The Joy of Six: boxing and UFC comebacks from the canvas

From Carl Frochs controversial victory over George Groves to Matt Hughess implausible choking of Frank Trigg in Dana Whites favourite ever UFC fight

1) Carl Froch v George Groves, 23 November 2013

Boxing is a phenomenally complex to-do. Both proactive and reactive, it demands the minute, synchronised adjustment of torso and limbs, in states of excitement and exhaustion, on pane of death and embarrassment.

All this is often simplified into a single maxim hit and dont get hit and generally, the fighter who satisfies it to the fuller extent will win. Generally. Carl Froch did not do generally. There was nothing especially clever or technical in the way he went about his business, nor did he pretend to the contrary. Rather, he was possessed of two simple but phenomenal talents: the discharge of violence and the receipt of violence, hitting and getting hit.

In November 2013, he met George Groves, and happily, there was pre-existing needle between the two men; Froch had recently avenged a defeat to Mikkel Kessler, who had employed Groves as a sparring partner. Froch simply could not fathom how a young fighter, desperate to improve, would join the camp of a champion matched up with someone born in the same arbitrary landmass as he; in his mind, this was treachery. But the reality was more nuanced: Groves liked empty threats, unnecessary suits and bad tattoos, while his punnalicious nickname, Saint, gloried in the destruction of something wondrous, defenceless and beautiful. He could not have been more British.

Still, Froch was certain that he was the superior fighter however comprehensively Groves wiped the floor with him in the pre-fight mouth. But in the opening round, the challenger got off first and countered first, pressurising the pressuriser. So, trying to reverse momentum in the dying seconds, Froch flailed, crossing his feet and waving his chin about, whereupon it was clunked by a short overhand right which sat him down for only the second time in his career.

Groves continued pushing the pace, lancing fast, accurate right hands over Frochs low left hand; never had the champ been lit up like this. But gradually, he forced his way into the contest, connecting with a succession of solid body shots before opening up down the stretch, assuming he needed a stoppage. Groves, though, wasnt about to sit on his lead, and with a minute gone in round nine, a wild exchange saw him absorb two hellacious lefts followed by a bodacious right; stanky-legged, he tried to clinch, guzzled further knuckle sandwiches on the ropes, and much to his disgust, the ref stepped in. Without doubt, it was early; without doubt he was saved from further punishment. It had been dicey, but hit and get hit had come up trumps yet again. DH

2) Frankie Edgar v Gray Maynard II, UFC 125, January 2011, and Frankie Edgar v Gray Maynard III, UFC 136, October 2011

Enjoying a prizefight requires a succession of mental contortions. Its just physical chess, we proclaim; lasting pain is mental disintegration and thats prevalent in all sports, we muse; the guys earn money and enjoy the challenge, we insist.

But in the end, and as fighters regularly revelate, it is what it is. And by it, they mean a contest between two people trying to damage each other as much as possible. So to feel better we misdirect ourselves: when praising someones great chin, we actually mean their terrifying ability to absorb potentially fatal violence for our viewing pleasure; when inspired by someones incredible heart, we actually mean their terrifying ability to absorb potentially fatal violence for our viewing pleasure.

Few have personified these qualities as enthrallingly, disconcertingly and movingly as Frankie The Answer Edgar. The Toms River New Jersey Native, to give him his full title, joined the UFC as an undersized lightweight, but thanks to superior speed, stamina and footwork, ground his way to the belt nonetheless.

In his first defence he was paired with Gray Maynard, an undefeated Ray Parlour-lookalike who had decisioned him previously. By far the bigger man, Maynard quickly buzzed Edgar with a left hook, the start of a cruel and sustained barrage of strikes. Edgar, though, continued to intelligently defend himself, if by intelligently defend himself we mean absorb a panoply of devastating shots while clinging onto the last vestige of consciousness. So the ref let him be and somehow, he made it back to his stool.

It transpired in round two that Maynard had punched himself out Edgar made him pay and when three, four and five were much closer, each judge declared a different verdict. The result was a split draw.

It was difficult to argue with any of them and easy to argue with all of them, but one thing was certain: the fight was a classic: incredible action, unbelievable skill, nauseous pace and unfathomable swings, liberally sprinkled with blood and mucus. It was as wonderful as it was terrible.

Ten months later came the rematch, and again Maynard caught Edgar early, this time with a juddering step-in uppercut, various other punches and a pneumatic knee. Maynard, though, had learned from the first fight, tenderising Edgars face with precision. At the horn, his nose resembled San Franciscos Lombard Street.

As round two began, Maynard looked fresh. Edgar was now pecking away with punches, but given he had recorded only one stoppage in 10 UFC fights, there was little to fear. But then with just over a minute left in round four, the two emerged from a scramble and Edgar snuck in a booming right uppercut, then a second as Maynard returned to his feet, followed by a pair of ballistic hooks that spun his head like a child refusing food. A faceplant followed, then a succession of lefts, and the referee was left with no choice but to intervene.

That, my friends, is closure! hollered the commentator Mike Goldberg. And that, my friends, was chin, heart, and Frankie Edgar. DH

3) Diego Corrales vs. Jos Luis Castillo, 7 May 2005

No! No! No! What are you doing?! What is wrong with you?! Diego Corrales screamed at his trainer and stepfather Ray Woods in 2001, seconds after Woods had thrown in the towel to hand his son the first defeat of his professional career. His conqueror that day, a 23-year-old Floyd Mayweather Jr, had landed 220 punches by the end of the 10th round his sniping tactical style perfectly suited to that of Corraless all-out attack with Corrales hitting the deck on five separate occasions. Yet despite the knockdowns and the heavy scorecard deficit, Corrales was furious when the bell sounded, and even though Woodss concession was done out of love, the referee had to hold Corrales back from attacking his own stepfather in frustration.

The point is, even against Mayweather, Corrales did not know he was beaten. Up until that fight, he had never been beaten, and had also never hit the canvas. Corrales grew up tough, subject to an abusive biological father and street gangs from the age of 13, and perhaps there was something in him to never show weakness, even when everything looked lost.

Four years later, in the 10th round against the lightweight Jos Luis Castillo, Corraless face looked considerably worse than it did against Mayweather his right eye puffy, his left so badly bruised it resembled nothing more than a coin slot in a vending machine. Yet Corrales lived up to his pre-fight words that he would go through hell and die in the ring before quitting and with a new trainer in the corner, the flamboyantly shirted and coiffured Joe Goossen, he duly did.

Castillo and Corrales had traded rounds up until that point, a deep gash opening up above Castillos left eye in the fourth, Corrales sustaining a barrage of blows at the end of the sixth. But in the 10th, with Corrales blinded by his own swollen flesh, it was Castillo who took the initiative, landing a heavy thudding left, leaving the American crumpled like a betting slip on the floor. After surviving an eight count and re-inserting his mouthpiece in his corner, affording him some crucial extra time, Corrales returned to face Castillos fists and hit the deck again within 10 seconds, buckling under another left hook.

Still Corrales came back for more. Repeating the trick of removing his mouthguard during a nine count – so that Goosen, resembling all the panache of an extra from Ace Ventura, could take his time in reapplying it Corrales returned to the ring once more, a point deducted for his shenanigans. But something was different, perhaps it was the extra time for Corrales, perhaps it was disheartening for Castillo to see his opponent get up again and again. Corrales caught the Mexican with a straight right, then a left hook. Castillos legs were gone and, up against the ropes, he was helpless to resist the further blows, as the referee mercifully stepped in to stop the fight.

In a little over a minute Corrales had gone from the canvas to riding on top of Goosens shoulders. Al Bernstein called it the single most extraordinary comeback within a round to win a fight that has ever happened. Castillo later called it a perfect right hand. Three months later Castillo would win the rematch. Two years to the day after their first fight, Corrales died aged 29 in a motorcycle crash outside Las Vegas, the city of his greatest triumph. MB

4) Matt Hughes and Frank Trigg, UFC 52, 16 April 2005

Dana White has called the rematch between Matt Hughes and Frank Trigg, at UFC 52, his favourite ever UFC fight. You can see why. There was narrative, needle, controversy, brutal striking, a crafty ground game, a finishing move that wouldnt have been out of place in the scripted world of WWE, cowardice and courage in equal measure, a clear villain, a hero that overcame the odds, all inside one round of fighting.

Hughes, our hero, sustained the most thudding knee to the groin just after the bell sounded, an illegal move that went unseen and unpunished by the referee. Normally, UFC fighters are given a full five minutes to recover from low blows but Trigg seized his chance, battering Hughes with elbows, knees and toes until he had him in a rear-naked choke.

But somehow, exhausted and purple in the face, Hughes slipped the grip, Trigg mentally and physically drained at his inability to force a tap-out. Oxygen flooded into Hughess lungs and incensed at the injustice, he went full Hulk, picked his 82kg opponent clean off the ground, carrying him across the ring like an angry father carrying his disobedient child to bed, before slamming him down on the canvas in a magnificent suplex. The choker now became the choked, and after a few seconds of grappling and striking, Hughes had the most unlikely of victory, his rear-naked choke doing for Trigg, just as it had in their first fight at UFC 45. MB

5) Anderson Silva v Chael Sonnen, UFC 117, 7 August 2010

Few fights have ended as shockingly at that between Chael Sonnen and Anderson Silva for the UFC middleweight belt. Silva was impregnable at the time, 11-0 in the organisation without having been troubled in the slightest. Really, Sonnen had no business being in the same cage as him. But thanks to a thin division and a stream of xenophobic, ignorant and embarrassing invective, three decision wins over moderate opposition earned him a shot at the belt.

A decent wrestler whose stand-up was rudimentary to the point of rudeness, Sonnen had one thing in his favour: privilege that conditioned him to fear nothing and demand everything. So unlike those who had gone before him, he did not run at or away from his man, and incredibly, ludicrously, hilariously, took only 47 seconds to clout Silva with a left hook, keeping him down while throwing hands, elbows and forearms. It was staggering.

Then, in rounds two and three came more of the same: Silva was taken down and punished before, in round four, he landed an overhand which allowed him to deposit a volley of straight punches and balletic kicks. But he was soon back on his back and ready to go home.

But there were still five minutes left, and with three of them gone, Silva was again on the bottom. Playing from memory, he exhaustedly threw up his legs, in theory seeking a triangle choke, in reality just doing whatever in the entire history of the UFC, not a single title fight had been finished in that manner. But, whether it was him finding a way to win, Sonnen finding a way to lose, or both, he sunk it in, then slapped on an arm-bar for good measure to elicit the tap! The pair had fought for 23 minutes and 10 seconds; Sonnen had dominated for 22 minutes and 58 seconds; and yet here he was, conclusively beaten. Glorious. DH

6) Jos Npoles v John H. Stracey, 6 December 1975

Jos Npoles is widely considered one of the greatest fighters of all time. John H. Stracey was a teacher from Bethnal Green. Npoles was nicknamed Mantequilla (Butter), so smooth was his style. Stracey didnt have a nickname. Cuban by birth but an adopted Mexican after Fidel Castro banned professional boxing in 1961, Npoles had the support of 40,000 locals in a bullring in Mexico City when Stracey arrived in December 1975, and already acclimatised to the altitude of nearly 7,500ft above sea level, Npoles was fully expected to give the Englishman a few licks with his greated power and reach. Indeed he did in the first round, a couple of sweet left hooks twice sending Stracey crashing to the floor. But Stracey endured, jabbing his way back into the fight, and by the sixth it was Npoles whowas out on his feet, exhausted, with cuts leaking blood into both of his eyes. A flurry of punches later, east Londoners flooded the ring in unlikely celebration, and Npoles was beaten. He could have knocked me down in every round but Id have won it anyway, Stracey proclaimed afterwards. Mantequilla had been humbled, on home turf no less. He would never fight again. MB

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