By Colin Linneweber
It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog. Champions are made well before the title fight, months ahead of the bell ringing; the belt is merely an added bonus for all the hard work and dedication. Listed below may not be the greatest fights of all time, but the best bouts with the title “World Champion” at stake. Here are five of the greatest title fights in boxing history.
1. Marvin Hagler – Thomas Hearns (April 15, 1985)
The 30-year-old Hagler (60-2-2, 50 KOs) and the 26-year-old Hearns (40-1, 34 KOs) collided and recklessly threw fists for nearly nine minutes in Sin City. The 6-foot-1 Hearns landed a monstrous right that cracked open the 5-foot-9 Hagler’s forehead. Unfortunately for “The Hitman,” the strike broke Hearns’ power hand and only served to further enrage Hagler. Concerned that the bloodbath was going to be stopped, Hagler rocked Hearns with a series of potent headshots that sent the disoriented challenger to the canvas.
Referee Richard Steele ceased the savagery at 1 minute, 52 seconds of the third round. Marvin Hagler, while wearing a crimson mask, successfully defended the WBC, WBA and IBF middleweight belts.
2. Evander Holyfield – Riddick Bowe I (November 13, 1992)
The 25-year-old Bowe (31-0) universally outscored the 30-year-old Holyfield (28-0) to collect the WBC, WBA and IBF straps at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, Nevada. Bowe officially won by comfortable margins of 115-112, 117-110 and 117-110. Despite the seemingly lopsided victory, the 6-foot-2, 205-pound Holyfield consistently hammered the 6-foot-5, 235-pound Bowe and on several occasions had the challenger in peril.
Holyfield, who entered the original bout as a 7-5 favorite, defeated Bowe in their November 1993 rematch to recapture the WBA and IBF crowns.
3. Joe Frazier – Muhammad Ali I (March 8, 1971)
The 29-year-old Ali (31–0, 25 KOs) entered the squared circle seeking to reclaim his unjustly stripped titles. Regrettably for the somewhat rusty Ali, the 27-year-old Frazier (26–0, 23 KOs) fought possessed and refused to relinquish the WBC and WBA belts. The 5-foot-11, 205-pound Frazier controlled the action and floored the 6-foot-3, 215-pound Ali with a crushing left hook to the jaw in the 15th.
Although Muhammad Ali managed to last the entire 45 minutes, Joe Frazier unanimously prevailed at Madison Square Garden. Hailed as “The Fight of the Century,” this match ignited one of the premier rivalries in sports history.
4. Ray Leonard – Thomas Hearns I (September 16, 1981)
The 25-year-old Leonard (30-1, 21 KOs) and the 22-year-old Hearns (32-0, 21 KOs) met in a welterweight unification bout at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. While Leonard regrouped from a shaky beginning to command the middle rounds, Hagler rallied late and nearly finished the gold medalist.
“Ya got nine minutes,” said Leonard’s trainer, Angelo Dundee. “You’re blowin’ it now, son. You’re blowin’ it.”
Leonard, sensing urgency and realizing the need for a knockout, unleashed a furious combination that pinned Hearns against the ropes. With Hearns unable to maintain his guard and Leonard connecting at will, referee Davey Pearl compassionately intervened at 1 minute, 45 seconds of the 14th round. The Ring named Ray Leonard versus Thomas Hearns the 1981 Fight of the Year.
5. Muhammad Ali – George Foreman (October 30, 1974)
Bookmakers installed the 32-year-old Ali as a 3-1 underdog versus the 25-year-old Foreman (40-0, 37 KOs) in Kinshasa, Zaire (now Kinshasa, Congo). The 6-foot-3, 220-pound Foreman possessed brutish strength and had utterly pummeled all of his prior opponents, including Joe Frazier in January 1973. With a rabid crowd chanting “Ali, kill him,” the gold medalist from Louisville curiously lounged against the ropes and urged Foreman to attack. While Foreman rarely landed a clean shot, the 6-foot-3, 217-pound Ali consistently countered and peppered the oblivious challenger with hard, stinging jabs.
Foreman, an unwitting victim of the “rope-a-dope,” was soon exhausted, listless, and ready to fall. Ali struck Foreman with a blistering combination that caused the weakened bully to stumble to the ground in the eighth. Foreman was unable to regain his footing, and Ali emerged from “The Rumble in the Jungle” as the WBA and WBC heavyweight champion.