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May 29, 2019

Fights that Never Were

by Matt O'Brien

An edited version of this article was originally published on TheFightCity.com on May 28th, 2019: https://www.thefightcity.com/boxing-heartache-fans/

Surveying the 2019 boxing landscape, there are some brilliant fights to be made: Spence vs. Crawford at welterweight; Lomachenko vs. Garcia at lightweight; a round robin between Wilder, Fury and Joshua at heavyweight; and a much-needed Canelo vs. Golovkin trilogy fight at middleweight, to name a few. Whether or not we will actually get to see any of these is another question entirely, of course. Unfortunately, one of the downsides to being a boxing fan is that we don’t always get to see the best fights get made.

With that being said, here’s five of the best fights that we didn’t get to see over the last 30 years, according to three categories: Fights that should have happened; rematches that should have happened; and fights that did happen, but at the wrong time.

The Ones That Got Away

Lennox Lewis vs. Riddick Bowe

This one is surely the most infamous non-event of recent times. Lewis had stopped Bowe in the 1988 Olympic final, and it looked like the two were on a collision course as pros. But after Lewis destroyed Razor Ruddock in a WBC final eliminator and Bowe took the undisputed championship from Holyfield, Bowe’s team made an extortionate 90-10 purse split demand, and when Lewis refused the offer Bowe dumped his WBC belt in a trash can. Later, Lewis’ surprise defeat to Oliver McCall scuppered another planned bout, and the fight was finally killed off when Bowe looked so awful in DQ wins over Andrew Golota it forced his retirement.

Roy Jones Jnr. vs. Dariusz Michalczewksi

There are two types of boxing fans: those who refer to Jones as the former “undisputed” light-heavyweight champion, and those who know that he never really was. Despite being the world’s best pound-for-pound boxer, Jones’ reluctance to travel abroad after his dreadful Olympic experience in Korea, combined with Michalczewksi’s contentment to defend his WBO and lineal crown in Germany, meant that the American never actually faced his most significant rival at 175lbs. And while few would have picked against a peak Jones, at least he would have been in a real fight for once.

Felix Trinidad vs. Ike Quartey

For several years “Tito” Trinidad and “Bazooka” Quartey stood as rival, undefeated champs in a stacked 90s welterweight division. Both men could box and bang, with Quartey carrying one of the best jabs in boxing and Trinidad bringing one of the most devastating left hooks. It’s easy to imagine the styles blending beautifully in this one to produce a top-drawer contest of technical skills and explosive punching. It would have been fascinating to see who would emerge victorious from the ensuing carnage, but sadly, despite the fight almost being sealed at one point, politics and Don King meant it never came to fruition.

Juan Manuel Marquez vs. Erik Morales

The spectacular Barrera-Morales-Pacquiao-Marquez rivalry delivered some absolute classics, and this Mexican civil war would almost certainly have added another one to the collection. Unfortunately, although their careers largely overlapped, their respective peaks didn’t quite match: while Morales was blazing a trail in the late 90s, Marquez was struggling to gain recognition, and by the time Marquez was really hitting his stride in the noughties, Morales’ career was already winding down. They did almost reach an agreement to fight in 2011, but Morales was well over the hill by that point, and it wouldn’t have meant the same.

Manny Pacquiao vs. Edwin Valero

Tales of how well Valero acquitted himself in the gym versus some of the world’s best fighters helped fuel the Venezuelan’s almost mythical reputation, and his undefeated, perfect KO record further bolstered his image as one of boxing’s most formidable forces. Meanwhile, Pacquiao tore through every division from featherweight to welterweight in probably the most impressive run in modern boxing history. With Valero steadily climbing the weights after him, an explosive meeting between the pair was almost inevitable – until Valero murdered his wife and then committed suicide while in police custody, in 2010.

Unfinished Business

Oscar De La Hoya vs. Felix Trinidad

On paper Oscar vs. Tito was a dream superfight, but under the lights neither man really performed. As well as the action failing to live up to the massive hype, controversy over the judges’ verdict only compounded the sense of disappointment. A rematch at 154lbs, with both men looking to redeem themselves after the lacklustre showing first time around, would have helped settle the argument and likely given fans a much more entertaining scrap. The fact that it never happened is an absolute travesty, and both must surely look back with regret for letting personal pride over the purse split take precedence over their ring rivalry.

Pernell Whitaker vs. Julio Cesar Chavez

The word “robbery” gets thrown around a lot in boxing, and most of the time it’s a huge exaggeration. But not here. In a fight that pitted two all-time greats against each other, the world watched WBC welterweight champion, Pernell Whitaker (32-1), outpoint WBC light-welterweight champion, Julio Cesar Chavez (87-0). The performance cemented Whitaker’s place as the best pound-for-pound fighter on the planet, even though the victory was stolen from him. How the judges called it a draw is a still mystery; the fact they never rematched to put things straight in the official record books is a crying shame.

Marco Antonio Barrera vs. Naseem Hamed

A lot of boxing fans revelled in Naz’s humbling at the hands of Barrera. The cocky Englishman talked a big game, and for a long time he backed it up – but he met his match in a disciplined, masterful performance from Barrera. “I’ll come back and beat him,” promised Naz, in his post-fight interview. For those fans who had followed the Prince throughout his career, Hamed’s failure to even try and even the score was almost more disappointing than the defeat itself. Instead of invoking the rematch clause, he took a year out, looked awful in a single comeback performance, and then faded into obscurity, leaving us to wonder what might have been.

Chris Eubank vs. Nigel Benn III

Talk about two men having “unfinished business.” After Eubank stopped Benn in a titanic struggle for the WBO middleweight belt in 1990, they rematched three years later in a WBO/WBC unification fight at super middle, in front of nearly 50,000 fans at Old Trafford football stadium. At the end of another engrossing fight, most observers thought Eubank was very lucky to earn a draw and escape with his belt; Benn was devastated. A third fight would have been epic and looked like a no-brainer, but never came off. Their battle as Roman gladiators years later was entertaining television, though hardly an adequate substitute.

Roy Jones Jnr. vs. James Toney

When they met in 1994, Toney was the IBF 168lb champion and regarded as one of the best fighters in the world, yet Jones made his unanimous decision victory look easy. Some said Toney’s ill-discipline and battle with the scales had cost him the fight; afterwards his career stagnated while Jones excelled. By 2003 “Superman” RJJ had claimed a version of the heavyweight title and Toney was also back in form, having re-established himself as the IBF cruiserweight champ. A rematch between them around that time would have been fascinating, but the chance passed by when Jones moved back to 175 and was knocked out by Antonio Tarver, losing his titles and his aura of invincibility.

Right Fight, Wrong Time

Floyd Mayweather vs. Manny Pacquiao

In late 2009, Pacquiao stopped Miguel Cotto to earn a seventh divisional title and wide recognition as the fighter of the decade. His only competition for title of the world’s best boxer was from Mayweather, the former pound-for-pound king who’d recently returned from a mini-retirement. A fight in early 2010 was the perfect match, rivalling any in modern history in terms of pure pugilistic pedigree. But after Pacquiao refused Mayweather’s drug-testing demands, it sparked years of finger-pointing and tiresome rounds of “he said, she said” in the media. When they finally met in 2015, it was better late than never – though many still argue the result would have been different five years earlier.

Lennox Lewis vs. Mike Tyson

Tyson’s trainer Cus D’Amato famously prophesized that the two young sparring partners would one day meet for the heavyweight championship of the world. He was right – but it came almost a decade too late. First, Tyson’s stint in prison in the early 90s took him out of the picture. Then, after regaining the WBC championship in 1995, Tyson opted to pay Lewis – the WBC’s No. 1 contender – $4 million “step aside money” so he could fight WBA champ Bruce Seldon instead. Afterwards, Tyson vacated the WBC belt rather than defend against Lewis, and was subsequently beaten by Holyfield. When they finally fought for Lewis’ titles in 2002, it was still a massive event, but by then Tyson was a shell of his former self.

Mike Tyson vs. Evander Holyfield

The best-laid plans go awry, as they say. At least, they do if you schedule a Tyson-Holyfield, multi-million-dollar showdown, but forget to send the memo to James “Buster” Douglas. Tyson, the undefeated, undisputed heavyweight champion, had agreed to meet Holyfield, the former undisputed cruiserweight champion, in June 1990 – in what would have been the richest fight in history. All Tyson had to do first was travel to Japan and get past 40-1 outsider, Buster Douglas, in February. But Douglas shocked the world, wrecking the planned megafight. Tyson and Holyfield did finally meet in 1996, and this time it was Evander’s turn to shock the world. Many will argue Holyfield always had Tyson’s number, but who can really say what would have happened if Douglas hadn’t got in the way? We’ll never truly know.

Joe Calzaghe vs. Roy Jones Jnr.

Calzaghe’s long and sometimes disappointing reign as WBO super middleweight champion was eventually punctuated with fine unification wins over Jeff Lacy and Mikkel Kessler, and he ended his career by scalping two great American names at light-heavyweight, in Bernard Hopkins and Roy Jones. But while both wins were welcome additions to the Welshman’s record, they could have meant so much more had they taken place a few years earlier. The fight was mooted in 2002, and Jones even called out Calzaghe after defeating another Brit, Clinton Woods, but then opted to challenge himself at heavyweight instead. By the time they fought in 2008, Jones, at 39 and after two knockout defeats, was a badly diminished fighter.

Bernard Hopkins vs. Roy Jones Jnr. II 

Hopkins and Jones first met for the vacant IBF middleweight championship in 1993, a fight Jones won via clear decision. By 2002 they were widely regarded as the best two fighters in the world, with Jones sitting as the WBC/WBA/IBF 175lb champion and Hopkins holding the same belts at 160. A rematch seemed only natural. Instead, after both men defended their belts in separate locations on the same night, fans were treated to a shouting match over the HBO airwaves, refereed by Larry Merchant. Jones insisted on a “60-40” split; Hopkins refused, and the fight didn’t happen. When they eventually did rematch in 2010, it was a sad spectacle: both men were in their 40s and Jones’ once dazzling skills were shot to pieces.

 

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