It’s difficult to imagine now but many people believed that Spinks, not Tyson, was the real heavyweight champion in 1988. Tyson held three belts but Spinks was the lineal champion and owned the Ring and Boxing Magazine belts. Finally, they met in Atlantic City at an event billed as ‘Once and For All.’ However, Spinks failed to stop Tyson’s relentless onslaught.
‘Iron Mike’ won this clash in about 90 seconds with one of the most spectacular and destructive performances of his career. Most of his fights don’t make this list because they were too one-sided. While this certainly belongs in that category, it also had a special glamor around it because of both men’s prestige and achievements. Tthis was a very special boxing occasion.
There was so much riding on this fight for Ali. Norton was his toughest challenge, even more so than Joe Frazier. ‘The Black Hercules’ had won their first match by split decision while Ali took the rematch. The winner of this rubber fight would be the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world.
It should have been Norton. Tensions were rife in Yankee Stadium and the police were on strike in New York. Both men showed their strengths in an entertaining bout. But even Ali said that Norton should have won. He took a pounding from the challenger as his decline began.
Nobody knew quite what to expect from Holyfield in this one. It was his first fight after his move up from light heavyweight. Dokes was a fearsome opponent. The recovered drug addict had completed a full circle as he looked to win the title. Ultimately this was a very entertaining fight for 10 rounds.
Dokes landed some heavy punches, in the beginning, putting Holyfield under pressure. But once ‘The Real Deal’ settled in, he was able to use his speed and agility to his advantage. However, in round eight, Dokes backed Holyfield up against the cage, but he managed to hang on. A brutal uppercut in the tenth won it for Holyfield.
With Ali exiled from boxing, Frazier was clearly the best in the world in 1969. But Jerry Quarry tested his mettle like never before. One of the most popular fighters in the US, Quarry showed confidence against the champion. He laid everything on the line.
However, this would prove to be his undoing. ‘Irish Jerry’ stayed on the attack but played into Frazier’s hands. Frazier was able to get his timing down and took over from the fourth round on. Frazier kept landing heavy right hands, eventually opening up a deep cut on Quarry’s head. The referee stopped the fight in the tenth round.
One of Marciano’s two toughest fights, this one was as close as he ever came to losing. Known for his love of a brawl, Charles was a very difficult stylistic match-up for Marciano as he was more technical and defensive. This made for a very intriguing fight which Charles thought he actually won.
That could be a stretch too far. But he definitely did give Marciano a very tough test. Marciano almost knocked Charles out in the sixth round, but he was able to hang on until the end. They had a rematch later that year with Marciano winning in the eighth round.
Nowadays there’s talk about Liston owing the mob and taking a dive. But this was still a captivating fight that sent Clay on the path to greatness. Immortalized in one of the most iconic sports photos ever, he dropped Liston several times on the road to victory.
Clay’s movement was sensational as he avoided Liston’s shots. A shady moment occurred in the fifth round as Clay complained something was in his eyes from Liston’s gloves. But he regained his sight and bounced back in the sixth to dominate Liston and seal an infamous win.
Fights like this just don’t happen these days. That’s probably just as well for the sake of the current fighters’ brain cells. In short, this wasn’t a mere boxing match, it was a war. Jefferson and Harris met in Atlantic City and slugged it out for six rounds of sheer brutality.
The second round between them is the stuff of legend. Jefferson dropped Harris twice before Harris smashed him with a hammer of a right hand. But the ending was just as epic. It looked like Harris was going to finish Jefferson after dropping him with body shots. He was pouring it on when Jefferson suddenly connected with a left hook and it was lights out.
One of the few non-title fights on this list, this one is not for the fainthearted. New Zealander Tua fought Nigeria’s Ibeabuchi in 1997. Their 12 -round fight was a true war of attrition as they slugged it out with relentless abandon. There are few fights more brutal than this over the past thirty years.
The two heavyweights threw 1,730 punches over the course of 12 rounds. That’s 139 more than the Thrilla in Manila, which had two more rounds. Finally, Ibeabuchi got the win but both men left everything in the ring. Later in his career, Tua challenged Lennox Lewis for the heavyweight title.
This was a true fight for Lewis. A rematch with Mike Tyson was in the cards if he got past Klitschko but that’s not what happened. Instead, we got a full-blown battle. Klitschko hurt Lewis in the first round and it was clear this wasn’t going to be a walk in the park for him.
Klitschko was clearly ahead when a nasty cut did him in. The doctor stopped the fight after round six as the bleeding wouldn’t stop. He was furious because he was up on all the judges’ scorecards. He wanted a rematch but it never came as Lewis retired.
After this fight, Tyson’s aura was never the same. His loss to Buster Douglas was a freak incident. But this was truly the end of an era. All the critics thought that Holyfield was past his prime. Yet that turned out not to be the case as he put a clinic on ‘Iron Mike.’
Tyson had the aggression but lacked the finish and intimidation factor of his earlier career. Holyfield was able to answer everything and dropped Tyson in the sixth. He eventually finished him off in the eleventh round with another brutal barrage. It was a defining moment.
Foreman went into sharp decline after losing to Ali. He retired for 10 years before sealing his legacy in a dramatic as possible fashion. The 45-year-old fought 27-year-old Moorer in 1994 for the heavyweight title. Although Moorer appeared able to land at will, Foreman wore down the champion.
He scored some significant blows that softened up Moorer. By the time he landed the big right hand that finished the fight, Moorer had nothing left. Foreman became the oldest man to win the heavyweight title, sending the boxing world into shock. What a comeback story.
Klitschko dominated the heavyweight division with his brother Vitaly for 10 years. The veteran Ukrainian took on young champion Joshua in front of 90,000 in Wembley Stadium. Four rounds went by without much action, but then it suddenly exploded into life.
Joshua dropped Klitschko in the fifth but then punched himself out when he looked for the finish. Klitschko nearly took out the exhausted champion in the sixth round. Finally, Joshua managed to recover some energy and knocked out the veteran in the eleventh round with a brutal left hook followed by a barrage of punches.
This fight became the stuff of legend. Moorer fought Cooper in 1992 for the vacant WBO heavyweight title. Cooper came out like a bull as he looked for a fast knockout. In sum, the announcers were right with their claims that this one was not going to go all 12 rounds. But Cooper’s aggression would be his downfall.
Moorer came back strong and the two boxers exchanged knockdowns. Cooper kept coming forward like the Terminator but that didn’t end well for him. Moorer was able to time his entry with a right uppercut and a left hook. That was all she wrote.
Holyfield was a superstar at this point. Yet he didn’t count on the threat of Bowe, who was excellent at nullifying all his usual tactics. Usually, Holyfield stayed on the outside, outworking heavier opponents. But Riddick’s outstanding jab kept him at bay.
It looked like Riddick had won in the 11th round when an uppercut-left hand combo rocked the champion. But then Holyfield turned the tide and put a savage battering on the challenger. It was an epic round, but too little, too late for Holyfield as Bowe held on for the decision.
By all rights, Norton wasn’t even the heavyweight champion. The WBC stripped Leon Spinks after he refused to fight Larry Holmes, holding out for a rematch with Ali. That fight eventually happened but it overshadows another classic with one of the best rounds you’ll ever see.
Both men had their moments in this back-and-forth clash. The final round is famous for its craziness. First of all, Norton appeared to be in charge before Holmes came surging back. He was close to finishing the champion but won the decision anyway. A truly epic fight.
Coming into this one, nobody expected anything from Ruiz, a last-minute replacement for Jerrell ‘Big Baby’ Miller. Short and chubby, Ruiz stood in stark contrast to WBO, WBA, IBF, and IBO champion Joshua. The first knockdown came in round three when Joshua put Ruiz down. But then the challenger stunned the world.
He unleashed a barrage of punches to knockdown Joshua who rose unsteadily to his feet. Then he knocked him down for a second time at the end of the round. The finish came in the seventh round when Ruiz upset Joshua with a TKO victory. It was one of the biggest shocks in heavyweight history.
In 1990, Tyson seemed like an indomitable force. Watching his fights was like attending an Aztec human sacrifice. You knew what was going to happen before the two men stepped into the ring. Then Douglas stunned the world. A 42-1 underdog, nobody gave him a chance against ‘Iron Mike.’
But this wasn’t just a lucky knockout, it was a brilliant overall performance from Douglas. He worked his jab effectively with well-timed right hands, putting Tyson under pressure and into uncharted territory. Douglas finished Tyson in the 10th round, almost removing his head from his body.
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.