The rematch is boxing’s gift to its fans. There are few sports in which a public mandate can help inspire a sporting event. In boxing, one good fight often calls for another. Thus, we are looking forward to return fights between Diego Corrales and Jose Luis Castillo and Bernard Hopkins and Jermain Taylor.
It is the only sport in which “rematch clause” is an accepted part of the lingo.
As much as fans may want to see the Yankees and Red Sox slug it out in the ALCS for the third straight year, the entire American League can derail that scenario. And while tennis fans were riveted when John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg dueled in U.S. Open and Wimbledon championship matches, those legends had to wade through a field of the world’s top tennis players before meeting again in the finals.
It is only in boxing that an athlete can go from fight I to fight II with little interference. The history of the sport is replete with multi-fight series that kept fans loyal to the game. There are still a fair number of rematches today, but during the sport’s Golden Age, the return match was a given. It was particularly true after a championship bout. It made sense and it made for good business.
There have been some rematches the boxing world could have done without. Mike Tyson-Frank Bruno II, Julio Caeser Chavez-Meldrick Taylor II (at least at the time it took place), and Muhammad Ali-Floyd Patterson II come to mind. For the most part, however, the return match is warranted.
While it would take far too long to research all of boxing’s great rematches, here are some interesting facts about notable rematches.
The fighter who wins the first bout by knockout will generally win the second by a faster knockout. Some examples are Rocky Marciano-Jersey Joe Walcott (KO 13, KO 1), Carlos Monzon-Nino Benvenuti (KO 12, KO 3), Joe Louis-Billy Conn (KO 13, KO 8), Aaron Pryor-Alexis Arguello (KO 14, KO 10) and Archie Moore-Yvon Durelle (KO 11, KO 3).
Some, however, managed to reverse the trend after getting knockout out. Terry Norris outpointed Simon Brown, Louis turned the tables on Max Schmeling, Willie Pep decisioned Sandy Saddler (Pep would lose two subsequent matches.) and Rocky Graziano knocked out Tony Zale in their second fight. Then Zale pulled the feat in the third bout, starching the Rock.
Few were better at avenging a loss than Ali. After his first three losses – to Joe Frazier, Ken Norton and Leon Spinks – he returned the favor in the rematch. Lennox Lewis erased the only blemishes on his ring record by knocking out Oliver McCall and Hasim Rahman and decisioning Evander Holyfield (their first fight was a draw). And Holyfield was impressive in avenging Riddick Bowe and Michael Moorer (although he’d lose a third bout to Bowe).
As great a fighter as Emile Griffith was – and we are taking an all-time great – he had mixed results in his multi-fight series. He lost the second bouts to Luis Rodriguez, Benny Paret, Denny Moyer (in Oregon), Don Fullmer (in Utah) and Monzon. He lost two of three to Benvenuti but swept the likes of Gasper Ortega, Dick Tiger, Joey Archer and Joe DeNucci (both bouts in Boston).
But hey, at least Griffith participated in rematches, no matter what the scenario or venue.
There are some fighters whom we shall call rematch manipulators. They will rematch only when it makes sense for them. Two of the biggest culprits in the last 25 years are Sugar Ray Leonard and Julio Cesar Chavez.
When Leonard lost to Roberto Duran in June of 1980, there was a rematch five months later. That is because Leonard (as well as much of the world) wanted it. Yet, when Leonard rallied to TKO Thomas Hearns in 1981, he made Hearns wait three months shy of eight years before they fought again. At that time, Leonard believed Hearns was shot but managed to escape with a draw that many observers felt he didn’t deserve. (Hearns was coming off a knockout loss to Iran Barkley and a majority decision win over James “The Heat” Kinchen.)
The only reason there was a third Duran fight – almost an entire decade after the first – was because Duran narrowly upset Barkley and Leonard knew they could split a pile of money in a low-risk third fight.
Yet, is there a reason we never saw Leonard-Marvin Hagler II or Leonard-Wilfred Benitez II? Leonard had already won and a rematch may have posed too much risk.
Few could argue with the career moves made by Leonard and his adviser, Mike Trainer. But one thing is clear: they always had the best interest of Leonard, and not boxing, first. Whether that is right or wrong is fodder for another column.
Back to the other manipulator – Chavez. Or was it his promoter, Don King?
The first Chavez-Meldrick Taylor fight was a classic and its controversial ending clearly provided enough evidence for a rematch. Somehow, it didn’t happen until four years later when Taylor was clearly a shell of himself. Perhaps King didn’t want to jeopardize a Chavez loss (he was 69-0) since the first fight would have ended a split-decision win for Taylor had he been able to finish the final two seconds.
The same theory could also apply to Chavez’s controversial draw against Pernell Whitaker in 1993. The draw left Chavez with a record of 88-0-1, still statistically unbeaten, if not figuratively.
Yet, when Frankie Randall became the first man to officially defeat Chavez in 1994, a rematch was held four months later. In that fight, Chavez escaped with a technical decision win after a headbutt produced a nasty cut in the eighth round. It was another somewhat controversial outcome that favored Chavez. A third match should have followed immediately. It didn’t. Chavez-Randall III took place a decade later with Chavez winning a unanimous decision.
Then there is the matter of Chavez’s two bouts against Oscar De La Hoya. This time Chavez was fighting for Bob Arum. While neither match was particularly compelling, the rematch took place simply because the fighters would cash in on the passing of the torch from the Mexican legend to the Mexican-American Golden Boy.
Still, the rematch remains one of the best bargains in all of sports.