Max Kellerman

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Wednesday, August 21
Max: Moorer could've saved the cruiserweights

By Max Kellerman
Special to

That one was easy. You just knew whether it came early or late, whether he was ahead or behind on the scorecards, Michael Moorer would eventually be caught and knocked out by a David Tua left hook. The only question was when exactly the inevitable would occur. Turned out to be 30 seconds into the fight.

Moorer began his professional career as a light heavyweight, and was likely on his way to becoming champ, but at 6-2 he had an impossible time making the the 175-pound limit. He should have been the second truly great fighter in the 190-pound (cruiserweight) division's history (Evander Holyfield was of course the first). But the big paydays were at heavyweight, so Moorer bypassed the cruisers and made his mark instead with the big boys.

He fought some of the best heavyweights in one of the best heavyweight eras of all-time. He landed some big punches and the resulting big paydays along the way. Yet he is often dissed in two ways: 1) he is cited as a reason Evander Holyfield is not all he has been cracked up to be (after all, Holyfield lost to Moorer) and, 2) he is cited as an indicator that the heavyweights of the 1990's were in fact not all that strong (after all, only in a division weak enough for a mediocre guy like Moorer to hold the title could 44-year-old George Foreman ever become champ again).

I will not address in detail the argument as to the strength of the heavyweight division between 1990 and 1998, as I have done this in previous articles (one in particular addresses the issue in some depth - I have forgotten the date and the name of the article, but if you look under the Max Kellerman archive on this site I am sure you will find it). Suffice it to say the heavyweight era beginning in 1990 and ending in 1998 was the second-best heavyweight era in history (behind only the Ali-Frazier-Foreman era of the 1970's). At his best Moorer was a very skilled southpaw (rare indeed in the history of boxing's biggest division) who had fast hands and good punching power. He fit in with the second rung of that era - not quite with the Tysons, Bowes and Lewises, but right there with the Ray Mercers and Razor Ruddocks. Less about rungs and more to the point, Moorer fit in perfectly with the Holyfields and Bert Coopers.

It is quite possible that I have already made this point in another previous article (again, I'm sure it will be archived, so you can check if you like), but there was in fact a golden era of cruiserweights - it just took place at heavyweight.

Holyfield won his first cruiserweight belt in 1986 with a split decision against Dwight Muhammad Qawi in the last truly great 15-round epic in the history of boxing. Evander then terrorized the division over the next two years, beating Qawi easily in a rematch and unifying the titles to become undisputed champion. There was only one perceived threat to Holyfield in the division and that was "Smoking" Bert Cooper. Cooper caught the boxing world's attention with an impressive decision on national television against Olympic heavyweight gold medal winner Henry Tillman. Tillman was fortunate to hear the final bell.

Right around this time Emanuel Steward was turning a young terror pro out of Detroit's Kronk Gym. Michael Moorer was unleashed on the light heavyweight division, but everyone knew it was just a matter of time before he would move up in weight. It looked for a moment that the inception of the 190-pound division in the first half of the 1980's was a good idea after all. Here were three exciting fighters too big for the light heavies and too small for the new 220-pound plus modern monsters.

Of course there was too much money to be made at heavyweight, so Holyfield, Moorer and Cooper all tested their luck against the big guys, with varying degrees of success. All three fighters also fought each other at heavyweight. Holyfield and Moorer have both been criticized for what unfolded in that cruiserweights-as- heavyweights series.

Think about it: were the three of them to have met in the late-80's at cruiser, what would have been the most expected outcome of their fights?

Holyfield would have been favored to beat Moorer, but the odds would have been relatively close. It would have come as no great shock were a young, undefeated southpaw knockout artist (as a 175-pounder Moorer had been a murderous puncher) under Manny Steward's tutelage, to defeat the great Holyfield in a close fight. Why then does it militate against Holyfield's greatness that an even more developed, still undefeated Moorer under the tutelage of Teddy Atlas pulled off a close points win against Holyfield at heavyweight instead of cruiserweight?

Had their fight taken place at cruiserweight, Moorer would have been a solid, but not big favorite to beat Cooper, but everyone would have been aware that the fight would be a very dangerous one - an action packed fight- of-the-year type of affair with the possibility of a knockout win for either fighter in any round. Their fight at heavyweight ranks alongside Foreman-Lyle as one of the two best heavyweight action fights between two real contenders in the last 30 years. Moorer, like Foreman, hit the deck twice. Cooper, as I recall, like Lyle, went down for the third and final time in the fifth round. A fight for the ages. Unfortunately not for the cruiserweight division, and as a result Moorer has been criticized for having a tough time with little Bert Cooper.

The criticism Moorer received was nothing compared to what was said and written about Holyfield after his fight with Cooper. Had it taken place at cruiser in the late-80's Holyfield would have been the substantial favorite, but Cooper would be seen as a live underdog. It would have come as a shock to no one if Evander had to climb off the deck to beat Cooper in a war. Since this is exactly what happened when they met with Holyfield's heavyweight title on the line instead of his cruiserweight title, why should our reactions be any different?

The bottom line is that these three fighters engaged in a four-fight series in total (the fourth fight was the Holyfield-Moorer rematch in which Moorer got up from a million knockdowns before finally being stopped in the eighth). The fights were all entertaining with the exception of the first Holyfield-Moorer fight which was close. The series between the three should only enhance their respective legacies. Too bad they did not enhance the legacy of the cruiserweight division.

Max Kellerman is a studio analyst for ESPN2's Friday Night Fights.

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