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Top Ten Chicago Fights Of All Time

by Michael Hirsley May 21, 2012

Imagine the United Center on May 21, without a Bulls or Blackhawks playoff game….Wait, no such imagination is needed this year.

Let's try again. Imagine the United Center on a May 21, packed with more than 20,000 fans although there is no basketball or hockey game. Instead, they are facing a boxing ring.

Seven years ago today, that is exactly what happened.

It was a heavyweight title fight, and it brought 20,126 raucous fans to the United Center on the night of May 21, 2005. Polish-born Chicagoan Andrew Golota was seeking to dethrone champion Lamon Brewster.

That attempt ended quickly and abruptly. Brewster floored Golota three times en route to a first-round knockout. The bout lasted just 53 seconds, leaving the crowded house stunned.

But since the place was filled with neophyte fans who had arrived early to witness a sports entertainment rare for this city, they were rewarded with a terrific undercard brawl. It was so good, in fact, that it makes my list of Top Ten Chicago bouts.

Plenty of elite pugilists have fought in this city over the years, including Jack Dempsey, Joe Louis, Sugar Ray Robinson, Kid Gavilan, Carmen Basilio, Julio Cesar Chavez, Sonny Liston, Floyd Patterson, Tony Zale, and the Rockys Graziano and Marciano.

Sometimes, their time here was spent in memorable toe-to-toe mayhem, such as Graziano v. Zale, Robinson v. Jake LaMotta, or Dempsey v. Gene Tunney.

Sometimes, not so much. Liston knocked out Patterson, Marciano stopped Jersey Joe Wolcott, and Chavez destroyed a totally overmatched Craig Houk, all by first-round knockouts.

Thus, it was not always the most anticipated matchups or the most celebrated competitors that made my Top Ten Chicago fights.

Let's get ready to remember:

10. David Diaz v. Erik Morales, Allstate Arena, Aug. 4, 2007

The popularity of the Brewster-Golota event opened the door for other championship bouts to come to Chicago. One of the better matchups saw Diaz defend his lightweight title against former champion Morales, a probable Hall of Famer although past his prime. Diaz survived a first-round knockdown, then showed his toughness by pressuring Morales enough over the next 11 rounds to emerge with a narrow but unanimous decision.

9. Ezzard Charles v. Bob Satterfield, Chicago Stadium, Jan. 13, 1954

It was exciting while it lasted. Former titleholder Charles, considered by some to be the most underrated heavyweight champion, took on Chicagoan Satterfield, who knocked out 35 of his 50 vanquished foes while being KO'd 13 times. This time, his hit-and-get hit style got him flattened by a huge left hook in the second round. Victory earned ex-champ Charles back-to-back title shots, both losses, against Rocky Marciano.

8. Joe Louis v. James Braddock, Comiskey Park, June 22,1937

Braddock became known as "The Cinderella Man" after upsetting 10-1 favorite Max Baer to become heavyweight champion. But Louis proved glass slippers are made to be broken. He knocked out the champ with a powerful right hand in the eighth round. Braddock, who floored Louis in the opening round, proved his mettle by standing up to Louis' power until the end.

7. Barney Ross v. Tony Canzoneri, Chicago Stadium, Mar. 26, 1933

Fans were treated to a matchup of two gladiators who would easily make boxing's Hall of Fame. Ross won a narrow decision to capture his first two titles, dethroning lightweight and light welterweight champion Canzoneri on the same night. Credentials? Canzoneri fought an incredible 175 times, winning 141. Ross, never knocked out in 81 bouts, winning 74 of them, was more than a ring hero. He also received a Silver Star and Presidential Citation as a World War II hero.

6. John Collins v. Lenny LaPaglia, U of Illinois-Chicago Pavilion, Mar. 20, 1983

This was a matchmaker's dream: undefeated fellow Chicagoans, Irish v. Italian backgrounds, a standing-room-only crowd, melded into a middleweight slugfest that lived up to its pre-fight hype. Collins scored the only knockdown, late in the 10th and final round, to win a close unanimous decision. Both fighters were exhausted and scarred by the effort. Neither was the same afterward as their careers veered downward against top contenders.

5. Tomasz Adamek v. Paul Briggs, United Center, May 21, 2005

This light heavyweight title fight on the undercard of the disappointing Brewster-Golota main event kept fans thrilled and on edge throughout. Each staggered the other in furious exchanges and shifts in momentum before Adamek prevailed by majority decision (one of the three judges scored the fight a draw).

4. Sugar Ray Robinson v. Carmen Basilio, Chicago Stadium, Mar. 25, 1958

This middleweight rematch of Ring Magazine's 1957 "Fight of the Year," which Basilio won, garnered the same honor for 1958. This time, Robinson won a split decision. Basilio won the respect of his opponent and fans by attacking relentlessly even after his left eye was swollen shut. For years thereafter, Basilio bemoaned never getting the rubber match (and another substantial payday).

3. Sugar Ray Robinson v. Jake LaMotta, Chicago Stadium, Feb. 14, 1951

This last of six matchups between the two middleweights became known as another "Saint Valentine's Day Massacre." But despite taking a terrible beating, LaMotta refused to fall. He was draped across the ring ropes when the bout was finally stopped in the 13th round. Although LaMotta only won once in six tries, he floored Robinson in two of their fights, knocking him through the ropes while winning a unanimous decision in 1943, and lost a controversial split decision at Comiskey Park in 1945. LaMotta once quipped, "I fought Sugar so many times, I'm surprised I'm not diabetic."

2. Rocky Graziano v. Tony Zale, Chicago Stadium, July 16, 1947

This was Graziano's shining moment. He rose from a flash knockdown in the opening minutes to reverse the brutal give-and-take of the two middleweight brawlers. In the sixth round, he backed Zale into the ropes and rocked him with a flurry of more than 30 punches, convincing referee Johnny Behr to stop the fight. Zale and Graziano fought three times, with Zale winning the other two.

1. Gene Tunney v. Jack Dempsey, Soldier Field, Sept. 22, 1927

This was so much more than a Chicago fight. It was a spectacle that attracted 104,943 fans to the venue, while a national radio audience of millions listened on 74 stations. In some cities, the bout was broadcast over amplifiers in public spaces. Then, because of what happened in the seventh round, it became a fabled part of sports history dubbed "The Long Count." Dempsey dropped Tunney with a vicious left hook but failed to go immediately to a neutral corner as required before referee Dave Barry would begin a ten-count. The delay gave Tunney a precious four or five extra seconds to rise, at the count of nine, and avoid a knockout loss. Tunney floored Dempsey briefly in the ninth round and outscored him to retain his heavyweight title by unanimous decision.

That's my ten-count. Feel free to disagree.

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