Raging Bull (Screenshot via Empire)
Quite a bit of time has now passed since the 2015 version of the the “Fight of The Century,” between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquaio. Fans waited six years to see who would be considered the best boxer of their generation, paying up to $100 dollars to see the two clash. For many, it was a disappointment: another missed opportunity for boxing to truly capture the culture which seems to have slipped away. Before UFC, politics and the lack of true starpower, boxing has a proud and storied history that can rival any sport. A lot of great moments have happened here in New York City, where legends of the sport carved their name in history and battled with their fellow warriors for supremacy in the ring. To celebrate the sport of boxing, we have listed ten of the most important moments in NYC boxing history.
10. October 2nd, 1942 – LaMotta vs. Robinson I.
Inside Madison Square Garden, Jake LaMotta lost for the first time to Sugar Ray Robinson by unanimous decision. This would be the first of six bouts between the two rivals. In the opening round, LaMotta knocked Robinson down for the first time in his career, Robinson regained composure and took control for the rest of the contest. LaMotta— whose life and career would be brought to film in Martin Scorsese’s Raging Bull— would win their rematch in Detroit, but Robinson won every fight going forward, beating “The Bronx Bull” once again in MSG in 1945.
9. October 26th, 1951 – Marciano Knocks Out Louis.
In front of thousands inside Madison Square Garden, Rocky Marciano knocked out his childhood idol Joe Louis. The fight was only the third and last fight Louis would lose, as he retired soon afterwards. Marciano would continue to fight for five more years, retiring undefeated at 49-0.
8. June 24th, 1952 – “Sugar” Ray Robinson Knocked Out.
“Sugar” Ray Robinson has only suffered one knockout in his entire career and it didn’t come from his greatest rival Jake LaMotta, or Joey Maxim, the man he fought in Yankee Stadium. It was the 103°F degree heat that first took out the original referee for the fight, then Robinson in the 13th round. Maxim, who was easily behind on points to the faster, more aggressive Robinson, won due to Robinson inability to answer the bell.
7. September 21st, 1955 – Marciano’s Last Fight.
In the second round of his last fight, Rocky Marciano was knocked down by 38 year old heavyweight Archie Moore. Marciano got up by the count of four and would do enough to retain his championship and retire from the sport of boxing undefeated.
6. June 20th, 1960 – Patterson Regains Championship.
Ingemar Johansson shocked the world when he defeated Floyd Patterson for the World Heavyweight Championship on June 26, 1959. The win made Johansson a national hero in his home country of Sweden, but his time at the top would not last long. Almost a year to the day of his loss, Patterson defeated Johansson in their second of three fights in the Polo Grounds. Patterson’s victory led him to become the first man in history to regain the Heavyweight Championship. Patterson knocked out his rival in the fifth round, with Johansson not regaining consciousness for five minutes after hitting the canvas.
5. February 10th, 1962 – Ali’s First Fight.
No other boxer would have greater highs at Madison Square Garden, then “The Greatest of All Time” Muhammad Ali. However, before he became the greatest, defeating the likes of Sonny Liston and Joe Frazier, he was Cassius Clay, stepping into his first MSG fight, against an unknown Detroit named Sonny Banks. Ali was the favorite, but was knocked down in the first round in front of a crowd of just 2,000 people. Clay got up and punished his opponent, with the referee stopping the fight early in the fourth round. It was the first of many victories for Clay, whose career would elevate the reputation of Madison Square Garden as the mecca of boxing.
4. March 8th, 1971 – The Fight of The Century.
The original “Fight of The Century” took place in (where else) Madison Square Garden. Two fighters, both undefeated, both with a rightful claim to the Heavyweight Championship of the world. The fight sparked a rivalry that eclipsed anything in sports before it or since. Directors, singers, gangsters and politicians filled every seat inside MSG for this battle between the two best in the world at that time. We previously covered this epic event in sports history in our Today in NYC History column.
8. January 28th 1974 – Super Fight II
Ali would wait three years for his rematch with his arch-rival “Smoking” Joe Frazier. Both no longer undefeated, both no longer wearing the Heavyweight title, many thought that these two legends were at the end of their respected, celebrated careers. However, Ali wanted to avenge his first loss and the two rivals almost gave the fight away for free on TV, after Ali called Joe “ignorant” while watching the 11th round of their first encounter. Ali would win the second battle and later recapture the title from George Foreman, who defeated Frazier for it. They would fight once more after this, the famous “Thrill in Manilla”, with Ali winning the rubber match. While not viewed as special as the first and last fight in their epic rivalry, Ali/Frazer II is still viewed by purists as a classic match up.
2. May 7 20th, 1986 – Mike Tyson’s First MSG Fight
Mike Tyson was a force of nature in the 1980’s. The youngest Heavyweight Champion in history, Mike Tyson only fought twice in Madison Square Garden, his first time, against Mitch Green. Green was paid significantly less than Tyson, even though he was ranked higher than “Iron” Mike. A shot at the Heavyweight Title (which Tyson would later win) made Green stay on. Tyson won the fight easily, and would go on to have career filled with victories and controversy. As for Green, he is mostly remembered for his fight with Tyson, not in the ring, but inside a Harlem nightclub, where Tyson punched Green in the face, causing his left eye to shut due to swelling.
1. September 29th, 2001 – And Then There Was One
Bernard “The Exeuctioner” Hopkins became the first man since Marvin Haggler to become the Undisputed Middleweight Champion, after defeating Puerto Rican boxer Felix Trinidad in front of a very pro Trinidad crowd at Madison Square Garden. It was the first major sporting event after September 11th, which caused the fight to be delayed for two weeks, as it was originally scheduled for September 15th. While putting up a fight, Trinidad could not compete with Bernard’s boxing ability and endurance. Hopkins would continue fighting well into his 40’s; Trinidad would retire in 2008, never reaching the highs he did earlier in his career.
Boxing is a sport that will continue giving us moments that scholars will write books and make documentaries of for years. While Las Vegas is seemingly the home of all major fights these days, something about the sport of boxing and NYC just mix well. Hopefully, for purists or those who want to see two men just hammer each other sport, promoters and boxers will return to NYC and make it the mecca of boxing once again.
For more history on the worlds’ greatest arena, check out our other posts about Madison Square Garden
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