Hagler vs Antuofermo
By the time Marvin Hagler landed in London in 1980 to famously dethrone Alan Minter, people would talk about how his surliness hung on him like a second skin.
There were actually very good reasons however for his paranoid, tribalist edge. Firstly, in the history of modern boxing no fighter copped the raw end as much as Marvin did. Criminally frozen out of the business end of the middleweight division, Hagler had chomped at the bit of a title shot to no avail for an absolute age, and when it did finally come it ended up being something of a disgraceful encounter.
Cut to Las Vegas in 1979 and after a pretty even first half of the fight, Marvin Hagler has pretty much won every round since in his world title battle with Vito Antuofermo. Stronger and naturally more aggressive he's ticked off the back end of the contest with consummate ease. Even the usually rabid Caesar's Palace fans seem bored by the one sidedness of it, preferring to spin ice cubes round an empty glass than participate. It strikes everyone that the decision is a shoe in, or so it seems.
At the end of the fifteenth round, referee Mills Lane even congratulates Hagler on his victory and tells him which way to stand so he can raise his arm. All hell is about to break loose however. Somewhere between madness and incompetence, the watching judges somehow call it draw, much to everyone's astonishment. After waiting years for his title shot, Hagler has been screwed over even in dominant victory.
He won't make the same mistake 12 months later of course, but he doesn't know it yet. At Wembley in 1980, Hagler will take just seven minutes to separate Englishman Alan Minter from his title and be a dominant force from there on in. For now though Hagler is disconsolate. All he can do for the thousandth time in his boxing career is curse the authorities and plan his revenge as he stands in a Las Vegas ring.
Whitaker vs Chavez
The headlines would eventually scream 'ROBBED' like they'd been painted on the presses in huge, neon, cinematic letters, but in his heart of hearts Pernell Whitaker would always know he'd won.
The great glider of American boxing had tamed the fierce beast of Chavez in Texas in 1993, outboxing a man who was seen as the best pound for pound fighter on the planet at the time, someone who had pretty much steam rolled every opponent he'd faced up until that point.
He hadn't banked on Whitaker's unique gifts though, a mixture of sublime movement and impeccable timing. Opponents would often think they were fighting a translucent ghost when they happened to catch Pernell on one of those nights. Even Chavez, a man who could cut ring space off like he was steadily decreasing it with an invisible chainsaw couldn't get quite close enough to him. As a neutral observation he'd lost at least 9 of those twelve rounds in San Antonio. It should have been a landslide of Mount Helena proportions, not the shocking tremor it ended up.
Somehow though the judges seemed to phone their scorecards in from the outer circles of Mars, or at least two of them did. The fight was scored a 'majority' draw and if the boos that echoed around the Arena seemed slightly excessive, it was nothing compared to how the American sports press greeted it. Sports illustrated would run a fight based issue with the headline 'ROBBED' and boxing historian Bert Sugar, an editor in chief of Boxing Illustrated at the time, ran a sub-heading on his own magazine urging readers not to buy it if they believed the Whitaker/Chavez match up was a draw.
The twenty plus years since the fight haven't eradicated its controversy either. It still remains one of the worst decisions ever made in a boxing ring. A fight where superior style and elegance conquered aggression and somehow still managed to be on the losing side due to completely inept and backward thinking officials.
Bradley vs Pacquiao
By 2012 Manny Pacquiao's tail wind was such that few gave any fighter in his weight division (bar Floyd) a chance against his fast and furious fists.
The latest that was to be rolled out in June 2012 in Nevada, was Tim Bradley, world class for sure, but not exactly devastating in any of the exponents needed to dethrone the Welterweight star. If anything Bradley was seen as an easier test than Pacquiao's real nemesis, Juan Marquez, whose name would forever be mentioned in relation to the Phillipino star. The previous November both men had met in a third fight which had ended in a controversial draw. Although many thought Marquez had won the fight the judges had scored it level, and even seven months later, controversy still raged on.
Marquez would eventually exact a brutal revenge but hardly anyone expected karma to show up and turn the tables on Pacquiao for the Bradley fight. For the first six rounds he would take charge to such an extent in fact that it seemed Bradley didn't really belong in the same ring as him. Pacquiao bullied him like he was a wasp in a jar. Crucially however, he never finished him off and by the middle rounds onwards, whilst Bradley wasn't exactly dominating, he at least shaded the odd round and was competitive in a pretty scrappy fight.
Going in to the last round however and from the analysts in the studio to the watching audience of millions virtually everyone was in agreement that Bradley needed the knock out. None more so than the boxer himself who for the final three minutes abandoned his tight, usual style and came out swinging like a drunken sailor in an after hours bar looking for interference.
It was to no avail. As a smiling Pacquiao waited in the ring after the last bell had sounded it seemed a matter of going through the motions of the scorecards and him clocking up another high profile victory. As they were read out however, everyone was stunned. Somehow two of the scoring judges had opted in favour of Bradley, giving him a majority decision over Pacquiao.
The decision was greeted hysterically in boxing circles. Promoter Bob Arum called for an investigation into corruption in the sport and Oscar De La Hoya was so furious he suggested that Bradley give his new belts back out of embarrassment. Pacquiao just shrugged his shoulders and accepted it. He'd seen it all before in a sport that can shock and outrage as much as it can excite and thrill. A sport that sometimes is chock full of vested interests against the aesthetics of a fair and honest result.
Oscar De la Hoya vs Felix Trinidad
In many ways, throughout the impeccable '90s boxing was in such a great state there was no real mourning for the 'Four Kings' era, just an acceptance of the changing of the guard.
Two of its greatest poster boys in the latter part of the decade were De La Hoya and Trinidad, both beautifully skilled exponents of the fight game, both immensely marketable and adored by a boxing public who came out in their thousands to watch them.
Their fight was expected to be separated by a piece of cheese wire in terms of ability, but on September 18th 1999, their unification welterweight fight in Las Vegas proved to be anything but close.
In many ways its was Oscar De La Hoya's most controlling performance, for the first nine rounds at least. He was better in everything he did than Trinidad. He landed the cleaner shots, forced the most pressure and looked to have raced to an insurmountable lead in the fight going into the latter stages of the contest.
De La Hoya would make a classic error however in those last three rounds. He began to coast and not engage Trinidad, and that strange philosophy some boxing judges had during that era of the 'aggressor' being king would eventually come into play.
Somehow, that edged the judges in into Trinidad's corner, despite the fact that he hadn't landed more than a two punch combination all night. He was handed a majority decision in a fight that only really ignited once it was over. It was a bit of a stinker all round in fact, a lousy set of scorecards in a lousy match up that would have disappeared from boxing memory long ago if it wasn't for the glaring controversy of a terrible decision.
Mayweather vs Castillo
If you ever get the chance, watch the replay of this fight on you tube and watch Floyd Mayweather's body language at the end. Body slumped, eyes nervously darting around the ring, he's a man who is awaiting his fate by the judges and the end of his unbeaten record. He knows it. The crowd knows it and you'd think the scoring judges would be in on the general consensus too.
These were the days when Mayweather's opponents didn't stand off and admire his matador style. Over 12 rounds Castillo roughed him up and got in his face, frightening Mayweather into a slugging contest that nulled his silky skills perfectly.
It had all started so well for Mayweather. Displaying his trademark ring craft, he took possession of the early part of the fight with consummate ease. By the middle rounds however, the heavier Castillo was beginning to chop away at his body and slow him down considerably. Bit by bit he dragged Mayweather into exactly the fight he didn't want to be in - a toe to toe war. In many ways it echoed the first Duran vs Leonard fight. The artisan on one side and the street fighter on the other, with the sophisticate being reduced to a base level scrap for survival with each minute that passed.
It would be the type of war that Mayweather would never get into again. Shell shocked and wide eyed from the middle rounds onwards,
It would highlight two things. Firstly how good the money man's chin actually is, and secondly how his natural talent can be nullified if you're intelligent and aggressive enough to pin him down.
By the end of the fight in fact it was hard not to have a grudging respect for Mayweather. Alas not the judges, who incredulously scored the fight at least four rounds in Mayweather's favour. Even Mayweather seemed slightly withdrawn on hearing the decision and was far from his ebullient self. He learnt his lesson too. He never really walked the offensive tightrope post-Castillo and used his obvious talents to score easier and more one sided victories. It was almost as if he knew he'd used up all of his spare luck in their first fight, a fight that should have been a black mark on his feted unbeaten record.