Boxing

Ranking the 10 Greatest Rematches in Boxing History

Briggs SeekinsFeatured ColumnistApril 10, 2014

Ranking the 10 Greatest Rematches in Boxing History

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    Kathy Willens

    This Saturday night in Las Vegas, Manny Pacquiao and Timothy Bradley will meet in a rematch of their controversial June 2012 bout. Excitement around this fight is far greater than it was for their first meeting two years ago. 

    A sequel in boxing is much more often a sure thing than in Hollywood, where Part 2 tends to be a warmed-over retread of the original script. 

    Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier would have gone down in history as great heavyweight champions no matter what. But their three fights against each other pushed their legendary status to another level.

    Rematches are such an integral part of boxing that picking just 10 is an invitation to fail. There are just way too many great ones to include them all.

    Still, all 10 of these fights were thrilling and important to the history of the sport. 

10. Evander Holyfield vs. Riddick Bowe II

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    After the 1970s, I would rate the 1990s as the greatest decade in the history of the heavyweight division. The rivalry between Riddick Bowe and Evander Holyfield was a big part of what made it so special.

    Their first fight, in November 1992, was the greatest heavyweight bout of the decade and one of the best of all time. Bowe won a decisive decision on the cards, but every round was a bitterly contested war. Somehow he never lived up to his promise, but on that night he looked like a future legend.  

    The second fight was closer and marked by the bizarre Fan Man incident, when an attention-starved miscreant parachuted into the ring and caused a lengthy delay mid-fight. It was another epic struggle, with Holyfield reclaiming the title via majority decision.  

9. Jake LaMotta vs. Laurent Dauthuille II

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    As this list will make clear, the 1940s and '50s were two golden eras in the middleweight division. "The Bronx Bull" Jake LaMotta and Frenchman Laurent Dauthuille were two important players.

    They had met the first time in Montreal at light heavyweight, with Dauthuille taking a unanimous decision. In their September 1950 rematch, LaMotta's newly won world middleweight title was on the line, which he had acquired from Dauthuille's great countryman Marcel Cerdan.

    For the first 14 rounds of the fight, it looked like Dauthuille would be taking the world title back to France with him. But well up on the cards heading into the final round, he chose to be valiant and continue trading with the champ at close range.

    That tactical error cost him the belt. In one of the great final-round knockouts in boxing history, LaMotta put the challenger down for the count to retain his title.

8. Ray Leonard vs. Thomas Hearns II

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    As was the case with Evander Holyfield and Riddick Bowe, the first fight between Ray Leonard and Thomas Hearns was the best, but the rematch was still pretty great.

    The first bout in September 1981 had been one of the biggest fights in the sport's history, a unification bout between the unbeaten WBA welterweight champion Hearns and the superstar WBC champion Leonard. Defying most expectations, Hearns outboxed Leonard for most of the fight, and Leonard was forced to rally furiously to win by Round 14 TKO.

    The rematch eight years later, in June 1989, was to unify the WBO and WBC super middleweight belts. Once more it appeared that Hearns had Sugar Ray's number, as he knocked the WBC champion down in Rounds 3 and 11.

    Leonard went all-in for the 12th and final round, battering Hearns. Although he did not knock "The Hitman" down, he did manage to pull even on the cards and come away with a draw.

    Still, in the nearly 25 years since, I don't think I've ever spoken to a fan who didn't think Hearns deserved to win.  

7. Floyd Patterson vs. Ingemar Johansson III

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    This great heavyweight rivalry is sadly now largely forgotten by all but the historians of the sport. Between 1959 and 1961, the Swede Ingemar Johansson and the American Floyd Patterson engaged in a thrilling and brutal three-fight series.

    In June 1959, Johansson captured Patterson's heavyweight world title by pulverizing the champ with his devastating straight right, known as "Thor's Hammer." Patterson went down by Round 3 TKO. Almost exactly a year later, Patterson became the first man in history to reclaim the heavyweight championship, knocking out Johansson in Round 5 with a ferocious left hook.

    The rubber match in March 1961 was the best of the set. In Round 1, Johansson dropped Patterson twice with his hammer, but Patterson somehow rallied to knock down the Swede before the end of the round.

    The fight then settled into a slugfest, with Patterson gradually breaking his opponent down before knocking him out in Round 6 to retain the belt.   

6. Rafael Marquez vs. Israel Vazquez II

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    The four-fight series between super bantamweights Rafael Marquez and Israel Vazquez is one of the great boxing rivalries of this century. The two engaged in four fights between 2007 and 2010. The first three fights were all classics, with either two or three of them arguably deserving a place on this list.

    Despite ending on a somewhat controversial stoppage in Round 6, I've chosen the second fight from August 2007 for inclusion based upon the murderous third round, when both men beat each other bloody.

    In Round 6, Vazquez dropped Marquez. He beat the count, but when Vazquez opened up with yet another barrage, the referee waved off the action. The TKO victory allowed Vazquez to reclaim his IBF super bantamweight title and avenge his TKO loss to Marquez from only five months earlier.

5. Sugar Ray Robinson vs. Carmen Basilio II

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    This was one of the last great performances for the man who is universally regarded as the all-time pound-for-pound best. In September 1957, Sugar Ray Robinson had dropped the world middleweight title to "The Upstate Onion Farmer" Carmen Basilio, a two-time welterweight champion.

    The rematch was set for March 1958, with the 37-year-old Robinson finding himself in the unusual position of underdog. He fought flat-footed, battering the champion with uppercuts but leaving himself vulnerable to Basilio's body attack.

    According to a contemporary Associated Press report, Basilio's eye was swollen completely shut by Round 6. Robinson pounded on Basilio the rest of the way, but the champion did not give back his title without a gallant effort, managing to slow Robinson down and rock him several times late in the fight.

    Robinson became the first four-time middleweight champion in history but had to be practically carried back to his dressing room after earning a split-decision victory.  

4. Erik Morales vs. Marco Antonio Barrera III

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    This great trilogy between Erik "El Terrible" Morales and "The Baby-Faced Assassin," Marco Antonio Barrera featured two of the most beloved Mexican ring warriors of all time who were fighting at the height of their powers. The first meeting, won by Morales via split decision in February 2000, was the best of the group and one of the greatest fights ever.

    Still, neither rematch failed to thrill. Barrera fought a more measured battle and captured a unanimous decision in June 2002, although it was still a war. Morales even managed to drop Barrera with a brutal body shot in Round 7.

    The rubber match took place in November 2004 at super featherweight, where Morales was the reigning WBC champion. Barrera was moving up in weight after dropping his 126-pound belt to Manny Pacquiao.

    Once more, the fight lived up to the hype. Barrera captured the title with a hard-fought majority decision. The Ring later selected Part 3 as its 2004 Fight of the Year.  

3. Rocky Graziano vs. Tony Zale II

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    The Rocky Graziano vs. Tony Zale fights were the post-World War II equivalent of Thomas Hearns vs. Marvin Hagler, only even more brutal and done three times. 

    Zale won the first fight after weathering a terrible shellacking to come back and knock Graziano out in Round 6. According to Boxrec, Zale had to be partially propped up in the ring after the fight to wave to the crowd. 

    The second fight was even better. This time, Graziano took a beating early to come back and win, stopping Zale in Round 6 after his eye had been shut. In 1996, The Ring rated it as the second-best fight of all time. 

2. Micky Ward vs. Arturo Gatti III

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    There were no world titles on the line in any of the three Micky Ward vs. Arturo Gatti fights. It didn't matter. 

    In the movies, there was Rocky. In reality, there were Gatti and Ward. And reality was better. 

    Heading into their May 2002 fight, it was obvious that Ward vs. Gatti I had all the makings of a terrific fight. But nobody could have predicted how terrific. If you say "Round 9" to any contemporary boxing fan, they will know you are referring to Gatti vs. Ward I. 

    The first rematch came six months later in November, with Gatti winning by unanimous decision. 

    The rubber match in June 2003 would be Ward's final fight. He provided 10 more rounds of what everybody had come to expect: violent determination from two of the gutsiest fighters to ever lace up gloves. 

    Ward managed to knock Gatti down, but "Thunder" hung on for the win by unanimous decision. 

1. Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier III

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    Like Ward-Gatti, the rivalry between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier far surpassed anything Hollywood scriptwriters could have dreamed up. Their first meeting, in 1971, was dubbed "The Fight of the Century."

    It was a meeting between two undefeated heavyweight champions, with Ali returning from his three-year absence while battling the military draft in the courts. "Smoking Joe" knocked "The Greatest" down with his blistering left hook in the final round, securing his unanimous-decision win.

    Frazier lost his title to George Foreman in 1973 and a year later dropped a 12-round unanimous decision to Ali in a rematch. Ali then shocked the world by regaining the title from Foreman later in the year.

    This set up the 1975 rubber match between the two great rivals in the Philippines. It ended up being the greatest boxing match of all time.

    More punches were thrown in "The Thrilla in Manila" than in any other heavyweight fight up to that time. In a grinding war of attrition, Frazier's trainer Eddie Futch refused to let him go out for the final round after both of his eyes had swollen shut.   

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