My Top Three Fights

Last week I shared my three greatest fighters of all time.  This week I thought I’d share my three favorite fights of all time. 

3.) Mike Tyson vs. James “Buster” Douglas (1990):  While many might not see this as a “great” fight I can barely think of a fight that deserves to be recognized more.  Mike Tyson was viewed as an unstoppable force in the heavyweight division.  Some revisionists state that he had never “truly been tested” however looking at his fights with Frank Bruno and Razor Ruddock he had been tested he had just come back to pass the tests.  Iron Mike was starting to show signs of distraction and outside-the-ring drama that would mar his later career; however his victory over Douglas, a perennial underachiever, was never in doubt (42 to 1 if the legend is to be believed).  Douglas took the fight and during the lead up to the clash his mother tragically died, and rather than cancel the fight Douglas used it as inspiration.  For one night, ten rounds, Douglas was the greatest fighter who ever lived.  He controlled the space in the ring like a master, knew his range, controlled and bullied Mike, showed courage when he got knocked down, and came back to dominate the so-called “Baddest Man on the Planet.”  All “long count” nonsense aside, Douglas fought the perfect fight.  The uppercut he slammed into Mike’s jaw in the tenth round is still amazing to behold, and watching the biggest underdog in history fight his way to victory under the most dramatic circumstances is still one of the best stories in sports history.  Mike, who I have come to respect and appreciate for his self-awareness and honesty, finally retired in 2006.  When asked how he felt with his career ending he responded that his career ended in 1990, citing the first time his aura of invincibility dissipated and he was handed his first loss in a great, great fight.

2.) Marvelous Marvin Hagler vs. Tommy “The Hitman” Hearns (1985):  For years this was THE greatest single fight of all time.  Hagler and Hearns both lived in the shadow of media darling Sugar Ray Leonard.  When they met in 1985 everyone knew it would be a short, vicious battle but no one knew how short and how vicious.  In three rounds Hagler and Hearns gave the world some of the greatest combat ever.  Hagler, known to be a tough but smart bully boxer charged Hearns immediately.  Hearns slammed his vaunted right hand into Hagler, briefly stemming Marvin’s charge and breaking the hand in the first round.  Looking at this fight now you get the feeling when Hearns landed his right and Hagler barely wobbled back…the fight was over.  Hagler continued to pummel into Hearns toward the end of the first and into the second round.  During the second Hagler was cut and in the third, fearing a stoppage due to the gash, Hagler again bulled his way to Hearns and battered him to the canvas.  Less than nine minutes of action, but it showed the heart and desire of both fighters and, unlike the fights we have often today, showed two warriors willing to leave everything in the ring to win.

1.) Arturo “Thunder” Gatti vs. “Irish” Micky Ward I-III (2002-2003):  I’m calling this one fight as it really is 30 rounds of beautiful combat that took place over 13 months.  The first fight is a true legend.  Gatti showing his heart, with the best single round ever, the famous ninth, that saw Gatti go down from a Micky Ward left hook to the liver only to rise (itself a herculean feat) and win the tenth.  In the second fight Ward was knocked down in the second round, a rare occurrence, and then dominated for the remaining eight rounds.  The third fight saw Gatti dominate early, only to break his right hand and fight Ward off one-handed.  The two most honest, honorable, tough fighters you could ever see in a single fight, as we got three fights.  They became so close from the experience that Ward trained Gatti at the end of Arturo’s career.  Sporting events are entertainment, pure and simple, but when Gatti and Ward were in the ring you couldn’t help but feel elevated by the range of humanity they displayed during their 30 legendary rounds.

Of course depending on what might happen in the next few years something may show up to unseat one of the above great fights…but it’s doubtful.  Boxing isn’t dead.  It goes through phases of ups and downs, but always comes back, usually on the shoulders of a new, exciting, successful fighter.  There’s still a lot to get excited about under the hot lights of the boxing ring.  We shouldn’t let the disappointment of a superfight of the two so-called “best” fighters weaken our interest in the sport.  The above fights show it to be one of the most exciting and humanly dramatic forms of entertainment.

Top Three Fighters According to Me

It’s time for a reality check.  Over the weekend “the two best fighters of their generation” fought in what was a very disappointing showing.  Of course anyone who followed the sport knew it would be (as “superfights” almost always are).  Mayweather is too skilled defensively and too protective of his undefeated record to pull a Sugar Ray Leonard circa Montreal in 1980 to make it interesting, and Pacquiao is too small and has slipped a bit into one-dimensionality to force Floyd to do so.  But there has been a lot of talk as both of these fighters being “all-time greats” as though there is generational forgetfulness on what a real greatness looks like.

Of course “who is the greatest fighter ever” is entirely based on opinion.  There is NO answer and rather than say this is a “definitive list” of the greatest fighters of all time I thought I’d say these are the 3 greatest fighters in MY opinion, meaning the ones I like to watch the most and whose abilities have made us stand in awe.  And neither Pacquiao, and I love Manny and think he has accomplished a lot, nor Mayweather, who has made a career avoiding the hardest fights, have come close to these legends.

3.) Marco Antonio Barrera: Probably an strange choice for many, but Barrera was without a doubt a pound-for-pound all-time great who could both box, counter, or brawl.  In legendary performances against Erik Morales (who many fans appreciate more for his all-guns blazing style), a beautiful chess match with Prince Naseem Hamed (who he battered essentially into retirement), and an all guts battle with Kennedy McKinney Barrera showed ring intelligence, heart, power, and adaptability that is almost never shown nowadays.  He could jab southpaws, blast you with right hands, and crush you with left hooks to the body.  An aging Barrera looked helpless against the young hungry Pacquiao in their first fight, but lured him into a slower pace in their second.  Barrera has faded from collective memory in modern boxing, but people wanting to learn how to be an effective boxer-puncher-brawler need to sit down and watch Marco’s 75 fights.

2.) Roy Jones Jr: This is going to be unpopular, I know, but I have my reasons.  In his prime Roy was supernatural.  He was the fastest, wiliest, most elusive fighter to ever live.  Robbed at the Seoul Olympics, he turned pro in 1989 and essentially didn’t lose a fight (one controversial DQ) until 2004.  He had power in both hands and made other all-time greats look like absolute amateurs.  Bernard Hopkins, James Toney, Virgil Hill, all great champions made to look slow, awkward, and helpless again Roy Jones.  Light Heavyweights, who in any other era would have battled it out for light heavyweight supremacy, skilled fighters, all called uncompetitive and weak challenges.  Montel Griffin, Reggie Johnson, Clinton Woods, and Julio Gonzalez, all shelved with contemptuous ease.  Even mandatory and lesser defenses against David Talesco (who followed Roy calling him out for months only to lose 12 out of 12 rounds against a one-handed Jones) and Richard Hall (one of the greatest of Roy’s performances) showed what an artist he was.  He started at junior middleweight, became middle weight champion, super middleweight champion, light heavyweight champion, and cherry-picked a heavy weight title, easily beating John Ruiz.  As with most fighters who rely on athleticism over well-schooled boxing ability, he faded badly and from 2004 onward has had a career that has been a shame to see (though he can still turn on some preternatural abilities even at the age of 40+) but if you look at his career from his heavy weight performance backward to his pro-debut you will see possibly the greatest-skilled pound-for-pound fighter ever to live.

1.) Roberto Duran: What needs to be said? Duran turned pro in 1968 (a year after Ali was forced into exile). Was lightweight champion, possibly the greatest lightweight of all time, from 1972-1979, handed Ray Leonard his first defeat to become welterweight champion in 1980, defeated young champion Davey Moore to become junior middleweight champ and took the greatest middleweight champion in the modern era, Marvin Hagler, to his only 15 round defense in 1983. He won the middleweight title from tough, younger, stronger champion Iran Barkley (scoring the fight’s only knockdown) in 1989.  And even won a minor Super Middleweight title from journeyman Pat Lawlor in 2000 (19 years after Ali retired!).Fighting in FIVE decades, winning titles in FOUR.  Duran was a brutal warrior with a fighting IQ above anyone who has ever stepped into the ring.  He didn’t always look brilliant and lived an entire life in the ring, showing excitement, depression, indifference, joy, rage, and pride under the hot lights.  Known for his aggression, Duran was also one of the greatest defensive fighters to ever fight, very hard to hit with clean shots and able to stand in front of you and still be elusive while crushing you with either his left or right hand.  There’s never been a more effectively aggressive and brilliant street fighter to ever step into the ring.  One Hundred and Thirteen fights.  In the modern era that is epic and they are some of the greatest ring performances in history.

Just for fun three honorable mentions:

Marvin Hagler: Essentially unbeatable.  He was another guy who could fight, box, brawl, or counter punch.  His last fight, a shame, where he was out-PR’d by Sugar Ray Leonard in the ring.  Even as a Ray Leonard fan I think Hagler won it on aggressive, effective punching, but beat himself by starting too slowly and giving away the first 3 rounds.  Marvin was involved in the greatest single fight ever.  Out-willing, out-fighting, and out-slugging dangerous puncher and brilliant boxer Tommy Hearns in under three rounds.

Arturo Gatti: Not the most skilled fighter, but good god what a heart and what a warrior.  He could lose every second of every round and you’d still cheer for him because he never stopped trying.  He could be battered into a swollen pulp and with one left hook change your life.  His ring life is linked forever to his wars with Mickey Ward; probably the three greatest fights of all time.  You were always on the edge of your seat when Arturo fought.

Vitali Klitschko: Yeah.  I said that.  Vitali is one tough mo-fo.  Though not showing his brother’s pure athletic skill, this is a guy who never was a afraid to fight anyone.  Anywhere.  Any time.  He NEVER lost from being out-fought, losing only twice and only through injury; once from cuts and once from having an injured shoulder.  Never knocked down, never knocked out, never visually in trouble in a fight.  Vitali was one hell of a smart, strong, SOB who would have been a threat to just about any heavyweight.  Ever.  Even Mike Tyson says so!