Forty years before the National Boxing Association formed in the United States, John Sullivan was crowned the American heavyweight champion. The year was 1882 and the sport was gloveless. In 1892, Sullivan defended his title, this time wearing gloves. That same year he was defeated by James Corbett, a figure many consider the father of modern boxing. While these fights were sights to behold, they don’t hold a candle to the bouts the sport would see in the coming century. From Jack Johnson to Muhammad Ali to Manny Pacquiao, these are the biggest boxing matches of all time.
The "Thrilla In Manila" Was A Sight To Behold In 1975
The final fight between boxing legends Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali, the “Thrilla in Manila” did not disappoint fans looking for a bloody good time. Iit was most hyped fight the sport had ever seen. It was also the match that would determine, once and for all, who the best boxer of his generation was.
The fight began with an assault of punches by Ali that would have knocked any normal man out. Frazier was anything but normal, though, and stormed back with a flurry of attacks of his own. Ali won after 14 rounds, when Frazier was forced to bowed out, unable to take anymore. Over one billion people watched the epic fight.
"The Showdown" Kept Our Hearts Pounding For 14 Rounds
"The Showdown" between 25-year-old Sugar Ray Leonard and 22-year-old Tommy Hearns was a fight for the ages in 1981. The unification match would decide who would become the welterweight champion of the world. It was schedule to go 15 glorious rounds.
Hearns attacked first, carefully landing heavy jabs on Leonard’s face. His eye was swollen nearly shut by the end of the first round. Leonard came back to life in the sixth round, and turned the tables on Hearns. The two traded jabs for 14 total rounds, until Hearns was so battered and bruised he couldn’t carry on.
Ali Fights Frazier For The First Time In 1971
The first of three fights between the boxing icons, Ali saw this match as a road to redemption. He had previously been stripped of his world heavyweight title for refusing to fight in Vietnam. That was in 1967. If he could beat Joe Frazier in 1971, he would reclaim what he thought was rightfully his.
Entering the ring both fighters were undefeated. A $2.5 million purse was guaranteed to both as well. Anti-war supporters put their backs behind Ali, while pro-war supporters rooted for Frazier. Ali still stung like a bee, but he no longer floated like a butterfly at his age. After 15 rounds Frazier was declared the winner, and retained his belt. For the moment.
Aaron Pryor Earns Respect Against Alexis Arguello in 1982
Aaron Pryor had an exceptional boxing record before 1982 when he was finally given a chance to earn respect. He was scheduled to fight Sugar Ray Leonard, but the match was cancelled when a detached retina forced Leonard to retire. Pryor was given another major fight though; this time against Alexis Arguello.
For 14 rounds, both fighters pummeled each other, relentless and hungry for the win. After the 13th round, Pryor drank a mysterious black liquid, then unleashed fury on Arguello, who lost by TKO. Pryor was declared the winner and won the respect he desired. No urine test was ever administered, though, leaving his victory clouded in mystery.
Jack Dempsey Knocks Out Luis Firpo In The Second Round
The 1923 fight between Jack Dempsey and Luis Firpo was the second million-dollar purse the sport had ever seen. Dempsey had won the heavyweight title in 1919 and defended his title four times before being challenged by the “Wild Bull.” The Polo Grounds were filled with 82,000 people ready to witness history. Some have described what happened as boxing’s most spectacular showdown.
Dempsey and Firpo exchanged bruising blows through the first round. There was never a thought this would be a long fight. Dempsey acted groggy at the start of the second round, then dropped Firpo with a left hook. Just like that, the fight was over.
Marvin Hagler And Tommy Hearns Brought The Street To The Ring In 1985
The 1985 fight between Marvin Hagler and Tommy Hearns might have only lasted three rounds, but it was some of the most exhilarating fighting ever put on display. Originally billed as "The Fight" it has gone down in history as "The War."
Perhaps most notable about this fight was it played out more like a street brawl. Hearns attacked Hagler with a series of aggressive blows. Hagler overwhelmingly returned the favor. Somewhere during the fight, Hearns broke his right hand. Unable to land his punches with force, he was turned into a victim by Hagler, who knocked him out in the third round.
Julio Cesar Chavez Vs. Meldrick Taylor Was 12 Rounds Of Boxing Artistry
Going into this unification match, Julio Cesar Chavez had an unmatched 68-0 record. Meldrick Taylor had been compared to a young Sugar Ray Leonard and seen as a serious competitior to deal Chavez his first loss. It may not have been a heavyweight match, but it was still highly anticipated.
Chavez and Taylor took the fight 12 rounds. Taylor was dominant at the start and landed punch and punch. Chavez gained more steam as the fight went on, but Taylor had the clear point leads. With the 12th round coming to a close, Taylor fell to the canvas and couldn’t get back up.
Joe Louis Defended His Title An 18th Time In 1941 Against Billy Conn
Joe Louis was in the middle of fighting a bunch of "bums" when he was billed to fight Billy Conn in 1941. Conn was a popular and cocky Irish boxer from Pittsburgh. To fight Louis, he gave up his light heavyweight belt to be able to move up and fight the "big boys."
Louis outweighed Conn by 25 pounds, but the lighter fighter kept the champion off-balance with his fleet feet. Conn was winning the fight, and just needed to stay on his feet to shock the world. In the 13th round, however, he couldn’t help himself and decided he wanted to land a knockout blow. Louis landed a punch first, though, and knocked out Conn instead.
Let Us Never Forget “The Brawl In Montreal”
“The Brawl in Montreal” took place in 1975 between Roberto Duran and Sugar Ray Leonard. Widely regarded as the two best boxers in the world that year, the match was more more than just a title. It would let everyone know, unquestionably, who the best across all seven continents was.
Both boxers fought with distinctly different styles. Leonard used finesse to tire out his opponents while Duran was a brawler. For this fight, Leonard played Duran’s game, stepping up to the challenge. After 15 brutal rounds, Duran was declared the winner by unanimous decision.
Mickey Ward And Arturo Gatti Gave Us The Fight Of The Year In 2002
This ten-round behemoth of a fight between Mickey Ward and Arturo Gatti helped boxing find an audience in the 21st century. Before a punch was even thrown, pundits were calling it the fight of the year. The fighters were superstars in the making, and this fight would determine who reached that status first.
The fight is most memorable for the ninth round. The fighters were too tired to use technique and began beating the snot out of each others. When the bell rang, audiences were shocked Gatti and Ward were still standing. When the tenth round came to a close, War was named the winner by majority decision.
Rocky Marciano And Joe Walcott Was Seen As A Changing Of The Guards
This fight in 1952 was a battle between 38-year-old Joe Walcott and 22-year-old Rocky Marciano. Everyone knew Walcott was on his way out, but having just won a title, this bout was heavily hyped. Marciano was was also just coming off beating Joe Louis, who retired shortly after.
The arena packed in 40,000 fans, all who bore witness to one of the hardest-fought matches in 25 years. Walcott knocked Marciano to the canvas with his first punch. The young fighter had never fallen down before, but refused to let that shake him. He won after knocking Walcott out in the 13th round.
Sugar Ray Leonard And Marvin Hagler Was A Fight Five Years In The Making
The 1987 fight between Sugar Ray Leonard and Marvin Hagler took half a decade to organize. Leonard had retired in 1982 and this was his first fight as middleweight. Hagler was undefeated for the 11 years prior, defending his title 12 times in that span.
Right away, any doubts that Leonard’s skills were diminished washed away. After a five-year absence, he looked like himself. Knowing he couldn’t match Hagler blow for blow, Leonard danced around his opponent, looking to outwit and outlast him. The plan worked and Leonard was declared the winner in a 12 round split-decision.
Willie Pep And Sandy Saddler Was A Rematch For The Ages In 1949
Willie Pep was 134-1-1 when he was billed alongside Sandy Saddler for the first time. That match ended in four rounds, with Saddler surprising the champion and knocking him out. A rematch was scheduled for three months later. It did not disappoint.
Pep went on the offensive first, and threw 37 punches in the first round. Saddler didn’t take the abuse sitting down, and fired back with an assault of his own. The fight went a full 15 rounds, and ended with Pep reclaiming his crown by unanimous decision.
Larry Holmes And Ken Norton Fought For Glory In 1978
Larry Holmes was Ken Norton’s first challenger for the WBC heavyweight title after Norton was awarded the belt in 1978. The belt had been stripped from Leon Spinks after he offered a rematch to Muhammad Ali. Holmes was offered the title match by default, and put on a show for the ages.
Holmes used the fight to escape the shadow of Ali, who he was sparring partners with. He had amassed a 27-0 record, but was not considered a serious challenger. The underdog proved to be the victor and Holmes was named the winner in a 15-round split-decision.
Carmen Basilio And Tony DeMarco Lit Up The Boston Garden
Tony DeMarco had the extreme pleasure of fighting in front of his hometown Boston crowd at the Boston Garden 1955. He desperately wanted to avenge his loss to Carmen Basilio months earlier. The two evenly matched fighters met on November 30, 1955 again, with many analysts predicting another loss for DeMarco.
DeMarco took charge of the fight in the middle round, catching Basillio with a left hook to the head. Basillio, shocked, managed to stay on his feet. The amount of energy DeMarco used in the middle rounds got up with him in the later rounds. As tough as he was, Basillio proved victorious with a 12th round TKO.
Gene Tunney And Jack Dempsey Fought At Soldier Field In 1927
To many, the 1920s were the “Golden Age” of boxing. To those same people, the 1927 rematch between Gene Tunney and Jack Dempsey might be the pinnacle of the decade. Tunney had just beaten Dempsey in 1926 to take the title. Their next fight at Soldier Field was a chance for Dempsey to regain his pride, and more importantly his title.
The hard fought battle lasted ten rounds. To the winner would go a record gate of $2.6 million. Tunney started strong, but once Dempsey found his footing the tables turned. A crowd of over 100,000 waited with baited breath as the refs announced the winner was Tunney.
Ali Knocked Out Foreman In A Classic 1974 Match
In 1974, Muhammad Ali was on a quest to regain his title when he took on George Foreman. Known more for his countertop grills these days, the boxer was an absolute monster in the ring during his prime. In his five matches before this one, Foreman had knocked each opponent by a combined five rounds.
Ali was given zero chance to win. The fight was dubbed “The Rumble in the Jungle” and gave audiences more than they could have hoped for. Ali famously protected his head and allowed Foreman to destroy his body, waiting like a snake for the right moment to strike. It came eight rounds in, and Ali won by knockout.
Rocky Graziano And Tony Zale Had The Match Of The Year In 1947
This was the second fight between Rocky Graziano and Tony Zale. The first was won by Zale by knockout in the sixth round. Graziano entered the ring this time determined to turn the tables. It was billed as the “Fight of the Year” and more than lived up to expectations.
Graziano did exactly what he planned to do, and beat Zale by TKO in the sixth round. The tables were turned perfectly. After the fight he called in a “private war” and said, “if there hadn’t been a referee one of us would have ended up dead.”
Riddick Bowe And Evander Holyfield Became Bitter Rivals After One Fight
Riddick Bowe and Evander Holyfield had one of the greatest boxing rivalries of all-time. The first fight between the two was the best. Holyfield was seen as the favorite while Bowe was younger, faster, stronger, and bigger. Holyfield, knowing he had to strike quick, set the tone early.
Of course, he probably set the tone too early. He may have been the favorite, but with everything else working in Bowe’s favor, the boxing world was stunned. Bowe was named the winner after a 12-round split decision.
Joe Louis And Max Schmeling Took Place On The Eve Of WWII
With the world one the eve of World War II, American boxer Joe Louis fought German boxer Max Schmeling for the heavyweight title. Louis, the second black heavyweight title holder ever, had a tough task ahead of him to defend the title. Schmeling was not only a great boxer, he was seen as a Nazi hero in his homeland.
When the bell rang to start the match, it didn’t last very long. Louis unleashed fury on his opponent. Schmeling was overwhelmed and only landed one punch. Louis landed the rest, and knocked the German out before the end of the first round.