Have you ever wondered what boxing looked like some decades ago? Before it turned into a money-grabbing, how-many-viewers-did-you-have entertainment show about YouTubers settling bad blood, boxing was all about respect, dedication and discipline. Want to learn more about the history of pugilism? Then read on and (re-)enjoy some of the greatest boxing matches of our time. First, we will give a brief history of boxing and reminisce about some of the greatest classics of the sport. Then, we will delve deeper into the last 5 or so years, where we look at modern day boxing as more of an entertainment than a sport.
Please note that some of the views stated in our articles are those of the writers, and not necessarily those of FAECTOR.
The making of boxing
Boxing is commonly dubbed the noble sport, an arduous test of one’s courage and strength. As you might expect, its history traces back to antiquity’s gladiator fights, and more recently, to the clandestine fights in the Middle Ages. Historians found a very peculiar distinction between, for instance, the fights in France and the United Kingdom organised during the Middle Age. In the former, pugilism was originally called “Savate” and the fighters were allowed to use both their hands and feet, in the latter, the birthplace of today’s boxing game, they were only allowed to use their hands. But seriously speaking, did you really expect the Englishmen and Frenchmen to see eye to eye? It is worth mentioning that apart from the aforementioned defining regulations, boxing had no other rules in place and no weight categories. That is, until 1866, when two Englishmen, Josh Graham Chambers and John Douglas, drafted the first rulebook for the game. It was their merit that weight categories and the 10-second countdown to a knock-out were introduced, that boxing gloves became mandatory and that the round was set at three minutes. You do not have to be a diehard boxing fan to recognise that most of these rules are still in place almost 2 centuries later. From then on, the sport started to spread throughout the world and in 1901 men’s amateur boxing was introduced to the Olympic Games. Nonetheless, it was only 2012, more than a century later, when female boxers were also allowed to compete in the Olympics.
Now, let us delve deeper into the beautiful and violent history of pugilism and commence our search for some of the most iconic matches. There is no better start to such an endeavour than the 1860 fight between British champion Tom Sayers and the American standard-bearer John C. Heenan, which is seen by some as the first ever world-title fight. More interestingly, though, the fight lasted for two hours straight and ended in a draw (before the aforementioned rulebook was put in place). Can you imagine the effort? Just the thought of walking for two hours and I am already longing for rest, let alone fight. As interesting as the pre gloved era of boxing might be, we will turn our attention to the second part of the 20th century and early 21th century, which arguably marks the sport’s golden age. I have tried to narrow some of the best boxing matches history has to offer to just three, featuring the likes of Muhammad Ali, George Foreman and Joe Frazier. It was not an easy task and the choice is by default subjective, so do not take my word for granted.
Marvelous Marvin Hagler vs Thomas “Hit Man” Hearns (1985)
That being said, my pick for the third best match is the middleweight 1985 showdown between Marvelous Marvin Hagler and Thomas “Hit Man” Hearns. In spite of the match only lasting eight minutes, it had more drama and action than any other boxing match that I have ever seen in my life. The two feared knockout artists fought an exhausting three-round, “gloves-off” game that very much looked like a life-or-death street fight. While I do not want to spoil the outcome of the match, I can nonetheless tell you that the win was determined by a right-hand punch immediately followed by two uppercuts. If you want to watch the last part of the fight, here’s the link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EJLmjsnD09w&t=240s.
Arturo “Thunder” Gatti vs Micky “Irish” Ward (2002)
The second match is 2002’s fight of the year, the first brawl of arguably boxing’s most brutal trilogy, the match between Arturo “Thunder” Gatti and Micky “Irish” Ward. The two lightweight pugilists were by no means technical aces, but rough and hittable fighters. Both of them proved more than capable of biting down on their mouthpiece and letting it all hang out, and it made for one of the most entertaining boxing matches ever (boxing equivalent of brutal). In this case, the match will be remembered not by the outcome (Ward won the majority decision), but rather the action. The decisive moment would occur in the 9th round, when Ward sent a blistering kidney shot that put Gatti to the ground, gasping for air. But despite fatigue and ravaging pain, Gatti fought on. What followed next was so utterly brutal, that even the anchor urged the referee to end the match. Nonetheless, Gatti fought on. The show of strength, and not even physical, but rather strength of will, is one of the most impressive ones I have ever seen. The match highlights can be seen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2XgZjz6btCc.
The Rumble in the Jungle (1974)
Now, the first one is the match that was dubbed “The Rumble in the Jungle”, the fight that secured Muhammad Ali the reputation as “The Greatest” boxer. I am obviously referring to the 1974 match between George Foreman and Muhammad Ali. Few people know, though, that Foreman’s winning streak (to plead my case, I am just going to leave some quotes here: “made mincemeat out of Joe Frazier”, “embarrassed Ken Norton in two rounds”, and the likes) meant that Ali entered this title fight as the underdog. Nonetheless, Ali was well prepared for Forman’s show of brute force and pulled a perfect “rope-a-dope” strategy, covering himself against the ropes and letting Foreman throw punches until exhaustion. Then, when Ali sensed his opponent’s energy bar running low, threw a bomb of a right hand and defeated Foreman by TKO. Despite having spoiled the outcome of the match, I still hope that you will cast a glance at the match that “made” the world’s greatest boxer. So, here’s the link to the ending of the fight: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eWkTUWEQp4U.
If you are a boxing fan, you might think little of me for leaving out, among others, the “Fight of the century” between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, especially given the cultural importance of the match ( the 70s represented a period of turmoil in the US and many people saw this fight as a realization of the pro- and against-war debate). To follow the logical train of thought, now I should give you an intelligible reason for my choice. However, I have none. Just plain, subjective preference.
And now that we have opened the Pandora box of preferences, let me tell you my favourite boxing match. It was 1990, Tokyo Dome, Japan, when one of the greatest boxers, then-undefeated and undisputed world champion, Mike Tyson faced James “Buster” Douglas in what appeared to be “another 90-second annihilation”. It certainly looked that way, some bookkeepers offering a 41:1 rate on Tyson losing the match while others considered Douglas too low-profile to even think of Tyson losing and thus didn’t offer any odds, but the outcome could not be any more different than this. If you do not know the story of this match, and even if you do, go check out this song (no, we are not paid for this, unfortunately): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cTmXv8UlbG4.
On the verge of shifting the whole sport came this novel fad of Influencers’ boxing. What started as a form of online entertainment in a rented boxing gym between 2 British youtubers (Joe Weller vs Theo Baker - https://youtu.be/XvTXOvcapVk) elevated to professional white-collar events with boxing arena tickets sold out in seconds. Yet, viewers question the authenticity of the sport when they see casual online entertainers talking trash against each other while using boxing as an excuse for clout. Factually speaking, however, whether or not this was a publicity stunt, the statistics on ticket sales and sold-out arenas speak for themselves on how it has affected the sport’s reputation. At the same time, the question arises on how this takes light to what people call “professional” boxing in this world.
The most convenient manner in which modern-day “Influencers” can go viral is via social media platforms such as TikTok, YouTube, and Twitter to name a few. Boxing became involved in the YouTube scene first on British soil, whereby aforementioned Youtuber Joe Weller was called out (as a joke) by famous English Youtuber KSI. An amateur boxing fight of KSI vs. Joe Weller was scheduled in the Copper Box Arena, London, on 3rd February, 2018, and KSI won by a TKO in the 3rd round (https://youtu.be/y4bDWUD-EkQ). Plenty of exchanges were made to elevate the fight’s occurrence: from diss-tracks to dramatic press conferences.
The spark to continue the trend was when KSI called out famous American Youtuber and ex-Vine star Logan Paul (RIP Vine). The following event of KSI vs. Logan Paul, dubbed as “the biggest internet event in history" and "the biggest amateur boxing match in history”, became a 2-part fight, with the first resulting in a majority draw while the rematch ended in a split decision victory for KSI – again, hyped up by diss-tracks and press conferences. On the undercards of this fight, numerous other Youtubers gained reputation from the sold-out arenas, such as Jake Paul, Deji, AnEsonGib, and TGFbro. For mainstream media, however, the attention was on the reactions of professional boxers like Anthony Joshua, Deontay Wilder, Tyson Fury, Andy Ruiz Jr. and so forth, all of whom expressed support and highlighted the benefits of expanding the sport's audience to boxing as a whole.
Currently, Logan Paul’s younger brother Jake Paul brought up his relevance for calling out random fighters and picking unnecessary fights merely for clout purposes. His recent fights with former NBA star Nate Robinson and former MMA fighter Ben Askren are perfect examples on how the sport has mixed its vital and pure authenticity with money. From passion driven fights by legendary names like Mike Tyson, Muhammad Ali, Roy Jones Jr., Sugar Ray Robinson, Roberto Duran, Evander Holyfield, Joe Louis (I can keep going) that strike a chord to any ear in the world, to fights where an ex-MMA fighter lands 3 punches before getting knocked out and leaves the arena with a laugh on his face and his wife in his arms against a guy that used to dance on Disney Channel.
Speaking of dancing, TikTok stars have entered the boxing world somehow. How’s that happened then? Enter Bryce Hall, Taylor Holder and you can look up the rest in a YouTube vs. TikTok boxing event on Saturday June 12th at the Hard Rock Stadium in Florida, Miami. The “Battle of the Platforms” event received plenty of hype since it incorporates 2 major league social platforms but that is the extent to which this event can be considered large scale. Instead of being focused on technique, rigorous training and professionalism in press conferences, boxing has evolved backwards into a realm for hashing out “beef” whilst earning hefty bags simultaneously.
What to look forward to
Up to your tastes, but personally I would try and see how Logan Paul vs. Floyd Mayweather Jr. goes down. Why? It’s the perfect mix of both worlds. You take a Youtuber with a wrestling background from his youth turned into a boxer with merely a height and reach advantage, and with the experience of one fight (which was an L), put him in a ring for 6 merciless rounds against “Money” Mayweather with a 50-0 record – you’ll expect an entertaining fight for sure. An event where one fighter is almost half the age of the other but towers him like a father is the definition of amateur vs. professional. One would expect Mayweather to knock the daylights out of him, but seeing the time and money invested by Paul in training, one would also expect a decent, jaw gripping bout.
Mayweather vs McGregor (2017)
Retrospectively, the Money Fight ended in what seemed to be the most one-sided bout merely with respect to technique. Exactly how the name suggests, the Money Fight was a bout between the reigning eleven-time boxing world champion Floyd Mayweather Jr. and two-division mixed martial arts (MMA) world champion and, at the time, UFC Lightweight Champion Conor McGregor. It was scheduled to be a 12 round bout that recorded the second highest pay-per-view buy rate in boxing history and gave each fighter a 9-digit payoff off-paper. The fight ended with Mayweather defeating McGregor by TKO in the 10th round. While other MMA fighters gave props to Conor for lasting 10 rounds, countless viewers were left unsatisfied by the referee’s stoppage. Watching the fight live myself, though, it would make sense since Conor had quite a few illegal punches - hammer fists - derived from his MMA history that would not score him well on the judges’ scorecards.
Wilder vs Fury (2018)
The Bronze Bomber against the Gypsy King was a memorable night, in that it created a storyline that reunited the drive for boxing as a formal sport and as a personal redemption at each fighter’s career. Deontay Wilder vs. Tyson Fury each had their own challenges to face before their inevitable professional boxing match on December 1, 2018, at Staples Centre, LA, California. After their confrontation in New York, a fight between the two had seemed inevitable in the near future but with Wilder obliged to face mandatory challenger Alexander Povetkin next and Fury bound by a contractual rematch clause with Wladimir Klitschko, the fight would have to wait, at least until the end of that year. However, the coming months saw Fury postpone the Klitschko rematch twice, firstly due to an ankle injury and after being declared medically unfit following a positive test for cocaine. This led to Fury vacating his remaining titles in October 2016 and further problems with depression, alcohol and excessive weight gain, and being stripped of his boxing licence. Fury regained his boxing license and was cleared to fight again in December 2017 and began training for his comeback around the same time. Meanwhile, Wilder had now made six successful defences of his crown. On the day of their matchup, the fight ended up in a controversial split draw, which meant 2 things: one, the audience was a little bit disappointed and two, the fact that there was Unfinished Business pending between the two.
Unfinished Business (2020)
On February 22, 2020, at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, Paradise, Nevada, the rematch took place.
Deontay Wilder vs Tyson Fury II, dubbed Unfinished Business, was the rematch viewers were dying to watch. The first fight had ended in a controversial split draw. Commentators thought that Fury could dethrone Wilder in the first bout, but uncertainty remained as Fury had been knocked down twice. In the rematch, Fury dominated Wilder, knocking him down twice, before Wilder's corner threw in the towel in the seventh round. The Gypsy King won the bout by seventh-round technical knockout, becoming the new heavyweight boxing champion.
Guess what though?
Deontay Wilder won the case for a trilogy fight against Fury.
Which means we get more action before we get to know who faces off against Anthony Joshua for all 3 titles.
Perhaps something worth the wait for a part 2 of this series?