5. SUGAR RAY ROBINSON w ko 3 ROCKY GRAZIANO April 16, 1952; The Stadium, Chicago
A free-swinging slugfest for as long as it lasted, Graziano decked world middleweight champion Robinson with a right hand in the third round. Robinson got up, set Rocky up for the counter, and knocked him silly with a sweet right hand.
You’ll find the fight in its entirety on YouTube but instead look for The Way It Was: Robinson v Graziano, an irresistible film that features both fighters in a studio long after they’d retired alongside legendary commentator, Don Dunphy. Suited and booted, Graziano displays great humour while Robinson shows good grace as they watch the action unfold.
Graziano is asked what he would have done differently. “I’d have grabbed him by the throat,” he chuckles. “He was so slick, he was like Vaseline… He was a great and beautiful fighter. It was my pleasure to get knocked out by him.”
Did you know? The crowd of 22,264 included several standing-room only tickets that were priced at $5 and $10.
Watch out for: Graziano in the studio, chugging on a cigarette, laughing and joking about the moment he was knocked out by the greatest fighter in history.
4. MICHAEL SPINKS w pts 15 LARRY HOLMES April 19, 1986; Hilton Hotel, Las Vegas
Those who now question Spinks’ guts purely because he was knocked out by Mike Tyson in 91 seconds in 1988, should watch this rematch carefully. In danger of being flattened on several occasions by a hungry-again Holmes, Spinks shows extreme gusto to not only last the distance, but fight back.
This was a different Holmes to the man who was outpointed by Spinks the previous year. Eager for revenge, he reacted to the opening bell by chasing after his rival and throwing him to the canvas.
After being hurt in rounds two and nine, Spinks was all but out in the 14th when another right hand almost dropped him. The debate about who deserved to win the decision raged in the aftermath with most favouring 36-year-old Holmes, including the HBO commentary team. But Spinks played his part in a fascinating sequel. The scores of 144-141, 144-142 (Spinks) and 144-141 (Holmes) triggered calls of ‘Bulls**t’ in the pro-Holmes crowd.
Did you know? Former world heavyweight champion Jersey Joe Walcott was part of Spinks’ training team and is among the first to embrace the champion at the final bell.
Watch out for: Holmes’ bitter disappointment as the scores are announced. He barely acknowledges Spinks as he pulls on his robe and exits the ring.
3. EVANDER HOLYFIELD w pts 12 GEORGE FOREMAN April 19, 1991; Convention Center, Atlantic City
Though Foreman’s comeback was generating attention, particularly after he banjoed Gerry Cooney the previous year, the overriding feeling was that he had next to no chance with heavyweight king, Holyfield.
After all, the ageing former king, 42, had not beaten a rated fighter since his return in 1987. Cooney was a recognisable name but was coming off a layoff and Foreman’s victims were largely unthreatening and designed to make Big George look good.
As a consequence, the tougher than expected fight that 28-year-old Holyfield encountered gave birth to doubts about his future as heavyweight champion. Hindsight paints a more complimentary picture, of course. Outweighed by 49lbs, Holyfield bossed most of the engrossing action against a man who would regain his world title in 1995 and remain a force until his last fight in 1997.
Did you know? It was originally announced that Holyfield would rematch Foreman on November 8, 1991, before Mike Tyson was declared as Evander’s next challenger. The Tyson fight didn’t happen until 1996.
Watch out for: Round seven is a thriller. Holyfield is rocked to his boots by the kind of right hand that knocked out many other fighters before rallying to leave the old man teetering.
2. FLOYD MAYWEATHER w pts 12 JOSE LUIS CASTILLO April 20, 2002; MGM Grand, Las Vegas
The points victory that many believe should have been a loss for Mayweather, who never again came this close to being defeated.
HBO’s Jim Lampley makes an interesting observation in the second round after Mayweather was head-butted – but long before it became clear that Castillo might be about to win.
“Yesterday we spent 30 minutes with Mayweather and he barely mentioned Jose Luis Castillo,” Lampley reports. “He preferred to talk about money, fame, promotion, exposure and subjects like that. The last fighter who came into a fighter meeting and talked that way was Shane Mosley before the fight with Vernon Forrest in New York.”
Mosley lost that fight. Judge for yourself if Mayweather deserved a similar result against Castillo.
Did you know? Mayweather blamed the disappointing crowd – a little over 6,000 – on Bob Arum, his then-promoter. Arum claimed that the dispute had started when he refused to pay for a huge neon sign of Mayweather – like the $150,000 image of Britney Spears that was already there – to be positioned on the outside of the MGM Grand.
Watch out for: Mayweather complaining about his left shoulder as early as the end of the first round. The in-corner analysis from HBO is fascinating throughout.
1. MATTHEW FRANKLIN w rsf 8 MARVIN JOHNSON April 22, 1979; Maket Square Arena, Indianopolis
What a fight! WBC light-heavyweight champion Marvin Johnson was among the fastest starters in the sport and Franklin – in his last fight before changing his name to Matthew Saad Muhammad – was one of the slowest.
In a rematch of their 1977 encounter, won by Franklin in the 12th, it was no surprise that Johnson was looking for revenge early. He nearly got it, too. He swarmed all over Franklin. After five sessions, was busted up with blood seeping from his eyes, nose and mouth. But the challenger was standing his ground in the toe-to-toe warfare.
Then came the kind of rally that Franklin would be defined by. He pummelled his southpaw rival, almost decking him in the seventh, before a right hand landed in the eighth that dropped the southpaw. Though he got up, he was in no state to continue. A new champion, and boxing hero, was born.
Did you know? “I could barely see Marvin,” Matthew reported afterwards. “I kept saying to myself, ‘I have to do it right now. I have to go for the championship right now’.”
Watch out for: Every moment is worth cherishing.
Further viewing: Hasim Rahman w ko 5 Lennox Lewis (2001); Stevie Johnston w pts 12 Alejandro Gonzalez (2002); Tommy Morrison w rsf 5 Yuri Vaulin (1991); Julian Jackson w ko 2 Francisco Del Toro (1986)