People call boxing “the sweet science” because there’s much more to the sport than just throwing punches and knocking out your opponent. There’s a lot of mental fortitude involved and finding the right moments to throw those punches. Some boxers made careers off of being technically sound and coming up with the right plans of attack. Here are five classic boxing matches in which the better technician ended up on top.
1. Evander Holyfield v. Mike Tyson (1996)
After years of speculation on whether or not they would have a match, Evander Holyfield and Mike Tyson finally got into the ring in Las Vegas, Nevada on November 9, 1996. While the match was highly anticipated, Tyson came in as a heavy 25-to-1 favorite over Holyfield. Tyson didn’t take the match perhaps as seriously as he should’ve, because Holyfield came in well-prepared.
Tyson tried to deliver big blows but was getting blocked and dodged repeatedly. Holyfield was able to wear Tyson down to the point where Tyson’s knees were buckling. A dazed and groggy Tyson was prime for the final blow which Holyfield delivered in the 11th round. Referee Mitch Halpern had seen enough and gave Holyfield the win via technical knockout.
2. Leon Spinks v. Muhammad Ali (1978)
Heading into their 1978 bout in Las Vegas, Muhammad Ali was a heavy favorite over up-and-comer Leon Spinks, who had just seven professional matches following his gold medal win at the 1976 Olympics. Though there was a sellout crowd, the match wasn’t placed in a large venue due to what many thought would be a formality.
Instead, Spinks took his amateur lessons and used them wisely against a heavy hitter like Ali, avoiding heavy contact. Spinks took Ali the distance, winning via split decision after a historic 15th and final round. The two would have a rematch with Ali splitting the count one-to-one between the two.
3. Hasim Rahman v. Lennox Lewis (2001)
Lennox Lewis was running through the heavyweight division and had just about every title in the weight class by early 2001 when he faced off against Hasim Rahman in Brakpan, South Africa. Lewis was expected to walk away with an easy victory once again, coming in as a 20-to-1 favorite over the American who was shorter and much lighter than Lewis.
Lewis tried for an early knockout but Rahman stood strong. Instead, he ended up taking the fight to Lewis who had no response after using so much early energy. Rahman’s flurry of punches and amazing stamina allowed him to go into the fifth round with a huge advantage. In that round, Rahman would deliver the final blow, knocking out Lewis to become heavyweight champion.
4. Randy Turpin v. Sugar Ray Robinson (1951)
In September 1951, two absolute brawlers would go at it when champion Sugar Ray Robinson squared off against Randy Turpin in what would become one of the greatest upsets of boxing’s golden era. Robinson had been touring Europe fighting matches with Turpin as the final on his schedule.
It wasn’t expected to be a grand finale, though. Turpin was supposed to be another notch on Robinson’s belt, but his impressive stamina and wise punch choices allowed him to go the distance. Turpin would win by unanimous decision over Robinson following 15 rounds of almost nonstop action. “I have no alibis,” Robinson said. “I was beaten by a better man.”
5. Sonny Liston v. Cassius Clay (1964)
Before changing his name to Muhammad Ali, Cassius Clay was a rising star that was a major underdog when he was going up against Sonny Liston in Miami Beach, Florida in 1964. Clay was not to be taken lightly, though, as he came in with a 19-0 record and 15 knockouts. Liston started to attack right at the start, but Clay held strong.
Wearing down his opponent, Clay would end up getting the best of Liston in a match that became an instant classic. Sure, there were some allegations of match-fixing, but Clay ended up becoming an icon in boxing after showcasing his skills.