5 Greatest Boxing Matches in Madison Square Garden History

Harvey Bell
4 min readDec 3, 2021

Although Madison Square Garden has been the site of many fantastic events since 1879, few of these events can rival the excitement and universal appeal of the professional boxing matches fought in the Garden ring. These classic fights featured some of the greatest boxers of all time, and they are the reason the Garden earned the title of “the Mecca of Boxing.”

Read on to learn more about some of the historic boxing matches that helped give the Garden its global renown.

Muhammad Ali vs. Joe Frazier — March 8, 1971

Appropriately pegged as “The Fight of the Century,” the clash between these two undefeated heavyweights was the most anticipated fight since David and Goliath. Finally, Muhammad Ali and Smokin’ Joe Frazier met in Madison Square Garden to settle the burning worldwide debate over who would be the undisputed heavyweight champion.

Ali dominated as the world heavyweight boxing champion from 1964 to 1967. At that point, the globally famous champion had to surrender his title and serve a 3 1/2-year ban from boxing for refusing induction into the US military during the Vietnam War. When he returned to the ring, Frazier was the reigning world heavyweight boxing champion, and he looked unbeatable.

The promotion leading up to the fight featured bitter and angry confrontations between the boxers. During public appearances, Ali hurled many disrespectful and hurtful comments toward Frazier that added fuel to the fire.

The actual conflict in the ring was even more intense than expected. Although Frazier was shorter than Ali and gave up about 5 inches in reach, he confounded Ali with a style the former champ hadn’t encountered before. Frazier constantly applied pressure on Ali with a tight inside strategy, eventually setting up the challenger to visit the canvas from a monstrous left hook in the 15th. That night, Muhammad Ali suffered the first loss of his professional boxing career.

Evander Holyfield vs. Lennox Lewis — March 13, 1999

Having won back their versions of the heavyweight boxing title, Evander Holyfield and Lennox Lewis faced each other in the Garden to determine the winner of the undisputed heavyweight championship title. Fight fans had greatly anticipated this unification match between two of the finest heavyweight boxers in history. Plus, both fighters were in superb shape.

Lewis won the first two rounds using his height and reach advantage to pepper Holyfield with jabs and crisp combinations, but Holyfield rebounded and won the third round. Although Lewis had Holyfield in trouble in the sixth, the two fighters swapped round victories for the rest of the fight.

The fight ended with a controversial decision by the ringside officials. Even though Lewis appeared to be in control for most of the battle, the official ruled the fight a draw. So, Evander Holyfield left the Garden with his WBA and IBF titles, and Lewis retained his WBC title.

Jake LaMotta vs. Sugar Ray Robinson — October 2, 1942

On that day in 1942, Garden boxing fans witnessed the beginning of one of the greatest rivalries in boxing history. Jake LaMotta was a brutal fighter who pounded his opponents into submission with close-range body blows. On the other hand, five-time middleweight champion Sugar Ray Robinson used swiftness and agility to outmaneuver his opponents to deliver stinging combinations and, eventually, a knockout blow. Regardless of their contrasting styles, both fighters struck fear in their opponents to the point they were the marquee matchup for most of their careers.

Although LaMotta scored a knockdown in the first round, Robinson won the fight unanimously, extending his record to 37–0. But LaMotta would get his revenge in their next fight by handing Robinson the first defeat of his career. Their competing styles and brutal confrontations resulted in an epic series of matches that Robinson won 5–1.

Felix Trinidad vs. Bernard Hopkins — September 29, 2001

This middleweight title unification has a sad footnote because of its two-week postponement due to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. However, when Trinidad and Hopkins stepped into the Garden ring, all thoughts within the arena returned to boxing.

Hopkins typically fought a brawling boxing style, while Trinidad was a thunderous puncher. But in this fight, Hopkins surprised Trinidad by outboxing his Puerto Rican opponent in the middle rounds.

Both fighters had their share of brilliant rallies until the later rounds. At this point, Hopkin outlasted his frustrated opponent until he dispatched Trinidad to the canvas in the 12th round. This knockdown caused Trinidad’s corner to surrender his quest for the unified title immediately.

Mike Tyson vs. Mitch Green — May 20, 1986

Surprisingly, Brownsville, Brooklyn native Mike Tyson only fought twice professionally in Madison Square Garden. His first match in the Garden was a victory over Mitch Green with a unanimous decision. However, this boxing contest was not as famous as Tyson and Green’s next confrontation in the streets of New York City.

About two years later, Green made the mistake of aggressively approaching Iron Mike Tyson outside Dapper Dan’s Fashion Boutique in Harlem. Tyson responded to Green’s relentless trash-talking with one sharp punch that shut one of Green’s eyes. After that, the image of Green’s shiner appeared in every newspaper, tabloid, magazine, and TV entertainment news show in the US and the world.

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Harvey Bell
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Harvey Bell achieved the honor of being named a chaplain in the United States Chaplain Corps, further exemplifying his commitment to service and community