· Bob Fitzsimmons vacates the world championship
Well…..not exactly. After he successfully defended against Dan Creedon on 26th September 1894, he began to focus on campaigning for a shot at heavyweight champion James J Corbett. As records of that era were somewhat sketchy, there is no clear evidence of Fitzsimmons officially vacating the world middleweight title.
On 2nd March 1896, Charles “Kid” McCoy and Tommy Ryan squared off in New York City. Ryan was the reigning world welterweight champion. Various record books have given this fight different distinctions; some have listed it as being only for Ryan’s welterweight title whereas others have designated it as being for both Ryan’s welterweight title and the vacant middleweight title. However, in an edition of Boxing Illustrated magazine, historian Herb Goldman revealed that unearthed newspaper clippings had shown that the bout was only for the vacant middleweight title. McCoy, who had previously beaten Tommy West and boxed a no-decision with the talented Steve O’Donnell of Australia, won by KO in the 15th round.
McCoy (left) against Tommy Ryan for the vacant world middleweight title
· Kid McCoy moves up to heavyweight
After making one defence, a 15th round stoppage of Dan Creedon on 17th December 1897, McCoy (his real name was Norman Selby) set his sights on heavyweight fame. Meanwhile, his old foe Tommy Ryan still had middleweight ambitions and he had an exemplary record, owning victories over “Mysterious” Billy Smith and former middleweight champion Jack Dempsey. On 25th February 1898, he beat George Green and gained universal recognition as the new world middleweight champion. Going into that fight, Green had an exemplary record himself, having topped prominent names of the day such as Tom Tracey, Danny Needham, “Mysterious” Billy Smith and Charles McKeever.
· Tommy Ryan announces his retirement
Ryan stepped down as world middleweight champion in 1906 and the awesome Stanley Ketchel emerged as the next kingpin. Sometimes, a contender comes along who beats everyone in sight and Ketchel fit into that category. In an eye-catching run, he bested Joe Thomas twice, Mike Sullivan and Jack Sullivan, and also remained unbeaten throughout 1906 and 1907. It was his win over Mike Sullivan on 22nd February 1908 that clinched universal recognition for him. Mike Sullivan was the reigning welterweight champion and had beaten the significant trio of Honey Mellody, Frank Fields and Kid Farmer the previous year. It should be noted that both Sullivans and Thomas had been claiming the vacant middleweight title until Ketchel cleared up the dispute.
Ketchel (left) poses with Joe Thomas before the bell
· Stanley Ketchel is murdered
Tragedy struck on 15th October 1910 when Ketchel was shot by Walter Dipley in Conway, Missouri, apparently over the affections of a farm girl. Ketchel was aged only 24.
The middleweight division quickly descended into chaos, with a multitude of claimants that lacked one clear-cut leader. These claimants included former champion Billy Papke, “Cyclone” Johnny Thompson and Hugo Kelly. Eventually, Frank Klaus surfaced as the new legitimate world champion, earning recognition when he beat Papke by disqualification on 5th March 1913. Prior to this, Klaus had been on a 2-year winning streak and bested Jack Dillon and Georges Carpentier, both future light heavyweight champions. Papke had also beaten Carpentier. Klaus was rightfully accepted as the new head of the pack.
· Mickey Walker moves up to light heavyweight
After making three successful defences, Walker went north in 1931 and left behind a confusing muddle, with anyone and everyone scrambling for acknowledgement. Those vying for the top spot included Ben Jeby and Vince Dundee.
Rising from the ashes was a match-up on 11th June 1932 between William “Gorilla” Jones of the USA and Marcel Thil of France. Jones had bested Odonne Piazza, who in turn had previously beaten Raul Rojas and Henry Firpo in an elimination tournament. Meanwhile, Jones had stopped Clyde Chastain and outpointed Frankie O’Brien in the same tournament. Across the Atlantic Ocean, former European champion Thil was on a 15-fight winning streak and had decisioned the highly-rated Vince Dundee on 31st July 1931. Being Europe’s superior middleweight at the time, when Thil stepped through the ropes with Jones, that could be regarded as the being for the vacant world title.
Soose (right) in action against Tami Mauriello in January 1941
· Billy Soose moves up to light heavyweight
Finding Soose’s replacement as the next world champion was easy. After Soose followed Walker’s path in 1941, Tony Zale faced Georgie Abrams on 28th November that year. Zale had previously defeated top contenders Al Hostak and Steve Mamakos. Abrams held victories over Mamakos and Teddy Yarosz, and had boxed to a draw with the brilliant Charley Burley. Most importantly, he had outpointed former champion Soose three times, most recently on 30th July 1941 in a non-title encounter. There was no disputing that the winner of Zale-Abrams would have universal recognition as the rightful champ. The victor was Zale.
· Sugar Ray Robinson announces his retirement
After failing in a shot at light heavyweight champion Joey Maxim, Robinson retired in 1952. Conveniently, two fighters stood out as front-runners and they were Carl Olsen and Randolph Turpin. Olsen had overcome solid contenders such as Walter Cartier, Eugene Hairston and Norman Hayes to rise through the ranks. Turpin had earlier owned the European, Commonwealth and world middleweight championships and on 10th June 1952 he had taken the British and Commonwealth light heavyweight titles from Don Cockell. Furthermore, Cartier had lost to him by disqualification. The Olsen-Turpin bout took place on 21st October 1953 and Olsen won on points to establish himself as the next lineal champion.
· Paul Pender announces his retirement
Essentially frustrated at not being able to secure a match with WBA belt-holder Dick Tiger, Pender, who was the legitimate world champion, walked away from the sport. With Pender no longer on the scene, Tiger was promoted to the new boss of the division. He had already beaten Gene Fullmer, Joey Giardello, Ellsworth “Spider” Webb and Henry Hank. When he stopped Fullmer in their rubber match on 10th August 1963, he clinched universal recognition. Beforehand, Fullmer had beaten the aging former five-time champion Robinson and Benny Paret to stay in the mix, and then suffered a loss and a draw against Tiger in their first two bouts.
Monzon never lost the world title in the ring
· Carlos Monzon announces his retirement
After an incredible 14 successful defences, Monzon rode off into the sunset in 1977. The frontrunners to replace him were Rodrigo Valdez and Bennie Briscoe. However, a case can be made for Marvin Hagler.
Hagler had beaten tough opposition such as Eugene “Cyclone” Hart and Willie Monroe but he was not quite at the top yet. He would make a big step forward by stopping the highly-rated Mike Colbert on 26th November 1977 and the following year he would gain wins over Kevin Finnegan (twice) and Briscoe, truly establishing himself as the number one contender. When Valdez and Briscoe met on 5th November 1977, they were a shade ahead of Hagler. Briscoe had defeated Bill Douglas, Tony Mundine and Hart, and also drawn with former three-time welterweight champion and two-time middleweight champion Emile Griffith. He had actually lost to Valdez twice before (on 1st September 1973 and 25th May 1974) but the Philadelphia tough guy remained in contention. Valdez was a former WBC belt-holder and had lost two close decisions to Monzon when attempting to win the proper world championship. He finally won the proper world championship when he outpointed Briscoe in their rubber match.
· Sugar Ray Leonard announces his retirement
On 6th April 1987, Leonard was awarded a hotly-disputed, controversial split decision over Hagler and if ever there was a strong case for a rematch, that was it. But it never happened; Hagler showed no desire to fight again and Leonard promptly retired anyway (but not for long). Naturally, the middleweight division fell into a state of confusion with the alphabet groups throwing their belts at anyone who was interested. As happens too often, the alphabet title-holders were reluctant to face each other…..with one exception; Sumbu Kalambay.
On 25th March 1989, Kalambay, the WBA’s claimant, was scheduled to meet his IBF counterpart, Michael Nunn. Not surprisingly, Kalambay was stripped of his WBA title for having the audacity to bring some semblance of order to the division. But that didn’t matter because Kalambay had already earned recognition as the genuine champion anyway. He had scored victories over three top contenders; Herol Graham, Iran Barkley and Mike McCallum. His position was further strengthened when Barkley went on to knock out the WBC’s title-holder, Thomas Hearns. After that, The Ring magazine gave recognition as the true world champion to Kalambay and he deserved it.
Toney’s nickname was “Lights Out”
· James Toney moves up to light heavyweight
In 1993, Toney left the middleweight division for challenges at a higher weight and once again a period of complete disarray followed. The alphabet groups handed out their belts to all and sundry with no one willing or able to clear up the mess. Roy Jones appeared as though he may be the next to take over after he beat Bernard Hopkins on 22nd May 1993 but he moved up in weight the following year. By the mid-1990’s, the main alphabet title-holders were Hopkins (IBF), William Joppy (WBA) and Keith Holmes (WBC). Joppy lost and won against Julio Cesar Green while Holmes lost and won against Hacine Cherifi, but none of them stepped into the ring with each other. Until 2001.
A mini tournament took place in which Hopkins outpointed Holmes and former welterweight champion Felix Trinidad stopped Joppy. On 29th September 2001, Hopkins beat Trinidad to become the legitimate middleweight champion of the world.