What makes the perfect fight? Which rounds in isolation would you place in order, to create a boxing fan’s purest experience of the sport? These rounds are not only some of the greatest of all-time, but paint the perfect picture of what makes boxing, when at its best, the most intoxicating sport of them all.
Round ONE – Jack Dempsey vs Luis Ángel Firpo (1923)
NOTHING gets the crowd going like a fast start. This was among the fastest of all world heavyweight title fights, a division and championship that always draws attention. When Jack Dempsey faced “The Bull of the Pampas”, Luis Ángel Firpo, it was the Argentinian who waved the proverbial ‘red rag’, all but demanding the champion to engage in ferocious warfare.
Dempsey rushed across the ring at the sound of the opening bell, only to be met by a swift right hand from the challenger, which dropped the “Manassa Mauler” to his knees. What followed was a snapshot of its time, as a further eight knockdowns were scored, a number so high we will surely never again see a session like this.
Dempsey was the orchestrator of seven of them, leaving Firpo on the brink of inglorious defeat.
However, it was Firpo who would come the closest to ending matters. The undefeated underdog trapped his opponent on the ropes, before landing an overhand-right, sending Dempsey flying out of the ring in one of the most dramatic moments in boxing history. With the dubious – and frankly rule-breaking – help of those at ringside, the American returned to the ring to beat the count as the round came to an end.
Round TWO – Tim Bradley vs Ruslan Provodnikov (2013)
AN ABSOLUTE must-watch for all fight fans is the welterweight contest that saw Timothy Bradley and Ruslan Provodnikov collide in an unexpected barnburner.
After hurting and knocking Bradley down in the first, albeit unofficially, Provodnikov looked as if he was about to pull off a major upset – but that was just the beginning.
In this action-packed second round, Provodnikov caught Bradley clean on the temple, clearly stunning the American. For the remainder of the round, Bradley was battling to stay on his feet, drawing on awe-inspiring courage to do so.
Visibly hurt on three occasions, he fell onto the ropes but used all his pluck to avoid the knockdown.
The gruelling beating that Bradley endured in these three savage minutes might be deemed by some too one-sided to merit inclusion here, but his fighting instincts just to stay upright, and his will to survive in a bout he would go on to win by unanimous decision, makes this session – thanks to Bradley’s heart – an invaluable ingredient in the perfect fight.
Round THREE – Anthony Joshua vs Andy Ruiz Jnr (2019)
THE third is a lesson: Never, ever, underestimate your opponent, even if they’re built like the bloke next door.
Early in the round, heavyweight belt-holder Anthony Joshua landed a sweet right-uppercut-left hook combination which sent 10/1 underdog, Andy Ruiz Jnr, down to the canvas for the first time in his career. Fans inside New York’s Madison Square Garden – arguably the finest of all fight settings – roared their approval from the steeped, Coliseum-style seating.
But the outsider, the physical opposite of the tall and muscular Joshua, scrambled back to his feet. The favourite piled the pressure onto Ruiz and caught him with a right hand, before throwing caution to the wind and trading a series of hooks with the Mexican-American.
Ruiz saw an opening, landed a blow that sent shockwaves through Joshua and those in attendance; a counter left hook which sent the Brit to the ground. “AJ” managed to get back to his feet and smiled in an effort to disguise both his discomfort and embarrassment. He entered survival mode for the rest of the round, but Ruiz found a home for a straight right hand, causing Joshua to collapse into the ropes just before the bell. Rounds like these, which tear up the script so dramatically, go some way to explaining boxing’s everlasting appeal.
Round FOUR – George Foreman vs Ron Lyle (1976)
EX-CON Ron Lyle had some success in the opening rounds before landed a crunching counter-right in the fourth and adding a five-punch combination at the beginning of the fourth, sending George Foreman – looking to rebuild following his famous loss to Muhammad Ali – to the canvas.
For Lyle, the underdog, this was it. The chance for Lyle to knock out the most fearsome puncher the sport had ever seen.
The two titans stood toe-to-toe in the middle of the ring, exchanging hooks at will, but it was Lyle who was suddenly caught and went down. Just like Foreman, he too showed drive and stubbornness, rising to his feet and eventually landing an uppercut, followed by a left-hook, to send Foreman into temporary retreat. Once more, Lyle chased the knockout and landed a devastating right-hook at the end of the round but, somehow, Foreman survived. Not only that, he won the fight – arguably the ultimate heavyweight slugfest – in the fifth.
Round FIVE – Erik Morales vs Marco Antonio Barrera I (2000)
THIS super-bantamweight fight birthed a fierce rivalry and a phenomenal trilogy, with the fifth round being the most exciting of a thrilling opening bout. The two Mexicans met for a unification bout in the super-bantamweight division, with the WBO and WBC belts up for grabs.
As they reached the fifth, Barrera decided that his best chance of getting to Morales was by standing and trading. Confident he had the superior chin, Barrera had temporary success but was then dominated through the first half of the round, as Morales unloaded a series of hooks and uppercuts, and seemed to be on the verge of a stoppage win. Fans stood up from their seats, in anticipation of a knockout, but what they witnessed was so much more. Barrera fought back, landing a hook to the body, before adding a monstrous right hand which sent Morales soaring into the ropes. Somehow, both fighters managed to stay on their feet and not only make it to the end of the round, but take the fight to the judges, where Morales was awarded a controversial win.
The skill and dogged warfare make this a breathless showcase of modern boxing at its best, and, not only a worthy addition to the perfect fight, but also one of the best sessions within it.
Round SIX – Marvin Hagler vs John Mugabi (1986)
MARVIN HAGLER, the great middleweight champion, met power-puncher John Mugabi in 1986 and fireworks were inevitable. Hagler had been involved in several classic fights, but Mugabi was as big a puncher as the weight class had seen for quite some time. Astonishingly, the undefeated challenger’s 25 fights had lasted an average of just 2.81 rounds. In response, Hagler’s game plan seemed instigate a high-tempo fight, one designed to take combat into the late rounds, backing his conditioning to outlast Mugabi’s.
To the surprise of many, Mugabi kept pace with the legendary southpaw and had success in the opening five rounds. However, Hagler – who was ever so slightly past his peak – simply ate these punches and turned the switch in the sixth round, attempting to take advantage of his opponent who had only gone this far on two occasions prior. Perhaps Mugabi knew this too because he matched the great Hagler punch-for-punch, as both went for broke in a stunning three minutes that is among the best in middleweight history.
Round SEVEN – Iran Barkley vs Roberto Duran (1989)
WHEN the legendary Roberto “Hands of Stone” Duran stepped into the ring to fight a prime Iran Barkley, who had just knocked out Thomas Hearns inside three rounds to win a middleweight belt, not much was expected of the 37-year-old veteran. His form had been patchy at best since being flattened by the same Hearns five years before. Indeed, some even believed that this could be his last fight. However, he defied all odds to win this bout on the cards with round seven telling a story on the fire that remained in his belly.
Duran was relentless, walking forward and pressuring the bigger man, no matter what came back at him. He ate a picture-perfect double left hook and still came forward. Perhaps we’ve seen better round sevens, but Duran sneering at both Barkley and Father Time is worthy of a place. There is something almost magical about seeing great boxers like Duran turn back the clock in the ring and, in the process, remind us all exactly why they were so special in the first place.
A true boxing icon, and this special effort, which won him a belt in a fourth weight class, was his final masterpiece. One to savour.
Round EIGHT – Matthew Saad Muhammad vs Yaqui Lopez II (1980)
AFTER knocking out Yaqui Lopez two years prior, Matthew Saad Muhammad once again faced the fearless Mexican, this time with his WBC light-heavyweight title on the line. After pressing the pace at the beginning of the fight, Lopez was cut and the wound opened back up in the eighth, but that didn’t stop an onrush from the former apprentice Matador.
Muhammad had an unhealthy habit of getting caught on the ropes during his career and Lopez’s vicious intentions were clear every time this happened, unloading countless strikes downstairs. However, Saad – at least at this point of his career – had a knack of being able to grind out victories from the most brutal of situations. With neither man willing to take a backwards step, they each landed innumerable combinations and had one another hurt. A signature smile in the face of adversity from Muhammad showed he was no stranger to such encounters, and he managed to turn the tide to finish the round the stronger – and eventually win the fight in the 14th. A truly mesmerising, barbaric stanza.
Round NINE – Arturo Gatti vs Micky Ward (2002)
Arguably the greatest of all rounds, this immortal ninth session will forever stand tall as an advertisement for boxing at its most thrilling. Almost as famous as the action within these three minutes is the commentary, as the HBO team failed to contain their joy and surprise at what was unfolding in front of them.
Very simply, Ward and Gatti were made for each other. Ward was the artful brawler but Gatti came with the better technique who could outbox lesser foes with ease. That was the case until he got tagged, however. Once that happened, and it often did, the gameplan was immediately erased from his memory as his fighting instincts took over. And Ward was always going to tag Gatti.
Both men were hurt early in the fight and fan-favourite, “Thunder” Gatti, was cut. Ward caught his man with a gut-busting shot that would have defeated lesser fighters. Visibly hurt, Gatti bit down on his gumshield and not only stayed in the fight but fired back bombs of his own as co-commentator Emanuel Seward screamed in delight at ringside. Words simply cannot do justice to this session. Timeless.
Round TEN – Evander Holyfield vs Riddick Bowe I (1992)
ANOTHER round of boxing that is certain to always stand the test of time. Holyfield came into this bout on the back of four wins at the top of the heavyweight division; winning the title from James Douglas, before points wins over ageing warhorses George Foreman and Larry Holmes sandwiched a surprisingly taxing affair with Bert Cooper. Holyfield, it was believed, was on borrowed time.
But the manner in which battled the younger, bigger and supposedly stronger Riddick Bowe, although he ultimately lost, enhanced his heavyweight reputation considerably.
This 10th session is the perfect example of a round of two halves. Bowe poured on the pressure during the start of the round to leave Holyfield teetering and the referee watching closely. Commentators, who had previously criticised Evander for getting floored by Cooper, were now referencing that as one of many examples of his powers of recuperation as the tide suddenly turned. A shuddering right uppercut from Holyfield sent an exhausted Bowe backwards, and the champion’s fans into raptures as he fired off hurtful blows up close.
“If he [Holyfield] weighs 205, his heart weighs about 204,” said Larry Merchant.
Round ELEVEN – Pernell Whitaker vs Julio Cesar Chavez (1993)
AFTER 10 high octane rounds, perhaps it’s time for a breather of sorts. So far we have seen astonishing courage, punching power and recuperative abilities but very little of perhaps the most effective quality of them all – hit and don’t get hit.
The boxing on display here from “Sweet P” Pernell Whitaker is a joy to behold, particularly when one considers he’s made it all look so incredibly easy against the one and only Julio Cesar Chavez, 87-0 at the time and now widely regarded as the greatest Mexican of them all.
Whitaker, a defensive genius, turns in one of the best rounds of his entire career as Chavez, sensing he’s behind, presses forward but struggles to land a single blow. But it wasn’t just about avoiding punches that made Whitaker so very special, it was the way he crafted his own openings in the process. The multiple jabs, the uppercuts on the inside, the simply wonderful way his feet and upper body are always dancing to the same tune.
Kick back and enjoy the mastery, folks.
Round TWELVE – Deontay Wilder vs Tyson Fury (2018)
SECONDS out, the 12th and final round.
It seems only right to end this fight in the same division it started, the land of the giants. And my, how those giants have grown.
This contest was an irresistible matchup from the moment it was announced. We had the WBC belt-holder, Deontay Wilder, on a KO hot-streak and regarded as one of the biggest punchers of them all against Tyson Fury, the former champ who had barely started a comeback after three years in the wilderness.
Fury seemed outbox the American for the best part of 11 rounds (aside from being decked in round nine) before Wilder connected with three blows in quick succession that appeared to send Fury into dreamland. Yet while the “Bronze Bomber” wheeled away in celebration, Tyson woke up and, in one of the most surprising sights of them all, beat the referee’s count. Perhaps even more shocking was that Fury then turned on the style and had Wilder reeling against the ropes for the final minute of the round. The subsequent draw was cruel on Fury but, in this round, he was simply magnificent.