Lee Groves

10: Notable July 4 fights

5. 1987 – Kelvin Seabrooks KO 10 Thierry Jacob, Calais, Pas-de-Calais, France

Assemble a list of boxing’s greatest “comeback” fighters – fighters that turn early adversities into unlikely victories – and names like Arturo Gatti, Matthew Saad Muhammad and Danny Lopez immediately leap to mind. Those with a deeper appreciation for boxing history can add several more names, and one of those should be Kelvin Seabrooks.

Unlike Gatti, Muhammad and Lopez, Seabrooks had to come back from a cavernous mathematical hole in terms of his record. Through his first 31 fights Seabrooks was a paltry 18-13 with three KO losses when he ventured to Sydney, Australia as the decisive “B-side” to a match with bantamweight contender Freddie “Pebble” Jackson, who was looking to rebound from back-to-back-to-back setbacks to Daniel Zaragoza (L DQ 7), Hurley Snead (NC 12) and Frankie Duarte (a butt-induced TD 2). But Seabrooks sprung the surprise by crushing Jackson in two rounds, then created another by out-pointing Washington, D.C. native Louis Curtis over 12 in nearby Alexandria, Virginia to capture the USBA title, and a third one by trekking to Cartagena, Colombia and blasting out local hero Miguel Maturana to win the vacant IBF belt.

So what was Seabrooks’ reward for his extraordinary three-fight run? A title defense in France against undefeated Frenchman Thierry Jacob, which took place on the same day as Coggi-Oliva. The only good omen for Seabrooks was that the bout was being staged on July 4 instead of Bastille Day, which would come 10 days later. The deck can only be stacked so much. Then again, Battling Siki risked his light heavyweight title against Irishman Mike McTigue, in Dublin, on St. Patrick’s Day. The result: A 20-round decision for McTigue.

With the partisan crowd chanting “Thierry! Thierry! Thierry!” Seabrooks scored a lightning-bolt knockdown just 15 seconds into the bout courtesy of a right-left-right to the jaw. As Seabrooks pressed in for the kill, Jacob produced his own thunder with a smacking counter left cross that sent the American careening across the ring before hitting the canvas. Another cluster of lefts by Jacob scored a second knockdown with just 16 ticks remaining in one of the wildest opening rounds in title-fight history.

The bombs-away action continued in rounds two and three and during an exchange in the third a blow opened a long, deep cut over Jacob’s right eye, a gash that would figure heavily in the final result. The roller-coaster action peaked again in the sixth when a huge left uppercut-left cross salvo drove Seabrooks to his knees in the waning seconds.

Though no knockdowns were scored, the eighth round was the best action round in an action-packed match. Seabrooks opened strongly while a 14-punch explosion by Jacob sent the champion reeling mid-round. Another wicked surge had Seabrooks on the verge of extinction but in the final seconds, the champion summoned a Saad Muhammad-like turnaround with a counter right uppercut that instantly turned the Frenchman’s legs to rubber. The hometown hero was nearly defenseless as Seabooks pounded away until the saving bell.

A scything body shot weakened Jacob considerably in the last stages of the ninth and between rounds Jacob’s corner — headed by Jacob’s father —  tried to induce a technical decision victory by bringing attention to his son’s worsening eye cut. He believed his offspring was well ahead on the cards — a belief that was proved correct because Jacob led 88-81 and 89-82 on two cards — and if he could convince referee Paul Venti that the cut was caused by a butt they would walk away with Seabrooks’ belt.

At first the plan didn’t seem to take hold as Seabrooks was lifted into the air in celebration as the fight was stopped between rounds nine and 10. But while that was going on, an argument raged between a member of the French commission — who believed his countryman should have been declared the victor due to the head butt rule — and an IBF representative who said the gash was created by a legal punch. Jacob and his corner tried to incite a decision by parading the fighter on their shoulders. Suddenly, a large bottle of champagne was handed to Jacob and he was spraying it in celebration. Moments later, the reason for his jubilation was announced: The TKO in favor of Seabrooks was changed to a technical decision for Jacob, who was then declared the new champion.

Confusion reigned supreme as Jacob rejoiced and Seabrooks exited the ring amid debris thrown by the fans. The identity of the true titleholder remained a mystery until higher-ups stepped in. After the fight telecast ended, the French federation declared the bout a “no contest,” after which IBF president Bob Lee issued a decree that Seabrooks was the winner — and still champion.

Leaving France with the title belt intact was an escape that Saad Muhammad – or perhaps Harry Houdini – would have been proud.

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