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Fighting Words

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SPORTS ILLUSTRATED HAS always had a chemistry with the sweet science. The magazine's first issue, dated Aug. 16, 1954, had a boxing column by Budd Schulberg, who that same year won an Academy Award for writing the screenplay for On the Waterfront. In the 63 years since, boxing has become one of only eight sports to have graced the cover at least 100 times. Along the way SI has written dozens of prefight analyses. With this week's Floyd Mayweather--Conor McGregor showdown approaching (page 52), here is a look back at the hits—and misses—of a few past predictions.

SEPT. 19, 1955

ROCKY MARCIANO VS. ARCHIE MOORE

SI SAID

"There are weaknesses in the argument for Marciano. Most of his brief record was made against unknowns in New England.... He is, in fact, compounded of all that makes a club fighter—heedless of defense, a hard-charging, free-swinging mass of aggression. The name fighters Marciano has defeated were over the hill by the time Rocky got to them."

—Ezra Bowen and Martin Kane

RESULT

Moore, then 38, gave Marciano only his second knockdown ever but lost in the ninth round. Marciano never fought again, retiring with a 49--0 record.

FEB. 24, 1964

MUHAMMAD ALI VS. SONNY LISTON

SI SAID

"For all his speed and youth and the completeness of his arsenal of punches, Cassius Clay's best weapon against Sonny Liston may be his very arrogance, his youthful, absurd confidence. He has a chance if he fights his fight ... if he pops and runs and forces Liston to come after him, he may last. He might even win."

—Tex Maule

RESULT

The magazine's prescription for a victory by the man who would be known as Muhammad Ali proved prescient: He "shook up the world" with a seventh-round TKO.

NOV. 24, 1980

ROBERTO DURAN VS. SUGAR RAY LEONARD

SI SAID

"He had [already] gone the distance with Duran and discovered that the myth was only a mortal after all.... Some say, put tactics aside, view the bout as a struggle between a champion who has reached the limit of his will and a challenger who is on the verge of reaching it now. 'You're watching a contest of wills more than skills,' says [veteran manager/trainer Cus] D'Amato."

—William Nack

RESULT

Leonard, the challenger, showed plenty of skill and was leading in the eighth round when Duran lost his will and quit, famously saying, "No más."

JUNE 30, 1997

EVANDER HOLYFIELD VS. MIKE TYSON

SI SAID

"Last year, Holyfield's refusal to knuckle under frustrated Tyson in the early rounds and surely led to Tyson's being knocked out. 'All of a sudden, because I'm not intimidated, he has to think,' Holyfield explains. 'When he has to think he has a little more pressure than he's used to.'"

—Richard Hoffer

RESULT

Again Holyfield pressured Tyson, whose reaction led SI to label him, on its July 7 cover, a "Madman." In the third round Tyson bit both of Holyfield's ears—taking off a chunk of the left one—and was disqualified.

MAY 7, 2007

OSCAR DE LA HOYA VS. FLOYD MAYWEATHER

SI SAID

"In short, De La Hoya--Mayweather just might be boxing's last megafight, the last event of its kind, the last time a bout features two widely known athletes and is a topic of national interest."

—R.H.

RESULT

Mayweather won the fight in a 12-round decision that was watched by an estimated 2.4 million people on pay-per-view. Eight years later that number was topped by the 4.6 million who saw him beat Manny Pacquiao, again by decision. An estimated 5.3 million are expected to tune in Saturday, proving that the sport can never be knocked out.