The greatest ever is always a debate that sparks a lot of interest no matter what the topic is, but what are the best boxing fights of all time?
No doubt every boxing fan will have their own personal favorite when it comes to the greatest fights but there are some bouts that simply can’t be ignored when it comes to the list.
In an instant of being asked, boxing fans will automatically come up with the names of Mohamed Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard, Rafael Marquez and Arturo Gatti, but where exactly will they place on our list of the greatest boxing fights ever?
The Top 10 Best Boxing Fights of All Time
Below we countdown the best boxing fights of all time, looking at bouts that lit up the boxing world and have gone down in the annals of the sport's history.
10. Chavez vs Taylor
Julio Cesar Chavez and Medrick Taylor is an underrated classic and deserves to be on our list of the best boxing fights in history. A hell of a fight ensued over 12 rounds with both men exchanging blows but it was Taylor who threw nearly double the amount of the WBC light welterweight champion.
Heading into the final three minutes the challenger was surely ahead after handing out so much damage. With 15 seconds left though, Chavez landed a viscous right hand knocking his opponent down.
Taylor got to his feet at eight, the referee gave him to 10 and waved it off with five seconds to go and the challenger lost in controversial circumstances.
9. Vazquez vs Marquez III
There’s little more magical in boxing than an entertaining trilogy of fights, but Israel Vazquez and Rafael Marquez's fights were so good the pair did it four times.
The first three fights did what most film trilogies can’t even manage and somehow got better each time.
After a win each, with the second fight winning Fight of the Year, the crowd was larger and extremely excited for the rubber match.
Marquez dropped his fellow Mexican in the fourth round but as the fight went on Vazquez battled into a place of dominance. Marquez had a point deducted in 10th round, during a dominant three minutes, due to a low blow.
Vazquez forced a standing eight count in the closing stages of the fight and it went to the judges.
Each boxer had one judge go 114-111 in their favor and the final one went to Vazquez by 113-112, making the point deduction a huge turning point in an instant classic.
8. Morales vs Barrera I
Another all-Mexican trilogy which featured one of the all-time greatest boxing fights, although this time it peaked at the beginning.
This was a ‘true styles make fights,’ with Morales’ more tactical approach against Barrera’s all-action style.
With dislike between the pair, they refused to touch gloves ahead of the opening bell and the fight followed an aggressive nature.
A back-and-forth fight ensued at a frantic pace with no one quite understanding how both men were still standing going into the final round.
In the 12th Morales was knocked down for the first time in his career, though he was at pains to say it shouldn’t have been given as such.
He spent the rest of the round looking for a knockdown but in the end he didn’t need it, as he was given a controversial split decision, leading wonderfully into the next two fights.
7. Ali vs Frazier I
It’s no surprise that ‘The Greatest' appears on a list of greatest-ever boxing fights, and this won’t be the last time.
His trilogy with Joe Frazier is amongst the best rivalries in the history of the sport, starting with the opening bout of the three.
Even though Frazier had spoken in favor of Ali’s reinstatement to boxing following his decision not to fight in the Vietnam War, the rivalry was a heated affair with racial overtones – Ali referring to his opponent as ‘the white man’s champion’ in the build-up. Frazier would call it a ‘betrayal’ of their previous friendship.
Ali’s words did not throw his younger opponent off his game, but instead instilled an anger that he took into the squared circle. Frazier’s game plan was perfect and he did well to avoid the shots coming from Ali.
He survived some big shots in each round though but showed incredible heart to keep going and inflicted damage in the middle rounds. The ‘Fight of the Century’ nearly ended in the 11th, when Ali was staggered by a left hook, but he survived. Another hook floored Ali in the 15th and final round and the judges all gave the decision to Frazier, handing the challenger his first-ever defeat, but they weren’t done there.
6. Leonard vs Hearns
There are few eras of boxing better than the Four Kings, when Sugar Ray Leonard, Thomas Hearns, Marvin Hagler and Robert Duran faced each other over nine fights between 1980 and 1989.
In 1981, Leonard and Hearns faced off with each of their versions of the welterweight title up for grabs. Leonard had lost to Duran, but then defeated him in the ‘No Mas’ rematch. Hearns was undefeated going into it.
Interestingly the pair swapped the expected roles, with the ‘Hitman’ fighting behind his jab brilliantly whilst Sugar landed the first real haymaker, in the sixth round, buckling his opponent’s legs with a counter left.
In the seventh, he nearly floored his rival but Hearns managed to stay on his feet whilst taking punishment. Hearns got back in the ascendancy with his movement in the next few rounds.
In the 13th though, Leonard sent his opponent through the ropes following 25 unanswered shots. Despite that, Hearns was still ahead on the judges’ scorecards. It wouldn’t matter though, with Leonard earning the stoppage in the 14th, making it one of the best boxing fights in history.
5. Ali vs Frazier III
The Thrilla in Manila was the third meeting between Ali and Frazier. After the pair had met in 1971 they would rematch three years later, with Ali avenging the defeat in the first instalment, and leading to the rubber fight to end their trilogy. The men would only wait 21 months for their third meeting, which became legendary.
A brutal 14 rounds in which ‘The Greatest’ told his corner, “This is the closest I’ve ever been to dying,” following the ninth round. The pair held some severe animosity towards each other, following the build-up to all three fights, and it was easy to see it in the ring.
In the early rounds, Frazier came forward consistently and kept landing. Later in the fight, Smokin’ Joe told his corner he could barely see and he wasn’t helped by his corner’s icebag melting in the Filipino heat. With one round to go, Frazier’s corner called time on the fight and it was no wonder he retired just a year later following a second loss to George Foreman.
4. Hagler vs Hearns
Most of the fights in the list of the best boxing fights of all time have gone the distance or nearly all the way, that certainly isn’t the case for the second of the four king’s fights on this list.
In 1985 Hearns went up in weight to take on super middleweight world champ Hagler. Caesar’s Palace may well have been the site of the greatest opening round in boxing history.
The first three minutes deserve to be in the pantheon of the greats on its own, with each man landing huge shots and hurting his opponent. Hearns broke his hand and Hagler ended up with a cut on his forehead. “This is still only the first round!”, exclaimed HBO broadcaster Barry Tompkins.
Even at the beginning of the next three minutes, it looked like Hearns was dead on his feet. ‘Marvelous’ Marvin pinned his opponent onto the ropes, as he asserted his dominance having not thrown everything he had into that opening round.
But in the third round, Hearns opened up the cut on Hagler’s head further. The referee paused the action momentarily but the ringside doctor allowed it to go on, with the cut not impeding the champ’s sight. Perhaps worried by the threat of the cut getting worse, Hagler went on the offensive, bashing his opponent onto the ropes with his left and then landing a right hook, staggering the challenger.
Hagler landed another right to the chin and as Hearns wretched forward he was met with two uppercuts that sent him face-first into the canvas. The referee waved off the eight minutes of extreme action.
3. Corrales vs Castillo
Corrales vs Castillo is essentially boxing’s answer to anyone who thinks that the fights in the Rocky movies are unrealistic.
Each held a version of the lightweight world title going the fight. Both men were known for their power, having ended a majority of their fights inside the distance. It was perhaps no surprise that each fighter came out throwing bombs from the opening round.
Castillo had a cut above his eye in the fourth whilst Corrales had welts under both eyes and in the seventh his left eye had started to swell shut.
Despite the frenetic pace, big shots and issues, neither man had been knocked down after nine entertaining rounds. Corrales was up on two judges’ cards and Castillo on one, but they were close. With the championship rounds to come, El Temible could still turn it around.
Less than 30 seconds into the final stanza, Castillo landed the bout's first knockdown on Chico. A wicked left hook landed Corrales on the ground. He spat out his mouthguard to earn himself a few extra seconds. As the fight restarted, Corrales moved right back into another hook and a couple more shots then put him down again. The downed fighter removed his mouthguard with his hand this time, leading the referee to deduct a point.
Castillo led the round 10-6 and was now ahead according to all three judges. But, with his back against the ropes, Corrales turned things around with a big right and then followed it up with a left hook. The Las Vegas crowd erupted as Chico again landed with a hook and unleashed several more shots with Castillo on the ropes, before Weekes stepped in to end the incredible turnaround.
2. Gatti vs Ward 1
Three fights back-to-back-to-back, all within 13 months, all three going the 10-round distance and all 30 rounds entertaining. Arturo ‘the Thunder’ Gatti and Micky Ward are inexorably linked thanks to their incredible trilogy.
Both men had reputations as being tough fighters and the first bout certainly tested that, and they passed with flying colors and flying shots aplenty. Following a back-and-forth fight in which both men had periods on top and traded blows, it was Ward who began to hand out more of the punishment in the eighth round. With only six minutes left till the final bell it looked like it could be conclusive.
However, it was nothing compared to what would transpire in the ninth, though not having the finishing conclusion of Castillo vs Corales’ 10th round, it is just as worthy as having a place on the greatest rounds list.
Ward dealt a significant number of shots on his rival and dropped him early in the ninth, with a stunning body shot. Gatti got to his feet in time to hear the nine count, to a shot which would have finished most.
He had to take more punishment as the round went on but stayed standing, leading to legendary coach, and commentator, Emanuel Steward to exclaim, “This should be the round of the century.” They both made it to the end of the 10th, with Ward given a majority decision victory. Such was the ferocity of both men’s shots that they were both sent to a trauma center following the fight.
1. Ali vs Foreman – The Best Boxing Fight in History
No one appears on our list as much as the Greatest and his greatest-ever performance, victory and fight deserves to be top of the best boxing fights of all time list.
At 32 years old, Ali had already endured some massive tests in his career. The undefeated ‘Big George’ was seven years his opponent’s junior and had stopped 34 of his 37 opponents, including Joe Frazier and Ken Norton inside two rounds. The Rumble in the Jungle was expected to be Ali’s toughest night in the ring and he came in as a +400 underdog.
Ali surprisingly came out as the more aggressive fighter and found his range, without hurting his opponent. In the second round, Ali changed tact, leaning on the ropes and covering up. The undefeated champ began attempting to tee off but the shots either missed or were deflected by Ali, whilst Foreman expended a huge amount of energy.
Ali managed to land counter punches down the middle and used clenches to lean his weight onto Foreman. Ali continued to find success with his jab and Foreman became increasingly more tired and got staggered in the fourth and fifth rounds.
In the eighth round, Foreman was all but done and Ali saw his moment. He landed several right hooks, then a five-punch combination, then a left hook and finally a right to the face that knocked his opponent to the canvas.
He rose to his knee but the referee waved it off. Rope-a-dope had been born, defeated the best heavyweight in the world and returned Ali to the top of the mountain.