All intentional fouls or blindside hits are cheap, but for this list we define a “cheap shot,” also known as a “sucker punch,” as a blow rendered when the opponent is not expecting it or clearly cannot defend himself. Following that definition, and after much deliberation, we present the twelve most egregious cheap shots ever. Disagree? We invite you to comment and submit your own nominations for the worst bushwhackings of all time.
12. Jack Dempsey vs Jack Sharkey, July 21, 1927: This one gets on the list not so much because it’s a sucker punch for the ages but more because it’s arguably the most famous one in boxing history. In the seventh round of a rough and tumble slugfest, Sharkey turned to complain to the referee about a low blow. The moment he did, “The Manassa Mauler” struck home with a left hook that put “The Boston Gob” on the canvas for the count. It happened so fast it’s possible Dempsey didn’t realize what Sharkey was doing. But the situation wasn’t lost on the crowd in Yankee Stadium who felt Dempsey took unfair advantage. When questioned about the incident, Jack famously asked, “What was I supposed to do? Write him a letter?”
11. Floyd Mayweather Jr. vs Arturo Gatti, June 25, 2005: Late in the first round, Mayweather moved in and put his forearm on the back of Gatti’s neck as Gatti ducked, initiating a clinch. Referee Earl Morton clearly commanded, “Stop punching.” Mayweather ignored him and landed a right and a hard left as Gatti straightened up. When Gatti turned to the referee to complain, Mayweather stepped in and decked Arturo with a left hook. Gatti wasn’t even looking at Mayweather at the time. The referee ruled it a legitimate knockdown. Mayweather stopped Gatti in six.
10. Mike Tyson vs Orlin Norris, October 23, 1999: At the conclusion of the first round, Tyson and Norris were in a clinch. The bell sounded, ringing no less than five times as the referee worked to separate the fighters. Then, as Norris relaxed and dropped his hands, Tyson threw a left hook with his full weight behind it. Norris hit the deck like he’d been shot, falling so awkwardly he injured his right knee and could not continue. The bout was ruled a No Contest.
9. Arthur Abraham vs Andre Dirrell, March 27, 2010: Having dominated most of the fight, Dirrell suddenly found himself on the defensive as Abraham, hopelessly behind on points, came on strong. In the tenth, Abraham landed some heavy shots, even scoring a knockdown which was erroneously ruled a slip by the referee. A frantic Abraham continued chasing in the eleventh and when Dirrell slipped on one of the plastic logos on the canvas and fell to a half squat, “King Arthur” slammed him with a right hand. Dirrell toppled over and seemingly lapsed into unconsciousness, his legs twitching. Abraham was disqualified. Dirrell claimed to be seriously injured by the foul and didn’t compete again for almost two years.
8. Marco Antonio Barrera vs Juan Manuel Marquez, March 17, 2007: In round seven, Barrera connected with a perfectly timed counter right hand that dropped “Dinamita” to all fours. Instead of going immediately to a neutral corner, Barrera stood over Marquez, hesitated for a moment, and then blasted Marquez in the side of the head with another right hand. As a result, the legitimate knockdown was waved off by referee Jay Nady who then deducted a point from the champion for the sucker punch. Marquez went on to win the decision.
7. Derrick Gainer vs Freddie Norwood, Sept. 9, 2000: One of the dirtiest fights in recent memory, involving pushing, shoving, headlocks, rabbit punches, body slams, butting, kidney punches and enough low blows to make even Andrew Golota wince. The ref completely lost control of this one. But the crowning cheap shot happened right at the end, as Gainer landed a vicious retaliatory low blow when the referee was restraining Norwood and had pinned his arms. “Lil Hagler” couldn’t recover and, for reasons Stephen Hawking wouldn’t be able to understand, the fight was awarded to Gainer.
6. Floyd Mayweather Jr. vs Victor Ortiz, Sept. 17, 2011: Ortiz inflicted a blatant headbutt on Mayweather near the end of the fourth round, leading to an immediate timeout as referee Joe Cortez deducted a point. A contrite Ortiz, with his hands down and not realizing Cortez had signaled for the fight to resume, attempted to apologize to the champion when Mayweather, with his hands on Ortiz’s shoulders and nodding as if to accept the apology, abruptly cold-cocked Ortiz with a left hook and then an overhand right, ending the bout.
5. Billy Dib vs Kenichi Yamaguchi, July 9, 2009: In a five star, Hall of Shame example of incompetent officiating, Australian Billy Dib was somehow awarded a first round TKO victory after punching Yamaguchi in the face while he was on the canvas. Having already suffered a knockdown earlier in the fight, a frustrated Dib rushed Yamaguchi who lost his balance and fell to his knees. Dib then blindsided his opponent with a left hand right in front of the Australian referee who then deemed Yamaguchi unfit to continue and, incredibly, awarded the bout to Dib.
4. Roy Jones Jr. vs Montell Griffin, March 21, 1997: After eight rounds, Griffin appeared on his way to a huge upset win when Jones finally stepped in and landed a thunderous right hand in the ninth that had the challenger staggering all over the ring. Griffin finally dropped to one knee and a frustrated Jones took the opportunity to paste Griffin with not one, but two illegal punches. Griffin slumped to the canvas and Jones was disqualified.
3. Billy Papke vs Stanley Ketchel, September 7, 1908: Papke had lost by decision to middleweight champion Ketchel three months earlier and was evidently determined to not let it happen again. At the opening bell, Ketchel offered to shake hands and “The Illinois Thunderbolt” responded by smashing the champion in the face with a right hand, breaking Ketchel’s nose. Soon the champion’s eyes were swollen shut and Papke dominated the rest of the fight, battering Ketchel mercilessly and forcing a stoppage in round 12. “The Michigan Assassin” would have his revenge two months later, winning back the title and beating Papke so badly that following the contest his own wife literally didn’t recognize him. [Ed. note: Some historians cite no mention of this famous cheap shot in the newspaper accounts of the bout and question whether it ever happened.]
2. Benny Leonard vs Jack Britton, June 26, 1922: In one of the more bizarre moments in ring history, the great Benny Leonard appeared to either momentarily lose his marbles or, as some speculate, lose the fight on purpose. Britton appeared to be ahead on points when Leonard decked him with a hard body shot. As the referee counted, and with Britton on one knee, Leonard inexplicably rushed over and punched his opponent in the head, giving the ref no choice but to disqualify “The Ghetto Wizard.” Many have wondered since if Leonard had in fact been ordered to take a dive, and when it looked as if Britton wouldn’t beat the count, he did what was necessary to achieve the ordained result. In any case, it’s a blatant, not to mention legendary, cheap shot.
1. James Butler vs Richard Grant, November 23, 2001: After dropping a unanimous decision to Grant as part of a charity card to benefit the survivors of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Butler executed the most cowardly sucker punch in boxing history. Following the announcement of the judges’ decision, the two boxers approached one another, presumably to exchange congratulations. Instead, Butler, his gloves removed, leveled Grant with a full-force, overhand right to the face. At the moment Grant was hit, he was in the midst of attempting to embrace Butler. Grant suffered a dislocated jaw and a severely lacerated tongue. Butler was charged with assault and spent four months in prison for the vicious and cowardly attack, one of the ugliest incidents ever seen in a prize ring and easily the worst cheap shot of all time.