Professional boxing has been called “The Sport of Kings” because of the way that it pits man against man (and increasingly woman against woman) in a contest where strength, speed of thought and movement, and courage are put to the ultimate test.
There have been many great fights over the years, but the following five might feature in most lists.
Sugar Ray Leonard v Thomas Hearns II, June 1989
This contest was a rematch, between the two men, of a fight fought eight years earlier, which Leonard had won on a technical knock-out. This was different, as the pair slugged it out over 12 rounds, with Leonard twice being knocked down. However, he refused to quit, and, despite being behind on the judges’ scorecards, produced a fine last round to force a draw, a result both men accepted later was a fair result.
Marvin Hagler v Thomas Hearns, April 1985
Although this fight at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas only lasted three rounds, it is regarded as a classic because of the continuous action, drama, and bloody exchanges.
“Marvellous” Marvin Hagler came into the fight as undisputed middleweight champion, whilst Hearns, regarded as one of the hardest punchers ever, had come up a couple of divisions to fight in the class.
The first round set the tone for what was to come – Hearns was knocked down and Hagler got a cut on the forehead. Commentators at the time described it as being like a war zone. The pace abated a little in the second round, but, in the third, with Hagler’s cut getting worse, and amidst fears that the fight might be stopped, he launched a furious onslaught which resulted in Hearns being knocked-out. Both men left the ring covered in blood.
Sugar Ray Robinson v Jake LaMotta, February 1951
This fight saw Robinson, who is regarded as one of the best pounds for pound fighters in the history of boxing, take on LaMotta, who was later the inspiration for the film Raging Bull. Robinson pounded LaMotta relentlessly throughout the fight and twice dumped him on the canvas, but he got up each time and carried on fighting.
Robinson later described it as one of the hardest fights of his career.
Muhammad Ali v Joe Frazier, October 1975
Known as the “Thrilla from Manila”, because it took place in the Philippines, this was the final fight of the three that Ali and Frazier fought with each other. Frazier had won the first after Ali returned to the sport having been banned for refusing to serve in Vietnam. Ali won the second, and again this contest, although it went to the wire, with both men physically and mentally exhausted by the end. It was an even contest until the 13th round when Frazier took several devastating blows to the head.
The fight ended when Frazier’s corner refused to let him come out for the 15th and last round, fearing he would suffer significant injury. Ali himself said later he almost died in the ring.
Muhammad Ali v George Foreman, October 1974
The “Rumble in the Jungle”, so-called because it took place in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo) is arguably the most famous fight of all-time. It pitted Ali, who was the underdog, against George Foreman, the reigning heavyweight world champion, who had acquired a devastating reputation for knocking men out.
After the first round, Ali retreated behind his gloves on to the ropes, and encouraged Foreman to hit him freely on the arms, occasionally taunting him with insults. The “rope a dope” tactics worked as Foreman punched away for six rounds, using up vital reserves of energy.
Then in the eighth round Ali exploded, and a devastating combination of punches sent Foreman crashing to the canvas. He was counted out before he could get to his feet. Ali was world champion again at the age of 32, the oldest man ever to reclaim the crown.