Premium History Issue

What to watch from boxing history this week

Carlos Zarate boxing history
From the elegance of Griffith to the violence of Zarate via some eye-popping powerplays from Joshua, Lewis and Jones Jnr, Matt Christie picks out some battles from boxing history to watch again

5. EMILE GRIFFITH w pts 15 DICK TIGER April 25, 1966; Madison Square Garden, New York

Far from a thriller, admittedly, but plenty to admire in a fight between two of the very best fighters of the era. Reigning world welterweight champion Griffith stepped up in weight to challenge the middleweight king, Tiger.

Though Griffith is outweighed by nearly 10lbs, it’s striking how much bigger he looks as he boxes in circles while the more aggressive Tiger patrols the inside. The athletic Griffith is obviously wary and respectful of the champion in the early going before stepping up the pace after dropping Tiger in the ninth. It was the first time the African had been floored.

While joining what was then a select club of fighters to win world titles at 147 and 160 (only Sugar Ray Robinson and Carmen Basilio achieved the feat before him) Griffith – who sprained his left ankle the day before the fight – failed to win over the sportswriters: Out of 22 watching at ringside, 17 believed the more aggressive Tiger deserved to win.

Did you know? After the fight Griffith’s profile increased and it was reported by the New York Post, after he sang on The Ed Sullivan Show, that he had been signed by Colombia Records.

Watch out for: That Griffith jab. When he gets it firing, it’s an exhibition in how effective a disciplined lead hand should be.

Emile Griffith

4. LENNOX LEWIS w ko 2 MICHAEL GRANT April 29, 2000; Madison Square Garden, New York

After proving his superiority over Evander Holyfield and getting recognition as the undisputed heavyweight No.1, Lewis – in a nod to his character – then took on the dangerous and unbeaten Grant who was viewed by some as a champion in waiting.

Lewis showed little respect for Grant in the build-up, repeating his view that he had been moved up too quickly and was the beneficiary of hype. And so it proved. In one of Lewis’ most ruthless outings, he fouled prolifically (watch him repeatedly hold Grant’s head with his left to bomb him with his right) as he savagely walked through the challenger inside two rounds.

Gets some snacks and beers to hand, search for the full broadcast on YouTube, and you’ll find three hours’ worth of footage including the undercard (Wladimir Klitschko thrashing David Bostice, Arturo Gatti bashing up Erik Jakubowski and the thoroughly entertaining rumble that saw Paul Ingle overcome Junior Jones) and interviews with the likes of Kevin Kelley and Evander Holyfield.

Did you know? The WBA, under pressure from Don King, criminally stripped Lewis for taking on Grant instead of No.1 contender, John Ruiz. “I don’t care what they say,” a defiant Lewis said. “I’m still undisputed.”

Watch out for: Jim Lampley’s dig at Lewis after a pre-fight interview (screened during Ingle-Jones). “The usual breathless excitement in Lennox Lewis there,” said Lampley.

3. ROY JONES JNR w ko 4 VIRGIL HILL April 25, 1998; Coast Coliseum, Biloxi

Back to a time when Jones Jnr was permanently borderline angry. Back to a time when he wasn’t getting paid enough and the media were not giving him enough credit. Back to a time when he talked about himself in the third person – a lot.

“If you don’t pay Roy what he wants then you ain’t gonna see Roy fight,” said Roy when asked why Roy hadn’t been fighting regularly. “It’s not the public’s fault, it’s the people who pay Roy.”

When Roy was in this kind of mood, it was usually bad news for Roy’s opponents. As Virgil discovered. In the fourth round the impossibly talented Jones slashed his right hand across Hill’s ribs. The crack, audible at ringside, sent co-commentator George Foreman into a frenzy and Hill writhing in agony.

This was a non-title fight with the WBC calling Jones a ‘champion in recess’ after a period of inactivity. They had crowned Graciano Rocchigiani their new champion before later reinstating Jones. The debacle led to court action from the German and the WBC declaring bankruptcy in 2003.

Did you know? In the build-up to this fight, Roy Jones Jnr was supposed to have lunch with Senator John McCain to discuss ways in which boxing could be improved. Jones Jnr did not turn up for the lunch. McCain did.

Watch out for: One of the best body-punch finishes in the history of boxing.

2. ANTHONY JOSHUA w rsf 11 WLADIMIR KLITSCHKO April 29, 2017; Wembley Stadium, London

A wildly exciting barnburner that, for reasons only certain cynics will know, has since been labelled an overrated fight by certain cynics.

Perhaps it’s because, when watching again, not every second of the fight is thrilling. It’s true, there are rounds not as exciting as others. But on the night, as it all unfolded on a Spring night at Wembley Stadium, this fight was as scintillating as dropping a pill in the Hacienda.

Watch Joshua exert his energy in the opening rounds, get tagged in the fourth, floor Klitschko in the fifth and then use what seemed like the last of his reserves to celebrate. Watch how quickly the former champion then establishes control before bulleting “AJ” to the deck in the sixth.

And then watch Joshua slowly regain his senses, his strength, and the grip of his titles, courtesy of a rocketing uppercut in the 11th. Even with Klitschko taking a pounding on the ropes there was still a sense – if he could just make it to the end of the round – that he was still dangerous.

Did you know? A hotdog costs a whopping £10 in the stadium. It was pleasant enough, but not worth a tenner of anyone’s money.

Watch out for: How long it takes Joshua to summon the energy to celebrate after the fight is called off while his coach, Robert McCracken, demands the victor is given space.

1. CARLOS ZARATE w rsf 4 CARLOS ZAMORA April 23, 1977; The Forum, Inglewood

This glorious slugfest began with Zarate’s record reading 45-0 (44) with Zamora at 29-0 (29). While those stats sink in, throw in Zarate’s amateur record (30 knockouts from 33 fights) and you might just have the most prolific wrecking ball in boxing history.

Zarate held the WBC bantamweight belt, Zamora the WBA, but with sanctioning bodies and managers squabbling over the Ts and Cs, the Mexican fighters agreed that this fight was more important than any alphabet strap and went to war without a title on the line (all current world titlists take note). It was scheduled for 10, but even that seemed optimistic.

Forty-three years on, while watching the imperfect footage on YouTube, the weight these pair of bone-crushers packed into their mitts is obvious. So too are Zamora’s limitations against a truly elite operator. Though he arguably wins the opening two, Zarate is making his play to take over. Watching and learning, and not afraid to take a whack to capitalise, Zarate expertly breaks down Zamora in rounds three and four with short and wicked hooks on the inside.

A superb scrap, often overlooked when naming the best in history, that any fight fan would dream of being ringside for.

Did you know? Though boxing politics almost stopped this from happening, another obstacle was initially deemed insurmountable: the two were very good friends, frequently visiting each other’s houses.

Watch out for: The fan-cum-maniac who gatecrashed the violence in the opening round.

Further viewing: Tony Canzoneri w rsf 3 Jack Kid Berg (1931); Reggie Johnson w pts 12 Steve Collins (1992); Matthew Saad Muhammad w ko 9 Murray Sutherland (1981); James Toney w pts 12 Vassiliy Jirov (2003)

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