10. EVANDER HOLYFIELD KO 10 MIKE TYSON, MGM GRAND GARDEN, LAS VEGAS, SEPTEMBER 9, 1996
If James ‘Buster’ Douglas burst the bubble then it was Holyfield who hammered the final nail in the coffin of an aura that had struck fear into the collective heart of a generation of heavyweights.
Dismissed as a washed up fighter, amidst rumours of a hole in the heart, ‘The Real Deal’ had looked so woefully vulnerable vs former light heavyweight champ, Bobby Czyz, 6 months earlierthat the bulk of betting and conversation revolved around whether he might make it out of the first round on fight night.
Post incarceration, Tyson had resembled the destructive assassin of a decade prior in brushing aside Frank Bruno and Bruce Seldon for their respective sanctioning body baubles.
The oddsmakers and ‘experts’, with the notable exception of veteran Boston fight scribe, Ron Borges, said it wouldn’t be a race.
If public opinion was universally against him then Holyfield proved, once again, that he had never been a good listener as he set about ‘bullying the bully’ with total self-belief.
While the Georgian maverick was never in 20 seconds of trouble, it was a vaguely competitive affair until a short left uppercut rocked ‘Iron Mike’ on his heels, depositing him on the seat of his solid black trunks in the sixth.
Thereafter, the writing was on the wall and five rounds later, the perennially troubled Brooklyn phenomenon was compassionately spared from further bombardment by referee, Mitch Halpern.
Minutes later, the new champions told ‘Fight Doctor’, Ferdie Pacheco, “You all said I was washed up. But with God, I’m NOT washed up…”
9. JAMES J. CORBETT KO 21 JOHN L. SULLIVAN, OLYMPIC CLUB, NEW ORLEANS, SEPTEMBER 7, 1892.
In terms of contemporary reaction, this one could appear a few places higher but measuring the level of collective public shock in the aftermath of a prize fight is an inexact science when all said and done.
Corbett,the dashing, intellectual ex-bank clerk, was one of the first major advocates of boxing as art and science over brawn and naked aggression. Sullivan, the hugely revered ‘Boston Strong Boy’ was widely perceived as unbeatable as per his immortal boast that ‘I can lick any sonofabitch in the house’
Nonetheless, abrief, lighthearted exhibition on stage earlier in the year had convinced Corbett that he had the measure of a man who bridged the bare knuckle and gloved eras as the first Heavyweight Champion of the World.
Despite the aura of invincibility, years of soft living and celebrity had blunted the edge of a once feral fighter. At 34, after 10 years at the top of the tree, Sullivan was ready for the taking.
‘Gentleman Jim’, in perfect contrast was young, capable and conditioned.
More crucially, he had a game plan.
Newspaper reports depicted an early blueprint for the boxing ‘masterclass’ as Corbett anticipated John L’s crude lunges and chastised the ageing champion with counters whilst employing that most fundamental, if previously underused, tool of the left jab.
It seems fitting to hand over the description of the conclusive 21st stanza to Corbett himself:
‘Summoning all the reserve force I had left, I let my guns go, right and left, with all the dynamite Nature had given me, and Sullivan stood dazed and rocking. So I set myself for an instant, put just ‘a little more’ in a right and hit him alongside the jaw. And he fell helpless on the ground, on his stomach, and rolled over on his back! The referee, his seconds and mine picked him up and put him in his corner; and the audience went wild.
8. MUHAMMAD ALI KO 8 GEORGE FOREMAN, 20th OF MAY STADIUM, KINSHASA, ZAIRE, OCTOBER 30, 1974.
The ultimate exposition of the essentially futile nature of the ‘triangle theory’ in boxing. Foreman had destroyed the only two men to have beaten Ali, alongside 32 other prone heavyweights in 37 victories without reversal.
Anybody who truly loved Ali, intimately or from afar, feared for his well being including members of his inner circle. Foreman was ‘The Monster’ of the colour TV age. A younger, bigger and allegedly more destructive incarnation of Sonny Liston.
It’s difficult to say a great deal that hasn’t already been written about Ali’s most iconic victory. The master stroke of the ‘Rope a Dope’ and the spiritual importance of the African soil are beyond well documented.
The biggest myth about the fight is that Ali was trailing and had absorbed a beating until a right / left / right/left uppercut / right-hand combination curtailed Big George’s reign in the 8th round.
Ali was actually ahead on all three cards at the close of, arguably, the most famous fight in history. And rightly so.
7/ LLOYD HONEYGHAN RTD 6 DONALD CURRY, CAESAR’S HOTEL CASINO, ATLANTIC CITY, SEPTEMBER,27 1986.
It was an era in which the national dailies would dispatch a boxing writer to cover any world title fight involving a Briton as a matter of cause. Nonetheless, such was the collective national pessimism about the ‘Ragamuffin Man’s prospects of dethroning the incumbent pound for pound king’that there were scarcely enough British scribes at ringside to approximate a five-a-side football team.
Curry, the undefeated, undisputed welterweight champion of the world had garnered an aura of invincibility of the type that was already being bestowed upon rising heavyweight contender, Mike Tyson.
After seven defences in which only Marlon Starling saw the final bell, the Texan maestro was frequently billed as ‘the new Sugar Ray Leonard’ while rumours of an ongoing battle with the scales prompted some credible observers to suggest he would topple Marvin Hagler in due course.
Honeyghan for his part was undefeated in 27 starts and had done everything asked of him en route to British, Commonwealth and European titles. His unshakeable self-belief and South London ‘rude boy’ bombast was endorsed by manager Micky Duff, who lumped £5000 on his man at odds of 7-1.
From the first round, it was clear that Honeyghan hadn’t given the script a cursory glance and when a right hand buckled Curry’s knees in the second, Gil Clancy’s CBS cohort observed: “The Cobra may have found a mongoose in there…”
After half a dozen rounds in which the challenger handed out a systematic beating before a stunned if tragically modest crowd of 1000 gamblers and high rollers, the superstar in waiting shook his head in token surrender.
Curry would never be the same fighter again.
6. JAMES J. BRADDOCK W15 MAX BAER, LONG ISLAND BOWL,JUNE 13, 1935
Immortalised by Russell’s Crowe’s award winning portrayal in ‘The Cinderella Man’, Braddock was a template for triumph over adversity long before anyone concocted a trite motivational meme on social media.
Sporting a patchy record of 49-25-7 and plagued by chronic hand injuries that threatened to end his career, Braddock had been forced to seek work on the Hoboken docks and draw social security to feed his family during the Great Depression.
By contrast, Baer was the big punching, charismatic playboy and matinee idol with a devastating right hand that had felled the woeful colossus, Primo Carnera, 11 times in as many rounds to annex the crown the previous year. Rightly or wrongly, with the benefit of hindsight, Max was expected to go through his long shot challenger like a hot knife through butter.
Unfortunately, from his perspective, a combination of inactivity, over confidence and James J. Braddock conspired against expectations as the title changed hands via unanimous decision.
Typically humble in victory, Braddock sought to clarify: “I achieved all this on Hamburgers and soup. Give me some steaks and then see what I do!”
5/ RANDOLPH TURPIN W15 SUGAR RAY ROBINSON, EARLS COURT ARENA, JULY 10, 1951
As seismic a shock as it may have been at the time, it is not altogether astonishing that the ‘Leamington Licker’ came to inflict the original Sugarman’s second loss in 132 pro starts when one examines the back story to this historical British Boxing landmark.
Turpin constituted Robison’s fifth fight in 30 days during a barnstorming tour of Europe that reportedly saw the World Middleweight Champion mixing business and pleasure in equal measure.
Upon arriving in London a week before the fight, the American super star had initially checked into the Savoy Hotel but was politely asked to leave when the management apparently took exception to the media furore he attracted.
So Robinson and his fabled entourage relocated to the Star and Garter Pub in Windsor where the ambience was far from ideal for an elite prizefighter in ‘camp.’ Robinson claimed that he could scarcely sleep due to the noisy nocturnal shindigs that commenced on a nightly basis in the bar beneath his modest single room. Noting how big and strong Turpin appeared at the weigh in, the champion latterly admitted to thinking: “man, if he can box even a little bit, I’m in trouble.”
And so it proved, over 15 unforgettable rounds as Turpin continually outfought and out punched the consensus all time king of the squared circle in what is still widely regarded as the greatest single victory in British boxing history.
4. GENE TUNNEY W10 JACK DEMPSEY, SESQUICENTENNIAL STADIUM, PHILADELPHIA, SEPTEMBER 23, 1926
Despite an initial unpopularity in the mainstream of American life due to his exemption from military service during the First World War, by 1926 Jack Dempsey was the sporting icon of the jazz age.
Alongside the Manassa Mauler’s monumental celebrity status was an aura of invincibility that had previously characterised the reigns of John L. Sullivan and Jim Jeffries, not to mention the most lucrative gates in boxing history.
By contrast, Tunney was an intellectual former U.S Marine with affluent pretensions and a light heavyweight resume that owed much to a hit and move style that wasn’t expected to trouble the maniacally ferocious champion unduly.
Unfortunately, three years of inactivity and soft living had robbed Dempsey of his feral peak and Gene promptly handed him a boxing lesson over the unusual distance of 10 rounds (for a world championship fight) before a paying crowd in excess of 120, 000 in the ‘City of Brotherly Love.’
The tableau of the ex-champion warmly congratulating his successor, immediately after the verdict was announced, further cemented public affection for Dempsey while Tunney was perhaps never entirely forgiven for his deposition of a true American hero.
3/ LEONSPINKS W15 MUHAMMAD ALI, LAS VEGAS HILTON, FEBRUARY 15, 1978
Ali had been looking decidedly beatable towards the end of his second reign as World Heavyweight Champion. Ken Norton and Jimmy Young certainly had every right to feel aggrieved but nobody expected a seven fight pro novice to put an end to the party.
Spinks, the 1976 Olympic light heavyweight champion, had pedigree and promise, but half a dozen paid wins and a 10 round draw vs Scott LeDoux seemed scant preparation for a seriousassault on the Richest Prize in Sport and even his own mother voiced concerns for her eldest son’s wellbeing.
Crucially, ‘Neon Leon’s belief in himself coupled with a decidedly lackadaisical showing from ‘The Greatest’ conspired to tear up the script.
The unfancied challenger fought as if electrically charged and set a pace that the faded legend was uncomfortable with en route to a sensational split decision win that seemed unreasonably close and almost certainly flattered the ageing ex-champ.
Magnanimous in defeat, Ali addressed the collective sense of incredulity at the post fight press conference when putting an arm around his young conqueror before claiming: “we gonna’ tell you all the truth now; I’m his new manager!”
2/ CASSIUS CLAY TKO 7 SONNY LISTON, MIAMI BEACH CONVENTION CENTRE, FEBRUARY 25, 1964.
The coronation of arguably the greatest heavyweight in history was unforeseen by all but 3 of 46 experts surveyed for a contemporary American media poll on the week of the fight that ‘shook up the world.’
Perhaps blinded by the young Clay’s unparalleled bravado, hardened fight scribes had largely dismissed the ‘Louisville Lip’ as a facile braggart who had leapfrogged a slew of legitimate contenders to a title shot by exclusive virtue of his big mouth.
Liston, the iconically menacing champion and prohibitive 7-1 on favourite, clearly shared their contempt and is thought not to have trained with a zeal approaching mania.
Pantomime histrionics at the weigh in and wildlife based epithets not withstanding, it was clearly apparent when the first bell rang that Cassius had a plan with the skills and the nerve to carry it out. Sonny appeared to be labouring in a different time zone as the challenger boxed rings round him with a speed and mobility previously unseen in Boxing’s ‘dreadnought’ division.
Only the drama of Clay’s temporary blindness due to a mysterious substance that had somehow found its way onto Liston’s gloves cast the outcome in any reasonable doubt as Clay balked about answering the bell for Round 5 and threatened to quit.
Exhorted by Angelo Dundee to ‘get out there and fight… ‘ he survived the troubled waters before regaining full vision in the sixth and battering the champion with everything but the proverbial kitchen sink.
The writing may have been on the wall but few expected what immediately followed as Liston spat out his mouthpiece while remaining morosely on his stool in token surrender when the bell chimed for Round 7.
The unthinkable had happened and the mouth had been vindicated.
And it was only the beginning.
1. JAMES BUSTER DOUGLAS KO 10 MIKE TYSON, TOKYO DOME, FEBRUARY 11, 1990
Douglas may or may not have been the 42-1 underdog of popular legend but there was more optimism regarding his chances ofsplitting the atom than of knocking the seemingly invincible Tyson off his perch
‘Iron Mike’s’ fanatical apologists routinely argue that the Brooklyn bomber had become a shell of himself overnight due to a blizzard of Japanese geisha girls and Russian vodka but to minimise the ephemeral brilliance of Buster’s performance on the night is both churlish and blinkered.
The death of his mother, three weeks prior had propelled the perennial heavyweight contender into what most saw as a fistic gallows with a passionate sense of mission and abject lack of fear. And so he set about dismantling the undefeated Heavyweight Champion of the World with a rapier left jab and scores of chastising right hands while a worldwide TV audience watched in disbelief at the surreal spectacle unfolding front of an incongruously mute Japanese audience.
It was almost getting too easy until a perfectly timed Tyson right uppercut sent Douglas sprawling to the mat in the dying seconds of round 8, whilst evoking the old axiom that even a stopped clock is right twice a day.
The clock analogy still resonates as many fight fans continue to insist that Buster was the beneficiary of a long count. What is beyond argument is that he beat the only count he was required to, clambering to his feet as Octavia Meyran tolled 9 at the bell.
Thereafter, it was business as usual with no fairytale comeback as ‘Kid Dynamite’ was bludgeoned to unprecedented defeat in the tenth. The enduring image of a a groggy, forlorn and imminent ex-champion groping for his mouthpiece on the canvas is surely the epitome of what Joyce Carol Oates referred to as ‘Boxing’s tragic theatre.’