By Don Buchan
It has been said by some “in the know” that Floyd Patterson could have remained a light heavyweight and gone down in history as one of the greatest, but he entered the unlimited ranks because, as Willie Sutton said of banks, “That’s where the money is.”
Many light heavyweights have aspired to the heavyweight throne. It is said that Bob Fitzsimmons weighed only 157 when he stopped “Gentleman” Jim Corbett for the heavyweight diadem.
Philadelphia Jack O’Brien, a clever boxer who knew – and used – all the tricks, held Tommy Burns to a 20-round draw before Burns won the unlimited crown. But in a rematch in 1907, Burns won a 20-round decision. Jack Root, a light heavy, fought Marvin Hart for the title vacated by Jim Jeffries. Although Root had won over Kid McCoy, Hart was too much and got the nod after 12 rounds.
Georges Carpentier, the Orchid Man, tried to lift Dempsey’s scalp in 1921, but was counted out in four heats. John Henry Lewis beat Bob Olin once by decision and once by KO but, in 1939, Joe Louis took him out quickly.
Billy Conn was ahead of Joe Louis in 1941 when he elected to go for broke in an effort to stop the Brown Bomber and was counted out for his effrontery. Later Louis took him out even quicker.
Joey Maxim, the punchless wonder, tackled many heavyweights, including Ezzard Charles, but never could take out the top big boys. Maxim lost to Archie Moore. The Ancient One tackled Rocky Marciano and had the doleful decimal tolled over him in nine innings. Ol’ Archie tried again when he faced Floyd Patterson. At that time, Archie was forty going on fifty and Floyd took him out in five.
Bob Foster, one of the great 175-pounders, found Frazier and Ali too big and strong although Foster had a punch that spelled “finis” to just about every light heavy he faced.
Tommy Loughran, one of the most clever, wanted to go where the money was, and he tackled Jack Sharkey. The story is told that Sharkey knew Philadelphia Tommy was a dancing master and as skillful as any top flight boxer in history, so he decided to do something unorthodox, hoping to surprise the Philadelphian. He tossed a cold right hand which Loughran didn’t expect and Sharkey was the victor. Later, in 1934, Tommy also dropped a 15-rounder for the heavyweight title to Primo Carnera.
Jack Delaney, the scourge of the 175-pounders, found the big fellows too big also. Tom Heeney outpunched him in 15 rounds as he invaded the heavier division.
The old adage seems to hold good in most instances – a good big man will beat a good smaller man.
(Note: Since this story was originally published in Boxing Digest in 1980, Michael Spinks and Roy Jones have both ascended to the heavyweight throne after winning light heavyweight titles)