Naoya Inoue and Luis Nery worked out of a brief clinch, and the southpaw Nery was crouched slightly lower than Inoue. Seeing his opponent’s head at shoulder level, Inoue popped him in the chin with a short left uppercut, but there wasn’t much on it — not enough to deter Nery from letting loose with a full-force left cross. And with Inoue’s right glove lowered as he wound up to follow his left uppercut with a right cross, Nery’s left landed perfectly on the junior featherweight champion’s exposed jaw, twisting him 180 degrees as he spun counterclockwise to the canvas for the first time in his career.

Just like that, with the most momentary of mistakes met by a world-class fighter having the instinct and ability to take advantage of it in a split second, we were treated to one of the great dramas in boxing: the shock knockdown.

And every shock knockdown opens the door for the possibility of another of this sport’s uniquely stirring rushes: the off-the-canvas comeback.

Inoue pulled that off as well as could have been expected, rising, recovering, knocking Nery down three times, and retaining his championship by violent sixth-round knockout.

The whole thing was a thrill to watch, and the knockdown suffered by “The Monster” made it stand out from all of his other pound-for-pound-worthy destructions. It was a magnificently dramatic affair — at least, by Inoue’s dominant standards.

But does it crack the pantheon of great off-the-deck moments in boxing history? In a sport whose rules are nearly as old as Don King and Bob Arum combined, that’s a high bar.

Here, a collection of the most impossible standards of drama that Inoue KO 6 Nery is up against. The rules are simple — anyone who’s ever heard a Chumbawamba song knows them. A fighter gets knocked down forcefully (flash knockdowns need not apply), but improbably gets up and fights back. He doesn’t necessarily need to have won the fight in the end — though that helps. But he does need to have defied expectations with his performance and degree of success following his butt, back, head, or all of the above crashing to the canvas.

Presented in no particular order:

Tyson Fury D 12 Deontay Wilder, Dec. 1, 2018: It’s not just recency bias to say this may have been the most shocking “how did he get up?” resurrection in the history of our fine sport. It was the boxing knockdown that inspired a million Undertaker memes. You get hit like that by Deontay Wilder, and you haul your 256 pounds of temporary lifelessness back up? And a few seconds later, you’re controlling the action again? What Fury did is diminished slightly by the fact that he didn’t get the win, but then again, we all know he deserved the decision.

Juan Manuel Marquez D 12 Manny Pacquiao, May 8, 2004: Sticking with the controversial draw theme, but shifting from a singular 12th-round knockdown to a trio of first-round tumbles, Marquez was clearly not too badly hurt by the first two but seemed done for after the third. Had referee Joe Cortez stopped it at that moment, nobody would have complained loudly. But he gave Marquez another shot, and, bit by bit, the Mexican put on a dazzling display as he won a majority of the remaining rounds against a man who appeared to clearly have his number for the first few minutes. Marquez further disproved that notion in the spectacular rivalry that followed.

Larry Holmes KO 11 Earnie Shavers, Sept. 28, 1979, and Larry Holmes KO 11 Renaldo Snipes, Nov. 6, 1981: Talk about lightning striking twice. Two separate heavyweight title defenses by Holmes, two seventh-round knockdowns suffered, two 11th-round stoppage wins. And these were gargantuan knockdowns. Shavers hit him with a right hand that resembled the punch with which Hasim Rahman KO’d Lennox Lewis (except Rahman wasn’t in Shavers’ league power-wise), and somehow Holmes got up and got through it. And after Snipes dropped “The Easton Assassin” with a right hand of his own, Holmes got up and ran face-first into the turnbuckle as if guided by an invisible Marco Antonio Barrera, but survived the remaining two-and-a-half minutes of the round and rallied.

James “Buster” Douglas KO 10 Mike Tyson, Feb. 11, 1990: For a moment in the eighth round, the boxing world thought it had snapped back to reality. Sure, heavyweight champ Tyson had struggled mightily, had fallen behind on points against the 37-to-1 hand-picked stumblebum, but the power came through, the right uppercut got home, and Douglas went down. Had he stayed down, he would have been the smallest of footnotes in boxing history. But he got up at the count of 9½, he gathered himself, and he got back to kicking Tyson’s ass. What happened in round eight was about as consequential a rising from the deck as boxing has ever seen.

Muhammad Ali KO 5 Henry Cooper, June 18, 1963: OK, maybe this one was more consequential than Douglas against Tyson, because the whole world is different if Ali doesn’t get up from Cooper’s left hook in round 4. However, the greatness of The Greatest getting off the floor here is diminished by the fact that the knockdown came with two seconds left in the round and by the accompanying legend of Angelo Dundee monkeying with Ali’s glove to buy time. Still, it warrants inclusion here — and Ali’s recovery from a Joe Frazier hook in round 15 of their first fight eight years later would make the cut as well if it hadn’t come too late in the bout for Ali to stage much of a comeback.

Archie Moore KO 11 Yvon Durelle, Dec. 10, 1958: This fight is largely remembered for the quantity of knockdowns light heavyweight champ Moore unimaginably shook off, but the quality of most of them shouldn’t be forgotten. The first of three knockdowns in the opening round came on a right hand that dropped Moore every bit as violently as Fury’s plunge against Wilder. The third one was only about 2% less sickening than the first. In the fifth, Moore ate a Durelle right hand and collapsed as if petrified. On any of those knockdowns, you might have assumed the fight was over. But somehow, the fortysomething champ emerged to score four knockdowns of his own and stop the Canadian challenger in maybe boxing’s most improbable comeback ever.

Diego Corrales KO 10 Jose Luis Castillo, May 7, 2005: A challenger to the improbable-comeback throne came nearly a half-century after Moore-Durelle I. Corrales-Castillo isn’t quite in consideration for No. 1 on the list off-the-deck moments because (a) the two 10th-round knockdowns “Chico” suffered were less mortifying than most of the others on this list, and (b) his clever mouthpiece management puts the slightest of taints on the result. But, oh, to get up twice after more than nine rounds of the most savage warfare imaginable and then turn the tables the way he did. If it wasn’t the greatest rise from the canvas ever, it at least may have been the greatest finish ever delivered after rising from the canvas.

Arturo Gatti L 10 Micky Ward, May 18, 2002: I don’t believe in separating Ward-Gatti I from Corrales-Castillo I by great distances on any list. Gatti didn’t come back to win after the body shot knockdown he suffered in the iconic ninth round, but his return to a standing position while his face betrayed a man whose innards were on fire was something mere mortals don’t do after a Micky Ward hook to the liver — and he did stage a rally later in that round and then win the 10th, only to drop a disputed decision. (By the way, staying in the 2000s with 140-pounders, a quick how-did-he-get-up-from-that-bodyshot honorable mention to Marcos Maidana in the opening round against Amir Khan.)

George Foreman KO 5 Ron Lyle, Jan. 24, 1976: Pick a knockdown, any knockdown, from this ridiculous cartoon fight. For me, it’s Foreman face-planting with three seconds left in the fourth round that stands out. This was the year of Rocky’s release, and Sly Stallone couldn’t have scripted a less believable fight scene than this one, with a still-woozy Foreman getting staggered a couple more times in the fifth before knocking Lyle more or less unconscious.

Julio Gonzalez W 12 Julian Letterlough, Feb. 2, 2001: A bit of a lost classic from ESPN2 Friday Night Fights here, with Gonzalez touching down three times and Letterlough getting dropped twice. The knockdowns Gonzalez suffered in rounds 3 and 5 were fairly standard boxing brutality. But the one in the 10th looked for all the world like the end, with him flat on his back, eyes rolling back, positioned to be drawn and quartered and possibly chalk outlined. But he survived the round and pulled out a knockdown of his own in the 11th to propel him to a unanimous decision win.

By the way, it’s a Friday and there’s not much in the way of televised boxing tonight, so you could do a heck of a lot worse for an evening activity than to fire up an old FNF thriller like Gonzalez-Letterlough, especially if you’ve never seen it before. Thank goodness for YouTube, which ensures that no great battle from the past ever stays down for the count.

Eric Raskin is a veteran boxing journalist with more than 25 years of experience covering the sport for outlets such as BoxingScene, ESPN, Grantland, Playboy, Ringside Seat, and The Ring (where he served as managing editor for seven years). He also co-hosted The HBO Boxing Podcast, Showtime Boxing with Raskin & Mulvaney, and Ring Theory and currently co-hosts The Interim Champion Boxing Podcast with Raskin & Mulvaney. He has won three first-place writing awards from the BWAA, for his work with The Ring, Grantland, and HBO. Outside boxing, he is the senior editor of CasinoReports and the author of 2014’s The Moneymaker Effect. He can be reached on X, LinkedIn, or via email at [email protected].

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