• Boxing

Top 10 boxing matches held in stadiums

ESPN staff
February 14, 2014
Wladimir Klitschko and David Haye fought at the Imtech Arena, home of Hamburger SV © Getty Images

With promoter Eddie Hearn revealing he was in talks with several major stadiums to host Carl Froch-George Groves II - and admitting he would never be able to forgive himself if he took the fight indoors - ESPN UK looks back at ten stadium superfights. Do you agree with our selections?

Henry Cooper v Cassius Clay - Wembley Stadium 1963, Highbury 1966

Spectators enjoy a preliminary fight at Wembley before Cooper-Clay in 1963 © PA Photos

The two heavyweight greats twice traded blows in an English football stadium - the first, held in front of a 35,000-strong Wembley Stadium crowd in 1963, is largely considered to be one of the best yet most controversial bouts in history.

With seconds remaining in the fourth round, Our 'Enry caught Clay with one of his infamous 'Ammer' left-hook blows and left Clay on his backside towards the ropes. A weary Clay was (illegally) helped back to his corner and reportedly given smelling salts by trainer Angelo Dundee. A year later, Clay would famously admit Cooper's punch "had hit him so hard that his ancestors in Africa felt it."

The pair fought again, at Highbury, in 1966 © PA Photos

Dundee called over referee Tommy Little and insisted Clay needed a new pair of gloves after they were split earlier in the fight. There are conflicting reports as to how long the delay took - Cooper initially claimed it had taken minutes before the fifth round started, therefore allowing Clay plenty of time to recover - but eventually the fight resumed. Clay came out, caught Cooper with a hard right and opened a vicious cut above his eye. Little had no choice but to stop the fight and award Clay the win.

Three years later in 1966, Cooper again took on Clay - now Muhammad Ali - this time in front of 46,000 fans at Arsenal's Highbury Stadium. By that point, Ali had become a world champion and was now about to grant England a first world heavyweight title fight in 58 years. Ali caught Cooper with a right-hander in the sixth, opening a cut above his left eye. The fight was stopped; Ali had not only beaten Cooper twice in two different football stadiums, but also under the guise of two different names.

Joe Bugner v Frank Bruno - White Hart Lane, 1987

Frank Bruno overcame a mouthy Joe Bugner in 1987 © PA Photos

A clash of the titans in North London; Australian Joe Bugner, who fought such greats as Cooper, Ali and Joe Frazier, was vociferously jeered by a White Hart Lane crowd during a pugilistic battle with home-favourite Bruno.

Experienced Bugner was a British and European heavyweight champion and also held the mantle of beating Cooper in his final fight as a pro. A year prior to their clash, Bruno lost his first shot at a world title against Tim Witherspoon - coincidentally at Wembley Stadium. Bugner predicted he would knock Bruno out in the opening round, calling him a "C-class fighter" during the build-up.

Bugner started like a steam train but it was the younger Bruno who eventually prevailed, consistently landing jabs to the crowd's deafening enjoyment before piling on the punishment in the eighth round. Referee John Coyle had seen enough - the crowd went ballistic and Bugner was beaten.

Lennox Lewis v Frank Bruno - Cardiff Arms Park, 1993

Lennox Lewis outclassed Frank Bruno in Wales © PA Photos

Bruno was back for his third world title shot six years later, this time on Welsh soil against another imposing heavyweight - WBC champion Lennox Lewis.

This was the first time in history that two 'British' fighters (Lewis had won a gold medal for his mother's native Canada at the 1988 Olympics) had contested a world heavyweight title bout. Some 25,784 fans watched as Bruno impressively took the fight to Lewis. Bruno frustrated Lewis by cancelling out the champion's right-handers, but it was not to be third time lucky for Frank; Lewis caught him with a powerful left-hander in the seventh round before referee Micky Vann stopped the fight with Bruno staggering on his feet.

Julio Cesar Chavez v Greg Haugen - Estadio Azteca, 1993

Julio Cesar Chavez triumphed in front of 132,000 spectators © Getty Images

In terms of fight attendance, Julio Cesar Chavez against Greg Haugen was quite simply the biggest fight in boxing history. A record 132,274 crowd packed into Estadio Azteca in Mexico City to witness Chavez unleash a merciless beating on Haugen. The stage was set with barbed wire and a moat surrounding the ring to protect both fighters from a pulsating mob baying for Haugen's blood.

Haugen had not exactly endeared himself to a partisan crowd. Prior to the fight, he stated Chavez had only won his last 85 fights because he'd fought "Tijuana taxi drivers" and even suggested there weren't 130,000 Mexicans who could afford a ticket.

Chavez dropped Haugen in seconds but, in all credit, the outlaw carried on and refused to play it safe. After four brave rounds, Haugen was hurt by a swift right hook and wobbled towards the ropes at the start of the fifth. Chavez inflicted brutal punishment before the fight was finally stopped, the Mexican successfully defending his WBC light-heavyweight title.

Nigel Benn v Chris Eubank - Old Trafford, 1993

Nigel Benn and Chris Eubank fought to a draw in front of 47,000 at Old Trafford © PA Photos

'Judgement Day' in Manchester. The WBC super-middleweight champion against the WBO champion. Benn-Eubank II, 47,000 fight fans and a rematch between two magnificent warriors fuelled by their hatred for each other; not only the biggest fight of a generation, but arguably the biggest fight ever built up between two British adversaries.

Three years earlier, at middleweight level, the pair had been involved in a brutal battle for the WBO belt at Birmingham's National Exhibition Centre. After surviving a crippling uppercut in the fourth round, Eubank went on to win by a ninth round knockout.

The rematch did not equal the original encounter's ferocity. Promoter Don King had famously written into the contract that both the winner and loser would join his stable of fighters, so naturally the bout ended a draw, 115-113 Eubank, 115-113 Benn and 114-114 - King did not envisage such a result and hadn't put it in the contract, so neither fighter ended up joining him.

Despite not living up to the hype, the final round of that Manchester night has long been considered a classic - and a fitting end to a true rivalry.

Mike Tyson v Lou Savarese - Hampden Park, 2003

Mike Tyson lays into Lou Savarese - and the referee - at Hampden Park © PA Photos

A farce of a fight which ended on a sour note in Scotland. Tyson, three fights into his latest comeback, simply went ballistic as soon as the first bell sounded. He knocked Savarese to the canvas in 15 seconds with virtually his first meaningful shot, but his opponent recovered.

Savarese should probably have stayed down, for Tyson continued to barrage him like a man possessed and landed near enough every punch he threw. Referee John Coyle intervened, only for Tyson to shove him to the floor as well. Tyson's corner stepped in, Coyle raised his hand to leave the Scottish crowd booing after witnessing only 38 seconds of action.

The post-fight interview was just as infamous, with Tyson - who has since admitted in his autobiography that he was high on marijuana and cocaine for the fight - virtually incoherent. "Lennox Lewis, I'm coming for you man," he ranted. "My style is impetuous. My defense is impregnable, and I'm just ferocious. I want your heart. I want to eat his children. Praise be to Allah!"

Joe Calzaghe v Mikkel Kessler - Millennium Stadium, 2007

Joe Calzaghe juked his way to a victory over Mikkel Kessler in Cardiff © PA Photos

Over 50,000 people were in attendance to watch Joe Calzaghe unify the super-middleweight division with an enthralling unanimous decision win over Mikkel Kessler. Both fighters were previously unbeaten and entered the ring as world No.1 and world No.2 respectively, while the fight was Calzaghe's 21st defence of the WBO belt.

Kessler gave everything he had in order to keep hold of his WBC and WBA titles, but Calzaghe - buoyed on by a thunderous home crowd -stood firm to ensure his dominance as the world's best super-middleweight.

Ricky Hatton v Juan Lazcano - City of Manchester Stadium, 2008

Ricky Hatton salutes the crowd after narrowly defeating Juan Lazcano © PA Photos

Ricky Hatton's 'Homecoming' fight following his first-ever defeat as a professional, to Floyd Mayweather Jr.

Despite this fight not carrying the enormity or the hype of Benn-Eubank II, Manchester still turned out in its droves to welcome back their beloved son. 55,000 fans - a post-war record attendance for a British fight - welcomed Hatton into the ring to a rousing rendition of 'High Ho Ricky Hatton' and his original crowd pleaser, Blue Moon.

But they were not treated to a classic Hatton performance - far from it - in the defence of his IBO title. Hatton was rocked in the eighth, and again in the tenth, as Lazcano showed spirit which was not meant to have been included in the script. Somehow, Hatton held on and even gave MC Michael Buffer a hug as he announced him the unanimous victor.

Wladimir Klitschko v David Haye - Imtech Arena, 2011

David Haye could barely land a finger on Wladimir Klitschko in Hamburg © Getty Images

Not David Haye's finest moment in a boxing ring. In drab, wet, chilly conditions which reflected his performance, Haye struggled to make any noticeable impact against an all-dominant Wladimir Klitschko.

Home to Hamburger SV, Haye was simply devoured by Klitschko in a procession a world away from the fight's official poster tag of 'The War'. It was meant to be the unification of several world heavyweight titles, but Haye finished by throwing anything and everything without much consideration.

Klitschko won, as expected, by unanimous decision and Haye was left to lick his wounds. The Brit went on to blame his substandard showing partly on a broken toe he had suffered weeks before the fight. In October 2011, three months after losing to Klitschko, Haye announced his retirement - but he would be back before long.

David Haye v Dereck Chisora - Upton Park, 2012

Despite the heavy rain, David Haye knocked out Dereck Chisora at West Ham's Upton Park stadium © Getty Images

A year after losing to Klitschko, Haye returned to the ring for a second consecutive stadium fight. In front of 30,000 spectators he took on British rival Dereck Chisora in a grudge fight dubbed 'Licence to Thrill'.

The bout occurred in bizarre circumstances; Haye and Chisora came to blows in the aftermath of the latter's WBC world heavyweight title loss to Vitali Klitschko. Tempers flared at the post-fight press conference which resulted in a brawl between the two Brits. Despite issuing a statement of apology, Chisora had his British boxing licence revoked and the pair's animosity reached fever pitch.

Despite many objecting to it, the fight went ahead under licensing from the Luxembourg Boxing Federation and Haye finally got his revenge. Chisora worried him with a fierce left hook at the end of the third, but Haye recovered to end the slugfest in the fifth round by knockout. The pair hugged at the end and admitted a new-found respect for each other in their press-conference; quite the opposite to Benn and Eubank.

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