It’s been aptly dubbed the “sweet science,” but professional boxing’s greatest bouts aren’t always defined by strategical brilliance. From blistering slugfests to unforgettable triumphs of will, the matches on this list encompass all the qualities that make the ring game great. Now, are you ready to rumble?
10. “Sugar” Ray Leonard vs. Thomas Hearns — Sept. 16, 1981
The first clash between two of boxing’s most talented fighters was a study in adaptation. Opening as expected, the Welterweight Title unification bout saw the lankier Hearns keeping his shorter opponent at a distance while scoring with long jabs at will. A brilliant strategist, Leonard knew the fight could not continue this way, so he changed up his game plan and aggressively went after “The Hit Man.” “Sugar” Ray’s assertiveness carried him through the 6th and 7th rounds, but soon Hearns adapted himself, swinging the fight back in his favor by boxing instead of brawling. The fight looked to be going the “Motor City Cobra’s” way until Leonard threw all caution to the wind and attacked his opponent, scoring a knockdown in the 13th before pounding Hearns until the official stopped fight in the following round.
9. Diego Corrales vs. Jose Luis Castillo — May 7, 2005
Boxing’s popularity has undoubtedly waned in the past decade, but there are still occasional reminders of what makes the sport great. This 2005 brawl for the WBC Lightweight Title was one such flash of brilliance. A 10-round war of attrition between California’s Diego Corrales and Mexican dynamo Jose Luis Castillo, the match saw both fighters stand toe to toe in the center of the ring and trade shots for nearly half an hour before a thrilling chain of events occurred. After being knocked down by Castillo two consecutive times in the 10th, Corrales staggered to his feet and threw a miraculous right hand that caught “El Terrible” on the chin. Smelling blood, “Chico” attacked and unleashed an offensive flurry on his opponent that forced the official to call the fight.
8. George Foreman vs. Ron Lyle — January 24, 1976
The kind of power punching slugfest that defined heavyweight boxing in its heyday, the 1976 brawl between George Foreman and Ron Lyle was a fight with two boxers who wanted to prove something. Coming off his loss to Muhammad Ali in the storied “Rumble in the Jungle” (more on that later), Foreman needed to fight his way back into the title picture. Lyle, on the other hand, was desperate to assert himself as a top fighter. So the big men traded shots for five straight rounds, each going down twice in interim. In the end, Foreman knocked Lyle down for a third and final time, putting an exclamation point on one of the most thrilling heavyweight bouts of all time.
7. Erik Morales vs. Marco Antonio Barrera — February 19, 2005
The greatest boxing rivalries are often fought in trilogies and the feud between dangerous Mexican boxers Erik Morales and Marco Antonio Barrera was no exception. A wild series fought over the course of five years, each of the three showdowns would be worthy of a place on this list, but it is their third meeting in Las Vegas that earned this spot. An intense, 12-round bloodbath, the bout saw the two fighters pickup right where they left off with constant go-for-broke punches from the opening bell. Although neither man went down in the match, each looked as though they had survived a car accident by the time things were over. As close as it was, Barrera was the man who took the majority decision, winning the battle and the war. 6. Julio Cesar Chavez vs. Meldrick Taylor — March 17, 1990
Although it lasted for 12 thrilling rounds, this 1990 bout between Mexican hero Julio Cesar Chavez and Philadelphia prodigy Meldrick Taylor is remembered for two seconds. Fast-paced from the start, the bout was Taylor’s early on as he avoided many of Chavez’s blistering blasts and pulled ahead on points with his stick-and-move offense. Yet, towards the final rounds, the tough Mexican began to connect, punishing Taylor with endless shots. By most estimations, Taylor was still winning on paper going into the 12th, but his corner convinced him otherwise, so he attacked Chavez instead of avoiding the dangerous brawler — a serious miscalculation that led the young fighter right into a flurry of brutal punches. Destroyed after rounds of pummeling, Taylor looked dead on his feet, forcing official Richard Steele to stop the bout with only two seconds to go in the final round. Steele’s decision is still debated to this day. The fight’s greatness is not.
5. Aaron Pryor vs. Alexis Arguello — November 12, 1982
Dubbed “The Battle of the Champions “ by promoter Bob Arum, this 1982 dream match pitted the arrogant, boastful Aaron Pryor against the proud, stoic Alexis Arguello in a 15-round slugfest. Dubbed “The Explosive Thin Man,” Arguello was attempting to become the first man to win titles in four different weight classes when he stepped in the ring with the light welterweight Pryor. He came close, too, controlling most of the fight with his dangerous hands, but “The Hawk” came alive in the final rounds, battering Arguello with punches until the fight was stopped in dramatic fashion. A mysterious black bottle that disgraced trainer Panama Lewis handed Pryor in-between rounds threw the fight’s outcome into question, but “The Hawk” would silence his critics by defeating Arguello even more decisively 10 months later.
4. Muhammad Ali vs. George Foreman — October 30, 1974
In 1974, George Foreman was hell on earth. A huge, powerful puncher, Foreman made mincemeat out of Joe Frazier and embarrassed Ken Norton in two rounds before it was announced that he would be fighting Muhammad Ali in Zaire in a bout dubbed “The Rumble in the Jungle.” Although he was beloved, Ali was looked at as the underdog going into this title match. Foreman was too big, too powerful. “The Louisville Lip” was ready for his young opponent, though, and using a technique he called the “rope-a-dope,” Ali famously covered himself up against the ropes and let Foreman throw bombs until he wore himself out. By the eighth round, the big man was exhausted and Ali capitalized, delivering a hard right hand that knocked Foreman out and cemented the boxer’s reputation as “The Greatest.” 3. Micky Ward vs. Arturo Gatti — May 18, 2002
The first brawl of boxing’s most brutal trilogy, the 2002 bout between Lowell, Massachusetts’ Micky Ward and Arturo Gatti earned its place in history for sheer punishment. Two rough fighters, Ward and Gatti were both willing to take what the other man had to offer and the ebb and flow of the brawl made it nearly impossible to decided which fighter was getting the better of the action. The deciding moment would arrive in the 9th, though, when Ward, a devastating bodypuncher, sent Gatti to the mat with a blistering kidney shot. Although Gatti fought on, Ward won the majority decision, but the fight will always be remembered for the action not the outcome.
2. Marvin Hagler vs. Thomas Hearns — April 15, 1985
It only lasted for three rounds, but somehow this eight-minute slugfest between Marvelous Marvin Hagler and Thomas “Hit Man” Hearns had more drama, action and tension than almost any other fight in history. Both feared knockout artists, Hagler and the “Motor City Cobra” entered Caesars Palace in Las Vegas with much hype and immediately lived up to it. In what has been called the greatest round in boxing history, the middleweights traded power punch after power punch, but neither man would go down. Exhausted from the wild three minutes, Hagler and Hearns struggled through the next two rounds until a bloodied Hagler found victory with a right hand followed by two uppercuts.
1. Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier — March 8, 1971
If Ward vs. Gatti is boxing’s most brutal rivalry then this is the sport’s most storied. Known as “The Fight of the Century” for good reason, this 1971 Heavyweight Title match was about more than just a championship. In the eyes of many, it was a reflection of the times — a showdown between the counterculture in the guise of Muhammad Ali and the pro-war establishment represented — somewhat illogically — by Joe Frazier. Much of this was, of course, established by Ali’s famous bark, but when it came time to fight Smokin’ Joe let his fists do the talking. For 15 rounds the legendary fighters brawled amid a media circus in Madison Square Garden, pummeling each other to the point that rumors of their deaths circulated after the final bell rang. Each man lived to fight again, but it was Frazier who walked away with the win by unanimous decision.
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