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Greatest Knockouts in Boxing History: 25-21

greatest knockouts in boxing history

Robert Silva is counting down the greatest knockouts of all-time. Here are the previous lists in case you need to catch up:

50-46
45-41
40-36
35-31

30-26

Onto the top 25…


25: James Toney Vs Michael Nunn

May 10, 1991
Davenport, Iowa
Venue: John O’Donnell Stadium

Going into his fifth defense of his IBF world middleweight title versus a then virtual unknown James Toney, Michael Nunn was considered no worse than the second best fighter in the world. Nunn had dominated the 160-pound division for the three years prior and had hired legendary trainer Angelo Dundee in an effort to heighten his marketability to casual boxing fans. Nunn was a huge 20-1 favorite over the Ann Arbor, Michigan native Toney in a fight that would take place in Nunn’s hometown of Davenport, Iowa.

At the time my father and I were watching this fight, neither one of us had ever heard of Toney. Yes, he had a shiny undefeated record, but we had never seen him fight and we speculated that he wasn’t as good as his lofty record suggested. For the first seven rounds, he proved us right. Toney followed Nunn around the ring and missed a ton of shots while Nunn moved and controlled the fight with his swift right jab. After seven rounds, Toney needed a knockout to win.

Rounds eight-to-ten saw Toney finally begin to land what the announcers claimed was his signature punch, the right cross. Nunn was visibly showing signs of fatigue but had yet to stop moving. A minute into round 11, Toney was landing his right cross more and more. Then, all of a sudden, with a little more than over a minute in the round, Nunn walked into a spectacular left hook by Toney. Nunn hit the canvas like he had been shot by an assault rifle. My father and I were shocked to see Nunn actually get up at the count of nine on very rubbery legs. Referee Dennis Nelson allowed the fight to continue, but Nunn was done. Toney chopped the listless Nunn down with three straight bombs. As soon as Nunn went down, Dundee threw in the towel. A new star in boxing had been born.

Toney went on to arguably be one of the 10 best fighters of the last 30 years, winning world titles at super middleweight and crusierweight and winning a version of the heavyweight title before the title was given back to John Ruiz because of testing positive for use of steroids. He is eligible to be voted into the Hall of Fame this month. For more on Toney’s career, you can read my essay on him.

Nunn’s career never came close to the heights it was expected to after his dramatic loss to Toney. He would win a version of the 168-pound title for a brief run and was still fighting at age 39 when he was arrested for attempting to buy cocaine from an undercover cop. It was revealed during the ensuing trial that Nunn was involved in drug dealing since 1993. He was convicted and served 15 years in prison before being released in August of 2019.

24: Simon Brown Vs Terry Norris I

December 18, 1993
Puebla, Mexico
Venue: Estadio Cuauhtemoc

Going into the ring on a hot night in Mexico to defend his WBC super welterweight title versus former welterweight champion Simon Brown, Terry Norris had been on a mercurial roll since knocking out John Mugabi on March 31, 1990 to win the title. Since winning the title, which is chronicled in an earlier article I wrote, Norris had defeated a slew of ex 147-pound champions such as Sugar Ray Leonard, Donald Curry, Meldrick Taylor and Maurice Blocker. None of these fights were competitive as Norris wiped the canvas with each one of the former champions. Norris was a 7-1 favorite to do the same to Brown. Brown had other plans.

After losing his 147-pound title to Buddy McGirt in November of 1991, Brown went on a five-fight winning streak against less than stellar competition. My father and I didn’t think the 30-year-old Brown had the speed anymore to compete with the 26-year-old champion. We figured Norris would move side-to-side, dizzying Brown with angles before finishing him off. What we didn’t take into consideration was how complacent Norris had gotten in his recent fights. He had become increasingly aggressive and continued so in the first three rounds of his fight with Brown. This gave Brown several openings at Norris’s fragile chin.

Right before the end of the third round, Brown badly stunned Norris with a right cross that had Norris stumbling back to his corner at the bell. Norris was still not right when round four began. Both men were engaging in fierce exchanges when a minute into the round Brown landed a chopping right cross that dropped the already loopy Norris face first to the canvas. My father screamed “That’s it!” Referee Jose Guadalupe then counted a severely concussed Norris out. It was of the most shocking upsets in the history of the 154-pound division.

Norris would regain the title in a rematch five months later. Norris wisely boxed from the outside and won a relatively easy decision. Brown, as chronicled in our previous list, would never be the same after getting knocked out by Vincent Pettway a year later. Norris would again lose his title in his very next fight via disqualification to Luis Santana before once again regaining the title. After another six successful defenses, Norris would suffer a severe beating in December of 1997, losing his title to Keith Mullings. After two more brutal defeats, Norris retired at the age of 31.

23: Roy Jones Vs Montell Griffin II

August 7, 1997
Manshantucket, Connecticut
Venue: Foxwoods Resort

The single worst decision that ever occurred on any level in boxing, amateur or pro, happened at the 1988 Seoul Olympics when Roy Jones was robbed of the light middleweight gold medal after beating up the South Korean representative Park Si-Hun for every second of the entire three rounds. This nightmare repeated itself the night of March 21, 1997 in Jones’s first title defense against Montell Griffin. Jones inadvertently hit Griffin with a combination after Griffin took a knee. Immediately, Griffin appeared to put on the acting performance of a lifetime, as he appeared to feign unconsciousness, which resulted in Jones being disqualified and losing his title to Griffin. It would be an understatement to say Roy was furious at how he lost his title and undefeated pro record. It would motivate him to put on one of the most destructive knockouts in boxing history.

Jones received an immediate rematch against Griffin on August 7, 1997. Just seconds into the fight, Jones landed three left hook bombs, the third of which knocked Griffin into the ropes, resulting in referee Arthur Mercante ruling a knockdown. Jones then, not unlike a tiger out for blood, kept firing his signature left hook until he landed another leaping left hook that completing concussed Griffin. Griffin tried getting up twice from that punch but stumbled down twice before being counted out. Jones’s second reign at 175 pounds would commence. It was the beginning of a seven-year reign that was probably the most dominating title reign in the history of the division, a reign that I recently chronicled.

Griffin became the proverbial 175-pound gatekeeper the rest of his career as in order to prove you were a legitimate contender to the title you had to defeat him. Griffin retired in 2011 at the age of 41, accomplishing what no one else did: he defeated Roy Jones in his prime. No matter how tainted the victory was, that’s an achievement that can never be taken away.

22. Iran Barkley Vs Thomas Hearns

June 6, 1988
Las Vegas, Nevada
Venue: Hilton Hotel

Thomas Hearns is without a doubt one of the five greatest offensive fighters in boxing history. Every punch that is designed in a textbook, the “Hitman” excelled at throwing. His most lethal weapons were his pulsating left jab and a right cross that felt like granite when it landed. Going into his first WBC world middleweight title defense against Barkley, my father and I knew Barkley would be a dangerous fight because of the great chin the Bronx challenger possessed. The only way to defeat Hearns was to slug it out with him and knock him out. What my father and I didn’t add to the equation was the fact that Barkley had extra motivation to win that night. His best friend had just died tragically.

Three days before Barkley was to engage in the biggest fight of his career, his longtime and closest friend, former WBA super welterweight champion Davey Moore, had died tragically while attempting to stop an unoccupied car rolling down his driveway. Moore slipped on the wet ground and was pinned underneath the Dodge Raider while it rolled downhill, killing him instantly. In the history of sports, athletes have performed at monumental levels after losing loved ones. Barkley was no exception.

Despite his heavy heart, Barkley went on with the fight. The first two rounds saw Hearns beat Barkley’s face like a drum. My father and I attended Madison Square Garden that night to see this fight on closed circuit. My father was heavily intoxicated and extremely vociferous in his joy at the brutal beating Hearns was administering to Barkley. I was laughing my ass off as well. It was only a matter of time before this massacre would come to an end. I was right, but not in the way I anticipated.

With a minute left in round three, Hearns was pouring it on a bloody and battered Barkley when he made a monumental mistake. Hearns backed straight out with both hands down after throwing a punch and was caught flat footed with a wicked double right cross that dropped Hearns. My father started screaming and my heart dropped. Miraculously, Hearns got up but was in no condition to continue, yet referee Richard Steele allowed the fight to continue. Barkley quickly pounced on his wounded prey and procedure to knock Hearns through the ropes. Steele immediately stopped the fight and Barkley scored one of the greatest come from behind knockouts in the history of boxing.

Barkley and Hearns fought again four years later, this time for Hearns’s WBA light heavyweight title. It was a barbaric contest as both men landed one bomb after another. Hearns, after being knocked down early in the fight, showed incredible intestinal fortitude in evenly battling Barkley over 12 intense rounds. Ultimately, it was the knockdown that swung the fight in Barkley’s favor as he won via split decision. It would be the last significant fight of either men’s career.

Both men fought way past their primes. Hearns, because of his left jab and right hand, only lost once before finally retiring at the age of 48. Barkley would lose 12 of his last 14 fights before he retired at 39. At one point, Barkley ended up homeless on the streets of New York City. However, with the assistance of fellow brethren like Hearns, he was able to turn his life around and currently has stable employment and housing. Without a doubt, Davey Moore is looking down on him beaming with pride on Iran being a warrior both inside and outside the squared circle.

21. Sergio Martinez Vs Paul Williams II

November 20, 2010
Atlantic City, New Jersey
Venue: Boardwalk Hall

When Sergio Martinez and Paul Williams fought each other for the first time on December 5, 2009, it was an action fight between two of the most avoided fighters of that era. Williams narrowly won the 12-round decision, yet it was Martinez who got the shot at the reigning WBC, WBO and Ring middleweight champion Kelly Pavlik. Martinez capitalized by boxing and countering brilliantly, resulting in winning a convincing unanimous decision and capturing all of Pavlik’s 160-pound titles. Martinez did the right thing by making his first title defense against Williams. What happened that night in Atlantic City was nothing less than shocking.

Martinez was a former Argentinian soccer player who successfully turned his 5’10, 155-pound frame into a fleet-footed southpaw boxer with amazing hand speed. Williams, also a southpaw, was a 6’1 aggressive boxer/puncher who utilized his size and strength to outmuscle his opponents. These tactics were vital in Williams eking out the decision in the first fight. Round one of the rematch was a continuation of the first fight as both men went straight at each and landed several big left crosses. It looked to be another classic confrontation between the two southpaws.

Round two was more of the same. Then, exactly a minute into the round, Williams walked into a pulverizing Martinez left cross that completely made Williams body limp as he crashed face first to the canvas. Williams laid motionless on his stomach as referee Earl Morton counted to 10. Morton could have counted to 100 as Williams laid unconscious for approximately 90 seconds. Martinez gained revenge for this previous lost to Williams in the most dramatic way possible. It was the continuation of a four-year reign for Sergio Martinez as a dominant 160-pound champion until June 7, 2014 when he lost his title to Miguel Cotto. Martinez was now 39 with two fragile knees, so he wisely retired immediately after losing his title. Inexplicably, Martinez is in the midst of a comeback today at the age of 45.

Less than two years after his devastating loss to Martinez, Williams signed to fight Canelo Alvarez in a mega fight scheduled for September of 2012. Unfortunately, that fight never came to fruition as in May 27, 2012, Williams crashed his motorcycle while attempting to avoid a car in traffic. Williams was vaulted approximately 50 feet into the air and landed on the pavement with a sickening thud. Miraculously, Williams survived, but not before becoming permanently paralyzed from the waist down. He was only 31 years of age at the time of this unfortunate life changing injury. Today, Williams is the owner of a boxing gym and rental properties in North Augusta, South Carolina. Despite the devastating end to a wonderful boxing career, Williams has prospered financially.

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