Coronavirus may have put a stop to the upcoming boxing calendar, but one thing the pandemic has created for a lot of people is more spare time - so what better way for boxing fans to spend their extra downtime than by seeking out some of boxing’s greatest fights. Here we get you started by running through five classic boxing matches, focussing on one from each decade since the 1970s. Spend a few hours of your socially-distanced lockdown watching these fights on YouTube, and there is every chance you will get caught in a YouTube boxing rabbit hole in the process. If you end up with your own top five classic bouts list, be sure to share it with us on Instagram @bravoseuk.
The Thrilla in Manila took place on 1 October 1975 at the Araneta Coliseum in the Philippines, and saw Muhammad Ali take on Joe Frazier for the heavyweight title. It was the third and final time the pair met in the ring, and marked the culmination of a fierce rivalry that began at Madison Square Garden in 1971. Frazier won that contest by unanimous decision, before Ali clawed the series back to 1-1 in the 1974 rematch. The third meeting took place at 10am local time to allow an international audience of 1 billion viewers to tune in. Ali won the fight after an exhausted Frazier’s trainer Eddie Futch refused to let him go out for the 15th round. Frazier pleaded to go on, but Futch replied: "It's all over. No one will forget what you did here today.”
Undisputed middleweight champion Marvin Hagler took on challenger Thomas Hearns at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas on 15 April 1985. The fight, which came to be known as The War, is often referred to as an all-time classic, despite only lasting three rounds. Promoter Bob Arum has dubbed it the greatest fight he ever put on, while the The Ring called the final round “the most electrifying eight minutes ever”. The reason for the explosive fight’s enduring popularity? It was three rounds of non-stop, blood-soaked action. Hagler and Hearns went powerful punch for powerful punch, until the third when a cut on Hagler’s forehead opened up. After receiving treatment, Hagler launched a ferocious attack that ended in victory after Hearns fell face first on to the canvas.
On 9 November 1996, Mike Tyson defended his heavyweight title against Evander Holyfield at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. At the time of the fight, Holyfield was 34 and had lost three of his previous seven fights. So, despite Tyson having been in prison from 1992 to 1995, he was still the overwhelming favourite to win the fight, with many viewing it as a formality on the way to his next challenge. However, after Holyfield survived the first round it quickly became clear that Tyson was not going to experience the walk in the park he expected. The intensity of the bout was high, and in the MGM Grand it was set in an atmosphere that was second to none. After 11 rounds, the referee stopped the fight with Tyson cut, staggering and defenceless.
This entry on the list is actually a trilogy of fights, rather than one, which took place over 2002 and 2003 between Arturo Gatti and Micky Ward. It was an incredible and brutal set of fights, considered among boxing experts to be the greatest three fights ever. Ward took the first fight on a majority decision in Montville, Connecticut, before Gatti hit back to win the second bout in Atlantic City. The legendary final fight, again in Atlantic City, saw the two warriors do vicious battle. Gatti was in agony with a hand injury from the fourth, and Ward took the opportunity to pound him, yet Gatti recovered well. With punches flying until the last seconds of the last round, Gatti was crowned the winner. In a sign of the brutality on display, both men were hospitalised after each fight.
Anthony Joshua took on Wladimir Klitschko for the unified heavyweight titles at London’s Wembley Stadium on 29 April 2017. The fight, which took place in front of a post-war record 90,000 fans, saw Joshua as the favourite against an ageing Klitschko. This made sense when, after a cautious start to the fight, Joshua knocked Klitschko to the canvas in the fifth. Klitschko, however, proved there was life in the old dog yet, when he returned to his feet and looked dangerous for the next few rounds, even knocking Joshua down in the sixth. Once Joshua got his second wind, he triumphed in round 11 when the referee stopped the fight after a barrage of punches had seen Klitschko knocked down twice more.