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COMPUBOX LOOKS BACK- WELTERWEIGHT UNIFICATIONS INVOLVING UNDEFEATED FIGHTERS

Saturday's showdown between WBA titlist Keith Thurman and WBC kingpin Danny Garcia marks only the third time in which two undefeated fighters will meet to unify portions of the 147-pound championship. If its predecessors are any indicator, then Thurman-Garcia not only will be eventful, it also will be historic.

The first such meeting took place December 6, 1985 at the Las Vegas Hilton when Donald Curry faced Milton McCrory for the undisputed championship. It was the first welterweight unification fight since Leonard-Hearns I, but Curry-McCrory would do that fight one better because both men carried unbeaten records into the ring. Curry, the owner of the WBA and IBF belts, was 23-0 (17) while McCrory, his WBC counterpart, was 27-0-1 (22). This was a fight that was talked about even before each man won his respective strap, and their concurrent reigns served to raise the interest level to a fever pitch.

Curry, nicknamed "The Lone Star Cobra" for his lightning-quick strikes, entered the ring as a potential pound-for-pound superstar. Since out-pointing rugged South Korean Jun-Suk Hwang to win the WBA belt vacated by Leonard due to retinal surgery, Curry showed himself to be a ring scientist with wrecking ball fists as he notched five knockouts in his six defenses against foes with a combined record of 153-18-4 (KO 1 Roger Stafford, KO 7 Elio Diaz, KO 6 Nino LaRocca, KO 4 Colin Jones and KO 6 Pablo Baez). Only future titlist Marlon Starling managed to last the 15-round distance against Curry, and that rematch victory in February 1984 was much more convincing than their first meeting, a 12-round split decision by Curry in October 1982 remembered more for "The Starling Stomp" than Curry's ring prowess. The quality of his performances as champion, however, provoked talk of a second title at 154, then an eventual superfight with middleweight monarch Marvelous Marvin Hagler, boxing's reigning pound-for-pound king. But in order for that ambitious blueprint to become reality, Curry would first have to dispose of McCrory.

McCrory required two attempts to win his strap, for his first meeting with Colin Jones for the WBC belt, also vacated by Leonard, ended in a draw many thought Jones, the 4-to-1 underdog, deserved to win due to his stronger finish. The rematch, staged five months later amid a scorching 105-degree day in Las Vegas, saw McCrory floor Jones with a hook in round one, a knockdown that ultimately proved to be the difference in the American's split decision victory.

The Curry fight marked the fifth defense of McCrory's WBC reign as he stopped Milton Guest, Gilles Ebilia and Carlos Trujillo while also out-pointing tricky southpaw Pedro Villella. Despite the victories, observers felt something was missing in his performances, perhaps recalling the 17 consecutive knockouts that began his career and inspired his "Ice Man" nickname. That, and the impressive nature of Curry's victories, prompted odds makers to deem Curry a 3 1/2-to-1 favorite, which flew in the face of the fight's title, "The Toss Up."

The two had been friends since their amateur days, but the tension between the two escalated when each questioned the other man's heart. Because both owned championship belts, a series of coin flips determined the order of various events. One resulted in the fight being scheduled for  the WBA's preferred 15 rounds over the WBC's 12, one deemed that Curry would be the first to speak at the prefight press conference, another forced McCrory to weigh in first and the last required McCrory to enter the ring first.

When he did, "The Ice Man" was more like "The Merry Man" as he flashed a wide smile and exuded a joyful confidence. Meanwhile, Curry was cold, calculating, intensely focused and bent on destruction. His mindset was that of an assassin fully prepared to execute a hit, except this one would be performed before 4,185 paying witnesses.

 McCrory opened the fight on the move and firing his long left jab in an attempt to maximize his 75-inch reach, which was three inches longer than Curry's. But while 53 of his 55 first-round jabs fell short of the target Curry was at his efficient best as he jabbed precisely (8 of 13, 62%), shook McCrory with a jolting cross and shredded his defense with pinpoint power shots (16 of 32, 50%). McCrory's animated face registered confusion and unease while Curry's radiated calm command.

HBO's Larry Merchant labeled round one a "classic" for Curry and the numbers illustrated why as Curry landed 24 of his 55 total punches (53%) while McCrory was a scattershot 11 of 90 (12%).

McCrory's chief second Emanuel Steward was convinced Curry wouldn't be able to maintain his white-hot intensity.

"I believe he's going to burn himself out," he said. "He's fighting too intensely. Keep your left hand out there, you understand? He's fighting a lot more tighter than he normally is."

Perhaps, but, at least on this night, Curry was able to channel that tightness in such a way that his world-class talent was lifted to a stratospheric peak.

Moments after losing his balance while throwing a jab, Curry reset himself, planted his feet, slipped McCrory's jab and connected with a picturesque left hook that caused the WBC titlist to fall in sections before landing flat on his back.

"He was poking the jab out there," Curry observed. "And I saw that I could step inside it."

McCrory had the look of a newborn colt as he struggled to regain his feet. His first attempt failed at referee Mills Lane's count of five, but by seven he was up and presumably ready to continue.

Less than two seconds after Lane allowed the fight to continue, it was over. Curry marched in and drilled a pulverizing right to the jaw that drove McCrory to the floor like a sledgehammer pounding a nail. This time, it took all of McCrory's strength just to lift his shoulders off the floor and stare vacantly into Lane's eyes as the official tolled the final seconds of his reign. McCrory remained on the floor for another two-and-a-half minutes before he was allowed to return to his corner.

"He wasn't as strong as I thought he was," Curry said. "And once I realized that, I started moving in. After he went down the first time, I knew the fight was over."

The ending forced a disbelieving McCrory to confront a reality he had never considered.

"Being knocked out is a funny thing," he said. "I never thought I'd be knocked out. I thought I had a steel chin. It seems unreal."

What was also unreal was Curry's statistical performance, which was only exceeded by its aesthetics. Curry landed 35 of his 69 total punches (51%), 10 of his 22 jabs (45%) and 25 of his 47 power shots (53%) while McCrory struggled to find the target (18 of 124, 15% overall; 5 of 79 jabs, 6%; 13 of 45 power punches, 29%). McCrory threw more, but Curry did more -- much more.

While Curry went on to win a belt at 154, he never secured the marvelous match with Marvelous Marvin. But for one shining night in December 1985, Donald Curry was everything everyone envisioned him to be.

**********************************************************

It would be nearly 14 years before another welterweight unification between two undefeated champions would occur, and this time both participants were elite campaigners who, despite being in their mid-20s, already seemed destined for the Hall of Fame.

The 26-year-old Oscar de la Hoya was a four-weight titlist who boasted a 31-0 (25) record, a sparkling 19-0 (15) record in title fights and seven successful defenses of his WBC belt. In the other corner stood 26-year-old Felix Trinidad, who had made his mark by dominating a single-weight class the way the old timers had. He had owned his IBF bauble for more than six years and had registered 14 successful defenses that included 12 knockouts. His 35-0 (30) record included victories over Maurice Blocker and the 56-0 Luis Ramon "Yory Boy" Campas as well as common opponents Hector Camacho, Oba Carr and Pernell Whitaker. If he dethroned De La Hoya, Trinidad would break a tie with the legendary Jose Napoles for second place on the all-time welterweight title defenses list behind Henry Armstrong's 19.

The fusion of De La Hoya's lightning speed, Trinidad's heat-seeking thunder, both fighters' mutual youth and the September 18, 1999 date inspired promoters to deem this match at the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino in Las Vegas the "Fight of the Millennium." More than 1.4 million homes purchased the fight, which established a new non-heavyweight pay-per-view record, and generated a $40 million combined payday. The betting odds produced an extraordinary rarity -- a true pick-'em fight -- as both closed at -$1.10 at most sports books. Comparisons to Leonard-Hearns I were ubiquitous, and, in many eyes, credible.

The expectations were off the charts. Unfortunately, the fight failed to approach them.

While many had hoped the first bell would ignite a war, the opening three minutes ended up being a war of nerves as De La Hoya threw just 19 punches to Trinidad's 34. The Puerto Rican led 7-6 in total connects and 3-2 in jabs while both fighters connected on four power shots. Round two, however, saw "The Golden Boy" loosen up a bit as he landed 11 of his 39 punches, 6 of his 26 jabs and 5 of his 13 power shots while Trinidad was a mere 5 of 35 overall, 2 of 17 jabs and 3 of 18 power.

Rounds three through nine saw De La Hoya masterfully out-box the plodding Puerto Rican and take a seemingly unassailable lead on the scorecards. His dazzling mobility and flowing combinations sliced through Trinidad's guard with almost ridiculous ease as he topped 40% overall accuracy in every round except for the third during that stretch and exceeded 40% power precision in rounds five through nine. Additionally, De La Hoya's jab was operating at an otherworldly level, for he registered double-digit connects in rounds three through nine, topping off at 21 of 44 (48%) in the seventh.

Meanwhile, Trinidad seemed stuck in second gear as he plodded after his quarry round after round. In terms of output Trinidad was mired in the 30s until round nine, when he finally reached 42 punches. As for De La Hoya, his total output in rounds six through nine were 55, 71, 64 and 64 and his overall connect gaps were 29-12, 33-11, 30-15 and 27-16.

How statistically dominant was De La Hoya? Through nine rounds he led 196-98 overall, 109-38 jabs and 87-60 power. Entering the 10th, "The Fight of the Millennium" had turned into "The Golden Boy's" personal boxing tutorial.

Through it all, however, Trinidad kept coming and he kept punching, albeit unsuccessfully. That pressure, De La Hoya would admit later, would net one crucial casualty: Oscar's gas tank.

"I have to admit I was a bit tired," he told HBO several years later. "I've never boxed like that in my life. My legs were shaking. I thought I had the fight in the bag after nine rounds, so I'm going to cruise the last three rounds. That's what my corner told me, too, so I said, 'OK, let's do it.'"

Rounds 10-12 will forever be remembered as the nine minutes that cost De La Hoya his perfect record, but the 10th, at least, still saw De La Hoya land 28 of his 66 punches overall (42%), 13 of his 35 jabs (37%) and 15 of his 31 power shots (48%). What did change was the level of Trinidad's performance in comparison to the first nine rounds, and that dramatic change sparked what would be a pivotal shift in the narrative.

In round nine Trinidad was a mere 16 of 42 overall and 12 of 36 power, but in the 10th he surged to 26 of 50 overall (52%) and 24 of 47 power (51%), easily his bests of the fight thus far. In fact, his 24 power connects in the 10th nearly exceeded his total for the previous three rounds (28). Meanwhile, the movement that was so strategic and so controlled in the first nine rounds for De La Hoya now had the scent of disorganization, and, to some, panic.

The 11th furthered Trinidad's momentum as De La Hoya declined to 19 of 67 overall (28%) and 9 of 31 power (29%) while Trinidad was 21 of 51 overall (41%) and 20 of 47 power (43%). It was the first time Trinidad had out-landed De La Hoya since round one, and while De La Hoya's jab was still working well (10 of 36, 28%), it had been transformed from a weapon to a defensive flip. As for Trinidad, he all but shelved the jab as he went just 1of 4, but because he now was the pursuer he had seized command of the story line.

In terms of stats, the 12th was nearly even as Trinidad led 21-20 overall while De La Hoya prevailed 59-41 in punches thrown. But the diametrically opposed jab/power punch dynamic was even more pronounced as De La Hoya ruled the former (11 of 31, 36% to 1 of 5, 20%) while Trinidad dominated the latter (20 of 36, 56% to 9 of 28, 32%). The boxer had become the runner while the stalker was now the hunter.

De La Hoya's spectacular dominance in the first nine rounds caused the final numbers to be heavily skewed in his favor as he led 263-166 overall and 143-42 in landed jabs as well as 41%-36% overall and 39%-29% jabs. But the most compelling numbers would be Trinidad's 124-120 edge in power connects, which included a 40-18 bulge in the final two rounds.

That surge proved definitive, for Glen Hamada saw the fight a 114-114 draw (the same as HBO's Harold Lederman) while Bob Logist and Jerry Roth's scorecards registered 115-114 and 115-113 for the winner -- Felix "Tito" Trinidad.

The majority decision was a surprise, but, given De La Hoya's erosion in the home stretch, it wasn't perceived as the out-and-out robbery that Lewis-Holyfield I the previous March had been. Because of that, disappointment, not outrage, was the prevailing emotion.

"Obviously, I thought I won the fight," De La Hoya opined. "I wanted to go out there and demonstrate all my ring equipment and give him a boxing lesson. Obviously, it wasn't appreciated by everyone."

While Curry-McCrory and De La Hoya occupy opposite places in boxing lore, it remains to be seen how Thurman-Garcia will fare. In terms of numbers they are comparable, as Curry and McCrory boasted a combined record of 50-0-1 while the numbers for Thurman-Garcia (60-0) and Trinidad-De La Hoya (66-0) were better. All feature fighters in their chronological primes with a myriad of skill sets that, if meshed well, could produce greatness.

Will Saturday's showdown produce the pyrotechnics of Curry-McCrory or will it approach the disappointment of Trinidad-De La Hoya? The safe bet is that it will land somewhere in the middle, but if the ring action comes anywhere close to its volcanic lead-up, those tuning into CBS will click off their TV sets with a feeling of enormous satisfaction. 

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