Jimmy Young Biography
Developed Unique Fighting Style, Fought His Way to Top Contenders, Beat Foreman Fought Ali
The 1970s have gone down in boxing history as the golden age of the heavyweights. Muhammad Ali was in the midst of his lock on the heavyweight championship title. George Foreman was a force to be feared. Boxing matches were glamorous, primetime events grabbing the adoration of fans, celebrities, and the general public. Smack in the middle of the glory was another heavyweight, one all but forgotten by history. Jimmy Young held his own in the ring against all the big names of the time. He was admired by aficionados and feared by the fiercest gloves in the game. So what happened? "He was brilliant," boxing historian Bert Randolph Sugar told the New York Times. "The problem is that he was in one of the best classes of heavyweights ever, and all the other stars had bigger punches."
Developed Unique Fighting Style
Jimmy Young was born to William David and Ruth Ethel Young on November 16, 1948, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. His hometown had a long boxing tradition and by the time Young got interested in the ring, gold medalist and heavyweight champion Joe Frazier was the town's undisputed boxing king. His Broad Street gym was the heart of Philly boxing, and the place Young would hang out after school. By the age of 14, Young was enamored with the sport and began training with a passion. Years later he told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, "People ask me why I love this sport. So brutal. So hard. I tell them what I'll tell you. I love it."
At six-foot-one and with an average weight of 211 pounds, Young was small for a heavyweight—a boxing class that includes fighters weighing over 200 pounds. What he lacked in girth he made up for in originality. In the ring he was slick, deftly dodging punches and confusing opponents. "His style was hard to interpret. Some considered him a boxer and others viewed him as a counter-puncher. He was known for being extremely hard to hit," boxing journalist and friend of Young's, Frank Lotierzo wrote on the Philly Boxing History Web site. Top boxing critic Joe Amato noted on the Hardcore Boxing Web site, "Jimmy was not an exciting fighter but he was well schooled. He was a real master of his craft." He added, "He had a very good right hand counter that had some pop to it. He was also a decent body puncher who was not afraid to mix it up on the inside. He was not overly great at one thing but was very adept at doing a lot of things." The only thing that Young lacked was the very thing that has to come to define heavyweight glory—a solid knock-out punch.
Young became a professional boxer in 1969 in a New Year's Day bout against Jimmy Gilmore. He won the bout in a four round decision by the judges. Boxing matches can be won by knock-outs or judgment decisions, especially when there are few punches to count. Because of his punch-ducking style, Young's fights were often decided by judges. Over the next three years Young had nine more professional fights, four ending in points victories, two in knock-out victories, and three in losses.
Fought His Way to Top Contenders
For his eleventh fight, Young's managers put him up against Earnie Shavers. One of the most fearsome heavyweight fighters of the 1970s, Shavers was revered for his explosive punches. It was a monumental mismatch. Shavers had 44 professional fights under his belt (42 wins) to Young's ten fights. "This fight can only be rationalized by someone in the Young faction who was desperately in need of money, or due to total ineptness on the part of the person who had the final say," Lotierzo wrote. To no one's surprise, Young was knocked out by the third round.
From 1973 to 1974 Young continued to rack up wins in the ring. He also began to fight overseas, traveling to Venezuela and London. In November of 1974 Young faced Shavers for a second time. This time he was ready. The fight lasted the scheduled ten rounds and was declared a draw by the judges, meaning neither fighter was awarded a win. Lotierzo noted, "Over the years I've talked to more than a few fighters and trainers who were at the fight and saw it live. Everyone says the same thing. Young won it." Disagreements between judges and spectators would become a trend to hound Young's career.
Young's next major match was against Ron Lyle in Honolulu, Hawaii. Lyle was considered one of the top fighters in the world at that time and had his eyes on a run for the heavyweight championship, then held by Muhammad Ali. He was favored to beat Young. The pair went the full ten rounds before the fight was awarded to Young in a unanimous decision by the judges. First Shavers, then Lyle, Young had arrived center ring with the top boxers of the decade. By 1976 he was ranked ninth in the world.
Beat Foreman Fought Ali
Young's record stood at 17 wins, 4 losses, and 2 draws—good enough to send him to the World Heavyweight Championships to challenge Ali for the title. The April 30, 1976, fight would mark Ali's seventh bout in defense of his title. True to his style, Young came out hopping all over the ring. Ali—who was nearing the end of his prime—appeared out of shape and seemed confused by Young's fighting. Young made Ali work hard and landed several severe blows on the champ including one that burst Ali's ear drum. After 15 long rounds, the judges decided to score. The crowd thought Young had won. The judges disagreed. Against sporadic booing, the judges awarded the fight to Ali, letting him retain his title as Heavyweight Champion of the World. Young was not bitter. "To beat Ali in those days, you really had to beat him bad," the New York Times quoted him as saying.
Despite the loss, Young's showing in the Ali fight kept him at the top the list of possible title contenders. The others included Lyle, George Foreman, and Ken Norton. In November of 1976, Young beat Lyle in a 12th round unanimous decision by the judges. Young moved up to third ranked heavyweight in the world and traveled to Puerto Rico to face George Foreman, then ranked number one. The fight was billed as a title elimination round and televised worldwide. Foreman was favored to win. Those odds had not stopped Young before and he went in with his trademark ducking and flurrying, and over the course of 12 rounds outfought Big George to another unanimous decision win. The loss sent Foreman into a ten-year retirement and the bout was labeled "the fight of the year" by influential boxing magazine The Ring.
Young was set to make his way back to a title match; however, first he had to face Ken Norton, who had slipped up to number one after Foreman retired. Young was number two. The pair met on November 5, 1977, in Las Vegas. During the bout, both fighters fought well, though Norton staggered a few times as a result of Young's blows. By the end of the 15th round, the judges were called on to score. Again, the crowd, Young, and even Norton himself, expected a win for Young. It was not to be. The judges awarded the fight to Norton. Unlike the loss to Ali, this one shook Young. "After that, it was like his heart went out of boxing," Young's cousin and former boxer Bobby "Boogaloo" Watts told a reporter for the AP Worldstream. "He began losing to fighters he never should have lost to." Young hung on for ten more years despite suffering a string of embarrassing losses and a number of unscrupulous managers. He retired in 1988 and by the 1990s was broke and showing the effects of pugilistica dementia, a condition caused by repeated blows to the head. The symptoms are slowed speech, loss of brain function, and an inability to focus—many afflicted boxers turn to drugs and alcohol and Young was no different. By the 2000s, Young was battling alcoholism and homelessness. He suffered a heart attack in January of 2005 and died on February 20, 2005, at Hahnemann University Hospital in Philadelphia.
AP Worldstream, February 23, 2005.
New York Times, February 24, 2005.
Philadelphia Tribune, February 25, 2005.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 25, 1996.
Times (London, England), March 4, 2005.
"Jimmy Young: A Career Worth Remembering," Philly Boxing History, www.phillyboxinghistory.com/extras/young_lotierzo_part1.htm (August 1, 2005).
"Jimmy Young Remembered," Hardcore Boxing, www.hardcoreboxing.net/Amato2252005.htm (August 1, 2005).
Ring Magazine, www.thering-online.com, (August 31, 2005).
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