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50 years of heavyweight fights we missed out on (1970-2020)

George Foreman Joe Frazier Larry Holmes Lennox Lewis Mike Tyson Muhammad Ali Riddick Bowe Tyson Fury Vitali Klitschko Wladimir Sidorenko

By Gav Duthie: There are far more important things in the world going on right now than the biggest boxing fights not happening. The sport like everything else is on hold at the moment whilst the world fights the global pandemic coronavirus. The biggest fight in the heavyweight division today is an undisputed unification match between Lineal champion Tyson Fury and Anthony Joshua. Eddie Hearn has said this fight has to happen and will happen. Negotiations will resume when we are past this period but there are obstacles in Deontay Wilder seeking a trilogy with Fury and Kubrat Pulev the mandatory challenger for Joshua. In truth we want this fight to happen but it is not a given that it will. Here are 10 huge fights in heavyweight boxing over the last 50 years that seemed destined to happen but failed to materialise.

George Foreman v Earnie Shavers

Two of the hardest punchers of all time who boxed in the same era but never fought. It would have been a promoters dream to make this fight and an easy sell. Sure it wouldn’t have lasted long but it would have been great viewing. This bout had years to come together, it could easily have featured anytime between 1970 and 1977 but it never did. Shavers boasted 68 knockouts from 74 wins with George the same amount from 75 wins.

Why Not?

As good as Shavers was he was fragile and shot himself in the foot figuratively speaking a few times in his career blowing potential big fights. For example in 1973 he gained huge notoriety blasting away Jimmy Ellis with a huge uppercut in the first round but then 6 months later was stopped by Jerry Quarry in just one round also. In 1974 he lost to journeyman Bob Stallings (21-24 record) on points moving him a further step back. He came close to stopping Ron Lyle in 1975 but he rallied to beat Shavers in round 6 and then Lyle got the Foreman fight (one of the greatest ever) the next year. After Foreman lost to Jimmy Young in 1977 he retired until 10 years later. Shavers had two of his best years in 78 and 79 stopping Ken Norton in one round and nearly defeating Larry Holmes but as mentioned Foreman had retired. By the time Foreman came back in 87 Shavers was irrelevant although he did come back in 87 and 95. Basically it feels like ships passing in the night.

What would have happened?

Although these are arguably the two hardest punchers ever Shavers was nowhere near Foreman in terms of chin. Foreman would have likely destroyed Shavers early if they went for a slugfest. Maybe Shavers power would cause some problems but Foreman was just superior and his uppercuts would have torn through him.

Muhammad Ali v Teofilo Stevenson

Being from Cuba Stevenson never even fought a professional fight so why even mention it? Because it actually nearly happened. Stevenson won over 300 amateur fights and was a 3 time Olympic gold medalist in 1972, 1976 and 1980. Cuba did not even compete in 1984 and 1988 so Stevenson may have even achieved more. Don King attempted to produce some magic and get the two in the ring together. Fidel Castro even agreed to the contest but wanted 5×3 round fights instead of one 15 round contest. In the end it never came to pass.

Why didn’t it happen?

Stevenson was never going to turn professional and was an icon for Cuba and the revolution right up until his death in 2012. He was allegedly offered 2 million in 1976 after his second Olympic win and 5 million in 78 but without agreeing to how the fight would work or where it would take place it was a non-starter.

What would have happened?

It needs to be mentioned that Stevenson was a good 10 years younger than Ali and that the greatest was well past his best by 1978. It might seem ridiculous for an amateur to fight for a world title fight in their first pro fight but it actually happened with Pete Rademacher facing Floyd Patterson with Floyd easily despatching him. Even Vasyl Lomachenko came undone going for a title in his second pro fight so going from 3 round fights to 15 would have been a stretch. Saying that could Ali have likely fought 3 rounds again? I imagine a 15 round fight would have went the distance but Ali would have won due to his conditioning and he was the benefit of some very questionable decisions post Frazier 3 like Ken Norton 3, Earnie Shavers and Jimmy Young.

Joe Frazier v Ken Norton

Only two men beat Muhammad Ali in his prime Joe Frazier and Ken Norton. They also had other shared opponents like Jerry Quarry, George Foreman and Ron Stander but they never faced each other. It would truly have been a great fight if the two were in their prime and a war. The two men sparred each other many times and Frazier was quoted saying he felt Norton could cause Ali some problems.

Why didn’t it happen?

Despite Norton having a respectable (29-1) record when he defeated Ali in 1973 he wasn’t a big name in the slightest. His wins up to this point were against journeyman fighters so wouldn’t have been mentioned to fight Frazier for his title. Both men were also trained by Eddie Futch and were good friends so chose not to face each other.

What would have happened?

Norton is one of my favourite fighters but I only see a Frazier win here. It would like have been similar to Frazier v Quarry where they would stand in the pocket snd Norton would be worn down. Norton had a good Archie Moore style defence and could box but he could easily get drawn into a fight and he couldn’t box Frazier for 15 rounds. I see Frazier winning in about rounds 8-10.

Larry Holmes v George Foreman

Big George features in this 3 times but this is the fight that really should have happened because I really don’t know how it would have gone. When Reggie Jackson pointed out to Larry that they didn’t fight in the Champions Forever documentary he said ‘thank God’. Looking back George was 28 when he retired in 1977 and 38 when he returned in 1987. This missed out the entire prime career of Larry Holmes. It’s a real shame because Holmes didn’t have a legitimate dance partner in the early 80s and he was a bit too young when George was champion earlier. Had George fought in these ten years i’d imagine these guys fighting a trilogy due to the lack of competition. Of course they could have met in the 90s but it just wasn’t to be.

Why didn’t it happen?

It could only really have conceivably happened in the early 90s and was another case of bad timing. Holmes briefly retired in 88 after losing to Tyson and came back in 91. Foreman fought 19 times in 1989 and 1990. Although in hindsight Big George’s accomplishment in his mid 40s is one of the greatest in boxing history he was considered well past it up until that achievement, Holmes was the same although he beat Ray Mercer in the early 90s. Any contest between these two from 90-95 would have been seen as a contest between two has beens. It was ok putting a youngster against him eg Mercer v Holmes, Holyfield v Foreman, Morrison v Foreman, Holyfield v Holmes but there wouldn’t have been a huge appetite to see them meet by this point.

What would have happened?

Very hard to predict. Holmes will tell anyone who listens that his jab was better than Ali’s and its hard to disagree. That being said Holmes could let you in. Norton got to him, so did Shavers. If he chose to fight George the big man would likely knock him out. If Holmes stuck to a plan like Ali or Jimmy Young he could keep him away. I would see George winning in the 90s but not sure about the 80s. Unfortunately we will never know.

Mike Tyson v George Foreman

Other than Bowe v Lewis not happening there are countless articles on why this fight never happened. It was talked about. Don King fancied it and there are contrary rumours as to why it didn’t happen. Again like Shavers this would have been a contest between two of the biggest punchers of all time but also the two most feared (possibly Sonny Liston as a contender). This couldn’t have failed to have been a good fight and a case of who could knock out who. It certainly isn’t a prime George we are talking about in the early 90s but he was good enough to ask serious questions.

Why didn’t it happen?

The closest to this happening was a comeback fight for Tyson after his loss to Douglas. Foreman’s comeback was derided by fans and journalists but a big knockout over Gerry Cooney in early 90 gave him a little bit of credibility. There was appetite for the fight. Some sources said Tyson was scared of him others said he was happy to beat up an old man but anyway it didn’t happen. Tyson was a real student of the sport, Cus D’Amato made you study the legends so it is quite possible he didn’t fancy George, he certainly would not have been able to intimidate him. Tyson chose to face Henry Tillman instead (Tillman had beaten Tyson twice as an amateur). Tyson destroyed him in the 1st round. After a few more fights Tyson went to jail meaning a 3 year void with Foreman going in a different direction.

What would have happened?

Its actually a tough one to call for me. Its easy to pick Tyson because he was young but I feel Tyson needed fear in his opponents sometimes. Foreman would not have been scared of Tyson. George also had one of the best chins ever and would have definitely caught Tyson with uppercuts as he tried to bob and weave in. I’m sure Mike would have won this on points though like Holyfield and Morrison did just through outworking him but as always if Foreman caught you it was game over.

Riddock Bowe v Mike Tyson

Bowe had one of the brightest but briefest shining lights in heavyweight history. He was incredible for 3 years predominantly when Tyson was in jail. Bowe’s first big win was in 92 against Holyfield. He was 31-0 prior to that but all against relatively unknown fighters and Mike was already in jail by this point. For some reason when he got out Holyfield was always the big one despite Bowe being 2-1 up in the Evander trilogy. Between 92 and 95 Bowe beat Holyfield x2, Mike Dokes as well as 3 undefeated fighters in a row in Larry Donald, Herbie Hide and Jorge Luis Gonzalez but by 96 he was a spent force. He won back to back fights against Andrew Galota but looked awful and only won through DQ because Galota was unhinged. He retired in 96 aged just 29. Bowe came back a few times after the Millenium but to no great success.

What would have happened?

There was a small window for this to have happened in 95 or 96 maybe even in 1990 when Bowe was a prospect. If they had fought when Tyson was in jail I would pick Bowe. He had an excellent jab but was great on the inside and hard to shift. Tyson liked fighting guys with his style but was Bowe strong enough to push him back where others failed?

Lennox Lewis v Riddock Bowe

This is probably the most famous fights to never have occurred. Lewis stopped Bowe at the 88 Olympics in Seoul and was WBC mandatory challenger after Big Daddy Bowe beat Holyfield. At a press conference though Bowe dropped the belt in the bin as opposed to fighting Lewis on the advice on Don King. It would have been a great fight. Lewis had the win over Bowe at amateur level but wasn’t a huge name at the time. This is why King perhaps wanted to swerve it in favour of a more lucrative match with Holyfield. It could have been a good fight. Bowe was in his prime 92-95 whilst was still reaching his peak in the pro game. This is arguably the greatest rivalry that never was. There is still animosity between the two. Today Lennox net worth is valued at 140,000,000 whilst Bowe is 30,000 and there is needle everytime they meet. Bowe even talked about a comeback before the coronavirus pandemic.

Why Didn’t it happen?

We have discussed the belt in the bin but less reported is that they did actually agree to fight on at least two occasions after this. Bowe had decided that he would take the fight. Before the fight for Lewis WBC title both men had tune ups that turned into disasters. Lewis was knocked out by Oliver McCall (24-5) who was seen as a soft opponent and Bowe had a no contest against Buster Mathis Jnr after he hit him when he was already down. They had also tentatively agreed to a non-title fight in 1996 after Lewis faced Mercer (controversial win) and Bowe won his DQ over Galota. Bowe opted for a rematch with Galota after because of the controversial win so Lewis v Bowe never happened. Lewis took a rematch with Oliver McCall and beat him in probably the most bizarre fight in boxing history. Bowe retired soon after his second lacklustre Galota performance.

What would have happened?

Around the time Bowe ducked Lewis the Brit was making his name destroying American Donovan Ruddock and outpointing Tony Tucker. Lewis to me always seemed to be a similar but quicker version of the same fighter as Bowe but Riddock had the edge with his chin. Its a hard one to predict but I would lean towards Lewis.

Lennox Lewis v Ike Ibeabuchi

This was never really in any serious discussion but it was definitely a fight that garners forum chat. Ibeabuchi was considered the heavyweight bogeyman in the late 90s but has predominantly been in prison since the turn of the century. In many ways this adds to the mystique and aura of Ibeabuchi in boxing terms as he finished undefeated but he is a seriously troubled man. He had a bit of the Mike Tyson fear about him and troubled Sonny Liston character but he committed terrible crimes and was an erratic schizophrenic so is best away from the sport. This fight would have been a case of whether Lennox could stand up to the power of Ibeabuchi and if he could outbox him for 12 rounds.

Why didn’t it happen?

The main reason is that Ibeabuchi went to jail in 2000. Lewis fought David Tua in that year and given Ibeabuchi had beaten Tua in a compubox record for punches thrown at the time he could have got the fight instead. After Tua Ibeabuchi got his greatest win with a savage stoppage over Chris Byrd in 1999. The only other time it could have happened was in 98 after the Tua fight but Lewis fought Shannon Briggs and his little known mandatory Zeljko Mavrovic (27-0) before his duo with Holyfield in 1999 with Ibeabuchi fighting in 1998 twice against novice journeyman in what was a wasted year.

What would have happened?

Unfortunately I see a fairly straightforward UD win for Lewis here. Thats what he did to Tua and The Nigerian Nightmare would have found it just as difficult to get close. I watched the Byrd fight recently and although Ibeabuchi caught up to him Byrd makes him look very average at times with his jab and angles. That being said he did catch up to him and maybe could have done the same to Lennox but if I had to bet my mortgage it would go on Lewis.

Wladimir Klitschko v Vitaly Klitschko

A ridiculous fantasy matchup between two brothers. It was never going to happen but it would have been amazing. There was a time when the brothers owned all 4 belts so it could have been a unification. Best in the family and best of the entire era. We can only debate now who was the better of the two. Fights between brothers has happened in boxing in the past. Kusou Eguchi stopped his brother Katsuaki in 6 rounds for the vacant Japanese title back in the early 90s and around the same time Marty Jakubowski (50-1) at the time stopped his brother Erik Jakubowski who was only (3-0) novice. The story for that one was that they had travelled together for a fight for Erik but after his opponent pulled out Erik said he would step in after a few beers.

Why didn’t it happen?

They would certainly have made a lot of money. Wladimir always says though that “you can’t put a price on a mothers love”. Promoters could have offered all the money in the world but they made enough fighting others. They apparently used to have anazing sparring sessions in their younger days but even that was stopped as they became more established. Wladimir has to go down as the best of the era just because of longevity. Despite Vitaly being older they turned professional in the same year. Vitaly had 4 years out between 2004-2008 due to a knee injury and he retired 5 years before Wladimir. Who was better though is a different question.

What would have happened?

It can be argued that Vitaly never legitimately lost a fight. He has two defeats on his ledger the first after a torn shoulder against Chris Byrd and second a fight stopped on cuts against Lennox Lewis. Vitaly was ahead on the cards in both fights. Wladimir was probably the best technician but Vitaly was tougher and more resilient. I’m a bigger fN of Wladimir but I think Vitaly would win this by stoppage.

Tyson Fury v David Haye

This bout was going to happen I had tickets for it. It was signed for the second half of 2013. At the time Haye was a year past stopping Derek Chisora and Fury had fought a barnstormer against Steve Cunningham where he hit the canvas before stopping the American. At the time Fury was still a prospect, he had been dropped a couple of times and gained a questionable decision over John McDermott. Haye was an established ex cruiserweight and heavyweight champion. Haye loved to make money fighting British fighters because of the pay per view interest and felt his speed was the key as did many others. This would have been so interesting to see if Haye would have got Fury at the right time or if the Gypsy King would have proved his talent before his 2015 win against Klitschko by beating Haye instead.

Why didn’t it happen?

It was officially scheduled twice and Haye pulled out with injuries on both occasions. One was due to a cut on his head from an alleged sparring with then amateur and now heavyweight prospect Filip Hrgovic. The other was a torn shoulder muscle which required surgery. The injury kept Haye out of the ring for 3 years in total and wasn’t the same fighter upon his return. Once Haye came back fit Fury proclaimed he eould never fight Haye. He felt cheated and damaged following the two call offs both financially and mentally. It all worked out for him in the end though of course.

What would have happened?

At the time I was adamant that Haye would win. He was small but he had already beaten Nikoly Valuev who was a bit taller than Fury. At the time the gypsy king was also susceptible to right hands so I felt Haye could get in and out. Now I wonder if Fury would just have found a way to win like he always does. He wasn’t as polished as he is today but he might have just bullied Haye and smothered his work. It was an interesting contest and I think it is now more regrettable for Haye than Fury that it didn’t happen.

Summary

Despite so many huge fights not taking place in the 1970s and 1990s they are still seen as the two best eras in heavyweight history. In conclusion not all the fights did need to happen because there were so many good alternatives. Maybe Foreman didn’t fight Shavers but he fought Ron Lyle instead giving us one of the best fights ever. Or Mike Tyson didn’t fight Riddock Bowe but we might then not have seen his brilliant teo fights against Holyfield. These eras were packed with talent and not just the main men, the supporting casts were also great. It is not the same today. The same cannot be said of the Klitschko era or boxing in 2020. We need to see Fury v Joshua because there is not much else that can appease the fans.


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