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Old 02-27-2008, 05:29 AM   #1
fists of fury
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Default The 'obscure fighters who coulda' thread

This thread is about unknown or obscure fighters, long since forgotten, who had the talent to get to the top, but for whatever reason they never did.

We know about the likes of Tony Ayala or Ike Ibeabuchi, but what about the real unknowns that could have been somebody? This is what this thread's about. So, fellow fans, dust off those old magazines and books, and let's give a shout to these fighters.

To kick things off, I'm going to talk about Gert "Hottie" Van Heerden, a man blessed with an abundance of natural ability, but who could never shake off his personal demons.

He was nicknamed "hottie" as he was a southpaw, and southpaw in Afrikaans is "hotklou". He started as a middleweight and developed into a light-heavyweight who nearly fought Willy Pastrano for the title.

Those who saw Van Heerden at his best claimed he was a fighter with no real weakness - he had a smooth, economical style, good power in both hands, a rapier jab and was as tough as teak.

Unfortunately for him, his first three fights all ended in defeat, once by DQ and he was beaten twice by Billy Lotter, a great and more exprienced prospect who would eventually win the SA national heavyweight title.
Van Heerden was then more carefully matched, and he went on a long unbeaten run, capturing the national middlewight title and runnig out of local opposition. He also fought in Zimbabwe, the UK, and New Zealand, where he greatly impressed.
Unfortunately Van Heerden, even when on this unbeaten run, was struggling hard to surpress his inner demons. He was frequently in street fights and was prone to drinking and stealing, which earned him a few short stints in prison.
Van Heerden was not a bad person, but he simply could never shake the bad influences of his youth.
His next loss was to Del Flanagan, who was totally outclassed from the first bell. Van Heerden was eventually disqualified for repeated low blows, which was quite odd because he was not by nature a dirty fighter.
Although his record mostly contains victories over unknowns, one of his most notable opponents was Mike Holt, an extremely popular and colourful boxer, whom he beat twice. Holt was for several years on the fringes of the world rankings, and fought the likes of Yolande Pompey, Yvonne Durelle, Carl 'Bobo' Olsen and Willie Pastrano.

It was after Van Heerden's second defeat of Holt (which earned him the national light-heavyweight title) that his management flew to Miami to hold talks with Angelo Dundee, the manager and trainer of Willie Pastrano, who at the time was the reigning light-heavyweight champion of the world.
An agreement in principle between the two parties was reached for Pastrano to defend his title against Van Heerden, but sadly for Van Heerden nothing more concrete ever materilaised. There is little doubt from my perspective that Van Heerden would have given Pastrano the fright (and fight) of his life.

Although Van Heerden continued to notch up victories, his wayward lifestyle and his growing disenchantment with boxing was starting to catch up with him. He finally lost again in a bid for the national heavyweight title, and his final defeat was to Jan Pieterse, a man whom Van Heerden would have toyed with a few years before.

Sadly, Van Heerden's story does not end happily. In his retirement, he became a lay preacher. Van Heerden, despite his rough lifestyle, always had deep respect for religion, something that was ingrained in him from a young age. For many years, he was finally able to exorcise the demons that had such a bad influence on his life, and he even went so far as to destroy all belongings, including his boxing photos, that reminded him of his former "wild life."
Sadly though, he spent the final thirty-odd years of his life in a mental institution.

But what could he have been?

Here's his ring record:

[Only registered and activated users can see links. ]
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Old 02-27-2008, 06:53 AM   #2
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Default Re: The 'obscure fighters who coulda' thread

Jeff Wooden.

6'3" but generally a fairly light 210-220lbs, the southpaw Wooden quickly rattled off 11 wins over weak opposition, including a majority decision over trialhorse Marion Wilson, before facing off in 1996 against Chris Byrd in front of 12,000 people in Michigan. Wooden matched the slippery Byrd punch for punch, and going into the 10th and final round had a chance to get a draw if he won it. Unfortunately, Wooden tired and Byrd was able to win the round and the fight by a close UD10.

Racking up 6 more wins (and 1 shock knockout loss in 4 to durable journeyman Everton Davies), Wooden was chosen by Don Turner to face the massive 22-0 Michael Grant in early 1997. Wooden was dwarfed but refused to be intimidated and kept on throwing punch after punch, battling Grant evenly by sheer workrate and willpower. Throwing his jabs in threes and fours was particularly effective. Yet again, Wooden entered the 10th and final round with a real chance to claim a draw. But sadly yet again, Wooden was exhausted. He was rocked by several hard shots and lost by split-decision in 10.

The very next fight, Wooden gave the similarly 22-0 Hasim Rahman a struggle before getting knocked out in the 9th. He finished 1997 by losing again by split-decision, this time to the unheralded James Gaines.

At the start of 1998, Wooden found himself lined up to face David Tua, 28-1 and hot on the heels of an IBF title shot (which he would secure at the end of the same year against Rahman). Tua came in heavier than usual and his problems against slick boxers was evidenced yet again, as he landed hard single shots but was frustrated by the busy Wooden and his jabbing. However, a big win would still elude Wooden, as the judges favoured Tua's heavier punches and awarded him a majority-decision.

Wooden finished his career by swapping points decisions with Derrick Banks, before finally taking on Oleg Maskaev in 1999. Dropped heavily in the 1st, Wooden never got his legs back and lost TKO3, deciding to finally hang his gloves up at the age of 31.

He was a pro boxer for only 5 years, and never challenged for a title, but Wooden is a classic example of the thin line between success and failure. Literally, if you changed just 3 rounds in Wooden's career to his favour, he would've had draws against Chris Byrd and Michael Grant, and beaten David Tua.

Instead, he's an 'obscure fighter who coulda'.
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Old 02-27-2008, 07:19 AM   #3
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Default Re: The 'obscure fighters who coulda' thread

Great post, Damon. Thanks.
Isn't it scary how as you say, how thin the dividing line between success and failure can be?
It also showcases the importance of a good manager.
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Old 02-27-2008, 08:15 AM   #4
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Default Re: The 'obscure fighters who coulda' thread

Didn't the middleweight Sanderline Williams similarly suffer split decision losses to some of the division's best in a competitive era (late 80s/early 90s) ?
Williams is remembered as a "tough opponent" but if judges had swung his way against those same opponents he might have been viewed as a star.
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