Few things are as thrilling as witnessing two evenly-matched combatants battle it out for twelve rounds in the ring. Every so often the planets will align and two men will deliver a fight for the ages. It’s terrifying and exhilarating all at the same time. Here are ten of the best bouts to have ever have taken place in the history of boxing.
10) Larry Holmes vs. Ken Norton — June 9, 1978
For 15 rounds these two heavyweights battered each other into submission. Entering the 15th the judges had Holmes and Norton even, meaning the final round would decide the victor. Even though the boxers couldn’t know this, they both emerged from their corner throwing punches like it was the first round. Early on Norton landed a couple devastating blows. He connected twice on Holmes’ jaw with a hook and an uppercut. Holmes, however, was not to be outdone. He pummeled Norton until the final bell and eventually won the match on a decision.
9) Joe Louis vs. Billy Conn — June 18, 1941
Conn was something of an underdog heading into this match with Joe Louis. Louis outweighed Conn by 25 pounds. After this fight was over Louis admitted to not working as hard for the fight because he didn’t want to beat up on a smaller opponent. Conn entered this bout with a stout defense and wore Louis down over the course of 13 rounds. Louis became dehydrated late in the match and it was fairly clear that Conn was in the lead. However, the noted underdog grew overconfident by his success and Louis fought back. In the 13th, despite being clearly ahead, Conn tried to knock Louis out – but Louis took advantage of the openings this strategy provided and knocked Conn out with only two seconds left on the clock in the 13th round.
8) Julio Cesar Chavez vs. Meldrick Taylor 1 — March 17, 1990
One of the most controversial fights ever fought, this bout was dubbed as, “Thunder versus Lightning,” and it featured one of the most dramatic endings in boxing. During the match Taylor used his speed and quickness to evade Chavez and land any punch he wanted. He built a steady lead during the fight, though Chavez was hurting Taylor when he did manage to connect he was struggling with the faster fighter. Taylor was emphatically leading the fight as it entered the 12th round but Taylor’s corner instructed him to win the final round in order to secure the victory. Taylor was clearly exhausted, so much so that he fell throwing a punch in the 12th round! Eventually Chavez delivered a solid minute of boxing and pummeled Taylor into submission, knocking him to the canvas with only a couple seconds left in the match. The Referee asked Taylor if he could continue. Some claim Taylor nodded yes, but the referee decided that since Taylor refused to answer – awarded Chavez a knockout.
7) Aaron Pryor vs. Alex Arguello — November 12, 1982
Pryor was originally set to fight Leonard, but when Sugar Ray retired because of a detached retina, they substituted Arguello. No slouch himself, Arguello was a heavy favorite and was attempting to become the first man to win four different titles in four different weight classes. Despite being a 12-5 favorite, Arguello had trouble with Pryor from the onset. He controlled most of the fight but the boastful Pryor wouldn’t go away and in the later rounds he would take control, hammering Arguello until the referee was forced to stop the fight. This fight was marred by the use of a strange black bottle the trainers were giving to Pryor between rounds – leading many to question the contents. Despite the controversy, this was a timeless battle between two of the best boxers at the time.
6) Diego Corrales vs. Jose Luis-Castillo — May 7, 2005
Boxing had become something of a niche spot by the turn of the millennium. MMA fighting was taking center stage and few thought that this WBC title fight in 2005 would become legendary. It began swiftly and wouldn’t let up for ten rounds. Castillo had finished most of the rounds extremely well and came out strong in the 10th quickly knocking Corrales down twice. The second time the referee imposed a one-point penalty on Corrales because he kept removing his mouth-piece. After the second time down Corrales seemed to reenergize himself and blasted Castillo with several quick combinations, before eventually knocking him out. The reprieve Corrales received from spitting out his mouth-piece seemed to help him regain enough wherewithal to finish off Castillo.
5) Rocky Marciano vs. Jersey Joe Walcott — September 23, 1952
Marciano was a wild, powerful and undefeated boxer when he challenged Walcott for the title in 1952. Walcott called Marciano “amateurish,” but his 42-0 record was nothing to sneeze at. Early on Walcott dominated this fight, knocking Marciano down in the first. Walcott was clearly the better technician, but as this one dragged on it because a slug-fest. No one could out punch Marciano and Walcott tired in the middle of the fight. Even so, Walcott gave Marciano all he had but the challenger seemed to routinely shrug off punches that would have dropped lesser men. Entering the 13th round Marciano knew he would need a knockout to win this one. He delivered. Midway through the round Marciano knocked Walcott out with a vicious right, rendering Walcott unconscious and winning the match. It was as close as Marciano ever came to losing.
4) Marvin Hagler vs. Tommy Hearns — April 15, 1985
They called it “the war.” It would only last eight minutes. By the end, Hagler would leave bloody, but victorious. In what many believe to be one of the greatest first rounds ever, both Hagler and Hearns emerged from their corners and began throwing a litany of punches into each other’s heads. Early on Hearns had the upper-hand, bloodying Hagler and keeping him off-balance with his long reach and right hand jabs. Hagler was able to weather the storm, and about half-way through the first, he came back with his own barrage of hooks and body shots. By the time the second round began it was clear Hagler had figured Hearns out, but that didn’t stop either fighter from continuing to throw everything they had at each other. Wobbly, Hearns would valiantly fight on until the third when Hagler would finally knock him out.
3) Micky Ward vs. Arturo Gatti I — May 18, 2002
Ward and Gatti fought three times, but the best match was their first. Ward won the fight on a decision after ten rounds of intense punishment. The deciding blow was likely landed in the 9th, when Ward dropped Gatti with a left-hook to his ribs. In fact, the 9th round of this fight was truly spectacular – and may be one of the single best rounds of boxing ever recorder. Numerous media outlets dubbed this the “fight of the century.” Gatti would go on to win the next two bouts, but this win by Ward was the one to remember.
2) Sugar Ray Leonard vs. Tommy Hearns — September 16, 1981
Billed as, “The Showdown,” this fight would unify the WBC and WBA welterweight titles and it lived up to all the pre-match hype surrounding it. Hearns was undefeated heading into the match and as they began the two fighters would trade punches for the 12 long, intense rounds. While there was no unanimous winner, it was Hearns who was leading heading into the 13th round. Before coming out for the 13th Leonard’s trainers Angelo Dundee would tell him, “You’re blowing it son!” His words seemed to have the desired effect. Leonard dominated the 13th round, and at one point he even knocked Hearns through the ropes. His barrage didn’t let up and in the 14th Leonard delivered a ferocious series of punches that dazzled the arena. The fight was halted and Leonard would go on the win.
1) Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier III — October 1, 1975
Ali and Frazier split the first two matches against each other and the well-deserved anticipation surrounding this bout was as huge as any fight had ever been. They dubbed it the, “Thrilla in Manila,” and it would live on to become the greatest fight of all time. After it was over Ali, the winner, said it was as close to death as he’d ever been. He said he couldn’t go on any longer, but that Frazier had just given up before him. He was so beat he asked his corner to cut his gloves off. As this one progressed everyone assumed it would go the duration and end in a decision after 15 rounds. Frazier and Ali beat the hell out of each other for the entirety of the fight. There was no more mystery between these two and it was a true war. Even in the 14th round, after Frazier’s corner had thrown in the towel, Frazier was heard to say, “I want him, boss.” Ali would go on to win the fight, but many wonder what would have happened had Frazier’s trainers let the fight go on.