Lee Groves

10: Best St. Patrick’s Day fights

10. 1995 – Orlin Norris W 12 Adolpho Washington I, Memorial Auditorium, Worcester, Mass. — WBA cruiserweight title

The oft-maligned cruiserweight class has produced more than its share of classics – Holyfield-Qawi I, Adamek-Cunningham, Thompson-Eubank I, Toney-Jirov and Murphy-Mutti to name a few. Norris-Washington I should also be included in the conversation.

This was Washington’s third crack at a belt and his first two tries were hard-luck stories that bordered on the bizarre. His first shot against Virgil Hill ended when Washington gashed himself backing into a ringside TV camera. Against Anaclet Wamba a missed penalty point should have turned a draw into a Washington victory, but the WBC allowed the original decision to stand.

Meanwhile, Norris, who built a respectable record at heavyweight, trimmed 23 pounds 10 weeks after losing to Tony Tucker, knocked out his first cruiserweight opponent, won seven more fights, captured a vacant belt by KO and notched three defenses before meeting Washington.

The taller Washington’s snappy jabs fueled a fast start but Norris’ inside strength and superior fundamentals took the next two sessions. The fifth and sixth were outstanding Washington rounds due to sharp combinations that swelled Norris’ right eye. The middle rounds saw the fight slowly shift toward the determined Norris, who sprung off the ropes with lethal power shots. Washington’s early-round energy had ebbed and he came out on the short end of many point-blank exchanges. Still, Washington produced a surprising rally in the final seconds of the ninth that stunned Norris.

The final two rounds had several momentum shifts and proved difficult to score. Nevertheless, the judges turned in identical 115-114 scorecards for Norris. The fans booed the verdict and Washington couldn’t hide his exasperation.

“Why even train?” he said. “Why not let the judges pick who they want to win and stop the f___ing fight? It’s awful.”

The sportsmanlike Norris said he would grant Washington a rematch. He did — three years later and without a major belt on the line. The winner: Washington by decision. And yes, Washington did win a belt in his fourth try.

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