Anyone who’s ever had a passing interest in boxing has probably wondered where to start. Well, in order to accommodate our readers in this regard, I’ve compiled a list of “15 Fights Everyone Should Know“. These bouts are a great place for any aspiring observer of pugilism to begin their education.
[NOTE: While boxers like Sam Langford and Jack Johnson clearly deserve a mention in any article about great fights, I’m going to avoid discussing bouts that took place before sliced bread (first mass produced in 1928). Obviously, that won’t sit well with some boxing purists, but I’m sticking to fights that were more well documented.]
If you’ve never seen an interesting boxing match, this is where you should start. Gatti-Ward 1 earned the title “The Fight of the Century” (even though it took place only two years into said century); and, over the course of three fights, viewers watched two boxers completely dismantle each other.
Arturo Gatti had what’s been described as a “hell for leather
” style, and Mickey Ward was a relentless competitor who refused to give up.
At the time of the first fight, “Irish” Mickey Ward was already nearing the end of his career, and most people expected his legacy would be that of a talented club fighter
. Gatti, on the other hand, was a crowd pleaser who’d held the IBF Junior lightweight title from 1995 to 1998. Unfortunately, by 2000, it seemed like his career was breaking down.
In an attempt to rebuild Gatti’s image, his team scheduled him to fight against Mickey Ward. Gatti thought it would be an easy fight, but it turned out to be the defining moment of both men’s careers. While not necessarily a great exhibition of fundamentals, Gatti-Ward is a must-see. As Esquire
noted, the “trilogy of epic, brutal fights” holds a special place in the annals of boxing history.
HBO’s released a great little documentary about the series as part of their “Legendary Nights” series. It’s currently available over on YouTube
. The Gatti-Ward story was compelling from beginning to end, especially with the added intrigue of Arturo Gatti’s tragic and mysterious death.
Dempsey versus Firpo is a classic match-up that defined the sport for a whole generation. Here’s what Eric Greitens
wrote about it for ArtOfManliness.com
“In 1950, the Associated Press polled the leading sports editors in America to find out what they considered the greatest sports moment in the first half of the twentieth century. It was [Dempsey and Firpo]…
Jack Dempsey was boxing’s superstar… That evening, Dempsey was fighting the towering Luis Ángel Firpo, “the Wild Bull of the Pampas”… Toward the close of the first round, Firpo managed to pin Dempsey against the ropes. With a combination of vicious punches, Firpo knocked Dempsey out of the ring. As Dempsey landed, he cracked the back of his head against a reporter’s typewriter and opened a serious gash. The ringside reporters shoved Dempsey back into the ring in time to beat the count… Dempsey had suffered the most dramatic knockdown of his career. Yet he came out of his corner furious to start the second round. In fifty-seven seconds, he knocked Firpo out with a blow to the jaw.”
It’s the stuff of legend; luckily, you can watch it all over on YouTube:
Dempsey v. Firpo
When Roberto Duran first faced Sugar Ray Leonard in 1980, his victory shocked the boxing world. Duran had only recently moved up a weight class and was facing an undefeated fan-favorite. But, 15 rounds later, Duran won by unanimous decision, stripping Leonard of the WBC welterweight championship.
So, when the two men met again
five months later, Leonard was on the war path. The bout began as a blur of fists and fancy footwork as both men danced around the ring exchanging blows. But, a few rounds later, Duran began to look tired and, by the end of the fight, Leonard was toying with his opponent. The bout became known as the “No Más Fight”, named after the words uttered when Duran was forced to wave off the fight during the eighth round.
The two men faced each other one more time in 1989 when they both had bigger bodies and better hair, but the outcome was the same. Duran was never again able to overcome the former fighter of the year.
This is the true “Fight of the Century”. There’ not much that can be said about Ali-Frazier that hasn’t already been said elsewhere.
It was here that Muhammad Ali first experimented with the “rope-a-dope” strategy that would become part of the cultural zeitgeist four years later when he faced Foreman in the The Rumble in the Jungle. Ali insulted Frazier repeatedly before the fight, and then paid for it when he lost by unanimous decision. The men would fight two more times in a series that culminated with the “Thrilla in Manila”. Their last final fight ended just before the 15th round, with Frazier’s cornerman Eddie Futch throwing in the towel and telling his fighter: “It’s all over… No one will forget what you did here today”
In 1990, though he’d lost the undisputed heavyweight championship to Buster Douglas one year earlier, Tyson was still in his prime. Following the defeat, Tyson came back bigger and badder than ever. He made quick work of Henry Tillman and Alex Stewart, knocking both men out in the first round, then set his sights on Donovan “Razor” Ruddock.
Unlike Tyson’s previous opponents, the Ruddock fight was a two way slugfest that lasted for seven rounds. Ruddock pounded Tyson for almost three straight minutes before losing by technical knockout in the following round.
Ruddock was still standing after Tyson landed the six-punch combo that forced the referee to end the fight. It was a controversial decision and, following the call, a brawl broke out in the ring as both fighters’ entourages began exchanging punches.
A rematch took place three months later and Tyson won again, this time by unanimous decision. It was the last fight Tyson would have before being convicted of rape later that year.