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The Grueling Truth - Where Legends Speak / The Grueling Truth's Top 10 Sports Lists / Top 10 Most Controversial Fights in Boxing History

Top 10 Most Controversial Fights in Boxing History

Publish Date: 06/04/2024
Fact checked by: Mark Lewis

Has any sport ever had more controversial endings than Boxing? Today’s list is not about bad decisions. It’s about possible fixes, conspiracy theories and bad stoppages by possibly corrupt judges.

10) Primo Carnera vs Jack Sharkey II

Two factors made Sharkey and Carnera’s second bout an extremely contentious event. First, it was well established by this point that Primo Carnera was subject to mob influence, making many of his wins dubious at best. Second, Sharkey, an excellent boxer renowned for victories against the likes of Johnny Risko, Tommy Loughran, and Harry Wills, had already defeated Carnera by an overwhelming margin in 1931, dominating him over fifteen rounds before coming close several times to forcing a stoppage of their fight.

Still, betting odds were strangely close for their second fight; according to reports from some quarters, Carnera was seen as the favorite. Sharkey had the advantage throughout the fight until round six when Carnera hit him with an uppercut that sent him sprawling on the floor and counted out – an outcome widely seen as suspicious from day one and further investigated as time passed and more became known about corruption behind Carnera’s career; even so Sharkey maintained until his last breath that this fight had taken place on an equal playing field – yet remains one of his title fights controversies which will remain.

Video: Jack Sharkey vs Primo Carnera, II (Full Film)

Jack Sharkey vs Primo Carnera, II (Full Film)

9) Lulu Perez TKO2 Willie Pep

Pep was decked three times in round two, forcing an automatic stoppage and prompting widespread outrage at the arena. The state athletic commission immediately suspended the former champion status as all, but the most naive were aware that something must have gone amiss in this fight. Although Pep insisted he never intentionally lost, his 1980 libel suit against a journalist who strongly implied otherwise was dismissed after just fifteen minutes of deliberation by a jury. The truth is, a lot of bookies stopped taking bets on this fight before it started because something was fishy. Pep is still considered the greatest defensive boxer of all-time.

Video: Willie Pep vs Lulu Perez HD

Willie Pep vs Lulu Perez HD

8) Billy Fox TKO4 Jake LaMotta

Word had leaked out that something less-than-on the level was in the works, with betting odds reflecting this perception. Talk of illegal activity became so loud that before fight time, the chair of the New York State Athletic Commission visited both boxer’s dressing rooms twice to dissuade any misdeeds during fight time.

Fox became the first boxer to stop LaMotta when, after four rounds of desperate-looking “Bronx Bull” action, referee Roberto Diaz saved him, leading to widespread criticism and suspension of LaMotta’s boxing license and speculation over corruption in boxing. Years later, LaMotta publicly admitted he intentionally lost to Fox so as to get an opportunity at the world middleweight title fight that he had long desired.

Video: Jake Lamotta Admits Taking a Dive in Boxing Match (June 14, 1960)

Jake Lamotta Admits Taking a Dive in Boxing Match (June 14, 1960)

7) Luis Resto W10 Billy Collins Jr.

Luis Resto provided one of the most disturbing and tragic episodes in boxing history when he battered prospect Billy Collins Jr. for ten rounds at Madison Square Garden with what can only be described as brass knuckle strikes from both fists. Although Resto only had eight knockouts out of 19 wins and was not considered a dangerous puncher, Resto’s blows left marks and welts all over Collins’ face from round two forward; Billy Collins Sr. knew something was amiss with Resto’s gloves after seeing this happening, so immediately summoned attention from ringside officials for inspection of Resto’s gloves after the final bell.

After inspecting his gloves, inspectors discovered that much of their horsehair padding had been stripped out, leading to decades of regret from Resto, who claimed his hand wraps had also been saturated with plaster. Collins experienced such a brutal beating that his face barely recognized itself after the fight, while damage to his eyes meant an instant end to his boxing career. Both Resto and Panama Lewis faced criminal charges and eventually had their licenses suspended – however, only months after this unfortunate event had taken place, he tragically passed away in a car accident.

Video: The Tragic Fight That Changed Boxing Forever

The Tragic Fight That Changed Boxing Forever

6) Tom Sharkey vs Bob Fitzsimmons

This much-awaited heavyweight showdown attracted national interest and strong ticket sales in San Francisco yet ended with widespread displeasure over its final outcome. According to reports on the street, Wyatt Earp would serve as referee; however, there were rumors Sharkey and his team had paid him off to act in his favor as referee; Fitz’s manager demanded Earp be replaced but was denied and later saw their suspicions confirmed when their fighter lost almost certain victory at Sharkey’s hands.

Eyewitness accounts indicate that “The Fighting Blacksmith” was far superior throughout. In round eight, his attacks brought “Sailor Tom” crashing to the floor – though Earp determined an illegal punch had hit Sharkey from in the groin, disqualifying Ruby and declaring Sharkey the winner; following this turn of events, Earp hastened out of there with such a furor that it plagued him until his death and overshadowed all his gun-fighting exploits for decades to come.

Video: Tom SHARKEY vs Bob FITZSIMMONS In Short | December 2, 1896

Tom SHARKEY vs Bob FITZSIMMONS In Short | December 2, 1896

5) Joe Gans vs Terry McGovern

Chicago was the site of this meeting of all-time greats, with both fighters in their respective primes. If ever a match-up should have resulted in an exciting and highly competitive tilt, this was it, despite the fact lightweight Gans enjoyed a natural size and weight advantage over featherweight McGovern. But such was not the case. Instead, Gans was decked seven times before being counted out in the second round, with fans booing the obvious fix even before it ended.

The widespread word on the street was that the match was not on the level, and virtually no one regarded the result as legit. And Gans vs McGovern proved to be not just a controversial boxing match but a most consequential one, as it led to Illinois banning professional prizefighting for almost thirty years.

Video: This Fight banned boxing! Joe Gans vs Terry McGovern Highlights in Color - 13.12.1900

This Fight banned boxing! Joe Gans vs Terry McGovern Highlights in Color – 13.12.1900

4) Julio Cesar Chavez vs Meldrick Taylor I

Meldrick Taylor held a clear points advantage against Julio Cesar Chavez as they battled for the unified 140-pound championship when the bell rang for their final-round matchup. With seconds left in the bout, Chavez connected with a big right hand that resulted in its only knockdown; Taylor rose at the count of six while Lou Duva climbed onto the ring apron as the clock continued ticking toward its conclusion, and the clock neared the end of the fight. This fight was one of the best boxing matches of the 1990s.

Two seconds left: Referee Steele makes his controversial call. However, while distracted by Duva, Taylor failed to respond when referee Richard Steele asked “Are you okay?” with just two seconds remaining on the clock – leading Steele to stop the match immediately – sparking shockwaves across boxing that has yet to subside completely since this momentous stoppage happened; many remain divided about it while others believe Steele did his job while others insisted Taylor should continue fighting until all remaining minutes had expired on his/her rights/ability/impartial decision/involvement/controversy will no doubt continue being debated until eternity: those that believe Steele did just his job versus those who insist Taylor should have had another chance.

Video: All Time Classic - 1990 Julio Cesar Chavez Sr vs Meldrick Taylor (Full Fight)

All Time Classic – 1990 Julio Cesar Chavez Sr vs Meldrick Taylor (Full Fight)

3) Sugar Ray Leonard vs Roberto Duran II

In  June of 1980, in one of boxing history’s most eagerly anticipated bouts, former lightweight champion Duran, known as “Manos de Piedra,” beat former welterweight champ Leonard in an intense fifteen-round war known as the “Brawl In Montreal.” Duran became universally revered. Sugar Ray demanded an immediate rematch, and five months later, at New Orleans Superdome, Leonard had complete control of their bout. At round eight, Duran abruptly turned around and refused to continue.

At the time, many were shocked and in disbelief when Roberto Duran, one of Latin America’s fiercest boxers, abruptly quit. So shocking was this result that many refused to believe the match was truly over; Duran blamed debilitating stomach cramps, which only added fuel for further speculation and anger from former fans back home in Panama. His decision transformed his image and standing, as well as boxing itself, by giving detractors new ammunition against it; his “No Mas” now holds even greater significance than ever!

Video: Sugar Ray Leonard vs Duran 2 - No Mas! Explained |Fight Breakdown|

Sugar Ray Leonard vs Duran 2 – No Mas! Explained |Fight Breakdown|

2) Jack Dempsey vs Gene Tunney II

If anyone reading this is having difficulty grasping the complexity of Dempsey’s “Long Count” fight, consider Dempsey’s four-minute war with Luis Firpo in 1923. Firpo was knocked to the canvas seven times during those first three minutes – each time, Dempsey would wait patiently until Firpo lifted his gloves from the canvas before continuing his assault against Firpo.

The rules had changed by the time these two faced each other, and after Tunney had fallen, Dempsey hesitated before heading for a neutral corner. When boxers scored knockdowns, they were required to immediately move towards the furthest neutral corner and wait until they got there before the Ref would begin his count. Tunney was winning when Dempsey broke through with a left hook that sent his legs trembling and followed it with another punch that dropped “The Fighting Marine”.Tunney was put onto his backside, where he would stay until 10 seconds had passed – still on his backside

However, this was due to Dempsey not immediately complying with Referee Dave Barry’s command to retreat into a neutral corner, thus taking precious seconds off the clock before Dempsey had finally obeyed. Tunney then beat the official count and won, but debates, speculations and conspiracy theories surrounding Dempsey almost winning have never stopped since; decades after Tunney won, many fans remain convinced “The Manassa Mauler” had been dealt an injustice; although Jack himself never publicly complained against its outcome.

Video: Jack Dempsey vs Gene Tunney I + II Highlights In Good Quality and Full Color

Jack Dempsey vs Gene Tunney I + II Highlights In Good Quality and Full Color

1) Muhammad Ali vs Sonny Liston II

Some have speculated that Liston wanted an early exit to protect himself from being shot by an errant bullet if any followers of Malcolm X tried to assassinate Ali. In contrast, others felt the fight must be fixed despite its apparent flaws. While some believe Liston, an ex-con and former mob enforcer, deliberately lost both fights against Ali, no concrete evidence has ever emerged to corroborate this theory. At its core, Ali vs Liston’s second match remains controversial to this day and will go down as one of the most bizarre fights ever staged in prize ring history.

Video: Muhammad Ali vs Sonny Liston II Highlights

Muhammad Ali vs Sonny Liston II Highlights “Legendary Night” HD #ElTerribleProduction

Honorable mentions

Mike Tyson vs Evander Holyfield II

At the time, this event was one of the most eagerly awaited battles in boxing history – an enormous “super fight” rematch with millions of sports fans eager to witness Tyson attempt to reverse his shocking loss against Holyfield six months earlier, which many had called one of the greatest upsets ever seen in sports. Needless to say, what transpired on that extraordinary night cannot be overstated as being truly extraordinary.

As with the first meeting between Holyfield and Tyson, Holyfield refused to be intimidated and repeatedly forced Tyson into a defensive stance. But things suddenly took an unprecedented turn in round three when Tyson viciously bit Holyfield twice with such force that Evander’s a piece of his right ear was chewed off by Tyson’s violent chomps –  Mike; afterwards, his license was suspended for one year. Tyson is considered one of the most controversial boxers in history!

Video: Mike Tyson vs Evander Holyfield 2 Highlights (The bitefight)

Mike Tyson vs Evander Holyfield 2 Highlights (The bitefight)

Ad Wolgast KO13 Joe Rivers

Wolgast was defending his world lightweight title against Rivers when their fight reached round thirteen. They both simultaneously unloaded heavy, hurtful shots that caused both fighters to collapse into an uncontrollable heap before referee Jack Welsh began counting them out.

Welsh’s unexpected and inexplicable actions during this lightweight championship were widely disapproved of, as all in attendance found his behavior perplexing. After finishing counting Rivers down with an illegal low blow to his crown jewels, Welsh helped Wolgast up before raising the champion’s hand, completely disregarding that Rivers was knocked down due to a blow aimed directly at Rivers’ crown jewels, after briefly arguing his case in front of an outraged audience who threatened riotous behavior. Rivers showed reporters his aluminium protector cup was dented, yet Wolgast, notorious for targeting opponents’ nether regions, remained the world’s lightweight champion.

Video: Ad Wolgast | The Michigan Wildcat

Ad Wolgast | The Michigan Wildcat

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