40. Gervonta Davis Vs Leo Santa Cruz
October 31, 2020
San Antonio, Texas
There has never been any denying of Gervonta Davis’ skills. At 5’6 and 130-135 pounds, Davis is built like a miniature brick house, thus the nickname “Tank.” What seemed missing was his desire to be great. Halloween night 2020 might be the night Davis turned the corner in his ascent to fistic greatness.
Leo Santa Cruz has always been a solid-to-very-good fighter, winning world titles at 118, 122, 126 and 130 with wins over Carl Frampton and Abner Mares being the most impressive of his career. Going into his fight with Davis, many so called experts actually gave Santa Cruz a legit shot at defeating “Tank.” If both men were on their A games, Davis’ skills would still be vastly superior. That night both men were on their A game. The result: a one-sided massacre.
The first five rounds saw Davis display a master class in body punching. The Baltimore native battered the Mexican warrior with crunching body shots over and over again. Santa Cruz, sensing he was way behind on the scorecards, came out in the sixth round attackIng Davis and was having the best round of the fight when with about 20 seconds left in the round, Davis landed an incredible left uppercut that resulted in Santa Cruz being completely out before collapsing to the canvas. Referee Rafael Ramos immediately called a halt to the fight and Davis proved to the boxing world what he can accomplish when on his A game. The sky is the limit for the Baltimore Tank.
39. George Foreman Vs Ron Lyle
January 24, 1976
Las Vegas, Nevada
Venue: Caesars Palace
After losing his World Heavyweight title to Muhammad Ali in the legendary October 30, 1974 Rumble in the Jungle, Foreman went into seclusion. Instead of attempting to get a rematch with Ali, he instead fought a bizarre exhibition in which he fought five men in one night. That was the only time he stepped into a ring in front of a paid audience until his fight with fellow heavyweight contender Ron Lyle. Lyle also was coming off a loss to Ali. Both men were looking for a rematch with the self-proclaimed greatest. The result was one of the “greatest” fights in the history of the heavyweight division.
The first four rounds were a brutal display of elite heavyweight power punching. Both men were staggered several times by each other’s Herculean punching power. The fourth round was one of the greatest rounds in boxing history as Foreman went down twice and Lyle once. Going into the fifth round, Foreman’s career looked to be in serious jeopardy as he was out in his feet at the end of the fourth. A loss here would be a career killer. The fifth round would be crucial in evaluating Big George’s career.
The drama, and outright brutality, in round five was magnified by the fact that these were two huge men who weighed over 220 pounds hitting each other with sledgehammer shots. Lyle stunned Foreman early in the round with a left uppercut, right cross, left hook combination. Once again, Foreman came roaring back. Both men landed huge right crosses at the same time. Then Lyle staggered Foreman again with a vicious left and right uppercut combination. Foreman came back and landed several right hands that badly hurt Lyle. Lyle was out on his feet and trapped in the corner. Foreman was totally fatigued, yet was able to land over 20 consecutive punches before knocking Lyle down and out to win one of the most brutal fights in heavyweight history.
Lyle never had another marquee fight, although he did win 12 of his last 15 fights, including four at the ripe old age of 54 years old. A convicted murderer at the age of 19, Lyle was involved in another murder while living in Las Vegas. He was accused of murdering his roommate. Lyle was eventually acquitted by reason of self defense. After his knockout of Lyle, Foreman would lose a year later to Jimmy Young. Immediately after the fight, Foreman claimed he saw Jesus Christ in his dressing room and that Jesus told him to retire and be a servant to God. Foreman became an ordained minister. In 1987, at the age of 38, Foreman began his comeback. Initially, it was to raise needed capital to fund a community center for underprivileged inner city kids in his hometown of Houston, Texas. The rest, as they say, is history.
38. 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 is a derogatory term in Spanish for a homosexual. Rumors throughout his career, though never proven, had spread that Griffith was a closet homosexual. That in no doubt sparked an already burning flame inside Griffith’s body. The first 11 rounds of the fight saw a normally cerebral Griffith fight like a man possessed. It was as though he wanted to prove to Paret and the world his manhood. It was boxing barbarism at either at its best or worst, depending on your outlook.
After a ninth round where the intensity of the hatred for both men resulted in the most savage round ever fought in the history of the 147-pound division, Paret looked to be completely gassed. 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, never refereed another fight.
37. Naseem Hamed Vs Kevin Kelley
December 19, 1997
New York City
Venue: Madison Square Garden
In my 40 years of following the sport of boxing, I’ve never seen a fighter come to the United States with more hype than Prince Naseem Hamed. Hamed, a brash British fighter of Yemeni ancestry, in the weeks leading up to his American debut at Madison Square Garden, had his face on several billboards throughout New York City. He had all the charisma in the world and despite being a Featherweight standing only 5’3”, he hit like a mule. I took my father to see his debut that night against a native of the Flushing, Queens section of New York, Kevin Kelley. My father and I were disappointed that Kelley was given no chance and no publicity going into the biggest fight of his life. Kelley was a former World Featherweight Champion and had suffered only one defeat in 50 professional fights. Despite his shiny resume, the boxing media was expecting an easy night for Hamed’s American debut. My father and I knew better.
Hamed was the reigning WBO World Featherweight titleholder. Since he was the champion, his ring entrance was last. Hamed came out to the most incredulous ring entrance I’d ever seen, complete with doing a flip into the ring. The Garden fans were eating it up. Except for my father and I. We weren’t impressed with all the pomp and circumstance. We were there to finally see if Hamed could beat a world class fighter. He had defeated several second rate fighters in England. Kelley was the perfect test to see if the Prince was for real.
Kelley proved to be a more than worthy American debut opponent as he dropped Hamed twice in the first three rounds. Hamed in turn had also knocked down Kelley once. The Garden was raucous as we were witnessing one of the greatest fights ever held in the boxing cathedral. The best was yet to come.
Round four was one of the most incredible rounds I’ve ever seen live in an arena. Early into the round, Hamed landed a crisp double left cross that dropped Kelley for the second time in the fight. Less than 20 seconds later, Kelley scored a flash knockdown with a short right hook. Then, almost immediately, Hamed landed a left cross bomb that was the biggest punch of the fight. Kelley went down with a thud. He got up on very unsteady legs. This forced referee Benjy Esteves to immediately stop the fight. Hamed survived a war and was a major hit in New York City. My father wasn’t impressed. He acknowledged that Hamed had inhuman power, but defensively he would be easy pickings for an accurate counterpuncher.
Kelley was never the same after that night. He would lose eight of his next 21 fights before finally retiring in 2009. Hamed would dominate the Featherweight division until he ran into legendary Mexican boxer Marco Antonio Barrera. My father had died during the summer of 2000. He didn’t get a chance to see his prediction come true. Barrera totally dominated Hamed that night. He countered Hamed’s unorthodox wild charges all night and easily won a 12 round decision. Hamed fought one more time before retiring at the tender age of 28. Barrera had taken his heart and hunger.
36. Leotis Martin Vs Sonny Liston
December 6, 1969
Las Vegas, Nevada
Venue: International Hotel and Casino
This fight will be over and with it the career of Charles Sonny Liston.
This is one of the greatest calls in boxing history as made by Howard Cosell on the day Sonny Liston was knocked out by Leotis Martin, which for all intents and purposes ended a very controversial and storied career of the former Heavyweight Champion of the World.
Liston’s conquerer was a consistent Heavyweight contender from 1965-1969. Losses to Oscar Bonavena, Henry Clark and Jimmy Ellis all occurred when he was approaching a world title opportunity. Liston himself was riding a 14-fight winning streak after his March 25, 1965 controversial first round knockout to Muhammad Ali in their second fight. Both Martin and Liston were fighting for one final chance at a Heavyweight World Title opportunity.
Similar to Archie Moore, the age of Sonny Liston was always in question. At the time of the Martin fight, Liston was allegedly between the ages of 37 and 39 years old. Martin was a much younger 30 years old and used his much more youthful legs to his advantage. The first seven rounds were completely dominated by the former Heavyweight Champion Liston with his battering ram of a jab and crippling punching power. In the fourth round, Liston dropped Martin with a left hook and almost finished him. Despite total dominance, Liston was very fatigued going into the eighth round.
Round eight was when Martin began to step it up. He began using his own potent left jab more and landed several clean combinations on the aging ex-champion. Liston’s vaunted punching power had decreased sufficiently due to fatigue. Martin’s eighth round onslaught resulted in serious cuts to both Liston’s nose and mouth. Martin had severe swelling to both of his eyes from the earlier beating Liston administered, but at the moment it wasn’t hampering his ability to hammer Liston.
The ninth round was a continuation of the eighth when Martin landed a picture perfect right cross, left hook, right cross combination that staggered Liston and Liston fell face first like a proverbial tree. Referee Mike Kaplan counted to ten as Liston laid prone face-first on the canvas. As Cosell so brilliantly stated while calling the fight for ABC Wide World Sports, the career of Sonny Liston was over. A year later, Liston would be found dead by his wife, the victim of a heroin overdose. Although it was ruled by the Las Vegas coroner’s office as a heroin overdose caused by Liston’s alleged drug use, there have been serious allegations that Liston was murdered and the murderers made it look like the heroin was self inflicted. It was a tragic ending to one of the most controversial figures in boxing history.
After scoring the biggest win of his career, Leotis Martin’s career was over as well. Martin suffered a detach retina in the Liston fight, forcing Martin to retire at the age of 30. Martin spent the next 26 years as a machinist before tragically dying of a stroke at the age of 56.