COMMOTION OVER A PAIR OF SURRENDERS
The shocks reverberate still. The most voluble athlete of his time, Muhammad Ali, lost his bid for a fourth world heavyweight title in utter silence, failing to come out for the 11th round against Larry Holmes. The most punishing fighter of the era, Roberto Duran, handed the welterweight championship back to Sugar Ray Leonard—surrendering in the eighth round with, of all things, a stomachache. A less noted, but equally mystifying result occurred when John Tate defended his WBA heavyweight crown. He was easing through the 15th round with a sizable lead over Mike (Hercules) weaver when, with 45 seconds left, Weaver threw a demonic left hook, followed by a right cross (below). Thus was Tate separated from both his senses and his title.
DELIGHT AND DISASTER IN THE RING
It was a watershed year for boxing. With Ali and former lightweight and welterweight champion Duran in disgrace, the fight game could've slipped in popularity. But, no, it rarely was healthier. Or livelier. WBC heavyweight champ Larry Holmes successfully defended his title four times, and the WBA's Mike weaver demonstrated his worth by knocking out South Africa's Gerrie Coetzee. And just for good measure, promising Gerry Cooney—24-0 at age 24—was waiting in the wings. There was even more interest in the lower divisions. Duran's odd surrender obscured an earlier Leonard-Duran fight—the extraordinary Brawl in Montreal—in which Roberto won the WBC welterweight title from Sugar Ray on a close decision. Tommy Hearns punched his way to the WBA welterweight championship with a savage second-round knockout of Pipino Cuevas. And by climbing to the top of their division, Matthew Saad Muhammad (WBC champion) and Eddie Mustafa Muhammad (WBA) brought depth and competition to the light-heavyweight class.
Visiting British fans sang joyous pub songs in Las Vegas when Alan Minter relieved Vito Antuofermo of the undisputed world middleweight title and then turned ugly back home when Marvin Hagler left Minter bloodied and beaten in the third round. And ringing through Glasgow was "O, Flower of Scotland," a patriotic ballad sung in honor of WBC lightweight champion Jim watt, who decisioned Howard Davis of Glen Cove, N.Y. ABC put up $450,000 to televise two bouts involving WBC featherweight champion Salvador Sanchez. A few years ago, TV spending on boxing was featherweight indeed.
February 12, 1981
After boxers Willie Classen, Cleveland Denny and Johnny Owens died of brain injuries suffered in the ring, commissions were investigating antiquated regulations, sloppy medical practices, inept licensing and incompetent referees. New York state Athletic Commissioner Jack Prenderville called for the creation of a national federation to implement uniform licensing, judging and medical procedures and gather information on fighters by means of a computerized recordkeeping system.
Sugar Ray demoralized Roberto in Leonard-Duran II—the "no màs" fight.
In what was supposedly a mere tune-up for a Tate-Ali title bout, Weaver spoiled Big John's plans and ruined his Knoxville homecoming by sweeping him off his feet in the final round.
Finally silenced by Father Time, the 38-year-old Ali was a human punching bag for Holmes. After Round 1 Ali thought, "Oh, God, I still have 14 to go!"
Britain's Minter made a bloody mess of Antuofermo (above); Duran taunted Leonard, and beat him, in an $11.5 million bout in Montreal.
Seconds after Hagler's prayers were answered, a disappointed London crowd pelted the ring with beer bottles.
Battered all night by Weaver, Coetzee was finally counted out of the heavyweight championship picture at 1:49 of the 13th.
Minter won a short-lived title by hanging in tough against Antuofermo.
Too Tall Jones, finding boxing wasn't a waltz, returned to pro football.