C’mon folks, it can’t always be the sweet science, right?
Sometimes, when jabs to the chin and left hooks to the liver simply aren’t enough for compelling drama, fighters have to get their kicks by straying south of the border.
In those instances, a special breed of controversy often arises that can put both the acting skills of athletes and the split-second rulings of referees under the microscope.
And every now and then, if the atmosphere at ringside is just volatile enough, you might even get a riot.
On the subsequent pages are our painful selections for the most noteworthy low blows in boxing history. Click through (with the requisite sympathy pains) to see if your favorite made the list.
The Date: July 23, 2011
The Result: Khan KO 5
Nuts and Bolts: Khan had won the first four rounds of the unification bout between the IBF (Judah) and WBA (himself) 140-pound champions and appeared to be cruising before the match ended abruptly in the final half-minute of the fifth.
Upon landing a right hand, Khan immediately looked at referee Vic Drakulich as if expecting to be penalized as Judah crumbled to his knees in obvious distress. No foul was called, however, and Drakulich instead completed the 10-count over Judah, who made no attempt to get up.
Replays showed the punch actually landed right on the belt line, rather than below it as Judah and his camp alleged.
Cover Your Eyes: At 2:34 of video.
The Date: Aug. 13, 2011
The Result: Mares MD 12
Nuts and Bolts: A lot was on the line heading into the 11th round of Mares’ punishing battle with Agbeko, including the IBF’s bantamweight title and the championship of the weight-class tournament organized by Showtime.
The two fought a spirited two minutes before Mares landed a right-left combination in which the latter shot appeared to clip Agbeko below the belt line. Referee Russell Mora nonetheless treated it as a knockdown, and the two-point swing helped Mares secure a razor-thin majority decision.
Agbeko and his handlers pleaded with Mora to check an arena video board as the round ended, but a security guard separated the corner man from the official. Mora took significant heat for his role, with Showtime analyst Al Bernstein saying, "This is the most disgraceful performance I've seen from a referee in the last 15 years."
The controversy helped prompt a rematch (again won by Mares) four months later.
Cover Your Eyes: At 2:28 of video.
The Date: Dec. 2, 2000
The Result: Trinidad TKO 12
Nuts and Bolts: If you don’t believe boxers sometimes resort to fouls to change the tide of a bout, your mind might change after taking a look at this one.
Trinidad dominated the early going in the WBA/IBF championship bout at 154, but Vargas rallied in the third and dropped Trinidad early in the fourth. Amid a follow-up flurry, Trinidad reared back and drilled Vargas with a low left hand, prompting a delay and allowing time to clear his own head while Vargas recuperated in the other corner.
By the time referee Jay Nady waved them back together, Trinidad looked completely recovered. He went on to stop Vargas in the final round of a scheduled 12.
Cover Your Eyes: At 15:04 of video.
The Date: June 9, 2007
The Result: Cotto TKO 11
Nuts and Bolts: Poor ol’ Zab makes his second appearance of the countdown—in the same writhing position—during a bid for Cotto’s WBA welterweight title, a few years prior to the aforementioned match with Khan.
After getting chastised for low punches by referee Arthur Mercante Jr. in the opening round, Cotto was again south of the border in the third and landed a violent shot with a wound-up right hand just beyond the one-minute mark of the session.
Judah fell to his knees and then to his back in the aftermath, while Cotto bowed to all three judges as a point was deducted. He made nice with Judah upon re-engaging, and the two did indeed touch gloves before getting back to swapping punches.
Cover Your Eyes: At 28:35 of video.
The Date: June 4, 2005
The Result: Hatton TKO 12
Nuts and Bolts: Hatton’s coming-out party, during which he punished the incumbent IBF 140-pound champion for the better part of 11 rounds, had an element of tit-for-tat as well.
Tszyu had been warned several times throughout the fight for letting his hands stray low. When it occurred again shortly after the start of the ninth round, Hatton took matters into his own hands.
Upon the signal from referee Dave Parris to re-engage, he stepped forward, dipped to his left and fired a left-hand shot squarely to the sensitive regions of the Russian-turned-Aussie.
Showtime analyst Al Bernstein simply said, “You can’t tell me that wasn’t intentional.” An already battered Tszyu dropped to his knees, and, though he was able to continue, the fight was over just two rounds later when he retired on his stool.
Cover Your Eyes: At 0:22 of the video.
The Date: June 11, 1982
The Result: Holmes TKO 13
The Story: A comparative novice alongside the incumbent heavyweight champion, Cooney was battered and dropped in the early rounds before pulling himself back into the fight.
He was having one of his best rounds in the ninth and had won several exchanges before, as the two moved out of a corner, he dipped to his left to elude a jab and unleashed a vicious, sweeping left hook that struck Holmes solidly in a region where it was least invited.
Holmes took the injury timeout offered by referee Mills Lane and recovered well enough to be back on his toes by the end of the round. He ultimately battered Cooney into a corner submission and retained his title in the 13th.
Cover Your Eyes: At 47:03 of the video.
The Date: April 8, 2006
The Result: Mayweather UD 12
The Story: It’s appearance No. 3 in the countdown for the perpetually controversial Judah, and the first time he was on the delivering end of a shot, rather than the receiving end.
Though he’d done well early against Mayweather in their match for IBF and IBO welterweight titles, the tide turned in the middle rounds. Judah was looking increasingly fatigued. In the final moments of the 10th, after taking a short left hand, Judah landed a blatantly low left hand—then compounded the error with an overhand right to the back of his staggered foe’s head.
The latter shot drew the ire of Mayweather’s trainer, Roger Mayweather, who climbed through the ropes to confront Judah and immediately drew a similar entry from Judah’s trainer, Yoel Judah. A skirmish quickly developed between the entourages that necessitated outside security entering the ring to prevent an all-out riot.
Cooler heads ultimately prevailed. Mayweather soon closed out an unanimous decision for his 36th straight win as a professional.
Cover Your Eyes: At 1:22 of the video.
The Date: Dec. 14, 1996
The Result: Bowe DQ 9
The Story: Given the water already under the bridge with the two burly heavyweights, it’s hardly surprising their second go-round ended in circumstances similar to the first.
Just as had occurred four months earlier in midtown Manhattan, Golota took the fight to Bowe throughout and seemed mere minutes away from a victory. Instead, his tendency to snatch defeat from the crotch of victory prevailed in the form of a three-punch combo that traveled progressively lower beneath Bowe’s belt line.
Referee Eddie Cotton immediately waved matters to a halt and awarded Bowe a disqualification win while the former champion was flat on his back and being consoled by manager Rock Newman.
On the other side, Golota trainer Lou Duva was furious with his own man for blowing yet another chance at a career-defining victory.
Cover Your Eyes: At 43:17 of the video.
The Date: June 12, 1930
The Result: Sharkey DQ 4
The Story: Yankee Stadium was the stage for some history that didn’t involve baseball when Schmeling and Sharkey got together in a quest for the vacant New York State and National Boxing Association heavyweight titles.
Sharkey had his back to the ropes when Schmeling leapt in with a left hook in the final 15 seconds of the fourth round. He instinctively countered the wild blow with a left of his own that strayed below the belt and immediately dropped the German to the floor.
Schmeling’s corner team dragged him to his feet and ultimately carried him to his stool, where he ultimately became the new champion when referee Jim Crowley declared him the winner by disqualification at 2:55 of the fourth.
Sharkey got revenge in a rematch two years and nine days later, winning a controversial 15-round split decision in Long Island City.
Cover Your Eyes: At 9:11 of the video.
The Date: June 26, 1972
The Result: Duran TKO 13
The Story: What began as both Buchanan’s third trip to Madison Square Garden and his third defense of the WBA lightweight championship ended as something dramatically different.
After 12-plus rounds of being legally brutalized by the unbeaten 21-year-old Duran, the Scotsman was dropped to the floor by a direct right-hand hit from the Panamanian to his groin just after the bell to end the 13th round. He fell to the floor face down and writhed on his back before eventually rising and limping to his stool.
Referee Johnny LoBianco neither issued a count nor declared a foul, and the title changed hands by TKO when Buchanan declared himself unable to continue.
Cover Your Eyes: At 3:03 of the video.
The Date: July 11, 1996
The Result: Bowe DQ 7
The Story: The Grand (Big) Daddy of all low-blow incidents is, even 17 years later, a night that lives in boxing infamy at Madison Square Garden.
Bowe was a former heavyweight champion angling for big-money bouts with Lennox Lewis and Mike Tyson. He only had to get past an anonymous Golota to make those riches reality.
Instead, he came in grossly overweight and was pounded for six-plus rounds before his foe leaned to his left and proceeded to crush a future generation in the final seconds of Round 7.
Bowe had his hand raised by referee Wayne Kelly while prone on the floor, but the real fun started when angry members of the Bowe entourage tried to get at Golota, prompting a fracas that saw the fighter pummeled with a hand-held radio. Trainer Lou Duva was removed from the ring with chest pains as the melee continued. Ten arrests were ultimately made.
Cover Your Eyes: At 2:49 of the video.