This weekend’s Golovkin-Alvarez big bash at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas might just be the best match-up of this millennium, thus far.
Nevertheless, Glynn Evans claims it’ll need to go some to eclipse this quintet of middleweight mauls from yesteryear.
5. Nigel Benn v Chris Eubank I, November 1990, Birmingham
[Image credit: Daily Mail]
WBO champ Benn was a volcano of violence, an ex squaddie full of snarls and frosty stares; adored by Britain’s fight frat for viciously spanking a series of top Yanks in their own yard. Conversely, pantomime villain Eubank, all monocle and jodhpurs, had an unrivalled flair for self-promotion but was largely ridiculed by the fancy for his eccentricities and certainly unproven at top level.
A 12,500 sell-out rammed into the NEC most hoping, most expecting, to see the Brighton braggart receive a very public comeuppance. But while Eubank’s ‘Simply the Best’ entrance music was sabotaged (to much mirth!), he proved remarkably composed and clinical in the face of Benn’s frenzied onslaughts.
Eubank almost choked on his own blood after biting his tongue following a particularly meaty Benn uppercut in round four but ‘The Dark Destroyer’ failed to dent his anvil like chin and indomitable spirit. By round nine, the champion was fighting on fumes and with one eye completely closed, courtesy of Eubank’s clubbing counters. As Benn stumbled uncontrollably into the ropes, referee Richard Steele rescued him from his own inexhaustible valour.
‘He almost killed me!’ declared Eubank from mid ring, prior to making a successful proposal to girlfriend Karron, on live TV. Steele, third man for Hagler-Hearns five years before, added it was ‘the most dramatic fight I’ve ever witnessed’.
4. Sugar Ray Robinson v Carmen Basilio, September 1957, New York
[Image credit: The Fight City]
Syracuse onion farmer Basilio was a humble but fiercely proud warlord who held a deep resentment of Robinson after the charismatic Harlem showman gave him short shrift when Carmen approached to exchange pleasantries on a Manhattan sidewalk a few years earlier.
Formerly a US Marine, Basilio might have been the best conditioned athlete ever to dip between the ropes. And he needed every ounce of his toughness and tenacity to stave off the sharpshooting Sugarman, en route to becoming only the second reigning world welter champ to annex the 160lb crown. Ironically, Robinson was the first.
Conceding six pounds and four inches, crouching Carmen drove himself through a storm to outhustle Robinson after 15 epic rounds, watched by 38, 072 at Yankee Stadium. It was undeniably close after Ray made a late surge to rescue his crown but Basilio bossed a brutal final round to nail a split decision.
Their rematch six months after was equally epic and similarly close with Robinson exacting revenge.
3. Harry Greb v Mickey Walker, July 1925, New York
[Image credit: Boxing News online]
‘Human Windmill’ Greb, the defending champion, and New Jersey’s Walker, the reigning world welter king, fought like wildcats for fifteen, before 60,000 at the Polo Grounds, with the entire $375,000 gate receipts donated to the Italian Hospital Fund. The exchanges were so frenetic that referee Eddie Purdy was felled twice and left the ring limping!
Twenty-four year old Walker, known as ‘The Toy Bulldog’, dominated from distance during the early rounds. However, once Greb – seven years older and seven pounds heavier – took the fight to close quarters, his guns proved too heavy. He left Walker ‘tipsy’ in the penultimate round but the Irish-American rallied to take the last. While Walker conceded the closest of decisions, he significantly enhanced his standing.
And that was only half the tale. Lore has it that, following copious alcohol consumption, the adversaries inadvertently crossed paths later that evening outside Manhattan’s Silver Slipper nightclub. Initially cordial, Greb took exception to Walker’s snipes that he only prevailed by resorting to illicit means.
In the process of removing his jacket, Greb’s conquest sucker punched him, instigating a sixteenth round, sans gloves. It took a passing policeman, armed with a locust club and the threat of custody, to restore order!
2. Tony Zale v Rocky Graziano, July 1947, Chicago
[Image credit: NY Daily News]
‘If there wasn’t a ref, one of us would’ve wound up dead!’ declared ‘D’Rock’ after prevailing by stoppage following six hellacious rounds, in this middle fight of their fabled trilogy.
The principals were polar opposites. ‘Man of Steel’ Zale was a WW2 veteran and blue collar hero from the steel town of Gary, Indiana. Conversely, outside NYC where he was revered, Graziano was vilified as an ill disciplined army defector who’d ‘spewed’ in round six of their initial encounter, having bossed the opening five sessions.
But the pride of the Lower East Side atoned with interest in the sequel, before 18, 547 at Chicago Stadium. Graziano’s left eye was badly sliced in round two, he was brutally pounded and grounded in round three and his right eye was swollen shut from the fourth. However, he was given a lifeline by Jewish cornerman ‘Whitey’ Bimstein who partially restored vision by slitting the swelling with coin!
Despite all his foibles, ‘Rock –a-bye’ Rocky was one of the biggest single shot executioners in ring history and he'd found his radar to dramatically turn the fight in round six. Roundhouse rights toppled teak tough Tony and a follow up barrage left him draped defenceless between the ropes, prompting referee Johnny Behr to stop the slaughter with 2:10 showing on the clock.
1. Marvelous Marvin Hagler v Tommy Hearns, April 1985, Las Vegas
[Image credit: Ringside Report]
‘The War’ was unquestionably the greatest fight in middleweight history and a serious contender for the greatest fight, period. Fabled Boxing News editor Harry Mullan, a ringside observer, was incapable of making notes because his hands were trembling from the unbridled violence!
Shaven headed Hagler, a study of menace, had reigned for almost five years, stopping nine of his ten challengers. However, the sole survivor, Roberto Duran, had been rendered unconscious within two rounds by Hearns’ atomic right hand, just ten months earlier. Unsurprisingly, the bookies pretty much had it as ‘pick’em’.
The opening session was chaotic. But while Hearns repeatedly stunned Hagler, he failed to suppress Marvin’s manic charges. Ring magazine dubbed it ‘the greatest round in boxing history.’
Thereafter, the Detroit ‘Hitman’ was compromised by a fractured right paw and weak legs caused, according to coach Manny Steward, by a pre-fight massage. But having clubbed his way into the ascendancy, Hagler, bleeding profusely from the scalp, was almost ‘hooked’ in round three. However, when the examining physician enquired ‘Can you see?’ Hagler simply snorted: ‘I ain’t missing him, am I?’
On seriously borrowed time, Marvin proved why he was truly ‘Marvelous’. A serious of overhand rights left Tommy tottering like a drunk and a smashing left put him over and ‘out’. Eight minutes of pure carnage.