Ruth certainly made a pointing gesture, perhaps toward center field. He absolutely launched Chicago Cub Charlie Root's curveball 440+ feet into the stands. Did he really predict a homer to center field? The debate continues, but is almost irrelevant. The now mythical homerun has become a metaphor for bold, even careless, predictions in sports.
Boxing is a sport with no shortage of outrageous predictions made by fighters who ought to know better in a brutal contest that can be decided by cuts, cramps, knockouts, questionable judging and simple bad luck. Some boxers, however, astound with their ability to fulfill their own personal prophesies. Below is a list of the top five called shots in boxing history. Some are subject to individual critical scrutiny (just as with Ruth's called shot), and the list as a whole should generate some debate.
Perhaps the first point of contention many readers will have with this list is that Muhammad Ali is not included – officially. Muhammad Ali seems an obvious choice for a list of this sort. Though many fighters have predicted the round in which they would end a fight, Ali made an art of it. He used his predictions to taunt his opponents. One imagines the dread, having been out-boxed round after round, then stepping into the ring for the specific three minutes Ali has been talking about for weeks or months. Ali is the name we often attach to this kind of prediction in boxing, but he was not the only fighter who was good at it.
This list considers not just the round in which a fighter predicts a knockout, but the style with which it is it is done. It considers the prediction of the overall outcome of a fight, when that outcome seems so obviously impossible. And in one case we are confronted with a fighter predicting when and what his opponent will do to secure his own demise. These are predictions that were considered brash to the point of arrogance. But, as so many boxers have asked us to consider, is it really arrogance if they follow through?
#1 Sam Langford KO8 "Fireman" Jim Flynn
Sam Langford is regarded as one of the greatest boxers of all time. Jack Dempsey admitted that he ducked Sam Langford, having no doubt that the outcome of a contest between the two would do Dempsey no good at all. Langford was famous for naming the round in which he would win, and immortal sports journalist Bert Sugar has proclaimed him better than Ali in this regard. Called shots were a sort of hobby for Langford, who is reputed to have observed one of his opponent's seconds cutting oranges. He inquired what that was all about, and was told they would be given to the other fighter between rounds. Langford advised them the oranges weren't necessary and proceeded to knock out his opponent with a devastating combo. This is a quality called shot, but it is not what earns Langford his place at the top of the list.
Langford had fought "Fireman" Jim Flynn early in 1910 to a ten round conclusion whose result was debated by ringside observers. Columnist Beany Walker wrote disparagingly of Langford's performance, giving his opinion that Flynn was surely the winner of the bout. Langford was more than a little dissatisfied with the column. During a subsequent bout with Flynn months later Langford observed Walker sitting in the front row. Twenty-two years before Babe Ruth would point to center field, he called to the journalist, "Walker, here's your champion!" He then crushed "Fireman" Flynn so savagely that he fell through the ropes and into the lap of a surprised Walker.
#2 Foreman KO-11 Moorer:
In 1994, twenty years and six days after losing the heavyweight title to Muhammad Ali, forty-six year old George Foreman was on the hunt for his second world championship. He was ancient, as boxers are measured. He was fat. Earlier he had been given a shot at Evander Holyfield's titles, and he had come up short. But he had been given the opportunity to challenge the unbeaten Michael Moorer for his WBA and IBF titles. Though he had won a surprising number of fights in rapid succession and forced Holyfield to work for his win, Foreman was a 3-1 dog in the fight.
Foreman predicted the outcome of the fight precisely.
HBO's Jim Lampley has related the story (in HBO's Legendary Nights: The Tale of Foreman vs. Moorer) that he was discussing the upcoming fight with Foreman. He asked Foreman why he imagined Moorer would allow himself to lose. After all, while Foreman had lost to Holyfield, Moorer had beaten him. In Lampley's words: "He goes at a different angle. He's a southpaw. He wouldn't stand still for Holyfield. Why would he stand still for you? And George said, 'You watch. Somewhere late in the fight he's gonna come stand right in front of me.'" Bold prediction or wishful thinking? Foreman may have been old for a fighter, but no one doubted his power. If Moorer would only comply...
For nine bruising rounds Foreman lost points and took damage. He pawed with an ineffective jab. He was the picture of an aged, but tough fighter. Foreman's head was visibly swollen. Moorer came out for the tenth round secure in the knowledge that this fat old man would probably go the distance, but he would arrive with a devastating points loss. It was a fair assumption. The scorecards at that moment read: 88-33, 88-33 and 86-85. Though all of these scores favored Moorer, his optimism would prove unfounded.
Moorer felt comfortable enough to stand before the apparently broken Foreman and slug. "Late in the fight he's gonna stand right in front of me," Foreman had predicted to Jim Lampley. To this day Moorer will not credit Foreman with planning this outcome, but Moorer did as was predicted. Standing in front of the fighting preacher, Moorer took a right hand to the forehead that dazed him. Shortly thereafter he took a right just a little lower and was stretched on the canvas, ten seconds away from losing the heavyweight championship to the oldest man to ever win it.
#3 Joe Louis KO1 Schmeling:
The two fights between Joe Louis and Max Schmeling were both tragic and gripping. While Hitler's armies threatened the world, Max Schmeling, a German boxer, ventured across the Atlantic to face the unbeaten, beloved American fighter Joe Louis. In a tremendous upset Schmeling defeated Louis. Hitler crowed that his Aryan superman had proved the point of racial purity. Schmeling, the world would later learn, was hardly a Nazi. Tragically he was trapped, and as with everything else good within his reach, Hitler stole the dignity from his win.
The rematch was all but inevitable. Joe Louis won the NYSAC and NBA world championship belts from Jim Braddock, and Schmeling returned. The stakes could not have been higher. While the fighters prepared to contest the championship belts, Hitler personally called Schmeling to offer his support. Louis visited U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who told Louis the country 'needs your muscles against the Germans'. In his autobiography Louis admitted he felt the pressures of a 'whole damned country...depending on me."
Under these remarkable burdens Joe Louis predicted a first round knockout. He had lost to Schmeling before, his only loss. He declared he would not consider himself a world champion until he avenged that loss. On June 22, 1938 the two met in Yankee Stadium. Six years earlier Ruth called his shot to center field in that sporting temple. At 2:04 of the first round Louis annihilated Schmeling, defending his titles and claiming a victory for democracy over fascism. In the 'house that Ruth built' Joe Louis called his shot and scored.
#4 Tunney UD10 Dempsey I
Gene Tunney called his shot quietly, to himself and a few close friends. On September 23, 1926 Tunney challenged Dempsey for the NBA World Heavyweight championship. It is no secret that he thought he would win. Virtually anyone paying attention knew with a certainty that Tunney, a light punching, boxing artiste would be destroyed –perhaps actually killed- by Dempsey.
Yet Gene Tunney suspected as early as 1919, on a military boat on the Rhine, that he would beat Jack Dempsey. As he relates in the essay 'My Fights with Jack Dempsey', he was discussing the champ with his corporal, who happened to be a sports writer from the Midwest who had personally covered a number of Dempsey's bouts. Tunney, who boxed in the army, asked the writer/soldier whether Dempsey could be beaten. Discussing the advantages of slick boxing versus the raw power of a Dempsey, the two discussed a bout between Jack Dillon and Mike Gibbons. Dillon was a raw, powerful destructive force in the ring, but he was outclassed by Gibbons, a slick boxer who just would not be hit. Tunney, who had tried to make himself a slick boxer due to his inability to hit hard resulting from damaged hands, thought he saw an answer for the elemental force of Dempsey. His corporal agreed.
Some time later Tunney was out of the army and making progress in his professional boxing career. He followed Dempsey to watch his fights. He studied films of Dempsey. Finally he found himself on the undercard of Dempsey vs. Tom Gibbons, younger brother of Mike. Like Mike, Tom was a slick boxer. Tunney watched with extreme interest as the wrecking ball fists of Dempsey failed to knock Gibbons out. Most onlookers were surprised. Gibbons was thought to be easy pickings.
Later, watching Dempsey fight Georges Carpentier, Tunney learned something else. Carpentier was able to land a poorly disguised right to Dempsey's cheek. Carpentier was unable to capitalize on the shot, which momentarily shocked Dempsey, but it was an important insight to Tunney. Tunney felt he had the formula: slick boxing and a straight right will defeat Jack Dempsey.
Tunney had called his shot.
When, in 1926, the two men met in the ring Tunney was considered a joke. He was going to be destroyed. There was hardly a reason to stage the contest. Tunney felt his plan was solid, and he met Dempsey and all of the Manassa Mauler's wrath with a virtuoso boxing clinic. Dempsey was lost. He was accustomed to mugging his opponents, breaking them, imposing his will. Tunney refused to play that game. He took Dempsey all the way through ten rounds, but unlike Tom Gibbons, he took the decision.
#5 Willie Pep TKO8 Jackie Graves
Willie Pep's called shot was beyond belief. In fact, many do not believe it. If the veracity of the story were beyond reproach it might top this list. At worst it would rate second place. As things stand, it is so amazing, and the arguments for it compelling enough, it has to be included.
Prior to his match with Jackie Graves, Willie Pep told a handful of friendly reporters that he would land no punches in round three. And he stated that he would win the round. Three judges scored a homerun for Pep in the third round.
Willie Pep is recognized as one of the great defensive fighters of all time. Some say he is the greatest. He was nicknamed 'Will-o-the-wisp' for his mastery of slick, defensive boxing.
St. Paul sports writer Don Riley claimed he had spoken to Pep before the fight, and pep told Riley to pick a round. Riley chose the third. Pep proclaimed, "I'll throw punches, but I'll never hit him. Check the scorecards after, and see if the judges fall for it". Later Riley would write, "It was an amazing display of defensive boxing skill so adroit, so cunning, so subtle that the roaring crowd did not notice Pep's tactics were completely without offense".
In 2003 the story received its most compelling refutation. Minnesota writer Jake Wegner noted in a story published by CyberBoxingZone.com that the original ringside report by Joe Hennessy of the St. Paul Pioneer Press described the third round in the following manner: "A clicker couldn't count the blows. Pep punched Jack into the ropes as the most even round of the evening ended." However, this story included an interview with Graves in which Wegner asked Graves directly about the third round. Graves said he had trouble remembering specifics from so long ago. He went on to state that it probably did happen, "because I remember that it was really hard to hit him during that fight. The times that I did, I hit him pretty hard I think. But I do remember feeling confused and frustrated during the fight. I remember feeling embarrassed because I was fighting here in Minnesota with all my friends and family watching, and I felt foolish missing on my punches so much, and with so many watching."
To add a further wrinkle to Hennessy's coverage of the fight, Don Stradley of ESPN.com has pointed out that Hennessey was later fired for being 'unreliable'.
Ali TKO7 Liston
Though Ali is not on the list, he deserves mention for a prediction that was stolen from him. Ali proclaimed he would take Sonny Liston out in round eight of Ali's challenge to Liston's heavyweight title. Boxing fans everywhere know the tale. Ali –Cassius Clay at the time- was certain to lose. Like Tunney against Dempsey, Ali was subject to speculation that he could be maimed or killed by the ferocious Liston. Liston proved inadequate for the beautiful art Ali wrought in the ring, and after six rounds he could not continue. The excuse was a hurt shoulder, which a number of doctors verified later. Yet he had fought with injury before. The injury was to his left shoulder, and his right arm was his murder stick. By submitting he gave Ali the win, a technical knockout in the seventh round: One round short of a called shot that might have made the list.