13.06.06 - By James Slater: The magnificent performance by Bernard Hopkins this past Saturday must also stand as a very fine boxing comeback. More than a few had written off "The Executioner" due to his back-to-back losses to Jermain Taylor. But 'Nard came back, some six months later, to win a new world title - in a new weight division. A hell of a good return to form if ever there was one. But what are the greatest ever comebacks in boxing's (modern era) history? And who were the fighters who managed to achieve them? In this article I list my ten choices for the fighters who deserve the distinction as the producers of the finest returns to the very top in the sport.
In reverse order, my ten are as follows.
10. Oscar De La Hoya.
"The Golden Boy" made the mistake of moving up too far in weight and in a quite audacious attempt at winning Bernard Hopkins' middleweight title he was KO'd in nine rounds. This defeat marked the first and only inside the distance loss on Oscar's resume and it was almost two years before he fought again.. When he did comeback, this May, many predicted that the comfortable lifestyle De la Hoya had been living would leave him with little chance of defeating the man he had chosen as his comeback opponent. Oscar wasn't messing about - he went straight into a world title fight, and against a very dangerous fighter in the Nicaraguan Ricardo Mayorga at that. What he achieved with a flawless performance was quite amazing. The usual laws regarding ring-rust did not apply to Oscar and he collected yet another world title - the WBC light middleweight belt in this case. A superb example of a fighter coming back to regain his old form.
9. Iran Barkley.
Iran "The Blade" Barkley had been badly blunted in his fight with Britain's Nigel Benn. Iran, recovering from retina surgery, was stopped in one brutal round and practically everyone wrote him off. Who could have possibly believed then, that two years after the disastrous encounter with Benn, Barkley would capture another two world titles? And at different weights to boot! The incredibly tough native of The Bronx, New York managed to do just this in 1992 when he defeated both Darrin Van Horn and former victim Thomas Hearns. These wins earned Iran titles at super middle and light heavyweight respectively. This magnificent return to the very top also gave Barkley the comeback fighter of the year award for'92 in Ring magazine.
8. James Toney.
The fighting days of James "Lights Out" Toney appeared to be all but over after his embarrassing loss to archrival Roy Jones Jnr. Toney, it seemed, had eaten himself out of a career. His ability at controlling his ballooning weight between bouts had gotten out of control and in the Jones fight he looked lethargic and bloated. He was thoroughly out-pointed over the twelve rounds. Afterwards James went off the rails. Firstly he threatened then manager Jackie Kallen, and then he lost two fights to Montell Griffin. More than a few experts figured he was pretty much done at top level. But, after another loss - to the unheralded Drake Thadzi - James turned his life around and rededicated himself to training. With new promotional team Goossen Tutor behind him, "Lights Out" got a crack at a world title up at cruiserweight, which was a far more comfortable weight class for him. He defeated the excellent Vassiliy Jirov in a stirring bout and collected the IBF crown. James then made the jump to heavyweight and became only the second man to stop legendary former champ Evander Holyfield, with a win that put the finishing touches on an incredible 2003 for a fighter who had cut a somewhat sad figure only a few years before.
7. Sugar Ray Robinson.
Sugar Ray had more than earned the accolade as the finest boxer in history pound-for pound, as a welterweight and a middleweight. But Ray wanted more. He moved up to light heavyweight and in June of 1952 challenged Joey Maxim for his world title. Robinson was way ahead on the scorecards, but going into the latter rounds of the fight - fought under a temperature of 104 degrees - Robinson hit the wall. He was suffering from heat prostration and had to quit on his stool at the end of thirteen rounds. Sugar Ray announced his retirement afterwards. It stuck for two and a half years. But then in 1955, after a points defeat to Ralph "Tiger" Jones, Robinson recaptured his middleweight championship. With a swift two round KO over Carl "Bobo" Olsen, Sugar Ray was the king of the world once again. A fine comeback, and one that led to the fights for which Robison is possibly best known and admired today.
6. Roberto Duran.
Roberto Duran was humiliated in his 1980 return fight with Sugar Ray Leonard, held in New Orleans. "Hands of Stone" mumbled those infamous words "No Mas" and quit in round eight. A very uncertain future as a prize fighter awaited him as a result. It took time - nearly three years - but Roberto managed to once again ascend to the summit of world boxing. And although the memory of his shocking act continued to haunt him for quite some time afterwards, Duran went a long way towards restoring his reputation in his 1983 fight with young light middleweight ruler Davey Moore. An underdog going in, Duran gave Moore a brutal beating over eight rounds to take his belt. In the process, Roberto had done something which had not looked at all likely immediately after his stunning fight at the Super Dome in Louisiana. Duran's hands of stone had picked up his third world title.
5. Eder Jofre
The fine Boxer from Brazil had a simply remarkable career. He was the undefeated Bantamweight king from 1962 to '65 and he later won both the featherweight and super featherweight championships. Jofre lost his bantamweight title to Japanese boxer Fighting Harada in May of 1965 and after losing a return bout the following year he retired. Only to come back over three years later. Eder captured the featherweight title in 1973 by defeating Jose Legra from Cuba and then moved up a division and won the super featherweight championship, from the Mexican, Vincente Saldivar, later the same year! And all this was achieved at the advanced age of thirty-seven. The super feather weight title was never lost in the ring either - he was stripped for failure to defend. In fact, the only man to ever beat Jofre was Harada. Eder retired in 1976 with a brilliant 72 - 2 -4 record. He was never KO'd. It is actually a hard task trying to pick only one of his fistic achievements as the most impressive. The return to form he found in 1973 must rank highly, however.
4. Evander Holyfield.
"The Real Deal" was in a great deal of trouble in his 1994 fight with Michael Moorer. A tired looking Evander was out pointed over twelve rounds and lost his heavyweight title as a consequence. But the later reports of a suspected heart attack suffered by Holyfield while in the ring served to tell us all how much more serious the consequences could have been. This shocking news was actually somewhat ironic, for Evander was a fighter known for his incredible fitness. The fact that something as horrible as a heart attack could have happened to him was very depressing news. He retired from boxing shortly afterwards. But then, two years later, "The warrior" came back and set about regaining his championship. The fact that he did so, by KO'ing massive betting favourite Mike Tyson in November 1996, is nothing short of logic defying. Many newspapers openly expressed concerns about Evander's health when the fight was announced. But it was Mike Tyson who was to suffer. Holyfield's great comeback was a true feel good moment from the sport of boxing.
3. Sugar Ray Leonard.
The concerns over the health of Ray Leonard were also big news when the former welterweight and light middleweight champion announced how he was going to challenge Marvellous Marvin Hagler for Marvellous' middleweight title. It was the risk of blindness that so worried the experts and fans alike in the case of Sugar Ray. Ray had been forced to retire in 1982 due to retina trouble and now, in 1987,after a poor showing in his previous comeback effort against Kevin Howard three years previously, Ray was going in with the ferocious Hagler. Was he nuts? Most people thought so, but Sugar Ray rolled back the years and boxed his way to a dazzling points win over the twelve rounds. It was a huge upset. And no-one was more upset that Marvin Hagler He refuses to accept the defeat to this very day, as do many of his fans. But surely no-one can deny the brilliance of Leonard's skill and talent in coming back to face the best, some five years after his last dominating performance?
2. Muhammad Ali.
Many will no doubt be surprised to see Ali anywhere other than at the very top of this list. And it was hard not putting him there after his remarkable return to glory in 1974. Forced out of the sport he loved due to his religious beliefs, Ali came back in 1970 - some three and a half years after being stripped of his title in 1967 - and really set about shocking the world! Going into his fight with Big George Foreman in Zaire, Africa, hardly anyone gave him a chance at regaining his world title. Not against the all-conquering Foreman - the man who had annihilated the only two men to have ever beaten The Greatest! Both Joe Frazier and Ken Norton had been dispatched in two short rounds by George, yet the pair of them had beaten Ali. What chance did Muhammad have then, against such a destructive and murderous hitter? What everyone bore witness to in October of '74 was irrefutable proof of Ali's greatness. He surprised everyone by laying on the ropes and letting Foreman punch away at him. Such crazy looking tactics, as we all know today, actually had a method in them. The stamina shortcomings that George had were the factor Ali was gambling on and his risky approach paid off. He soaked up everything George could throw at him and then, in the eighth round, Ali moved from the ropes and with blinding speed combined with power and accuracy, let loose with a stunning combination. George hit the mat, was counted out, and Muhammad Ali was back where he belonged!
1. George Foreman.
Big George ranks as high as number one, due in large part, to the age he was when he pulled off his once-in-a lifetime comeback. Foreman really had no business even fighting, the "experts" said. Not at his age. "Come on", they argued, "the man is nearly fifty!" Yes, they had saluted George for his heroic effort against Evander Holyfield, but that was over three years ago and George had taken a lot of punishment in that fight. Worse still, he had been beaten to a bloody pulp by Alex Stewart since, and then been beaten by Tommy Morrison. In the fight with "The Duke", George had failed to score a single knockdown - and this against a guy who nearly everyone had sent to the canvas. Tommy's chin was not one that would rank amongst the best in boxing, that was certain. Yet George hadn't put a dent in him throughout twelve full rounds. Therefore, Foreman's only chance of beating new heavyweight king Michael Moorer - by KO -looked extremely doubtful. Sure, Moorer's chin was suspect but he was undefeated, could hit with real venom and figured to have tons of pride. Pride which he told everyone would prevent an old man like George from beating him and taking his title.
George, as he had done on a few occasions in his second career in boxing, entered the ring as an underdog.
For nine and a half rounds the doubters were proved correct. Moorer really did land some hurt on old George. A particularly powerful looking uppercut blasted George's head back in the eighth round. But Big George walked through it all. He was showing amazing heart and courage, not to mention stubbornness and a rock solid chin. This ability to take punches and pain allowed George to pull off a victory in round ten that sent shockwaves through the crowd at The MGM Grand in Las Vegas on November the 5th 1994. A straight right hand collided with Moorer's chin at about the middle portion of the round and he collapsed to the canvas. The punch, which George had somehow retrieved from his heyday, took everything out of Moorer and the count hit ten. George Foreman, as he knelt in prayer in a corner, was the new and once again HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPION OF THE WORLD! It had been a staggering twenty years since he had lost the title - to the man at number two on this list. The unforgettable miracle that came true for George surpasses even his incredible return to the top of the heavyweight division.
What George did, over ten years ago, is surely the overwhelming choice for any boxing fan when it comes to the greatest comeback in the modern day history of the sport of boxing. Big George reigns supreme as the comeback king!!!