There were heavyweight title fights of one form or another in each of the last three weeks. But the heavyweight division is no longer near what it was once. Brothers Vitali and Wladimir Klitschko are elite fighters, but they don't have elite opponents, so it's difficult to come up with a compelling bout these days.
There have been, though, many great heavyweight fights in the history of boxing. Here are my picks as the five best I've ever seen live.
5. Evander Holyfield TKO 10 Michael Dokes, March 11, 1989, Caesars Palace, Las Vegas: Holyfield had been a heavyweight for less than a year and there was concern at the time how he'd hold up against a big, durable and talented fighter like Dokes. The answer was, extraordinarily well. Pat Putnam, the late, great Sports Illustrated writer, called the bout "more than 28 minutes of unrelenting violence." It certainly was that, and more. The best part is, though it was a brawl, it was a brawl with great skill. These weren't two cavemen flailing away. These were experts of the craft performing at the highest level.
4. George Foreman KO 5 Ron Lyle, Jan. 24, 1976, Caesars Palace, Las Vegas: This was Foreman's first fight after losing his heavyweight title to Muhammad Ali in Zaire 15 months earlier. Given that Foreman and Lyle were two of the biggest punchers in the game, no one could have been surprised that there would be some big blows landed. This fight was like the old "Rock 'Em, Sock 'Em Robots" game, in which each guy took turns getting his block knocked off. Foreman was down twice, and at one point was in deep trouble, but he was landing too cleanly on Lyle. And as tough as Lyle was, when Foreman was hitting you in the head that often, no one could have survived long. It was a breathtakingly violent battle.
3. Riddick Bowe W 12 Evander Holyfield, Nov. 13, 1992, Thomas & Mack Center, Las Vegas: Both men entered the fight unbeaten. There was no question about Holyfield's toughness, but there were some about Bowe's, as he was dogged by suggestions he quit against Lennox Lewis in the 1988 Olympics. But neither man quit in this and the 10th round is one of the most remarkable rounds in recent boxing history. This was the first of what would become one of boxing's greatest trilogies, but it was by far the best of the three.
2. Larry Holmes W 15 Ken Norton, June 9, 1978, Caesars Palace, Las Vegas: Norton is unique in boxing history because he's a former world heavyweight champion who never won a championship bout. He was awarded the WBC belt after it was stripped from Leon Spinks. In his first defense, he met Holmes, and it turned out to be one of the great fights ever. The 15th round was spectacular, as the men stood in front of each other for long stretches and blasted each other with combinations. Holmes won a split decision, with two judges siding him with by a score of 143-142, while the other judge had it 143-142 for Norton.
1. Muhammad Ali TKO 14 Joe Frazier, Oct. 1, 1975, Araneta Coliseum, Manila, Philippines: There aren't adjectives to describe how incredible this fight was. Frazier trainer Eddie Futch mercifully stopped the bout after the 14th, because Frazier had a cataract in his left eye and his right eye was closed and he couldn't see the punches coming at him. Futch espoused the perfect sentiment when he said to a protesting Frazier, "No one will forget what you did here today." It was a marvelous display of skill, courage and tenacity on the part of both men. Some think it is the greatest fight ever. That's somewhat questionable, but it is, without doubt, the best heavyweight fight of all time.
That's my list. I'm curious to hear yours.
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- Evander Holyfield
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