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Cuts, Bombs, Broken Hands And Mayhem: The Greatest Rounds In History: Round One
By Danny Winterbottom: No matter whether you are a diehard connoisseur of boxing’s dark arts or a casual observer, every fight fan gets a thrill from two warriors laying everything on the line in three minutes of brutal mayhem.
In the first of a series of articles, and with the help of hardcore fans, promoters and fighters themselves, we shine a light on some of the most spectacular three minutes of pugilism in boxing history, starting with round one.
JACK DEMPSEY VS LUIS ANGEL FIRPO: SEPTEMBER 14, 1923, POLO GROUNDS, NYC
In a historic heavyweight contest, Argentine Luis Firpo, known as “El Toro De Las Pampas”, became the first Latin American fighter to contest the greatest prize in sport when he challenged long standing champion Jack Dempsey in front of a baying crowd of 80,000 at the Polo Grounds in New York City on September 14, 1923.
To modern eyes this wild, animalistic brawl is incredible to behold as both men slugged it out from the very first second of the fight, between them they hit the canvas an amazing nine times in one single round.
With the first meaningful punch of the fight the champion found himself on the canvas. He quickly recovered before blazing into Firpo in true Dempsey fashion, dropping the Argentine a faintly ridiculous seven times. As there was yet to be a neutral corner or three knockdown rule the “Manassa Mauler” was permitted to stand over his foe, arm cocked, ready to deliver another hammer blow before Firpo was barely vertical.
Amazingly Firpo wasn’t done yet and towards the end of the round, in a turn of events that would later be voted the most dramatic sports moment of the 20th century, Dempsey was sent crashing through the ropes from a huge right hand and onto writing machines at ringside that opened up a huge gash to the back of his head. As a shaken Dempsey was helped back into the ring by sports reporters the referees count had reached four, although many observers at the time felt the champion was the beneficiary of a slow count and had in fact been out of the ring for over 14 seconds, meaning Firpo should have been crowned champion by way of knockout.
After that scare Dempsey recuperated, dropping Firpo twice more in the second round before the challenger’s incredible effort was halted at 57 seconds of the same round.
This was truly one of the greatest and most wild three minutes of fighting you could wish to see. Incredible.
RAY MANCINI VS ARTURO FRIAS: MAY 8, 1982, LAS VEGAS, NEVADA, WBA LIGHTWEIGHT TITLE
When I began to canvas fans, fighters and promoters for this article, one contest rivalled the inevitable popularity of the first round slugfest that is Hagler vs. Hearns for the greatest opening stanza in history. Garnering the second highest vote count was this epic first round.
When Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini and champion Arturo Frias met in Las Vegas on May 8, 1982 for the WBA lightweight title, their similar, powerful, come forward styles almost guaranteed fistic fireworks, and the assembled crowd were not to be disappointed in what turned out to be one of the most exciting and dramatic first rounds in boxing history.
As the bell sounded to start the contest Mancini quickly advanced to ring centre behind a bob and weave defence. The champion was slow out of his corner, finally meeting his challenger as the pair exchanged jabs with Mancini’s the heavier and more accurate. The feeling out phase lasted less than 20 seconds as the challenger ripped a right to the body and a double hook to the head followed by a hook to the body of Frias. The champion responded with a swift one two. Encouraged by his success Frias jumped in with a follow up punch then he fired off a scorching hook that detonated on the chin of Mancini. “Boom Boom” staggered backwards under the weight of the punch, obviously hurt but alert enough to quickly turn Frias and smoother his work against the ropes. Frias landed another right to the body and a right to the jaw while Mancini countered with a hook to the face. The champion whaled away inside whilst Mancini worked extensively with the left hand before another Frias attack connected with the chin of the young challenger.
A wild fire fight ensued as both warriors showed scant regard for the possibility of a 15 round war, in truth it was only going to end one way, the only questions were who, and when.
Surprisingly, the bull strong Mancini was coming off second best in these intense exchanges, even being forced to give ground to a champion whose own fighting spirit had been ignited by the ferocity of the youngsters challenge.
After Mancini had cracked a hook off Frias’ jaw, the champion landed an uppercut that evaded the guard of “Boom Boom” to land square on his chin. Mancini moved slightly to his right and nailed Frias with a short hook to the chin that caught the champion mid way through a punch of his own, momentarily stunning him as he held on. Referee Richard Greene was forced to break the men apart for the first time.
Mancini was relentless with his attacks, unleashing left hand after left hand, missing with most but forcing the champion to work tirelessly to stay with him. Frias had proved he was at least Mancini’s equal in terms of desire and physical strength as he stood toe-to-toe with the younger man, but his show of courage was about to come to an end.
With both men occupying ring centre Mancini fired off a blistering four punch salvo that turned the fight irreversibly in his favour. A looping hook and overhand right crashed against the chin of Frias, visibly wobbling the champion. Sensing this was the opportunity to realise his dream “Boom Boom” jumped on Frias connecting with a powerful hook that dropped him on the seat of his pants. Raising at the count of three the champion looked a spent force as a stream of blood poured from a gash underneath his eye. Sensing victory was within his grasp Mancini unleashed a hailstorm of an incredible 34 blows in 16 seconds, of which 23 landed. Referee Greene jumped in to stop the contest at the 2 minute 54 second mark, bringing to an end one of the most epic first rounds in history.
MICHEAL MOORER VS BERT COOPER: MAY 15 1992, ATLANTIC CITY, NJ, VACANT WBO HEAVYWEIGHT TITLE
In one of the most ferocious first rounds in heavyweight history, former 175lb destroyer Michael Moorer and the often overlooked ‘Smokin Bert Cooper traded power shot for power shot in a round that saw both men hit the canvas and Moorer recover from the very brink of defeat to battle each other to a standstill.
‘Smokin Bert Cooper, a onetime protégé of the late, great, Joe Frazier had previously come mightily close to upsetting then heavyweight king Evander Holyfield, having “The Real Deal” in big trouble in the third round of their November 1991 clash, even dropping the iron chinned legend before succumbing to defeat in seven rounds. His reward for that gallant display was a clash with Moorer for the vacant WBO heavyweight title. What proceeded in the opening round at the Trump Taj Mahal was the most exciting heavyweight slug fest of the 1990’s.
As the opening bell tolled, Moorer, in the famous gold of the Kronk Gym fired off a couple of southpaw jabs into the face of Cooper who bounded into range wailing away with powerful hooks to body and head. Moorer opted to trade with his tank like opponent as they both unleashed slugging hooks in the centre of the ring. The extra ferocity of the Philly native’s shots forced Moorer against the ropes where they continued to bombard each other with everything they had until suddenly, a flush right hand from Cooper had the Kronk gym man in a world of trouble, his body slumped forward as if completely “gone”. A couple of cuffing shots later and Moorer was forced to take a knee and appeared on the very brink of tasting defeat for the first time.
In the neutral corner Cooper was cocking his guns in readiness for a stunning first round victory. Moorer rather unsteadily made it to his feet as Cooper emptied his arsenal on his still dazed opponent, yet the Motor City resident fired back in an incredible show of heart and courage. Cooper had momentarily punched himself out as he muscled his man to the ropes, taking a short breath before unloading with every punch in the book in an attempt to claim victory. Again Moorer fired back gallantly, then bang; Cooper goes down from a hard counter right with 1 minute 15 seconds left in the round. He rose to his feet gesturing to the referee that he had lost his mouth piece before immediately going back to war. Moorer sensed he was still badly shaken before unleashing a brutal onslaught of punches that had Cooper tottering around the ring like a listing super liner. Amazingly, as was the theme of the round, it was now Coopers turn to fire back hard in retaliation before a small lull in the action saw the referee break them to allow Coopers mouth guard to be replaced. When the action resumed Cooper landed a sharp right hand before exhaustion seemed to finally take its toll on both fighters as they learned on each other before the bell sounded to bring this incredible first round to a close, and what a round it was.
Moorer went on to win the fight of the year candidate by way of fifth round TKO and became the first legitimately recognised southpaw to hold a version of the world heavyweight title. Sadly, Cooper still remains active today having had two fights this year in the obscurity of county fairs in front of miniscule audiences, a shadow of the man who had been involved in some explosive contests throughout the 90’s.
KENDALL HOLT VS RICARDO TORRES 2: JULY 5, 2008, PLANET HOLLYWOOD RESORT, LAS VEGAS, WBO LIGHT WELTERWEIGHT TITLE
Kendall Holt’s ring moniker maybe “Rated R” but his 61 second shootout with Columbian knockout artist Ricardo Torres deserved an “X” certificate.
Almost a year earlier Torres had stopped Holt in eleven rounds and the anticipation was high for the rematch although nobody could have envisioned the excitement and brutality of this up and down thriller of a first round.
As the bell sounded both men came out throwing bombs. Torres, in the colours of his native Columbia, tried for a right to the body that was countered hard by a Holt left hand. Holt skipped away, keen to box his heavy handed opponent, but Torres hastily gave pursuit. As they returned to ring centre the champion hurled a huge overhand right that detonated on the chin of Holt sending him crashing heavily to the canvas. Despite looking like a fight finisher, Holt sprang back to his feet and started to dance as if to get life back into his legs. Sensing another knockout victory Torres unleashed a barrage of punches on the challenger who had no option other than to stand his ground and fight back. A wild exchange of punches ensued and a hard left caught Holt high on the head knocking him off balance and forcing him to touch down. As Holt attempted to regain his feet Torres cracked him with another left just as referee Jay Nady attempted to split them. Convinced he had Holt there for the taking Torres went for it. A sweeping left hook was partially blocked by Holt but forceful enough to force him backwards against the ropes where the two again exchanged heavy shots. Suddenly, as Holt moved forward, the pair clashed heads forcing Torres to stumble back to the ropes. As he bounced back off them Holt timed to perfection a huge right hook that instantly put the champion to sleep, his body slumped in a strange half crouched position. It wasn’t apparent immediately if Torres was out cold or simply shacking off the effects of the heavy punch until Jay Nady waved the contest off and signalled for paramedics to enter the ring.
MARVIN HAGLER VS THOMAS HEARNS: APRIL 15, 1985, CEASERS PALACE, LAS VEGAS, WBC, WBA, IBF WORLD MIDDLEWEIGHT TITLES
When promoter Bob Arum chose the moniker “The War”, as the label given to the 1985 undisputed world middleweight showdown between long reigning champion “Marvellous” Marvin Hagler and knock out artist Thomas “Hitman” Hearns, he stumbled upon perhaps the most appropriate tag ever given to a professional prize fight.
When canvassing fans and fighters for this feature, one bout stood head and shoulders above the rest as unanimously the greatest first round in the history of boxing. Its ferociousness and brutality have gone down in boxing folklore.
Let us rewind to April 15, 1985 at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas Nevada.
By 1985 Marvin Hagler had been the undisputed champion of the middleweight division since September 27, 1980, after having been widely regarded as the number one challenger for much of the late 1970’s. His first attempt at winning the title ended in controversy when he was held to an unpopular draw against then champion Vito Antuofermo before his three round TKO over a bloodied Alan Minter in London saw him claim the title amidst unpleasant scenes.
By the time he fought Hearns he had made ten defences of his title, winning all but one by knockout, and he was steadily closing in on the then record held by Carlos Monzon that stood at 14.
At the time of the bout Hearns had recently moved up from the welterweight to Junior middleweight and finally to the middleweight division. He won the WBC 154lbs title from Wilfred Benitez and defended it against ATG Roberto Duran with spectacular second round KO, the first time Duran had been knocked out. Both men had won their previous bouts, bringing media and fan interest to feverish levels in the build up to the fight.
Hagler, normally slow out of the blocks, stormed across the ring at the much taller figure of the “Hitman” pinning him to the ropes. Hearns had no option but to fire back, landing a hard right hand that detonated on the chin of the champion, momentarily buzzing him before he managed to clinch the man from Detroit. It would later be revealed that Hearns actually broke his hand in this exchange. Seconds later the two warriors were back trading power shots with Hagler trying to again back Hearns to the ropes. In the process he stunned the challenger with a right hand forcing him to clinch and try to slow the pace down and box. This lull in the action lasted only for a moment as they traded power shot for power shot once more. The slugfest continued for the better part of the next two and a half minutes as they both neglected defence in favour of all out war. Hagler developed a cut on his forehead but he didn’t for one moment ease off the gas as he again forced Tommy to the ropes, meting out more brutal punishment as he hurt Hearns again as the round drew to a close, and the assembled crowd could draw breath. So amazing and absorbing was the action inside the ropes that the late Boxing News editor, Harry Mullen, confessed himself unable to take notes, as his hands were shaking almost as violently as the two protagonists were battering each other in the ring.
The round was voted the best first round in history by The Ring magazine and was unsurprisingly named best round, 1985.
In a subsequent HBO broadcast that featured both fighters in a studio as they remembered the bout, Hearns said “That first round took everything I had man” Hagler commented “He definitely tried to put the bomb on me, he can punch...”
It was truly an epic, mesmerising, brutal, simply the best first three minutes in boxing history bar none.
December 9, 2011