The puncher’s chance is a beautiful thing.
A boxer can be barely standing, fighting more by muscle memory than will, and yet there is always a chance that a single perfect punch can turn a hopeless fight — and sometimes even a drooping career — around in a split second.
This wild card factor is behind some of boxing’s most electric moments. It’s exactly what saved Andy Lee when he was in serious trouble against John Jackson. He had already be down in the 1st and by the 5th Jackson was putting the pressure on so much that for a moment Lee was practically outside of the ropes.
Jackson must have sensed the end was near when Lee was shook and stumbling backwards. But suddenly the Irish man regained his balance and landed a solid right hook to put Jackson out. It was an unexpected treat for us Irish fans (finally!) as such a sudden KO is rare outside of the heavyweight division.
This particular kind of fight has all the elements that make boxing movies so successful. A plucky underdog on a quest for redemption. The thrill of a flash knockout. Such fights are ready-made for Hollywood.
No wonder “Rocky I” managed to win Best Picture over “Taxi Driver.” No wonder it remained the undisputed best “Rocky” movie for nine long years until Stallone produced his magnum opus – “Rocky IV” – complete with the snowiest and beardiest of all montages, world peace on Christmas and talking (possibly sexy) robots.
Let’s have a look at some of the greatest KOs from a losing fighter, starting with that other legendary Rocky…
Rocky Marciano vs. Jersey Joe Walcott – September 1952
Marciano (above right) tore up the heavyweight ranks with a record of 42 wins, 37 by knockout, before facing Jersey Joe Walcott (left) for the world title. Walcott’s experience and powerful shots quickly took their toll as Rocky was dropped in the first by a left hook and soon fell behind on the scorecards.
Walcott was well ahead by round 13, when Marciano landed a devastating hook of his own to put him out. He slumped over the ropes, completely oblivious to the count, as Rocky became the new heavyweight champion.
While this fight cemented Marciano as the real deal, it is also a testament to Walcott’s skill and grit. He faced a guy 11 years his junior, widely regarded as one of the toughest fighters in memory and floored him in the first minute of the fight. It was the first and one of only two times Rocky hit the canvas.
Audley Harrison vs. Michael Sprott – April 2010
British fight fans had high hopes for Olympic Gold medallist Harrison when he turned pro. Yet, following defeats to fighters like Danny Williams and Belfast taxi driver Martin Rogan, he was struggling even on his home turf.
Sprott had already knocked out Harrison in just three rounds in 2007. Although Audley was still standing in round 12 of their second meeting, he was trailing behind. As the final round began, Sprott pinned him against the ropes and hit him with a barrage of shots that sent him staggering into a corner.
When it looked like Sprott would finish strong, Harrison managed to find a little space, wait for his moment and put Sprott to the canvas with a hard left.
Mike Weaver vs. John Tate – March 1980
Big John Tate quickly made a name for himself on the heavyweight scene. He worked his way through well-respected highly ranked opponents picking up legions of fans along the way until he fought Gerrie Coetzee for the vacant WBA belt. He won it in style by beating the South African in his own back yard in front of 80,000 fans.
He was a world titlist, and there was talk of a match-up with Muhammed Ali. The world was at his feet. It seemed that way all through his first title defence against Mike Weaver, too. Tate has bullied Weaver around the ring throughout the fight. Although Weaver was starting to hurt him in the later rounds, Tate was miles ahead on the cards. He just had to hold on for one more round.
Clearly exhausted, he absorbed an attack from Weaver. He had done all he needed to do, he just had to wait it out. But then, with less than a minute left in the fight, Weaver stunned Tate and the crowd with a combo that knocked Tate out cold.
Weaver celebrated with a handstand beside the limp Tate. But it’s hard not to feel sorry for the man; he wasn’t even 60 seconds away from winning the fight. He wasn’t the same after the fight. He would be knocked out in his next fight and in later bouts he weighed in at over 400 pounds.
He would subsequently develop a cocaine habit and spend time in jail. He died when he crashed his car while high at just 43. It seems like this knockout was what began his downward spiral.
”Everywhere I went,” he said of the Weaver fight, ”it tormented me the way I lost to him. I guess it will always torment me.”
George Foreman vs. Michael Moorer – November 1994
In 1994, it looked like 45-year-old Foreman’s bid to regain his world heavyweight titles was winding down. He had lost two title shots already, against Evander Holyfield and Tommy Morrison.
Moorer eventually took Holyfield’s belts and Foreman managed to get a quite undeserved title shot against the new champ.
Moorer was 19 years younger. He must have thought it was an easy fight and it was for nine rounds, as Moorer easily outboxed Foreman. He was ahead on all of the scorecards by round 10 when Foreman landed a solid right hand to his chin to become the oldest heavyweight champion in history.
Danny Williams vs. Mark Potter – October 2000
Danny Williams found himself in serious trouble in what should have been a walkover against Mark Potter, who accepted the match up less than a week before the bout.
Williams went to the canvas in the 1st round and, to make matters worse, he dislocated his right shoulder in the third. As the fight went on, it looked like he might be able to carry on until he threw an awkward right hook in the sixth that really put it out of place.
With his arm sagging, Williams could barely defend himself, yet fought on using only his left. Amazingly, a desperate uppercut caught Potter and floored him in what must be the most astonishing U-turn ever seen in boxing.
If you look closely at around 2:40 you see that even Gordon Ramay approves, and you know how hard that guy is to please.
Entertaining as they are, there are some important lessons that we can take away from these bouts.
Fighters should treat them as cautionary tales on the dangers of resting on your laurels and cruising through the late rounds of a fight.
Fans should realise that even when the heavyweight division is going through a boring patch, it can always produce some great moments. You might think every Wladimir Klitschko fight will be the same, but if you miss them, you could end up missing a huge upset that would reignite the heavyweight division…