Dougie’s Friday mailbag (Jack Dempsey’s old school training, Loma mythical matchups, Billy Conn)

Jack Dempsey 150x150 - Dougie’s Friday mailbag (Jack Dempsey’s old school training, Loma mythical matchups, Billy Conn)

PROGRESSION OR REGRESSION? 

Hello Dougie,
I hope you and the family are doing well during this strange time. If you’re like us then you’ve got a kid doing school virtually while the parents work virtually, and thank god for the wifi.

I know sports fans are apt to say that the athletes of old could not compete against today’s bigger, faster, stronger athletes. And in some sports I believe that’s true, for example in the NFL where size, speed and strength are such an advantage. But in boxing where there are weight classes (forget same-day vs day-before weigh-ins for now) are boxers really better now?

Dempsey boxing book 225x300 - Dougie’s Friday mailbag (Jack Dempsey’s old school training, Loma mythical matchups, Billy Conn)What got me thinking is that I’m reading Jack Dempsey’s “Championship Fighting: Explosive Punching and Aggressive Defense”, where he laments back in 1950 about the loss of good trainers and boxing instruction, saying boxers of that day were not being taught proper skills. Then he goes on for 100 pages with incredible detailed instructions describing how to punch, proper stance, foot movement, defense and training.

When I watch Dempsey’s savage beatdown of Willard, I first think “this guy is a freaking animal they let out of a cage”. But after I read his book, I can actually see some of the techniques he writes about. If Dempsey complained about the loss of good instruction from his day up to 1950, has even more been lost since then?

In addition, does the structure of having several “world champs” per weight class discourage boxers from improving, in a way? If there’s only 1 champ, then you have to get good enough to beat that guy. If there are 4 champs, and you know you can beat 1 of them, is there less incentive to improve your skills, conditioning, etc.?

Last funny note…my dad boxed in the Navy around 1960. He was doing alright, but he said that after he read Dempsey’s book and practiced those techniques, “People started falling down” when he hit them.

Thanks again for all you do to entertain us! – Karl

Thanks for the kinds words and for sharing your thoughts, Karl. My situation is just like yours. It’s all good, but I wish we had a bigger house and better wifi.

I’ll say this about Dempsey’s book, the fighters of The Manassa Mauler’s era, and the later all-time greats that were trained by boxing sages of that era, there was real technique to their brutal craft. As 1960s light heavyweight contender Paul Andrews, who had been managed and trained by Joe Louis (who was trained by early 1900s standout Jack Blackburn), once told me about the great Brown Bomber: “He knew how to punch, when to punch, and where to punch.” (Veteran trainer Thell Torrence recently repeated that line to Lee Groves in regard to 1960s welterweight contender-turned-trainer Hedgemon Lewis.)

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James Toney takes it to Doug DeWitt

Torrence and Lewis were Eddie Futch understudies, as was Freddie Roach, who is still training, so there are some training lineages to boxing’s Golden Age. The late, great Emanuel Steward learned from the old heads in Detroit – from Luther Burgess to Bill Miller – and current trainers Johnathon Banks and SugarHill Steward learned from Manny, so there’s some lineage there with their fighters. Miller trained James Toney, who was later coached by Roach, and in my humble opinion ole Lights Out could have competed in any era, even Dempsey’s. (Can you imagine how badass a Harry Greb-Toney showdown would’ve been?)

Floyd Mayweather Sr. learned from the old timers in Michigan (which has such a rich boxing tradition), and he obviously imparted great boxing technique and training habits to his marvelously gifted son, who also could have competed in any era.

There are other modern-era fighters – even some active elite boxers – that could have competed with the best of all time, so I’m not going blanketly say that the “old timers are better,” but I do think (in part due to some of the factors you mentioned) that on AVERAGE the pro boxers of previous decades and eras were better.

I know sports fans are apt to say that the athletes of old could not compete against today’s bigger, faster, stronger athletes. Yeah, I hear that all the time, but “bigger, faster, and stronger” doesn’t always equate to BETTER – especially in the prize ring.

And in some sports I believe that’s true, for example in the NFL where size, speed and strength are such an advantage. But in boxing where there are weight classes (forget same-day vs day-before weigh-ins for now) are boxers really better now? Like I stated, not on average. There aren’t as many teachers in the gyms these days, and the focus in many boxing clubs (but certainly not all) seems to have switched from learning proper technique to strength and conditioning. So, we’ve got a lot of pro boxers that are amazing on mitts and on the track and during agility drills, but still make amateurish mistakes in the ring, and many of these body beautiful athletes appear gassed after five or six rounds (even during bouts boxed at a pedestrian pace) because boxing stamina come from BOXING, not the kind of CrossFit-inspired  conditioning they’re doing in the gym.

What got me thinking is that I’m reading Jack Dempsey’s “Championship Fighting: Explosive Punching and Aggressive Defense”, where he laments back in 1950 about the loss of good trainers and boxing instruction, saying boxers of that day were not being taught proper skills. Dempsey was being a grumpy old man, but he wasn’t entirely wrong. The thing is, the rules of the sport changed during his championship tenure (the 1920s) and continued to change in the ’30s and ’40s, so some training techniques and fighting tactics/mentalities HAD to evolve. Dempsey grew up idolizing champions like the original Jack Dempsey, AKA “The Nonpariel,” the American and world middleweight champ during the 1880s and ’90s when title bouts and high-profile fights were often scheduled between 20 and 50 rounds. The gloves were different, almost like throwback heavybag gloves, which the fighter could easily open up to better grip and grapple during inside fighting. The rules were still being set and “civilized,” such as the concept of going to a neutral corner after scoring a knockdown. As the savage stoppage of Willard and the infamous “Long Count” fight dramatically illustrate, Dempsey was used to the brutal old rules when a fighter could stand over a fallen opponent and pummel the poor son of a bitch as soon as he was off of his knees. So, obviously, a lot changed from Dempsey’s generation to the next, but there were still old heads from Dempsey’s day and even before his time – like Blackburn – instilling proper boxing foundations and

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Joe Louis instructs good friend Sonny Liston on some heavybag work.

punching/defensive technique to a new generation of stars, such as Joe Louis and Henry Armstrong (who sports writers of the 1930s said trained like the fighters of the late 1800s/early 1900s). And standout trainers of the 1930s and ’40s, such as Al Silvani, Ray Arcel and Freddie Brown, continued to train fighters up until the 1980s, so modern-era greats like Roberto Duran, Larry Holmes and Aaron Pryor got some of that old-school seasoning. Legendary boxers like Louis and Armstrong also passed down as much as they could to badasses of the 1950s and ’60s like Andrews and former 140-pound/welterweight contender Adolph Pruitt, but obviously, there were diminishing returns as time moved forward.

Then he goes on for 100 pages with incredible detailed instructions describing how to punch, proper stance, foot movement, defense and training. That’s how EVERY boxer should start out. That’s the foundation. They need that before they need the strength and conditioning.

When I watch Dempsey’s savage beatdown of Willard, I first think “this guy is a freaking animal they let out of a cage”. But after I read his book, I can actually see some of the techniques he writes about. I feel ya. After talking to Andrews and some other old timers that idolized Louis and used to frequent the Los Angeles gyms in the 1990s, I saw the Brown Bomber’s fights in a new light. I saw the near-technical perfection, not just with his offense, but in the way he cut off the ring and blocked, parried, and countered punches. The more you know in boxing, the more you SEE.

If Dempsey complained about the loss of good instruction from his day up to 1950, has even more been lost since then? Of course, but like I noted, some of it was just change. You can’t train a modern fighter the way fighters from the late 1880s/early 1900s were trained. The rules are different.

In addition, does the structure of having several “world champs” per weight class discourage boxers from improving, in a way? Well, it waters down the rankings of the four major sanctioning organizations, and it makes it easier for a contender to be navigated up the ratings ladder to a world title shot without facing a fellow legitimate contender. Having 17 weight classes instead of eight to 10 divisions, also waters down the competition. (And previous-day weigh-ins further muddies up the situation, but that’s a separate issue.)

If there’s only 1 champ, then you have to get good enough to beat that guy. If there are 4 champs, and you know you can beat 1 of them, is there less incentive to improve your skills, conditioning, etc.? Not necessarily. Once Floyd Mayweather Jr. moved from 130 and 135 pounds, he stopped aiming for the top dog of the division he campaigned in, but he didn’t stop learning his craft and he didn’t slack off on his conditioning. Other talented boxers that are dedicated to their craft and disciplinarians in the gym became more business-oriented than sport-minded as they raised their profiles (and income). And there were business-minded standouts in Dempsey’s day, too, in fact, he was one of them, but apart from avoiding African-American contenders, it was harder to dodge tough challenges due to there being (for the most part) one world title in only eight weight classes.

 

LOMA VS. THE MODERN GREATS

Hi Dougie,

Can you please give your opinion on Lomachenko Vs

Barrera

Morales

Marquez

Pac

Naz

Thanks. – Steven, London

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Loma en route to overwhelming Nicholas Walters

Hmmmm, I’d go with Barrera on points or even late stoppage at featherweight, but give Loma the slight edge over Barrera (via close decision) at 130 pounds. I’ll take Loma by close decision over Morales, Marquez and Pacquiao at 126 pounds, but I’ll side with El Terrible, the Mexico City master and the Filipino icon over the Ukrainian wizard by close decision at 130. I’ll go with Loma over Naz by close but clear UD at 126 pounds.

 

BILL CONN

Hey Doug,

Curious on what your thoughts are on Billy Conn and where he ranks on the all-time list of light heavyweights?

Also, for mythical matchup:

Conn vs RJJ

Conn vs Calzaghe

Conn vs Ward

Conn vs Ezzard Charles

Thanks. – Alex from Montreal

Conn vs RJJI’ll go with Jones by close but unanimous decision at middleweight or super middleweight, but Conn by close nod at light heavyweight (I thought RJ slowed down just enough at 175 pounds to get outhustled and outboxed by a busier, craftier boxer with better fundamentals).

Conn vs CalzagheI’ll go with Joe by close, maybe majority or split decision in a real tit-for-tat, high-speed chess match over 12 or 15 rounds.

Conn vs WardI favor Conn by close but unanimous decision at both super middleweight and light heavyweight (more so at 175 than 168).

Conn vs Ezzard CharlesI like Ez by unanimous decision in a competitive fight at middleweight, light heavyweight and heavyweight.

Curious on what your thoughts are on Billy Conn and where he ranks on the all-time list of light heavyweights? It’s kind of interesting, I think Conn is arguably one of the five best light heavyweights ever, but in terms of what he accomplished at that weight and as a 175-pound champion, I’d rate Charles, Archie Moore, Bob Foster, Michael Spinks, and I’d even consider top contenders of the 1940s that never got shots at the light heavyweight title, such as Jimmy Bivins and Lloyd Marshall, over Conn. Roy Jones Jr.’s run at light heavyweight is arguably better than Conn’s.

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Billy Conn began his pro career at 135 pounds but matured into a world class middleweight and light heavyweight who twice challenged Joe Louis for the heavyweight title.

But I included The Pittsburgh Kid inside my top 20 rankings of “modern greats” (following the IBHOF’s old definition of not including anyone whose last bout was before 1943), which I compiled as part of a Ring Magazine poll in late 2014 – at No. 9 – based on his body of work as a young middleweight contender in the late 1930s, and of course, his 175-pound title reign and storied first heavyweight challenge against the great Joe Louis in 1941. As a middleweight/small light heavyweight, Conn beat fellow hall of famers Fritzie Zivic, Teddy Yarosz, Young Corbet III and Fred Apostoli (twice). He also outpointed reigning middleweight champ Tony Zale in a light heavyweight match before both enlisted to military service for World War II, as well as former heavyweight title challenger Bob Pastor and future heavyweight contender Lee Savold at 175-pound bouts.

 

Email Fischer at dougie@boxingmailbag.com. Follow him on Twitter and IG at @dougiefischer, and join him and Coach Schwartz and friends on Periscope every Sunday from SMC track.

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