It's boom times for boxing, with one of the sport's finest years in recent memory barely two-thirds finished and a handful of blockbusters still to come before the calendar flips again.
With Floyd Mayweather Jr. defending his pound-for-pound crown against Mexican darling Canelo Alvarez on Sept. 14, Juan Manuel Marquez taking aim at a fifth title against welterweight beltholder Timothy Bradley Jr. on Oct. 12, and Manny Pacquiao preparing to bring world-class boxing to China against Brandon Rios on Nov. 23, there has never been a better time to celebrate the pomp of the must-see prizefight than right now.
And so, over the next several days, we'll be counting down boxing's top superfights of the ESPN era (dating back to Sept. 7, 1979, for those of you scoring at home), as picked by our panel of boxing experts. Of course, we know there can be, ahem, disagreement on such a subjective topic, so we'd like to know what you think about our choices, get your picks, and hear any other comments you might have related to our project. Just tweet using the hashtag #ESPNsuperfights and we might feature your comment below.
Every time ESPN Classic replays the Evander Holyfield-George Foreman fight, a wave of nostalgia washes over me. Not just because it was a marvelous fight between two heavyweight legends or because I was fortunate enough to be among the credentialed media. It's the sound of my own voice providing commentary that carries me back to that iconic night in Atlantic City more than two decades ago.
It was one of those spur-of-the-moment occurrences. I was wandering around inside Convention Hall during a dreary preliminary bout when Dick Landis, a boxing buddy who had been hired to do the blow-by-blow for the overseas feed, approached me.
"Hey, Nigel," Landis said in his best Ted Baxter voice, "I don't have a color commentator tonight. Want to sit in and give me a hand?"
Even though no fee was involved, I didn't hesitate. Not only would I be helping a friend, but accepting meant a seat much closer to the ring. With absolutely no preparation, I would have to wing it, and an hour later I was sitting next to Landis, helping call "The Battle of the Ages."
In his previous fight, Holyfield had won the unified heavyweight title with a one-punch KO of James "Buster" Douglas. Foreman, meanwhile, had won 24 consecutive fights during his improbable comeback, including 23 by knockout. He had shed his former thug-like persona in favor of a jolly, avuncular image and soon gathered an adoring army of fans, including housewives and grandmothers who had never seen a prizefight in their lives.
Most of the media pooh-poohed Big George's chances, but that didn't stop 17,046 paying customers from showing up. It was also the fight that solidified pay-per-view's status as a viable business model by garnering 1.4 million buys, a number that far exceeded even the most optimistic expectations.
Even though the 6-foot-3½ Foreman was only an inch taller than Holyfield, at 257 pounds (little of which appeared to be fat) Foreman dwarfed the 208-pound champion, and the challenger's 82-inch reach gave him a 4-inch advantage. It was, in effect, a super heavyweight against a cruiserweight who had eaten breakfast before the weigh-in.
That Foreman fought far better than the pundits predicted is irrefutable. He was competitive throughout a punishing, give-and-take match and even managed to rock Holyfield with a clubbing right in the rousing seventh round, only to have "The Real Deal" rally back with a prolonged barrage.
Holyfield used his legs to bounce in and out of range and his superior hand speed to score with combinations. Foreman was wobbled and looked ready to go in the third and ninth rounds, but the bell saved him on both occasions.
By the 12th round, Foreman was so tired he could barely hold his hands up. Holyfield kept firing, but both men were still on their feet when the final bell rang and the crowd erupted in rapturous applause.
Nobody argued with the unanimous scores of 117-110, 116-111, and 115-112 for Holyfield, but most of the postfight accolades were for the 42-year-old Foreman, who won the heavyweight title three years later. And although what Foreman did against the 28-year-old Holyfield was extraordinary, Evander's comprehensive win was virtually overlooked.
I've always felt that beating Foreman was among Holyfield's finest moments and that he never really received the credit he deserved. Nevertheless, I take solace in the fact that his achievement was fully acknowledged by Landis and I -- proof of which can still be heard whenever ESPN rebroadcasts the fight.