Arturo Gatti and Micky Ward battled through what awe-struck trainer Emmanuel Steward called ‘the round of the century’ twenty years ago – but where does it feature in talkSPORT’s top twelve greatest rounds of all-time?
A lot can happen in three minutes. Heavyweight wars, dazzling recoveries and even a few stunning blowouts all feature in our countdown. Because we’re not judging this purely on action – the significance of each bout is also a factor. So rounds between pound-for-pound legends, or within fights which have undisputed world titles on the line, rank above those which took place in Eddie Hearn’s back garden during lockdown (no offence, Ed).
Now, let’s count down the most awesome twelve rounds boxing has ever seen.
12. Mike Tyson vs Michael Spinks: Round 1 (1988)
Barely half a round – 91 seconds – but enough drama to win Ring Magazine’s ‘Round of the Year’ award in 1988, and you can understand why. Two undefeated heavyweights, each with a claim to the world title, met, and a ferocious 21-year-old Mike Tyson walked through what was supposed to be his toughest test, bludgeoning Michael Spinks to the canvas twice. Spinks never fought again, while ‘Baddest man on the Planet’ Tyson violently lived up to his billing.
11. Andy Ruiz Jr vs Anthony Joshua I: Round 3 (2019)
Anthony Joshua’s US debut was going to plan when he blasted Andy Ruiz Jr to the canvas with a left hook early in the third round. What was not in the script was AJ getting caught going for the finish, badly wobbled, put down twice, and barely surviving the round. A shocking single-round turnaround in a fight that ended with tubby late-replacement Ruiz taking the unbeaten record and world titles of the muscular Brit at a raucous Madison Square Garden.
10. Muhammad Ali vs George Foreman: Round 5 (1974)
‘The Rumble in the Jungle’ ended with Muhammad Ali stopping big, bad George Foreman in round eight. But the fight swung in the fifth. An angry Foreman spent it swinging crude haymakers at Ali’s head and body – battering down the older man’s defences. Until, with 35 seconds left, Ali sprung off the ropes and stung Foreman with lightning accuracy, sending him reeling and the crowd in Kinshasa wild. Ali was shaking up the world once again.
9. Joe Louis vs Max Schmeling II: Round 1 (1938)
Heavyweight champion Joe Louis’ attempt to avenge his only defeat to Max Schmeling was loaded with intrigue: an African-American fighting a German a year before the outbreak of World War II. In the ring, it was brutality. Louis jumped on Schmeling in front of 70,000+ at Yankee Stadium, knocking him down three times and leaving his challenger with cracked ribs and two broken vertebrae. Schmeling spent two months in hospital recovering from a two-minute fight.
8. Tyson Fury vs Deontay Wilder I: Round 12 (2018)
The recovery that launched a hundred memes. When fearsome Deontay Wilder dropped Tyson Fury hard in the final round of their showdown, he looked out cold. Except Fury opened his eyes at the count of five, was on his feet by nine, dodged Wilder’s follow-up bombs with his hands behind his back, and then was stalking and hurting Wilder by the final bell. The decision, a draw, was controversial, but round twelve was all anyone could talk about post-fight.
7. Erik Morales vs Marco Antonio Barrera I: Round 5 (2000)
You could include any of the twelve rounds of the first Mexican uncivil war between bitter enemies Erik Morales and Marco Antonio Barrera. But the fifth took an already gripping 122lb clash to a new level as Barrera bloodied Morales’ nose, ‘El Terrible’ came firing back with his own power punches, and the momentum shifted back and forth as the crowd reached fever pitch. It was an astonishing mixture of will and skill that sums up what would become an epic trilogy.
6. Riddick Bowe vs Evander Holyfield I: Round 10 (1992)
“What heart by Holyfield!” cried commentator Jim Lampley. After a Riddick Bowe uppercut had sent Evander flailing around the ring on rubbery legs, ‘The Real Deal’ somehow stayed upright, survived Bowe’s onslaught, and by the end of the round, was miraculously teeing off on his rival with hooks and uppercuts. Bowe would get the decision in a war that sparked a memorable trilogy, but this round should have been scored 11-11 by all ringside judges.
5. George Foreman vs Ron Lyle: Round 4 (1976)
What happens when two giant heavyweights base their tactics entirely on Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots? You get George Foreman’s slugfest with Ron Lyle, containing a wild fourth round in which the mighty Foreman was battered to the canvas, then put down Lyle before the pair just winged hooks at each other until Foreman collapsed onto his side at the bell. ‘Big George’ looked cooked but somehow recovered in the break to win in round five. Incredible.
4. Micky Ward vs Arturo Gatti I: Round 9 (2002)
When Arturo ‘Thunder’ Gatti sank to his knees after a savage body shot early in round nine, his face screwed up in the definition of agony. He got up but could not raise his fists, allowing Micky Ward to bash his head. On the verge of being stopped, Gatti dug deep, bloodying Ward’s eye and causing disbelief ringside. Momentum swung like the pair’s blows, and the numbers at the end were scarcely believable: a total of 102 power punches landed in three minutes of utter carnage. Two more wars would follow, but nothing would top this.
3. Jack Dempsey vs Angel Firpo: Round 1 (1923)
Just the ten knockdowns in round one (in the days before standing eight counts or neutral corners) when heavyweight champ Jack Dempsey fought Argentinian bull, Angel Firpo. Dempsey scored more, but Firpo nailed the best: hammering Dempsey out of the ring and crashing into the press row just before the round ended.
“What round did he knock me out in?” a dazed Dempsey inquired of his corner when sat on the stool, only to be loudly informed that he was still in the fight. He promptly got up and knocked Firpo out in round two.
2. Diego Corrales vs Jose Luis Castillo I: Round 10 (2005)
The craziest ending to a fight boxing has ever seen. Jose Luis Castillo pulverised lanky bomber Diego Corrales to the canvas twice in round ten, all but ending their battle. A desperate Corrales spat out his mouthpiece twice, costing him a point (which seemed the least of his worries).
“You gotta f**king get inside on him now,” offered trainer Joe Goossen. So Corrales, eyes almost swollen shut, did just that, catching Castillo coming in and slamming him with hooks until the referee, Tony Weeks, dived in to save the beaten Mexican on the ropes. An unreal turnaround.
1. Marvin Hagler vs Tommy Hearns: Round 1 (1985)
Marvelous Marvin Hagler walked around in fight week in a bad mood, a three-letter word emblazoned on his baseball cap: ‘War’. Unimpressed that many boxing figures were picking dangerous Detroit puncher Tommy Hearns to capture his middleweight world titles, Hagler planned to fight fire with fire from the opening bell.
‘The Hitman’ was never one to back down, so two all-time greats started at 100mph and then sped up, rocking one another with crisp, sublime power shots. Hearns was hurt, Hagler was badly cut, “This is still the first round!” gasped commentator Al Michaels. Hagler would go on to win a three-round adrenaline rush of a fight, but the first round set a new standard in jaw-dropping thrills.