Welter Wars: Thirty Years Of SuperFights

As the hype dials up for tonight’s mouth-watering Crawford vs Spence clash for undisputed welterweight supremacy, it’s impossible not to draw comparisons with classic welterweight showdowns of years past. The 147 pound division has always been a hotbed of elite talent, with old-time legends like Ted “Kid” Lewis and Jack Britton, golden age greats like Sugar Ray Robinson and Kid Gavilan, and modern era kings Roberto Duran, Sugar Ray Leonard, and Thomas Hearns all leaving their mark on the division. Tracing the story of the division over the last thirty years, here are some of the biggest superfights that paved the way to Crawford vs Spence. Hit the links for videos and in-depth articles.

Pernell Whitaker D12 Julio Cesar Chavez, 10th September 1993: Billed simply as “The Fight”, the mega-bout between Mexican icon “JC Superstar” and WBC champ “Sweet Pea” Whitaker was set to crown the consensus number one fighter in the game. Contested at a catchweight of 145 pounds to accommodate Chavez who was moving up from 140, the match-up still compares favourably with any in history in terms of pure pugilistic pedigree. Both were three-weight champions, with Chavez entering on an incredible 87-bout undefeated streak and Whitaker, the 1984 Olympic gold medallist, carrying a single, undeserved points loss in 33 fights. Sadly, after Whitaker completely outboxed Chavez in a masterful display, the American’s pound-for-pound coronation was denied by scandalous scorecards that returned a majority draw verdict.

The cover says it all.

Oscar De La Hoya UD12 Pernell Whitaker, 12th April 1997: Robbed of victory against Chavez, Whitaker nevertheless had the satisfaction of gaining wide recognition as the sport’s true pound-for-pound king. “Sweet Pea” made a further six defences over the ensuing four years, even squeezing in a foray north to become a four-weight champion. But in the meantime, a new superstar, “The Golden Boy”, emerged. Like Whitaker, Oscar De La Hoya was an Olympic gold medallist and multi-weight champion, capturing titles from super featherweight through to 147, en route to 23 straight victories. Over twelve tightly contested rounds, De La Hoya fought aggressively against Whitaker’s slippery but sublime defensive skills and despite failing to put a serious dent in the defending champion, the judges were impressed enough to award the glamorous young star a unanimous decision.

A fading and smaller Whitaker was still almost too much for Oscar.

Oscar De Le Hoya SD12 Ike Quartey, 13th February 1999: Following his crowning if somewhat controversial win over Whitaker, De La Hoya was not only the biggest attraction outside of heavyweight, he was also a leading contender – alongside Roy Jones – for the title of boxing’s best pound-for-pound fighter. After five successful defences, including a repeat win over an aging Chavez, “The Golden Boy” took on his most daunting challenge yet. Ike “Bazooka” Quartey, undefeated in 35 fights with seven defences of the WBA title, brought a formidable skillset, including boxing’s most potent jab and thudding power behind it. The Ghanaian proved his worth, exchanging knockdowns in round six and pushing the American superstar all the way, until a final round blitz from De La Hoya sealed a hard-fought split decision victory.

Quartey puts The Golden Boy down in round six.

Felix Trinidad MD12 Oscar De La Hoya, 18th September 1999: De La Hoya’s win over Quartey left only one meaningful fight in the division: a mega-showdown with rival, undefeated IBF champ Felix “Tito” Trinidad. Over a six-year title reign the fearsome Puerto Rican puncher had swept aside fifteen challengers, thirteen by knockout. Billed as “The Fight of the Millennium”, De La Hoya vs Trinidad matched two superstars at the peak of their powers, in the most eagerly anticipated fight in a generation. Unfortunately, it failed to deliver the expected drama between the ropes, as De La Hoya boxed his way to an early lead before easing off and allowing Trinidad to snatch a controversial, razor-thin majority decision.

Trinidad vs De La Hoya failed to thrill.

Shane Mosley MD12 Oscar De La Hoya, 17th June 2000: The fact De La Hoya appears for a fourth time in this list of welterweight superfights is a testament both to “The Golden Boy’s” selling power and his willingness to test himself against the best of his era. Following the disappointment of the Trinidad defeat, De La Hoya chased a rematch, but when a deal couldn’t be reached and Trinidad elected to move up in weight, Oscar was awarded the WBC title again by default. Seeking redemption against a meaningful opponent, he took on the highly touted “Sugar” Shane Mosley instead. The undefeated former lightweight champion was regarded as one of the most talented fighters in boxing, and he delivered a career-best performance to outshine his Los Angeles rival in a brilliant back-and-forth contest.

Mosley vs De La Hoya
Oscar and Shane gave us a 12 round classic.

Undisputed Chaos: With his signature win over De La Hoya, Mosley was briefly recognized as boxing’s No. 1, pound-for-pound. But what looked like the beginning of a dominant reign in fact sparked a tumultuous period in the division’s lineage, as Mosley was overthrown by rival Vernon Forrest, who in turn was promptly knocked out by WBA belt holder Ricardo Mayorga, who was then outpointed by IBF champion Cory Spinks, thus crowning the first undisputed welterweight champion since Lloyd Honeyghan, in 1986. The titles would not remain unified for long though, as Spinks was himself knocked out in his third defence by Zab Judah, and the belts fragmented again.

Floyd Mayweather TKO10 Ricky Hatton, 8th December 2007: Moving up to welterweight in 2005, pound-for-pound star Floyd Mayweather first took care of business with bitter rival Zab Judah, before scoring an easy victory over Carlos Baldomir to collect the WBC strap. A blockbuster bout against De La Hoya at 154 pounds followed, and then “Money” returned to welterweight to take on Britain’s Ricky Hatton, in another massive PPV event. “Hit Man Hatton,” an undefeated champ at 140 pounds and highly rated on most pound-for-pound lists, fought valiantly, despite the best efforts of referee Joe Cortez to stifle the action. Mayweather remained cool and composed amid the electric atmosphere, took the steam out of Hatton’s assault, and put on a punching clinic to score a tenth-round stoppage.

Hitman Hatton and Money mix it up.

Antonio Margarito TKO11 Miguel Cotto, 26th July 2008: When Mayweather announced his retirement after the Hatton win, no one believed he would be gone for long, but it still left a vacancy atop the welterweight division. Miguel Cotto, the undefeated WBA champion and Puerto Rican star, and Antonio Margarito, a rock-hard Mexican long-touted as “the most avoided man in the division”, stepped in to fill the void. Cotto got off to a great start, taking the lead with his smoother and craftier boxing. But Margarito chugged forwards relentlessly, ominously, and as the damage accrued on Cotto’s face, it was clear he simply could not hold off the marauding Mexican. Finally, after twice taking a knee in a bruising eleventh round, Cotto was rescued from further punishment and Margarito was the new welterweight ruler.

Margarito grinds down Cotto in their controversial first clash.

Shane Mosley TKO9 Antonio Margarito, 24th January 2009: In the wake of Margarito’s performance against Miguel Cotto, the Mexican was hailed as an irrepressible force, a “terminator” that couldn’t be stopped. In contrast, Mosley’s form had been up and down in the years since his breakout win against De La Hoya, and to most, the result seemed a foregone conclusion. But in the hoopla surrounding Margarito’s beatdown of Cotto, it seemed the world had forgotten that Mosley could actually fight. Far from wilting under the Mexican’s pressure, the old Sugarman stood his ground and blasted away with brutal right hands and rapid-fire combinations round after one-sided round, in a punch-perfect performance that made a mockery of so many pre-fight predictions.

Sugar Shane humbles The Tijuana Tornado.

Manny Pacquiao TKO12 Miguel Cotto, 14th November 2009: With Floyd Mayweather “retired”, it left Manny Pacquiao briefly unopposed atop boxing’s pound-for-pound tree. The Filipino looked phenomenal in a run of back-to-back wins that included blasting out Ricky Hatton in two rounds and laying a beatdown on the ghost of Oscar De La Hoya. But in taking on top welterweight Miguel Cotto at a catchweight of 145 pounds, it remained to be seen whether the former flyweight was biting off more than he could chew. In fact, it proved to be one of the Pacman’s best ever performances, as the Puerto Rican was floored twice and ground down and stopped in round twelve by the Filipino fireball. “We thought Manny Pacquiao was great,” opined Larry Merchant, “[but] he’s better than we thought.”

Manny stops Cotto: One of Pacman’s most impressive demolitions.

Floyd Mayweather UD12 Shane Mosley, 1st May 2010: Mayweather’s self-imposed hiatus from the ring had been predictably brief, and in late 2009 he returned with a lopsided win over lightweight ruler, Juan Manuel Marquez. A super-showdown with Manny Pacquiao should have followed, but when negotiations fell apart due to a disagreement over drug testing, Mayweather opted instead to face Shane Mosley. The match had been mooted for over a decade, and though past prime, “Sugar” Shane was nevertheless coming off his great win over Margarito. In the second round a huge upset looked on the cards, as Mosley twice rocked Mayweather to the soles of his boots with flush right hands. Floyd clung on for dear life, before taking control in round three and then dominating the remainder of the fight.

Mayweather outclasses Mosley.

Juan Manuel Marquez KO6 Manny Pacquiao, 8th December 2012: Over three fights beginning with their remarkable draw in 2004 at featherweight, it was almost impossible to split the Mexican and Filipino rivals. A second and third meeting, at 130 in 2008 and 147 in 2011, saw Pacquiao emerge victorious by close, contentious decisions. Both men promised to end the rivalry in definitive fashion, and they did not disappoint. Pacquiao’s bitterly disputed loss to Tim Bradley in his previous fight meant no title was on the line, but it did not matter as they produced arguably the fight of the decade. Floored heavily in the third, a surging Pacquiao roared back to knock Marquez down in the fifth and looked on the verge of scoring a stoppage in the sixth, before walking on to a monster overhand right that left him out cold, face first on the canvas.

Marquez lands the perfect punch.

Floyd Mayweather UD12 Manny Pacquiao, 2nd May 2015: It took five years of bickering and public posturing, but eventually the two biggest stars in boxing hammered out a deal. Pacquiao’s loss to Marquez three years prior and the rivals’ advancing ages had taken some shine off the match-up, but it still pitted the two best pound-for-pound fighters of a generation against each other, and was by far the biggest box office event in history. The fight itself was absorbing, though failed to produce the kind of action it promised at their athletic peaks. Aside from a fourth-round flurry, Pacquiao was largely nullified by Mayweather’s superior boxing, and the American took a comfortable decision, along with bragging rights as the best boxer of his era.

MayPac failed to ignite.

The Next Chapter: With Floyd Mayweather’s retirement in 2015, the 147 pound throne was once again left vacant. The years since have seen the likes of Kell Brook, Shawn Porter, Keith Thurman, Danny Garcia, and a late-career encore from Manny Pacquiao all play their part in an excellent series of match-ups. But now the real fight that fans have craved, ever since Spence and Crawford became rival belt holders in 2018, is finally here: a superfight that will crown the first lineal welterweight king since Floyd Mayweather, and the first undisputed champion since Zab Judah, seventeen years ago.       –Matt O’Brien

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