In the ninth frame, Hearns began to turn the fight back in his favor by smartly boxing and using Leonard’s aggressiveness against him, once again using his reach to outpoint Leonard. A crushing combination put Firpo down for the ninth and final time. As fatigue set in, the two would eventually forgo defense in the later rounds as they exchanged punches. A battered but victorious Pep soaked up the cheers of the Garden crowd. In the closing seconds of the fight, Holmes rocked Norton with an uppercut that may have swayed the scorecards in his favor as he won the fight by a one-point split decision, with all three of the judges scoring the fight 143-142 in favor of Holmes. While the judge ruled it a slip, Leonard would follow it up by knocking him down to the ground in the final moments of the 13th round. Ali started the fight aggressively, dancing around the ring while attacking Foreman with straight shots to his face. With a push from several members of Press Row, Dempsey regained the ring just in time. The two men would meet in a rematch eight months later, but any hope for another classic was quickly dashed. Graziano had fought in a kind of blind rage, bellowing and cursing as he attacked. Johnson, however, was a master of defense and far faster than the 35-year-old Jeffries. But three times; we were the only ones,” Ali once said. In the second round, Walcott continued to press the challenger. The ending was sudden and definitive. “All I had to do,” Billy would say later, “was stay away for three rounds and I would’a been champ.” But he had told his cornermen after the 12th, “I’m gonna knock this bum out,” and that’s what he set out to do. Though Schmeling would land one hard right, the punch that had won him the first bout, Louis shrugged it off. No matter the outcome of their third fight, this would go down as one of boxing’s greatest heavyweight trilogies. It’s been said that close fights always go the way of the champion, and that may have been the case here. In the third, Zale dropped Graziano. Holyfield managed to survive a powerful uppercut followed by a flurry of power shots early in the round, and he battled back valiantly after it looked like he was destined to hit the canvas. Leonard simply had no answers for Hearns and his long reach, and by the fifth round Leonard’s left eye was noticeably swollen. Jersey Joe Walcott was 38 and looked older. In the seventh round, though, Dempsey drove Tunney to the ropes and unleashed a devestating seven-punch combination that dropped Tunney for the first time in his career. The 1920s were America’s Golden Age of Sport, and as heavyweight champion, Jack Dempsey reigned in a pantheon of heroes that included Red Grange and Babe Ruth. His record stood at 140-5-2. A furious combination rocked Conn, and then Louis, perhaps the greatest finisher in heavyweight history, landed a right that put Conn down for good. Norton was already an established fighter with a victory over Ali on his resume. Best full fights around including technical masterpieces like Toney - McCullum to all out slug fests like Gatti - Rodriguez Despite protests from Marquez and his corner, it was obvious that he was completely off balance and would have otherwise fallen if not for the ropes. In a name befitting only an Ali-headlined fight, the “Thrilla in Manila” took place in the capital city of the Philippines. A dazed Taylor nearly even went into Chavez’s corner after the end of the 11th round, but he had to be guided into the right corner by the referee, and you could sense a shift in momentum as the final round began. After winning the heavyweight title with a brutal KO of Jess Willard in Toldeo on July 4, 1919 Dempsey had defended his crown only four times before entering the ring against the raw but explosive Argentine challenger known as the Wild Bull of the Pampas. While not as fast-paced as the first round, Hagler continued to bring the fight to Hearns throughout the second as he attempted to close the distance so he could get inside and punish him. The two would battle fairly evenly until the end, with most rounds being close enough to be scored for either fighter (one judge scored 10 of the 15 rounds a draw). The end was a stunning display of Louis’s finishing ability. Louis was one of the most devastating punchers in heavyweight history, and the firepower he unleashed on Schmeling was frightening to behold. His fall from grace concluded the bare-knuckle era once and for all when challenger John L. Sullivan landed a KO in the 21st round. Willie Pep, known as the Will o’ the Wisp, for his seemingly magical elusiveness in the ring, had run up a record of—seriously—134-1-1 when he and Saddler (85-6-2) met for the first time, in October of 1948. However, referee Pat Russell correctly ruled it a knockdown, saying that the ropes prevented him from hitting the canvas. Basilio, 30, held the welterweight title and was moving up to challenge for Robinson’s middleweight crown. The bout was declared the Fight of the Year. Pryor was constantly in motion, trying to break down Arguello’s defenses as he moved around the ring throwing an endless stream of punches at blistering speed. A towel fluttered in from Schmeling’s corner just as Donovan waved the bout over, saving Schmeling at 2:04 of the round. With both Ali and Spinks out of the picture, Larry Holmes would become the top challenger to Norton. In the sweltering Zaire heat, Foreman would eventually tire himself out from all the punches he threw at Ali. The fight between Sugar Ray Leonard and Marvin Hagler was a long time coming and in the works for over half a decade. Hearns would later reveal that he broke his right hand, which seemed to take the sting off of his most dangerous weapon. Bowe would eventually go on to win the fight by unanimous decision and take the belt from Holyfield, but even in defeat, Holyfield would gain a tremendous amount of respect for the way he fought against the bigger Bowe. Waved back in by Donovan, he landed a right that appeared nearly to take Schmeling’s head off, dropping him to the canvas. The anticipation surrounding the Jack Johnson-James J. Jeffries bout transcended sports and went straight to the troubled heart of America in the early 20th century. Instead of trying to keep his distance and outpoint his much larger, stronger foe, Ali leaned against the ropes, keeping his body exposed to vicious body blows from Foreman as he as he protected his head. Ali looked like a punching bag as he leaned against the ropes while Foreman wailed away at him with huge arcing hooks. The Gary, Ind.-born Zale, known as the Man of Steel, was 34 years old and the middleweight champion of the world. In fact, they invented that phrase just for him. Few fighters could take a shot like Basilio, though, and from the bell, he stood against Sugar Ray. It became even more suspicious as Pryor charged at Arguello at the start of the 14th with renewed vigor, and he gave Arguello a savage beating that would eventually lead to the referee stopping the fight. But Leonard was able to turn things around in the fifth where he was able to find some room to counter Duran and hit him with powerful combinations. Ken Norton, who was the top challenger for the WBC heavyweight title, was automatically awarded the belt after the WBC stripped it from Leon Spinks following his decision to immediately offer a rematch to Muhammad Ali after the huge upset in their first match-up. Before that bout Schmeling had studied films of Louis, noticing that the young star was open to a right hand.Schmeling used that punch to score an upset knockout. I couldn’t have hit him. Graziano, the original Dead End Kid, was born Thomas Rocco Barbella in Brooklyn on June 7, 1922. The ending to their first bout was highly controversial. Pryor took the very worst that Arguello could dish out, and he quickly bounced back every time. Any normal human being would have crumpled to the mat from the force of Ali’s punches, but Frazier was one of the toughest fighters to ever step into a ring. The Dempsey-Tunney rematch drew 104, 943 spectators to Soldier Field and generated a record live gate of $2,658,000. After beating Joe Frazier in their second meetup, Muhammad Ali was tasked with fighting the monstrous George Foreman in an attempt to regain the title of heavyweight champion of the world.
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