Muhammad Ali vs Sonny Liston

A Look at Some of the Greatest Heavyweight Boxing Fights of All Time

Tyson Fury standing over Deontay Wilder during their third fight.
Tyson Fury defeated Deontay Wilder in their fight on October 9, 2021. Source: BBC

On October 9, 2021, heavyweight boxers Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder met in Las Vegas, Nevada to complete their trilogy of fights. On the line was Fury’s WBC heavyweight championship belt. The two fighters had fought each other on two separate occasions. The first fight ended in a draw, while in the second match, Fury won after Wilder’s corner stopped the fight. Their third fight was eagerly anticipated. During the promotional campaign, Fury and Wilder both expressed their dislike for the other. Fans speculated which of the fighters would emerge victorious.

The third Wilder vs. Fury certainly lived up to its hype. Both fighters were knocked down on multiple occasions. In the 11th round, Fury viciously knocked down Wilder; he would win by technical knockout. This fight is now regarded by many as one of the greatest heavyweight boxing fights in history.

The heavyweight boxing division has seen many great fights, some of which date back to the early 1900s. This article will look at some of the stand-out bouts. However, let’s first take a look at the heavyweight boxing division and the reasons for its popularity.

Heavyweight Boxing

In technical terms, the heavyweight boxing class includes fighters who weigh over 200 pounds. Another weight figure is fighters weighing over 224 pounds. There are four major boxing organizations: the World Boxing Association (WBA), the International Boxing Federation (IBF), the World Boxing Council (WBC), and the World Boxing Organization (WBO). Each organization has their own championship belt. The goal of any heavyweight boxer is to win the four belts, and therefore become the undisputed champion.

Out of all the divisions in boxing, the heavyweight division remains the most popular and most well known. While the other boxing divisions have had remarkable fighters and incredible fights, the heavyweight division continues to capture peoples’ imaginations. Why is this so?

The heavyweight division has had several popular fighters. Even though other boxing divisions included famous fighters, many of the fighters that graced the heavyweight division are regarded as the greatest of all time. One notable example is Muhammad Ali. Ali made a name for himself for his flashy boxing style and his unique and amusing boasts. He also became a cultural icon for his humanitarian work. He is celebrated by many as the greatest boxer and sports figure in history.

Another example is Mike Tyson. Known as the baddest man on the planet, Tyson dominated the heavyweight division during the 1980s. He knocked out opponents in brutal fashion, often in the first round. Therefore, he was immensely popular; millions tuned in to watch his fights. There are other examples, like Joe Frasier, Evander Holyfield, and George Foreman. This stable of popular fighters is what drew in fans to the heavyweight division. It is one of the main reasons why the heavyweight class retains its popularity.


Jack Johnson fighting another fighter during the 1900s.
Jack Johnson was the first African-American heavyweight champion. Source: ABC News – Walt Disney

The heavyweight division’s popularity also ties in with its prestigious history. The heavyweight boxing class dates back to the late 19th century with fighters like John L. Sullivan, the first heavyweight champion of gloved boxing. During the early 1900s, Jack Johnson became the first African-American heavyweight champion. Johnson also defied many racial stereotypes during a time when racism was rampant in much of the U.S. Jack Dempsey, Joe Louis, and Rocky Marciano continued the legacy of the heavyweight division during their respective eras. And as mentioned above, Muhammad Ali in the 1960s-70s and Mike Tyson in the 1980s brought the heavyweight division to new heights.

Because of its rich history, people view the heavyweight division as the most esteemed out of all the boxing classes. Therefore, people are drawn to the heavyweight division, which adds to its popularity.

Legendary Fights

Now let’s look at some of the greatest fights in heavyweight boxing history. These fights come from different eras and feature fighters with their own unique styles. Some of these fights were hard fought, dramatic bouts. Others were huge upsets. Whatever the case may be, these fights captured the imagination of fight fans and cemented themselves in boxing history.

Cassius Clay vs. Sonny Liston: 1964

Muhammad Ali throwing a punch against Sonny Liston during their first fight in 1964.
Caasius Clay (Muhammad Ali) defeated the dangerous Sonny Liston in 1964 to win the heavyweight championship. Source: Morrison Hotel Gallery.

Before changing his name, Muhammad Ali was known as Cassius Clay. And in 1964, he was an up and coming fighter who had a loud mouth. Clay made several boasts before his fights. For example, he would predict the round in which he would knock out his opponent. After a number of impressive wins, Clay won the chance to fight the heavyweight champion, Sonny Liston. The champion was an intimidating fighter. Liston had powerful knockout power; he knocked out former champion Floyd Patterson within the first two rounds of their fight. Fans and sports writers believed Clay would also fall in the first round to Liston. However, Clay claimed he would triumph over Liston.

As the fight began, Liston looked to knock Clay out with one punch. However, Clay used his superior reflexes and foot speed to evade the punches. Towards the end of the round, Clay unleashed devastating combinations to Liston’s head. This pattern continued for the majority of the fight. The audience was shocked. Hardly anyone believed Clay would last past the first round. Now it looked like Clay was thoroughly beating Sonny Liston.

In the fifth round, Clay experienced problems with his vision. The cause is believed to be a solution applied to Liston’s gloves. However, Clay overcame this problem and dominated the next round. In the seventh round, Liston failed to get off his stool, essentially quitting the fight. Cassius Clay had just become the heavyweight champion of the world.

A Huge Upset

Clay’s win over Liston was a shocking upset. Many believed Clay would be mauled by the powerful Liston. However, Clay used his superior skills to thoroughly outbox Liston. This makes the Clay-Liston one of the greatest upsets in sports history, and one of the greatest fights in heavyweight boxing history.

Riddick Bowe vs Evander Holyfield: 1992

Riddick Bowe landing a punch to Evander Holyfield's. head during their 1992 fight.
The first fight between Eveander Holyfield and Riddick Bowe was an epic, back and forth battle. Source: World Boxing News

This fight is remembered for the fierce fighting between Evander Holyfield and Riddick Bowe. At the time, Holyfield was the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world. He had defended his title three times, the most notable being against former champion George Foreman. Holyfield also looked to establish himself as the greatest fighter in the world while Mike Tyson served a prison sentence. Bowe was one of many emerging boxers who wanted a shot at the title.

Many picked the more experienced Holyfield to easily beat the raw Bowe. However, Bowe used his size advantage to outmuscle and outpunch Holyfield. The champion struggled to land his punches on the challenger. Meanwhile, Bowe was thoroughly beating Holyfield. The final three rounds of the fight were filled with excitement. In round 10, Bowe almost knocked out Holyfield with several hard punches. However, Holyfield regained his composure and battled back, dominating the latter half of the round.

Despite this comeback, Bowe knocked down an exhausted Holyfield in round 11. Round 12 saw Holyfield aggressively pursue Bowe. The champion knew he was losing the fight and needed a knock out to win. But Bowe persevered and survived the round. He won the fight by unanimous decision and became the new heavyweight champion of the world.

Bowe and Holyfield fought each other two more times, but those fights did not live up to the explosiveness of the original.

James ‘Buster’ Douglas vs. Mike Tyson: 1990

Mike Tyson, with one of his eyes swollen, falling to the canvas. James "Buster" Douglas stands over him.
James “Buster” Douglas shocked the world when he knocked out heavyweight champion Mike Tyson in 1990. Source: For The Win – USA Today

In 1990, Mike Tyson was regarded as the best pound-for-pound boxer in the world. Tyson turned professional in 1985, and he strung together an impressive record of knockout victories. These knock out wins often came within the first two or three rounds. Tyson also had a ferocious fighting style, one which not many people had seen before. His raw, explosive power excited fight fans and intimidated Tyson’s opponents.

Once Tyson won the heavyweight championship in 1986, he defeated everyone in his path. The most impressive victory came in 1988, when he scored a stunning first round knock out victory against Michael Spinks. With such ferocious power, many people thought Tyson was unbeatable.

James “Buster” Douglas was an average boxer. He had some impressive performances, but other times he seemed to lack discipline and motivation. When Douglas was scheduled to fight Tyson in Tokyo, no one believed he would win. Tyson was so confident that he hardly trained for the fight. Douglas, who’s mother had died before the fight, went through an intense training regimen. He was extremely motivated to defeat Tyson and shock the world. 

The Fight

As the fight began, Tyson did not get off to his explosive start. Douglas used his reach advantage to land hard combinations on Tyson’s head. As the rounds progressed, Tyson moved slower and slower while Douglas continued to land stiff jabs, right hands, and hooks. Commentators, sports writers, and fans around the world could not believe what they were watching. Mike Tyson, the “Baddest Man on the Planet”, was losing a fight everyone believed he would easily win.

By the eighth round, one of Tyson’s eyes was almost closed due to the punches. However, it was in the eighth round that Douglas almost lost the fight. As the round drew to a close, Tyson launched a powerful uppercut that dropped Douglas to the canvas. Douglas slowly got up and was saved by the bell as the round ended. Douglas overcame this setback and reasserted his dominance over Tyson. In the tenth round, Douglas threw an uppercut of his own. It connected with Tyson’s chin, and he fell to canvas. Tyson was unable to beat the ten count, and was ruled out. James ‘Buster’ Douglas became the new heavyweight champion of the world.

This fight ranks as one of the greatest upsets in the history of boxing. After this defeat, Tyson would fight four more times before being convicted of rape. Douglas would only defend his title once; he lost to Evander Holyfield in 1990. However, Douglas will always be remembered for his stunning victory over Mike Tyson.

Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier: 1971

Joe Frazier landing a left hook against Muhammad Ali's head during their 1971 fight.
The first fight between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier is often regarded as the greatest fight in boxing history. Source: Newsday

It’s safe to say that Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier fought some of the greatest bouts in boxing history. The pair fought each other three times, and each fight is celebrated for the fierce competiveness of both men. While their third fight, 1975’s “Thrilla in Manilla”, is regarded as the most grueling and violent of the three fights, the pair’s first meeting in 1971 is seen as the best. Many boxing fans and writers name that fight as the greatest bout in the history of boxing.


In 1971, Ali was a year into his comeback. For the last three years, he was banned from boxing after he refused to be drafted into the U.S. Army. Even though Ali did not hold the championship belt, many believed he was the rightful champion. During Ali’s absence, Frazier rose through the ranks of the heavyweight division. He won the championship in 1970, and he solidified himself as one of the top boxers in the world.

During the buildup to the fight, Ali took every opportunity to humiliate and demean Frazier. Ali made fun of Frazier’s fighting style and his personal characteristics, like his face and voice. He even went so far as to call Frazier a guerilla. Ali also portrayed himself as the hero of African-Americans and as the people’s champion. He stated Frazier was the “Great White Hope”, the favourite fighter of white America. This launched a cultural debate in America. People argued about which fighter truly represented the black community.

While Ali’s comments were meant to intimidate Frazier, they had the opposite effect. All of these verbal barbs only fueled Frazier. He was extremely determined to defeat Ali.

Because of the drama surrounding the fight, the bout between Frazier and Ali was eagerly anticipated. As a result, the bout was billed as “The Fight of the Century”.

The Fight

The fight took place at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Because of the intense buildup to the fight, the stadium was packed with several celebrities in attendance. The fight was also broadcast via closed circuit television. An estimated 300 million people from around the world tuned in to watch the bout.

As the bell rang, both fighters settled in to their fighting styles. Ali used his long arms to punch Frazier from long distance. However, Frazeir used head movement to dodge Ali’s punches and close the distance between the two. Frazier’s best punch was the left hook, and he landed it several times against Ali’s head and midsection. Ali dominated the first two rounds by throwing quick combinations. However, Frazier took control during the middle rounds. He fired punches to Ali’s body, which slowed down the speedy former champion. Frazier’s left hook also dealt significant damage to Ali. By the sixth round, Ali began to tire, but he still persevered. He scored with quick flurries of punches, but he was unable to keep up with Frazier’s relentless pace.

In the 11th round, Frazeir connected with a left hook that almost dropped Ali. The former champion survived the round, but his luck soon ran out. In the final round, Frazeir floored Ali with a crisp left hook. Although Ali beat the ten count, he was visibly hurt. As the fight drew to a close, the two tired and battered fighters continued to throw punches at each other until the final bell rang.


Both fighters took severe punishment from each other. Frazier’s face was swollen from Ali’s sharp left and right punches. Ali’s right cheek was massively swollen from Frazeir’s left hook. Even though Ali fought a courageous fight, Frazier was named winner by unanimous decision. At the time, this result shocked the world. The once unbeatable Ali suddenly experienced his first professional loss.

The first Ali-Frazier fight outlived everyone’s expectations. For 15 rounds, fans were treated to an exciting and drama-filled bout. Despite taking a savage beating, both men continued to fight, demonstrating heart and determination. While the two fought three more times, the first Ali-Frazier fight lives on as one of the greatest fights in boxing history.


Tyson Fury landing a punch against Deontay Wilder during their third fight.
Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder added a new chapter to the history of great heavyweight boxing fights. Source: MMA Fighting.

The heavyweight boxing division has seen many great fights over its long history. Some fights have been dramatic championship bouts, as is the case with Bowe vs. Holyfield in 1992, and Ali vs. Frazier in 1971. Other fights have been shocking upsets, like Clay vs. Liston in 1964, and Douglas vs. Tyson in 1990. And in 2021, Tyson Fury and Deontay Wilder put on a remarkable show in their third fight. Both men hit the canvass multiple times during the fight, but Fury prevailed after scoring a devastating knockdown against Wilder. This recent fight between Wilder and Fury adds another chapter in the hallowed history of heavyweight boxing fights.


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