Writers called Baer the next Jack Dempsey. Experts tripped all over themselves courting his favor and yammering about how there wasn't a heavyweight who could touch him, and that included a young tiger coming up named Joe Louis. It would be a long and glorious reign and Baer's right hand would make it so. He would reign for years and years. Only he didn't.
In his very first title defense, Jimmy Braddock, a journeyman of meager talents but great ambition, and a 10-1 underdog, took Baer to school over 15 rounds. Baer broke his right thumb along the way and a bone in his left wrist too, but it might not have mattered. The same careless attitude and tendency toward frivolity that made him so much fun to be around and so charismatic made him also an erratic and inconsistent heavyweight whose great and glorious reign was over before it started.
Neither Sonny Liston nor George Foreman was as popular in their primes as Baer was in his, but both brought fear into the hearts of their opponents and predictions from the experts that their title reigns would last 10 years or more. Judging by how the two looked while winning the heavyweight title against Floyd Patterson and Joe Frazier, respectively, you almost couldn't blame the experts for over-shooting the way they did.
After years spent as Patterson's top challenger, Liston finally got his shot in September 1962 and annihilated the champion in less than a round. "I felt enough of him under my glove on that last hook to know it was a good enough punch to put any man down hard," Liston said afterward. In a rematch 10 months later, Patterson lasted four seconds longer. Foreman was no less impressive 11 years later against the undefeated Frazier, whom he dropped six times before referee Arthur Mercante finally stopped it in the second round. In neither case did it appear there was a heavyweight capable of knocking either slugger off the throne. Who could have guessed then that the same guy would do it to both Liston and Foreman -- 10 years apart?
For his very first defense, Liston chose loudmouth contender Cassius Clay. It seemed a safe move; Clay had beaten no one in Liston's league and figured to be blown out quickly, just as Patterson had been. A 7-1 underdog whom 43 of 46 sportswriters predicted would get stopped, Clay outboxed Liston and embarrassed him into quitting on his stool after the seventh round.
End of reign. Number of successful title defenses: one. Foreman did only marginally better 10 years later. After his blowout of Frazier he stopped no-hoper Joe Roman in a round and then demolished Ken Norton in two in Venezuela. By this time Cassius Clay had grown into Muhammad Ali, and he was too much for Foreman, stopping him in eight rounds in Kinshasa, Zaire. End of reign. Number of successful title defenses: two. Thus, two of the most feared heavyweight champions in modern history could manage just three defenses between them and a combined reign of 37 months. Hardly the decade-long reign that was predicted for them.
No one predicted a long reign for Lupe Pintor -- or any reign for that matter. Going into his title fight with feared, 54-1 (53) bantamweight bomber Carlos Zarate in June 1979, Pintor was a serviceable 38-4 (32) and a prohibitive underdog. He was capable, but not in Zarate's league. Nothing happened during the fight to change that perception; Zarate scored a knockdown in round four and though Pintor stunned him with a hook in the 11th, most observers saw Zarate as the clear winner (the Associated Press had him winning by a score of 147-138). However, two judges scored the bout 143-142 for Pintor, while the third had Zarate up 145-133.
"How can there be 12 points difference between two judges watching the same fight?" one of Zarate's handlers asked afterward. It was a question that deserved an answer, but there wasn't time; Zarate was so disgusted with the decision he retired, and Pintor got about the business of defending the title he wasn't supposed to have won and probably wouldn't have had the fight been scored correctly (or honestly). That meant eight title defenses over the next three years. That doesn't make him a record-breaker, but it's more title defenses than Jack Dempsey made, or Gene Tunney or Ezzard Charles. Not that Pintor was as good as any of those legends, or is even close to them. Multiple titles and superfluous weight classes have made it possible for men who wouldn't have been champions 60 years ago to enjoy long reigns today. And for a guy like Pintor, who shouldn't have been there in the first place, it wasn't bad at all.