Erik Morales (left) and Marco Antonio Barrera in their third fight
Sometimes, when a sport has garnered so much attention in such a short period of time, fans can find themselves suffering a kind of tunnel vision; a happy byproduct of being so thoroughly entertained in one area that all other considerations are rendered moot.
But that isn’t always a fortunate thing.
For a great many MMA fans, the notion of watching boxing seems stale and one-dimensional; like watching a game of checkers when one could be watching chess.
But that is honestly the worst kind of parallel when considering the world of professional boxing, yet it is also aptly describes the attitude many MMA fans have about the sweet science.
As a fan of both sports, I find myself amazed at how many incredible, jaw-dropping bouts in the world of boxing go unnoticed and unappreciated by the same MMA fans who are calling out for the kind of wars that helped pull the sport out of near extinction and into the mainstream.
For those fans, it is all about Dan Henderson vs. Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, Nick Diaz vs. Paul Daley or Chuck Liddell vs. Wanderlei Silva.
It’s not hard to understand the loyalty MMA fans have for their sport because boxing fans are the same way, but at a certain point, a fight becomes so great that it honestly surpasses such limitations, existing in a wholly different realm—that area where great fights can only be measured by other great fights, be they in MMA, boxing or wherever.
And that is what this piece is all about.
Here is a list of 10 fantastic fights from the world of boxing, each due the full attention of any serious fan of great fights, no matter which sport they come from.
If you like a fight that is long on attitude and aggression, you will love Felix Trinidad vs. Ricardo Mayorga.
Both men landed some serious blows in a fight that was all action for every single round.
Mayorga was all about bravado, taking the shots flush, smiling, sticking his chin way out and inviting Trinidad to hit it again and again.
Trinidad complied, only to see Mayorga extend the invitation yet again. That was what this fight was about: bravado vs. power.
Both men were hurt in the bout, and both men would bounce back to return the compliment.
It’s amazing how quickly we forget brash fighters who are long on talk but short in their careers. MMA fans have Chael Sonnen, for now, and boxing fans had Prince Naseem Hamed, perhaps the most colorful and maddening boxer to come out of England at the time.
Hamed had a swagger and vernacular that was polarizing; either you loved him or you hated him. Then, there was his unconventional style of fighting, which at times seemed artful when it didn’t look clumsy and off-balance.
But the man had serious power in his punches. At the time of his retirement, his record was 36-1 with 31 wins by KO.
But in 1997, Hamed was at a pivotal point in his career. He was finally “Coming to America,” as the saying goes, and if you believed Hamed, he was coming to teach American’s how to box.
He was greeted by Kevin Kelly, a tough fighter who was considered to be a step up in competition.
They met at Madison Square Garden, and after Hamed made the crowd and the viewers at home wait an ungodly amount of time while he had his hands wrapped and re-wrapped, he finally danced his way to the ring.
The bell tolled and both men spent the rest of a short fight knocking each other down multiple times in what could have been a Fight of the Year winner in 1997, were it not for Arturo Gatti’s five round war with Gabriel Ruelas.
It’s a wonderful thing when two men meet at the right time in their careers and fight as if no one else is watching.
Such was the case when the late Diego Corrales squared off against Jose Luis Castillo for the first time in 2005.
This was a fight that illustrates just how much damage short punches can do. Both men were fighting in a shoebox for nearly the entire fight, digging harsh shots to the body and heavy hooks to the head.
Nearly every single round saw one man hurt the other, and many times saw the tide turn on a dime. Just when it looked like one man was badly hurt and heading for the floor, he’d return fire and land the kind of shots that sent the other man staggering.
It went on like this until round 10, when the action and drama jumped up to a whole different level, leaving fans screaming in shock and amazement as they watched perhaps the greatest finish in twenty years.
It’s no stretch to think that nearly every MMA fan alive has heard of Arturo Gatti.
He may have started off as a boxer with some pop, but the bulk of his career was spent engaging in the kinds of fights that age fighters like time-lapse photography; a year for a night.
Given his tendency to swell around the eyes and cut easily, Gatti was a walking drama machine that always had the chance to turn a bad situation around given his power and heart.
When he stepped into the ring to square off against rugged journeyman Wilson Rodriguez, the swelling began quickly and another Gatti drama was underway, lasting six sweet rounds.
This fight saw Gatti get tattooed more than he ever had to date, including one moment in Round 3 where he was turned and nailed with a picture-perfect seven punch combination that ratcheted his head back and forth like it was on a swivel.
While Evander Holyfield vs. Mike Tyson 1 may have gotten the nod from The Ring magazine, Gatti vs. Rodriguez was the real Fight of the Year.
After his loss to Muhammad Ali, George Foreman was a man desperate to rebuild his career, and when he clashed with Ron Lyle, he was desperate for a whole new set of reasons.
Many people talk about how boring heavyweight prize fights can be, and while the exception is not the norm, in the case of Foreman vs. Lyle, it is still exceptional, beyond a doubt.
Heavyweights, of course, are known for their power, and Foreman remains one of the heaviest punchers in the history of the division. But Lyle proved that it is a sword that cuts both ways.
Both men were swinging hammers in this fight; a bout short on defense and long on heart.
It isn’t a long fight, nor was it terribly skillful. The first three rounds were a bit tentative, but when the fourth frame came, all hell broke loose as both men took their turns examining the canvas.
The end came in the fifth round, bringing to a close one of the most two-sided brawls in heavyweight history.
Very rarely is a trilogy so great that even the lesser of the three meetings is a candidate for Fight of the Year, and in the case of Israel Vasquez vs. Rafael Marquez, the only reason why their first fight didn’t win such honors is because it was beat out by their rematch in 2007.
Whenever you get to see a fight between two great Mexican warriors who are dedicated to their craft, odds are you are going to see something special.
Such was the case with Vazquez and Marquez as both men put on a brilliant performance that spoke to the best of their technical skills and their ability to slug it out.
Like their first bout, Part II only lasted six rounds, and they were glorious.
They would go on to win Fight of the Year honors for their rubber match in 2008, leaving us with one of the greatest trilogies ever.
I won’t even bother to discuss their fourth bout, because by that time, Vazquez was all used up, and when you see the first three fights, you’ll understand why.
Perhaps one of the most action packed fights I’ve ever had the honor of witnessing, Micky Ward and Emanuel Augustus Burton went toe-to-toe for ten full rounds of action that seemed like siege warfare.
Both men displayed incredible chins as they endured countless punches to the head and body; nearly every blow landing flush.
Everyone knows how tough Ward is, but few really knew all that much about Burton (who is known by many simply as Emanuel Augustus, but for this bout his last name of Burton was used). As he took the best that Ward had to offer and kept firing back, giving every bit as good as he got, we all saw first hand why Floyd Mayweather raved so much about him.
The bout won Fight of the Year for 2001, and later was named Fight of the Decade by ESPN.
Truly, if there was ever a heavyweight battle that has to be seen to be believed, it is the bout between David Tua and Ike Ibeabuchi.
The first thing to note is that these men set the punch-stat record for punches thrown in a heavyweight bout at 1730 punches; a staggering feat considering it was only a 10-round affair.
That is one half of the excitement in this bout, because both men threw a staggering amount of punches with tremendous power. That is a phrase that gets used far too much these days, but when you sit down and watch Tua and Ibeabuchi go at it, you find a new appreciation for those words.
The second half of the excitement is in how well these men take countless shots that would fell nearly any other heavyweight, past or present, over and over and over again. It wasn’t just shocking, it was mind-blowing.
Ike Ibeabuchi isn’t all that well known in the fight community, and going into the bout with Tua, who possessed the heaviest hands in the division at the time, no one expected him to be able to take what he took as often as he took it.
Tua, for his part, was the Mark Hunt of boxing, but before Mark Hunt. He possessed one of those chins that was more than just “sturdy” or “granite.” His ability to take the hardest shots of the best punchers in the sport was well known and on frequent display in this fight.
There is a conventional wisdom that says a fighter can only go willingly to the buffet table of abuse so many times; it’s a theory I still fully believe in, especially after the recent KO loss of Mark Hunt.
But this fight seems to stand alone, separate from such considerations, much like Mount Rushmore stands on its own, no matter what failings those great men may have had; the good works they did overshadowing any of their short comings.
So too does the bout between Tua and Ibeabuchi stand alone as an exceptional monument to the heart and resolve of two men who decided to leave it all in the ring.
Perhaps one of the greatest fights ever, Marco Antonio Barrera and Erik Morales fought like two men who would rather die in the ring than lose.
Perhaps this is because both men had a true dislike for each other; Barrera was from Mexico City, Morales from Tijuana, and clearly this was a serious rivalry. They fought three times, giving fans one of the greatest trilogies ever, and each time they met, the animosity was like a fire that both fueled and burned each man.
This bout has to be seen to be believed, it’s just that simple. On a scale of 1 to 10, this fight turns it up to 11.
Simply known as “The War,” the fight between Marvin Hagler and Thomas Hearns is perhaps one of the greatest examples of two well-known and feared fighters that were happy to engage in the kind of brawl that brings the term “mutually-assured destruction” very close to home.
There was a lot at stake for both men in this fight, which makes the manner in which the fight unfolded so shocking—this was a bout that most men in their position, risking what they risked (in terms of their reputations), would have been cautious and methodical.
Hagler threw caution to the wind and went after Hearns, and from there both men tore into each other, unleashing all their fury and power; no quarter asked and none given.
Going into the bout, the big question circulating among boxing fans and the press was a simple one, and apt to decide the fight: Could Hagler handle the big right hand of Hearns?
It was a valid question. The right hand of Hearns seemed to come from a different planet, leveling almost everyone it touched, including the iron-chinned Roberto Duran.
For two-and-a-half rounds, Hearns touched Hagler with it many times, and was touched in return as both men loosed enough firepower to fell the first four rows surrounding them, North, South, East and West.
It’s been said that the greatest first round in the history of boxing is found in Hagler vs. Hearns, and the second and third round were equally incredible.
It really doesn’t get any better than this.
*NOTE: the music at the beginning of the video doesn't last long.