- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
In the first few minutes after winning a unanimous decision over Marlon Starling at Bally's Hotel in Atlantic City last Saturday, WBA and International Boxing Federation welterweight champion Donald Curry was characteristically impassive, but then, as his handlers led him to a press conference, Curry brightened and found a bit of humor in the dark glasses he'd put on to conceal a swelling under his left eyebrow. "Lookin' like Ray," he said gaily.
Leonard, that is, not Charles. Indeed, against the tough and talented Starling, Curry put on an artful display of combinations, speed and defense that only Leonard among today's middle division boxers could match. Which may be one reason that Leonard, the former undisputed world welterweight champion who's about to embark on a comeback, has avoided adding Curry to his list of notable prospective opponents that now numbers Milton McCrory, Roberto Duran and Thomas Hearns.
Neither Curry, though a world champion at 22, nor Starling had much marquee value before last week's bout, and each was hoping to obtain some with an impressive victory. The winner would then enter the multimillion-dollar sweepstakes that seems sure to result from Leonard's return to the ring after two years of inactivity.
Curry, now 18-0 with 13 knockouts, holds half of Leonard's old 147-pound title, and he's recognized as a superb technician. In his first bout with Starling 16 months ago, which Curry won on a split decision, he'd used his deft footwork and left jab to keep out of danger. He said he was forced to resort to those tactics because he felt weak after steaming off three pounds the day of the bout to make the 147-pound limit.
Since then he'd been criticized for lacking the finishing power and, most disturbing, the fortitude of a champion. Starling had been Curry's loudest critic; he'd taken to calling Curry—who bills himself as the Lone Star Cobra because he's from Texas—the Lone Star Chicken.
Starling, 25, the self-proclaimed Magic Man and the best fighter out of Hartford, Conn. since Willie Pep, brought a 30-1 record with 20 KOs into Saturday's bout. He also vowed not to indulge in the clowning that had cost him points in his first fight with Curry. "I did everything I wanted in that first fight but win," said Starling, who's ranked No. 2 by the WBA. "I was the boss, but I let him run too much. He out-thought me, and I can't let this kid do that."
From the opening bell Saturday, the 5'10�" Curry largely eschewed his vaunted jab and instead crowded Starling, beating him to the punch with short hooks and showing surprising strength by bulling his stockier opponent—Starling is 5'8�"—into the ropes. In the sixth round Curry knocked Starling back with a sharp right to the head, and at the bell the challenger wore a respectful look. Starling won some of the middle rounds, doing most of his damage with right uppercuts, but Curry finished strong: In the 15th round Starling was in danger of being knocked down for the first time in his pro career. Although Curry suffered a cut inside his lower lip along with the wound that caused the swelling above his eye and never had Starling in serious trouble, he won easily on all three cards.
"I showed everyone I was tough," Curry said. "People say Donald Curry likes to run a lot, that he has no heart. I think I showed heart today."
Starling offered no excuses. "Curry came out with 'c'mon' in his eye, and he took some shots," he said. "He fought from his heart, and he had the heart of a champion."
But Curry's tactics didn't impress his manager, Dave Gorman, a Fort Worth contractor. "I knew Donald was going to get macho," he said. "I thought he would take Starling out, but he avoided what he does best. Don's fight is to keep the guy off balance by changing punching angles and then firing."