Step into the ring! You’re up as the top contender in this quiz of the most memorable boxing matches ever fought.
From flyweight to heavyweight, boxing champions and contenders have entertained us with some gut-wrenching matches throughout the centuries. Some lasted less than a round, with one fighter flat on the canvas before the first bell. Others were epic brawls or classic lessons in strong boxing techniques.
Oftentimes, the build-up to one of these matches carried as much excitement as the fight itself, thanks to the crowded pre-fight press conferences and all the trash-talking that went on. Then, there were the dramatic promotional fight titles – we’re sure you know most of them well. Remember “The Brawl in Montreal?” How about “Thrilla in Manila?”
Without a doubt, some of the best bouts are those where the fighters are so evenly matched they keep you on the edge of your seat till the very last nail-biting bell. Sometimes, though, upsets are what really put a fight in the annals of boxing history – like that one at the Miami Beach Convention Hall in ’64. Not many people saw that one coming! It’s here in our quiz, plus a few more we’re sure you’ll recognize.
Only a real boxing enthusiast can pinpoint the rivals in each of these matches and you may just have what it takes. So, don’t hold back! Jump in, give this quiz your best one-two combination and show it who’s the boss!
The third (and final) time Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier met in the ring was promoted as “Thrilla in Manilla” and it went on to become one of boxing’s greatest matches. They traded vicious punches for 42 brutal minutes in what Ali would later recall as “the closest thing to death.” Frazier’s corner also felt their fighter had had enough of this clubfest and pulled him from the match just before the start of the last (15th) round – Ali was declared the winner by technical knockout.
This much-anticipated bout between Mayweather and Pacquiao was billed as the “Fight of the Century,” but unlike the four similarly titled matches before it, this bout failed to live up to the hype. It has, however, become a topic of frequent debates thanks to the fact that it was the most watched and the most lucrative match in boxing history. Added to that is the controversy surrounding Pacquiao’s assertion (after losing to Mayweather) that he had suffered from a shoulder injury in the weeks leading up to the fight.
“Iron” Mike Tyson and Evander “The Real Deal” Holyfield met only twice in their long and successful boxing careers – the first time being in November, 1996 when Holyfield won the WBA Heavyweight title after a TKO in round 11 of 12. In this their second meeting, Tyson bit Holyfield’s ear in the third round (not once but twice!), leading to the match earning its infamous title “The Bite Fight”. With the first bite, Tyson took out a 1-inch section of Holyfield’s right ear but the fight continued until it was revealed to the official that Tyson had again bitten Holyfield, scarring his other ear.
Leading into their first matchup, Thomas “The Hitman” Hearns was the WBA welterweight champion while Sugar Ray Leonard held the WBC title. They have been called two of the greatest boxers ever and this unification bout (promoted as: The Showdown) proved why. The match swung in favor of one, then the other and back again, until the 14th round when the official stepped in to end Leonard’s pounding of Hearns, which began in earnest in round 13.
This was the second of three times Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier met in the ring. Unlike their first bout (The Fight of the Century) and their last match (Thrilla in Manilla) this was a non-title fight which most spectators expected very little from. They boxers, however, thrilled their fans with 12 rounds of non-stop hard-hitting action, at the end of which Ali was declared the winner by unanimous decision.
Just over a year after he lost to Muhammad Ali in the fantastic “Rumble in the Jungle” matchup, “Big George” Foreman tried to get back to within title-striking distance with this fight against Ron Lyle. It was a heavyweight slugfest which saw both men going down twice before Foreman sealed the deal, knocking out Lyle in the 5th round.
Jack Johnson became the first black heavyweight champion in history when he knocked out Tommy Burns in 1908. This matchup against James Jeffries, the retired undefeated former champion, was billed as “The Fight of the Century” with Jeffries being touted as “The Great White Hope.” The out-of-shape and older Jeffries was, however, no match for the superbly fit and younger Johnson who scored a knockout in the 15th round.
“The Brawl in Montreal” was billed to be the biggest fight in recent boxing history – and it lived up to the hype! It was the first time these two electrifying fighters faced each other in the ring and although their fighting styles were very different, they were considered to be pretty evenly matched. After 15 magnificent rounds, the win and title of “Best in the World” would go to Duran, by unanimous decision.
Joe Louis and Billy Conn faced each other twice, and while most critics agree the fighters were out shape in their second match (June 19, 1946), they were certainly in tip-top shape and raring-to-go in their first encounter. This often top-rated fight saw the previous light-heavyweight champion, Conn, dominating the heavyweight champion, Louis, throughout the first twelve rounds. Following a miscalculation, however, Conn attempted to knock out Louis out in the 13th round, only for Louis to knock him out instead with just 2 seconds left in the round.
This was the final in a trilogy of matches between Ali and Norton. The first two bouts ended as split decisions after the full 12 rounds – with Norton winning in the first and Ali in the second match, 6 months later. This third fight was a 15-round slugfest over which Ali prevailed and won by unanimous decision.
So sinister were the results of this match, that they were made the subject of a 2008 HBO documentary titled “Assault in the Ring.” The fight, which was initially awarded to Resto but later ruled a “no contest” saw Collins’ face being badly damaged by a supposedly “light punching” Resto. He was left with permanently damaged eyesight and the ensuing investigations revealed that Resto’s wrapped hands had been soaked in plaster of Paris and his gloves had been tampered with by removal of some of their padding.
This rematch followed Leonard’s unexpected loss of his WBC welterweight title to Duran just five months earlier in the famous “Brawl in Montreal.” This bout, which Leonard won by TKO after firing off a barrage of shots in the 8th round, went on to become just as famous, earning the name the “No Mas” fight. Reportedly, those the words (Spanish for “no more”) which Duran said to the official as he turned his back on Leonard and waved his hands in the air at the end of round 8.
Three fights involving Micky Ward have been named Fight of the Year by The Ring magazine. Arturo Gatti has had that honor four times. Amazingly, these two fighters met on three occasions and two of those bouts including this, their very first matchup, won the Fight of the Year title.
World War II was on the horizon and everyone had high expectations from this American versus German matchup. The first time the pair met in 1936, Schmeling won by knockout in the 12th round. In this rematch, Louis left nothing to chance - his barrage of punches only allowed Schmeling to get two shots in before Louis won by knockout 2 minutes and 4 seconds into the first round.
“Pound for pound” – it’s a term we use widely in boxing nowadays with few people realizing that it was first used to describe the legendary Sugar Ray Robinson. His outstanding welterweight and middleweight performances led analysts to name him “the greatest fighter ever pound for pound” - many believe he still owns that title. Although Robinson lost his middleweight title to Basilio in this bout, he would regain it in their rematch six months later.
A split decision let Erik “El Terrible” Morales take home both the WBC and WBO super bantamweight titles after this fight went the distance. It was his first of three matchups with Marco Antonio Barrera (who would go on to win the next two).
To date, this fight serves as the only loss on Alvarez’s record. What was more significant about the match, however, is who the victor was – Floyd Mayweather, often referred to as one of the greatest boxers the sport has produced. After 12 grueling rounds Mayweather (who was 13 years older than Alvarez and spoke of retiring in a couple of years) walked away with both the WBA and WBC titles on a unanimous decision.
Heading into this fight, Evander “The Real Deal” Holyfield held the WBA, WBC and IBC titles and Riddick “Big Daddy” Bowe was one of the main contenders. This was the first in their three fights and their ensuing rivalry would go down as one of the greatest stories in boxing history. For this match, both fighters lasted the total of 12 hard-hitting rounds, with Bowe winning on a split decision by the judges.
This was the second of three physically demanding matches fought by these two boxers and, as anticipated, it would prove to be just as exciting as the first. Englishman Andries journeyed to Australia to meet his rival Harding on his home turf in a bid to regain the title he had lost to him the previous year. It was a grueling contest but Andries managed to knockout Harding out in the 7th round becoming a three-time world champion.
When heavyweight champion Walcott knocked down Marciano in the first round, it was the first time the undefeated fighter was being put in such a position. It seems Marciano spent the next eleven rounds preparing his payback, because early in the 13th round he pinned Walcott on the ropes and landed the mightiest of right hooks – Walcott went down and stayed down. Their rematch a year later only lasted one round with Marciano winning by another knockout.
In this incredible fight, both men stood dead-center and pounded each other for the majority of the rounds. In the 10th round, Castillo floored Corrales, twice! Amazingly, Corrales came back and landed a right hand punch which has since been described by words such as “miraculous” and “perfect.” He followed it with an intense barrage of shots while he had Castillo pinned against the ropes, causing the official to call the fight.
Israel Vazquez and Rafael Marquez met in four entertaining and exciting matches – each winning twice. Their second and third bouts (this one and the one on August 4, 2007) ended up being named Ring Magazine’s Fight of the Year. Interestingly, those were the two times Vazquez won.
Roberto “Hands of Stone” Duran went into this light-middleweight fight as the challenger to title holder Davey Moore. Many boxing analysts later attributed the brutal beating which Duran meted out to Moore to Moore’s inexperience and too fast rise to the championship position. So savage was Duran’s attack (before Moore’s corner stopped the fight in the 8th round), it is said both Moore’s mother and girlfriend fainted.
His nickname, “Gentleman Jim” and his scientific approach to boxing helped James J. Corbett stand out in the four-and-a-half years he reigned as heavyweight champion. His match against John L. Sullivan, who often regarded as the symbol of the bareknuckle era, is still one of the most talked about matches among boxing analysts. The pair fought until one-and-a-half minutes into the 21st round when Sullivan was knocked out by Corbett.
Randy Turpin became an instant celebrity on July 10, 1951 when he beat Sugar Ray Robinson on points after 15 rounds for the World Middleweight title. Their rematch came just 64 days later and Robinson (who is often ranked as the greatest boxer of all-time) went in determined to win. He knocked Turpin down in the 10th round then, once he got back up, pinned him on the ropes with a barrage of blows causing the official to step in and stop the fight.
When it comes to boxing rivalries, Jeff Harding and Dennis Andries had one that boxing analysts and enthusiasts just love revisiting. Andries lost his WBC light-heavyweight title to Harding in June of 1989, then won it back in July of 1990. This last match, which was the only one to go the distance, saw Harding reclaiming the crown in a tough, evenly-matched and well-fought bout.
Going into this highly anticipated fight, Hagler was the reigning middleweight champion and had successfully defended his title 12 times, so far. That alone could make him the favorite to win but also to Hagler’s advantage was the fact that Leonard had retired from boxing in 1982 and only had one fight since deciding to return to the sport. In what is still a highly disputed result, Leonard won the bout by split decision.
This amazing fight, billed as “Thunder Meets Lightning,” will always be remembered for its last 2 seconds – which never actually happened. With just 2 seconds to go, the official stepped in and stopped the match due to Chavez’s relentless pounding of Taylor throughout the 12th and final round. The problem was that Taylor was in the lead on paper up to that point but ended up suffering a TKO loss.
Promoted as “The Battle of the Champions,” this bout would go on to notoriously be called “The Fight of the 1980s.” Three-weight champion Arguello was making his four-weight bid against light-welterweight champion Pryor and after 12 rounds, he seemed to be clearly in the lead of this 15-round slugfest. After round 13, however, Pryor was given a drink 13 which some spectators have labelled as “suspicious” – and with renewed energy, he proceeded to pound Arguello into defeat.
When Jack Johnson faced off against Tommy Burns in Sydney, Australia he was taking aim at becoming the first African American World Heavyweight boxing champion. He accomplished the feat by total domination of Burns throughout 14 rounds and won by referee decision after the police stopped the fight.
The WBC Heavyweight title was bestowed upon Norton after Leon Spinks was stripped of it for his decision to face Muhammad Ali in an unauthorized rematch. In stepped Larry Holmes as top contender for Norton’s first title defense and he made good use of the opportunity. This much talked about match went through all 15 rounds and ended up as the closest possible split decision in Holmes’ favor.
Both fighters walked into the ring as undefeated title holders and each was 26 years old, having been born less than one month apart. De La Hoya had the strong start and dominated the first half of their 12-round bout, but Trinidad had the strong finish, taking over the reins in the second half. In the end, it was an incredibly close majority decision which gave the win to Trinidad.
“Big George” Foreman and Muhammad “The Greatest” Ali met in Zaire for what was dubbed “Rumble in the Jungle.” Ali came prepared for Foreman’s heavy-handed attacks, and after covering himself against the rope for seven rounds of Foreman’s non-stop pounding, Ali was ready to strike. In the 8th round he turned on an exhausted Foreman and knocked him out with a solid right hand punch.
Jack Dempsey easily retained his World Heavyweight title with a fourth-round knockout of light-heavyweight champion Georges Capentier, whom he outweighed by 20 pounds. This particular fight made boxing history as it became the first match to take in over $1 million in ticket sales. In fact, it brought in as much as $1,789, 238, thanks in large part to the advertising skills of legendary fight promoter Tex Rickard.
The match famously ended when Liston refused to leave his corner at the beginning of the 7th round – conceding his WBC heavyweight title to Clay. It was the last fight in which the legendary Muhammad Ali would use his birth name, Cassius Clay. Days after the match he announced his conversion to Islam and his new choice of name – first Cassius X and then Muhammad Ali.
“The Dark Destroyer” was the perfect nickname for Nigel Benn, who had won his first 22 matches by knockout, until he was stopped by Michael Watson in May, 1989. Benn regrouped and after several successful bouts, decided to put his WBO Middleweight title on the line by going up against fellow Englishman Chris Eubank in a fight fans were clamoring for. Eubank emerged the winner after nine grueling and exciting rounds.
This was the first in a trilogy of fights between Frazier and Ali, and according to most analysts, it was the best by far! The match was held at Madison Square Garden in New York City and promoted as “The Fight of the Century.” It went the full distance of 15 rounds, with Frazier winning by unanimous decision to become the WBA/WBC Heavyweight Champion.
No wonder boxing fans can’t seem to get enough of the tape of this fight – it shows what happens when two formidable boxers enter the ring determined to give as good as they get. This rematch saw DeMarco trying to win back the welterweight championship title he had lost to Basilio five months earlier. Unfortunately for DeMarco, however, this fight ended just like the first – a 12th round TKO in Basilio’s favor.
Heading into the fight, Whitaker was the WBC welterweight champion and Chavez, a champion at multiple weights, was on an 87-0 winning streak. The two went the full distance of 12 rounds and ended in an amazing majority draw with two judges scoring them even and the third giving Whitaker the edge. So, Whitaker got to retain his title and Chavez could continue on his undefeated streak.
In their first meeting a year earlier, Tunney prevailed on a unanimous decision after all ten rounds were completed. This rematch, later dubbed “The Long Count Fight,” ended just as the first, but with controversy over Dempsey not immediately moving to neutral corner after he knocked Tunney down in the 7th round. It gave Tunney a few precious extra seconds to recover and he later won the match.
Although only six years apart in term of their ages, Calzaghe and Eubank were at completely opposite stages in their careers. Calzaghe was a highly touted up-and-comer while the hard-as-granite Eubank was in the final two years of an illustrious career. Calzaghe won the fight by unanimous decision after Eubanks took him through all twelve brutal and bruising rounds. He would later remark, “Chris Eubank took me to hell and back ... It was the hardest fight I ever had in my career.”
There was plenty of hype and tension going into this match between Holmes, the heavyweight champion, and Cooney, the number one contender. During the fight, Cooney proved to be very resilient – coming back after being knocked down by Holmes in the 2nd round and creditably making it to round 13. That was the end of his stay, however, as his corner (wisely) threw in the towel after Holmes had Cooney pinned on the ropes and was showering him with blistering blows.
“Marvelous” Marvin Hagler and Thomas “The Hitman” Hearns met in this title bout dubbed “The War.” It lasted for just 8 minutes, but this match lived up to its billing from the very first round with both boxers delivering some very hard-hitting punches. Two minutes into the 3rd round, when both fighters were already exhausted, Hagler managed to land a right hand followed by two uppercuts – sealing his victory with a technical knockout.
Two rounds of awesomeness! That’s perhaps the best way to describe what has often been called one of boxing’s greatest matches. There were nine knockdowns in the first round alone – Firpo (a.k.a. The Wild Bull of the Pampas) went down seven times and was back up again to knock the champion, Dempsey clean out of the ring! The second round lasted just 57 seconds, with Dempsey flooring Firpo twice more before winning by knockout.
This was the first in a hard-hitting trilogy of matches which still excites boxing enthusiast to this day. Dennis “The Rock” Andries was making his first defense of his second hold on the WBC Light-Heavyweight title and Jeff “The Hitman” Harding (11 years younger than Andries) was considered an easy opponent for the champion to beat. Indeed, Harding took quite a pounding early on but as Andries grew tired, Harding turned the tables, forcing the official to stop the match halfway through the 12th and final round.
Rocky Graziano and Tony Zale had one of boxing’s best-loved rivalries, perhaps because they seemed so evenly matched. Their trilogy of matches swung 2-1 in Zale’s favor but it is this, their second meeting (won by Graziano) which often gets picked as the best of the lot.
The term “Fight of the Century” was coined by promoter Tex Rickard and was first used for this match between the reigning World Lightweight Champion, Joe “Old Master” Gans and “Battling” Nelson. The fight certainly lived up to its billing and has become a legend in boxing history. It was 42 rounds of boxing magic before Nelson (repeatedly) hit Gans below the belt and was disqualified.
This match remains a “hot” topic among boxing enthusiasts thanks to the near-extreme conditions under which it was fought: outdoors, under the sweltering midday sun in Las Vegas, Nevada. Irishman McGuigan was the WBA Featherweight Champion in his third defense of his title and Cruz, a Texan, was actually a replacement fighter since the original challenger, Fernando Sosa, pulled out due to a detached retina. McGuigan wilted in the reported 125-degree heat, lost by unianimous decision to Cruz and ended up in the hospital suffering from dehydration.