From tragedy to triumph – the meaning of the NABF belt Jason Quigley defends

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When Thomas Hearns downed James Shuler with a vicious first round KO in March 1986, it was a seminal moment.

By Chris McNulty in Indio, California

Hearns lit up Caesars Palace in Las Vegas when he stopped Shuler and took the North American Boxing Federation’s Middleweight Belt from the previously unbeaten Pennsylvanian.

Hearns is one of the bona fide kings of the square circle. A record of 61-5-1 and 48KOs, his numbers speak volumes.

Becoming the first boxer to win world titles in four weight divisions – welter, super-welter, middle and light-heavy – wasn’t enough for the ‘Hitman’, who later became the super-middleweight champion. 

Hearns had been beaten by Marvellous Marvin Hagler a year earlier in a bout now simply referred to as The Fight. 

The win over Shuler was step one on the road to recovery – and greatness – for a man who’d already won World welter and super-welterweight titles. 

For Shuler, the loss to Hearns would tragically be the end.

A week after the defeat, Shuler was killed in a motorcycle accident. 

Dead aged 22. 

Hearns traveled to the funeral in Philadelphia and presented the NABF middleweight belt to Shuler’s family so he could be buried with it. 

Shuler had beaten Sugar Ray Seales to win it and made successful defences against Clint Jackson and James Kichen before being sent to the canvas by Hearns,

The title is the same, but the belt different now. 

Both title and belt have storied histories. 

Hearns himself defended the title and won the newly-commissioned belt when he decisioned Doug DeWitt in Michigan.

That very same belt has had a place in a Ballybofey cabinet since March 2017.

Jason Quigley (14-0, 11KOs) makes his first defence of the strap on Thursday night as he takes on veteran former world title challenger Freddy Hernandez (34-9, 22KOs) and the bout is live on eirSport in Ireland. 

“It’s a very high ranking belt outside the world title belts,” says Quigley, who defeated Glen Tapia to collect his first professional title. It had been vacant when Quigley overcame the durable Tapia.

“It means a lot to me. it’s got prestige. Take away the world belts, this is one to get you to world level. I’m steadily climbing my way. I know the journey that I’m on.

“It’s the one I always remember no matter how many I get. This one will always have been my first pro belt.”

The list of holders gives the belt its meaning.

Ireland’s Andy Lee – later the WBO middleweight champion – beat Alex Bunema in Illinois seven years ago to win it. 

Danny Jacobs won it in 2010 and later held the WBO middleweight belt.

David Lemieux – who recently KO’d Irishman ‘Spike’ O’Sullivan – had the belt in 2014 thanks to a win over Gabriel Rosado. 

Curtis Stevens challenged for the WBA and IBO middleweight belts after defending the NABF title in 2013, but lost out to Gennady Golovkin.

Kelly Pavlik fought for and won the NABF title and then won the unified WBC, WBO and lineal middleweight titles in 2007, making three successful defences. 

Then, there’s Ievgen Khytrov, The Ukraine middleweight had the belt in 2015 and 2016 via wins over Josh Luteran and Kenneth McNeil. 

Khytrov was stunned by Quigley at the 2013 European Championships. 

That was a win that catapulted Quigley into a new world as his gold medal at those Championships and a World silver medal the same year had Oscar De La Hoya of Golden Boy Promotions calling.

Khytrov, now 16-1 as a pro, was the World champion when he entered that bout with Quigley in Minsk. In the 2011 World Championships final, he won gold thanks to a 24-22 points win over Japan’s Ryota Murata.

The dots join once more.

Only a couple of months ago, Quigley was on the verge of a shot at the WBA middleweight title against Murata, but the governing body ordered a Murata-Rob Brant, the mandatory challenger. 

Quigley has the big days and the bright lights firmly on the radar now as he gets set to glove off with Hernandez in the headline bout of a Golden Boy Boxing on ESPN card at Fantasy Springs, Indio on Thursday night.

“That belt has shot me up the rankings and put my name out there,” Quigley says.

“Every time I get into the ring, someone is trying to take something away from me. This time, Freddy Hernandez is trying to physically take something form me.

“This is my belt now, and I’m not letting anyone take it away. This belt has a place in my home. It’s got a spot in the cabinet. No one is coming into my house to take my belt.”

Sports writer from St Johnston, now based in Letterkenny, with ten years' experience covering sport in Donegal. Was a nominee for NUJ Sports Journalist of the Year in 2010. Honoured by the Donegal Boxing Board in 2016 for his coverage on the sport.

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