With former heavyweight champ Tyson Fury 25-0 (18) returning to the ring this weekend after not fighting since November 2015, much has been written and mostly negative regarding his opponent Sefer Seferi 23-1 (21). And that’s mostly because Seferi has fought mainly as a cruiserweight and he’s not a well-known name even among hardcore fight fans. However, I’m on board with Fury’s selection and happen to believe it conveys he’s more serious regarding his effort to once again be the heavyweight champion.
Over the past 100-plus years James Jeffries, Muhammad Ali, George Foreman, Mike Tyson and Vitali Klitschko made the most chronicled comebacks among former heavyweight champions but went about it differently.
In Jeffries case, he retired in August of 1904 after making the seventh successful defense of his title. In retirement, he ballooned up more than 100 pounds above his fighting weight and was then summoned by the public to come out of retirement with the sole intent of defeating boxing’s first black heavyweight champ, Jack Johnson.
On the 4th of July, 1910, nearly six years after his last bout and after having shed 100 pounds, Jeffries, 35, fought Johnson without a single tune-up fight with a disastrous result. Jeffries was never in the fight and was stopped in the 15th round. It’s highly doubtful that had he fought a few tune-up fights before facing Johnson the result would’ve been different, but we’ll never know.
Muhammad Ali was stripped of his title in April of 1967 for refusing military induction due to his unwillingness to partake in the Vietnam War. He was idle between March of 1967 and October of 1970, 43 months in total. When his boxing license was reinstated he fought top contender Jerry Quarry in his first fight back. Other than fighting “Smokin” Joe Frazier, Ali couldn’t have chosen a tougher opponent to meet in his first comeback bout. Muhammad stopped Quarry in the third round due to an eye cut, but lost to Frazier five months later. Picking a tough opponent for the 28-year old Ali didn’t derail his comeback and eventually his ring return was successful.
George Foreman retired in 1977 at age 27 with a career record of 45-2 (42). After nearly a decade away from the ring Foreman returned and in his first bout stopped journeyman Steve Zouski in the fourth round. Foreman fought mostly has-beens and club fighters for the next four years without a loss and in April of 1991 fought Evander Holyfield for the undisputed title. He lost a decision but was very competitive.
Foreman remained active, fighting regularly on HBO, and in November of 1994 at age 45 he became the oldest fighter to win the heavyweight title when he knocked out undefeated Michael Moorer in the 10th round. Foreman’s decision to avoid facing contenders in the early stages of his comeback worked perfectly. Had he fought a top contender in one of his first few comeback bouts he could’ve lost and the successful return to boxing could well have been derailed there…….Foreman’s strategy proved to be very wise and it paid off big.
Mike Tyson was convicted of rape on February 10th 1992 and spent three years in prison. For his comeback fight after being out of the ring for nearly 50 months he chose journeyman Peter McNeeley. As many predicted, McNeeley didn’t get out of the first round and by March of 1996 Tyson owned the WBC title. Like Foreman, Tyson chose a fighter who posed no threat to him in his first return bout and it was again a wise move.
On November 9th 2005 WBC champ Vitali Klitschko retired. He was scheduled to fight Hasim Rahman but snapped his anterior cruciate ligament while sparring. With the injury needing more than a year to heal Vitali didn’t want to hold up the title and retired. After not fighting in four years, Vitali, now 37, fought WBC title holder Samuel Peter in his first comeback bout. Peter, after being thoroughly out fought and out boxed, chose not to come out after the eighth round resulting in Vitali regaining the title. Like Ali 38 years earlier, Klitschko didn’t stumble after a nearly four-year layoff against an opponent perceived to be one of the most formidable fighters in the division.
Tyson Fury fought twice in 2015, twice in 2014 and four times through 2012-2013. By today’s heavyweight standards that’s about average. When we last saw him against Wladimir Klitschko, Tyson was very fit, sharp and accurate. If he ever boxed better than he did against Wladimir, I missed the fight. However, in the ensuing months he let himself go, abusing food, alcohol and drugs. But at age 29, soon to be 30, it’s plausible he can make a successful comeback. It seems that he has shed the nearly 100 pounds he gained and is totally serious about regaining his past form.
Fury knows he stands to make a King’s ransom just for getting in the ring with Anthony Joshua. He could have fought him in his first return fight if he had chosen to do so. His name and stature carry enough weight to where the UK fans would’ve gone for it, but Fury decided to go the Foreman/Tyson route in his first fight instead of the Jeffries/Ali/Klitschko route and that conveys to me that there is a very good chance Tyson is not in it just for the one big payday.
There’s a second monster payday and a legacy awaiting Fury if he can beat Joshua when they eventually meet. In the eyes of most hardcore boxing fans, Fury isn’t considered anything more than a flash in the pan who had the right style and temperament to beat a disinterested in fighting him Wladimir Klitschko. With two undefeated, high profile title holders out there waiting for him in AJ and WBC titlist Deontay Wilder, there’s a chance Fury may be more motivated than ever before.
Had Fury never returned to the ring, he’d be remembered like Buster Douglas….a more than moderately skilled fighter who was a blip on the radar mostly remembered for one fight, something that would be turned upside down if he happens to go on to be the fighter who handed both Joshua and Wilder their first loss. No, I don’t think that will happen, but it wouldn’t be the most shocking thing I’ve seen in watching boxing obsessively since I was six years old. Although most fans don’t believe it, Fury’s size, reach and style could present problems to both Joshua and Wilder. But only if he takes his time working his way back. He needs to get rounds under his belt and shake off a ton of rust.
Fury could’ve gone for the whole ball of wax in his first fight and taken home a fortune, but he chose to go about it more deliberately and that says something about his mindset and how serious he is. Picking a guy like Seferi means he’s willing to start in the shallow end of the pool and work his way back, an indication, perhaps, that he wants to build a legacy more than build up his retirement fund.
Frank Lotierzo can be contacted at GlovedFist@Gmail.com
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