I have been a boxing fan all my adult life. There is something really fundamental about a fight between two humans. I also liked mixed martial arts right away, from UFC2 on. I remember sitting on our dorm sofa at UCSD with my roommates, being totally fascinated by this new kind of fighting sport. We watched it on a VHS tape! So, after probably watching 1000s of boxing and MMA fights, which fights do I consider the best I have ever seen? Which ones the worst?
THE TWO BEST
Corrales – Castillio
This fight between is an absolute classic. Fought in May of 2005 at Lightweight, the first nine rounds showed excellent action boxing. But round ten was special. Both men were exhaustion and hurt, and Castillio knocked Corrales down twice. After the knockdowns Corrales used the old trick of spitting out his mouthpiece to gain some recovery time. Let’s watch this round 10 to see what happened. Note: This is round ten! Both of these guys still move and punch fluidly and at a high pace, despite all the damage visible on their faces. I wish I could move like that when I am fresh.
Normal people would seek out a medical doctor if they receive a fraction of the bodily damage these two inflicted on each other that night. Instead, “Chico” used a trick to make sure he got four more seconds to recover before going at it again.
Sadly, Chico Corales died only a few years after the fight in a motorcycle accident. Amazing humans with that kind of intensity often don’t make it to old age. He had always been a wild man, with conflicts with the law, and while it’s very sad to lose an incredible athlete in his prime, it probably wasn’t very surprising.
Hagler – Hearns
This was an encounter between two of the best middleweights in boxing history. Marvin Hagler was an incredibly determined fighter, in impressive physical shape, with an exceptional skill set even compared to other elite boxers. One thing he could do is fight both in a conventional and a southpaw stance. Hearns had just moved up from junior middleweight to challenge Hagler for his title. A tall, lanky man, he used the leverage of his long limbs to generate fight-ending punching power. His punches were fast and precise.
The boxing world really looked forward to the encounter between these two, and wasn’t disappointed. The expectations were high, and the fight was even better than expected. Hagler was known as a slow starter. But that day he came out blazing, trying to disrupt Hearns’ rhythm and deny him the chance to use his superb footwork and reach advantage. Let’s see how that went:
This was an encounter between two men who had intensely worked on their boxing skills since their youths, who were in unreal physical shape and who wanted nothing more than to defeat the other that night. Friedrich Nietzsche wrote about the Übermensch as an individual who transcends the boundaries of human performance. The Übermensch, roughly translated as the “Superhuman” is by no means meant as a Superman-like comic figure with some absurd ability (impossible by the laws of physics) like flying through outer space in speedos. Rather, it’s meant as a real person who sees the animal basis of humanity not as an endpoint, but as a platform to strive for more a elevated performance, be it in athletics, the arts or in science. Not everybody can fight like Hagler and Hearns. But if the talent and opportunity present themselves, it nobles the individual to perform at such high levels. There was a spark of Übermensch in the ring that night in Las Vegas.
Marvelous Marvin Hagler only fought a few more times after this classic encounter. In his last fight against Ray Leonard, Hagler was robbed of a decision win in what many (including myself) consider one of the worst decisions in elite boxing. Outraged, Hagler retired, and moved to Italy where he became an action-movie star, and, so I hope, a connoisseur of Italian food and wines. The champ certainly deserves the pleasure of life after his performances in the ring.
Other candidates for fights with supreme willpower and determination on display are all three Ward – Gatti fights (boxing), Lesnar – Carwin (MMA) and Hunt – Silva (MMA).
THE TWO WORST
Sapp – Akebono II
The above two fights are displays of human willpower and determination at their very best. The two next fights are also worth watching, but more for the comedy value.
Bob Sapp is certainly a gigantic, impressive looking athlete. He had a short stint in the NFL, and then moved to Japan as a fighter in MMA and kickboxing. The problem was, he isn’t very good at kickboxing. Here is a fight of Sapp against someone who is good at it, the “Dutch Lumberjack” Peter Aerts:
Peter doesn’t even look very impressed with his work after the fight, realizing that it was no second Ali he KOed there. But Sapp still had a good career in Japan, if measured by popularity and earnings (not athletic achievement). The Japanese loved his comic-superhero size and fun personality, and paid well to see him fight.
Akebono was actually an elite athlete, in sumo wrestling, which is a different sport than kickboxing. The humongous Hawaiian made a lot of money in Sumo, which supposedly his Japanese wife wasted in a failed effort at starting a restaurant. So, he needed money, and the Japanese were willing to pay to see him fight. I can almost hear the dialogue between the promoters who set this up:
“Kenji, we just watch Gozilla versus giant Robot movie on shrooms. I want to see something like that in real world.”
“Yes, Makoto, very good idea. How about we sign Bob Sapp for kickboxing match? He very big.”
“Oooh. Great idea. But as opponent we need to find man who is even more big than Bob Sapp, and even more bad kickboxer.”
“Where can we find such man? Nobody more big than Sapp! And nobody fight more bad. Situation is hopeless. Give me bag with shrooms, Makoto!”
“We have no more shrooms. How about Akebono. Very big. He bankrupt, maybe he will sign fight contract!”
“Yes. Yes. Very good.”
Before the fight starts, we see some quality Japanese bizareness. Some very hot girls in lingerie stand around in the ring, holding two flower bouquets. These are meant for the fighters. Is that really one of your major needs, if you are about to punch another dude in the head, to have some nice flowers? Hm. And, not one of the hotties hands over the flowers, but a super-flamboyant guy with a fancy hat. Bob Sapp and fancy-hat-boy might be friends, Bob seems really stoked to see the dude. Generally, there are tons and tons of extra people involved in this fight. When Akebono suffers a cut, not one doctor checks it, but a medical team of three. At the same time, several Japanese ring-attendants wipe sweat of Bob Sapp’s body. At least ten officials co-officiate the contest. The main ref is, if I am not mistaken, a pretty accomplished karate athlete. It would have been more interesting to see him fight, against another skilled fighter. But today is big boy day in the Japanese ring!
The actual fight was conducted under shoot-box rules, which means that strikes, throws, and holds while standing are legal (but not ground fighting). The only interesting technique in the whole fight was in fact a submission hold tried by Akebono. Other than that, he limited himself to arm-punches, and sumo-inspired efforts of pushing Sapp around with the help of his gigantic gut.
Bob Sapp does not only not show any good kickboxing, he in fact commits one foul after another. His favorite and only punch is the hay-maker to the back of the head (it’s illegal to hit the back of the head). This caused some nasty cuts on Akebono’s head, which caused some lengthy interruptions for the aforementioned medical inspections. At one point Sapp receives a yellow warning card from the ref, it seems.
The delays caused by these medical inspections are lengthy, longer than the actual “action”. Finally the fight was stopped on cuts, and went to a decision. Here it is in full length:
There was no willpower to win here, no courage, no perfected striking technique, and no superb physical fitness. The desire was not to outdo a fellow ace competitor, but to go home with a big pile of cash to sustain an expensive life-style for some more time.
Two Big Girls
The fighters in the next fight have no big names, but they do have big wastelines, just like Akebono. Is it un-PC to make fun of fat people? Good! It’s actually ok to be chubby in the heavyweight division. Some of MMA’s top fighters walk around with a beer-gut, but they also have incredible punching power and fine-tuned striking technique. None of that we see here. We also don’t see Japanese bizareness before the fight (bummer!). Instead we see an encounter which an Irish friend of mine said “reminded him of an Irish wedding”. The initial aggression soon dissipates due to poor conditioning.
Ah, yes. I am an equal-opportunity ridiculer, but not a hater. Some female combat athlete are very impressive: Amanda Nunez and Christiane Justino are explosive and fun to watch. I’m making fun of these two here because they suck at fighting, not because they are women. If you decide to participate in a public athletic event, you invite judgment. Here we go, just make sure you don’t watch this during dinner:
At first they actually try. This is in fact somewhat better in terms of motivation than Akebono-Sapp. But, their punching technique looks as if they had not spent a single session in a boxing gym. They both make this windmill-movement with their arms, and turn their heads backwards as a defensive move. Any boxing coach would have stopped them from doing any of that way before their first sparring session. At one point big girl number two quit because she was badly out of breath. She just turned away, walked off, and let the ref stop the whole sad affair. Marvin Hagler insisted on fighting on with a glacier-crevice-sized cut on his forehead. Chico Corrales kept throwing punches when he was near-unconscious. It’s the mindset which separates the all-time-great from the ridiculous.
I just wrote a satirical novel – if you are a publisher, and want to take a look at it, please get in touch with me (klaus at pacificklaus.com)