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Diego Corrales’ victory over José Luis Castillo for the WBC lightweight belt in May 2005 was a title fight that had everything: battering blows, lightning combinations and underhand tactics. Corrales, knocked down twice, spat out his mouthguard on both occasions to gain additional recovery time before delivering what he called the ‘perfect’ right hand to stun Castillo into submission in the tenth.
Hailed as the ‘Fight of the Century’, the first of three historic bouts between ‘Irish’ Micky Ward and Arturo ‘Thunder’ Gatti helped revive boxing’s flagging fortunes after a decade tainted by corruption. The 2002 bout ebbed and flowed as both took some astonishing punishment before Gatti was floored in the ninth with a ferocious left that secured a points win for Ward.
Bareknuckle boxing was illegal in 19th-century America, so fight locations were kept under wraps until the last minute. Yet the decision to host the 1887 middleweight title fight between Jonny Reagan and Jack Dempsey on New York’s Long Island beach left both men – and spectators – out at sea. By the fifth round the Atlantic was lapping the canvas and by the eighth they were knee-deep. The fight moved inland only for hail and snow to continue the disruption. Reagan finally threw in the towel in the 45th as Dempsey retained the title.
James Braddock stunned the boxing world by winning the heavyweight title, at odds of 10-1, from Max Baer at Madison Square Garden in 1935. The 30-year-old journeyman, who boxed left-handed after previously fracturing his stronger hand, baffled his younger opponent by delivering effective punches while soaking up everything that was thrown at him to win on points. Having given up boxing during the Great Depression, Braddock used his winnings to repay the government handouts that had kept his family alive.
Las Vegas was packed with fight fans in late 1981 as the speed of ‘Sugar’ Ray Leonard met the devastating power of Thomas Hearns to unify the world welterweighttitle. Hearns, capitalising on his huge reach, had built a sizeable points lead by the 12th with Leonard’s left eye swelled up. Coming out of his corner with nothing to lose, Leonard unleashed blow after blow to knock the wind from Hearns’s sails, winning by a technical KO in the 14th. Only a few months later, however, a detached retina forced Leonard’s first retirement.
The rivalry between Californian Bobby Chacon and Rafael ‘Bazooka’ Limón of Mexico matched that of Ali and Frazier or Gatti and Ward. The final fight between the two was a super featherweight world title decider after their three earlier encounters had ended all square with a points-win each separated by a tie. Limón dominated the first few rounds, culminating in a knock-down left at the end of the third, but Chacon rallied strongly. Level on points with 10 seconds of the 15th and final round remaining, Chacon floored Limón with the most important right of his career, securing a single-point victory.
The most famous bareknuckle boxer of modern times, Irish Traveller Bartley Gorman was undefeated from 1972 until his retirement in 1992. Fighting at fairs, race-courses and pub car parks across the UK and Ireland, Gorman came closest to losing his title in 1980 in a Coventry pub when he dislocated his shoulder during a fight with Mexicana Webb. He also took on two dogs and over-turned a car when Blond Simey failed to show for their bout.