Lee Groves

10: Greatest one-punch finishes

The instant Manny Pacquiao’s anesthetized body kissed the canvas, Juan Manuel Marquez’s legacy was transformed forever. For much of his 19-year professional career Marquez’s reputation was that of a supreme scientist who was great enough to beat the vast majority of his peers but who had fallen short – justly or unjustly – in a handful of critical contests.

By far, Marquez’s biggest nemesis was Pacquiao, who in three previous fights had captured two razor-close decisions after gaining a draw in fight one. For Marquez and his legion of supporters those verdicts ignited a collective angst that lasted nearly a decade. Though they fervently hoped for the best last Dec. 8, many resigned themselves to the possibility that fight four could provide yet another bitter disappointment.

That pile-driving right hand at the end of round six changed everything. Even before referee Kenny Bayless stopped the fight a tidal wave of emotions electrified his fan base – wide-eyed shock, boundless joy, overwhelming relief, righteous vindication and national pride that could not be measured completely. In their eyes the wrongs had been righted in most emphatic fashion and the record finally had been set straight. For them, it was a victory that couldn’t be stolen from outside forces and one that would stand as an everlasting testament to Marquez’s greatness.

The fight was replayed multiple times on Spanish-language channels and the extraordinary ending never failed to brighten moods. For a man nicknamed “Dinamita,” it was the perfect ending to an extraordinary journey.

For the rest of the boxing universe Marquez’s triumph was a staggering achievement worthy of awestruck wonderment as well as of numerous tributes, three of which were bestowed by THE RING in its year-end issue. In fact, Marquez became the first fighter ever to sweep the Fighter of the Year, Fight of the Year and Knockout of the Year awards since they were available collectively starting in 1989.

For those who still haven’t seen the fight, or for those who want to see it again, ESPN2 will broadcast a replay Friday at 8 p.m. ET as the lead-in to this week’s Friday Night Fights. To commemorate that occasion – as well as THE RING’s year-end awards issue now available on magazine racks and online – here is one man’s list of boxing’s greatest one-punch finishes:

10. Floyd Patterson KO 6 Ingemar Johansson II – June 20, 1960, Polo Grounds, New York, N.Y.

 

After Ingemar Johansson’s “Hammer of Thor” scored seven knockdowns and blasted the world heavyweight championship off Floyd Patterson’s head nearly one year earlier, the painfully shy New Yorker was plunged into his ultimate nightmare. Feeling enormous disappointment within himself and sensing that his loved ones and fans felt the same way, a depressed Patterson went into hiding for several months.

The resounding loss was a bitter reality check for Patterson, who came into the first fight totally dismissive of the challenger’s chances. Up until their fight Patterson’s lone memory of seeing Johansson boxing live was the Swede’s embarrassing DQ loss to eventual gold medalist Ed Sanders for “not fighting” in the 1952 Olympic heavyweight semifinal, the same games that saw Patterson win gold at middleweight.

“I had never in my life seen a man so scared in the ring as Johansson was in that fight against Sanders,” Patterson wrote in his autobiography Victory Over Myself. “I, like so many others, may have done Johansson an injustice, but first impressions are lasting, and that was mine.”

Patterson’s carelessness cost him dearly and after months of seclusion and soul searching, the ex-champ overcame his guilt and humiliation enough to sign for a rematch at the Polo Grounds. To this point no man who had ever lost the heavyweight crown had regained it and the effort had claimed its share of legends. James J. Corbett, Bob Fitzsimmons, James J. Jeffries, Jack Dempsey and Joe Louis, among others, had tried and failed but for Patterson the rematch meant much more than making history; it was about making peace with himself.

“Definitely, this is not the time to quit,” Patterson told his wife Sandra when she brought up retirement. “How could I live with myself? What would the fans think of me – running away because I was knocked out? Sandra, do you understand that I’ve got to fight him again and prove something to myself?”

He also had to prove himself to the oddsmakers, for while they saw Patterson a solid 4-to-1 favorite before fight one, he was an 8-to-5 underdog in the rematch.

This time it was Johansson who was disdainful of Patterson while the ex-champ, fueled by pride and vengeance, was poised to strike – and strike hard.

“I was developing a viciousness I had never felt before,” Patterson wrote, “There was a curtness and meanness in me that once would have been foreign to me but now seemed as normal as the nose on my face.” The final punch that attitude spawned was also unlike any other in Patterson’s career.

From the start Patterson took the fight to Johansson, lunging in and lashing out with his trademark leaping left hooks and volleys of body shots. Midway through round two Patterson confronted his greatest fear as Johansson’s thunderous right scored a direct hit. This time Patterson’s chin held up and his legs remained strong. From that point forward, the fight was Patterson’s to win.

And win he did. Two hammering rights stunned Johansson early in the fifth and moments later a leaping hook floored the Swede for a nine count. With victory in his grasp Patterson unloaded short, crisp combinations that had Johansson holding on. Moments later, Patterson would achieve victory over himself – and history.

A right-left to the body set up a howitzer hook that snapped Johansson’s head and sent his body straight down as if dropped down a chute. Johansson was unconscious before he hit the floor but once he did so the effects of Patterson’s handiwork were frightening. Blood trickled from the corner of his mouth and his left leg twitched back and forth for several seconds.

As referee Arthur Mercante Sr. tolled eight Patterson strode about the ring with a wide smile on his face. That smile turned to instant concern once he turned around and saw what his punch had done. No longer was Johansson a mortal enemy, he now was a fellow fighter in crisis.

“Even in that greatest moment of my life, fear came back to me again,” Patterson wrote. “I was scared I had hurt him badly….his left foot was shaking like he was having a fit or something. I had knocked out men before, but I’d never seen anybody shake like that. I was frightened.”

Patterson ran to Johansson and crouched over him. Four minutes later Johansson was hauled onto a stool while Patterson was paraded atop the shoulders of a second. All the viciousness that had boiled inside him had evaporated with that single punch, a punch that will live forever in boxing lore.

(Editor’s note: Click the NEXT button at the bottom right to read Nos. nine through 10.)

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