A few years ago, when the COVID-19 virus began wreaking havoc on our lives, many of us hunkered down in our abodes to ride out the dark days as the walls slowly closed in and “quarantine life” became the norm. To keep the boredom at bay, we put together this piece to reflect on some of the greatest battles to occur during one of the finest boxing eras of all-time.
In the nineties, the pay-per-view model took flight, money flooded into the game, and anything seemed possible. The nineties are an era fans vividly remember for both good and bad reasons. The Holyfield vs Tyson Bite Fight looms large in the collective consciousness, but though it cast a pall for a time, we shouldn’t forget that its predecessor attracted worldwide attention, while entering the pantheon of all-time great upsets.
Elsewhere, Roy Jones Jr cut a swathe through three weight divisions; Oscar De La Hoya launched a charm offensive bolstered by a weapons-grade left hook; theatrical featherweight Naseem Hamed redefined showmanship and stretched hubris to its limits; Pernell Whitaker established himself as an all-time great; a supposedly over-the-hill George Foreman blunt-forced his way to the title twenty years on from The Rumble in the Jungle; Marco Antonio Barrera, Erik Morales and Johnny Tapia made their bones in the lower weights; and on and on. Just as the ‘Class of the 80s’ had responded to the gauntlet thrown down by their 1970s forebears, our 1990s starlets met the standards of proof required of a golden generation: terrific action fights, bitter rivalries, blockbuster unifications, crushing knockouts and magnetic personalities.
As with our popular Eighty Fights From The 80s posts, we present here a compendium of remarkable battles from The Nineties, complete with videos. As before, this is not a ranking; the contests are listed in random order, though corralled according to year. If you think we’ve omitted a deserving tilt, let us know. Note: the links take you either directly to a video of the bout, or to a post that has the video embedded. Enjoy!
Aaron Davis vs Mark Breland: This battle of New Yorkers – one a decorated amateur and two-time world champ, the other an unbeaten but raw contender – lit up Reno in the summer of 1990. Free-swinging Davis repeatedly buzzed Breland and dropped him in the third, but the Brooklynite’s pedigree shone through as the contest wore on and he even came close to halting Davis in the eighth. “Superman’s” counter-right knockout a round later is one of the best you will ever see.
Julio Cesar Chavez vs Meldrick Taylor I: You would need a heart of stone not to feel sorry for Meldrick Taylor, as he was stopped with just two seconds remaining at the end of a brutal and thrilling twelve rounder with Julio Cesar Chavez. Dubbed “Thunder and Lightning,” this absorbing contest between the planet’s premier super lightweights delivered nonstop excitement, with speedster Taylor working his butt off and outscoring a relentless opponent who did plenty of damage himself. The finale was both heroic and heartbreaking.
Chris Eubank vs Nigel Benn I: An explosion of violence and enmity was expected when bitter rivals Eubank and Benn squared off in the biggest British battle of the year (possibly of all time, for that matter). “The Dark Destroyer” had the pedigree but consummate showman Eubank oozed self-belief and rode out the storm on an emotional night, enduring some torrid moments to finally halt his harasser in the ninth.
Ray Mercer vs Bert Cooper: A talented but inconsistent former Joe Frazier protege, “Smokin” Bert Cooper was seen by most as a stepping stone in gold medalist Mercer’s march to heavyweight contention. But Cooper had other ideas, displaying spirit and energy many thought he lacked. Big Bert forced Mercer into a brawl that brought the best out of both men in a grueling distance bout.
Robert Quiroga vs Akeem Anifowoshe: These undefeated junior bantamweights set a tireless pace from the opening bell to the last. Although “Kid Akeem” surrendered his reach advantage, he gave just as good as he got in a close-quarters brawl. In the end, the Texan overcame a deep cut to defend his belt by decision. Sadly, Kid Akeem died just three years later in his native Nigeria, while Quiroga was stabbed to death in 2004.
Evander Holyfield vs Bert Cooper: Holyfield had already participated in one of the great heavyweight slugfests of the 80s against Michael Dokes and his title defence against late sub Bert Cooper was every bit as entertaining. A beautiful left hook to the body crumpled Cooper in the first, but the underdog roared back, crashing Holyfield into the ropes in the third and giving a great account of himself until his courageous stand was brutally terminated in the seventh.
Mike McCallum vs Sumbu Kalambay II: Slick boxer Kalambay had pocketed McCallum’s “0” in Italy three years earlier, but having been sensationally poleaxed by Michael Nunn in the interim, he was a slight underdog in this rematch. In front of a sparse Monaco crowd, the pair produced another fascinating chess match that went right to the wire, “The Bodysnatcher” exacting revenge by the slimmest of margins.
Ray Mercer vs Tommy Morrison: An all-action heavyweight showdown, plus a riveting come-from-behind win that will forever be remembered for its almost sickening conclusion. What shouldn’t be forgotten is that this was also a rare, high-risk clash between young, undefeated warriors who were both looking ahead to even bigger opportunities in the near future.
James Toney vs Mike McCallum I: The hotshot student versus the wise old sage: that was the narrative for the first meeting between “The Bodysnatcher” and “Lights Out.” Strangely, it was the veteran who was busier, endlessly popping his jab and working the body of the young champ, who impressed with his own crisp, powerful flurries. A rematch was inevitable after the judges scored it a draw, but in all honesty, there was very little to separate these two maestros on this night.
Mike Tyson vs Razor Ruddock I: Donovan “Razor” Ruddock was big enough, skilled enough and man enough to give a snarling Tyson all he could handle. Of course, this was a Tyson close enough to his prime to make the project a painful one. In an intensely physical brawl – perhaps the most exciting in the Tyson canon – Ruddock was staggered, down, hurt and eventually stopped in controversial fashion after seven gripping rounds. Predictably enough, the rematch was a slobberknocker too.
Evander Holyfield vs George Foreman: Big George was four years and 24 wins into an unlikely comeback when he received his shot at the heavyweight championship held by Evander Holyfield. The 42-year-old surprised most experts by fighting competitively and lasting the distance in an exciting, but clear decision loss, demonstrating that he remained a viable contender. As George noted after the bout, “He had the points, but I made the point.”
Chris Eubank vs Michael Watson II: Most observers felt that Watson had beaten Eubank three months earlier, but this quick-fire rematch promised to settle the score. As intense as their first battle had been, the return raised the level with both warriors bringing their A-game. Gradually, Watson imposed himself and began to beat his rival down – only for an under-siege Eubank to claim a late-round TKO. Tragically, Watson suffered a brain bleed and endured years of rehabilitation after this fateful contest.
Muangchai Kittikasem vs Jung Koo Chang: Although the opening rounds featured more clinching than punching, the action ratcheted up as the flyweights swapped countless power punches in this exhausting affair. Chang scored knockdowns in the fifth and eleventh rounds to take the lead, but ultimately it was the Thai champion’s superior physicality that broke “The Korean Hawk.” Kittikasem scored a pair of knockdowns in the final round to stop the exhausted challenger in front of his countrymen.
Azumah Nelson vs Jeff Fenech I: These two bulldogs met in the sunshine at the Mirage, contesting the Ghanaian’s WBC super featherweight strap on the undercard of Mike Tyson vs Razor Ruddock II. Both street fighters had their moments in an electrifying phone-booth war, with “The Professor” retaining via unpopular draw. Fenech, attempting to win gold in a fourth weight division, was rarely better.
James Toney vs Mike McCallum II: Having graduated to the super middleweight division since their hotly-contested first fight, IBF ruler Toney oozed confidence in this rematch and arguably delivered his finest ever performance. Not that it was all plain sailing: McCallum gave the younger man all he could handle once more, the pair matching each other in virtually every department through twelve engrossing rounds. To this day, McCallum insists he won.
Julian Jackson vs Thomas Tate: Jackson vs Tate marked the first time “The Hawk” had completed twelve rounds in a career spanning eleven years and 45 fights, causing the formidable slugger to later dub Tate owner of the best chin he’d faced. “ICE T” boxed determinedly on this night, his spearing jab, slick footwork and all round ring-craft helping him survive a fourth round knockdown; he even hurt Jackson on occasion. Hawk took a well-earned unanimous decision in the end.
Bert Cooper vs Michael Moorer: Thanks to the perennially inconsistent Cooper showing up with bad intentions, fans were treated to a heavyweight war for the ages that began with a wild first round, with both men tasting the canvas. The Kronk product ended matters in the fifth after a devastating right uppercut and straight left sent Cooper to the canvas and rendered him too woozy to continue.
Riddick Bowe vs Evander Holyfield I: There were some thrilling heavyweight fights in the nineties, but this showdown tops them all. They traded relentlessly back and forth, with the action reaching a crescendo in a brilliant tenth that’ll go down as one of the division’s most exhilarating stanzas. Holyfield’s implacable will to win kept him in contention, but ultimately Bowe’s size, skills, and dogged determination proved too much as “Big Daddy” became the undisputed champ.
Azumah Nelson vs Jeff Fenech II: The great Azumah Nelson underlined his supremacy and put controversy to bed by conquering the home favourite at Melbourne’s Princes Park. After being decked twice early, the hard-charging Aussie fought back into contention before Nelson, with his back to the ropes, knocked him onto his heels and dropped him heavily. Fenech gamely rose, but with Nelson teeing off, the ref had no choice but to intervene.
Kennedy McKinney vs Welcome Ncita I: Tortolì, Sardinia isn’t the first place you think of when reminiscing on great boxing duels, but it was the venue for the awesome contest between unbeaten super bantams Kennedy McKinney and Welcome Ncita. Former cocaine addict McKinney got his act together in his maiden title bout, though he had to come through the fire to do it: the champ had him down in the tenth only for McKinney to score an improbable knockout in round eleven.
Michael Carbajal vs Humberto Gonzalez I: The junior flyweight unification between unbeaten Michael Carbajal and Humberto Gonzalez was history-making: the pair became the first fighters in their division to earn a million bucks for one fight. Dubbed “La Explosión,” the highly-anticipated shootout featured no end of toe-to-toe exchanges, with switch-hitting Gonzalez boring forward and bowling Carbajal over in the second and fifth rounds, only for “Little Hands of Stone” to pull out a spectacular seventh-round stoppage.
Riddick Bowe vs Evander Holyfield II: One year after losing his title in a classic encounter to Riddick Bowe, Evander Holyfield exacted revenge via narrow decision in a contest that was almost as exciting as the paraglider who gatecrashed the ring in round seven. Two years later, with no titles on the line, they met for the rubber match in a bout that was arguably the fiercest of the trilogy. Bowe came back from the brink of defeat to stop Holyfield for the first time in his career.
Julio Cesar Chavez vs Pernell Whitaker: This clash of perennial pound-for-pounders was a dream for purists, pitting Whitaker’s slick, elusive brand of pugilism against Chavez’s seek-and-destroy savagery. In front of a pro-Chavez crowd of 65,000, the Mexican had his moments but failed to impose himself as an inspired “Sweet Pea” busily and expertly outboxed him – only for the judges to call it a draw. A true moment in time.
Jorge Fernando Castro vs John David Jackson I: Smooth-boxing John David Jackson was fighting to regain his middleweight belt against the relatively crude Jorge Castro and for nine rounds, it appeared he would succeed, as he largely dominated an exciting contest. But in the ninth, “Action” Jackson had Castro on the verge of a stoppage defeat, when a left hook from nowhere turned the bout around in an instant, granting Castro a comeback knockout win in the Fight of the Year.
Frankie Randall vs Julio Cesar Chavez I: Randall fought the fight of his life as he consistently landed crisp combinations and answered every one of Chavez’s flurries. The icing on the cake was a picture-perfect right hand in the eleventh that knocked the Mexican down, earned Randall the split decision, and snapped Chavez’s ninety fight unbeaten streak.
Felix Trinidad vs Yori Boy Campas: Thanks to Chavez’s defeat the week before, Campas – 56-0 with 50 kayos – was on boxing’s longest undefeated run at the time. And it looked set to continue after he floored Tito with a beautiful left hook in the second. In typical Trinidad fashion though, the Puerto Rican rose from the canvas to win a war, roaring back to stop the veteran – still on his feet but taking an absolute pounding – in the fourth round of this fine addition to the Puerto Rico-Mexico rivalry.
Michael Carbajal vs Humberto Gonzalez II: As in their first meeting, Humberto Gonzalez suffered a nasty cut, but this time he prevailed over his great rival in their Inglewood rematch. The champion fought frantically to retain his titles, but Gonzalez avoided most of Carbajal’s bombs while boxing cleverly from both stances to earn the win.
Saman Sorjaturong vs Humberto Gonzalez: After rising from the canvas in round two, unified champ Gonzalez regained control, dropping the spirited Thai in both the fifth and sixth rounds. But in the seventh, the pint-sized sluggers stood toe-to-toe before Sorjaturong caught an overzealous “Chiquita” with a devastating right. The challenger’s subsequent barrage forced the ref to call it, earning him a major upset.
Chris Eubank vs Steve Collins I: The pre-fight mind games were almost as entertaining as the fight itself, as Collins famously spooked Eubank by convincing him he’d been hypnotized. The match went ahead despite the bizarre ruse, and both fought their hearts out in a strategic but intense battle of wills. A heavy right hand floored Collins in the tenth, but the Irishman got up to win the decision in front of a raucous partisan crowd, ending Eubank’s reign after fourteen title defences.
Nigel Benn vs Gerald McClellan: A hair-raising contest won by Benn after McClellan yielded in the tenth round. The Brit was relentless in pursuit of victory, clawing his way back in front of his London supporters after being bludgeoned through the ropes in the opening round. Regrettably, the result turned tragic as McClellan collapsed in his corner post-fight and would suffer permanent brain damage as a result.
Razor Ruddock vs Tommy Morrison: A brawl was expected, and that’s exactly what the fans in Morrison’s adopted hometown got, as both come-backing former contenders traded rounds and momentum. By the sixth Ruddock had taken control, but as he pursued his wounded quarry, he walked into the “Duke’s” money punch, and once again the tonnage of Tommy’s left hook had bailed him out of a likely defeat.
Merqui Sosa vs Charles Williams I: Want proof of this fight’s sheer brutality? It was stopped after the seventh round because the ringside doctor ruled both fighters unfit to continue due to damage sustained. If you have a sadistic streak, this one’s for you.
Evander Holyfield vs Mike Tyson I: A bout five years in the making, the Holyfield vs Tyson showdown featured two big men trying to take each other out with virtually every swing. Heavy favourite Tyson had dispatched both Bruno and Seldon in vintage fashion earlier that year, but he met his match as an apparently washed Holyfield dragged him into deep waters before getting the TKO in round eleven.
Riddick Bowe vs Andrew Golota I & II: “Big Daddy” was coming off a big win over Evander Holyfield and looking for money-spinning fights against Tyson or Lewis when he ran into a sizable roadblock in the form of a little-known, 240 pound Polish bruiser. But Andrew Golota certainly made a name for himself after he inexplicably sabotaged an almost-certain upset win by repeatedly smashing Bowe below the belt, the outcome sparking a full-blown riot. Even more bizarre, an immediate rematch saw Golota again lose by disqualification as he seemingly could not stop himself from targeting Bowe’s crown jewels. Despite the less-than-satisfying conclusions, both clashes are riveting, rough-and-tumble slugfests.
Naseem Hamed vs Manuel Medina: It’s a fallacy that Naseem Hamed destroyed everyone in his path before meeting Marco Antonio Barrera in 2001. Five years earlier, with a 22-year-old Naz slap-bang in his prime, he went life and death with another Mexican, the rugged Manuel Medina. For much of the contest, Medina got the best of Hamed, making him miss and stinging him with sharp counters. The power of “The Prince” proved pivotal though, as he stopped his tiring foe in round eleven.
Junior Jones vs Orlando Canizales: Former bantamweight ruler Canizales had seen better days but mounted an incredible effort against the younger Jones, applying waves of pressure only to drop a split decision after twelve frenetic rounds at the Madison Square Garden Theater. Sidenote: Ronnie Ralston’s 119-109 card for Canizales has to be one of the worst in history.
Marco Antonio Barrera vs Kennedy McKinney: Super bantamweight titleholder Barrera defended his belt in the inaugural broadcast of HBO’s Boxing After Dark series against ex-champ McKinney. The older challenger surprised Barrera with his aggression and confidence, forcing a fast pace and even scoring a knockdown. “The Baby Faced Assassin” responded with five knockdowns of his own, winning via stoppage with a minute left in round twelve.
Lennox Lewis vs Ray Mercer: The incredibly tough yet inconsistent Mercer gave the more talented Lewis all he could handle over ten hard-fought rounds in Madison Square Garden. The Brit demonstrated his own underrated spirit and grit, and Mercer showed he could compete with the best as Lewis edged a somewhat-disputed decision.
Arturo Gatti vs Gabriel Ruelas: Five rounds into his enthralling challenge of Arturo Gatti’s junior lightweight belt, Gabriel Ruelas appeared to be taking over. But Gatti wasn’t ready to lose (was he ever?), and once again snatched victory from the jaws of defeat by scoring a memorable one-punch KO with a monstrous left hook.
Naseem Hamed vs Kevin Kelley: This featherweight version of Foreman vs Lyle featured six knockdowns, and it was the verbose banger from Sheffield who proved superior, conclusively ending matters in the fourth courtesy of a pinpoint straight left. In winning his American debut under the bright lights of Madison Square Garden, Hamed emphatically proved he was just as adept with his fists as he was with his words.
Johnny Tapia vs Danny Romero: It wasn’t the all-out war many expected, but Tapia vs Romero was still an entertaining, high-quality battle between confident cross-town rivals. Tapia stayed on his toes and outboxed Romero in the early rounds, but Danny swept most of the middle frames before “Mi Vida Loca” turned on the style, and the showboating, to pull away late.
Pernell Whitaker vs Diosbelys Hurtado: Whitaker was a ten-to-one favorite against amateur standout Diosbelys Hurtado, but he got more than he bargained for in his eighth title defense as the Cuban dropped him on the seat of his pants before repeating the feat in the sixth. An unusually aggressive Whitaker struggled to overcome height and reach deficits in this wild rumble, but rallied to stop Hurtado with a series of sledgehammer lefts in round eleven.
Joichiro Tatsuyoshi vs Sirimongkol Singwancha: In addition to the nonstop action, the incredible atmosphere created by Tatsuyoshi’s rabid fans inside Osaka’s Castle Hall elevated this confrontation to new heights. In a dramatic finish, Tatsuyoshi parlayed a vicious body shot knockdown into a seventh-round stoppage, sending his fans into raptures and allowing him to reclaim a bantamweight title.
Ike Ibeabuchi vs David Tua: Ike Ibeabuchi was a talented yet unstable heavyweight facing his first serious test against David Tua. It was pedal-to-the-floor action from the start, with the pair setting a CompuBox record for punches thrown in a heavyweight bout. “The President” started strong, and was able to survive a late charge by Tua to get the win and vault himself into title contention. Outside troubles would derail his career shortly after though, while Tua remained a force for years to come.
Chris Eubank vs Carl Thompson I: A gallant performance by Eubank saw him jump up two weight classes in a bid for Thompson’s cruiserweight strap. The challenger overcame both a massive size disadvantage and swollen-shut left eye to go the distance, even hurting the bigger “Cat” on multiple occasions. Thompson earned a close decision, but he needed every ounce of his fighting spirit to do so.
Ivan Robinson vs Arturo Gatti I & II: Twenty rounds of blistering action saw Robinson rightfully earn two decision victories. Both bouts were fought at a manic pace and featured endless torrents of power punches, with each pushed to the limit of human endurance. It was Robinson’s superior footwork, speed and combination punching that carried the day, although he had to withstand plenty of Gatti thunder to do so.
Lennox Lewis vs Shannon Briggs: The brash New Yorker talked a big game and even held a claim to be lineal heavyweight champion, while Lewis came out confident on the back of a ruthless demolition of Andrew Golota. Lennox was wobbled in the first, before blasting Briggs to the canvas twice in a fourth-round shootout; then he laid him out with a huge right in the fifth. Incredibly, Briggs dragged himself up yet again, but the battle was mercifully stopped soon after.
Oscar De La Hoya vs Ike Quartey: “The Golden Boy” was facing his toughest challenge since his somewhat controversial squeaker over Pernell Whitaker, while Quartey hadn’t fought in sixteen months. But the two welterweights put on a tremendous show, fighting a closely contested battle with momentum changes, knockdowns, and an incredible twelfth round that helped De La Hoya edge out another narrow escape on the scorecards.
Johnny Tapia vs Paulie Ayala I: Starting with a pre-fight push initiated by the pugnacious Tapia, this bout was intense stuff all the way. Both fighters took turns strafing one another with hellacious haymakers, and after twelve rounds of breathtaking action, it was Ayala who earned the nod. Though the pride of Albuquerque suffered his first loss, his performance merits nothing but applause.
Erik Morales vs Wayne McCullough: Morales was one of the sport’s premier punchers; McCullough a world-class whirlwind with an insane chin. Together they waged war for twelve rounds, throwing over nine hundred blows apiece. The scorecards were wide and the elite Mexican never truly in danger of losing, but the irrepressible Irishman certainly put him through the ringer. “Human beings are not meant to do this to each other,” said Larry Merchant during a furious final round, “but they are.”
Honourable mentions: Nelson vs Ruelas I, Gatti vs Rodriguez, Norris vs Waters, Gonzalez vs Kelley, Andries-Harding II & III, Vargas vs Wright, McClellan vs Jackson I, Tyson vs Ruddock II, Morrison vs Hipp, Eubank vs Watson I, Douglas vs Tyson, Eubank vs Benn II, Dorsey vs Kelley, Collins vs Eubank II, Calzaghe vs Eubank, Calzaghe vs Reid, Toney vs Sosa, Toney vs Nunn, Trinidad vs Whitaker, Moorer vs Stewart.