The greatest boxing matches of all time

Where will the Mayweather vs Pacquiao fight rank among the most epic bouts in history?

Neil Churchill March 3, 2015

Since 2009, the boxing world has been waiting for Floyd Mayweather, Jr. and Manny Pacquiao to face each other in the ring. Finally, after disagreements, rumours and false starts, the Fight of the Century has been confirmed for May 2nd, at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas.

It will easily be the highest grossing boxing match in history with an expected purse of $300 million - $180m going to Mayweather and $120m to Pacquiao. Ticket prices will range from $1,250 to $6,000 a seat.

The real question of course is will the fight live up to the colossal expectation, or is it six years too late?

Well, if it resembles anything close to the epic bouts listed below, then it will be worth every dollar. These are arguably the greatest professional boxing matches of all time. Where will the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight rank on this list? We'll know in two months' time.

Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier III - October 1, 1975 The greatest ever fight should be a hotly debated topic. But, such was the epic encounter of the Thrilla in Manila, the third and final boxing match between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier is widely regarded as the best ever - Ali famously said ‘it was the closest to dying he had ever been’.

Ali started the fight well, claiming the first two rounds, but Smokin’ Joe fought back, catching Ali with body shots when he rested on the ropes. What happened next? Well such was the magnitude of that night, we've written a previous article all about it - click here.

Sugar Ray Leonard vs. Tommy Hearns — September 16, 1981 Sugar Ray Leonard vs. Tommy Hearns Billed as 'The Showdown', Leonard vs. Hearns would unify the World Welterweight Championship, with Sugar Ray holding the WBC belt and Hearns the undefeated champ of the WBA crown. It was a beautiful fight with ups and downs - first Hearns, then Leonard, then Hearns again held the lead.

After 12 intense rounds of trading punches, Leonard's trainer warned his fighter that he was 'blowing it'. Sugar Ray came out swinging in the 13th with a flurry of punches, even knocking Hearns through the ropes at one point. He continued his assault in the 14th round before the referee called a halt to proceedings. Hearns was actually up on all the judges' scorecards until that point.

Jack Dempsey vs. Luis Angel Firpo - September 14, 1923

While we'd love to see it, we doubt the Mayweather vs. Pacquiao fight is going to be as quick or as explosive as Dempsey vs. Firpo was. In front of 80,000 people in New York's polo grounds, Dempsey floored Firpo seven times - there was no three knockdown rule back then - and Firpo knocked Dempsey clean out of the ring all in the first round alone!

Some said that Dempsey was thrown back into the ring by the press writers at ringside, and that the referred had a very slow 10-second count. But, after a ridiculous 11 knockdowns exchanged, Dempsey won by knockout in the second round.

Micky Ward vs. Arturo Gatti I — May 18, 2002 They faced each other three times in all, but it was the first bout between Ward and Gatti that some described as the Fight of the Decade, with round nine named by many as Round of the Century. This is also the same Ward portrayed by Mark Wahlberg in Hollywood's The Fighter.

Gatti dropped Ward early on with a low body shot for which he was penalised. But Ward returned the favour in the ninth, striking a vicious left hook to Gatti's ribs. It was this round that to many was the greatest single round of boxing ever. Ward won the fight by majority decision, although Gatti won their next two meetings.

Marvin Hagler vs. Tommy Hearns — April 15, 1985 It may have been given the monicker 'The War', but this battle between Hagler and Hearns lasted just eight minutes. It may have been short, with Hagler scoring a third-round knockout, but this fight had the greatest opening round in boxing history.

Hearns gained the upper hand-early on, landing a number of jabs on Hagler's chin. But after weathering the storm, Hagler fought back with his own hook and body shots, and had figured out how to beat Hearns by the time round 2 begun. Both boxers were left bloodied and dazed when the ferocious eight minutes came to an end.

Rocky Marciano vs. Jersey Joe Walcott — September 23, 1952 Rocky Marciano vs. Jersey Joe Walcott The war of words before this fight whetted the appetite for a boxing match that did not disappoint. A bout of opposing styles, the technically superior Walcott took an early advantage knocking Marciano down in the first. As the fight descended into a slug fest however, the momentum switched to Marciano.

The challenger - with a 42-0 record to uphold - shrugged off huge punches and delivered a knockout blow in the 13th, leaving Walcott unconscious.

Joe Louis vs. Billy Conn - June 18, 1941 Joe Louis vs. Billy Conn Conn was the big underdog for this fight, giving away 25 pounds in weight to the heavyweight champion. But even so, it was Conn who dominated the match, outboxing Louis for the majority with his impenetrable defence, while Louis suffered in the eight round with dehydration.

Feeling confident - a little too confident - Conn went for the big finish in the 12th round, despite behind ahead on two of the scorecards. Dropping his guard to deliver a knockout blow, Conn got caught by Louis and was left lying on the floor, unable to beat the count with two seconds left in the round.

Diego Corrales vs. Jose Luis Castillo — May 7, 2005 An unrelenting, brutal match that never let up over its ten rounds, Corrales and Castillo were fighting for the WBC title. Both fighters exchanged quick and punishing blows right from the start, but in the 10th Castillo took the upper hand as he knocked Corrales down twice.

The writing looked like it was on the wall for Corrales, but after spitting out his gum shield which earned him an unofficial 30-second timeout, he came out swinging and hit Castillo with a flurry of combinations, eventually knocking him out.