36 Minutes From As Many Years: The Greatest 12 Rounder Of Boxing’s Modern Era

We recently ran down the Round of the Year for 2009 and the Round of the Decade. But what about the best rounds EVER?

Friend of the site Andrew Harrison, of Safe Side of the Ropes, contributes a highly innovative take on the question below. (And I’m going to stop introducing people now that there’s a healthy flow of contributors coming in — so if you’re reading an entry and think, “This doesn’t sound like Tim,” everyone from now on should pay close attention to the “Written by” section of each entry.)

I’ve added video where possible to complement Andrew’s engaging summaries of each round he highlighted. –Tim

A round spans a mere one hundred and eighty seconds. The majority of us would struggle to boil an egg in that time. Fighters, meanwhile, are capable of producing sporting action which suspends belief and quickens the blood, and on the clang of the bell, passes instantly into boxing folklore.

What is the single greatest round of boxing you’ve ever seen? It’s the type of question fight fans love to shoot the proverbial over, but what if we took it a stage further? What if you were asked to select the best opening round to a fight you’d ever witnessed and followed it with the finest second session and so on and so forth to construct (at least on paper) the greatest twelve rounder of all time?

Now, all-time is a long time — too long in fact for this writer to be able to judge with any merit — so you need to have seen the rounds for yourself, right? This, then, became my proviso, which instantly narrowed my search and dozens of classics, such as the fabled sixth round of the first Zale-Graziano tussle for which no actual footage exists, had to be discarded. Obtaining unedited classic rounds involving the old timers which apparently did exist was also proving a near impossible task. I had to reshuffle the deck.

In the end, availability of footage dictated that my best option would be to focus my efforts on boxing’s modern era, for argument’s sake the seventies onwards. I am not, however, intending to ignore the endeavour from legendary battles fought prior to this. The heroic efforts fought before this point and indeed before the age of film have been wonderfully illustrated by the best scribes in the business and any attempt to simply ad lib their work without seeing the action first hand seemed churlish.

Here, then, after much conjuring, countless changes of heart and numerous alterations is the most amazing twelve rounder you’re ever likely to see.

Round 1: Ray Mancini v Art Frias

Straight in with what will be a surprise to many — no Hagler-Hearns, indeed? Surprise is usually a major element of any great twelve-rounder and perhaps this is partly behind the reasoning for this selection, or perhaps, just maybe, the 1st round of Mancini-Frias has the edge on its more obvious counterpart. In any case, the aforementioned duo involved in middleweight Armageddon will appear later.

Ray ‘Boom Boom’ Mancini challenged WBA lightweight champion Art Frias in the spring of ’82 amid a sinister build-up of threats and kidnap allegations. Blue collar hero Mancini, in blood red shorts, spent a second or two sizing up the similar in stature champion at ring centre before quickly dispensing with any faint notion he had of actually boxing, choosing instead to let fly with heavy punches.

A right to the body followed by two meaty left hooks opened hostilities, an opening salvo full of intent which Frias responded to and attempted to dash in an instant. Crack! A smashing left hook sent Ray skittering back towards the ropes, generating hysterics from the crowd as both 135-pounders fell into a schoolyard style scuffle of whizzing lefts and rights. The champion scored again with accurate right hooks, timing Ray’s wild swings, visibly shaking him and looking for all the world like he was on his way to a quick night’s work.

A battle for control then ensued mid-ring, with crunching left and right handers thrown in both directions, defences wide open and the pair squat, sitting on their shots and gritting their teeth. At the midpoint Mancini finally stole a march. He sliced open Art’s left cheek, reopening fifteen stitches worth of injury from a previous bout.

The challenger forged on amidst a hail of punches to head and body, this minute impetus allowing him to force Frias back to the ropes. The subsequent tumultuous exchange bloodied Ray’s nose, at which point the fighters manoeuvred back into ring centre, with Mancini landing two sweeping left hooks. A jolting right crashed home from Mancini, instantly placing the champion in trouble, with two follow up left hooks finding their target and smashing him to the canvas. Up quickly but looking a mess, he was pinned to the ropes by a re-energised Mancini, left after right, punch after punch pouring home as Ray pitched forward, generating maximum power and leverage in his shots, forcing referee Richard Green to call a halt to the blizzard after a round of astonishing fury, violence and electrifying excitement.

Round 2: Bobby Chacon v Rafael Limon

Nine months after the Mancini-Frias donnybrook, hell-raiser Bobby Chacon faced off against loathed Mexican rival Rafael ‘Bazooka’ Limon for the fourth time. Bobby had dedicated the fight to his recently departed wife Valerie who, after Bobby reneged on a promise to retire from the sport, had shot herself dead. Limon, with his ring moniker emblazoned on his trunks, was now the WBC junior lightweight champion and was looking to finally settle the argument with his nemesis.

Chacon came out for round two looking to dominate from the middle, tasting a pair of trademark Limon bolo shots in an attempt to corner the champion. A tense opening standoff (perhaps indicative of the number of minutes they’d shared in the ring together) culminated with referee Isaac Herrera calling both fighters to him for a warning on use of the head, the rebuke stirring both men from their tentativeness.

Limon struck first, scoring with two thumping bolo shots, an anxious retaliatory counter from Chacon not nearly enough to stave off the surging champion as he penned Bobby into his corner. Swooping rights to the body visibly hurt Chacon. Limon unleashed a hellish torrent of venomous punches as the challenger bobbed desperately in the corner, badly stung and catching flush a volley of hooks, uppercuts and straight shots flung at him with vicious intent.

Almost on cue and exhibiting the unequalled fighting heart which separated him from so many fighters, Bobby responded by catapulting himself forward, landing a mighty right hander smack on Limon’s mug. Grasping the nettle, Bobby blazed his way out of the corner with a passionate, slashing attack, and the pair bounded back into ring centre, both racing to be first to regain composure after weathering stunning punches.

Chacon, marauding forward and now very much in the ascendancy, cracked home a lead right which steadied the champ, forcing him to the ropes under heavy fire. With a hint of irony, Limon, now back pedalling at a rate of knots, found himself pinned into the very corner Bobby had fought so valiantly to escape from. A right body shot almost bent him in two as Bobby assumed complete command, his head lowered as he rattled off heavy combinations. Right hand after right hand smashed into Rafael’s face right up unto the bell, whereupon Limon perversely threw his arms aloft, revelling in the fact that here he was, once more in a war with the man from the San Fernando Valley.

Round 3: Thomas Hearns v Iran Barkley

Malevolence seemed to hang in the air as the menacing former gang member Iran “The Blade” Barkley strived to dethrone nuclear fisted Tommy Hearns of his WBC middleweight title in 1988. Gashed over his left eye and taking a shellacking, Barkley was ushered out for round three with instructions to get inside and force exchanges, such was Tommy’s dominance from distance.

Slower but seemingly the stronger of the two, Iran immediately fired off four swiping left hooks, backing Tommy up into the challenger’s corner. Crouching with his head down, he lunged forward with wide, swatting punches as Hearns looked to whip in sharper, more cultured lefts to the body. Every punch was being thrown with vicious intent, with both men seemingly on the same game plan — to instantly remove the other from the contest. With around a minute gone, Tommy launched two huge shots to the bread basket which took the wind from Barkley, hampering his forward movement and allowing Hearns to mix in head shots, the cut now re-opening, splattering blood over Iran’s face.

Just over half way through the session, Hearns landed another crippling left hook underneath which almost caved in Barkley, the challenger now badly hurt and having to cover his midriff with both arms, only able to offer an occasional winging hook which caught fresh air in return. A stoppage finish seemed imminent, Hearns again digging hard to the body before tossing in two right hands up top.

Then….wham! In an eye blink Barkley crashed home a desperation right hand which instantly separated the champion from his senses, his legs stiffening. As Tommy began to fall, Barkley’s recoil swung him around and he appeared, looming above the 45 degree falling figure of Hearns, smashing down a follow up right which hurried Tommy’s descent, nailing his prone body to the canvas.

The aesthetic of the knockdown was eye popping; Pixar’s CGI boffins surely could not have choreographed anything as beautiful, yet sickening. Somehow hauling himself to his feet, Hearns rose in the same dilapidated state referee Richard Steele had seen just six fights previously. His attempt to carry on was futile. Barkley flew at him with two wild hooks which sat Tommy on the second rope, a short stabbing right sending him through them, suspending him upside down, his head just above the ring apron. In an amazing turnaround and with a violent and visually improbable knockout, Iran Barkley had shocked the boxing world.

Round 4: George Foreman v Ron Lyle

Lyle opened round four as he had the opening two, with a wildly aggressive body shot. As both power punchers fenced and with George inadvertently looking to Gil Clancy in his corner, Lyle slugged him with a right before homing in with a left and a searing right hander, forcing Foreman to grab. Perhaps detecting some give in the ex-champ, Lyle cut loose and walloped in a right uppercut followed by a right body shot. A bombardment of booming hooks sending George faltering backwards, a crackling left bowling him over.

Foreman’s recuperation was eerie, nodding to his coach as if he was a long jumper who’d mistimed his pesky run up to the pit, rather than a badly dazed prize fighter in perilous danger.

Lyle charged him. Foreman wisely enveloping him with his giant arms, fending off the punches sent in to finish him off. Quickly aggrieved with this scenario, George elected to stand firm and shove his tormentor off, put his head down and let his bombs fly. A right and a left steadied Lyle, two lefts putting him into reverse. Two overhand rights toppled the brawler from Ohio, Lyle performing a pirouette as he thudded onto his back, his chest heaving for air. Astonishingly and despite struggling desperately for equilibrium, he dragged himself vertical as Foreman coolly eyed his quarry from the neutral corner. On him in a flash, Foreman buried a sickening left into his gut. Ron was now hanging on for dear life.

George pinned Lyle to the ropes for the majority of the final minute, attempting to crush not only his opponent but with him, the memory of the “rope a dope.” Pawing at Lyle in an attempt to lower his guard, he whammed in six wrecking ball left hooks before Ron countered back, catching Foreman coming forward. Badly disorientated, George caught a shattering left hook as he lunged sloppily. The pair were nowi running on fumes.

Despite this, Lyle dredged up enough reserves to fire off two mighty rights, followed by an uppercut and left hook which left George lolling like a puppet in the hands of a child, chronically hurt. On the bell and once again returning fire, Foreman tasted a monstrous right hook which decimated him, pulverising him to the mat face first, his body limp. As he gallantly rose, a blood stained print remained where he’d lain. On this night, George Foreman would not be beaten.

Round 5: Erik Morales v Marco Antonio Barrera

Barrera and Morales were more than sporting rivals. There was a deep-seated and seething animosity between the pair. They engaged in 36 rounds of warfare spanning five years, and this high octane three minute session was the greatest of them all, a snap shot of the intense and see-sawing battle of wills they fought against one another.

Morales, the man from Tijuana, scored first, bouncing up on his toes and shooting in rapid hooks from distance. Barrera lay in wait, timing his man’s assaults before measuring him perfectly with a thudding overhead right which sent ‘El Terrible’ backtracking to the ropes. Anticipating Barrera’s follow up salvo, Morales was ready for him and retaliated in kind, the pair blazing away in a scorching exchange of blurring punches.

It was at this point that Erik began to get his fabulous right hand working. Quickening the intensity of the fight even further, he started to look for gaps between Marco’s high guard, smashing in stunning uppercuts and hooks rammed home with malice. At the tail end of another blistering volley, Morales cracked in a hard straight right, hurting Barrera and wrecking his composure, forcing him to retreat into a hunch with his gloves up. Instantly sensing blood, Morales kicked into action, blasting powder keg rights around Barrera’s guard and through the centre of his gloves. Wave after wave of brutal rights thudded into Marco’s head in a prolonged attack, Morales’ right hooks and uppercuts soon having Barrera all at sea, bobbing up and down on the tail end of punches like a drowning man cast away on choppy waters.

Just as it seemed he was all but done, Barrera suddenly spun his great rival, bursting out of his crouch with an electrifying and sustained starburst of flashing lefts and rights, most nailing Morales flush and hammering him around the ring like a rag doll.

As the crowd in attendance rose from their seats, the pair fell into one another, gulping for air. Barrera again retreated into his hunched stance, looking to land his debilitating body shots as Morales struggled desperately from outside to regain his spoilt momentum. With the clock winding down, Barrera landed a spiteful swinging right on the break, ratcheting up the ire between the pair even further and earning a reprimand from third man Mitch Halpern. They drifted into Morales’ corner before both opening fire with another scattergun assault, with Barrera landing a mighty left hook to punctuate a round which had featured iron resolve and intense drama.

Round 6: John Mugabi v Marvelous Marvin Hagler

The soaring young upstart attempting to topple a defiant and seasoned champion was the familiar boxing tale when John “The Beast” Mugabi challenged Marvelous Marvin Hagler in the fall of ’87.

The stoic and hammer-fisted challenger had refused to take a backward step in the bout up to this point, enjoying much success — duly noted by prospective Hagler opponents Tommy Hearns and Sugar Ray Leonard scouting from ringside (Hearns had flattened James Shuler on the undercard to push his claims for a second crack at Marvin). The round began pretty quietly as both men jockeyed for position in centre ring. Mugabi cracked in a solid left which allowed him to wrestle the initiative away temporarily, forcing the champion to change tack and circle and probe for an opening from the outskirts of the ring.

With just over a minute gone, Hagler, fighting from the southpaw stance, moved inside and landed his best punch of the fight, a booming left hander which sent a crescent of sweat spraying from Mugabi’s head, a punch which ignited the blue touch paper.

The battle of wills brewing thus far suddenly exploded, with both men opting to go for broke and exchange punch for devastating punch in the middle of the Vegas ring. Frenetic body shots crashed home in both directions as the pair sat down on their shots, searching for the home run. Hagler’s more refined technique allowed him to land the straighter and more accurate shots, finally moving Mugabi back with a machine gun right-left-right uppercut-left and right hand combination. The challenger — visibly in distress for the first time — tottered backwards, braced himself for Hagler’s furious follow up charge, his swaying defence simply inadequate in the face of Hagler’s onslaught. Sickening rights and lefts thumped home with John stranded on the ropes, with the arena now a wall of noise.

The action rolled across the ring and into a corner with heavy flak still flying from both parties. Mugabi’s insolent response stemmed the tide somewhat as he launched a counter attack by turning Marvin and delivering violent rights and lefts brought up from underneath. Throughout the final 20 seconds they drilled one another — one single power shot landed, one then caught in return in a furious finish. Hagler rather symbolically had the last word by landing a three-punch combination on the bell to signal the end of a stirring round, his point proven, his advantage rammed home emphatically, the test of wills won.

Round 7:  Michael Carbajal v Humberto ‘Chiquita’ Gonzalez

Carbajal had been through the mill. Gonzalez had floored him in round two, completely starched him in the 5th and had finished round six in the ascendancy. As round seven began, Humberto flew out of his blocks with his head down, busily getting to work with rapid fire body shots. Carbajal, meanwhile, began to get his jab working, re-ordering his boxing in a bid to keep his rampaging opponent at bay.

Gonzalez, now with the bit very much between his teeth, quickly seized the initiative and trapped Michael along the ropes, peppering him with hard lefts and rights which thudded into his face. Despite worsening facial damage, Humberto continued to chug forward like a miniature Puffing Billy, his speed of foot and bursts of quick, snappy punches allowing him to stay one step ahead of his opponent.

At the mid-point, Michael finally summoned the leveller he’d been searching for all night long: a right hand bomb from nowhere detonating on Gonzalez’s chin and a reaction left swipe sent Chiquita flailing backwards into the ropes, the strands breaking what looked to be a certain fall. Though hurt, Gonzalez had the wherewithal to sense what was coming his way and hurriedly flung up his mitts as Carbajal steamed into him. Unloading bombs, Carbajal pinned his foe to the ropes, buried his head into Humberto’s chest and began to zero in with the feted power shots which had earned him the nickname “Little Hands of Stone.” Gonzalez was buzzed with a heavy right and then a winging left, with Carbajal maintaining his new found flow by sending in another right, then another left as Humberto flurried in response, forlornly attempting to halt his slide.

With thirty seconds left on the clock, Chiquita finally turned his man, frantically looking to regain his grip on a fight which had suddenly slipped away. He whirred away with rat-a-tat shots to head and body, but Carbajal responded with a vicious left, now in a canny rhythm, countering Gonzalez’s flurries with dynamite single shots.

A hard right cracked into Humberto’s face, followed by two right hooks and a monstrous left hand which instantly took Gonzalez out of the fight. The Mexican dropped like a stone, falling onto his side and rolling onto his back. As blood seeped from Gonzalez’s left eye, Carbajal bolted to the neutral corner, recognising instantly the calibre of shot he’d landed. There he celebrated as referee Mills Lane counted Gonzalez out on his back with a mere second remaining in the round.

Round 8: Matthew Saad Muhammad v Alvaro ‘Yaqui’ Lopez

Saad Muhammad had been abandoned as a child; Lopez was a street kid who shined boots for a pittance. Hard times and hardscrabble origins helped forge a steel within both, leading to the titanic 8th round of their 1980 rematch.

Philadelphian action man Saad Muhammad advanced quickly on Lopez, forcing him to the ropes before detonating a hard right hand to the body. Searching for a higher gear, the champion cranked out a steady stream of busy shots to establish his rhythm. The pair exchanged chopping shots downstairs before Lopez flurried hard to Matthew’s head.  Jabbing strongly, Matthew aggravated a gash over Lopez’s right eye that left Yaqui’s face suddenly awash with blood. Sensing an edge in this gruelling encounter, Matthew again backed Lopez to the ropes behind piston-like jabs before going to work with his heavy artillery. Pouring on pressure, Saad Muhammad unleashed a hail of overhead rights and left hooks to the midriff as Lopez covered up, desperately bobbing and weaving and looking to counter off the strands.

Anticipating his own demise and with his corner bellowing for him to escape, Lopez blazed back ferociously, cracking in a booming right hand before making a charge for the title. “Yaqui” emptied everything he had on Matthew — a scorching attack of lefts and rights thudding into the champion’s head and body, making the crowd rapturous. Booming shots landed up and down, staggering the champ and sending him wobbling into the far corner of the ring, seemingly unable to avoid or block anything coming in his direction as Lopez thrashed him savagely.

Like a distance runner making his dash for glory, expending his last by sprinting away from the pack only to find himself slowly yet inexorably hauled back, realisation soon dawned in Lopez that this monumental effort, which surely would have finished most other fighters, had fallen a fraction short. With a minute to go Lopez, now utterly spent and barely able to lift his arms, began leaning on Muhammad.

The man they named “Miracle” Matthew set about once again proving that this tag was never more apt, turning his man and going back to work. Once again working behind left hands, Matthew surged with left jabs, overhand rights and left uppercuts that hurt Lopez against the ropes. As they drifted over to the middle of the ring, the round descended into a plain old street fight with both men slamming each other again before the bell, and the crowd stood to applaud a truly epic round of prize fighting.

Round 9: John David Jackson v Jorge Castro

The state of the protagonist’s shorts told their own story. The teak tough Castro had taken a protracted and frightful pasting, his shorts bathed in his own blood. Jackson’s dazzling gold choice would not have looked out of place on his namesake Michael, and dovetailed perfectly with his display up to that point. The challenger had boxed superbly, his flashy, showy boxing reducing Castro to a one-eyed, battered gargoyle.

Castro lurched off his stool, only to walk straight into a punch to the groin. This at least offered him brief respite to recover, although Jackson immediately continued his dissection delivered from the southpaw stance. Castro, now horribly gashed over his right eye, caught a three punch salvo flush, stiffening his legs. Pinned into a corner, he was subjected to Jackson’s full repertoire, with John David landing at will and dispassionately working his man over with attack after attack. Castro’s desperate response was a rather pitiful bob from side to side as he strived to get close enough to return fire.

Jackson suddenly threw a five-punch flash of punches, all of which landed hard. Castro sagged visibly, rolled back on his heels and fell backwards into the ropes as Jackson pounced, quickly all over his crab-like opponent, raking him and looking to put the finishing touches on his own personal masterpiece.

Then, with fifty one seconds left and Stanley Christodolou finally poised to stop the massacre, Castro flung a ragged right and a swinging left hook which landed smack bang on Jackson’s chin. Castro’s tormentor fell like a condemned chimney stack, crashing heavily to the canvas before somehow rising semi-conscious at the count of seven. Tottering on flimsy legs and now a sitting duck, he was bulldozed by the Argentinean; Castro’s sheer momentum enough to flatten Jackson face first with thirty four seconds left on the clock.

Jackson clambered up again, balancing precariously on wooden legs, now devoid of all lucidity. As Christodolou clasped Jackson’s jaw in an attempt to steady him long enough to check his condition, it appeared as if he were lining it up for Castro to aim toward. One short right of minor consequence was all it eventually required to put Jackson down and out. The challenger nose-dived to the canvas like a tail spinning fighter jet as Castro wheeled away, violently shaking his fists aloft in a perfect mix of elation, relief and sheer incredulity.

Round 10: Diego Corrales v Jose Luis Castillo

In an epic battle which had provided more drama, more ebb and flow than the Spring tides, Diego Corrales seemed to have again skewed the fight his way by clocking Jose Luis Castillo and shaking him right on the bell to end round nine.

Crossing himself as he re-entered the fray for the tenth, any hopes he harboured that he had finally broken down Castillo’s resistance were swiftly dashed as he ate a double jab, a jab to the gut and a swinging, thumping left hook. Corrales smacked down in ring centre, his gum shield spilling across the canvas, the familiar sunken look of a beaten fighter spreading over him. Rising at eight and having his mouth guard replaced, he walked into Castillo’s thrashing attack. A left hook thwacked home and the subsequent four-punch salvo sent him down again — hard. Flat on his back, his legs in the air and with his left eye now almost completely shut, he instinctively removed his gum shield with his open glove. The writing, it seemed, was now well and truly on the wall.

This round, however — and this incredible fight — had one final twist. Up at nine, third man Tony Weeks temporarily stayed the inevitable execution by deducting a point for spitting out of the mouth guard, an indiscretion which earned Diego precious seconds. Castillo instantly pounced on his man, the referee hovering, when suddenly and inexplicably, Corrales found a booming right hook which on playback changed the fight. However, at the time, it didn’t fully register. Castillo supporter and compatriot Julio Cesar Chavez Jr, standing alongside his father and jumping with excitement in the crowd at what looked an imminent stoppage win for his man, suddenly stopped still as realisation dawned that something shocking was unfolding before him.

The man who only seconds earlier had appeared finished landed a colossal left which forced the now shell-shocked Jose Luis back to the ropes. Diego’s follow up barrage, culminating with a head-spinning left hook, forced Weeks to leap in and call a halt to the war as pandemonium ensued, the crowd exploding.

Within seconds of the mind scrambling finish, Corrales, the improbable victor, had sought out his brother at arms to offer him his lifelong respect. No-one could have realised at that point that this pledge would last a mere two years. Diego’s life was tragically cut short. However, he left us this fight and this round which will never be forgotten.

Round 11: Chris Eubank v Michael Watson

Eubank rose from his stool for the 11th round of his rematch with Michael Watson trailing on points and looking utterly spent. With both men fighting close to the edge of exhaustion, Eubank got on his bicycle, skirting the outer reaches of the ring, now too tired to raise his hands. Watson pursued relentlessly, homing in on Eubank’s body in an attempt to drain the last of his reserves. Rolling his way in close, Watson expertly evaded the champion’s tired swings before firing in overhead rights and debilitating left and right handers to the pit of his opponent’s gut.

Midway through the round, Eubank responded and retaliated with a terrific right hand, two left hooks and a right-left-right combination that forced Watson back to the ropes. Sensing his opponent was in distress, Eubank went hell for leather, jumping all over Watson and flailing away frantically, almost toppling Watson over the top rope in his haste. As the referee broke both fighters, Eubank fired a huge and slashing overhead right, once again pinning Watson to the ropes and hanging him over the top strand.

As both men regrouped centre ring, Eubank nodded to Watson, acknowledging his opponent’s bravery and perhaps also revealing that he’d now given his all. Watson roared back at this juncture, nailing Chris with two right hands behind the left ear, moving inside and crunching home hard left and right hooks. Suddenly rejuvenated and advancing with a rhythmic jig, Watson began cleverly picking holes in Eubank’s defence as he covered up, cupping his gloves to his face. Three hard right hooks flung Eubank into the ropes, the Brighton man wilting from his efforts and floundering desperately. As he attempted in vain to fend Watson off with flicking jabs, he walked straight on to a thumping counter right which stiffened him, a cuffing follow up hook sending him to the canvas.

Up almost immediately and waved on by third man Roy Francis, Eubank fired the right uppercut which changed both fighters’ lives forever. Watson was sent crashing to the canvas, but he rose heroically as the bell sounded, saving him from the defeat which would come in the very next round. As one battle ended, Watson would begin another far greater fight, one which would require all of the courage and heroism he’d exhibited in the ring. The 11th round laid bare the sport’s inherent dangers, yet held aloft also the gallantry of the men who choose to participate.

Round 12: Wilfredo Gomez v Lupe Pintor

The dynamite-fisted Wilfredo “Bazooka” Gomez bore the look of a man toiling away in the furnace of a fierce Puerto Rico-Mexico super fight, busted up and gasping for air on his stool. On the other hand, his livewire opponent, the Mexican Lupe Pintor, looked relatively unmarked, which belied the fact Gomez had edged ahead in this bruising slugfest as round 12 of a scheduled 15 began.

Gomez had fought a strong 11th round and immediately bore in with booming body shots, shoving Lupe into retreat. A crisp left-right combination took Pintor’s legs from him. The challenger was wounded and staggered backwards into the ropes. On him quickly, Gomez closed in to finish the fight, thrashing Lupe from all angles with Pintor only able to sag against the ropes on rubberized legs. With his senses scrambled, Lupe bobbed and wove, countering the champion off the strands, a tactic he’d employed to good effect throughout the fight. Huge and rapid punches crashed into Pintor’s head and body with referee Arthur Mercante paying close heed, tentatively primed to leap in throughout the extended onslaught. Hanging in grimly, Pintor began to duck Gomez’s bristling shots yet was only able to offer tepid body shots in retaliation, such was his posture.

On went Gomez’s charge, now cornering his man, refusing to let him off the hook and going for the finish once again. Striving just to get himself standing upright, Pintor rolled away from Gomez’s relentless attack, snapping back with counter hooks and uppercuts. Both fighters swayed this way and that, fighting in perpetual motion.

Although the lead-fisted Gomez was landing more frequently and with the heavier shots, it was Pintor who had the greater accuracy, swaying and countering brilliantly off the ropes despite catching much heavy leather for his temerity. Nevertheless, Pintor began to gradually claw back some momentum, his confidence improving by the second with Gomez roaring back at him defiantly. Both men’s will now was tested to the limit.

Then, with 20 seconds remaining, Pintor landed a crisp and hurtful combination followed by a body shot that finally backed Gomez up. An overhand right followed by a hard one-two pounded Gomez back into Pintor’s corner. A right body shot and left uppercut left the Puerto Rican out on his feet. Incredibly, the pair had to be parted as Gomez’s second rushed across the ring, plucking his man up off his feet before carrying him back to his stool.

About Tim Starks

Tim is the founder of The Queensberry Rules and co-founder of The Transnational Boxing Rankings Board (http://www.tbrb.org). He lives in Washington, D.C. He has written for the Guardian, Economist, New Republic, Chicago Tribune and more.