A look back at some of the greatest matchups in 168-pound history ahead of the highly-anticipated showdown between David Benavidez and Caleb Plant Saturday in Las Vegas on SHOWTIME Pay-Per-View.
Saturday night’s super middleweight battle between undefeated two-time 168-pound world champion David Benavidez and former world champion Caleb Plant is one of the biggest-possible matchups in the sport.
The long-awaited showdown headlines a Premier Boxing Champions event from the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, live on SHOWTIME Pay-Per-View (9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT). Benavidez-Plant is only the latest on a long list of important 168-pound fights since the division went mainstream in the mid-1980s. Here are five of the most memorable super middleweight battles:
SUGAR RAY LEONARD D 12 THOMAS HEARNS
Date: June 12, 1989
Location: Caesars Palace, Las Vegas
Background: Fans often reminisce about the first fight between Leonard and Hearns, the classic welterweight showdown that a 25-year-old Leonard won by a dramatic 14th-round knockout in 1981. It took eight long years for them to do it again, with both future Hall of Famers past their primes. They were living legends, though. For that reason the rematch generated tremendous crossover interest worldwide. And the old rivals didn’t disappoint, delivering the kind of ebbs and flows that make a fight memorable. Hearns, who carried his power to every weight at which he fought, put Leonard down in round three. The resilient Leonard hurt and almost took out Hearns in a harrowing round five. Sugar Ray went down again in round 11. And, finally, Leonard rallied with a strong round 12 to stave off defeat. The scores: 113-112, 112-113 and 112-112. Many observers thought Hearns deserved the nod but he didn’t complain vociferously. Both men were happy to have given a good showing.
Quote: “I think we both showed we’re champions,” Leonard said.
ROY JONES JR. UD 12 JAMES TONEY
Date: Nov. 18, 1994
Location: MGM Grand, Las Vegas
Background: This fight was more of a coronation than a pitched battle. Hindsight tells us that Jones and Toney were two of the most gifted all-around fighters ever, as both of them landed in the International Boxing Hall of Fame. And they were in their physical primes when they met, Toney 26 and Jones 25. Everyone expected a good, competitive fight as the ultra-talented Jones took on his toughest test to date against a man ranked among the very best worldwide. Instead, Jones served notice that the next pound-for-pound king had arrived, outclassing the favored 168-pound titleholder from the opening bell to put Toney down in round three and win an impossibly wide decision. Toney simply couldn’t cope with Jones’ otherworldly tools, most notably hand and foot speed that was reminiscent of a prime Sugar Ray Leonard. You can’t avoid what you can’t see. The legend of Roy Jones Jr. took hold that night.
Quote: “I knew my hands were so fast and my feet so quick that all I had to do was box,” Jones said.
NIGEL BENN KO 10 GERALD MCCLELLAN
Date: Feb. 25, 1995
Location: London Arena, London
Background: One of the division’s most vicious battles was also one of the sport’s most tragic. Benn, the WBC titleholder, and McClellan, making his 168-pound debut, entered the fight as two of the most feared knockout artists in the business. Benn had already made history with his epic two-fight series with countryman Chris Eubank. And McClellan was on a run of 13 consecutive stoppages, including first-rounders in his previous three fights. McClellan attacked from the outset, knocking the hometown fighter out of the ring in the first round. Then, after savage back-and-forth exchanges over the next seven rounds, McClellan put Benn down again in the eighth. That’s when the tragic nature of the fight began to emerge. McClellan retreated in round nine and, after taking a few hard shots, he took a knee in round 10. He never fought again. He collapsed in his corner, was rushed to a hospital and diagnosed with a severe brain injury, which left him permanently disabled. A great fight became an example of how cruel the sport can be.
Quote: “One thing he always says to me is, ‘Did I lose that night?’ I always tell him, ‘No, you won,’” McClellan’s sister Lisa said.
ANDRE WARD UD 12 CARL FROCH
Date: December 17, 2011
Location: Boardwalk Hall, Atlantic City, N.J.
Background: The Super Six World Boxing Classic was a tremendous platform for some of the top 168-pounders of the late 2000s and early 2010s. Veterans Arthur Abraham and Mikkel Kessler were among the favorites to win the tournament. Somewhere near the bottom of the list was the 25-year-old Andre Ward, the 2004 Olympic champion who entered the fight with minimal big-fight experience as a professional. In the end, we learned what Ward was all about. He outclassed in succession Kessler, Allan Green, Abraham and finally Froch in the championship bout. We learned in four impressive performances that Ward had rare ability and the bearing of a more mature fighter, which allowed him to beat the rugged, more-experienced Froch convincingly and climb onto pound-for-pound lists overnight. An all-time great fighter was born in that tournament.
Quote: “I can’t believe it, I can’t believe it. It’s not so unbelievable that we never thought we were going to win, but now that it’s happened, it is unbelievable,” Ward said.
CARL FROCH KO 8 GEORGE GROVES
Date: May 31, 2014
Location: Wembley Stadium, London
Background: Froch and Groves engaged in one of the more-compelling two-fight series of the 2010s. The first one had a controversial ending, as some believe referee Howard Foster jumped in too soon to save Groves from taking undue punishment and give Froch a TKO victory in Manchester. A rematch was in order. And 80,000 packed Wembley to see it. They weren’t disappointed. Froch, a two-belt champion, and Groves once again fought on even terms for six back-and-forth rounds. Then, in round eight, came a historic conclusion to the fight and series. Froch threw a lazy left hook that distracted Groves and followed with an epic right cross to the jaw that rendered Groves unconscious before he hit the canvas and sent the massive crowd into a tizzy. Froch retired after the fight, making the stunning stoppage one of the great mic-drops in the history of the sport.
Quote: “I knew it was only going to take a couple of big right hands to the chin and I timed it perfectly,” Froch said.
For a closer look at Benavidez vs Plant, check out our fight night page.