyson was the greatest — to the obvious chagrin of self-labeled boxing purists, who never appreciated Tyson’s raw violence in and out of the ring, and who were put off by his antics. A lot of British boxing fans would say it’s Lennox Lewis, the British-Canadian former heavyweight champion and Olympic gold medalist — stopping Vitali Klitschko in six rounds, knocking out Tyson in eight and racking up wins against Hasim Rachman, David Tua and Holyfield will definitely put you in the conversation.

For me, though, bigger is not always better — that’s why the lower-weight categories in boxing have always been a treat for me.

A few years ago, if you were an aspiring boxer and wanted to earn millions, building up your boxing skills wouldn’t be enough — you had to be at least 6 feet tall (Tyson and Tua, shorter heavyweights, both stand 5 feet 10 soaking wet, but make up for their height deficiency with devastating one-punch knockout power) and weigh more than 200 pounds.

Five-feet-5 Manny Pacquiao, who started his career at 108 pounds as a junior flyweight, and 5-feet-7 Mayweather Jr., who won bronze at the 1996 Olympic games in Atlanta as a featherweight at 126 pounds, changed the game: Over his career, Pacquiao has earned $500 million, both from his fight purses and endorsement deals. Mayweather has doubled this, earning as much as $1.022 billion.

Pacquiao, one of the most exciting boxers at any weight, before he climbed up several divisions and earned the big bucks, made a name for himself first by fighting at the lower weights, figuring in bloody wars with some of the best Mexican boxers of their generation: Marco Antonio Barrera, Érik Morales and Juan Manuel Márquez.

Mayweather Jr., arguably one of the greatest fighters of all time — retiring undefeated after 50 fights — has two sides to him: At his best, he’s so fast that he toys with his opponent effortlessly and goes 12 rounds virtually untouched (at one time his moniker was “Pretty Boy,” which he later replaced with “Money”); at his worst he rarely engages and stinks up the joint. For me, though, his best fights — when he still had the killer instinct to actually finish off opponents — happened when he was still campaigning at the lower weights: against Diego “Chico” Corrales, Jesus Chavez, Jose Luis Castillo, Arturo Gatti and Zab Judah.

Pacquiao and Mayweather carried boxing for a time during their respective reigns, but before them it was a Mexican-American with a charming smile and a killer left hook — one Oscar De La Hoya, who won the Olympic gold medal for the United States in 1992, picked up 10 world championships in six weight divisions, and parlayed his boxing popularity and earnings into his own promotional company, Golden Boy Promotions.

Before De La Hoya? The pride of Obregón, Sonora, Mexico, of course — El Gran Campeón Mexicano, Julio Cesar Chavez. I’d list all of his accomplishments here, but I’d run out of column space. I haven’t even talked about Saúl “Canelo” Álvarez, who started his career at 140 pounds.

I could go on and on and gush about why I love the smaller fighters, but I’ll just end this column with an invitation: Please don’t miss the rematch on June 7 between Japanese fighter Naoya Inoue — who is defending his WBA (Super), IBF and The Ring bantamweight titles — and Filipino WBC bantamweight titlist Nonito Donaire. Inoue won the first fight via unanimous decision, but suffered a pair of fractures around his right eye courtesy of the hard-punching Donaire.

I expect the rematch between these two 122-pounders will be a real barn burner, similar to their first fight. Like I said earlier, bigger is not always better — that’s why the lower-weight categories in boxing have always been a treat for me.