By Mark Martinez
In the 90s, at least once a month, on a Saturday, you went to an uncle’s house to watch boxing. HBO, or Showtime, had great boxing cards lined up, even without Pay-Per- View. When I sit back and think about it, we didn’t realize we were witnessing the end of a Golden Era. Every weight class had more than four or five competitors that were soon to be legends.
The Welterweight class alone had a Murderers’ Row of top ranked fighters. Felix Trinidad was Puerto Rico’s pride and glory. Trinidad fought, from 1990 to early 2001, without losing a single bout. What impressed me the most about Trinidad was how many top contenders he defeated throughout the years. Trinidad was Puerto Rico. No other boxer from the homeland has been able to have the same impact on the sport as he did.
Miguel Cotto came close but, by that time, boxing was already on the decline.
The Top Ten Welterweights in the nineties were a mixture of fresh young talented headhunters and crafty old veterans. Names like Pernell Whitaker, who was a Top Ten pound for pound fighter throughout the entire nineties, was a Southpaw champion, with Olympic Gold ties, and tremendous defense. Well-respected by his peers, and in the boxing community, Whitaker has a laundry list of great fighters who got beat on the scorecard repeatedly.
Being that I am a huge Felix Trinidad fan, this next fighter was on the opposite end of my spectrum. Oscar De La Hoya, who I greatly respect as a fighter, and Olympian, was also atop the pound-for-pound list. I never considered De La Hoya above, or below, the top of the Welterweight division.
Tremendous champion all around, no question about it, but, I just didn’t feel he had the same backing as Trinidad. After the controversial loss to Felix, I never felt like he was the same again. Although the De La Hoya vs Ike Quartey fight was by far one of the greatest matches in the nineties, the scorecard was slightly off after a re-watch.
The next set of veterans have over 276 wins combined. Julio Cesar Chavez, Buddy Mcgirt, Frankie Randall, and Meldrick Taylor were all great boxers in their prime. By the mid nineties, this group was more on the back-end of their careers.Chavez was striding to just get 100 wins as a personal mark, taking lesser fights to get there. Buddy Mcgirt was a steady contender from the eighties through the mid nineties. True boxing fans will remember him as a fighter, most will remember him for being a great trainer, known for training Arturo Gatti, Antonio Tarver, and Hasim Rahman, to name a few. Mcgirt has also been named trainer of the year.
Frankie Randall had his most notable win against Julio Cesar Chavez for the WBC Light Welterweight Title. In the rematch with Chavez, he would lose it as fast as he won it. Randall wasn’t the biggest star, but was a tough opponent for young talent, coming up through the ranks. Meldrick Taylor was an up- and-coming Olympic Gold medalist. When he fought Julio Cesar Chavez, he was still undefeated. Chavez was also undefeated at this time (66-0). This was Taylor’s most memorable fight, an extremely controversial ending to a great fight. With seconds left in the fight, referee Richard Steele stopped the fight after Chavez knocked Taylor down. Some would say Meldrick Taylor would never be the same.
The nineties in boxing was a golden era. All these fighters were Welterweights, not to mention the younger guns who would later come through it. Shane Mosley, Kostya Tszyu, and Zab Judah would round up the Welterweight division. Boxing was a juggernaut in the nineties, still having Mike Tyson around, Roy Jones Jr. dominating any, and all, divisions he could get into. Bernard Hopkins and James Toney would make their mark in the same era, not to mention, the Heavyweight Division, with Evander Holyfield, Big George Foreman, and Lennox Lewis.
The sport of boxing was at its peak in the nineties. More than one cable network carried the sport, more than one promoter making big fights. The Pay-Per-Views were worth it. The undercards were just as good as the main events. The barbershop talk of who was better, pound for pound, was always a topic of discussion. My question is, how could a sport that was once so strong, die so abruptly? The emerging UFC wasn’t as big as it is now. The talent has just seemed to have stopped. Nowadays if you could name 10 contenders throughout the entire boxing association, I’d be amazed.