JOE FRAZIER vs MUHAMMAD ALI I
Date: March 8, 1971. Venue: Madison Square Garden, New York City. Titles at stake: Frazier’s WBC and WBA heavyweight. Records: Frazier 26-0 (23), Ali 31-0 (25). Result: Frazier w pts 15.
WHEN you bill a contest as Fight Of The Century, you’re under pressure to deliver. Fortunately, the first of what would become a trilogy between these two warriors delivered – and then some.
The match had socio-political ramifications way beyond its sporting significance. Even though Ali held no belt, many considered him the real champion because he had been stripped of his world title for refusing to join the US Army during the Vietnam War.
In Ali’s three-year absence, Frazier had unified the division with a formidable, all-action fighting style; a showdown with the “Louisville Lip” was a natural.
It sold out the famed Garden with 20,455 in attendance including celebrities such as writer Norman Mailer and singer/actor Frank Sinatra (famously on a photographer’s credential). Closed-circuit TV broadcast the match to an estimated 300 million worldwide across 50 nations. They saw a fight that surpassed expectations with the younger, fresher Frazier outworking Ali, who survived a last-round knockdown to hear the final bell, where he was a decisive points loser.
MARVIN HAGLER VS THOMAS HEARNS
Date: April 15, 1985. Venue: Caesars Palace (outdoor arena), Las Vegas. Title at stake: WBC, WBA and IBF middleweight. Records: Hagler 60-2-2 (50), Hearns 40-1 (34). Result: Hagler w rsf 3.
HALFWAY through the 1980s, with Sugar Ray Leonard retired and the heavyweight division in an uninspiring state – Mike Tyson had only just turned pro – the meeting of Marvin Hagler and Thomas Hearns was just about the biggest fight that could be made.
Marvelous Marvin had held the 160lbs title since 1980 and was undisputed to boot. Hearns had lost to Leonard at welter but rebounded by winning the 154lbs crown and had destroyed Roberto Duran in two rounds.
Given Hagler could only outpoint Duran, and that at 30 he was the older man by six years, many fancied the elongated 6ft 2 3/4ins Detroit man to outbox the Brockton, Massachusetts southpaw.
Such was the interest that the outdoor arena at Caesars Palace was required, when that was the biggest (and most prestigious) venue Vegas had to offer. Promoter Bob Arum billed it as The War – and it turned out that way, with Hagler surviving a Hearns first-round onslaught to overwhelm him two sessions later.
LENNOX LEWIS VS MIKE TYSON
Date: June 8, 2002. Venue: The Pyramid, Memphis. Titles at stake: Lewis’ WBC and IBF heavyweight Records: Lewis 39-2-1 (31), Tyson 49-3 (44). Result: Lewis w ko 8.
SURE, this happened at least half a decade after it should have done, and very near the end of the boxers’ careers: Tyson would fight only three more times, Lewis just the once.
But if, like many British fans, you wanted to see Lewis achieve a crushing knockout of the heavyweight division’s long-time bad boy, you were fully rewarded.
The two had been acquainted in sporting terms since the late 1980s, when Tyson was history’s youngest heavyweight champion and Lewis merely a promising amateur. They would become potential rivals when Lennox ascended to prominence during Tyson’s mid-1990s imprisonment.
“Iron” Mike tried hard to antagonise all and sundry, saying in one post-fight TV interview that he wanted to eat Lewis’ children – Lennox didn’t have any at the time – and then biting the Londoner’s leg in a press conference to announce the fight. That led to the pair being guarded in the ring by their own security details during the pre-fight announcements, but while the action proved one-sided, Lewis settled all differences with a big right in round eight.
AARON PRYOR VS ALEXIS ARGUELLO I
Date: November 12, 1982. Venue: Orange Bowl, Miami. Title at stake: Pryor’s WBA super-lightweight
Records: Pryor 31-0 (29), Arguello 72-5 (60). Result: Pryor w rsf 14.
ARGUELLO had already reigned at featherweight, super-feather and lightweight when matched with whirlwind Pryor in a bid to win a world title in a fourth division – a much harder achievement then than now.
The tall, stylish Nicaraguan had been a mooted superfight opponent for 135lbs king Roberto Duran in the late 1970s, but it never happened. Instead, he had to wait until 17 days past his 30th birthday for the challenge to Pryor, whose high-energy style had made him one of the sport’s most exciting performers.
The Cincinnati boxer, fighting on his 26th birthday, was at his peak and naturally the bigger man, which no doubt helped him survive the numerous gruelling exchanges in a thrilling encounter.
In the end, Pryor simply outlasted Arguello, although a shadow was cast over his victory when it emerged that late in the fight he supped an unknown liquid proffered by cornerman Panama Al Lewis (subsequently found guilty of glove-tampering in another fight).
SUGAR RAY LEONARD VS ROBERTO DURAN I
Date: June 20, 1980. Venue: Olympic Stadium, Montreal, Canada. Title at stake: Leonard’s WBC welterweight. Records: Leonard 27-0 (18), Duran 71-1 (57). Result: Duran w pts 15.
IT was the very definition of a superfight: a supremely talented young American hero against a snarling Panamanian veteran who had once supposedly knocked out a horse.
Everything opposed this pair. Leonard was a stylish 1976 Olympic gold medallist (in Montreal) who developed steadily as a pro before stopping superb Wilfred Benitez to become champion in December 1979. With American boxing booming – quality shows were frequent on free-to-air television – the smiling Leonard raked in the dollars. In contrast, Duran had turned pro at 16 and come up the hard way, holding the world lightweight title for six-and-a-half years before adding weight in search of lucrative opportunities.
He spoke only broken English but managed to insult Leonard with taunts that made him brawl rather than box, playing into Duran’s hands as the older man (by five years) outhustled Ray to win a thriller on cards of 146-144, 148-147 and 145-144.
FLOYD MAYWEATHER VS MANNY PACQUIAO
Date: May 2, 2015. Venue: MGM Grand Garden Arena, Las Vegas. Titles at stake: Mayweather’s WBC and WBA Super, Pacquiao’s WBO welterweight. Records: Mayweather 47-0 (26), Pacquiao 57-5-2 (38). Result: Mayweather w pts 12.
THIS was a classic example of how too much marination can let a superfight turn into an undigestible dish. Instead of an all-time classic, Mayweather v Pacquiao proved a huge letdown with the American comfortably outboxing an unusually subdued Filipino opponent.
If only they had met five years earlier, it could have been so different…
The timing would have been perfect in early 2010: multi-division ruler Mayweather had ended a 21-month retirement by beating Mexico’s Juan Manuel Marquez the previous September, while two months after that Pacquiao had completed a remarkable rise through the weights by stopping Miguel Cotto for the WBO 147lbs crown.
Yet the two could not reach agreement, arguing over revenue distribution and drug testing procedures. Each went his separate way and a shock knockout loss to Marquez in December 2012 meant Pacquiao was a decided underdog by the time Mayweather finally consented to box him two-and-a-half years later.
WILFREDO GOMEZ VS CARLOS ZARATE
Date: October 28, 1978. Venue: Roberto Clemente Coliseum, San Juan, Puerto Rico. Title at stake: Gomez’s WBC super-bantamweight. Records: Gomez 21-0-1 (21), Zarate 52-0 (51). Result: Gomez won rsf 5.
THIS battle of the little big men was huge news back when there were only two sanctioning bodies (WBC and WBA) and many of the sport’s major fights still happened in their natural locale, before Las Vegas monopolised everything.
The ingredients were certainly enticing: unbeatens from bitter rivals Puerto Rico and Mexico who in a combined 74 fights had heard the final bell just twice: a six-round debut draw for Gomez and one points win for Zarate.
Gomez, who would turn 22 the day after the fight, was a former World Amateur champion who since winning his crown in May 1977 had already made five defences (one in Japan).
Zarate, 25, had become WBC 118lbs king in May 1976 and the following year wiped out WBA counterpart Alfonso Zamora in a non-title bout.
Yet it proved a one-sided letdown. A flu-stricken Zarate struggled to make weight and was dropped twice in round four, then a third time in round five, before his corner threw in the towel.
OSCAR DE LA HOYA VS FELIX TRINIDAD
Date: September 18, 1999. Venue: Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas. Titles at stake: De La Hoya’s WBC and Trinidad’s IBF welterweight. Records: De la Hoya 31-0 (25), Trinidad 35-0 (30). Result: Trinidad w pts 12.
IF you like smart technical boxing, then you probably don’t consider this one a disappointment – but when you consider the almost universal predictions of unbridled excitement and an early ending, this contest simply didn’t deliver. After all, it was one of the rare Trinidad fights in which the Puerto Rican puncher did NOT get floored early on. Actually, Boxing News’ prediction was that it was De La Hoya who would taste the canvas early on before rallying to win by stoppage in six.
One can understand the eager anticipation surrounding this unification bout: Olympic gold medallist De La Hoya had earned world titles at four weights, adding power as he filled out, while Trinidad had cut down a string of opponents since winning his belt in 1993.
As it turned out, Oscar boxed cautiously to build a lead only to ease off in the later rounds and allow Trinidad to steal a hotly-contested decision on cards of 115-113, 115-114 and 114-114.
WLADIMIR KLITSCHKO VS DAVID HAYE
Date: July 2, 2011. Venue: Imtech-Arena, Hamburg. Titles at stake: Klitschko’s WBA, WBO, IBF and IBO heavyweight. Records: Klitschko 55-3 (48), Haye 25-1 (23). Result: Klitschko won pts 12 unan.
HOW intense was the hype for this match-up between dominant champion Klitschko and Britain’s cocky, publicity-seeking two-weight king? Well, this publication even produced a special bookazine to accompany the contest, which took place in front of a 50,000 crowd at the home ground of the Hamburg football club.
The huge publicity surrounding the event only made it a bigger let-down when Haye – contrary to pre-fight boasts – took few chances as the giant Ukrainian outboxed him for a wide points victory by 118-108, 117-107, 116-110.
In the immediate aftermath Haye blamed his sluggish showing on an injury to the big toe of his right foot, which prevented him using his smaller man’s speed to leap into range and land big punches.
The Londoner’s performance hardly fitted the aggression he had shown in pursuing the contest, including turning up at Klitschko functions wearing a t-shirt portraying a decapitated Klitschko and Haye holding his severed, bloody head.
ROY JONES VS JAMES TONEY
Date: November 18, 1994. Venue: MGM Grand, Las Vegas. Title at stake: Toney’s IBF super-middleweight. Records: Jones 26-0 (23), Toney 44-0-2 (29). Result: Jones won pts 12 (unan).
NOT many remember it now, given how Jones would go on to become the sport’s top fighter for nearly a decade, but Toney actually came into this bout as the favourite.
Not that surprising really – he had ripped the middleweight crown from Michael Nunn before becoming champ up at 168lbs by beating Iran Barkley. Jones had followed as 160lbs belt-holder, also stepping up in weight to pursue bigger opportunities, but many purists decried his flashy, unorthodox style that relied on reflexes and extraordinary hand speed.
Both could punch but the feeling was that Toney’s old-school skills (he could lay on the ropes and deflect blows superbly) would prove the difference. Nothing doing: on the night, Jones put a count on the weight-drained champion in round three and dominated with combinations. The potential classic ended wide for Jones by 119-108, 118-109, 117-110.