50. Gene Fullmer Vs Carmen Basilio I
August 28, 1959
San Francisco, CA
Venue: Cow Palace
Going into this fight, boxing fans were salivating at the potential fireworks this matchup would bring. Fullmer and Basilio were both aggressive fighters with tremendous chins and stamina. They were both former undisputed Middleweight Champions, and both had won and lost the 160-pound crown against the incomparable Sugar Ray Robinson. The National Boxing Association stripped Robinson of their portion of the title because he hadn’t defended the title in almost 18 months, making this winner of this highly anticipated fight the NBA 160-pound world champion.
Fullmer shocked boxing fans and media that night by boxing. He stayed on the outside and relied on movement and an excellent left jab. The first five rounds was thoroughly dominated by Fullmer as he brilliantly used Basilio’s aggressive nature against him. Only on a couple of occasions was Basilio able to lure Fullmer into heated exchanges within the first five rounds. Fullmer swept the first five rounds and was content to win by decision if need be.
Beginning in round six, both men began engaging in several toe to toe exchanges. The sixth round was the first round in which Basilio was able to land big shots to both the body and head. Unfortunately, he was unable to hurt or bother Fullmer with any of his power shots. While Basilio landed his hardest shots and had his best success between rounds six and eight, Fullmer was also landing with incredible shots and was getting the better of the exchanges. The middle rounds also saw Fullmer use his superior size and strength advantages and begin to wear Basilio down. Fullmer was 5’8” and a natural 160-pound fighter. Basilio stood 5’6” and had only moved to the Middleweight division two years prior to this fight.
Rounds nine and 10 saw Fullmer stagger Basilio several times with wicked right crosses. Basilio had no answer for Fullmer’s offense. After 10 rounds, you’d be hard pressed to give Basilio more than two. He was woefully behind and needed a knockout to win. The more aggressive Basilio would become, the more counterpunching opportunities the sharp punching Fullmer would get.
Despite having Basilio badly hurt in round 10, Fullmer went back to boxing in the 11th. A desperate Basilio was unable to avoid Fullmer’s stiff left jabs or accurate counters. By round 13, you could see that Basilio was totally winded and woefully behind on the judges scorecard. Seconds into the 14th round, Fullmer landed a classic left jab, right cross combination that badly buckled Basilio. Seconds later, Basilio’s legendary trainer, a very young Angelo Dundee, came into the ring at the same time referee Jack Downey was about to stop the fight. It was one of the greatest one-sided fights in boxing history. Basilio received an immediate rematch and was defeated even more convincingly, this time being stopped in 12 rounds by Fullmer. Basilio retired after one more fight. Fullmer would go on to defeat Robinson and draw with him in subsequent rematches. He lost the NBA 160 pound title in a unification fight with legendary Nigerian fighter Dick Tiger before finally retiring after two unsuccessful rematches in 1963. Both Basilio and Fullmer lived into their 80s.
49. Tony Canzoneri Vs Kid Chocolate I
New York City
Venue: Madison Square Garden
Coming into their historic matchup, Tony Canzoneri and Kid Chocolate were easily two of the best fighters in the world. Canzoneri was both the NBA World Lightweight and Super Lightweight Champion. Chocolate was the Undisputed Jr. Lightweight Champion of the World. A packed Madison Square Garden was on hand to see one of the most incredible fights of the 1930s and one of the few from that era in which the entire footage is available.
Both Canzoneri’s and Chocolate’s styles were unorthodox as they both fought with both their hands low and had incredible hand speed. Canzoneri was a brawler ala Jack Dempsey sans the brutal punching power. Many boxing historians credit the Cuban legend Chocolate as the first boxer to dance and move with the grace of a ballerina. The great Sugar Ray Robinson is said to have based his style by emulating the Cuban maestro. With the classic boxer vs. brawler matchup, MSG fans were in for a treat. They weren’t disappointed.
The first two rounds saw both combatants engage in several toe to toe exchanges. Canzoneri kept the pressure on and in my opinion, scored the more effective punches in two incredible, action packed rounds. Rounds three to five saw the action stay mostly outside, where it was controlled by Chocolate’s jab. Canzoneri was briefly stunned by a tremendous right uppercut he walked into in round six. Canzoneri would walk in without the use of a jab and with his hands down and except for getting caught with that uppercut, he failed to pay a greater price for his ultra aggressive style. Rounds seven and eight saw the action continue to go back and forth with Canzoneri for the first time landing to the Cuban star’s body.
Rounds nine and 10 saw Canzoneri out-hustle a noticeably fatigued Chocolate. Round 11 once again saw incredible toe-to-toe action as both fighters landed one bomb after another. Round 12 saw Canzoneri once again out-hustle Chocolate by outmuscling Chocolate inside and raking his ribs with ferocious body shots. Round 13 was another round of incredible toe-to-toe action. The 14th was the only round in the second half of the fight that was clearly won by Chocolate. Both men gave it their all in the 15th and final round as they battered each other for almost the entire three minutes, which was apropos for such a sensational fight.
Canzoneri won a well-earned split decision and regained both his Lightweight and Super Lightweight crowns. Chocolate’s Jr. Lightweight title was not on the line. The two would meet in a rematch two years later, with Canzoneri destroying Chocolate in the second round. Both men continued to have tremendous success, as they both won over 136 fights and were inducted into the inaugural International Boxing Hall Of Fame class of 1990.
48. Salvador Sánchez Vs Wilfredo Gómez
August 21, 1981
Las Vegas, NV
Venue: Caesars Palace
In the history of boxing, there has never been a greater national rivalry than between fighters from Mexico and Puerto Rico. The biggest fight ever between fighters of these proud Latin American countries occurred in the summer of 1981 between arguably the greatest fighters ever to come from both countries; Salvador Sánchez and Wilfredo Gómez. I am of Puerto Rican descent. Most boxing fans tend to gravitate towards fighters of their ethnicity. My father was an ex-amateur boxer who used to take me to all the big fights back then and we’d watch them in a theater on closed circuit. That night we saw the fight at the historic Puerto Rico Theater in the notorious South Bronx section of New York City. The South Bronx population, since the mid-seventies, has been over 50 percent Puerto Rican. That night, the theater was packed with nothing but Gómez supporters. It was one of the rowdiest crowds I’d ever been a part of.
“The Battle of the Little Giants” was held in front of over 20,000 fans in a makeshift arena outside Caesars Palace’s parking lot. Both Sánchez and Gómez were paid a million dollars each, a then record for a 126-pound title fight. Sánchez was the defending WBC Featherweight Champion, making his sixth defense of his title with a record of 40 wins against only one loss and draw. Gómez was the reigning WBC Super Bantamweight Champion with a superlative record of 32 wins, no losses and one draw. All of his wins were by knockout. Sánchez was a beautiful boxer who never wasted any movement inside the ring. Gómez was a boxer puncher who boxed according to his opponents’ style and had one of the greatest right crosses in boxing history. The fight began with an explosion.
Gómez came out firing in the first round and every one of his punches had murderous intent. Sánchez calmly boxed from the outside, and he being one of the greatest counterpunchers of all-time, used Gómez’s aggression to his advantage, landing his smooth as silk left jab at will. Towards the end of the round, Gómez had Sánchez trapped against the ropes when he walked into a booming left hook. Gomez went down and both my father and I yelled “Get up, Gómez!” Luckily for Gómez, this happened at the end of the round or he would’ve been knocked out by the cerebral Sanchez.
The next three rounds saw tremendous action as Gomez had a look of desperation coming out his corner for the second round. He abandoned his excellent jab and stalked and several times was able to trap Sánchez against the ropes. Sánchez, one of the calmest fighters I’ve ever seen, successfully fought off the ropes and out-landed Gómez while the two were inside. When the fight was outside, Sánchez dominated with his outstanding jab and counter punching. Sánchez was 5’7” and Gómez stood an inch and a half inch shorter, but in the ring that night, Sánchez looked considerably taller. After the end of the fourth round, Gómez’s right eye was beginning to close and his cheekbones were swelling badly.
Gómez was having an excellent fifth round until once again, late in the round, Sánchez while on the ropes, stunned Gómez with a sharp right cross and left hook combination. Gómez staggered back to his corner with his right eye all but closed. The fans in attendance at the Puerto Rico Theater were eerily silent. My father wanted to leave, but I refused. I was still hoping that Gómez would find a miracle. There were no miracles that night. After taking a thorough beating in rounds six and seven, Sánchez hurt Gómez with a devastating right cross in the eighth round and almost knocked Gómez out the ring after landing several uncontested shots. Gómez gamely got up at the count of five, but referee Carlos Padilla wisely stopped the fight. I couldn’t sleep that night as my fellow Puerto Rican took a beating and lost, but I had gained admiration and respect for the man who beat him. That was the night I saw the greatest Mexican fighter I’ve ever seen put on a magical display of boxing. I will discuss these two more in later fights.
47. Emile Griffith Vs Benny Paret III
March 24, 1962
New York City
Venue: Madison Square Garden
There have been several heated rivalries throughout the annals of boxing history. None were more vicious or personal than the Emile Griffith-Benny Paret rivalry. It was a rivalry that went beyond the ring. It was a rivalry that became very personal, and ultimately, fatal.
Griffith and Paret had traded the undisputed Welterweight Championship of the World in their first two encounters. Griffith knocked out Paret on April 1, 1961 in 13 rounds to win the 147-pound title. Paret regained the title six months later by split decision. The first two fights were in their own right incredible fights. Griffith was the superior boxer and counterpuncher, while Paret was the slugger with the iron chin and heart of a lion. After regaining the title, Paret moved up in weight to face NBA World Middleweight titleholder Gene Fullmer. He was too slow and too small and took a horrific beating before being knocked out in the 10th round. Then, instead of taking time off to recuperate from such a beating, three months later he was back in the ring for his rubber match against Griffith.
During the weigh-in, Paret called Griffith “maricon” which a derogatory term in Spanish for a homosexual. Rumors had spread throughout his career that Griffith was a closet homosexual. That in no doubt sparked an already burning flame inside Griffith’s body. The first five rounds of their third encounter saw Griffith savagely attack Paret. Griffith was always a tactical boxer, but Paret had gotten into his head. The first five rounds were some of the most savage rounds in boxing history, as both men stood toe to toe and landed ferocious shots to each other’s heads. All three judges gave Griffith the first five rounds, and he clearly had landed more than Paret and his punches were more brutal.
At the start of the sixth round, Griffith attempted to box from the outside and he was controlling the action. If Griffith had stayed outside from that point on, he undoubtedly would’ve won a decision. Yet, late in the sixth round, he began slugging with Paret again and Griffith walked into a crushing left hook. It was only the second time in his career that he was knocked down. Griffith got up at the count of eight and was lucky that the bell rang before he could absorb any additional punishment.
In the seventh round, both men staggered each other with right crosses. After an uneventful eighth round, the ninth round was incredible. Both men landed with incredible intensity in one of the greatest rounds in the history of the welterweight division. The 10th round was the turning point of the fight. Midway through the round, Griffith stunned Paret with a crackling right cross and battered him for the rest of the round. Paret had nothing left as he was listless in the 11th round. Then came the fatal 12th round.
With approximately a minute left in the 12th round, Griffith landed the most potent punch of the fight, a right cross that literally lifted Paret off his feet. Griffith had Paret trapped in the corner and then began to land over 20 consecutive flush shots to a lifeless Paret. Finally, referee Ruby Goldstein stepped in and stopped the fight, but it was too late. Paret slipped into a coma and died ten days later.
Despite winning several world titles and beating all-time great fighters like Luis Rodriguez, Nino Benvenuti and Dick Tiger after that fateful night, Griffith was never the same fighter. He never fought with the same passion and fire. It’s understandable, and the fact that he was homosexual and had to hide his sexual orientation because he would’ve been ridiculed and blackballed from the sport he loved, ate away at him. While an incredible fight, it was a fight that claimed many victims; Paret’s life, Griffith’s soul and Goldstein, who was so distraught over his actions he never refereed another fight.
46. Israel Vázquez Vs Rafael Márquez II
August 4, 2007
Carson City, CA
Venue: Home Depot Center
No Latin American country has had as rich a history in boxing as Mexico. There have been many great rivalries between Mexican greats and the Israel Vázquez-Rafael Márquez rivalry ranks right near the top of the list. Márquez, along with his brother Juan Manuel under the guidance of legendary Mexican trainer Nacho Beristan, formed one of the greatest brother acts that ever existed in boxing. Like his brother, Rafael was one of the great counterpunchers of his era. After reigning supreme as IBF World Bantamweight for four years, Rafael moved up to fight WBC Super Bantamweight Champion Vázquez and wrested the title away when Vázquez quit in his corner after round seven on March 3, 2007. That fight was an incredible fight that just missed making my list of the 50 greatest fights of all-time. The sequel five months later was even better.
Márquez and Márquez were made to fight each other. Vázquez was a tremendous boxer-puncher whose signature punch was a left hook the the liver. The first two rounds of the rematch saw Vázquez land that punch several times while Márquez landed several stinging counters. By the end of the second round, both fighters were severely cut; Vázquez above his right eye and Márquez below his right eye. During the third round, Vázquez staggered Márquez with a tremendous left hook to the chin. Marquez came back and the fourth and fifth rounds were incredible back and forth action by two highly skilled fighters. At the end of five rounds, both men were bleeding profusely. There was no way this war was going to continue much further.
At the very beginning of the sixth round, Vázquez dropped Márquez with a vicious left hook. Márquez got up and was in deep trouble. Márquez tried to fight his way out of trouble, but that was to no avail. Vázquez, while blood poured from both eyes, battered Márquez for the next minute or so when referee Jose Guadalupe Garcia stopped the fight. Márquez regained his title in one of the most incredible fights ever held in the Bantamweight division. The two would immediately engage in a third and final fight seven months later. That fight will be discussed later on in the series.