Whether it’s a 12-round championship fight or a four-round pro debut, the first round is always the most dangerous. Fighters hit the mitts backstage, drumming up a sweat so they don’t walk into the squared circle “cold.” The behind-the-scenes work helps prepare the body for the fight to come. It wakes up the reflexes so the boxer will be less susceptible to flash knockdowns early in a fight.
You see, it isn’t easy to voluntarily walk into pain, and have no doubt about it, that’s exactly what you’re signing up for when you step into a ring. The body and mind need time to adjust to the harsh reality of a fight. That’s why most first rounds are slow and measured. Fighters usually take the first round to test the waters, to simultaneously size up their opponents, and to gauge how their own bodies feel now that the fight is actually upon them. But there are exceptions.
In the long history of boxing, there are wonderful and shocking aberrations to the usual pattern of first rounds. They stand out in history because of their force, because of the fighters involved, because of the significance of the night itself. Not all of the first rounds that made this list are knockouts. They couldn’t be. If that’s all it took, this wouldn’t be a real list at all. In a sport nearly 150 years old (counting from the use of the Marquess of Queensbury rules, not the bare-knuckle era that dates back to around the late 16th century), there are plenty of first-round knockouts. Too many to make the list on that alone. To make this list there must be more than a touch of the extraordinary in what happens after the first bell rings.
Without further ado, here are the greatest first rounds in boxing history, in order by date.