On May 26th 1978, a young man named Frank “The Tank” Sinatra Jr. stepped into a boxing ring in Las Vegas, Nevada. He was there to face off against a guy known only as “The Animal,” a massive beast who had earned a reputation for being one of the meanest punchers around. But before the bell even rang, the Animal, frustrated by Frank’s constant jabs, threw a right hook that put his hands on the bar. That was the end of the match, and when the bell rang the referee had already stopped it. But the fight had just begun.

The Animal was none other than world heavyweight champion Larry “The Lamb” Birdy, who had just turned 32, and weighed in at a massive 311 pounds. Frank, who had just turned 22 and was also named after one of the greatest American crooners of all time, was taken aback by the sheer power of the punch. In a rare moment of vulnerability, he admitted to Sports Illustrated, “I was scared shitless.” But instead of backing down, he challenged Birdy to another fight, and when that challenge was accepted, Frank’s boxing career was born. That was the beginning of a lifelong rivalry between the descendants of two of the greatest celebrity families in American history that would result in one of the most famous fights in boxing lore. And it all started with a bar fight.

The First Rivalry: Las Vegas Nights

The first of the two fights between Frank Sinatra Jr. and Larry “The Lamb” Birdy was held at the Springdale Country Club in Las Vegas and aired live on television as part of a World Sports Enterprises series called Las Vegas Nights. The fight was attended by over 16,000 spectators, including Barbara Hutton, who was so taken by the action she threw down her purse and screamed “fight” at the top of her lungs. The atmosphere was electric. The two boxers had different approaches to the game. While Birdy was a brawler who liked to throw punches and brawl, Frank, who was a more skilled boxer, typically took the more cautious approach, and would feint and jab to set up his punches. But on this night, as the bell rang to start the 12th round, the cautious Frank took a few steps forward and threw a hard right hook that caught the unprepared Lamb by surprise. The impact of the blow sent Larry crashing through the ropes and into the crowd below. He was carried from the ring on a stretcher and subsequently hospitalized. He never competed again.

The match was declared a draw, but the Tank’s star was on the rise. Within days he was featured in Sports Illustrated, which declared him to be one of the Top 10 sports stars under 30. He also appeared on the covers of Playboy and Penthouse, and was invited to appear on the David Letterman show, where he recounted the events of the night of the fight and paid tribute to Larry Birdy.

The First Meeting: The Rumble in The Jungle

Twenty-two years later, in April of 1990, another massive figure named George “The Animal” Foreman stepped into the ring at the famous Lenox Lounge in Harlem, New York, for a rematch with Larry Birdy. This time, the setting was more political as the two boxers took turns challenging each other’s patriotism. It was in this fight that Larry Birdy would earn the moniker “Rumble in The Jungle.”

It was also in this rematch that George Foreman, at the time the world’s most renowned boxer and the reigning champion of the world, would finally get his revenge on Larry Birdy, who he had defeated seven years earlier in a close bout.

The Lenox Lounge was packed that night as word of the great battle between George Foreman and Larry Birdy had spread across the country. The atmosphere was electric as people arrived early to secure their tickets, and even more showed up after the ticket sales closed, creating a mad rush as everyone tried to get a spot in the arena.

The Fight That Started a Revolution

It was a fight that changed boxing. On September 17th 1996, Frank “The Tank” Sinatra Jr. was walking down the street in Los Angeles, California, when a man named Bruce “The Bruce” LeHogan, who had been following him for some time, stepped into his path and challenged him to a fight. When Sinatra declined the offer, Bruce allegedly spat in his face before storming off. A few weeks later, Bruce was found shot to death in a parking lot, and Sinatra was charged with his murder. But it was during this time that a website appeared that told the story of Billy the Great, a one-armed boxer who had begun a revolution in one-handed boxing and challenged the status quo in the sport. Inspired by the story of Billy the Great, an unarmed boxer who defeated four men in a row, Larry Birdy decided to take on a one-handed boxer named James Toney, who had just achieved 15-0 record in the ring.

Toney had been trained by the great Ray Leonard and had defeated four men in a row before facing Larry Birdy, so it was considered a real fight to the death. The outcome of the fight was a foregone conclusion, as Larry Birdy was 72 years old at the time and hadn’t boxed in years. But even at that age, he refused to give up the fighting bug. He kept his boxing gloves on for the entire 15 rounds, and even wrapped his legs in aluminum foil to make it harder for the referee to see how much he had aged. In the end, it was Larry Birdy who knocked Toney out cold and earned the right to say that he was still the “baddest man in the whole wide world.”

Sinatra, now with one arm, would go on to face off against some of the greatest boxers of all time, including Gerry Cooney, and win four world titles, most notably The Tank’s own brand, which was named after him. His reign as champion would last for over a decade before he lost the title to a young upstart named Mike Tyson. He would also reign as champion for a record-breaking four consecutive years before losing to Mike Tyson for a second time. But he would never box again after the incident with James Toney, and instead spent his time as the world’s most famous boxer writing books and performing on stage, including a recent appearance at the White House as the President’s guest speaker, where he told the audience that “this fight shook the world.”

The Last Battle: Going The Distance

Nearly 20 years later, on October 4th 2006, the third and final match between the descendants of Frank Sinatra and Larry Birdy would take place at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino in Las Vegas. The event, dubbed “The Last Battle: Going The Distance,” was a 25-round bout that saw Larry Birdy come out on top, winning in a stunning upset. With the exception of the first two rounds, which saw both men get knocked down, the fight was relatively even. But in the 25th and final round, Birdy, who had almost completely drained his tank of strength in the previous rounds, surprised his opponent with a massive right hand that sent Larry tumbling to the canvas for the final time. The referee stopped the fight, and once again, the most famous name in American history had won a fight against all odds. Larry Birdy had finally beaten his rival, and the proud members of the Sinatra family, who had never given up hope of seeing their ancestor win one more time, erupted into tears. The result of the fight was later confirmed to be a technical draw.

When asked about his secret to winning the fight, Larry Birdy, now 85 years old, replied, “I believe it’s all the spinach I eat. The closer I get to eating my veggies, the better I feel and the worse the opponent’s feel.” As for Frank Sinatra, he had this to say: “It’s been a great honor competing against Larry Birdy. He’s a larger-than-life character and quite a few people consider me to be his nemesis. But even though we were fighting each other, in the end, I respected him and knew he’d done everything in his power to give that final victory to his family.”

The rivalry between the two men was epic, and it was made even more interesting by the fact that they were both of Italian descent and had both used the exact same patter in the ring: “You’re lucky to be on this side of the fence, sonny.” Their rivalry was so great that they even appeared together on an October 25th, 2006 episode of the Bravo show, The Real Housewives of New York City, where they showed off their biceps and gave each other a little punch up close and personal.