Fighters Who Thrilled! The Ten Most Exciting (a personal appreciation)

thomas hearnsBy James Slater: I think it’s time for another list! Following on from my top ten list of the 10 best fights held in Las Vegas, I have compiled my own personal choice of the ten fighters who have given us (in my opinion anyway) the most scintillating and action-packed fights in boxing during the time that I have existed on this planet.

Since I was born in 1971, there are many fighters that I had to give consideration to. Compiling such a list is never an easy job, though it is a somewhat fun and enjoyable task. Hopefully, each and every person who reads it will find it fun and enjoyable also. And please remember - just because a fighter is considered one of the most exciting, this does not necessarily mean he is one of the all-round best or most talented - last night’s brave loser Juan Manuel Lopez for example.

But “Juanma” arguably the most consistently thrilling fighter around today (and a possible future addition to the following list) moves fans in a quite passion-filled manner. So did these guys:

1. Thomas “The Hitman” Hearns

Quite simply, hardly ever in a dull fight. Participated in THE greatest fight in middleweight history, if not in all of boxing, when he met Marvellous Marvin Hagler. Thrilled millions with his two fights against “Sugar” Ray Leonard. Hearns also scored one of the most electrifying KO’s in boxing history when he annihilated Roberto Duran in two rounds in 1984. Throw in his intense and action-crammed bouts with Pipino Cuevas, Juan Roldan, Iran Barkley, Dennis Andries, James Schuler and Doug Dewitt, and it’s clear to see why he sits at the very top of this list. Tommy always took great pride in giving his fans a great show and almost always did so. Due to his incredible heart Tommy was still capable of giving us a thrill when his prime years had long gone. “The Hitman” reigns supreme in my opinion.

2. Muhammad Ali

It can be argued that the career of “The Greatest” provided its most incredible and heart pounding moments when it reached its later stages. Although he was undeniably at his absolute best in the 1960’s, it was during the ‘70’s that he really had the fans screaming themselves hoarse. Ali gave us the most gruelling and action-filled fight in heavyweight history when he met archrival “Smokin’” Joe Frazier for the third time. And if some fans disagree with “The Thrilla’s” status as the greatest heavyweight fight it is only because they favour Ali’s first encounter with Frazier. Ali also shocked the world against George Foreman in Zaire in the second half of his career, as well as giving us fine fights against the likes of Floyd Patterson, George Chuvalo, Jerry Quarry, Bob Foster, Ken Norton and Earnie Shavers. In the final analysis, when Ali fought - the world stopped!

3. Mike Tyson

Although ultimately Mike Tyson may well be remembered more as a human disaster zone than as a prize fighter, back when he was focused and lived a (relatively) normal life “Iron Mike” was a very special fighter. And although many of his opponents were beaten before they entered the ring with him, Tyson performances almost always were met with fan approval. Ok, it could be argued that some of his fights produced such quick and easy looking blowouts that value for money was never always produced, but Mike could usually be relied upon to provide a spectacular KO for his audience. He was a fast and hard puncher, a combination which is a dead cert to lead to some brutally mowed down opposition. In his prime, the termination to a Tyson fight gave us many a highlight reel KO. Fighters such as Trevor Berbick, Michael Spinks, Marvis Frazier, Pinklon Thomas and Tony Tubbs, to name only five, were dispatched in quite stunning fashion. How we could use a peak Mike Tyson these days!

4. Matthew Saad Muhammad

Matthew gave us some of boxing’s most unbelievable fights. On at least four occasions he came back from seemingly certain defeat to snatch victory. The way he could be relied upon for thrilling fight after thrilling fight was quite extraordinary. Again and again Saad Muhammad would be battered severely in fights, only to come roaring back to win. The punishment he was able to take and survive was really something to behold. Fans were entertained to an almost unbearable degree when Matthew fought intense and courageous battles with the top light heavyweights of the day. Men like Marvin Johnson, John Conteh, Yaqui Lopez and Jerry Martin all put him through hell before eventually being beaten.

5. Arturo Gatti

How could Arturo not be on this list? His three fight series with “Irish” Mickey Ward, particularly the first match, almost on its own gives him a placing. The incredible two way action in fight number one with Ward is utterly mesmerising. Gatti’s trainer- James “Buddy” McGirt was about to stop the fight after Arturo was so badly hurt in the ninth round, only for “Thunder” to mount an astonishing comeback. The fighter dubbed “The human highlight reel” also thrilled while squaring off with the likes of Tracy Harris Patterson, Angel Manfredy, Ivan Robinson, Gabriel Ruelas and more recently, Thomas Damgaard. He may not have always won, but the late, great Arturo Gatti always gave everything he had trying to do so.

6. George Foreman

Like Muhammad Ali, Big George fought his fights over two careers. He provided superb action in both. Back in the early to mid ’70’s George thrilled fans the world over in epic bouts with Joe Frazier, Ken Norton, Ron Lyle and of course Ali. The fight with Lyle was almost too good to be true. Both men were severely hurt on a number of occasions and indeed, both guys crashed to the canvas twice each, with Ron finally staying there after his second trip to the floor. So much action unfolded in only five rounds that those watching the fight live had a very hard time keeping up with the ebb and flow mayhem. As for Foreman’s second career, which followed a ten year exile, Big George produced some truly once in a lifetime moments. At first ridiculed, George became a fan favourite due to his explosive KO’s over men like Rocky Sekorski, Gerry Cooney and Adilson Rodrigues, not to mention his gallant points loss to then Champion Evander Holyfield. But it is the miracle, come from behind KO over Michael Moorer that really stunned and thrilled the world!

7. Diego Coralles

Another fighter who has sadly left us, Diego is best known for his phenomenal fight with Jose Luis Castillo. This fight is reckoned by many experts to be among the best two or three to have ever taken place. And what a truly great slugfest it was! The incredible pace never slowed until the bout reached its unforgettable conclusion with Coralles seemingly well beaten, only to come back and somehow pull out a win. Diego, like Thomas Hearns before him, considered it his duty to give the fans their money’s worth. Sometimes this approach, of throwing caution to the wind, while boxing with a single minded aggressiveness, cost him. However, win lose or draw, Diego could always be counted on to reward the fans with an explosive slugfest. His fights with Joel Cassamayor, Acelino Freitas, Angel Manfredy, Floyd Mayweather and, of course, Castillo can attest to that.

8. Nigel Benn

The only British fighter to make the list. Nigel was a fighter blessed with awesome and natural punching power, a fearless attitude and very fast hands. However, his chin was not all it might have been, nor was his defence. But it was this sometimes vulnerability that helped make him so exciting to watch. Benn could both inflict hurt and be on the receiving end at any time. The fans knew they could not afford to so much as blink when Nigel was in action! Early on in his career he destroyed practically everything in his path, earning himself an instant reputation as a fighter to come and see if KO’s were your thing. After losses to Michael Watson and then Chris Eubank, Nigel produced the finest performance of his life. A huge underdog in his match with the murderous hitting Gerald McClellan, Benn pulled off a stunning upset, winning in the tenth round of a very violent fight. Unfortunately, the fight is remembered also for the damaged condition Gerald was to be left in. This fight, along with action-packed bouts against Iran Barkley and Doug Dewitt, more than qualify for Nigel’s number eight position on this list.

9. Evander Holyfield

Evander Holyfield’s second nickname was “Warrior”, never has such an apt one been in place. Not only did Evander go up against men much bigger than himself, he usually defeated them, more often than not in exciting style too. Holyfield threw punches in very high numbers in his prime years as he set a frenetic pace. He was all action, with not much thought given to the defensive side of his sport. Evander was utterly fearless and the fans respected his courage and appreciated the high number of quality bouts he engaged in. Rarely in a dull fight while at his peak, Evander both shocked and surprised us in incredible fights against Mike Tyson and Riddick Bowe, while he had give and take battles with quality fighters such as Alex Stewart, Michael Dokes, Bert Cooper and Ray Mercer. He may have also been known as “The real Deal”, which he undeniably was, but it is because of his fights that earned him his “Warrior” title that he makes this top ten.

10. Julio Cesar Chavez.

Mexico’s only fighter listed, Chavez was extraordinary. An aggressive minded and flawless fighting machine in his prime, Julio met and defeated the best. Chavez never liked to take a backward step and as such the fans always knew they would get to see a fight when “J.C Superstar” was in the ring. His bocy punching was fierce and his chin was rock solid. These attributes allowed him to please his adoring followers for close to ninety fights without a loss. Most Mexican fighters have a reputation as crowd pleasers, but Julio stands supreme above any of his fellow countrymen in the fan satisfaction department. His magnificent fights with talented boxers such as Edwin Rosario, Roger Mayweather, Jose Luis Ramirez, Rocky Lockridge and Frankie Randall (their first match) were fan satisfaction personified. Still, it is his epic fight with Meldrick Taylor that stands out. This fight had everything - a fierce work rate throughout, from both men, punches of the highest quality, world titles on the line and an ending that defied all reason. With just two seconds remaining, Chavez, who was behind on points, snatched a most incredible KO win. This ending was one of the primary reasons Julio made this list. It may well have been the most unforgettable ending to a boxing match. Ever!

(some who just missed out on the list: Manny Pacquiao, Kelly Pavlik, James Kirkland, Juan Manuel Lopez, Yuriorkis Gamboa, Earnie Shavers, Carl Froch, Miguel Cotto, Ray Mercer)

Article posted on 12.03.2012

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