Megafights, boom or bust: From THE RING Magazine
MAYWEATHER VS. PACQUIAO: MAY 2
This is the seventh in a series of stories on Floyd Mayweather Jr. and/or Manny Pacquiao that appeared in THE RING Magazine in recent years. This piece on past “megafights,” written by Don Stradley, originally appeared in the May 2015 issue. The current issue – previewing the May 2 fight – is on newsstands now. Don’t know where to find a newsstand near you that sells it? Click here. To subscribe — both to the print and digital versions — click here. You can also purchase the current issue on that page.
SO-CALLED MEGAFIGHTS DON’T ALWAYS LIVE UP TO THE HYPE. HERE ARE FIVE THAT DID … AND FIVE THAT DIDN’T.
Megafights create a lot of interest but the sad truth is that they don’t always deliver mega-action. This can be traced back to perhaps the very first megafight of the gloved era, when a listless John L. Sullivan flopped against James J. Corbett in 1892. Ever since that disappointing night in New Orleans, megafights have veered from the dramatic to the abysmal and back again. Here are five that lived up their advance billing … and five that didn’t.
JOE FRAZIER VS. MUHAMMAD ALI
Date: March 8, 1971
Location: Madison Square Garden, New York
Result: Frazier UD 15
Summary: For most Baby Boomers, this is where megafights begin and end. The larger-than-life Ali had returned to boxing after a three-year absence and, despite being stripped of the heavyweight title for refusing the military draft, was still undefeated and considered by many to be the rightful heavyweight champion. Frazier, also undefeated, had earned championship recognition during Ali’s exile. The build-up was so intense that it seemed the entire world was watching. After 15 rounds, Frazier was still champion, while Ali, battered but unbowed, was becoming a legend.
ROBERTO DURAN VS. SUGAR RAY LEONARD
Date: June 20, 1980
Location: Olympic Stadium, Montreal
Result: Duran UD 15
Summary: Duran was the fight fan’s fighter, dominating the lightweight division for years. Leonard was an Olympic gold medalist and a shining favorite of the media. The two collided for Leonard’s WBC welterweight belt and, in a surprising turn of events, Duran lured the younger, larger Leonard into a slugfest. Having never encountered an animal of Duran’s ilk, Leonard lost a 15-round war on points. Duran’s victory brought him briefly to the sport’s peak but he learned that such brilliance is hard to repeat.
SUGAR RAY LEONARD VS. THOMAS HEARNS
Date: Sept. 16, 1981
Location: Caesars Palace, Las Vegas
Result: Leonard KO 14
Summary: After regaining the WBC title from Duran, Leonard’s next challenge came in the form of gargantuan welterweight Tommy “Hitman” Hearns. With the WBA title belt around his own waist, Hearns provided Leonard with an opportunity to unify the two main welterweight titles of the day. After 12 rounds of see-saw action, it seemed as if Leonard’s hope for a victory was slipping away. Desperate, Leonard won the 13th big, then stormed out for the 14th and knocked Hearns out of the ring. The “Hitman” regained his feet but Leonard poured dozens of punches into him until referee Davy Pearl stopped the bout at the 1:45 mark.
LARRY HOLMES VS. GERRY COONEY
Date: June 11, 1982
Location: Caesars Palace, Las Vegas
Result: Holmes KO 13
Summary: The most anticipated heavyweight title fight in years stirred up a lot of ugliness about whites vs. blacks, with WBC titlist Holmes growing bitter that his white opponent was receiving most of the bout’s publicity. It reached a point where security for the bout included police snipers on the rooftops of every nearby venue to quell any potential riot. Once the bell rang, however, the contest was less about racial issues and more about a seasoned professional against a game, but inexperienced prospect. The bout ended at 2:52 of the 13th, when Cooney’s trainer, Victor Valle, signaled that his man had had enough.
MARVELOUS MARVIN HAGLER VS. THOMAS HEARNS
Date: April 15, 1985
Location: Caesars Palace, Las Vegas
Result: Hagler KO 3
Summary: Immediately after losing to Leonard, Hearns sought another challenge to erase his embarrassing defeat. He wanted to fight middleweight champion Hagler, a decision that many believed was unwise. Hearns pulled out with an injury but the bout was made again three years later. It was worth the wait. Hagler, an occasionally prickly character who craved the stardom that had eluded him, waded into Hearns like a wild man. The two traded explosive punches until 1:52 of the third round. By then, Hearns was being carried to his corner and Hagler was a star at last.
JACK DEMPSEY VS. GEORGES CARPENTIER
Date: July 2, 1921
Location: Boyle’s Thirty Acres, Jersey City, N.J.
Result: Dempsey KO 4
Summary: Promoter Tex Rickard searched far and wide for a worthy opponent to meet heavyweight champion Dempsey. The result of Rickard’s search was Georges Carpentier, a French war hero who looked as polished as a movie idol. Matching the war hero against alleged “war slacker” Dempsey created intense interest among fans, many of whom had lost loved ones in World War I. Carpentier’s mystique was compounded by the news that he was practicing a “secret” punch in his training camp. The bout attracted a massive crowd of more than 80,000 and was boxing’s first million-dollar gate but if Carpentier had a secret punch, he kept it to himself. He was stopped easily in what one reporter dubbed “a four-round waltz.”
JOE LOUIS VS. BILLY CONN II
Date: June 19, 1946
Location: Yankee Stadium, New York
Result: Louis KO 8
Summary: Their first bout had been a thriller, won by Louis on a 13th-round KO. The rematch was expected to be another classic but something had happened since the first time Louis and Conn swapped punches, namely, World War II. Each man had spent time away from the ring to help America’s war effort and Conn, especially, had suffered pronounced erosion to his skills and reflexes. Louis had retained enough of his old punch to score an eighth-round knockout but the bout was instantly forgettable.
MIKE TYSON VS. MICHAEL SPINKS
Date: June 27, 1988
Location: Convention Hall, Atlantic City, N.J.
Result: Tyson KO 1
Summary: The richest fight in history up to that time was also the biggest dud. Undefeated Tyson owned three alphabet belts while Spinks was the linear heavyweight champion, having won the belt by beating IBF titlist Larry Holmes. The bout smashed all records as far as grossing money was concerned, even topping the 1987 Super Bowl as the highest-grossing single day sporting event. The fight itself? It stunk. Spinks, who looked entirely psyched out as he stepped into the ring, wilted 91 seconds into the fight.
EVANDER HOLYFIELD VS. BUSTER DOUGLAS
Date: Oct. 25, 1990
Location: The Mirage, Las Vegas
Result: Holyfield KO 3
Summary: Douglas had shocked the world when he defeated Mike Tyson for the heavyweight championship earlier in the year but when he returned to the ring to defend the title against Holyfield he was overweight and under-motivated. Perhaps Douglas lost his incentive to train once he was guaranteed nearly $25 million, the largest purse ever paid to a fighter at the time. He was dropped in the third round, looking like a harpooned whale as he took the referee’s count.
EVANDER HOLYFIELD VS. MIKE TYSON II
Date: June 28, 1997
Location: MGM Grand Garden Arena, Las Vegas
Result: Holyfield W DQ 3
Summary: We may look back at this bizarre bout with a kind of ironic fondness but at the time it was the biggest embarrassment in the history of the sport. The first bout between Holyfield and Tyson was a dramatic, and unexpected, knockout win for Holyfield. The rematch would have the entire boxing world glued to their TV sets. What we saw was a frustrated Tyson get himself disqualified for biting Holyfield’s ears. Tyson was temporarily banned from fighting and mainstream sports fans had a new excuse to ridicule boxing.
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