ByGareth Cavanagh, writer at
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Gareth Cavanagh

There is a simple enjoyment in watching a great boxing match. It is the ambiguity of the result, the drama, the feeling that the unexpected could happen at any given moment. However, sometimes the story that surrounds the bout is far more interesting than the clash itself.

Here is a list of five fascinating stories from the world of boxing.

5. Max Schmeling vs Joe Louis (1936)

Photo: Associated Press

The reason the backstory of this bout is so fascinating is because there were so many elements at work. This match transcended athletic competition between two men and became the posturing of opposing nations on the eve of war. The clash between Joe Louis and Max Schmeling was considered a battle between the Nazi dictatorship and the United States of America.

The Nazi party saw Schmeling as an example of the Aryan race and their values. With that being said, Max was actually opposed to their deplorable views and even saved the lives of two Jewish children during The Night of the Long Knives.

Joe Louis was a talented black boxer from Alabama who had previously won the Golden Gloves accolade in 34'. These tensions led to two encounters that, although they were both brief, would prove to carry huge historic implications.

The first bout ended in a swift knockout when the German fighter easily dispatched Louis. The Nazi regime of course attempted to tout this as evidence of their race being superior to any other.

'The Brown Bomber' would bounce back as he defeated James Braddock for the title. Louis was not satisfied with winning the belt in 1937; he said that he would not be called the champion until he beat Schmeling.

The second bout ended in a similar way as the first, but this time it was the American doing the decimating. Louis brought the fight to Schmeling, forcing his corner to throw in the towel. Schmeling later came out in opposition to the Nazis and the two men reconciled in the final years of their life.

4. Saul 'Canelo' Alvarez vs Floyd 'Money' Mayweather (2013)

By the time both fighters were making their way to the squared circle, excitement was at a fever pitch. The fight was sold as a battle between the current king of the sport and the would-be predecessor.

Mayweather was getting close to retirement but first wanted to prove his dominance in a superfight with 'Canelo' Alvarez. For the young rising star, this was a huge opportunity to dethrone the king, he had everything to gain.

Even the weigh-in was the biggest in boxing history. It was the perfect example of the spectacle a Mayweather match can become; the two fighters weighed-in before an enormous arena crowd.

'Money' played up to his usual on-screen persona, attempting to intimidate Alvarez by screaming in his face. The young boxer was not phased, calm and collected he just smiled and waved to the fans.

The fight itself was very exciting and dramatic, taking place for an electric crowd. Alvarez was strong and went after Mayweather at the sounding of the first bell. Ultimately, Floyd's defence was too strong and he won by decision. This was a heartbreaking loss for 'Canelo'.

Despite the result, a key theme post-fight was that Mayweather had passed the torch. He actually said in the press conference that he was 24 months from retirement and after that, it is Saul's time.

During the close of the bout it was said that: "Canelo may be the fighter of the future, he is not quite the fighter of today." Prophetic words from the commentary booth as Alvarez is now one of the sport's biggest stars.

3. James 'Buster' Douglas vs Mike Tyson (1990)

The reason this match is so historic is because it was the first time that someone knocked out Mike Tyson. Up to that point 'Iron' Mike had been undefeated, blazing through the heavyweight division.

Therefore, the KO of the believed unbeatable Tyson by James Douglas shook the world. The most fascinating aspect of the 1990 encounter was the story that led to this moment. The pre-fight events that occurred for 'Buster' Douglas, being a tale of conquering adversity, have since become the subject of many motivational videos and talks.

Two days before the fight with Mike Tyson, Douglas' mother passed away. Before she died she said her son would be the man to beat the heavyweight champion. Given this huge personal blow, nobody would have criticised Douglas for postponing the bout...but he did not.

James 'Buster' Douglas showed up on fight night and he used his mother's words to motivate himself to do the impossible. Despite being close to getting knocked out in the eight round, Douglas came to fight and knocked Tyson out in the tenth to claim the heavyweight championship.

2. Rumble in the Jungle (1974)

Ali was already an established star by this point but had to fight his way back up to the number one contendership as he was forced to retire in 1970 after the debacle with the U.S army. The instance being a legal battle between Ali and the army when he refused to take part in Vietnam.

This led to him being stripped of the belt and his boxing license. When Ali earned the right to fight for the title once again the match was set to take place in Kinshasa Zaire, Africa.

The scene was set for Rumble in the Jungle, arguably the most iconic and theatrical boxing match in history. Both Ali and Foreman flew out to Kinshasa to prep for the fight. Many analysts and historians have noted that Ali grew spiritually from his time in Africa. He felt truly at home, soaking in the culture and majestic surroundings.

Meanwhile Foreman was paranoid that someone would try to poison his food. The mind game was clearly tipped in Ali's favour. It was in a pre-fight press conference that Ali came out with one of his best promos: "Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. George can't hit what his eyes can't see. Now you see me, now you don't. You think you will but I know you won't".

The bout was a fascinating watch, demonstrating the incredible fight IQ of Muhammad Ali. This was the match that introduced the rope-a-dope to the world. Ali won with his uncanny ability to use the situation that presented itself to his advantage.

When he arrived at the arena the ropes were loose and would not be pulled tight no matter how hard they tried. Ali used it to his benefit though, staying on the ropes, absorbing Foreman's shots with his defence or slipping them entirely. He also had to take some punishment, allowing George to punch himself out. Ali's larger opponent tired himself in the stifling heat and was knocked out as a result.

1. Ali taunts Joe Frazier on the streets of Philadelphia (1975)

Photo: John Shearer/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Image

Muhammad Ali went to great lengths in the mind game leading into Thrilla in Manila. It was the rubber match between Ali and Frazier, and tensions were at boiling point. In one instance Ali marched through the streets of Philadelphia, Frazier's hometown, with a congregation of supporters.

The man formerly known as Cassius Clay had been known to show up on his opponents doorstep. He did this previously during his feud with Sonny Liston. In that instance, he drove a bus onto Liston's lawn in the night. As Liston angrily shouted at police officers to eject him, Ali taunted him from the bus with a megaphone.

But with the Philadelphia incident he really exceeded himself. Ali made everything grind to a halt due to the sheer volume of people. A historic moment occurred when the crowd stopped outside Frazier's gym. 'Smokin' Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali faced-off separated only by the gym window.

Joe wanted to go out and settle it there and then but he was advised not to. Instead he peered through the glass at his adversary, holding up his right fist. The result was an iconic photograph, a snapshot of history that beautifully captures the event and the emotion that led to it.

The phrase "a picture paints a thousand words" is certainly true in this case. A photographer can turn a fighter into an icon.


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