The Ten Most Shocking Moments In Boxing History: One Writer’s List

By James Slater: There have been numerous times in the long history of the great sport of boxing when something happened, either in the ring or outside of if, that resonated around the globe - a time when something happened that was so shocking it simply proved too hard to believe.

Whether it was a massive, against all odds upset win that defied belief, or the utterly shocking actions of a great fighter, either in the ring or in every day life, boxing has had its share of big, big surprises over the years.

For many, the sight of Mike Tyson ripping a chunk out of Evander Holyfield’s ear ranks as THE most shocking moment in boxing history, for others it’s the loss “Iron Mike” suffered at the hands of colossal underdog and perceived no-hoper James “Buster” Douglas.

Here, in reverse order, I list my ten choices for Boxing’s Most Shocking Moments:

10: The tragic deaths of Arturo Gatti, Alexis Arguello and Vernon Forrest.

In an unforgettably sad as well as shocking month of July in 2009, three legendary, much-loved former world champions (one of them still active at the time) died in violent, even mysterious circumstances. The phenomenally popular Arturo “Thunder” Gatti was found dead of strangulation. To this day the debate rages over whether or not Gatti hanged himself or was murdered; his wife Amanda being a strong suspect in the minds of many.

Alexis Arguello DID take his own life, shooting himself in the chest. While Vernon Forrest was the victim of three gun-toting cowards who gunned him down when he gave chase after one of them had robbed him. The loss of these three greats, in such a short space of time, rocked the boxing world to its core

9: Muhammad Ali purposely lays on the ropes in his fight with the murderous punching George Foreman.

This move on the part of the ageing Ali, in the 2nd-round, so shocked writer/intellectual George Plimpton who was at ringside in Zaire, that he blurted out to fellow writer Norman Mailer “The fix is in!” Plimpton may have been no boxing expert, but he, like many other people, felt Ali’s best chance, no, his ONLY chance against the unbeaten Texan slugger was to box and move. Ali, however, did the unthinkable and revealed yet another piece of his boxing magic: The “Rope-a-Dope” was officially born!

8: Roy Jones Junior “losing” to Park Si-Hun at the 1988 Olympic games in Seoul.

This one was just plain bad! As shocking a blatant robbery as the sporting world has ever seen, the exceptionally gifted Jones Junior was the victim of a “hometown” decision after he had ran rings around South Korea’s Park and after he’d beaten him like a drum. To his credit, Park admitted the verdict that saw him win the gold medal was a bad one, even inviting Jones Junior to the gold medal stand during the anthems.

7: The Lennox Lewis-Evander Holyfield draw.

Another bad decision, this one at pro level. Back in March of 1999, Lewis and Holyfield met in New York in a hugely important and eagerly anticipated heavyweight unification battle. Before the fight at Madison Square Garden, “The Real Deal” had predicted a 3rd-round KO win. Holyfield won the round (one of the few sessions he won that night), but he failed on his prediction. Badly busted up and exhausted at the end of the 12-rounds Lewis had all but dominated, Holyfield knew he’d lost. Unfortunately, and shockingly, two of the judges handed in cards that resulted in the fight being scored, quite disgracefully, as a draw. One judge had the fight all even at 115-115 (itself a bad piece of officiating), while a certain Eugenia Williams was soon the talk of the sporting world due to her amazing 115-113 card in favour of Holyfield.

Even the mayor of New York, Rudy Giuliani, was embarrassed and ashamed after this travesty.

6: The Riddick-Bowe-Andrew Golota post-fight brawl.

The night of July 11th, 1997 produced two massive shocks. First of all, a badly out of shape Bowe appeared like a close to shot fighter, and then Polish tough guy Golota refused to fight within the rules, belting “Big Daddy” with so many hard low blows that he was thrown out of the fight he was winning. Then the real shocker took place. Seconds after he’d been thrown out, a collection of Golota’s own corner men, along with members of Bowe’s team, piled into the ring and all hell broke loose.

Pretty soon, all of Madison Square Garden was in turmoil, the full-scale brawl an utterly frightening sight. Lou Duva, Golota’s trainer, passed out and for a time it was feared he’d had a heart attack. Thankfully, Lou was okay. Nevertheless, there were a number of casualties that wild and crazy night, not least the sport of boxing itself - which suffered one big black eye.

5: Cassius Clay joins The Nation of Islam and becomes Muhammad Ali.

This event became front page news! The young Clay, having already shocked the world with his corner retirement of an upset win over the “unbeatable” Sonny Liston, had a follow up act that topped his heavyweight title win in the shock stakes. The NOI was a radical, somewhat scary political movement back in the mid-1960s, and the very fact that the world heavyweight champion was joining them and propagating their controversial beliefs was something mainstream America simply could not handle.

The new Muhammad Ali had become the most controversial sportsman in the world!

4: Jack Johnson becomes the first black heavyweight champion of the world.

“Whitey simply couldn’t handle it when a black man became the world heavyweight champion,” so wrote legendary boxing historian Hank Kaplan when describing the reaction to Johnson’s world-changing, 1908 win over Tommy Burns. It was okay, fellow historian Bert Sugar explained, for a black man to win a lightweight, or a welterweight title, but not THE WORLD HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE! That was thought to be the white man’s exclusive property. But not any more.

How shocking was it to the status quo when the controversial, outspoken, arrogant and utterly superior (in the ring) Johnson became the new champ? A series of race riots and murders took place soon after the humiliation of Burns. Sadly, racism was at its ugliest during this time.

3: Roberto Duran quits against Sugar Ray Leonard.

“If anyone had ever told me he’d quit, I’d have spat in their eye,” so said Robert Duran’s trainer Ray Arcel. But, that infamous November night in 1980, a frustrated, out of shape Duran did indeed throw up his hands and (allegedly) utter the words “No Mas” as he gave in against Leonard, a man who was tormenting him with bolo punches and a series of other flashy shots. To this day the arguments over why Duran did what he did go on. If the world was shocked when Sonny Liston opted to stay on his stool after the 6th-round of his fight with Cassius Clay sixteen years earlier, it was utterly blown away when tough guy Duran quit against the new dancing master named Sugar Ray!

2: Mike Tyson bites Evander Holyfield ear.

Who will ever forget this one! Angered at the way he’d been head-butted by Holyfield, in what was a rematch of a fight he’s lost by stoppage the previous year, Tyson spat out his gum-shield and tore a huge chunk out of Holyfield’s ear in the 3rd-round that June night in 1997. Tyson, still fuming after the first bite, went back for more, leaving referee Mills Lane with no choice but to DQ the prize-fighter turned raving animal - and leaving the boxing commission with no choice but to ban Tyson (at least temporarily).

Tyson had taken the sport to new lows with his act of cannibalism.

1: James “Buster” Douglas KO10 Mike Tyson.

Like earth-shaking events such as the Kennedy assassination and the twin towers terrorist attack, people of a certain age remember exactly where they were and what they were doing when they heard Tyson had lost to the whopping 42-1 underdog. As shocking as any sporting moment you care to mention, Douglas’ KO of Tyson has to rank as my #1 most shocking moment in all of boxing!

What say you?

Article posted on 10.04.2012

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