It is tough business being a sports fan during a pandemic. Approaching the two month mark of pro sports being shut down, it is a tough reminder for us boxing fans that the weekends surrounding Cinco De Mayo are often hosts to boxing marquee Pay-Per- View Events. Need to go back and catch up on some fun fights? Or maybe with your favorite sport on standby you want to dabble in the world of the sweet science but don’t know where to start? Either way, I’ve got you covered

Fair warning before people jump on the keyboard and shit all over my list: these are NOT necessarily my list the 5 greatest fights or in any specific order. These are simply 5 fights that help tell the history of boxing, spark fond memories as a super fan and show a variety of what the sport has to offer. Also, I’ll be providing some historical context to give a glimpse as to what made these fight significant: 

1. Muhammed Ali vs Sonny Liston 2 – 1965

Unless someone recently escaped some type of cult with no books or internet, chances are they have some familiarity with Muhammed Ali. His legacy as an activist, memorable quotes and  his legendary boxing career need no explanation. In a nearly endless collection of memorable bouts, his rematch with Sonny Liston in 1965 is one I routinely go back and watch.

A year prior, Ali (then named Cassius Clay) clobbered Liston to become heavyweight champion of the world after barely turning 22 years old, 4 years removed from winning Olympic Gold in Rome. For comparison, my most memorable moment at 22 years old was waking up after a night of drinking naked in a very upscale Las Vegas Hotel, in a room I am nearly certain was not mine. 

Liston, the defending champion, quit on the stool before round 7. Ali wasn’t exactly humble in victory, and the bad blood between the two escalated.

What makes the fight memorable?

Ali is known for his spectacular defense and a finesse style, so I have always loved tuning into bouts where he finishes opponents and finishes them early. 

The 1st Round KO has produced one of sports most memorable photographs of Ali standing over Liston while referee Jersey Joe Walcott begins his 10 count. There have been countless rumors that Liston took a dive and was not actually knocked out. 

Fans at ringside have said that Ali was yelling at Liston to get up after the punch landed, fearing people were going to think the fight was fake. As a boxing nerd, playing the punch over and over to see how clean it landed is something I’ve spent way too much of my free time doing.

2. Canelo Alvarez vs Gennady Golovkin 1 – 2017

If you could chalk the madness of pro boxing in the 2010’s up to two factors, they would be big fights happening years after they should have been made and outlandish judges scorecards. This fight happens to feature both.

Fuckery aside, the first bout between the two middleweights is wildly entertaining and a great showcase to just how good these two are. Canelo Alvarez became the biggest star in boxing following Floyd Mayweather’s absence, but was beginning to face similar critiques as Mayweather in his career trajectory. He developed a reputation for taking fights with lesser competition for years, but taking a fight with a deadly powerful Eastern European in Gennady Golovkin was celebrated.

What makes the fight memorable? 

This fight was very, VERY close, and never drops off in pace. You’ll see fights with this much hype fall short of expectations (Mayweather vs Pacquiao), but the combination of crafty defense and grit from taking punishment was all on display.

Unfortunately many forget how fun the bout was following incompetent judging. The fight ended in a draw, but “professional” fight judge Adelaide Byrd had scored the fight 118-110, which translates to 10 rounds for Alvarez and only 2 for GGG. Compared to the other two judges who had it scored 115-113 for Golovkin and 114-114, resulting in a draw. It was a black eye for the sport, but the fight itself is unforgettable. 

3. Manny Pacquiao vs Juan Manuel Marquez 4 – 2012

In boxing, if two fighters get booked to throw down 4 times, you know they have kept their fights exciting. 

By 2012, Manny Pacquiao had grown to superstardom. He had 54 pro wins under his belt, beating his opponents in brutal fashion, and was argued by many to be the best in the sport pound for pound. In the middle of his success, he also had this strange phase where he would sing karaoke on live TV which I personally thought was wild, but I guess you can do what you want when you can kick everyone’s ass, right?

Despite Pacquiao’s success, Juan Manuel Marquez had consistently given him trouble in the ring. The two fought three times in 11 years, resulting in a draw and two split decisions which both went Pacquiao’s way. Despite the 2-0-1 record over Marquez, he often spoke of needing a definitive win over him to cement his legacy.

What makes the fight memorable?:

The six round slug fest is a dream scenario for a continuation of the previous 36 rounds these men fought. With Marquez knocking him down In the 3rd round with an overhand right, Pacquiao hit Marquez with a picture perfect left hand in the 5th that knocked Marquez off balance. With the momentum in Pacquiao’s direction, Marquez responded with a buzzer beater overhand right that landed before the end of the 6th, knocking Pacquiao out cold. HBO zooming in on Pacquiao’s wife to get her reaction is some of the saddest shit I’ve ever seen, and it still bothers me when I rewatch this one. Fair warning.

The first definitive loss in a decade against a familiar foe had the making of a Hollywood ending. Marquez fighting tooth and nail in three matchups only to be let down by the judges, had the last laugh, finally ending the bout on his own terms.

4. Marvin Hagler vs Thomas Hearns – 1985

In all of the previous fights on the list, I have explained the significance of the matchups to paint a picture of what was at stake in this fight. That is not necessary at all with Hagler vs Hearns. The three round war is probably the most exciting fight I’ve ever seen second by second. World title fights can be judicious and methodical, as one slip up can cost a fighter a once in a lifetime chance to be a champion. This was certainly not the case here. Epic and short for those with shorter attention spans.

What makes this fight memorable:

This is simply an all out war. Words really cannot do it justice. Three rounds, no quit in either fighter, one of my personal favorites.

5. Ann Wolfe vs Vonda Ward – 2004

For those who are squeamish about violent, horrific knockouts, go ahead and skip this one. There are a few fights in my life where there was real deep concern that a fighter was dead on impact. This was certainly one of those times. 

Ann Wolfe in my opinion the greatest pound-for-pound female fighter of all time. Wolfe often took the toughest matchups available to her, including her fight against 6’6 former University of Tennessee basketball player Vonda Ward, who turned to boxing after basketball was over (The WNBA was not established when she graduated). 

Ward was unbeaten, and Wolfe moved up from 160 to 175 lbs to fight her for the Women’s Light Heavyweight Title.

What makes this fight memorable?:

The fight isn’t much longer than one minute, but the haunting sound of the right hand missle crashing to Ward’s head stays burned in memory. What is amazing Ward suffered that treacherous KO and not only did she not have to retire, she never lost a fight the rest of her career.