The megabouts of boxing
Fans cry for blood. The protagonists fight like there is no tomorrow. One emerges victorious. The other is vanquished. And the often-brutal spectacle becomes part of boxing’s very rich history.
Indeed, boxings’s mega, super or marquee fights separates the men from the boys—and sometimes the monster from the men—and paves the way for the best to be inducted into the sport’s hall of fame.
Today, two of the sport’s best fighters, Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather Jr., will square off, and regardless of the outcome of their fight, theirs will surely rank as one of the most hyped fights in the sport’s history. But can the spectacle deliver the thunder of the megabouts from yesteryears?
The Sunday Times Magazine looks back at a few championship bouts that delivered its intended hype, with some even surpassing it. These are fights that were not lopsided, and were more or less see-saw battles that gave fans what they truly wanted.
Thomas Hearns vs. Marvin Hagler.
To this day, this April 15, 1985 megabout is touted as the among the very best by many boxing historians and observers, because it saw two ring warriors in their prime pummeling away like there was no tomorrow. Both warriors entered the ring with impressive records, with Hearns touting a 34-1 record with 30 knockouts and Hagler 60-2-2 with 50 KOs.
While Hearns, the challenger to Hagler’s undisputed middleweight crown, was knocked out in the third round, he opened a cut on Hagler’s forehead in the first round and almost had the champion in trouble in the first minute of the bout. Hearns, however, also broke his right hand in the first round.
Adding spice to the bout was when both fighters developed a personal dislike for each other. The fight ended after Hagler landed a right hook on Hearns’ chin that sent him reeling to the canvas.
Manny Pacquiao vs. Juan Manuel Marquez 4.
Although this was a fateful night for Filipino, the December 8, 2012 bout nonetheless lived up to its billing as the “Fight of the Decade.” Although the action in the first two rounds was not fast-paced, the tempo picked up after Marquez knocked down the Filipino in the third round with a swinging right. Pacquiao would even the score by knocking down his nemesis in the fifth round with a straight left.
In the sixth round, it looked like Pacquiao was ready to finish the bloodied and bruised Mexican, but as Pacquiao lunged to land his patented left, Marquez countered with a hard right that ended the fight with a knockout at the closing seconds of the round.
Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier 3.
While Ali and Frazier were no longer in their prime when this fight was staged on October 1, 1975 at the Araneta Coliseum in Quezon City, it was seen as a bout that would determine who is the better of the two. Both fighters met twice on March 8, 1971 and February 28, 1974. The March 1971 bout was actually billed “Fight of the Century” because it featured two undefeated heavyweights who were at their prime, with Frazier winning by bout that was punctuated by Ali getting knocked down in the 15th round. Ali would win the second bout. Both fighters still had impressive records entering their third fight, with Ali at 48-2 with 35 KOs and Frazier 32-2 with 27 KOs. Although Ali controlled the first four rounds of the “Thrilla,” Frazier rallied from the fifth round to even the score. But a resurgent Ali recovered from the 10th round and pummeled Frazier, who was held back by his trainer Eddie Futch from entering the 14th round. By that time, Frazier’s eyes were puffy and could not see Ali’s punches coming. Ali called the Thrilla “the closest I’ve ever been to dying.”
Jose Luis Castillo vs. Diego Corrales.
This bout held on May 6, 2005 featured two fighters who had power in their hands, with Castillo of Mexico touting a 53-6-1 record with 46 KOs and Corrales of the United States 39-2 with 32 KOs. The first nine rounds saw both fighters batter each other with not one buckling down. But in the 10th round, Castillo knocked down the taller Corrales twice, which many thought was the end for Corrales. But Castillo landed a perfect right on Corrales that stunned his opponent. Corrales then trapped Castillo on the ropes and pummeled him until the referee stopped the bout also in the 10th round.
There are other marquee bouts that gave boxing fans a real treat, like the bout between Gerard McClellan and Nigel Benn on February 25, 1995. McClellan entered the bout with 31-2 with 29 KOs while Ben, the defending super middleweight champion, was 40-2 with 33 KOs.
The bout was highly anticipated and was watched by an estimated 17 million viewers around the world.
In a fierce fight, McClellan knocked Benn out of the ring in the first round, and onto the canvas in the eighth round. But in the 10th round, McClellan kneeled twice after taking punches from Benn, with the referee counting him out in that round. Benn would collapse in his corner and was rushed to the hospital to be operated for blood clots in his brain.
McClellan would never fight again and is still bound to a wheelchair up to this day, while Benn remains guilt-ridden over his opponent’s fate. Benn would end his career with three successive losses.
While fights like Hearns-Hagler, the Thrilla in Manila, Marquez-Pacquiao 4, and Corrales-Castillo can provide boxing fans the excitement they crave for, the aftermath of the McClellan-Benn fight shines light on the dark side of the sport.
When it comes to megabouts, the elite boxers are willing to give in to their craving of fans, but sometimes with a terrible price.