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The 20 greatest heavyweight fights in history – Ranked from 20 to 1

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Ranking the greatest 20 heavyweight fights in the history of boxing

20. DEONTAY WILDER draw pts 12 TYSON FURY, Los Angeles, 2018
NOT exactly a slugfest but astonishingly engrossing. Fury seemed to box his way to an early lead as Wilder – the renowned puncher – stalked and tried to find an opening. One came in the ninth and he dropped the Englishman only for Fury to ease back into contention. In the 12th, Fury’s head was positioned with a jab and then cannoned into dreamland with a right hand and left hook. It looked like the end until Fury woke up on the canvas, beat the count and somehow finished the stronger.

19. ROCKY MARCIANO w pts 15 EZZARD CHARLES, New York, 1954
“TWO more game or gallant fighters never fought for the title,” said legendary commentator Don Dunphy from his ringside position as the action ebbed and flowed. Charles, past his peak but the better technician, did his best to keep the swarming Marciano off him. The styles meshed to form a 15-round classic that Marciano edged on points.

18. LEOTIS MARTIN w rsf 9 THAD SPENCER, London, 1968
THIS cult classic, which wasn’t filmed, is still talked about by those who were there to witness it inside the Royal Albert Hall. Martin started fast, dropping Spencer in the opening round before the slick-boxing Thad gained control during the middle round during some hellacious exchanges. Spencer looked to be on the brink of victory in the eighth before Martin summoned the defining assault in the ninth.

17. FLOYD PATTERSON w rsf 6 INGEMAR JOHANSSON, Miami Beach, 1961
THE Swede started fast in this rubber match and downed the champion twice. Patterson then unleashed his left hook to score his own knockdown. The end came in the sixth when Patterson leapt in with his left and sank Johansson with two rights.

16. DERREK JEFFERSON w ko 6 MAURICE HARRIS, Atlantic City, 1999
NOT exactly fluent in the art of craft, Jefferson and Harris instead combined to spew unbridled violence at a rate that few other heavyweight pairings can match. The second round was breathtaking as Harris hit the mat twice only to deck Jefferson for a count himself. The drama continued in the third, with both rocking and rolling, before the pace slowed in rounds four and five in anticipation of what was to follow in the sixth. Harris was bullied to the deck with body shots before rising to leave Jefferson in deep trouble. “D-Train” responded in the only way he knew how and drove a left hook of the ages into Harris that put his rival to sleep on impact.

15. JOE LOUIS w ko 13 BILLY CONN, New York, 1941
AHEAD on two cards after 12 rounds, and needing to win just one of the remaining three to be crowned champion, Billy Conn made a decision that haunted him for the rest of his life: He went for the knockout and presented Joe Louis with the opportunity to do the same.

Billy Conn
DEFINED: One of the greatest light-heavies, Conn is best remembered for his loss to Louis

14. LENNOX LEWIS w rsf 6 VITALI KLITSCHKO, Los Angeles, 2003
IT seems unthinkable now that Klitschko came in as a substitute for Kirk Johnson. Klitschko was determined to take his chance and took control early. An upset looked likely and Lewis looked his age. But the world champion landed his famed right hand in the third and opened a savage cut over the challenger’s eyes. A slugfest followed, the Briton seemed to be gaining the advantage, and at the end of the sixth, against the shredded Klitschko’s wishes, the fight was stopped in Lewis’ favour.

13. BUSTER DOUGLAS w rsf 10 MIKE TYSON, Tokyo, 1990
TYSON was expected to do what he always did, steamroll his opponent quickly. But Douglas had other ideas. The challenger’s jab was bewilderingly accurate while Tyson, as early as the fourth round, looked out of ideas. Tyson dropped Douglas in the eighth round and it seemed, as Douglas scrambled to his feet, that order had been restored. But the fall energised Douglas and he sent Tyson, the so-called invincible man, down in the 10th.  Tyson, like a drunk looking for his wallet in a bar, searched for his gumshield on the canvas before being counted out.

12. LARRY HOLMES w pts 15 KEN NORTON, Las Vegas, 1978
THE momentum swung throughout this clash for the WBC title. Holmes seized the initiative early before Norton come strong. But Holmes, displaying all the guile and strength that would make him one of the greatest of them all, rallied himself. In the 13th, Norton looked on the way out. The champion responded in the next before the pair of them went hell for leather in the last round, three of the most violent minutes in heavyweight history.

11. ROCKY MARCIANO w ko 13 JERSEY JOE WALCOTT, Philadelphia, 1952
MARCIANO was sent sprawling in the opener, and second best to Walcott’s sublime craft for long periods. Tirelessly working his back, Marciano was down on the cards as they entered the 13th. But Walcott got careless and Marciano unleashed the punch of a lifetime. Game over.

Rocky Marciano
BLOCKBUSTER: Marciano rescues victory with mesmeric right hand

10. MICHAEL MOORER w ko 5 BERT COOPER, Atlantic City, 1992
COOPER blazed into the favourite with a right hand and Moorer, with the bell still to settle after being clanged for the first time, sunk to the canvas. Moorer soon returned the favour with a right hook. In the third, Cooper notched another knockdown but was exhausted by the fifth as Moorer ended the chaos with a volley of blows.

9. IKE IBEABUCH w pts 12 DAVID TUA, Miami Beach, 1961
IBEABUCHI and Tua engaged in a truly ferocious exhibition of throwing and taking punches. According to CompuBox, they launched 1,730 punches between them which equated to 48 per minute. At the end of the 12 rounds, Ibeabuchi was named the unanimous winner in a bout that could have gone either way.

8. MUHAMMAD ALI w ko 8 GEORGE FOREMAN, Kinshasa, 1974
THE monstrous Foreman was widely expected to defeat the slowing Ali. The former king slashed punches off the onrushing favourite and covering up in close. Foreman had his moments of course, but the untruth that Ali simply waited until the champion was tired does him a disservice. Exciting and brilliant, this was arguably Ali at his finest.

7. ANTHONY JOSHUA w rsf 11 WLADIMIR KLITSCHKO, London, 2017
THERE were high expectations among the sold-out Wembley Stadium long before the opening bell. What followed exceeded them, and then some. Joshua started fast and dropped Klitschko in the fifth but in a frantic effort to knock out the Ukrainian, he punched himself out. Joshua was floored heavily in the sixth before regaining control, and winning the fight, in a dramatic 11th.

6. EVANDER HOLYFIELD w rsf 11 MIKE TYSON, Las Vegas, 1996
TYSON was considered almost back to his best and Holyfield so far gone that many labelled this a dangerous mismatch. It was far from. Tyson hit the mat in the sixth but gamely battled on, hurling leather in a desperate effort to restore order. It never came, and in the 11th, Holyfield completed one of the biggest shocks of all time.

5. RIDDICK BOWE w pts 12 EVANDER HOLYFIELD, Las Vegas, 1992
Holyfield and Bowe both had plenty to prove and did so. A gung-ho war of the ages wowed fans as Bowe overcame a slow start to initiate a stunning 10th. Holyfield – showing exceptional pluck and bravery – survived a knockdown in the 11th before coming up short on the cards.

WILD AND WONDERFUL: Holyfield and Bowe tee off in ring centre

4. GEORGE FOREMAN w ko 5 RON LYLE, Las Vegas, 1976
WITH his cloak of invincibility ruined by Ali 15 months before, Lyle fearlessly went to war and wobbled the former champ in the first round but was hurt in the second. In the fourth Foreman was dropped, got up, decked Lyle, only to be floored again. In the fifth, Foreman was stung again but drove Lyle to the canvas and out.

3. JACK DEMPSEY w ko 2 LUIS FIRPO, New York, 1923
THE Polo Grounds were suitably ram-jammed when Dempsey was dropped in the opening moments. Embarrassed, he tore after the challenger and decked him seven (SEVEN) times before being knocked out of the ring himself. It was a heavy crash, and one he was fortunate to survive. Dempsey – who later claimed he saw “eight-million stars” after that fall – knocked out Firpo in the second.

jack dempsey luis firpo
DOWN: Dempsey stands over the gigantic slugger, Firpo

2. JOE FRAZIER w pts 15 MUHAMMAD ALI, New York, 1971
NEVER before or since has a showdown been anticipated like this one. Two unbeaten heavyweights already touted as all-time greats. Frazier turned in a performance of the ages – which was underlined with a final knockdown that enhanced the reputations of both men – to deservedly win a thriller.

1. MUHAMMAD AlI w rtd 14 JOE FRAZIER, Manila, 1975
THERE were concerns beforehand that Ali had not taken training seriously and that Frazier was in steep decline. While there was excitement surrounding the old enemies coming together, few anticipated what followed: A contest as gruelling as you’ll ever see, both men cemented their legends while ruining themselves in a savage slugfest.

6 Comments

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  • Wilder vs Fury 1, surely there are 20+ better fights EVER. Wilder, has acheived well, but is very limited…Fury should have done what he did in the 2nd figh in the 1st, he did not because he was rusty, although he DID actually win the fight, it was a poor decision and that made it annoying, so why was that a top 20 fight?

    The other cooment here is talking about Tyson losses, his first loss was a big thing, but it was going to happen, were you around then? Everyone knew Tyson was heading to perform poorly and lose. He never got goy back to revious form and other fighters were comong up, his later losses were nothing in top 20 all time heavy weight fights.

    What sort of crap are you writing here, are you expecting us to pay for it?

    • Hi Neil, you should be able to. If you haven’t received an email with the right link to restore you free access to the site, could you email your details to subs@kelsey.co.uk and they should be able to resolve it. Sorry for the problem, we do appreciate you subscribing!

  • I think Ali vs Shavers was missed unless that was not for the belt. I am not sure Wilder or Fury would have seen a championship fight if they fought in the Ali Frazier era.

  • We know that neither of the fights featuring Mike Tyson loses involved him anywhere near his best, for various reasons, and so although the results were surprising at the time I can’t understand why they would now, with hindsight, be regarded as two of the greatest fights in heavyweight history.

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