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Boxing Insider Ranks ESPN’s “Greatest Fights Of All Time”

By: Sean Crose

Clearly, ESPN’s list of the “Greatest Fights Of All Time” is highly subjective. No matter. There are some amazing matches the network is showing today. In fact, ESPN is broadcasting these classics all day and night. While it’s true ESPN is focusing on post WWII battles between legendary fighters, it’s well worth getting comfortable and enjoying some quality sports during this era of self-quarantine. Which of these great fights are truly the greatest, though? Which fight towers above all the others? Check out our own highly subjective list and find out! 

Twelve: Mike Tyson Versus Larry Holmes

By January of 1988, Mike Tyson wasn’t only the most popular fighter on the planet, he was about to become an international celebrity, a figure as well known as President Reagan and the Queen of England. He hadn’t yet fought a big name, though. Enter Larry Holmes, one of the greatest heavyweight champions to ever live. Way past his prime, the aging lion gave a game showing against “Iron Mike,” but the tide had turned, the era had changed, and Holmes ended up on his back. One can only wonder how a bout between both men in their primes would have turned out.

Eleven: Mike Tyson Versus Trevor Berbick

If there was ever a fighter who was stuck between two eras, it was Berbick. For it was Berbick who beat the great Muhammad Ali in the way over the hill legend’s last fight. Berbick was also the man Mike Tyson first won the heavyweight title from. Although he had lifted the WBC belt from the highly skilled Pinklon Thomas, Berbick proved to be cannon fodder when he faced Tyson in November of 1986. The 20 year old completely wiped out the defending titlist in less than two rounds, becoming the youngest heavyweight champion in overwhelming fashion. 

Ten: Evander Holyfield Versus George Foreman

Holyfield had already proven the accuracy of his moniker, “The Real Deal,” when he won the undisputed heavyweight championship by knocking out James “Buster” Douglas roughly six months earlier. Everyone knew Holyfield would be a foil for Tyson sooner or later. First, though, he had to get past chubby, happy go lucky, former champion Foreman – who happened to be a whopping 42 years of age at the time. Easy work. Except it wasn’t. The old man may not have regained the title he once held (at least not on that night), but he also proved that sometimes age really ain’t much more than a number. This was a good one. 

Nine: Oscar De La Hoya Versus Julio Caesar Chavez 1

This 1996 battle proved to be a changing of the guard. De La Hoya was known as the “Golder Boy” for a reason. Highly skilled, good looking, and already highly accomplished, the 23 year old was on his way to being one of the sport’s biggest stars. Chavez, however, was a legend. He was also the defending WBC junior welterweight champion. Yet, in this – his 99th fight – the 33 year old warrior found himself getting cut badly and stopped in the fourth on the advice of the ringside doctor.

Eight: Muhammad Ali Versus Joe Frazier 2

There’s no such thing as a bad fight between Ali and Frazier. Out of their classic trilogy, though, this is the least well regarded. Think of this as a placeholder between two insanely brutal chapters. Not that there isn’t a lot of high level boxing in this 1974 affair. A title wasn’t at stake in this one, and it’s been said Ali got preferential treatment due to his holding and the fact the judges decided to award him the decision. Still, what could possibly be wrong about watching two legends at the top of their game getting it on in the squared circle? 

Seven: Oscar De La Hoya Versus Felix Trinidad

Speaking of controversial, this September 1999 throwdown still rankles many. Both De La Hoya and Trinidad were major belt holders. Both were undefeated welterweights. Both had talent to burn. What’s more, both were enormously popular. Their fight, though, looked to be De La Hoya’s – until he decided to play it safe and take his foot off the gas. Trinidad subsequently made enough progress to earn the decision win – at least that’s what the judges thought. Watch the fight and feel free to disagree – or agree – with the official ruling.

Six: Mike Tyson Versus Michael Spinks 

Fights don’t get much bigger than this monster from June of 1988. Tyson was the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world. Yet Michael Spinks held the lineal title he had won by besting the man who beat the man – Larry Holmes – in 1985. It was time for clarity – and Tyson made things perfectly clear by knocking out Spinks in about half a round. Afterwards, there was no doubting who the king of boxing was at the moment. 

Five: Muhammad Ali Versus George Foreman

Sure, this fight is an entertaining classic, but one has to grasp the story behind the fight to fully appreciate what went down in Zaire that long ago evening in October of 1974. Foreman was a towering young man at the time, one who had won the heavyweight title by absolutely destroying Joe Frazier, the same Joe Frazier who had beaten Ali in 1971, and who Ali had only beaten by controversial decision months earlier. To add insult to injury, Ali was 32 years old at the time and was clearly no longer the fast moving fighter of legend. Yet Ali had a strategy for his bout against Foreman – perhaps the most famous in history. By allowing Foreman to punch himself out, Ali was able to capitalize on his exhausted foe and knock Foreman out in the eighth round. The Greatest, indeed. 

Four: Muhammad Ali Versus Joe Frazier 1

This 1971 battle is perhaps the most famous boxing match in history. Ali had been forced to sit on the sidelines for over two years – due to his opposition to the draft – before he finally got to return and eventually get a crack at the heavyweight title he had won from Sonny Liston in 1964. The defending champion this time, however, proved to be Ali’s arch-nemesis. For Frazier was unimpressed with the Ali hype train. What’s more, he had an aggressive, come forward, twitchy style that gave Ali fits. The fight was a study in brilliance. It was the left that dropped Ali in the fifteenth and final round, however, that told the tale. Frazier earned the decision win, handing Ali his first loss in the process.

Three: Cassius Clay Versus Sonny Liston

Two quick points. One, he wasn’t Muhammad Ali at the time. He was Cassius Clay. Two, Sonny Liston, then the heavyweight champion of the world, was scary. Check out his two fights against Floyd Patterson if proof is needed. Yet the young Clay was nothing if not confident when he first fought for the heavyweight title. What’s more, his dazzling performance against Liston is an absolute wonder to behold. Liston ended up quitting on his stool, thus giving birth to a legend. Those who feel boxing isn’t a sport would be well advised to watch this February, 1964 bout. Clay’s performance is a study in high level athleticism. 

Two: Muhammad Ali Versus Joe Frazier 3

This fight is so brutal, it’s almost disturbing to watch. On and on it goes, on and on these two foils fight. A viewing of this October 1975 bout should lead anyone who feels a return to fifteen round matches to reconsider. Yet this fight also marks a high point in athletic competition and determination. Just watching it is an almost exhausting affair. One can only imagine how the fighters endured what they did. The decision of Frazier’s trainer, Eddie Futch, to end the fight after the fourteenth round is – ironically – one the greatest acts of a fighter’s corner in history. There’s more drama to be found in this match than in any of the Rocky flicks.

One: Marvin Hagler Versus Thomas Hearns

A recent Boxing Insider article focused on this 1985 match, so for this list, a single word will suffice:War. Pure. Unadulterated war. There’s more action to be found in under nine minutes here than there is in an entire Super Bowl. It’s at the top of this list for a reason.  

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