Big-time boxing matches are a spectacle to behold, with a larger-than-life atmosphere unlike anything in sports. Sometimes boxing main events are not worth the high dollar pair-per-view price, occasionally over in minutes or ending in questionable decisions. Other times, when the bout lives up to the pre-fight hype, a great boxing match can become a part of historical lore.
This series will look at the top ten boxing matches of all time, the history of the fight, and who came out on top of the boxing betting odds. In part one of a three-part series, our boxing expert picks the tenth through seventh greatest fights in boxing history.
10. Joe Louis vs. Billy Conn
We are going to go way back in time for the number for number ten on our list, flashing back to June 18, 1941, at the Polo Grounds in New York with a crowd of 54,487 rowdy fans in the stands. Joe Louis faced Billy Conn for the heavyweight championship of the world. Louis was the reigning champion, and Conn was the light heavyweight champion going into this fight. Louis had shown to be a dominant champion, but some thought he faced weak competition in his match against Conn.
The light heavyweight champion Conn did not gain weight for the bout, instead choosing to use a “hit and run” game plan. That subject was brought up to the champ, which led to Louis’ famous response, “He can run, but he can’t hide.” Louis underestimated Conn heading into the fight, as did Las Vegas oddsmakers since Conn was the heavy underdog in the boxing odds Vegas had posted.
Going deep into the fight, Conn was getting the better of Louis, and it looked like he was going to pull off the upset. The Champ had never seemed so vulnerable in his entire career, dealing with dehydration by the eighth round. Conn was capitalizing and was up on the judge’s scorecards through 12 rounds. Conn’s corner advised him to play it safe and stay away from the mighty Louis, but the challenger ignored his corner and decided to stay close to Louis late into the fight. It was a massive mistake, as Louis knocked Conn out with two seconds left in the 13th round.
This fight turned out to be an instant classic with the champion on the ropes and pulling off the miraculous late-round knockout. The two were set for a rematch, but the fight had to be postponed when Conn suffered a pre-fight injury. World War II then temporarily halted boxing.
9. Roberto Duran vs. Sugar Ray Leonard
While the “No mas” debacle in the rematch might have overshadowed the first fight, “The Brawl in Montreal” between Sugar Ray Leonard and Roberto Duran is still one the most exhilarating fights of all time. The electricity and build-up to this fight could only be comparable to the Ali-Fraizer fights that proceed it. The contrasting styles of both fighters made for a great matchup, and not only would the winner walk away with the welterweight championship, but they would also be called the best in the world.
The meeting took place on June 20, 1980, at the Olympic Stadium in Montreal. It was the same venue where Leonard had won the Olympic gold medal in boxing. There was tension heading into the fight, as Duran was frustrated that Leonard was making considerably more money than him, despite the Mexican having a 71-1 record. Leonard was undefeated, however, with a perfect 27-0 record.
Going the complete 15 rounds, both boxers gave it their all, but Duran was the aggressor through most of the bout. Duran was the brawler, and Leonard was more about speed and precision. As the fight went on, it appeared that the animosity between the two grew, and the boxing match became more of a boxing brawl. Because of Duran’s consistent pressure, Leonard had no choice but to play Duran’s game and trade blows instead of his usual fighting style.
The entire fight was close, and every round could have gone to either fighter. In the end, when the boxers stood in the center of the ring and the scorecards were announced, it was Duran who came out on top. Winning by unanimous decision, but only by the slimmest of margins, Duran scored the biggest win of his career, and this super-fight will forever live on in boxing history.
8. Julio Cesar Chavez vs. Meldrick Taylor
Boxing experts picks compared Meldrick Taylor to Sugar Ray Leonard early in his career for his fast hands and exciting fighting style. In fact, Taylor had an all-time classic fight of his own, taking on Julio Cesar Chavez in a junior welterweight unification bout.
Chavez was not as flashy as Taylor, but the Mexican star-packed a punch and was one of the toughest fighters in the sport. Billed as “Thunder Meets Lightning” for the punching power of Chavez and the quick hands of Taylor, this fight was one of the most anticipated non-heavyweight matches in recent years.
Taking place in Las Vegas on March 17, 1990, the fight lived up to its billing as the two clashed in an epic battle. Both fighters were doing damage to the other from the onset. Taylor was able to use his quickness to land more punches on Chavez, but “El León de Culiacan” was landing more powerful punches on his opponent.
As the fight went on, the power of Chavez began to take a toll on his opponent. Taylor’s face was becoming unrecognizable, showing how much damage Chavez was doing with his punches. At the end of the 11th round, Taylor mistakenly went to Chavez’s corner. The momentum had entirely shifted towards Chavez heading into the final round.
While Taylor might have been winning on the judge’s scorecards, the power of Chavez was catching up with him. Near the end of the 12th and final round, Taylor fell to the canvas. Although he managed to beat the count, he did not respond to questions by referee Richard Steele. According to Steele, Taylor’s lack of response led to Steele calling for the TKO with just two seconds left in the fight.
The stoppage is one of the most controversial finishes in boxing and will forever be a part of Steele’s legacy. Taylor would have won the fight via split decision if Steele had let it continue for two more seconds. Instead, he called the fight, gaining national attention and infuriating bettors who had Taylor to win on the boxing betting lines.
7. Micky Ward vs. Arturo Gatti
Light welterweights Micky Ward and Arturo Gatti had a trilogy of fights, but like most trilogies, the first one was the best. The first meeting took place on May 18, 2002, at the Mohegan Sun Casino in Connecticut. Both fighters came out swinging from the opening bell, making it clear this would be a fight-of-the-year candidate.
Every round was a slugfest with neither boxer willing to give up or give in, but it was the ninth round that would be one of the most thrilling rounds in the history of boxing.
Coming into the ninth round, both fighters were running on fumes in the ten-round fight. The constant back and forth and the heavy flurry of punches thrown on both sides had taken their toll on the gladiators. It was a wild sprint of a battle, and technique went out the window as both men were gassed but unwilling to give in.
Suddenly Ward knocked Gatti down, and it proved to be the difference in the fight, resulting in Ward getting the majority decision victory. This bout looked like one out of the movies, as both men took an unrealistic amount of damage yet were able to keep standing. There was never a dull moment from start to finish.
Even though Gatti came up short in the Las Vegas odds in the first fight, he wanted another shot. Both sides agreed to an immediate rematch six months later, in November 2002. This time it was Gatti knocking down Ward and getting the decision.
The third and final fight in the wild trilogy came in 2003 and was almost as good as the first. The boxers stood toe to toe and went at it until the final bell. Gatti again emerged victorious by decision. Their first fight was named the 2002 Ring magazine Fight of the Year, while their third fight won the same award in 2003. It is rare for a trilogy to deliver on all three showings, but Ward v. Gatti did just that for boxing fans.
Championship boxing is unlike anything else in sports. The pre-fight lead up, the feeling of the fighters walking to the ring, and the anticipation of watching two gladiators do battle in a squared enclosure make the sport of boxing different than most other sports. Occasionally, the days prior are more exciting than the day of, but often enough, the bout lives up to the hype.
This list was just the tip of the iceberg in our list of the top ten best boxing matches of all time. There are still six more legendary matches to cover in this series. In the meantime, feel free to hop into the sportsbook and check out the latest boxing odds from the best internet betting sites.