Before Muhammad Ali, there was Joe Louis. In 1941, he looked unstoppable. When he fought Billy Conn, 60,000 people came to watch at the Polo Grounds. Louis used his size and skill to dominate Conn in the early rounds, but then Conn rocked Louis with a slick combination.
From then on it was back and forth. Both men scored knockdowns throughout the fight. It looked like Conn might even pull off an unlikely win with a savage attack in the twelfth. But finally, Louis beat him down in 13th round, as his body gave in. The toll the fight must have taken on their bodies was crazy.
The second meeting between two of the three best heavyweights in the world as of right now, this was a spectacular win for Fury. He came into this clash heavier and having changed champs just seven weeks out from the fight. But he put on a career-best performance to beat down The Bronze Bomber in stunning fashion.
Wilder was never able to get going. Knockdowns in the second and fifth-round put him on wobbly legs before his corner threw in the towel in the seventh, ensuring his first defeat for the Alabama native. Fury walked away as the new WBC champion. He brought the crowd to their feet by singing Don McClean’s American Pie.
There are many different types of boxers and fights. Sometimes you get technical masterclasses, and then you get brutal brawls. This one falls into the latter category. Lyle started fast, staggering Foreman with a punch to the body in the first. But then Foreman came back and almost finished him in the second.
Lyle recovered and knocked the champion down twice in the fourth. In sum, this was total carnage. But Foreman was able to hang on and knocked out the challenger in the next round. Later, in his autobiography, Foreman called Lyle the toughest foe he’d ever faced.
We’d argue that the original was much, much better than the sequel. Fury perhaps shouldn’t have even been fighting in this one. Only one year earlier he weighed 400 pounds and was suicidal. However, he got himself into fighting shape to take on the hardest hitter in combat sports. It looked like he should have won too, outpointing Wilder across 12 rounds.
But two knockdowns sealed the draw for the champion. The second in the twelfth round was ridiculous. Fury looked out cold when he hit the ground but he rose from the dead like Lazarus, a truly iconic moment. In the end, the judges controversially awarded the fighters a draw. But what a fight it was.
Ali fought Foreman in Zaire in 1974. This was an older Ali taking on the hardest heavyweight puncher of all time. It looked like Foreman would be too much for a potentially over-the-hill Ali. But Ali defied his underdog status again to put on a masterful performance.
His plan was to exhaust Foreman with rope-a-dope, sticking and moving around the ring. It worked to perfection. Although Ali absorbed some brutal shots, he was able to hang on and finish him with a fast combination in the eighth in a stunning victory for Ali.
The oldest fight on this list was unbelievably insane. 90,000 were in attendance at the Polo Grounds with another 25,000 standing outside. Dempsey stormed in but Firpo stunned everybody watching by dropping him with a right hand. Things just got crazier from then on.
Dempsey came back, knocking Firpo down a ridiculous seven times. This was a different era. Then Firpo sent Dempsey crashing through the ropes. Finally, Dempsey came back in with a massive cut and dominated the challenger until he got the finish.
Marciano famously went 49 fights unbeaten before he finally retired. But Walcott was the man who came closest to beating him. In September 1952, Walcott was the champion and put a technical beatdown on Marciano for 12 rounds. He even knocked Marciano down in the first round.
But you could never count Marciano out. His right hand was a piston and he made it count in the 13th round. Walcott was sailing towards a decision win when he made a fatal error. He dropped his hands when Marciano let fly with a vicious right that smashed him into oblivion.
It’s rare that a hyped heavyweight fight exceeds expectations. But that’s exactly what happened in Madison Square Garden when Ali met Frazier with the heavyweight title on the line. It was a war of attrition. Ali took the early rounds as Frazier took punishment to gauge his opponent’s timing. From then on it was all about wearing Ali down and battering him.
But Frazier left the judges in no doubt with one of the most iconic left hooks of all time. He dropped Ali in the fifteenth round. The Ring and lineal champion rose back to his feet, showing tremendous heart. Both men became legends that day. They’d fight two more times in iconic clashes.
This savage war is definitely the greatest heavyweight clash of them all. Ali fought Frazier for the second time in a battle that lasted for a brutal 14 rounds. Everything was at stake in this trilogy fight with the winner taking the bragging rights.
Ali started strong with his jab but then halfway through Frazier put in ferocious work to the body. Towards the end of the fight, Ali regained control, and eventually, the swelling around Frazier’s eye was too much. It definitely shortened both men’s careers. But as far as classic heavyweight fights go, this one was, is, and will be definitive.