Ranking the 10 Most Hyped Fights in Boxing History

Kevin McRae@@McRaeWritesFeatured ColumnistFebruary 23, 2015

Ranking the 10 Most Hyped Fights in Boxing History

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    Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao will finally meet in a superfight, announced Friday evening on Mayweather's Shots social media account, on May 2 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.

    It will clearly be the most hyped and anticipated fight in boxing history, almost certain to shatter all sorts of revenue records and make a bunch of people a whole lot of money. 

    But this isn't boxing's first rodeo, and it's not the sport's first time putting together an event sure to captivate the attention of the larger sports world. 

    Here we take a look at the 10 most hyped fights in boxing history and rank them based on the amount of time, money and attention that were put into making them successful events. 

    Remember, the fights themselves didn't necessarily have to be good, but they all matched huge names either against compelling opponents or in compelling events. 

    These are the 10 most hyped fights in boxing history.

10. Oscar De La Hoya vs. Manny Pacquiao

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    The Dream Match.

    Oscar De La Hoya's passing-of-the-torch bout with Pacquiao in December 2008 was the key step in the Filipino's development into a true pound-for-pound sensation.

    De La Hoya had lost a close match to Mayweather the previous year and intended to close out his Hall of Fame career with three bouts in 2008. He beat former world champion Stevie Forbes in May in anticipation of facing Mayweather in a rematch that fall.

    But Mayweather's sudden retirement put the kibosh on that plan and ultimately resulted in De La Hoya meeting Pacquiao in 12-round non-title bout at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

    There were a few interesting elements at play here.

    For one, De La Hoya hadn't forced his body to make the welterweight limit for a fight in seven years by that point, while many openly speculated about whether or not Pacquiao—who had been fighting at 130 pounds and below—could handle the increased weight and size of the Golden Boy.

    Turns out that one of that the former was a huge issue and the latter, well, you know by now.

    Pacquiao was a buzzsaw. 

    He cut through De La Hoya like he was some club fighter from nowheresville and not one of the best pound-for-pound fighters of his generation.

    The loss ended Oscar's career, while Manny catapulted to the stratosphere as boxing's next transcending international superstar. 

9. Lennox Lewis vs. Mike Tyson

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    We knew HBO and Showtime could work together to co-produce a huge pay-per-view event.

    How did we know?

    They've done it before.

    Sure, Lennox Lewis' defense of the heavyweight championship against Mike Tyson in 2002 came long past its expiration date, but it was still hotly anticipated and generated a ton of revenue for all parties.

    You could tell how desperate everyone was to match these two in the ring when HBO, who handled Lewis, and Showtime, who handled Tyson, got together and put network rivalries on the side. The fight generated a then-record amount of revenue and buys on PPV, but the in-ring product was sorely lacking.

    It landed at The Pyramid in Memphis, Tennessee, after Nevada refused to license Tyson to fight in the state, and apparently that decision was based on more than just the smell test.

    Tyson was clearly a shell of his former glory and easy prey for the taller, longer, more committed Lewis.

    There was nothing terribly close to the fight—and Tyson didn't get close to eating Lennox's mythical children as he famously declared in a pre-fight rant—and Lewis mercifully ended a one-sided affair in Round 8.

8. Joe Louis vs. Max Schmeling II

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    Associated Press

    1938 was a tricky time in America and in the world.

    African Americans were still in the early stages of their long struggle to achieve equal rights, and the specter of Nazi Germany’s menace began to cast a long shadow over Europe.

    This isn’t meant to be a history lesson, but it’s impossible to extract Joe Louis’ defense of the World Heavyweight Championship against former champion Max Schmeling on June 22, 1938, from the world that surrounded the fight.

    Prior to the fight, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt met with Louis to express his support and give him a pep talk given the current state of relations between the United States and Germany.

    Louis later stated in his 1976 biography, Joe Louis: My Life, that he knew the "whole damned country was depending on me" going into the match.

    Louis and Schmeling had met once before in 1936.

    The German champion boxed beautifully, hurting Louis and becoming the first man to stop him in his professional career with a 12th-round knockout.

    With the two men on a collision course for a rematch, the world’s political climate become a front-and-center story in the hype and promotion for the fight.

    Schmeling was treated as a hero by the Nazi regime, even though he refused to join the party and rejected Adolf Hitler’s claims to German racial and ethnic supremacy.

    In Patrick Myler’s 2005 book, Ring of Hate: Joe Louis vs. Max Schmeling: The Fight of the Century, he describes the extreme measures the Nazi government took to ensure Schmeling’s compliance.

    Schmeling's wife and mother weren't allowed to travel to the United States for the fight to ensure he wouldn't defect. He was accompanied by a Nazi publicist to correct any statements contrary to the government's official message.

    The publicist also stated no black man could beat the German champion.

    On fight night, Louis took care of business, knocking Schmeling out in the opening round

    A bit anticlimactic?

    Yes, but a hugely important fight for sure.

7. Evander Holyfield vs. Mike Tyson II

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    We'll never be able to escape it, and Tyson will never be able to live it down.

    June 28, 1997.

    It was originally billed as "The Sound and the Fury," but by the end of the night it had a new, and infamous, name.

    "The Bite Fight."

    Seven months earlier, Evander Holyfield had shocked the boxing world by knocking down Tyson in Round 6 and forcing the late Mitch Halpern to intercede in Round 11 and stop the bout. The Real Deal was a massive underdog, opening at 25-to-1 against Tyson after looking washed up in his prior three bouts.

    His victory prompted an immediate rematch which captivated a boxing public that had largely given short shrift to the fight bout, assuming it as a foregone conclusion. 

    Holyfield opened the first two rounds of the rematch in command, opening a big cut over Tyson's right eye with a headbutt that infuriated the former champion. 

    Tyson attacked with ferocity in Round 3, but near the end of the round he got Holyfield into a clinch and removed a one-inch segment of his right ear with his teeth. In case you were wondering, no, that's not a standard and acceptable boxing move.

    Referee Mills Lane originally disqualified Iron Mike right then and there, but reversed his call, deducted two points and allowed the fight to continue with Holyfield bleeding from a large hole where a part of his ear used to be.

    And wouldn't you know it?

    Tyson then proceeded to bite Holyfield's left ear, only leaving a mark this time, and receiving a disqualification for his efforts.

6. Oscar De La Hoya vs. Felix Trinidad

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    De La Hoya makes his second, but not final, appearance on this list for his September 18, 1999 welterweight unification fight with Puerto Rico's Felix Trinidad.

    Both De La Hoya, the Golden Boy from East Los Angeles, and Trinidad, the power puncher from Cupey Alto, were undefeated pound-for-pound superstars when they stepped into the ring.

    The fight tapped into the rich vein of Mexico vs. Puerto Rico rivalries in boxing—though De La Hoya was born in the United States of Mexican descent—and was expected to settle the score between the two best young fighters in the sport. 

    It was a dubbed the "Fight of the Millenium," tapping into all the Y2K phenomena, but didn't really live up to that type of lofty hype.

    De La Hoya controlled the early rounds with ease. He was well in control by the midway point and seemed to have built up an insurmountable lead on the scorecards.

    Inexplicably, the Golden Boy switched his strategy and basically spent the last three rounds of the fight running from his foe.

    Trinidad didn't really take much advantage of the situation, but he was perceived as the aggressor and won the rounds De La Hoya virtually ceded to him.

    Now, despite the poor strategic choice, De La Hoya still should've had enough rounds in the bank to ultimately win the decision, but the official scorecards disagreed. 

    Two judges scored the bout for Trinidad and the third had it a draw.

    Tough luck for Oscar, but many fans weren't willing to sympathize given his tactics over the second half.

5. Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier I

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    Let’s flash back to a time gone by, when heavyweight championship fights weren’t treated with the type of haughty derision that fans reserve for Dr. Steelhammer Wladimir Klitschko today.

    It was a time when the heavyweight title was legitimately the top prize in all of sports, and when it was on the line, the sports world dropped everything and took notice.

    It took place on March 8, 1971, at New York City’s famed Madison Square Garden and was dubbed the “Fight of the Century.”

    Sure, that phrase had been used in the past to describe big fights, but this time it seemed truly appropriate.

    Joe Frazier was the defending heavyweight champion on that night, entering the ring with an unblemished mark of 26-0 with 23 knockouts.

    His foe was a former heavyweight champion himself, an iconic figure who had lost his belt not in the ring but for an act of conscious.

    Muhammad Ali was just two fights into his comeback after being forced from the ring for three years after refusing to enter the draft for the Vietnam War.

    Two undefeated heavyweights contesting the sport’s top prize in an iconic venue in the city that never sleeps?

    It doesn’t get much better than that, and the hype for the fight was enormous.

    It largely lived up to its lofty expectations, with Frazier doing enough to capture a unanimous 15-round decision and hand Ali the first loss of his professional career.

    It would spark one of boxing’s most storied rivalries, and the two men would cross paths again in short order.

4. Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier III

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    The Thrilla in Manila.

    Ali had avenged his prior defeat to Frazier with a narrow rematch decision victory in a fight that clearly stands out as the least important and significant of their long rivalry. 

    The two met for one of the most highly anticipated rubber matches in boxing history on October 1, 1975, in Quezon City, Philippines. 

    Ali came into the fight off after splitting a pair with Ken Norton, and Frazier had been knocked out by George Foreman the year before.

    The Greatest, as was his custom, engaged in a pretty vicious and entertaining psychological war with Frazier before the fight, dubbing him "the gorilla" in a short poem Ali wrote for the occasion, and saying it would be a "killa and a thrilla and a chilla, when I get that gorilla in Manila."

    The fight attracted the then-largest closed-circuit audience in boxing history, and Ali won it when Frazier's cornerman Eddie Futch stopped the contest between the 14th and 15th rounds.

    Ali was sharp in the beginning of the fight, but Frazier found his rhythm and mojo in the middle rounds. It became a war of attrition with both men clearly exhausted and beaten down from the punches and the earlier than usual start time to accommodate the international audience.

    The turning point came in Round 13 when Ali took command and unleashed a hellacious barrage on Frazier. Futch gave his man one more round, and even then Frazier didn't want to pull the plug, but there was no reason to continue the punishment for three more minutes.

    Ali took the fight and the rivalry.

3. Floyd Mayweather vs. Canelo Alvarez

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    Boxing isn't as mainstream today as it was back in the golden eras of Ali, Frazier, Louis and even Holyfield and Tyson. So why are the top three fights on this list from the last eight years?

    Putting it simply, the tools available today for fighters, promoters, managers and networks to hype and sell fights just didn't exist in the older days. Twitter, Facebook, 24/7 television networks and the ability to instantly gratify one's self with news and information make the business of boxing substantially easier.

    Which brings us to boxing's most prolific businessman.

    Mayweather was in the second fight of his record-setting six-fight deal with Showtime when he met undefeated rising Mexican sensation Saul "Canelo" Alvarez on Mexican Independence Day weekend in 2013.

    The fight was dubbed "The One," and ended up with a record haul by breaking several of boxing's revenue records, including live gate and pay-per-view money generated. It came just short of eclipsing the next fight on this list for most PPV's sold.

    Golden Boy Promotions, under the leadership of Richard Schaefer, engaged in an unprecedented marketing campaign to hype and sell this fight to the masses. Ads showed up on network television during high-profile spots and and major sponsors jumped on board with the type of gusto you expect from a major event. 

    The selling points were easy.

    Mayweather, the aging pound-for-pound king.

    Canelo, the good looking young star looking to seize his throne.

    The fight itself?

    A standard Mayweather whitewash of the man universally declared as the biggest challenge of his career.

    C.J. Ross retired after turning in her abysmal scorecard that somehow scored the bout a draw when Mayweather probably won every single round. Luckily there were two other judges who actually watched the fight, giving the sport's No. 1 fighter a deserved decision victory. 

2. Oscar De La Hoya vs. Floyd Mayweather

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    "The World Awaits."

    The genesis of the longstanding Oscar De La Hoya-Mayweather rivalry can be found in their 2007 superfight and all the hype and promotion that preceded it.

    HBO debuted their then-novel series 24/7 with a program titled De La Hoya-Mayweather 24/7.

    At the time it was a groundbreaking look inside the training camps, personalities and psyches of boxing's two biggest stars as they approached what would turn into the best-selling PPV fight in boxing history. 

    Throughout the promotion, De La Hoya remained mostly reserved and kept his composure, no easy feat given the constant goading and oft-times over-the-top antics from Floyd. These included bringing a chicken labeled the "Golden Girl" to a press conference and calling him virtually every vulgar name in the book at every opportunity. 

    The two met in Las Vegas on Cinco de Mayo in a fight that had captured the attention of the entire sports world. It was the Golden Boy against the Pretty Boy in a fight that would either pass the torch to a new generation of star or see the old guard make one last stand.

    The early rounds were close, and the fight was even on the cards at the midway point.

    But Mayweather, as he does so well, adapted in the second half of the fight when De La Hoya inexplicably moved away from his highly effective jab and took control down the stretch for the then-biggest win of his career.

    The two men have been bitter rivals, despite their recently ended business partnership, since.

1. Floyd Mayweather vs. Manny Pacquiao

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    Mayweather made it official on Friday night when he posted a picture of the signed contracts between himself and longtime rival Pacquiao for a May 2 fight at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

    We haven't even begun to see much in the way of official hype to sell the contest, but it's already the most hyped fight in boxing history. 

    It's been more than six years since this idea first gained some traction with boxing fans, media and power brokers. Countless words have been written on the subject—many thousands by this writer alone—sparking argument, debate and discussion over just who holds the mantle of greatest fighter of this generation.

    Thank the boxing gods, we only have to wait a little over two months to have a definitive answer to that question.

    The fight is almost certain to break—shatter really—virtually every single boxing revenue record. 

    Pay-per-view buys?

    Revenue generated?

    Live gate?

    Mainstream attention?

    All will surely fall in a fight that can truly—unlike some others—be labeled the fight of a generation.

    Sit back, relax and enjoy it.

    These don't come around very often.