Best Boxing Matches Of All Time: Top 5 Iconic Fights, According To Experts

There’s nothing better than gathering around with a few friends on a Saturday night to watch a heated match in the ring. Boxing has definitely treated us to some stellar matchups over the years and the best boxing matches of all time typically feature two fighters in the prime of their careers where one is the champion and the other is chasing a championship title. Undoubtedly, these scenarios are exciting to watch and remain legendary in sports history.

However, it’s essential not to take any sports too seriously. In fact, a new link between watching sports and cardiovascular health has been shown in a study by Canadian high school students. The study outfitted 20 sports fans, specifically hockey fans, with heart monitors. Half of the group watched from home while the other half attended in-person hockey games. The results showed that at-home viewers had an average 75 percent increase in heart rate during crucial points in the game, while the live attendees had a 110 percent increase during these same key moments. That’s some serious fandom, to say the least. 

Heart health aside, there are plenty of social benefits to gathering with friends and family to enjoy a sporting event. But, as another recent study explains, these hangouts on gameday could be impacted by superstitious sports fans. A recent survey of 2,400 sports fans who regularly watch or attend sporting events found that nearly 66 percent of fans are superstitious when it comes to game day. The survey also found 38 percent of sports fans feel that certain family members being present is bad luck on game days. 

Of course, watching combat sports such as mixed martial arts (MMA) or boxing might not always be the most “family friendly” sports to watch. Many times, these sports bouts feature contestants receiving numerous vicious blows to the head and face. How do these violent blows impact boxers and MMA fighters? A new study shows that there is hope for a fighter’s brain in retirement. Researchers studied 45 retired, male fighters who hadn’t competed in two years and had an average age of 32. Retired fighters showed improvements in their verbal memory, motor speed, and processing speed scores over time, while active fighters’ scores in the same categories either remained stagnant or showed subtle declines.

Considering what fighters go through to compete, we wanted to know which matches have left indelible marks on sports fans? StudyFinds did the research, consulting 10 expert websites in an effort to find the consensus best boxing matches of all time. Our list is comprised of the five most frequently listed events from across these sites. As always, feel free to share your thoughts with us in the comments section below! 

The List: Best Boxing Matches of All Time, Per Sports Experts 

1. Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier, March 8th, 1971

The top spot on the list of the best boxing matches of all time goes to Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier. This fight was included at or near the top spot on most of the lists we referenced and for good reason, too. This 15-round fight in 1971 was the first matchup between two of the best boxers of all time.

“Known as The Fight of the Century for good reason, this 1971 Heavyweight Title match was about more than just a championship. In the eyes of many, it was a reflection of the times — a showdown between the counterculture in the guise of Muhammad Ali and the pro-war establishment represented — somewhat illogically — by Joe Frazier,” explains Men’s Journal

The way this fight was hyped made it one of the most anticipated heavyweight fights of all time. Still, Ali and Frazier did not disappoint, providing the boxing world with 15 of the most thrilling rounds in boxing history. “No sporting event in history has had the kind of anticipatory buildup, popular culture significance and lasting iconic resonance that the first fight between Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali generated. This was a clash between two dominant and undefeated heavyweight champions. Beyond that, each fighter was assigned an emblematic role representing opposing sides in the political and cultural conflicts tearing apart the nation,” adds Bleacher Report

This was also Ali’s first fight after he was imprisoned for “dodging” the draft in protest of the Vietnam War and the ways African Americans were treated during the time. Ali was stripped of his title and spent three long years out of the ring, robbing fans of his greatness in the process. But, this wasn’t Ali’s night and Frazier won on the judge’s decision after 15 brutal rounds of boxing. 

“Despite the layoff, Ali showed off impressive punching power. However, Frazier was unrelenting, constantly bobbing and weaving to get inside as he bullied Ali into the ropes every chance that he got. Ali barely even had space to breathe, as Frazier was rarely ever more than an arm’s length away from him,” writes Sports Illustrated

2. “Marvelous” Marvin Hagler vs. Thomas “Hitman” Hearns, April 15th, 1985

The second spot on the list of the best boxing matches of all time takes us from a 15-round war between two of the best heavyweights of all time to a 3-round fight between Marvin Hagler and Thomas Hearns. It was Marvelous Marvin vs The Hitman, and this fight is easily one of the most entertaining boxing matches in the history of the sport. 

“When we’re talking about the best boxing bouts in the history of the sport, we’re invariably going to run into this one… The WBA, WBC, IBF, and The Ring middleweight titles were on the line on a fresh April evening in Las Vegas. Two of the world’s most ferocious fighters, Hagler and Hearns, were set to go toe to toe for 15 rounds in what was billed as a classic before a punch had even been thrown. It didn’t [take] long for the fight to get up and running as Hagler burst out of his corner. Hearns’ reluctance to step off made for arguably the best boxing round of the 20th century,” explains Gambling Sites

This was an absolutely brutal fight between two of the best middleweight fighters in boxing history. The first round of this fight goes down as arguably the best round in boxing history as these two fighters absolutely went toe-to-toe trying to knock one another out in the first. 

“Many believe that this is the best middleweight fight in boxing history. The first round was three minutes full of action [where] both fighters hurt each other. Hearns and Hagler both showed incredible heart and gave the fans a show,” explains BolaVIP

There was no fluke to this fight. In round one, Hearns and Hagler threw power punches at one another and landed a majority of them. After that thrilling first round, everyone knew this fight wasn’t going to last 15 rounds. Hagler scored a decisive third-round victory. 

“In what has been called the greatest round in boxing history, the middleweights traded power punch after power punch, but neither man would go down. Exhausted from the wild three minutes, Hagler and Hearns struggled through the next two rounds until a bloodied Hagler found victory with a right hand followed by two uppercuts,” adds Men’s Journal

3. Muhammad Ali vs. George Foreman, October 30th, 1974 

The third fight to land on the list of the best boxing matches of all time once again features Muhammad Ali, but this time his opponent was ‘Big’ George Foreman. This fight was titled “The Rumble in the Jungle” as it was held in Zaire in Africa. and featured two of the greatest heavyweight fighters of all time – Foreman and Ali. 

George Foreman v. Muhammed Ali 1974
Foreman v. Ali 1974 (“BE056179” by Sabatu is marked with Public Domain Mark 1.0.)

“In 1974, George Foreman was hell on earth. A huge, powerful puncher, Foreman made mincemeat out of Joe Frazier and embarrassed Ken Norton in two rounds before it was announced that he would be fighting Muhammad Ali in Zaire in a bout dubbed ‘The Rumble in the Jungle.’ Although he was beloved, Ali was looked at as the underdog going into this title match. Foreman was too big, too powerful,” explains Men’s Journal

Similar to a lot of big fights during this time, the match was hyped using political and cultural relevance. Despite that, this fight was certain to be one of Ali’s greatest tests ever. George Foreman had pummeled the likes of Joe Frazier and Ken Norton en route to this highly anticipated fight with Ali.  

“The event also reflected wider political and cultural changes as two Black men fought for boxing’s biggest prize in a newly independent African nation and as part of an event staged by boxing’s first Black promoter. The fight, and the victory, was bigger than boxing as it was the perfect conclusion to the story of Ali’s defiance of the American government. It is no exaggeration to say it made The Greatest a living legend,” adds The Fight City

The tactic Ali used to beat Foreman is known as the “rope a dope.” That’s definitely not a slight at Foreman, but Ali was a savvy fighter who could lull his opponents into feeling comfortable in the ring. That’s right where Ali wanted the big bruising heavyweight. “Foreman was a thunderous puncher who had never been taken deep into a fight, Ali laid on the ropes for most of the first seven rounds of the fight, fighting only in spurts. In the eighth round, Ali opened up with a multiple-punch combination that finally drove Foreman to the canvas towards the end of round eight. Foreman, beaten up and totally fatigued, was counted out at the end of the round,” writes The Grueling Truth

4. Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier III, October 1st, 1975 (Thrilla in Manila)

Jabbing into the fourth spot on the list of the best boxing matches of all time is the third installment of Ali vs. Frazier. As we explained earlier, Frazier won the first fight by decision. Ali took the second fight in this rivalry. The third fight was sure to be a classic. This bout was dubbed the “Thrilla in Manila” as it took place in the Philippines and lived up its billing as it was a true back-and-forth match with each fighter landing solid punches throughout. 

Ali v. Frazier 1971
Ali v. Frazier 1971 (“Muhammad Ali’ Joe Frazier [1024×768] This was the biggest fight of it’s time! – gootmark” by Douglas Tofoli is marked with Public Domain Mark 1.0.)
“The “Thrilla in Manila” was the third fight between the two boxers after Frazier won the first bout and Ali the second…  both boxers showed why they are legends in this one. Ali started strong again [in] the first rounds but in the middle ones Frazier bashed Ali with powerful body shots. Ali regained momentum in the last couple of rounds and towards the end of the fight Frazier could barely see from how swollen shut his eyes were. Eddie Futch, Frazier’s trainer, asked the referee to stop the fight after the 14th round to give Ali the win. This iconic fight gave Ali the win in their trilogy and is the greatest title fight in history,” explains BolaVIP

Still, Frazier had absolutely no quit in him as he continued to fight. “The most hyped rubber match in boxing history, this fight would not only settle once and for all who the superior boxer was but also decide their legacies… Any normal human being would have crumpled to the mat from the force of Ali’s punches, but Frazier was one of the toughest fighters to ever step into a ring. No matter what Ali hit him with, Frazier kept coming back for more. Even so, it appeared as if it was Ali’s fight to lose after the first four rounds,” writes Sports Illustrated

As we said, this was the third fight between these two great heavyweights. Although a lot of boxing fans weren’t sure what to expect from this fight, Ali and Frazier did not disappoint. “Frazier had been smashed in just two rounds by Foreman in 1973, and the second fight between Ali and Frazier, in 1974, had lacked the grand drama of their first meeting, in 1971. But once the bell rang, Ali and Frazier combined to turn in the greatest heavyweight fight in history. They set a record for punches thrown in a heavyweight bout and both pushed themselves well beyond the limits of endurance for normal men,” raves Bleacher Report

5. “Sugar” Ray Leonard vs. Thomas “Hitman” Hearns, September 16th, 1981

“Sugar” Ray Leonard squared off against Thomas “Hitman” Hearns in an epic battle. This fight took place approximately four years before the iconic fight between Hearns and Hagler and came during a time when boxing critics still weren’t sure what to expect from Hearns. 

“A highly anticipated fight that pitted Hearns, an undefeated power puncher from Detroit, Michigan, against the media darling Ray Leonard. Leonard had proven himself an all-time great at a very young age with his wins over Wilfred Benitez and his rematch win over Roberto Duran. Hearns, on the other hand, was more of a mystery.  He had destroyed Pipino Cuevas in two devastating rounds the year before, but there were still questions about his legitimacy,” explains The Grueling Truth

During the late ’70s and early ’80s, four middleweight fighters comprised and dominated boxing’s most talented division. As one expert site explains, this combination of four fighters is responsible for some of the best boxing matches of all time. “Of all the nine fights that took place between the four horsemen of boxing—Sugar Ray Leonard, Tommy Hearns, Marvin Hagler and Roberto Duran—this would go down as the most memorable. Scheduled for 15 rounds, The Showdown was a unification title fight to settle who would become the welterweight champion of the world between a 25-year-old Leonard and an undefeated 22-year-old Hearns,” explains Sports Illustrated

This was the first fight between these two legends and it was truly a back-and-forth battle throughout the fight. Just when it seemed Hearns was poised to win this fight, Sugar Ray Leonard dug deep inside himself and pulled out a decisive 14th-round victory when the referee had to stop the match. “…soon Hearns adapted himself, swinging the fight back in his favor by boxing instead of brawling. The fight looked to be going the Motor City Cobra’s way until Leonard threw all caution to the wind and attacked his opponent, scoring a knockdown in the 13th before pounding Hearns until the official stopped [the] fight in the following round,” explains Men’s Journal

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  1. You certainly know nothing about boxing! So there were no great bouts prior to 1971! Ali despite your learned observations wasn’t known for extraordinary punching power. He was known for hand speed and great accuracy. He’d kill his opponent with combinations and the ability to avoid a punch and later on absorbed many punches when his reflexes slowed down. Boxing, quite often, is a matter of conflicting styles. Foreman could beat Frazier. Frazier could beat Ali. Ali could beat Frazier etc.

  2. I guess you clowns never saw the first Balboa/Creed match up. I don’t care what anyone says Creed got a Champion’s decision that night but still the greatest fight I ever witnessed.

  3. Learn the facts sir!!! Ali was never imprisoned because he refused induction into the Army! He did a weekend in jail in Miami because of traffic tickets. Don’t believe me go read the Greatest or Thomas Hausers book about Ali. I own both.

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