Monday, December 27
Boxing's greatest matches

 We had ESPN boxing analyst Max Kellerman write about the eight greatest bouts of the century.

Jack Johnson-Jim Jeffries
July 4, 1910, Reno, Nev.: Johnson wins, KO 15
Jeffries, the first of the truly great heavyweight champions, answered the racist call of author Jack London, who had been begging for a "Great White Hope" to challenge Johnson, the first black heavyweight champion. The undefeated Jeffries came out of a long retirement and had never lost -- until Johnson whipped him in this fight. The result incited riots throughout the United States.

Jack Dempsey-Jess Willard
July 4, 1919, Toledo, Ohio: Dempsey wins, KO 3
Many would argue that Dempsey's knockout of Luis Firpo is the fight that really captured the public's imagination (Dempsey, knocked out of the ring, returned to knock Firpo out in the second round). But Dempsey's title-winning effort against the giant Willard was the fight that truly ushered in the Dempsey era, and even, in a sense, the roaring '20s. One of the most awesome spectacles in sports history, Dempsey was outweighed by over 50 pounds, yet he savaged Willard. The first round of this fight is one of the worst beat-downs you will ever see.

Harry Greb-Mickey Walker
July 2, 1925, Polo Grounds: Greb wins in a decision
Two all-time greats in their primes. Greb was middleweight champ, Walker welterweight champ. But Walker never had problems moving up in weight. After lightwight champ Benny Leonard retired, Walker's potential superfight with Leonard evaporated. With Leonard gone, Walker was considered by many the best fighter in the world. Greb is the greatest middleweight of all time in my book -- and in the books of many others. Both fighters are in many top 10 pound-for-pound lists. The fight was supposed to have been an action classic, but there is no known existing footage of it.

Joe Louis-Max Schmeling II
June 22, 1938, Yankee Stadium: Louis wins, KO 1
Significance alone would be enough here, but also one of the most comprehensive beatings in the history of boxing. Louis has become known for his ability to coin a phrase. About Billy Conn, Louis had said "he can run, but he can't hide." Louis' best quote though, helps explain the significance of his win over Schmeling. When Louis was told that the U.S. would win World War II because God was on our side, he replied, "No, we'll win because we're on God's side." Schmeling had KO'd Louis in their first fight, handing Louis his only pro loss up to this fight, and making this rematch all the more significant.

Muhammed Ali-Joe Frazier I
May 8, 1971, Madison Square Garden: Frazier wins in a decision
Many argue the most significant fight in the history of boxing. Social and political overtones preceeded the match. And then the fight itself: two undefeated, and paradoxically, undisputed heavyweight champions waging a war that lived up to its fight of the century billing.

Ali-George Foreman
October 30, 1974, Kinshasa, Zaire: Ali wins, KO 8
The one fight Ali absolutely had to win to cement his legend. At the time, the obstacle of Foreman was impossibly large. Not only was George 40-0, he had just knocked out Frazier and Ken Norton in two rounds apiece. In retrospect, Foreman was good enough to win the title back at the age of 46 -- 20 years after he lost it. Two titans of boxing history in the ring together, with, in retrospect, the title "best heavyweight of the 1970s" on the line. This fight raised Ali from boxing royalty to boxing deity. Some viscous action and artistic brilliance too.

Ali-Frazier III
September 30, 1975, Quezon, Phillippines: Ali wins, TKO 14
As Larry Merchant put it, "They fought for the heavyweight championship of each other." This was the rubber match, so this decided it, although both were past their primes. But the fight was probably the most brutal, bruising spectacle in heavyweight history. Afterwards, Ali said, "Joe is the greatest of all time next to me."

Roberto Duran-Sugar Ray Leonard I
June 20, 1980, Montreal: Duran wins in a decision
It's easy to argue for Leonard's 14-round knockout of Thomas Hearns. At the time the fights took place, Leonard-Hearns was bigger than Leonard-Duran. The first Leonard-Hearns fight pitted two all-time greats in their absolute primes. The bout was great to watch, and there were constant shifts in momentum. But the first Duran-Leonard fight pitted perhaps the greatest lightweight of all time against perhaps the second greatest welterweight of all time. It also featured the top two fighters in the world at the time. They were both in tremendous shape, which was not the case in the rematch, for which Duran did not prepare well. There was great action. The skill and guts in the ring was just about as high as possible. Duran, the best fighter of the '70s, beat back Leonard, the younger, larger, faster fighter of the '80s.

Greatest Games