Every sport has those great, memorable moments that define the game forever. Football has The Drive, hockey has The Miracle, basketball has Game 6 of the 1998 Finals. However, there are also ugly moments in sports that taint the way we see the game. Boxing is no different. Over the last 50 years, we’ve seen all sorts of highs and lows in the great sport of boxing. Below are five influential moments that would define boxing forever, for better or worse.
1. Mike Tyson Convicted (February 10, 1992)
The 25-year-old Tyson (41-1, 36 KOs) was flatly intimidating and blessed with blinding hand speed, accuracy, coordination, power and timing. Furthermore, “Iron Mike” had developed into a defensive wizard by perfecting the peek-a-boo style taught to him by Cus D’Amato. Tyson was boxing’s marquee attraction and, even after getting dethroned by 42-1 underdog James “Buster” Douglas in February 1990, one of the most popular athletes in the world. But in early 1992, Tyson was convicted of rape and sentenced to six years in prison.
Lennox Lewis, Evander Holyfield and Riddick Bowe admirably kept the heavyweight division relevant while Tyson was incarcerated. Still, no pugilist could generate electricity and excitement like “Iron Mike.” Tyson was released in March 1995, and reentered the squared circle roughly five months later to pummel a tomato can named Peter McNeeley.
Unfortunately for fans of the bad boy Brooklynite, Tyson’s skills had badly eroded behind bars, and he was no longer an overwhelming force. Mike Tyson’s crime forever altered the heavyweight landscape.
2. Joe Frazier – Muhammad Ali I (March 8, 1971)
The 27-year-old Frazier (26–0, 23 KOs) earned a unanimous decision over the 29-year-old Ali (31–1, 25 KOs) to successfully defend the WBC and WBA heavyweight titles at Madison Square Garden in New York City. The bout between Frazier and Ali was dubbed “The Fight of the Century,” and it introduced a legendary rivalry.
With the backing of standouts Jerry Quarry, Floyd Patterson, Ken Norton, George Foreman and Earnie Shavers, “The Fight of the Century” also initiated the heavyweight division’s preeminent era.
3. Sugar Ray Leonard – Roberto Duran II (November 25, 1980)
The 24-year-old Leonard (27-1) defeated Duran (72-1) to win the WBC welterweight belt. Of greater note, Leonard frustrated Duran into uttering the infamous words, “no más.” “No más, no más,” Duran, 29, told the referee at 2:44 of the eighth round.
Although an embarrassing moment for boxing and Duran, the shocking surrender also catapulted the welterweight division into the limelight. Leonard, Duran, Thomas Hearns, Wilfred Benítez and middleweight Marvin Hagler ultimately represented and ruled prizefighting in the 1980s.
4. Mike Tyson – Evander Holyfield II (June 28, 1997)
Roughly eight months after suffering an 11th round TKO, the 31-year-old Tyson (45-2, 39 KOs) was determined to abuse the 35-year-old Holyfield (33-3, 24 KOs) and avenge his defeat. Prior to “The Sound and the Fury,” Tyson’s former trainer Teddy Atlas made an intriguing prediction.
“(Tyson) will try to get lucky, naturally,” said Atlas, who pulled a gun on Tyson in 1981. “But if he can’t land a knockout punch early, he’s going to try to disqualify himself, either by elbowing, or throwing a low blow, butting or biting.”
Holyfield used an array of hooks and jabs to win the first two rounds. Holyfield gashed Tyson’s right eye with a head-butt that referee Mills Lane saw as an accident. An infuriated Tyson, no longer interested in regaining the WBA crown, sought retaliation and barbarically chomped on Holyfield’s ears in the third round.
“Referee Mills Lane has disqualified Mike Tyson for biting Evander Holyfield on both of his ears,” read public address announcer Jimmy Lennon Jr.
As countless brawls erupted throughout the MGM Grand Garden Arena, it was evident that Tyson caused one of “Sin City’s” ugliest evenings. In retrospect, Tyson’s cannibalistic act also indefinitely set back the heavyweight division. Foreign heavyweights have controlled the struggling division since Holyfield was bizarrely assaulted in the desert.
5. Sonny Liston – Cassius Clay I (February 25, 1964)
The 22-year-old Clay (19-0) claimed the heavyweight strap when the 34-year-old Liston (35-1) quit on his stool following the sixth round at the Convention Center in Miami Beach, Florida. Although the menacing bruiser cited a shoulder injury, Liston likely concocted that excuse once he realized that Clay was a vastly superior pugilist.
Shortly after the Liston affair, Clay changed his name to Muhammad Ali and became one of America’s most noteworthy and influential figures. A gold medalist from Louisville, “The Greatest” began his extraordinary reign in The Sunshine State.