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Top 10 First Round Knockouts in Heavyweight History

By Brian Wilbur

About a month ago I quit writing about boxing and switched my topics from boxing to…well, I guess you would call it “random”. Despite the support I’ve received in response to those columns I’ve decided to return to boxing. I’ve dedicated over a decade of my life to learn everything there is about boxing. I have to stick with what I know, so I’ve decided to return.

I’m still mad at boxing though. I am not over the collapse of Manny Pacquiao vs. Floyd Mayweather. I still don’t see anything in the near future that gets me excited. The current scene in boxing is pretty pathetic. I can’t give up the sport altogether though. For the next few weeks I am going to do some top ten lists that document some of boxing’s rich and storied history.

When the present is lacking spirit, look to the past for inspiration. Perhaps rehashing some of the reasons why I fell in love with the sport will get me out of my rut. But let me restate that I am sticking to the classics. Talking about what is currently going on in boxing would only make me ill.

This week I am going to recount the top 10 most historically significant 1st round KO’s in the history of boxing’s glamorous heavyweight division. Perhaps nothing in sports is as dramatic, and certainly nothing makes as big of a statement, as a 1st round knockout. The rare but spectacular events get the fans on their feet and are vividly remembered for a long time. Hope you enjoy this walk down memory lane.

10. George Foreman vs. Jose Roman 1973

Jose Roman did not turn out to be a very good pro heavyweight. The effect of this win on Big George’s resume is negligible, as we can see that this was not a win over a quality opponent. However the reason that this win is significant is because it helped fuel the aura of invincibility that Foreman possessed in the early 1970’s. Sandwiched in between the first round KO over Roman were second round knockouts over legends Joe Frazier and Ken Norton. To fans and other fighters, nobody was able to stand up to the onslaught of this vicious beast of a heavyweight. In hindsight we can see that knocking out Roman in the first round was no special feat, but at the time Jose was a somewhat respected contender who was felled just like the rest. Such a knockout streak had heavyweight contenders shaking in their boots. Could anyone stand up to Big George’s punches?

9. James “Bonecrusher” Smith vs. Tim Witherspoon 1986.

In 1986, Tim Witherspoon was the respected WBA heavyweight champion on the pathway for a unification bout with Mike Tyson. James Smith had lost four of his last eight fights and though most admitted that Smith was a hard puncher, he was an afterthought in the heavyweight division at the time. Witherspoon’s opponent, Tony Tubbs, pulled out before the fight and without many other options, Bonecrusher was brought in on short notice. Witherspoon was clearly the favorite and expected to win, especially since Tim had already soundly defeated Smith the previous year. Bonecrusher did not want the rematch to go the distance like the first fight so he blitzed Witherspoon in the first round with everything that he had. Smith was winging super hard power shots right off the bat. Witherspoon caught a few of the punches on his chin, wobbled, and Smith never let up, dropping Witherspoon repeatedly until the fight was stopped.

8. Mike Tyson vs. Carl Williams 1989

The Mike Tyson ride in the 80’s was short, wild, and unbelievably fun. After years of watching the exceptionally skilled but dreadfully boring fighting style of Larry Holmes, sports fans were turned off to heavyweight boxing. Then along came Kid Dynamite from Brooklyn and the entire world was on their feet watching boxing. Tyson was blowing through every credible contender in the division and made it look easy. I consider Tyson’s 1st round destruction of Carl “The Truth” Williams, as the pinnacle of Tyson’s career, because he was the undisputed, undefeated champion and nobody could ever imagine him losing. His legend and popularity would grow with every win. His career went downhill after beating Williams. In his next fight he was beaten by Buster Douglas, went to jail, and he was never the same fighter after that.

7. Jack Dempsey vs. Fred Fulton in 1918

In 1918, The Pottawatomie Giant Jess Willard was the heavyweight champion and the two outstanding contenders in the division were Fred Fulton and Jack Dempsey. Both were big punchers trying to earn their shot at Willard. The two met in July of 1918 with Fulton tabbed by odds makers as a 2 to 1 favorite. Dempsey’s ascent to legend status started this night when he effortlessly dispatched of Fulton with his trademark vicious killer style.

6. Mike Tyson vs. Michael Spinks 1988

Heading into this bout Tyson held all three of the major alphabet soup belts and thus was considered the unified champion. Michael Spinks, however, had a claim to the lineal title based off of his wins over Larry Holmes, so there was some (not much) dispute as to who the real champion was. Tyson vs. Spinks would not only 100% clear up who the real heavyweight champion was, but they were also considered to be the two best heavyweights in the world. Although Tyson was a significant betting favorite, most of the talk from pundits was that Iron Mike was finally going to be tested and that he was not going to have an easy time. Well, Tyson made the ultimate statement by crushing Spinks in 91 seconds, forcing even Tyson’s harshest critics to admit that night that Tyson would have been a match for any heavyweight in history.

5. Sonny Liston vs. Floyd Patterson 1962

Floyd Patterson was a popular champion in the late 1950’s who made up for his undersized frame with speed, quickness, and hustle. Floyd fought in 9 consecutive title bouts between 1956 and 1961 and was generally well accepted during his time as a quality, legit champion. There was just one problem to Patterson’s fairy tale career. He had one contender who, head and shoulders, stood above the rest as the most worthy challenger. The reason that was a problem was that his name was Sonny Liston and he was the most frightening and intimidating presences in boxing since Jack Dempsey. Patterson’s team avoided Liston at all costs, afraid of what would happen. However as the years went by the accusations of fight ducking began to chip away at Patterson’s pride and he finally agreed to fight Liston. The myth of Sonny Liston turned out to not be a myth at all as he dispatched of the champion in just one round using his massive edge in size and strength.

4. Sonny Liston vs. Floyd Patterson 1963

One year after being dispatched in one round, Patterson hopped right back into the ring against Liston to try to win his title back. Floyd believed that the first fight was a fluke and that he was caught with a lucky punch. Liston, however, went right back to business, anticipating Patterson’s movements and repeatedly hitting him in the head with his massive clubbing fists. Floyd showed heart by never giving up, but the shots that Liston landed were absolutely brutal. Sonny was not known as a particularly accurate puncher, but he threw nothing but power punches and seemingly didn’t miss. Patterson was reduced to a pile of flesh and bones on the canvas after a final Liston combination. Afterwards, writers said that they figured that Liston would be champion for at least 100 years.

3. Muhammad Ali vs. Sonny Liston 1965

Shockingly, Sonny Liston never made one successful defense of his much-deserved title after his two knockouts of Floyd Patterson. He ran into a brash young fellow named Cassius Clay, known now as Muhammad Ali. Ali came out the victor in one of the biggest upsets in boxing history when Liston quit on his stool in the 7th. Nobody could believe that a feather-fisted rookie could take down the invincible beast that was Sonny Liston. An immediate rematch was put together and resulted in one of the most controversial moments in heavyweight history. Ali landed a quick, short punch to the temple in the first round and Liston was down for the count. Ali was not a big puncher and Liston was known for having a granite chin. Liston was still the favorite and the result just did not make sense. People refused to believe that Liston could lose in such a way so much that to this day, many still believe that Ali vs. Liston II was fixed. Regardless of the conspiracy theories, the 1st round KO over Liston remains one of Muhammad Ali’s crowning achievements.

2. Rocky Marciano vs. Jersey Joe Walcott 1953

Rocky Marciano was boxing’s version of Rodney Dangerfield: he got no respect. Coming up as a prospect, despite being undefeated, he was a betting underdog against almost every top opponent he faced. That included a faded Joe Louis and an inferior Rex Layne. People criticized his sloppy, unscientific fighting style and questioned the quality of his early opposition. When he got his first title shot in 1952 the critics appeared to be right. Marciano was dropped in the first and was being thoroughly out-boxed on his way to a decision loss. Rocky somehow pulled out the dramatic Hail Mary knockout in the 13th round to become champion of the world. The rematch figured to be similarly competitive. Instead, Marciano rocked Jersey Joe with a dynamite uppercut-looking right hand that nearly decapitated Walcott and put him out for the count. The win put a huge exclamation point on Marciano’s claim to the throne and silenced the critics who called him a glorified club fighter.

1. Joe Louis vs. Max Schmeling 1938

Joe Louis won the heavyweight title against James Braddock in 1937, however Schmeling was the one who deserved the shot at the title. Louis had been knocked out by Schmeling in 1936. Because of the political environment leading up to World War II, Schmeling of Germany was boxed out of the title picture by the Americans. Louis, who had the heart and courage of a true champion, did not feel like he would be a legitimate champion unless he fought Schmeling. There were so many storylines heading into the heavyweight championship fight; the rematch between Louis and Schmeling. You had experience vs. youth, America vs. Nazi Germany, the face of the Aryan race in Schmeling vs. the African American Louis. This was a fight that everyone on the planet was anticipating, especially to see if the young American could exact revenge for his only defeat. Never in the history of sports had two men been under so much pressure to win a fight. Louis rose to the occasion, cracking Schmeling’s ribs and hammering him to pieces as he clung to a rope and slumped to the canvas. Not only was this the best 1st round knockout in heavyweight history, but also one of biggest fights in boxing history and one of the best moments in sporting history.

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