Boxing has been a controversial sport since day one. With ridiculous decisions, shady characters and promoters, and ties to organized crime in the old days, it really comes as no surprise. There have been numerous shocking moments throughout the sport’s history, both in and out of the ring. This list deals with 10 of the most scandalous incidents in boxing, while trying to shy away from obvious bad judging decisions.
All of these events created worldwide headlines, gave the sport a black eye and have never been forgotten. Some of them even led to calls to ban the sport, but boxing has survived the tough times and is arguably in stronger shape today than ever before. Regardless, these are 10 of boxing’s most controversial moments.
10. Don King’s United States Boxing Championships
Since 86-year-old infamous boxing promoter Don King had already killed two people by 1967, it’s probably not much of a surprise that he was allegedly involved in corruption. King created a tournament called the United States Boxing Championships back in 1976, just after the American boxing team cleaned up at the Montreal Olympics with five gold medals. The ABC network bought the broadcasting rights and was then dumbfounded when it found out the participants were just journeymen and club fighters.
However, King got cozy with Ring Magazine and his boxers suddenly rose in their rankings. Investigations found that numerous boxers had fake records and ABC started to sweat. One of the participants spilled the beans about the fights being fixed to favor King’s stable of boxers and the television network soon pulled the plug on the sham.
9. Heavyweight Champ Tim Witherspoon Throws Fight
Former WBA/WBC World Heavyweight Champion Tim Witherspoon admitted in his autobiography to taking a dive against James “Bonecrusher” Smith in their 1986 rematch at Madison Square Garden. Well, three dives actually, after the champ had beaten Smith by unanimous decision a year earlier. Witherspoon was scheduled to meet Tony Tubbs in a rematch, but claimed his promoter Don King told him he had to fight Smith instead or he’d get hurt.
Witherspoon believed King was ripping him off and wanted to break free of him, since his mental well-being was at stake. He said he went down three times against Smith in the first round as the three-knockdown rule was in effect for the fight. He also admitted to taking cocaine before the contest. The winner was supposed to take on King’s newest client Mike Tyson, but Witherspoon believed King would release him from his contract if he lost to Smith.
8. Roy Jones Jr. Robbed of Olympic Gold
There have been dozens of brutal decisions in professional boxing over the years, but there was one in the amateurs that ranks among the worst of all-time. The robbery took place at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, South Korea where American Roy Jones Jr. was taking on hometown hero Park Si-Hun in the gold medal light-middleweight bout.
Jones appeared to box circles around Si-Hun and outlanded him by 86-32 punches. However, with the whole world watching, Jones’ jaw dropped to the floor when his opponent was announced as the winner. Si-Hun actually apologized to Jones over the decision and the two of the three judges who scored the fight for Si-Hun were banned for life by the IOC. One of them admitted Jones had won easily, but wanted to keep the local fans happy.
7. The Raging Bull Takes a Dive
The ‘Raging Bull’ Jake LaMotta was another famous ex-world champion who admitted to throwing a fight. LaMotta’s night of infamy took place in November 1947 when he was stopped by Billy Fox in the fourth round. However, the New York State Athletic Commission thought something fishy was going on and withheld the boxers’ purses for awhile and then eventually suspended LaMotta. The FBI also got in on the act, as they investigated the contest and boxing’s ties with the mob.
LaMotta admitted years later that the took a dive to gain favor with organized crime figures. He claimed he carried Fox for a few rounds before laying on the ropes and staggering around the ring in the fourth until the referee stopped it. LaMotta also paid $20,000 to the mob and in return got a title shot against middleweight champ Marcel Cerdan in 1949, which he won.
6. IBF Bribery Scandal
When it comes to pro boxing’s governing bodies, the International Boxing Federation (IBF) is one of the newer kids on the block as it was born in 1983. The organization had to compete against the World Boxing Council (WBC) and World Boxing Association (WBA) when it started up and needed to fill its rankings to hold world title fights. Robert Lee, the boss of the IBF, made the mistake of selling the rankings to promoters such as Don King, Bob Arum, Cedric Kushner etc. and it was over a decade before he was caught.
Lee and three other IBF officials were then charged with racketeering and a federal grand jury named 23 boxers and seven promoters in the scandal. Lee, who allegedly pocketed close to $350,000 in bribes, was convicted of tax evasion and money laundering, forced to resign from the IBF and spent 22 months in prison while paying a paltry fine of $25,000. He was also banned for life from boxing.
5. Antonio Margarito’s Loaded Handwraps
Former World Welterweight Champ Antonio Margarito of Mexico surprised a lot of people by busting up Puerto Rican superstar Miguel Cotto in 2008. Cotto went into the fight undefeated, but was stopped in the 11th round. Margarito was then scheduled to meet Shane Mosley early in 2009, but Naazim Richardson, Mosley’s trainer, noticed something odd about the Mexican’s knuckle inserts before the fight. They appeared to have white powdery substance on them, which turned out to be something similar to plaster of Paris and would harden when moistened with sweat.
Margarito was forced to re-wrap his hands and Mosley knocked him out in the ninth round. Margarito and his trainer were banned for a year, but nobody knew how long he may have been loading his handwraps. Margarito (41-8, 27 KOs) has lost three of his seven bouts since getting caught and hasn’t knocked anybody out since.
4. The Jack Dempsey vs. Gene Tunney ‘Long Count’
Jack Dempsey lost his heavyweight crown to Gene Tunney in 1926 and they met in a rematch a year later. The fight featured a new rule which stated a boxer must go to a neutral corner if knocking his opponent down and the referee wouldn’t start counting until he did. Tunney was suddenly dropped for the first time in his career in the seventh round, but Dempsey didn’t retreat to a neutral corner for several seconds.
When the referee finally started the count Tunney rose at nine to beat it, but was on the canvas for well over 10 seconds. He then went on to deck Dempsey the next round and retained his title by decision. There were close to 105,000 fans at Soldier Field in Chicago to witness the event, but it wasn’t televised. The “long count” myth was exaggerated as it was spread by hearsay across the nation. Tunney said he simply waited until nine to get up and Dempsey said he believed his newfound friend.
3. Mike Tyson Bites Evander Holyfield’s Ears
The myth of Mike Tyson being the baddest man on the planet was shattered by Buster Douglas in 1990 and Evander Holyfield proved it even further by stopping him in 11 rounds in 1996. Holyfield and Tyson got it on again seven months later and the early rounds were accentuated by several headbutts, most of them initiated by Holyfield. Tyson’s whining was ignored by referee Mills Lane though, and the former heavyweight champ decided to take matters into his own hands, or his own mouth to be more accurate.
In the third round, Tyson clinched Holyfield and then leaned forward and bit a chunk out of Holyfield’s right ear and spit it onto the canvas. Holyfield grabbed his head, jumped up and down, and Lane deducted a pair of points from Tyson and the contest continued. Tyson then bit a chunk out of Holyfield’s other ear and was disqualified at the end of the round when he tried to attack Holyfield in his corner. The former champ was then fined $3 million and banned from boxing for over a year.
2. Muhammad Ali vs Sonny Liston Rematch
Cassius Clay shocked the world in 1964 by taking the Heavyweight title from ex-convict and alleged mob member Sonny Liston and then changing his name to Muhammad Ali. He met Liston in a rematch in 1965 in one of the oddest title fights ever seen. Some believe Liston retired after the sixth round a year earlier so he could cash in on another payday in a rematch. But things changed after Ali joined the Black Muslims and Malcolm X was assassinated.
There are several theories as to why Liston went down so easily from a “phantom punch’ in the first round. These include: receiving a death threat from the Black Muslims; betting on Ali so he could pay back his debt to the mob; believing his son and wife were kidnapped before the fight and wouldn’t be seen again unless he lost, and believing Ali may be assassinated in the ring and therefore wanting to get out of there as quickly as possible.
Another theory claimed Liston was told by the mob to go down as they had bet a ton on Ali. Either way, Liston was dropped by a right to the head and comically fell down again when attempting to get up. When he finally rose referee Jersey Joe Walcott motioned for the fight to continue, but then called it off as the official timekeeper said Liston didn’t beat the 10 count.
1. Billy Collins Jr. vs. Luis Resto Tragedy
Junior middleweight Billy Collins Jr. of Nashville, Tennessee was undefeated at 14-0 when he met Luis Resto (20-8-2) of Puerto Rico at Madison Square Garden in June, 1983. Resto wasn’t considered a heavy hitter and had just eight knockouts to his name in 30 bouts. Collins was the betting favorite, but his face and eyes began to swell tremendously during the fight and he lost a 10-round unanimous decision. The black and blue Collins was diagnosed with permanent blurred vision and a torn iris and was told he should retire.
When Collins’ trainer/father shook Resto’s hand in the ring after the fight he knew right away that something was wrong with his gloves. It was discovered that Resto’s trainer Panama Lewis had removed some of the padding from the gloves and that’s why Collins suffered so much facial damage. In addition, Resto admitted later that plaster of Paris had been applied to his handwraps. Resto and Lewis were banned from boxing for life and the result of the bout was changed to a no-contest. Resto served two-and-a-half years of a three-year prison sentence for assault while Lewis served about four years of a six-year sentence. Sadly, Collins began to drink heavily and in 1984 at the age of 22, he drove his car into a wall in an apparent suicide.