LAS VEGAS: As Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather limber up for Saturday’s (Sunday in Manila) welterweight “fight of the century,” a look at five great bouts that captured the public imagination:
Joe Frazier-Muhammad Ali, March 8, 1971: Known simply as “The Fight,” Ali-Frazier I pitted the two undefeated heavyweight champions in the famed Madison Square Garden, New York with seemingly the whole world watching and taking sides. Frazier absorbed tremendous punishment but relentlessly outworked Ali and dropped him in the 15th round to win by unanimous decision. The fight was the first in an epic trilogy capped by the “Thrilla in Manila” on October 1, 1975 — a back-and-forth battle that tested both men to the limit. Ali called that bout the closest thing to dying but retained his heavyweight title with a 14th-round technical knockout.
GREATEST SPORTING EVENT
Joe Louis-Max Schmeling, June 22, 1938: Louis, who had been knocked out by Schmeling in their prior meeting two years earlier, destroyed his opponent in two minutes and four seconds, defending his heavyweight world title in a bout that played out against the backdrop of the rise of Nazi Germany. The cultural, racial and political ramifications led boxing historian Bert Sugar to call it “The greatest sporting event of the 20th Century” and Louis emerged as a rare African-American national hero with the win over a fighter rightly or wrongly regarded as the representative of Nazi values.
“Marvelous” Marvin Hagler-Thomas Hearns, April 15, 1985: Dubbed “The War,” the middleweight world title contest outdoors at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas lived up to its super-fight billing. In a furious eight minutes Hagler and Hearns went toe-to-toe from the opening bell. Bleeding from a cut on his forehead, a desperate Hagler knocked Hearns out in the third round.
RUMBLE IN THE JUNGLE
Muhammad Ali-George Foreman, October 30, 1974: Undefeated heavyweight world champion George Foreman was widely expected to batter Ali in the “Rumble in the Jungle” in Kinshasa, in then Zaire. But the former champion’s now famous “rope a dope” strategy of staying on the ropes, gloves up, saw Foreman punch out his energy. Ali pounced on his exhausted foe with a series of shuddering blows that sent Foreman crashing down for an eighth-round knockout, the first defeat of his career.
Evander Holyfield-Mike Tyson, November 9, 1996: Like Pacquiao-Mayweather, this heavyweight showdown dubbed “Finally” pitted two stars who should have clashed earlier, but James “Buster” Douglas’s stunning knockout of Tyson in February of that year scuppered those plans. By the time they did meet, Holyfield was coming back from retirement and a heart scare while Tyson was regaining the mystique that surrounded him prior to serving a prison term for rape. In the MGM’s Grand Garden Arena, Holyfield shocked the world when he stopped Tyson in the 11th round, becoming the first fighter since Ali to twice regain a heavyweight world title. The bout also set the stage for what became an infamous rematch. Holyfield-Tyson II seven months later generated a record-breaking 1.99 million pay-per-view buys, but ended with Tyson munching off a piece of Holyfield’s ear.