Next up in Fixture Calendar’s Iconic Sporting Moments Series is Boxing, where we look at a selection of extraordinary underdog triumphs and remarkable comeback stories. Each iconic moment is famed for the astounding displays of courage, resilience and determination to achieve the unthinkable.
Buster Douglas Stuns the Undefeated Mike Tyson, 1990
Mike Tyson was the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world holding the WBC, WBA and IBF titles and an extraordinary 37-0 record when he fought Buster Douglas in Japan in 1990. There was not a great deal of media clamor surrounding the bout, as it was merely considered a warmup for Tyson before his hotly anticipated fight with the undefeated Evander Holyfield. Douglas had lost his previous World Title fight to Tony Tucker in 1987 and went into the bout as the 42-1 underdog but what unfolded was one of the greatest shocks in sporting history. Douglas was knocked down in the dying seconds of the eighth round thanks to a trademark Tyson uppercut, but he recovered and finished the ninth by unleashing a tirade of punches on a struggling Tyson, before making history in the 10th. Douglas landed an uppercut to Tyson’s head, and with the hot favourite staggering backwards, he hit him with a flurry of head shots, knocking Tyson to the canvas for the first time in his career. A completely dazed Tyson attempted to put his mouthguard back on but could only manage to leave it half hanging from his mouth, creating an all-time famous Boxing image. The referee counted him out, and the 42-1 outsider Douglas became the first person ever to knock out the great Mike Tyson.
Arturo Gatti and Micky Ward’s First Fight in a Memorable Trilogy, 2002
Ward and Gatti initially faced off in 2002, the first in a trilogy of thrilling fights between the pair. Their first bout is famous for an epic ninth round, which contained all the intensity, excitement and plot lines of three fights condensed into 180 epic seconds. Gatti was on the canvas within 20 seconds of the bell thanks to Ward’s left hook to the body and had to withstand a pummeling from his rival to survive the round, but into the second minute a seemingly exhausted Gatti came from nowhere to seize the upper hand, forcing Ward onto the ropes. The momentum swayed once more with Ward dominating again, landing blow after blow as Gatti simply refused to quit. The sheer number of successful punches landed by both in the single round was incredible. Ward went on to win the fight on a majority decision, before Gatti won the subsequent rematch and then the final one of the trilogy in 2003. The respect and bond between the two fighters was extremely rare in Boxing - they hugged before the final round in their second and third bouts. This epic trilogy of fights defined the careers of both men: a combined 90 minutes of compelling Boxing, famed for 180 breathtaking seconds and world-class sportsmanship.
Tyson Fury completes Comeback with Epic Fight against Deontay Wilder, 2018
After stunning the great Wladimir Klitschko to claim the WBA (super), IBF, WBO and The Ring Heavyweight World Titles, Tyson Fury was at an all-time career high. However, things started to spiral out of control for the British boxer as he battled depression and substance abuse, and his weight rocketed to nearly 400 pounds; Fury was a man on the brink and Boxing was the last thing on his mind. After a torrid two and a half years, he remarkably stepped foot in the ring once more having shed his excess weight. After two victories on his return, he set up a fight in Los Angeles against the undefeated Deontay Wilder, who had a sensational record of 39 knockouts in 40 fights. Although the odds were stacked against Fury, he performed superbly as the fight went the distance. Fury was knocked heavily to the canvas in the 12th round and in a fashion that was somewhat symbolic of the comeback in his own life, he battled back as the fight finished in a draw. To this day, Fury remains the only man that Wilder has failed to beat. Having done so following a two and a half year absence from the ring and battling a barrage of mental health issues, Fury’s draw with Wilder is one of sport’s greatest comebacks.
Joe Frazier Inflicts First Defeat on Muhammad Ali, 1971
In 1971 two undefeated heavyweight champions went head to head for the first time in Boxing history when Muhammad Ali (31-0, 25 KOs) faced Joe Frazier (26-0, 23 KOs) at Madison Square Garden. What had previously been a friendship between the pair, had turned to a fierce hatred in recent years over social and political issues, adding to the fight’s excitement. 300 million people tuned in worldwide to what was dubbed the ‘Fight of the Century’, and they were treated to a contest that not only delivered but went beyond expectations, as the bout went the full 15 rounds. The momentum swung back and forth between the pair with Frazier hammering Ali on the ropes in the fourth, before Ali unleashed a flurry of combinations in the ninth. As the fight reached its end, Frazier was leading on all the judges’ cards, but an exceptional showing from Ali in the 14th had pulled him back into contention. However, in the 15th Frazier landed a powerful left hook to knock Ali to the canvas for only the third time in his career and the judges unanimously announced Frazier as the winner, dealing Ali his first professional loss.
The ‘Thrilla’ in Manilla: Muhammad Ali vs Joe Frazier, 1975
The first fight between Ali and Frazier was special but was arguably eclipsed by their third and final showdown in the Philippines, as a staggering one billion people tuned in to watch one of the most brutal bouts in Boxing history. Ali had won the rematch in 1974, a more muted affair with no titles on the line but their third fight was a blockbuster occasion. Intense trash talk from Ali filled the buildup as their bitter hatred remained – and a furious 14 rounds followed. Ali dominated the early stages but Frazier hit back in the sixth, although Ali’s ability to withstand the powerful blows to the head was astonishing. The momentum began to swing again in Ali’s favour as he came close to knocking his opponent out twice, sending Frazier’s mouthguard flying into the crowd with a left handed punch in the 13th. Come the end of the 14th, Frazier was in quite a state; spitting blood and his vision was rapidly deteriorating. His trainer, Eddie Futch, called time on the fight, despite the bloodied and bruised Frazier’s protests. Years later, it was revealed that Ali was also on the brink of throwing the towel in due to experiencing severe levels of exhaustion. Both men took one hell of a beating and were pushed to their absolute limits. For the sustained quality and fortitude over 14 unforgiving rounds, the Thrilla in Manilla goes down in history as one of Boxing’s great moments.
Anthony Joshua Beats Wladimir Klitschko in 11 Enthralling Rounds, 2017
A post-war record crowd of 90,000 people crowded into Wembley Stadium in April 2017 to watch Anthony Joshua, the British boxer with an impeccable record of 18 KOs from his first 18 professional fights, take on the legendary Ukrainian fighter Wladimir Klitschko. Could Klitschko bounce back from his defeat to Tyson Fury? Did Joshua have the talent to compete with the elite? The fight more than lived up to its billing: it was heavyweight Boxing at its brilliant best, stretching over 11 compelling rounds. 41-year-old Klitschko was knocked down in the fifth, before Joshua hit the canvas in the sixth. Joshua was in uncharted territory, having never gone past the sixth round in his career. But the British fighter demonstrated that he had the fitness, drive and grit to match his speed and power, hitting Klitschko with a heavy undercut in the 11th, before unleashing a flurry of punches putting the great champion on the ropes. The referee stopped the fight, handing Joshua the WBA world heavyweight title to add to his IBF crown. This was a fight where both men displayed remarkable resilience, determination and fortitude, resulting in a stunning 11 rounds of Boxing.
No Más Fight: Sugar Ray Leonard vs Roberto Durán, 1980
This was the second match between the pair after Durán had knocked Leonard, the darling of American Boxing, off his perch five months earlier in a real classic famously known as ‘The Brawl in Montreal’. The second of the three meetings between the pair was best remembered not for the fight itself, but for the iconic way in which it finished. Durán went into the fight not in ideal shape, having spent months celebrating his famous victory over Leonard earlier that year. Leonard meanwhile had doubled down and his preparation had been meticulous. The American toyed with Durán, landing sharp jabs on his opponent. As the eighth round closed an exhausted Durán, who had been renowned for his grit and determination throughout his career, turned his back to Leonard and allegedly said to the referee: “No más” - Spanish for “no more”. Although Durán denies uttering those words, it has been swept up in Boxing folklore and makes the fight one of the most famous of all time.
Nicola Adams Wins First Ever Women’s Olympic Gold Medal, 2012
Women’s Boxing had been shunned throughout history, with female boxers not given licenses and many countries banning the sport altogether. When women’s Boxing was introduced at the Olympics for the first time in 2012, it was a watershed moment for the sport. Olympic Boxing is different to professional Boxing since it is just three rounds long, making it fast, frantic and incredibly exciting. This is what the 16,000 fans at London’s ExCeL were treated to when Great Britain’s Nicola Adams took on World Champion Ren Can of China in the flyweight gold medal match. The British boxer had the weight of the sport in the UK resting on her shoulders; lose, and the opportunity to advance female Boxing in the UK would be lost, but Adams won 16-7, knocking her opponent to the floor en route to a historic gold medal. To win the first ever women’s Boxing gold at a home Olympics was quite a story, and the pictures of the beaming boxer from Yorkshire clasping her medal became one of the iconic moments of the 2012 games.
Willie Pep Overcomes the Odds against Sandy Saddler, 1949
Willie Pep was considered the greatest featherweight of his generation, so when he lost to Sandy Saddler in 1948, his career was deemed by many to be over, but three months later, the pair did battle once more in front of a packed house at Madison Square Garden. Pep took the upper hand in the early exchanges, peppering his opponent with jabs at an astounding pace but Saddler fought back, grazing Pep’s face with a series of heavy punches which, if landed, would surely have brought the contest to a premature end. Despite a gash to his cheek, Pep began to dominate once more, landing punch after punch on Saddler but in the 13th and 14th rounds it looked as if Saddler had levelled the scores thanks to a multitude of ferocious head shots. Yet from somewhere, Pep found the strength to put in a momentous final round display to secure a unanimous points victory. Pep became the first man that century to regain a featherweight world title, with a remarkable display of character in the face of adversity and doubters.
The Rumble in the Jungle, 1974
This is a fight that needs no introduction. The undefeated heavyweight champion of the world, George Foreman, took on former heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali in what was not just an iconic Boxing bout, but a fight that would come to define Sport in the 20th Century. Aged 25, Foreman was the heavy favourite over the 32-year-old Ali, who many considered to be past his best but Ali deployed a strategy that he later christened the ‘Rope-a-Dope’, where he leant on the ropes and protected himself, forcing Foreman to exert energy with a flurry of relatively ineffective punches to Ali. Foreman tired, and Ali hit him with numerous quick jabs to the head. In the eighth, Ali hit Foreman with a five-punch combination, followed by a left hook straight to the face. Foreman hit the canvas. Ali had upset the odds and demonstrated his incredible tactical astuteness. In a career characterised by iconic bouts and famous victories, this was arguably Ali’s greatest.
These are just a selection of some of Boxing’s most iconic moments, with many other bouts throughout history just as memorable for various reasons: from the controversial, such as Mike Tyson’s “bite fight” against Evander Holyfield in 1997, to the explosive, like Marvin Hagler’s third round knockout over Thomas Hearns in 1985. From the record breaking, such as Jack Dempsey and George Carpentier’s 1921 fight that attracted the first million dollar gate, to the astounding, such as on Diego Corrales’ comeback victory over José Luis Castillo in 2005 – where the former was knocked to the canvas twice. And not forgetting the complete classics between Sugar Ray Leonard and Thomas Hearns in 1981 and 1989. Boxing has seen fighters come back from the brink, defy the odds and overcome adversity, and it will continue to do so. Never miss a minute of this enthralling Sport with the Fixture Calendar.
Written in October 2019
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