More often than not, a fighter is never the same after he gets knocked out. In one way or another, the fighter that gets up off the canvas is not the same fighter that went down.
The fighter that gets up may be a wiser one, a more defensive one or a more humble one. Sometimes, though, the fighter that gets up is a mere shadow of the one that went down—unable or unlikely to compete at the same level, or even at all.
The latter has occurred in some of the most historic prizefights. For several of the best all-time boxers, a single knockout has marked the beginning of the end of their careers. In the following slides I have documented the 10 most epic career-ending knockouts in history.
Both men were undefeated, but everybody knew who would win. Mike Tyson was in the peak of his prime. He made quick and easy work of everybody he faced. He fought Michael Spinks on June 27, 1988. Though nobody expected Spinks to win, few saw it ending before the first round finished. Indeed, Tyson knocked him out in 91 seconds.
Spinks retired immediately after the fight.
Though Sonny Liston had been previously knocked out twice by Muhammad Ali and was past his prime, he was still a dangerous opponent. He had been talking up a potential fight with then heavyweight champion Joe Frazier. On December 6, 1969, he met up with former sparring partner and contender Leotis Martin. After dominating most of the fight, Liston got hit with a straight right-left hook-straight right combination that knocked him out cold (at 7:17 in the video).
Sonny Liston had one more bout: a win over contender Chuck Wepner, whose corner stopped the fight due to cuts. Despite the victory, Liston's career was essentially over after the Martin KO.
Ray Mancini was the lightweight champion. He was a fan favorite with an exciting style. In his second title defense, he faced the little known Duk Koo Kim of South Korea. The two wound up having a war of attrition. No punch would go unanswered. After a grueling, high intensity 14 rounds, Mancini knocked out Duk Koo Kim (at 3:05 in the video).
Kim sustained brain damage during the fight, and passed away a few days later. Though the fight will always be associated with the tragic aftermath, it was an all-time classic.
RIP Duk Koo Kim.
Ricky Hatton was Great Britain's favorite son with only one career defeat—a 10th round technical knockout against Floyd Mayweather, Jr. He came back from the loss in his next bouts, outpointing Juan Lazcano and knocking out Paulie Malignaggi. He then met Manny Pacquiao on May 2, 2009.
Pacquiao was coming off of his greatest achievement as a boxer to date: his 8th round beat down of Oscar de la Hoya. The win had made him a superstar. In a fight that was expected to be a war, Pacquiao knocked Hatton out brutally in the second round (at 3:28 of the video).
Hatton never fought again.
The heavyweight champion Jess Willard stood 6' 6.5" tall. Young challenger Jack Dempsey was given little chance against the giant Willard, who had previously knocked out Jack Johnson to win the heavyweight title. On July 4, 1919, the two squared off in what would become the biggest beat down in boxing history.
Dempsey knocked Willard down seven times in the first round and seriously injured him. Bones were broken, teeth were knocked out and a career that was in its heyday was prematurely ended. Willard did not come out from his corner for the 4th round, giving Demspey a KO victory.
Willard took off from boxing for a while, before returning to the ring for two more bouts. Though he won against Floyd Johnson, he was beaten up in both. The Dempsey fight took everything out of him.
Roy Jones Jr. was arguably the best boxer in the last quarter century. Prior to this fight, he only had one professional loss—a disqualification against Montell Griffin—which he avenged via first round KO in the rematch. After a brief stint in the heavyweight division, Jones slimmed back down to light heavyweight to fight the champion Antonio Tarver.
Though he won a decision, Tarver put Jones in more danger than anyone else Jones had ever faced. The two had a rematch on May 15, 2004, in which Tarver knocked Jones out in round 2.
Though Jones still fights today, he is not nearly the same fighter he was beforehand. He has lost six of the 12 fights he has had since the Tarver KO. The knockout was Jones' downfall.
Heavy-hitting Jersey Joe Walcott was the heavyweight champion. Though Joe Louis had knocked him out before, Walcott was still a dangerous opponent. The undefeated contender Rocky Marciano stepped into the ring with Walcott on September 23, 1952, in a fight that would become a classic.
Marciano, receiving his first career knockdown and trailing on all scorecards in the 13th round, landed a devastating right hand against Walcott in the 13th round that knocked him unconscious (3:05 of the video).
Walcott had one more bout in his career—a rematch against Marciano—in which he suffered a first round KO.
WBA light welterweight champion Aaron Pryor defended his title against Nicaraguan Alexis Arguello on November 12, 1982. The fight was an all out barn burner, with both guys taking as good as they were getting. Through 12 rounds, the fight was dead even. After the 13th, Pryor returned to his stool seemingly dead, and it looked like Arguello would have the advantage in the final two rounds.
Almost miraculously, though, Pryor came out for the 14th round charged and aggressive. He caught Arguello with a few good shots, which staggered Arguello back into the ropes, and Pryor unleashed a barrage of power punches. The referee stepped in, after which Arguello collapsed to the canvas (at 8:47 of the video).
There have been many claims that Pryor's water was tainted with a substance that helped rejuvenate Pryor in between rounds. Regardless, Arguello was never the same after the TKO. He lost a rematch against Pryor via 10th round knockout, and, after a few sporadic comebacks, finally hung up the gloves.
Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier were 1-1 in their series with one another. Frazier handed Ali his first defeat in their first fight, and Ali gave Frazier his second in their rematch. They had a rubbermatch that took place on October 1, 1975, in the Phillipines, aptly dubbed the "Thrilla in Manila." It is regarded by many as the greatest fight of all time.
Ali had been taking the upper hand in the later rounds, but Frazier remained relentless. By the end of the 14th round, both men were exhausted and battered. Frazier's corner decided not to let him get up for the 15th round, resulting in a 15th round TKO victory for Ali. Ali later revealed that he would have quit on his stool had Frazier not done so first.
Frazier fought two more career fights, neither of which he won. The "Thrilla in Manila" took everything out of Joe Frazier.
The undefeated light welterweight champions Meldrick Taylor and Julio Cesar Chavez had a unification bout on March 17, 1990. Taylor possessed the speed and finess, while Chavez had the grit, muscle and chin. For the first nine rounds of the fight, Taylor was dominating, throwing multiple punches at a time and landing with ease.
Chavez was always in the fight, though, landing many fewer punches, but much, much harder ones. By the 10th round, Taylor looked far worse for wear, though he had been winning up through that point. Chavez would need a knockout to win.
In the 12th and final round, Chavez stalked Taylor, patiently waiting to land his best Sunday punch. The opportunity came with 17 seconds left in the fight, after he had backed Taylor into a corner. He landed a fierce straight right hand that put Taylor on his trunks.
Taylor got up midway through the count. Referee Richard Steele examined Taylor and asked if he was OK. Taylor looked to his corner and did not respond. In what would become the most controversial decision in boxing, Steele stopped the fight with two seconds left, giving Chavez a TKO victory.
Many believe Steele was right for stopping the fight, as Taylor was critically injured. Many others believe Steele should have let him finish out the two seconds to claim his victory.
Either way, Meldrick Taylor was never the same again. He continued to fight well after the loss to Chavez, but not well enough to compete at the championship level. He lost his prime in that one fight.