10. CAVEMAN LEE vs JOHN LOCICERO, (Round 5) TWENTY GRAND BALLROOM, DETROIT, MICHIGAN, SEPTEMBER 6, 1981
The most relatively obscure fight listed here but a bona fide American club classic in an era when title shots weren’t awarded in raffles.
Lee had taken a sustained beating in the previous round but came out revitalised in the 5th, putting a fatigued Locicero in reverse gear before dropping him with a right uppercut. As the middleweight contender from the Motor City went looking for the finish he was caught by a huge overhand right before LoCicero frantically pummelled him with a plethora of hooks from either hand and a couple of uppercuts by way of returning the compliment.
‘Either of these fighters could go at any moment’ proclaimed the ESPN announcer above the obtrusive din of a boisterous, baying crowd.
As fate would decree, it was LoCicero who ‘went’ when, having backed the ‘Caveman’ into a corner, he was nailed with a short left hook for the full count.
Lee is best remembered for a one round annihilation at the hands of a peak Marvin Hagler but let it be said that this was his defining moment.
9. AARON PRYOR vs ALEXIS ARGUELLO, (Round 1),ORANGE BOWL, MIAMI, FLORIDA, NOVEMBER 12, 1982
There was more action in the first half of the opening round of this mouth watering clash of all time greats than Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao could produce in 36 historically overpriced minutes.
Pryor’s unique swarming style that seemed strangely consistent with his latter predilection for crack cocaine stood in sharp contrast to Arguello’s text book perfection as their fistic ideologies collided head on.
Chin seemingly hung out like a weathervane but constantly bobbing and wearing, ‘The Hawk’ tore into Arguello with lunging left hooks and looping right hands at a pace more congruous with the final30 seconds of a 15 round cliffhanger.
Arguello’s signature left hook to the body seemed to slow his onslaught, fleetingly, but Pryor soon nailed the Nicaraguan idol with a slew of right hands that prompted Ray Leonard to opine, “Alex is hurt, seriously now.”
Regardless, it wasn’t in Arguello’s make up not to engage the WBA light welterweight champ in the trenches leaving both men “a little arm weary in the very first round’ in the further estimation of the Sugarman at ringside.
If his HBO colleague, Barry Tompkins, had pronounced that, “At this pace, there is simply no way it can go the distance’ then 14 rounds was hardly bad going.
Ever heard the old axiom ‘They don’t make ‘em’ like that anymore’?
8. GEORGE FOREMAN vs RON LYLE, (Round 4) CAESAR’S PALACE, LAS VEGAS, JANUARY 24, 1976
This classic heavyweight punch out will never be short of advocates when to comes to the ultimate question of the greatest fight of all time, or certainly within the remit of the colour TV era.
Big George, a 5-1 favourite going in, was nailed early in the round with a right hook and a right uppercut before a follow up barrage sent him stumbling southwards. Foreman was up quickly and back into the fray, electing to fight fire with more fire as the two exchanged bombs in ring centre until it was Lyle’s turn to taste the canvas.
“Lyle is ready to go now..!” screamed Howard Cossell as the Denver heavyweight hopeful languished on the ropes under a steady bombardment before a counter left hook stunned Foreman afresh and opened the floodgates for a brutal salvo, culminating in a big overhand right that had the former champion crumbling to the mat in the manner of an imploding skyscraper.
Fortuitously, from Foreman’s perspective, the bell sounded affording crucial respite and the rest is glorious heavyweight history.
7. RIDDICK BOWE vs EVANDER HOLYFIELD (Round 10), THOMAS AND MACK CENTRE,LAS VEGAS, NEVADA, NOVEMBER 13, 1992
Such was the severe shellacking that Holyfield took in the tenth round of this 4th defence of the world heavyweight championship, that it might have looked ‘all over bar the shouting’ as the great Reg Gutteridge was fond of saying.
Bowe was a mile ahead on points as he looked to administer a percussive coup de grace, battering the ‘Real Deal’ with hooks and uppercuts to head and body. After 60 seconds of injurious one way traffic, Evander called on what HBO’s Jim Lampley described as ‘his incredible powers of recovery’ to blast back at a man who outweighed him by 30 pounds and almost turned the tide.
Riddick was appreciably surprised at the sheer scale of the champion’s intestinal fortitude but laudably stuck to his task as the two gladiators exchanged blow for blow until the bell.
Bowe duly went on to win a clear unanimous decision, along with the spoils, but to call it comfortable would be contradictory in the extreme.
6. MATTHEW SAADMUHAMMAD vs YAQUI LOPEZ, (Round 8) GORGE PLAYBOY CLUB, McAFEEE, NEW JERSEY, JULY 7, 1980
Another blue print example of how a round need not feature a single knockdown in order to be great. Conceivably the most exciting, pure action fighter of the 1980s, Saad was a ‘human highlight reel’ before Arturo Gatti was heard of.
His stubborn resolve and penchant for overcoming adversity would have made Jason Vorhees look like a quitter.
On this occasion, the WBC light heavyweight champion needed these signature traits during a wild 8th round that saw him absorb 25 unanswered shots at one stage as Lopez went for broke before somewhat punching himself out.
“”I feel truthfully he had me in trouble,” Muhammad conceded at the post fight presser. “I won’t sit here and deny it. But at all times I knew I would be victorious.”
Blasting back which his trademark defiance and perpetual motion, Saad dominated the fight from the 9th round onwards before dropping the Mexican nearly man 4 times in the 14th round for an almost typically sensational victory in his 4th title defence.
Acknowledging that his battered countenance made him look more like the loser of this vintage war he remarked, “I don’t usually look like this. I usually look pretty good.”
5. JACK DEMPSEY vs LUIS ANGEL FIRPO (Round 1), POLO GROUNDS, NEW YORK, NEW YORK, SEPTEMBER 14, 1923
The sole entry from the black and white era, if you require knockdowns to justify a great round then look no further. When reading accounts of how Firpo was levelled 7 times in the opening round it tends to conjure visions of a man beaten within an inch of his life. But while Dempsey’s feral aggression was a thing of beauty, it’s worth noting that the absence of the neural corner rule at the time made it far easier to put a semi-defenceless opponent back on the floor having knocked him down the first time.
At the bell, Dempsey ran straight at Firpo and quickly put him over with a body shot. Taking full advantage of the situation detailed above, the ‘Manassa Mauler’ continued his savage ambush, sending the Argentine brawler to the canvas another half dozen times.
On the fourth occasion, it looked as if Luis might not get up but thereafter he seemed to forge an immunity to the experience as he rose from the seventh knockdown to drive the world heavyweight champion across the ring with a blizzard of bludgeoning right hands, the last of which knocked Jack clean of the ring and into the laps of the assembled press men.
No doubt assisted by a benign shove or two from the startled reporters, Dempsey beat the count and was soon absorbing more huge overhand rights from a ‘Wild Bull of the Pampas’ who had suddenly been galvanised by an unmistakable rush of self belief.
When the bell chimed, the champion was firing back and appeared to have ridden the storm.
It proved to be a last gasp effort from Firpo as 2 more knockdowns in the second concluded his brief but unforgettable challenge for the richest prize in sport.
4. DIEGO CORRALES – JOSE LUIS CASTILLO 1 (ROUND 10), MANDALAY BAY, LAS VEGAS, NEVADA, MAY 7, 2005.
This lightweight unification clash of Latin warriors was not endlessly hyped and anticipated for months on end but it might have been the greatest slugfest in boxing history, all the same.
In terms of sustained action, twists of fortune and almost dysfunctional levels of heroism from both combatants, it will always take some beating.
After 9 rounds of unabated toe to toe battery the greatest drama came in the conclusive round when a perfectly timed left hook put Corrales on the canvas within 30 seconds.
Diego was up at 8 but since his mouthpiece had fallen out, referee Tony Weeks ushered him back to the corner to have it replaced, affording a few extra seconds of crucial recovery time.
Castillo went straight back on the offensive and a right uppercut/ left hook combination soon rendered Corrales horizontal once more. If the loss of his gum-shield was an accident on the first occasion then it seemed more deliberate in the second instance and Weeks certainly seemed to think so as he deducted a point before taking ‘Chico’ back to his corner again.
All this took time and Joe Goosen didn’t exactly rush the procedure as he urged his man, “You’ve gotta’ f***ing get inside on him now..!”
Astonishingly, a short right hook stunned Castillo and gave Corrales the momentum he needed to unload with both hands, battering the Mexican against the ropes with a salvo of left and right hooks until the third man intervened.
As controversial as it may have been, nobody was about to ask for a refund.
3. ARTURO GATTI – MICKY WARD (Round 9), MOHEGAN SUN CASINO, UNCASVILLE, CONNECTICUT, MAY 18, 2002
While it might be hoped that such a piece will reveal the odd previously underrated gem, it would be blasphemous to overlook the 9th round of the first instalment of a beyond celebrated trilogy.
ANY round of Ward – Gatti 1 could plausibly be used as a 3 minute window in which to sell boxing to a devout pacifist but the 9th is aptly described as a symphony of gloved violence.
Gatti had been hurt by one of Ward’s trademark body shots in the 8th frame and hadn’t fully recovered when a left hook to the liver sent him sprawling early in the next session.
Upon rising with mandatory cojones, Gatti shipped a frightful two handed beating that had trainer, Buddy McGirt, racing up the steps with the towel until a more long standing member of the Gatti entourage dissuaded him from a compassionate intervention.
Such instincts proved well founded as Arturo walked through a wall of pain and exhaustion to push the Irish American fringe contender back on his heels, hitting Ward with everything bar the proverbial kitchen sink as the latter appeared to have temporality punched himself out.
Despite Jim Lampley’s exhortation to referee, Frank Capuccino, to “STOP IT, Frank… Arturo Gatti’s out on his feet…” as Ward came on strong in the last 40 seconds, ‘Thunder’ saw the round out. Convincing McGirt that he was good to go again by virtue of a deceptively zestful exhibition of bouncing in the corner ahead of the tenth and final stanza, Gatti got the short end of a majority decision that neither man deserved to lose.
In the immediate aftermath of one of the greatest non title fights in history, Larry Merchant had a simple question:
“Do you guys want to to do this again…?”
Talk about a silly question…
2. LARRY HOLMES vs KEN NORTON (ROUND 15)CAESAR’S PALCE, LAS VEGAS, NEVADA, JUNE 9, 1978
If Holmes hadn’t won the final round of his cherished WBC title shot out in the parking lot at Caesar’s then the course of heavyweight history would likely have been altered irrevocably.
Having come up the hard way, against the expectation and design of the Industry power brokers, the unfashionable ‘Easton Assassin’ could scarcely have relied on a second bite at the cherry.
With all three judges calling it dead level heading into the last stanza it was clearly a case in which fortune would favour the brave. Or rather, the marginally braver, as both fighters become locked in an epic, unrelenting trade of monstrous head shots that evoked visions of the iconic ‘rock em, sock em’ robots that were so popular at the time.
Norton pressed the action for the first 90 seconds until Holmes seemed to realise that simply returning fire might not sufficiently impress the ringside arbiters unless he pushed his man backwards.
At this point, the historically elite jab was redundant as Larry used his extended left arm as a range finder for big right hands accompanied by left hooks and right uppercuts. Kenny absorbed everything and landed plenty of his own bombs but, after 3 minutes of perpetual ‘milling’, it was Larry who had won the round and the title.
And he was never going to give it up in a hurry.
1. MARVIN HAGLER vs TOMMY HEARNS (ROUND 1), CAESAR’S PALACE, LAS VEGAS, NEVADA, APRIL 15, 1985.
There were no knockdowns in this evergreen segment of elite fistic mayhem and, essentially, there didn’t have to be. Had either protagonist been temporally upended in the opening 3 minutes then it would merely have interrupted the breathtaking, unbridled ferocity of two all time greats teeing off on one another like a pair of gypsies in a Circus Tavern grudge match.
On the heels of his devastating dismissal of Roberto Duran, Hearns was convinced that Hagler could be dispatched in the same fashion. Marvelous Marvin was only too delighted to disabuse Tommy of such an ill conceived notion.
The world middleweight champion sustained a cut high on the forehead during that crazy first stanza but, crucially, he had absorbed the Hitman’s best shots with a snarling aplomb.
Furthermore, he had gained the marginal upper hand in a ‘dog fight’ that, ultimately, suited him better than it did the lanky Detroit ring marvel
When the dust had settled and the free world took a collective deep breath, Marvin was ready to resume his mission of ‘destruct and destroy.’
Hearns, in stark contrast, had broken his vaunted right hand and seemed bereft of all zest in the legs as the action resumed for round 2.
Thereafter, there was only one winner but as a KO Magazine scribe observed in the aftermath:
“Tommy Hearns covered himself in more glory while LOSING to Marvin Haglerthan Tony Tubbs did in winning the WBA heavyweight title vs Greg Page in a bore fest recently.’
It would seem churlish to argue with such well founded logic.