“When friends get together inside that circle it can go one of two ways. They either know each other so well it becomes boring, or they just suspend all friendship, and they go at each other.”
– Ferdie Pacheco
FRIENDS becoming rivals and fighting one another is nothing new to boxing.
When Joshua Buatsi and Dan Azeez stand across from one another inside the ring on Saturday night, their own friendship and respect for one another will be cast aside. How tight the bond is between the two Londoners is unknown but having trained together, sparred one another and spent time in each other’s company there appears to be a liking for one another at least.
Over its history boxing has never been short of a storyline and a sub-plot to help strengthen the sale of a fight to the public. But when two friends come together to try and better the other what is at stake is potentially much more than a win or a belt.
Boxing News brings you a selection of five fights where for one night friends or former friends attempted to beat each other up.
July 26, 1971 – Muhammad Ali vs Jimmy Ellis (Ali won by 12th round TKO)
The two Kentuckians came through the amateur scene together and shared one win apiece after two bouts. With Ellis’s professional career stalling, Ali convinced his trainer Angelo Dundee to train and manage his friend. When they arrived in Texas for their bout dubbed ‘The Inevitable Fight’, Dundee chose to work the corner of Ellis while Harry Wiley, former trainer to Sugar Ray Robinson, led Ali’s corner. ‘The Greatest’ danced around and picked off the undersized Ellis, who gave away 30lbs in weight on the night and was stopped in the 12th round.
April 7, 1978 – Bruce Curry vs Monroe Brooks (Curry won by 9th round TKO)
Former roommates and friends, Curry vs Brooks had turned into a light-welterweight grudge match by the time they met at the Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles. The nature of their feud was never fully revealed but one strong rumour centred around a woman whom they both liked. In the second round the more experienced Brooks was dropped by a huge left hook. After surviving the knockdown both went after one another, but the power of Donald’s older brother won the day, with another left hook in the ninth frame ending matters. Whatever their problem, they unleashed hell on each other in a hidden gem of the 1970s.
February 14, 1987 – Evander Holyfield vs Henry Tillman (Holyfield won by 7th round TKO)
Three years earlier Holyfield and Tillman were part of the great USA team at the Los Angeles Olympics, where the former won cruiserweight bronze and the latter won heavyweight gold. The two had become great friends. When they faced off as cruisers in the pro ranks, Holyfield was WBA champion and Tillman was number one contender. Their fight, dubbed “The St Valentine’s Day Massacre”, proved to be a one-sided affair, with Tillman dropped four times in total, including three times in round seven when the bout was stopped. Five months later Holyfield attended Tillman’s wedding as one of his groomsmen.
March 18, 1991 – Simon Brown vs Maurice Blocker (Brown won by 10th round TKO)
Brown once described he and Blocker as “blood brothers”. Friends since 1979, the two welterweights fought each other at The Mirage in Las Vegas in 1991. The fact it was a unification felt secondary to the two men fighting one another five years after they said they wouldn’t. In the captivating action that followed you wouldn’t have believed they were best friends, with both of them continually trying to land knockout blows. Blocker was dropped early in the 10th but soon recovered. However, Brown, sensing the end was near, showed no mercy and several jolting shots forced Mills Lane to stop the fight.
November 2, 2002 – Marco Antonio Barrera vs Johnny Tapia (Barrera won by unanimous decision)
Johnny Tapia’s best days were behind him when he fought Marco Antonio Barrera in 2002. It had been five years since his electrifying win against Danny Romero at super-flyweight. His classics with Paulie Ayala in 1999 and 2000 ended in losses but Tapia loved and also needed to fight due to the fact personal issues were never far away. The night of April 7, 2001 saw Tapia accompany Barrera to the ring and watch his friend bring Naseem Hamed down to earth. When Tapia walked a bit further and got into the ring with Barrera at the MGM Grand, he gave a good account of himself in defeat. Their friendship did not suffer, however, because of their fight. Barrera classed Tapia as family and the two men had enormous respect for one another.