When Clearwater’s Keith Thurman steps in the ring in Las Vegas on Saturday night to put his 29-0 record on the line against Manny Pacquiao for the WBA welterweight title, he’ll also be fighting for his place in Tampa Bay boxing history.
It will be difficult to deny Thurman a spot atop any list. His status takes a significant leap with a win. But there are other contenders for best all-time locally — either Tampa Bay natives or boxers who fought here for a portion of their careers.
We polled some experts, among them former Tampa Bay Times columnist and boxing writer John Cotey, Tampa native and former Tampa Tribune college sports editor and Tampa Bay boxing historian David Alfonso, and Tampa native and longtime boxing ring announcer Mark Beiro.
Ronald “Winky” Wright was born in Washington D.C. but moved to St. Petersburg. A wildly successful amateur, Wright went 51-6-1 as a professional and was a two-time junior middleweight champion. His signature fight was in 2005, when he dominated Felix Trinidad for 12 rounds, only the second loss of Trinidad’s storied career. Wright was elected to the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 2017.
John “The Beast” Mugabi
The Uganda native made Tampa his home in the 1980s. A fierce puncher and silver medalist at the 1980 Moscow Olympics, Alfonso says “(Mugabi) had the misfortune to come along in a great era of welterweights and middleweights that included Sugar Ray Leonard, Tommy Hearns, Marvin Hagler and Roberto Duran.” In 1986, Mugabi fought Hagler and gave the Marvelous one all he could handle for 10 rounds before he succumbed in the 11th. Mugabi finished his career 42-7-1 and is enshrined in the Florida Boxing Hall of Fame.
Our Golden Boy. Edward Loring Flynn was born in New Orleans, but his family settled in Tampa. Flynn enjoyed a remarkable amateur career (144-0, including U.S. titles in 1931 and 1932), then won four bouts in five days at the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics to win a gold medal as a welterweight. He went 14-1 as a pro before choosing dental school and a successful career. Flynn is in the Florida Boxing Hall of Fame.
The Tampa native was a hard-punching heavyweight whose best fighting may have come during World War II, when he received a Purple Heart for serious wounds suffered during The Battle of the Bulge. Legend had it that Gomez still had shrapnel in his body when he resumed his boxing career. Gomez was ranked when he fought Jersey Joe Walcott in 1946 with a possible shot at world champ Joe Louis on the line, but Walcott knocked out Gomez, who finished his career 75-9-2 (65 K0s) and became a successful insurance salesman. Gomez, who died in 2006, is in the Florida Boxing Hall of Fame.
While Tarver lived in Tampa Bay only sporadically, there is no disputing his credentials. He won a bronze medal at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and held multiple light heavyweight world championships as well as the IBO light heavyweight and cruiserweight titles. He fought 39 times, with 31 wins and 22 knockouts. Tarver’s most famous battles were with Roy Jones Jr. In 2003 Tarver lost a decision to Jones but came back in 2004 and knocked out Jones for the belt.
Carl “Red” Guggino
A Tampa native who in the 1930s achieved a No. 5 lightweight ranking. Guggino was officially 124-51-25 in a 17-year career. Guggino never won a title, but did appear on 10 cards at New York’s Madison Square Garden and fought Sugar Ray Robinson (lost in four rounds) in Robinson’s second year as a pro. Guggino, who died in 1988, is in the Florida Boxing Hall of Fame.
The Ohio native had his best years fighting out of Tampa as a middleweight/light heavyweight in the 1940s and 1950s. Nardico, who won two Purple Hearts and a Silver Star as a Marine in World War II, was 50-13-4 (35 KOs), including a 1952 seventh-round TKO over Jake LaMotta, the only knockdown in the Raging Bull’s 106-fight career. Nardico later dabbled in professional wrestling. He is in the Florida Boxing Hall of Fame.
Licata, a ranked middleweight in the 1970s, was from New Orleans, but had strong ties to Tampa, fighting for manager Lou Viscusi. Licata was 60-7-4 as a pro, including a 1975 KO loss to undefeated world champion Carlos Monzon.
Oscar “Chino’’ Alvarez
Alvarez was a Cuban-born lightweight who settled in Tampa. He was 123-39-17 (75 KOs). His hotly-hyped bout with Carl Guggino drew a crowd of about 6,000 to Tampa’s Benjamin Field (later Fort Homer Hesterly Armory). Guggino won a 10-round decision. Alvarez is a member of the Florida Boxing Hall of Fame.
“Diamond” David Santos
The St. Petersburg featherweight/lightweight had the nickname "Diamond'' because he worked as jeweler. After a distinguished amateur career, Santos turned pro in 1991 and went 46-6, though a hand injury slowed his career. Santos won the USBA featherweight, the IBA featherweight title and the USBA super featherweight title.
Jeff “Left Hook” Lacy
St. Petersburg born and raised, Lacy (27-6-1 in his career) flamed out in mid-ascent. A big puncher, Lacy was IBF super middleweight champion from 2004-06 and IBO super middleweight champion from 2005-06. He was 28 years old, with a 21-0 record, when he traveled to the United Kingdom to defend his titles against Joe Calzaghe. The future was his. Then it wasn’t. Lacy lost an overwhelmingly unanimous decision to Calzaghe. He never found his game again. “Olympian, legit star for a brief shining moment,” Cotey said of Lacy. “Ultimately he turned out to be a one-trick pony, but I’d give him bonus points for electrifying the area.”
The Leto brothers
Jimmy (125-29-12) and Tony (85-27-8), circa 1920s, 1930s and early 1940s, were probably the best brother combination ever in the Tampa Bay area.
Out of Plant City, Hallback (nickname: Fist of Steel) went 30-8-2 and battled some of the biggest names in women’s boxing in the 1990s and 2000s. In 1998, Hallback won the WIBF featherweight championship and later won the IBA junior lightweight title.
Born in St. Petersburg, Herring won a silver medal at the 1948 London Olympics, losing in the welterweight final to Julius Torma of Czechoslovakia.
A southpaw lightweight with a 31-10-1 pro record. He was Alfred Fernandez Alfonso. Al Fern, his ring name, was a combination of his first and last names. Added bonus: He’s David Alfonso’s father.
Keith Thurman vs. Manny Pacquiao
What: WBA super welterweight world title bout
When/where: 9 p.m. Saturday, MGM Grand, Las Vegas
TV: Pay-per-view via Fox Sports, $74.99; order at foxsports.com
The fighters: Clearwater’s Thurman, the WBA welterweight champion and former unified welterweight champ (29-0, 22 KOs); Pacquiao (61-7-2, 39 KOs), only eight-division world champion in boxing history.
Last fights: Thurman came off a 22-month layoff because of injuries to win a majority decision over Josesito Lopez in January. Pacquiao won a unanimous decision over Adrien Broner in January.