Boxing Throughout the Years: Fights that Left a Mark in the World

Boxing has been providing fantastic entertainment for fans throughout the years. Sometimes, a bout becomes a total slugfest where pure will and toughness determine a winner. Other bouts showcase the technical strategy that’s possible in this sweet science.

Any selective list of fights is going to be subject to debate. What this list of fights attempts to do is to highlight a mix of the most iconic and greatest fights that have had an impact on the world of boxing and sometimes beyond.

Putting our guard up as it were, let’s get down to the ring and have a look at our selection of fights that left their mark on the world.

James J. Corbett vs. John L. Sullivan, 1892

This battle makes our list because it’s the first gloved heavyweight championship fight. Sullivan is one of the first sports superstars in America and is also recognized as the last bare-knuckle heavyweight champion. The press dubbed him the “Boston Strong Boy” and he became incredibly famous across the US.

Many boxing fans consider Corbett to be the “Father of Modern Boxing” because of his introduction of a technical approach that triumphed over brute force. The daily boxing training regimen pioneered by Corbett still has many aspects in use today.

This fight is iconic because it’s a bridge between the bare-knuckle fighting of the previous era and the modern, gloved era of boxing. It paved the way for future gloved fights and provided the perfect crossover for the bare-knuckle champion.

James Corbett training for a boxing match
Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons in the public domain of James Corbett training for a boxing match (believed to be between 1910 and 1915).

Jack Dempsey vs. Luis Firpo, 1923

Jack Dempsey, “The Manassa Mauler”, was rivaled in mainstream 1920s popularity only by Babe Ruth. His 1921 knockout bout against Georges Carpentier was history’s first coast-to-coast radio broadcast and the first million-dollar gate in boxing.

His opponent, Luis Firpo, has the distinction of being the first Latin American challenger to the heavyweight title.

After knocking Dempsey down within the first seconds of the first round, Dempsey responded by knocking Firpo down seven times. After this explosive first round, the second round lasted less than a minute.

Considered by many as one of the greatest fights in the history of boxing. This amazing bout holds a record of 11 knockdowns in 4 minutes. This record remains unbroken, even today. Even though Dempsey won the fight, the most memorable moment for many was when Firpo knocked Dempsey out of the ring.

oil canvas painting of Jack Dempsey and Luis Firpo by George Wesley Bellows
Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons in the public domain of nb oil canvas painting of Jack Dempsey and Luis Firpo by George Wesley Bellows

Joe Frazier vs. Muhammad Ali, 1971

This fight was one of the most anticipated bouts ever seen by the boxing world. This epic clash showcased two undefeated heavyweight fighters for the first time.

Ali had not fought for almost four years because of a draft evasion charge that had just gotten overturned. He’d also become an icon for the civil rights movement and had let boxing take a back seat. While Ali was appealing his draft evasion charge, Frazier had established himself as the heavyweight champion.

Labeled “The Fight of the Century”, this titanic encounter delivered on its hype. It saw Frazier deliver one of his finest performances in a pounding 15-round fight, which he won by unanimous decision.

Many remember the third fight, dubbed “The Thrilla in Manilla.”

Muhammad Ali vs. George Foreman, 1974

Another incredible fight, who’s billing as “The Rumble in the Jungle” has become a pop culture reference and an Academy Award-winning documentary titled When We Were Kings.

Hosted in Zaire, the soccer stadium that housed the ring held 60,000 avid boxing fans. It’s also estimated that over a billion viewers watched the match live. For the time, this was an enormous number.

Foreman was undefeated and the undisputed heavyweight champion. He was considered too powerful for the almost a-decade-older Ali, and experts expected that he’d get overwhelmed by Foreman’s strength.

Demonstrating that his nickname “The Greatest” was well earned, Ali took everything that Foreman threw at him. In the eighth round, Ali responded with his own barrage that laid Foreman to the mat. This fight also introduced Ali’s rope-a-dope tactic, which he used to great effect to tire Foreman out. This would be the second time that Ali claimed the title of heavyweight champion of the world.

Roberto Duran vs. Sugar Ray Leonard, 1980

”The Brawl in Montreal” kicked off the era of boxing’s “The Four Kings”, so-titled after the book of the same name by George Kimball.

Many boxing experts consider Leonard the heir to Muhammad Ali, especially as he was trained by Angelo Dundee, Ali’s trainer. Leonard, however, was more widely known outside of boxing circles, as he advertised soda pop on TV and had his face on Wheaties boxes. More serious boxing fans preferred the ferocious skills of Duran.

Duran started the fight before they stepped into the ring by using insults to get into Leonard’s head. This led Leonard to go toe-to-toe with Duran. Using this to his advantage, Duran defeated Leonard and became the Welterweight Champion. This was also Leonard’s first professional loss.

Leonard reclaimed his title in their second bout when he demonstrated his superior speed to tire Duran out, who quit in the eighth round. He went on to beat Leonard once more in his career, putting him ahead of his rival in wins overall.

Mike Tyson vs. Evander Holyfield, 1997

Even if you aren’t a boxing fan, you probably know of “The Bite Fight” as one of the most shocking bouts in the sport’s history. Originally billed as “The Sound and the Fury,” this fight’s infamous nickname is how it’s remembered. 

This was a rematch after Holyfield’s shocking defeat of Tyson the year before. With many Tyson fans convinced that Holyfield’s previous victory had been a coincidence, this rematch was highly anticipated.

Seemingly unable to control his frustration during the fight, Tyson committed the bizarre act of biting part of Holyfield’s ear off during the 3rd round. Holyfield retained his title as Tyson was disqualified and lost his boxing license for biting his opponent.

Wrapping Up

With such an extensive selection of memorable and incredible fights to choose from, selecting just six bouts was no easy task. Each of these fights has left its mark and contributed to the boxing industry’s growth and progression over the years. Every boxer was legendary in their own way, and their power and performance in the ring remain talked about to this day.

Author - Nick Ward

Growing up, Nick viewed his favorite wrestlers as super heroes. When he got older and realized that WWE was only for show, he didn’t give up. He thought that there must be something more. He looked far and wide before landing on boxing and mixed martial arts.

He now devotes the most of his free time to reading, researching, and writing about these combat sports, even incorporating some of the fighters’ training regimens into his workouts, but he still occasionally enjoys WWE hoping to someday know what the Rock is cooking.

Enjoy this article?  You can find more Boxing, Wresling, and MMA content over at The KayFabe website.

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