On February 20, 1993, at Azteca stadium in Mexico City, more than 132.000 spectators gathered to see two great warriors share the squared circle. It was, and still is, a world record for outdoor fight attendance. Mexican legend Julio Cesar Chavez defeated the hero of this story. Sadly, younger generations of boxing fans remember Greg Haugen only by this record-setting fight and a crushing loss. It was the twilight of a great career that saw him become a two-division world champion and one of the most exciting fighters of the 1980s.
Greg was tough! There is no better way to describe him. He wasn’t the fastest or the most skillful fighter; he wasn’t the biggest puncher either, just tough as nails, both in and outside of the ring. Born August 31, 1960, in Auburn, Greg Lee Haugen had a rough upbringing, something common to many great champions. He was the second oldest in a family of six children. Father left when he was only eight, so his mother had to work two jobs. Greg was five when he started boxing, but sport couldn’t keep him out of trouble. He was expelled by Auburn High School and then dropped out of school completely. In 1981, he moved to Alaska, supporting himself by installing furnaces. While there, Greg competed in tough man contests in saloons of Encourage, earning 300 bucks for a fight.
”The Mutt,” as the fans called him, turned professional in Alaska in 1982 and returned to Washington soon after. The first real test came when he faced ’The Last Outlaw’ Chris Calvin. This win opened a door for some lucrative fights with world-level opposition. Haugen’s first title fight came in 1986 against crafty Canadian Jimmy Paul.
Greg was moving, jabbing, and throwing combinations for 15 rounds without stopping. He won the IBF lightweight belt and became one of three world champions at the 135 limit, together with Hector Camacho and Edwin Rosario. The next year, Haugen faced Vinny Pazienza, and one of the 80s’ biggest rivalries was born. Greg lost a very close battle, with many boxing experts believing he deserved the decision.
Haugen and Pazzienza didn’t like each other, so weeks before the clash, it was filled with trash talk that generated even more publicity. A year later, he avenged this loss and won the IBF strap again. In 1989. legendary defensive wizard Pernell Whitaker won a unanimous decision against Haugen, shutting down Greg’s offense completely. ’Sweet Pea’ is the only fighter who outboxed the prime Haugen.
In February 1991, now a boxing veteran, Haugen had arguably the best fight of his career. He faced undefeated Hector ’Macho’ Camacho. Boxing press, experts, and fans all thought this was a big mismatch, giving Greg little to no chance of victory. As many times before, he proved them wrong. In a real boxing classic, Greg outpointed Camacho, showing great stamina and heart. After the fight, Haugen tested positive for marijuana and was stripped of his hard-won title. Rematch with Camacho, three months later, was another boxing war. Judges gave Hector the win, but many observers taught that Greg did enough to deserve a decision.
A returning Ray Mancini tried to challenge Haugen, but after four years outside of the ring, he was no match for a fighter of Greg’s level.
The next fight is the one boxing fans remember him for. The infamous ’Mexican taxi drivers’ statement made Haugen a public enemy number one in Chavez’s home county. The skill of Chavez, combined with personal problems and divorce that soon followed, was more than Haugen could chew. A crushing loss came with a fifth round knockout. It was the last big fight for tired and warn-out warrior.
Alive and healthy, Greg spends his retirement years as a trainer, doing charity work, writing books, and playing with his grandkids. His 15 round battles with legends like Chavez, Camacho, Pazienza, Paul, and Whitaker will always be remembered.
’I had a chance to make it, but most people would have said it wasn’t much of a chance for a tough, slow white kid from Auburn. That was a tag they put on me; all I had was a chance.”
Source: Boxing News 24