The 10 Biggest Middleweight Fights in HBO History

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It’s too soon to say whether the September 16 battle for middleweight supremacy between Canelo Alvarez and Gennady “GGG” Golovkin will be one of the division's greatest fights. But it’s not too soon to declare it a massive event. This will be the most meaningful, most anticipated clash between two world-class boxers that the sport has seen in more than two years. And it will be one of the most meaningful, most anticipated middleweight title bouts that HBO has aired in 40-plus years of broadcasting fights.

Where does Canelo-GGG rank exactly on that list? Here are the top 10 middleweight fights in HBO boxing history:


10. Felix Trinidad vs. William Joppy

May 12, 2001

Madison Square Garden, New York City

Joppy isn’t a household name now and he wasn’t one then, but this fight was a big deal anyway for three reasons: It was a semifinal bout in Don King’s Middleweight World Championship Series; 2000 Fighter of the Year Trinidad was as scorchingly popular as any boxer alive at that moment; and the bigger Joppy was given a very real chance at upsetting “Tito,” who had never fought at middleweight before. Rarely has the decibel level at the Garden been as elevated as it was that night when the Puerto Rican icon bounced Joppy off the canvas three times on his way to a fifth-round knockout.

9. Miguel Cotto vs. Sergio Martinez

June 7, 2014

Madison Square Garden, New York City

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This transfer of the lineal middleweight title is remembered largely for Martinez’s gimpy knees making it easy for Cotto, but going in, it looked like the ultimate challenge for the undersized Puerto Rican warrior. Martinez had been the champ for four years and he’d beaten Kelly Pavlik, Paul Williams, and Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. along the way. Cotto and Martinez were two of the most respected pugilists of their generation, and the former scored perhaps the most meaningful victory of his Hall of Fame-bound career as he sent the latter into retirement with a 10th-round stoppage.

8. Sergio Martinez vs. Julio Cesar Chavez Jr.

September 15, 2012

Thomas & Mack Center, Las Vegas

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For 11 rounds, it didn’t live up to any of the hype. For the final three minutes, it exceeded all possible hype. And make no mistake, there was plenty of hype surrounding the undefeated son of Mexico’s greatest champion challenging a pound-for-pounder for the lineal 160-pound title. Between the Chavez name, a memorable 24/7 build, and a peaking Martinez, this was a perfect Mexican Independence Day weekend mega-event, even if it ended with the Mexican’s frantic 12th-round rally coming up just short against the Argentine king.

7. Canelo Alvarez vs. Miguel Cotto

November 21, 2015

Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas

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Cotto was a major star and the lineal champ; Alvarez was an even bigger star as the challenger. Neither were necessarily true middleweights, but it was a 50-50 fight for many fans and experts, and the pay-per-view numbers proved that the stink of May-Pac could be shaken by the right kind of must-see battle between warriors with rabid fan bases. In the end, it was a very good but not great fight, as Canelo was too young and too sharp and he outboxed Cotto to win a clear-cut decision.

6. Marvin Hagler vs. Roberto Duran

November 10, 1983

Caesars Palace, Las Vegas

In a world in which Sugar Ray Leonard was retired — for the moment, anyway — Hagler and Duran were as big as any two stars in the sport. Duran was already a living legend, but for Hagler, this represented his first crack at a superfight and the money that comes with it and a major step toward his ambition of becoming a legend in his own right. And the fight was more competitive than many expected, with Duran boxing smartly and Hagler holding onto his strap by a single point on two scorecards.

5. Bernard Hopkins vs. Oscar De La Hoya

September 18, 2004

MGM Grand, Las Vegas

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It’s easy, nearly a decade after his career ended, to forget just how carry-the-sport-on-his-back big De La Hoya was. In long-reigning champ B-Hop, boxing’s biggest star had found an opponent against which he had nothing to lose, a challenge so great he was enhancing his legacy just by trying. It didn’t end gloriously for Oscar, who was left writhing on the canvas from as sneaky ninth-round body punch, but it was a win for everyone when the receipts from 2004’s biggest pay-per-view extravaganza were added up.

4. Canelo Alvarez vs. Gennady Golovkin

September 16, 2017

T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas

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There was demand among the hardcore fans for a GGG-Canelo showdown in May or September of 2016, but if it had happened then, it wouldn’t be all the way up at No. 4 on this countdown. This fight between the lineal champ and the people’s champ was kept in the toaster until it was golden brown on all sides, until it finally reached a point where picking a winner isn’t going to be easy. History and legacy will be at stake when these two beloved fighters try to separate the “good boys” from the great men.

3. Bernard Hopkins vs. Felix Trinidad

September 29, 2001

Madison Square Garden, New York City

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This didn’t draw as big a gate or sell as many PPVs as Hopkins’ fight with De La Hoya three years later would. But in terms of a fight capturing something historic — tapping into something culturally and emotionally significant as well as something of great pugilistic heft — the Hopkins-Trinidad showdown in the finals of the Middleweight World Championship Series is tough to outdo. Just 18 days after the 9/11 terrorist attack, a wounded city healed just a little bit through the power of sports, and it was Hopkins to rose to the occasion and punched his ticket to the Hall of Fame with a performance for the ages and a 12th-round TKO.

(Read From the Vault: Still Standing)

2. Marvin Hagler vs. Tommy Hearns

April 15, 1985

Caesars Palace, Las Vegas

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Part of what made the savagery of the eight minutes Hagler and Hearns shared so iconic was that fights this big pretty much never become this violent this fast. Most superfights feature two professionals with elite skill and therefore take a few rounds to heat up. Hagler and Hearns wasted no time sizing each other up and delivered on the event’s nickname “The War” from the instant the opening bell rang. Hagler’s third-round knockout of Hearns pushed the “Four Kings” era into a different place in the public consciousness, establishing it as the go-to reference for multi-way rivalries for the ensuing 32 years and counting.

(Read From the Vault: Eight Minutes of Hell)

1. Sugar Ray Leonard vs. Marvin Hagler

April 6, 1987

Caesars Palace, Las Vegas

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It was like something out of a movie: The baby-faced superstar who’d been forced to retire young daring to come back after a three-year break against the long-reigning champ widely considered the best pound-for-pound fighter around. It was an event so momentous and so wrapped in curiosity that it sold itself. And Leonard didn’t only know how to sell the fans; he also knew how to sell the judges, and he convinced two of them to award him maybe the most debated decision of all-time, capping an upset and a comeback more fantastic than anything Hollywood could script.

(Read From the Vault: Still Fighting)

Watch: Canelo vs. Cotto 2015 (Full Fight)

In preparation for Saturday's bout between Canelo Alvarez and Julio Chavez Jr., re-live Canelo's 2015 match with five-time world champion Miguel Cotto.  

Canelo vs. Chavez Jr. happens Saturday, May 6 live on pay-per-view beginning at 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT. Order the fight here.

Boxing's Best of 2015: Full Fights

HBO presents “Boxing’s Best,” nine of the year’s standout fights. Featured in the nine-fight series are signature performances by Canelo Alvarez, Gennady Golovkin, Sergey Kovalev, Terence Crawford, Roman “Chocolatito” Gonzalez and Timothy Bradley Jr.

HBO Boxing Insiders Year End Picks: Round of the Year

Photo: Will Hart

Photo: Will Hart

More: Boxing's Best from 2015

As the end of the year approaches, HBO Boxing Insiders take a look back at the fights that aired on the network and HBO PPV in 2015. Here, they make their selections for Round of the Year.

Previously:

Fighter of the Year

Fight of the Year

Kieran Mulvaney: Francisco Vargas vs. Takashi Miura, Round 9

Not because it was three minutes of nip-and-tuck, back-and-forth, see-saw action, but because of its sheer unpredictability, the suddenness with which it turned the fight's narrative on its head, and the willful refusal to lay down that enabled Vargas, battered at the end of the previous round and with one eye almost completely closed, to come out aggressively, unleash a right hand that flattened Miura, and secure the dramatic finish.

Eric Raskin: Francisco Vargas vs. Takashi Miura, Round 9

In a close call over assorted stirring rounds from the Sergey Kovalev-Jean Pascal and Lucas Matthysse-Ruslan Provodnikov scraps, the final round of Vargas-Miura gets the nod on the strength of its unpredictability and drama. At the end of the eighth round, there were calls to stop the fight on account of the beating Vargas had taken. But the Mexican came out the next round and dropped Miura hard with a combination of a straight right hand, a right uppercut, and a left hook. Vargas followed up furiously and Miura stood his ground until referee Tony Weeks had seen enough, calling for the stoppage at 1:31 of the round. Yes, it was only half as long as all the other Round of the Year contenders. But it packed doubly intense thrills into those 91 seconds.

Nat Gottlieb: Canelo Alvarez vs. Miguel Cotto, Round 8

In one of the most highly anticipated fights of the year it was round eight that lived up to the expectations. Both fighters came out hard in the early seconds and let it all hang out. Cotto was determined to land big shots, and he did, but every flurry was met with determined retaliation from Canelo. Cotto would not relent, though, and until the closing bell the two exchanged pure power to the delight of fans.

Oliver Goldstein: Francisco Vargas vs. Takashi Miura, Rounds 8/9

Not quite a round, but the end of the eighth and the start of the ninth in Miura-Vargas were extraordinary, self-sufficient in their own right but together something else. His legs spooling beneath him through the final ten seconds of the eighth, Francisco Vargas somehow had them steady again at the beginning of the next, when he caught Miura ten seconds in with a dead straight right and follow-up combination that had his opponent out on his feet. These, then, were my thirty seconds of the year: without a category of their own, moreover, good enough to scrape into another elsewhere.

Diego Morilla: Lucas Matthysse vs. Ruslan Provodnikov, Round 11

Lost in the brutal back-and-forth of one of the most brutal punch-outs of the year was this gem of a round. Perhaps it wasn't more violent or more technical or even more exciting than any of the others, but just watching Matthysse trying briefly to regain control of a fight he had dominated for six rounds and have a bloody and exhausted Provodnikov respond to every combination and surge to win the round was, in that particular moment of the bout, a testimony of the courage and the grit that these two fighters possess, in a round in which almost every other fighter in the world would have slowed down the pace and went through the motions just to stay alive.

Harold Lederman: Francisco Vargas vs. Takashi Miura, Round 9

Carlos Acevedo: Lucas Matthysse vs. Ruslan Provodnikov, Round 12

It was hard to believe that any man—even one trained to master pain—could endure the punishment that Lucas Matthysse and Ruslan Provodnikov meted out against one another in the fourth round of their savage war last April. After taking nothing but punishment for three rounds, Provodnikov ignored the pain, as well as the blood dripping in rivulets from his eye, and charged Matthysse at the start of the fourth. By refusing to yield after falling behind early, Provodnikov set the stage for the classic that unfolded over the last half of the fight. Never the most elegant fighter, Provodnikov began to slip and counter more effectively as he crowded Matthysse in close. A series of single left hooks and straight rights staggered Matthysse early in the round, but "The Machine" responded with a right uppercut to the jaw that landed like an RPG. Undaunted, Provodnikov pressed forward. A sweeping left shook Matthysse and an overhand right drove him into the ropes. Matthysse, unsteady, eyes slightly unfocused, reached out and forced a clinch, but when the action resumed, Provodnikov wobbled him again. They were still assaulting each other when the bell rang to end the fight.

Bob Canobbio, President and Founder of CompuBox: Lucas Matthysse vs. Ruslan Provodnikov, Round 3

They combined to land 57 of 173 total punches. Mattysse landed 33 of 96 overall and 24 of 41 power shots. Provodnikov went 24 of 77, including 20 of 62 power shots.

Frank Della Femina: Canelo Alvaraez vs. James Kirkland, Round 1

Round 1 of Canelo-Kirkland set the pace for what would be a fast and enthralling fight. Right out of the gate it was clear the fight wasn't going 12 rounds – it could've ended at any second. Sometimes fighters come out and feel the other guy out for the first round or two. But when you have a fight start like this, you know it's going to be fireworks. The only risk to the viewer is in blinking. You might miss the KO.

Frank Miller: Francisco Vargas vs. Takashi Miura, Round 9

I was well aware that I watching Fight of the Year and Round of the Year as soon as Tony Weeks waived the fight off. Francisco Vargas had given his all to win the fight by KO. The fans at Mandalay Bay voiced their appreciation for him after Miura went down and the excitement in Jim Lampley's voice was more than noticeable as he called the action for those watching. No boxing here. Just straight brawling. 

Michael Gluckstadt: Sergey Kovalev vs. Jean Pascal, Round 5

This wasn't the most dramatic round of the year (that'd be Vargas-Miura 9), the most action-packed (Canelo-Kirkland 1), or even the most heart-stopping (Matthysse-Provodnikov, take your pick). But it was, to me, the most exciting. Over 20,000 screaming Canadians had just seen their hometown hero sink through the ropes less than two rounds earlier, and it seemed like Sergey Kovalev was cruising to another KO victory. But in the fifth, Pascal showcased his ample athleticism, countering Kovalev with a left, and following up with a big right hand that sent Kovalev reeling into the ropes for what felt like the first time ever. Even if Pascal hadn't entered the ring to music from Rocky IV, you could be forgiven for thinking, "the Russian is cut!" As it turned out, the Russian wasn't cut, and he went on to win the fight rather handily. But for a few short moments on a blizzarding Montreal night, it looked as though this year's Rocky sequel was coming out earlier than expected.

The Latest From The Fight Game with Jim Lampley

Canelo Rides His Skill, Size, and Youth to Victory over Cotto

Photos: Will Hart, Ed Mulholland

By Kieran Mulvaney

It would be easy to say that youth and size ultimately prevailed at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas on Saturday night, and to some extent – perhaps a large extent – that would be correct. But Canelo Alvarez did more than simply impose his strength on a valiant, aging warrior as he overcame Miguel Cotto to win a unanimous points decision and annex the lineal middleweight championship. The 25-year-old Mexican also showed skill and poise that belied his years, particularly in the form of an impressively subtle defense that frustrated Cotto’s efforts to land power punches for much of the night.

Cotto (40-5, KOs 33), started brightly enough, bouncing on his toes and looking to land his vaunted left hook behind a stiff jab, but Canelo telegraphed his intentions for the night with a digging hook to the body and an overhand right that sailed behind Cotto’s left hand and just missed his jaw. In the second, the Alvarez overhand right found its target while Cotto struggled to reach his. Canelo kept himself largely at just the right distance to force the shorter man to stretch with his punches, and deftly moved his head a fraction out of range whenever Cotto threatened to land.
 
The effectiveness of Canelo’s defense was underlined by the CompuBox punch stats, and particularly the poor success rate of the Cotto jab – the punch off which Cotto’s offense operates. Cotto threw 374 jabs, but connected with just 54 of them, a paltry 14 percent. His power punch figures were somewhat better – 75 of 255 landed, or 29 percent. But Canelo’s power punches were the offensive story of the night, as he landed 118 out of 298, nearly four of every ten he threw.

Indeed, from early in the contest, as Cotto sought to circle and box behind the jab, Alvarez focused almost exclusively on power punches, ripping left hooks and overhand rights from mid-distance. And while Cotto blocked many of them early, those that made their way through landed with authority.

Cotto remained undeterred even after Alvarez (46-1-1, 32 KOs) began to impose himself. The veteran decided to alter his tactics, step into the danger zone, and fire off combinations before moving out of the way. To at least some at ringside, that created the impression that Cotto was succeeding in winning battles by scoring with flurries, even if the overall feeling remained that Canelo’s heavier punches were winning the war. The problem for Cotto was that his punches largely bounced off Alvarez, whereas the Mexican’s always seemed to carry more weight.

By round 8, Alvarez was marching forward without evident concern for what was coming in the opposite direction. He was by now finding success not only with his overhand right, but also with a short uppercut that exploded off Cotto’s jaw with increasing frequency as the Puerto Rican moved closer. 

Cotto to his immense credit, remained willing to brawl, but continued to come off second best in the exchange of power punches. Entering the final round, Alvarez was unreachable on all three scorecards, but neither man knew that as they both laid it all on the line with a series of furious exchanges. A left hook from Alvarez appeared to hurt Cotto, who retreated and seemed content to make it to the final bell, until he suddenly uncorked a pair of hooks of his own as the final bell rang.

Even those ringside who saw it as a close contest scored it for Alvarez, and so did the three judges, who had it 117-111, 118-110 and 119-109.

The wide spread of the scores upset Cotto and his trainer Freddie Roach.

“Wow!” was Cotto’s sole comment on the cards. After the decision was made, Cotto went right to Freddie and said, "Are you OK? That’s all that matters."
“We thought it was much closer than the scorecards showed, added Roach. “It was a very competitive fight.”

“I have a lot of respect for Miguel,” said Alvarez. “He is a great champion and a great fighter. We knew going into this fight that it would be a difficult journey, but I feel that I was the faster and stronger fighter tonight. I wasn’t hurt by his punches.”

In a sign of the mutual respect shown by both men throughout the promotion, Canelo went to Cotto’s locker room afterward, hugged Cotto’s family and team and said to the dethroned veteran: “I admire you.” 

Watch: Cotto vs. Canelo Preliminary Undercards

Watch the preliminary undercards leading up to the Cotto vs. Canelo HBO pay-per-view event.

Watch: Cotto & Canelo Keys to Victory

Members of the boxing media weigh in on Cotto and Canelo's keys to victory before they face off this Saturday night at 9pm ET/6pm PT on HBO PPV.