Frank Klaus, George Chip, Harry Greb, Billy Conn, Teddy Yarosz, Sammy Agnott, Fritzie Zivic, Billy Soose, Michael Moorer and Paul Spadafora. What does this very long list of names have in common, they were all world champions. Then you had Charley Burley who was one of the greatest fighters to never win a world title and Tony Marino who was recognized by Nat Fleischer as the bantamweight world champion. Boxing is in Pittsburgh's blood and it will always be a fight town. Between July 1939 and November 1941 five of of the eight world champions were from Pittsburgh.
Pittsburgh was such a major fight town that, the real, greatest of all time Sugar Ray Robinson fought his last career fight in The Civic Arena, Ezzard Charles battled the great, maybe the greatest, light heavyweight Archie Moore at Forbes Field, and lost to Jersey Joe Walcott in a heavyweight title fight! The heavyweight title was defended in Pittsburgh between two of the greatest fighters to lace it up!
When Billy Conn fought Joe Louis there was a Pittsburgh Pirates game going on. The umpires called time and the teams went to the dugouts for almost an hour while the fight was played over the stadium loudspeakers. The point of this history lesson is that you need to know the past to understand where we are at today. The eyes of the boxing world will be on Pittsburgh and its fighters this weekend.
Paul Spadafora isn't the past because his career is over, its actually on an upswing right now, but he is the last great Pittsburgh fighter. He is the link to the past because he is the last Pittsburgher to call himself a world champion. Spadafora reeled off 26 straight wins before getting his shot at a world title. He made it count and beat Israel Cordona in 1999 to win the IBF lightweight title by a unanimous decision over 12 rounds.
He would go on to defend that title eight times before moving up in weight. Then he started to get in trouble outside of the ring and his career got derailed. He was out of the ring for two years and and then fought just once in 2007, 2008, just twice in 2009 and 2010. He didn't fight at all in 2011 before getting back on track and fighting twice in 2012 and 2013.
He got to 48-0-1 before losing a interim WBA light welterweight title fight to Johan Perez. The fight was very close, two judges scoring it close for Perez while the third had it a draw, but showed that Spadafora was back and could compete at a high level. He returned to the ring in 2014 against Hector Velazquez winning a unanimous decision over eight rounds.
His name has now been brought up for a potential fight with young up-and-comer Adrien Broner. This may happen, or it might not, but the point is that he is considered a legitimate fighter that can give anybody problems again. He is the link to the past but his career is very much alive and when he isn't throwing punches in the ring he is helping the present gain a foothold in this crazy boxing world.
People say he doesn't deserve it and that this fight is a joke. What they don't know about Rod Salka is how hard he worked to get here. You haven't heard of him because he was promoting himself and fighting at home gaining a following. You think he doesn't deserve it because his record doesn't have a huge name on it but he's never turned down a fight. You can't be great until somebody gives you a chance, Danny Garcia is giving Salka that chance.
Salka is Pittsburgh, he worked hard to get where he's at and he isn't going to take his show in the spotlight lightly. He is going to step into the ring this Saturday, August 9, 2014, and give his all, win, lose, or draw. His record shows three losses but he could very easily be 21-1. Two of his losses were to more hyped fighters in their hometowns. It is universally accepted that he was totally screwed by the judges against Ricardo Alvarez.
His other loss that is debatable come to Dorin Spivey in his hometown on a majority decision. The other loss came when he was badly cut and could only see out of one eye. He won't get to add to the Pittsburgh title legacy but a win would put him in line for a world title shot. People can complain about this fight if they want but Salka went toe to toe with Garcia in the 2005 Pennsylvania Golden Glove finals and buckled his knees. Garcia won the fight but it was close and people told Salka they thought that he did enough to win.
When the boxing world tunes into Showtime this weekend it will be to watch this hardworking blue collar Pittsburgher Rod Salka and he will surely make his city, who is standing behind him, proud. The night before the present fights the future will be looking to move himself in title contention.
Sammy Vasquez was tabbed for greatness from day one. He was two fights away from being on the Olympic team, had over 100 amateur fights, and national golden gloves appearances, and fears no man in the ring due to stints in Iraq with the United States Army.
He always knew that he was good enough to win a world title and after 12 fights his dream got fast tracked. He fought in front of Mike Tyson, who just started promoting, and wowed the former undisputed heavyweight champion by getting of the canvas and stopping Berlin Abreu in the fourth round. He signed with Iron Mike Promotions and made his television debut in his next fight.
It was the first time that a fight in Pittsburgh was shown on national television since Monty Meza Clay beat Eric Aiken on ESPN in 2008. It had been six long years since Pittsburgh was on the big stage and Vasqeuz did not disappoint. He smashed Juan Rodriguez Jr. in a single round in front of a raucous crowd at the Monroeville Convention Center. The main event featured Salka scoring the biggest win of his career against undefeated Alexi Collado.
Vasquez wasn't done there as he moved on to ESPN in his next fight and smashed Jay Krupp within three rounds, this time away from home. Tomorrow night he brings national television back to The Burgh and looks for another win against undefeated puncher James Stevenson. If he wins this fight he will pick up the USBA welterweight title and move into the world rankings.
It would be a step closer to the days when Pittsburgh always had a world champion. If he wins Friday, Salka wins Saturday, and Spadafora gets a big fight the boxing world can't ignore Pittsburgh anymore.
The best part about these three fighters is they are all friends and are all willing to help each other. Spadafora is the father who looks on with wide eyes and imagines what can be while Salka is the older brother who helped Vasquez get his feet wet and continues to help him when he can, while Vasquez is the younger brother who soaks up everything he can from the wily veterans.
No matter what happens with these three they have brought boxing back to The Burgh and in a big way. They might even be the new verision of Conn, Yarosz, and Zivic.