By Tyson Bruce
Mark “Too Sharp” Johnson vs. Johnny Tapia:
When & What Weight:
1999 & 115 LBS
Why It Never Happened & How It Would Have Gone:
The 1990’s was a golden era for guys in the smaller weight classes, as Naseem Hamed and Michael Carbajal brought unprecedented attention and riches to the smaller weight divisions. If you go back and flip through old Ring Magazines from the 90’s you will see two names consistently appearing on the ‘Pound for Pound’ lists: Mark Johnson and Johnny Tapia. Johnson in particular was regarded with prestigious acclaim, getting as high as number four on many lists. Tapia had tremendous personality and a tragically flawed soul. His life could provide material for a Greek tragedy. He was involved in one of the biggest fights in flyweight history against fellow Albuquerque native Danny Romero, putting on a virtuoso performance that ranks among the finest in division history.
So why didn’t these guys ever fight? The most prevalent theory is that Tapia flatly ducked Johnson. Critics that support this theory point out that Johnson frequently called Tapia out after victories, including a memorable challenge after his break-out win over Arthur Johnson in 1998. Tapia also vacated his super bantamweight title in 1999 when Johnson moved up in weight. This appears to be the point when a potential fight would have been the most desirable. At the time Tapia was a remarkable 42-0-2 and Johnson was 36-1. Instead of fighting for the vacant IBF title against Ratanachai Sor Vorapin, Johnson could have met Tapia before the latter made the move to bantamweight.
This fight would undoubtedly have been a fiercely competitive and highly skilled affair. Johnson was simply an outstanding talent during his prime and watching him was like witnessing poetry in motion. Tapia, as skilled as he was, could not match Johnson’s explosiveness. Arthur Johnson, a common opponent, lost a razor thin majority decision to Tapia but was blasted out in less than a round by “Too Sharp” Johnson. Johnson had the ability to have the occasional easy night in the ring because of his punching power, whereas Tapia was often forced into tougher fights because of his modest punch. In a matchup where so many things would have been virtually equal this advantage could be critical.
Tapia was not an easy out for anybody. Until the much larger Marco Antonia Barrera basically routed him in 2002 he could very well have been undefeated. Even when his amazing skill set didn’t surface (which did happen on occasion) his incredible chin and warrior’s heart usually bailed him out of trouble. However, Tapia, especially later in his career, too frequently let his heart outweigh his brain. Against Paulie Ayala, who like Johnson was a southpaw, he could have separated himself with his superior boxing skills but instead opted for a slugfest. Johnson was not prone to the same lapses in focus and during his peak he would have used his speed and skills to maximum effect. In the end, Johnson’s slight edge in overall talent and punching power would see him win a close but decisive decision victory over the popular Tapia.
5. Floyd Mayweather Jr. vs. Naseem Hamed
When & What Weight:
2001 at 130 LBS.
Why It never Happened & How It Would Have Gone:
When a young Floyd Mayweather was torching the junior lightweight division in the late 1990’s few of his most optimistic supporters could have predicted what a huge star he would become. It took him years of pugilistic perfection and time spent in Oscar De La Hoya’s shadow before he would eventually become the game’s biggest star. However, what if he had met the wildly popular and equally loathed Naseem Hamed in 2001? A Mayweather victory would have greatly accelerated his profile and potentially changed his entire public dynamic as a star. After all, they were both franchise fighters on HBO and were separated by just one weight division. At the time Mayweather openly grumbled about Hamed’s huge paychecks and comparatively referred to his own as, “slave wages.” After Mayweather’s career best performance against Diego Corrales he even called out the Prince in an interview with Larry Merchant. Merchant curtly replied, “The Prince is not going to fight you.” He wasn’t wrong. Remember how long it took HBO just to get Hamed in the ring with another elite featherweight? It’s a damn shame because if Hamed was a different kind of personality it could have been the Leonard-Hearns of the featherweight division. Alas, his ego and undefeated record came above all other concerns—sounds familiar right?
The lasting image of Hamed’s career for most boxing fans is of him getting humiliated and smashed into a turn buckle by Marco Antonio Barrera. Hamed’s incredible hubris had finally come back to haunt him that one humbling Las Vegas night. The loss hurt his legacy so much that despite his many years of total ring dominance he has yet to be inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame. For more recent boxing fans this was like Broner-Maidana on crack. It’s a shame because Hamed was a force of nature in the ring. He is unquestionably the hardest puncher in featherweight history. Trainer Emanuel Steward once stated that he hit the hand pads harder than Lennox Lewis. Hamed was also blessed with remarkable reflexes, which he used to create a highly unconventional style that made him a nightmare to deal with in the ring. His freakish power, ridiculous antics and boisterous personality single handedly revolutionized the lower weight divisions. Before Hamed featherweights never made million dollar purses.
The promotion for this fight would have been nothing short of amazing. Can you imagine the press conferences and the weigh-in? You wouldn’t have been able to find a ballroom big enough to fit both of those egos in. It would have been hilarious, shameful, and historic all at the same time. This fight makes the list because it would have been one of the most lucrative fights in featherweight/junior lightweight history and not because it would have been the most competitive. At junior lightweight Mayweather was as close to a perfect fighter as one can imagine. His performances against Genaro Hernandez and Diego Corrales were spellbinding. Because of his power, Hamed, especially if he was in top condition, would have been dangerous as long as he was standing. That said, Mayweather’s full arsenal of sublime speed, punching power, and technical perfection would have made mincemeat of the more one dimensional Hamed. The real question is how the victory would have changed the career of Floyd Mayweather? It’s remarkable to think about how just one fight could have changed the entire future of the sport.