In honor of Muhammad Ali, who died Friday night at age 74, we are expanding our PhillyPhanatics.com Top 10 list to a Top 15 list, signifying that many of Ali’s championship fights lasted 15 rounds. This is a list of Ali’s most memorable bouts. These aren’t necessarily his best fights, although some of them are, but they are the most memorable.
15. Chuck Wepner, March 14, 1975 The “Bayonne Bleeder” goes nearly a full 15 rounds with Ali, losing on a TKO with 19 seconds remaining in the last round. Wepner later gets out of court settlement from Sylvester Stallone, claiming this fight was the inspiration for Rocky.
14. Ernie Shavers, Sept. 29, 1977 Ernie Shavers, considered be among the hardest punchers in boxing history, rocks Ali in the second round and leaves him wobbly in the 14th, but Ali survives the onslaught and wins unanimous decision..
13. Ken Norton II and III, Sept. 10, 1973 and Sept. 28, 1976 The Ken Norton trilogy takes a backseat to the Joe Frazier trilogy, but Ali struggled mightily against the unorthodox and well-conditioned Norton. Ali won by a controversial split decision (7-5, 6-5-1, 5-6-1) on Sept. 10, 1973, and by a controversial unanimous decision (8-7, 8-7, 8-6-1) in their final fight on Sept. 28, 1976.
12. Cleveland Williams, Nov. 14, 1966 The veteran Williams entered the fight with a 65-5-1 record, with 53 KOs. But the young, brash Ali dominated him, winning by TKO in 3rd round.
11. Antonio Inoki, June 26, 1976 This wrestler vs. boxer debacle took place in Tokyo, with a closed-circuit broadcast in New York’s Shea Stadium, where Chuck Wepner battled Andre the Giant and a full wrestling card took place. Due to rules changes making most of Inoki’s offense illegal,the Japanese wrestler laid on his back for most of the match — so Ali couldn’t punch him — and kicked at Ali’s legs. The bout was ruled a draw.
10. Larry Holmes, Oct. 3, 1980 Ali comes out of retirement to challenge Holmes for the heavyweight championship. The undefeated Holmes, who had defeated Ken Norton for the title, wins lopsided fight by TKO. Holmes looks to referee several times to try to get him to stop the fight so Ali doesn’t have to absorb more punishment. Fight stopped after 10th round.
9. Ernie Terrell, Feb. 6, 1967 Terrell repeatedly calls Ali “Clay” prior to the fight. Ali wins every round, shouting “What’s my name?” at a battered Terrell before punching him some more.
8. Leon Spinks II, Sept. 15, 1978 Ali regains the world title from Spinks in their rematch, winning unanimous decision to become world champion for third time.
7. Joe Frazier II, Jan. 28, 1974 No title is on the line in this rematch, but the winner would earn a shot at heavyweight champion George Foreman, who had defeated Frazier in two rounds to capture the title. Ali wins a unanimous decision.
6. Ken Norton I, March 31, 1973 Norton, a 5-1 underdog, breaks Ali’s jaw in 2nd round and wins split decision.
5. Leon Spinks I, Feb. 1, 1978 In just his 8th professional fight, Spinks, a gold medalist at the 1976 Olympics, shocks Ali and the boxing world by winning the heavyweight championship.
4. Joe Frazier I, March 8, 1971 Ali (31-0, 25 KOs) and Frazier (26-0, 23 KOs) enter this championship fight undefeated, fighting for the title that Ali never lost in the ring. Frazier knocks Ali down twice, wins unanimous decision in “The Fight of the Century.”
3. Sonny Liston I and II, Feb. 25, 1964 and May 25, 1965 Many people conflate these fights in their memories. In the initial fight, Ali, a 7-1 underdog, wins the title when Liston doesn’t answer the bell for 7th round. In the rematch, Ali retains the championship by knocking out Liston in 1st round with what some believe was a “phantom punch.”
2. George Foreman, Oct. 30, 1974 The “Rumble in the Jungle” as an international event. Ali, 32, employs rope-a-dope strategy, laying against ropes while 25-year-old Foreman (40-0, 37 KOs) tires himself out trying to punch through Ali’s defense. Ali wins on 8th-round knockout to win heavyweight title for 2nd time.
1. Joe Frazier III The “Thrilla in Manila” caps this outstanding trilogy between Ali and Frazier. Ali wins when Frazier’s trainer throws in the towel after 14 physically brutal rounds. One of the greatest fights in boxing history.